A recent Associated Press poll seems to indicate that the concerted effort to convince Americans to just trust the experts on matters like human origins and man-caused global warming/climate change is not succeeding. One item I read described this as “skepticism of science.” This phrase spins leftward a bit. While a little skepticism is not always bad, perhaps we don’t agree on what “science” denotes.
When Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis debated Bill Nye “The Science Guy” last February, they had a fundamental disagreement about the meaning of “science” that ended their ability to dialogue. Ham claims that science can be observational—the realm of engineering, math and modern invention—or historical, the realm of speculation based on a limited ability to extrapolate from current processes. Building an iPhone or developing a vaccine would result from the former type of science and saying the universe is 13.8 billion years old (or 6,000 years old) is of the latter. Ham would further contend that a person’s ability to develop a vaccine today is apart from his beliefs about the earth’s age. Bill Nye denied that this was so. Without accepting the majority opinion about the origin of all things, a person cannot be a credible scientist of any sort, he would say. They never could agree on a basic definition of “science.”
Why would 51 percent of Americans (and 77 percent of evangelicals) remain skeptical that creation began with a “big bang” nearly 14 billion years ago? We are skeptical partly because the certainty of the belief’s evangelists has led them to become elitist. “Agree with us,” they seem to say, “or you are ignorant, even stupid.” A reasonable man can doubt that any other man can by present-day observation know what happened 14 billion years ago. One does not have to doubt the demonstrable mathematics, physics or geology to doubt that creation began from a singularity billions of years ago.
This overreach is also demonstrated in climate science. The experts that claimed we would be out of resources and space, or killed by a second Ice Age, by A.D. 2000 now say that we can stave off a global heat wave by dismantling our economy. Thirty-seven percent of Americans (56 percent of evangelicals) doubt that climate change, to what degree it is happening, is best explained by human activity.
We also seem to doubt that evolutionary theory best explains the origin of man. Forty-two percent of Americans and 64 percent of evangelicals consider this theory to be insufficiently proven. Some of these doubters are Ph.D. physicists and astronomers that you’ll never hear named on MSNBC unless they are arrested for murder. Others are laymen relative to the sciences who begin with a different assumption about what’s possible or likely. We are not unable to understand the claims of the professionals or ignorant to the general processes being cited; we are just unconvinced and sometimes insulted by those who clearly think themselves our betters.
Evangelicals have not generally made this about who believes in Jesus and who doesn’t. Those of us who’ve lived to adulthood know brothers who disagree with us on things none of us can prove. It’s no real puzzler to most of us that a man could claim to believe in God and yet believe that creation is unimaginably ancient. But when you put the shoe on the other foot you find that theists and biblical Christians are rare birds within “mainstream” science, perhaps because atheists and merely nominal Christians get to define “mainstream.” Religion as a comfort for the weak minded may be acceptable to The Science Guy or to “Cosmos” host Neil deGrasse Tyson, but when the grown-ups are talking the conversation is purely naturalistic, no supernatural thing is to be considered.
So no, we are not skeptical of science or afraid of it. There are few reasons I’d ever discourage a young believer from pursuing a career in the hard sciences—all have to do with bad theology and lazy thinking they will encounter in the academy. The prophets of popular science are ardent and sincere in their encouragement to send our children into the sciences. It should be no wonder that we consider the intolerance toward Christian doctrine we’ve encountered even outside college faculties to be an obstacle to considering such a heavy investment.
Today, I’ll trust the brakes on my car and on the car behind me. Tonight, I’ll take my cholesterol pill with no fear that it will strike me blind. I even understand in a limited way how these innovations operate. The difference between designing anti-lock brakes and claiming that all life arose because of blessed randomness is clear to me, even if those more intelligent cannot see it.
When a man tells me “the science is settled” on things as widely debated as these matters, I hear a political rather than a scientific statement. When the U.S. secretary of state says that skepticism about man-caused climate change is “malpractice,” I have to laugh a little. When Bill Nye suggests that doubt about evolution will keep Kentucky (the location of Ken Ham’s Creation Museum) in the dark ages and cause America to fall behind the rest of the world, it rolls off my back much the same way that the precepts of other religions will do. Frankly, the discussions about science that we normally hear really are more about religion and politics than they are about testing theories by observation. Skepticism will grow as our scientific and political leaders continue to deny this self-evident truth.