2014

30 April 2014: Reason needed to govern fear

Reason needed to govern fear

A few weeks ago Denver Post letter writer Joe wrote about his thoughts on the Big Bang Theory wondering if it is “scientifically sound.”

“It really doesn’t matter,” he writes, “as the answer from both the ‘science’ and the ‘creation’ schools of thought come to the same conclusion: our beginning was at one specific point in time. In that infinitesimally brief scintilla of time, life came from non-life.”

He concludes his letter by saying, “Until we observe that happening spontaneously in nature, or explain such scientifically, I will be thanking God I am here.”

The problem with that type of reasoning is it fails logically.  The primary difference between the two positions—creation v. the Big Bang—is that there is evidence for the latter and none for the former.  So rather be an intellectually honest skeptic, Joe chooses to be a denier willing to put complete stock into something that can never be proven.

To be fair, Joe is far from alone; in fact, he’s among the majority of Americans. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found 51 percent doubt the Big Bang Theory.  In addition, about 40 percent question the Earth being 4.5 billion years old and whether climate change is happening or driven and exacerbated by man’s behavior.

It’s enough to cause one to shake his/her head and roll his/her eyes.

Why do people opt to reach absolute conclusions based not on reason and evidence but on faith, superstition, and mythology?

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, calls it the “the iron triangle of science, religion and politics,” and as AP reporters Jennifer Agiesta and Seth Borenstein phrase it, science is “shakiest leg in the triangle.”

Peoples’ religion and political positions, demonstrably correlated to their tribes or cultural regions, arise from not from reason, but from emotion, oftentimes fear, or are the result of intellectual sloth.

On the other hand, there is a reverse correlation between individuals’ strength of faith and scientific theories.  The more fundamentalist one is in his/her faith, the more dubious he/she is about the Big Bang, natural selection, the age of the Earth, and climate change.

What is bewildering is the pervasive denial or ignoring of evidence as if accepting scientific evidence has the power to undermine one’s core beliefs.  However, there need not be a conflict between one’s transcendental beliefs and the aforementioned scientific concepts.  Logically, as many biblical scholars posit, the Big Bang and natural selection could’ve been the handiwork of God.

As 2012 Nobel Prize winning biochemistry professor Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University, puts it to Agiesta and Bornesteing, “Facts can’t argue against faith.”

Compounding religious and political groups and forces undermining the public’s understanding and willingness to accept science—its findings, data, and theories—are interest groups and businesses with a financial stakes in it.

Exxon-Mobil and other gas and oil corporations, while depending upon scientific methodology to locate and extract fossil fuels upon which their bottom lines depend, play to the anti-science crowds by covertly funding climate deniers’ propaganda.

Further, climate denying as well as Armageddon and Rapture sell…Big.  Charlatan and intellectual hucksters, more than willing to play on peoples’ fears to make a buck, abound.  Witness the enormous market for fiction such as Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” series.  The quiet passing of the 21st century’s advent does not seem to have put a damper on such silliness.

Finally, there’s the role the media play giving such groups print space and air time, thus offering credibility to purveyors of nonsense, ostensibly in the interest of presenting both sides.  Again, though, controversy sells.

No one can know ultimate reality, so myth and faith will always play a significant role for most people in trying to make sense of it all.  However, we do it to ourselves and our fellow humans to use our reason—God-given according to many—to govern our doubts, passions and fears.

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RIP: Like many, it was with shock and sadness I received the news of Tom Bennhoff’s passing.  Over the years, Tom and I often found ourselves on opposing sides on local issues, but, nevertheless, found ourselves cordial and friendly during forays around town.

A favorite Tom story took place a couple winters ago.  During a run past the lake, I was plowing forth into a fierce headwind with a chill factor of umpteen below zero.  Ahead I discerned another determined soul with head down plodding into the gale, which got me to wondering what other nutcase would subject himself to such torture.  It was Tom, of course, intrepid and undaunted by the forces arrayed against him.  It told us much about the other.  Farewell, friend.

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