How the state of Tennessee, creationism and denial of global warming add up

In 2009, well before the state of Tennessee took the socially regressive step of formalizing its support for teaching the “controversy” over the relative merits of science versus creationism and intelligent design, I wrote an essay online at (now Yahoo! voices) tracing the connection between people who don’t believe in evolution and those who refuse to accept the idea that manmade global warming is a reality. The principal point was that basic disbelief in science resulting from anachronistic religious beliefs made it impossible for people to grasp the dynamics contributing to manmade global warming.

There is a definable overlap between people who do not believe in global warming and those who do not accept the theory of evolution. A 2005 CBS poll on belief in evolution showed that 51% of Americans do not accept the scientific theory of evolution. Furthermore, 55% said they believe God created humans in their present form.

Based on these statistics, it is no wonder that a large faction of people do not accept global warming when they do not (or cannot, or will not…) accept basic science and its predictive abilities contributing to theories of gravity, physics, chemistry, germ theory, genetics or any of the other key sciences now deemed critical to understanding how the physical world operates.

A 2009 Gallup poll found similar results about American beliefs about evolution: “On the eve of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, a new Gallup Poll shows that only 39% of Americans say they “believe in the theory of evolution,” while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36% don’t have an opinion either way. These attitudes are strongly related to education and, to an even greater degree, religiosity.”

Perhaps you saw the chart recently making the rounds online showing that America ranks far below other developing countries in how it embraces science, especially evolution. The brand of anachronistic religion known as fundamentalism founded on biblical literalism is clearly to blame for this regressive trend in America’s understanding of science. But the more scholars challenge the retrograde contentions of religion, the deeper those factions dig in. By any rational measure or definition of science, America is winning the race to become more stupid. And perhaps it is beginning to show in the nation’s progressive decline as a superpower. And this trend of Americans against science is beginning to having profound political repercussions on the international stage, making America look like some sort of backwoods hick rather than the nation that proudly led scientific and technological advances such as invention of the fuel combustion engine, launching of rockets to the moon and development of medical discoveries to cure disease and prolong life.

By losing its respect for basic science, America is basically losing respect for itself while allowing a brand of dogmatic religion to ascend to the point where it threatens to upend even our political system by throwing millions of votes toward candidates all too willing to borrow the authority of religion for the attainment of absolute political power.

It is no coincidence, for example, that former President George W. Bush resisted action on global warming. Bush and the conservative think tanks that informed his Presidency, along with evangelical leaders eager to share power, helped promulgate the notion that manmade global warming is based on “junk science.” The Bush administration even altered reports by climate scientists to better reflect the administration’s philosophy on global warming, redacting key findings and simply re-writing parts they did not like.

This blatant resistance to credible scientific opinion is a hallmark of a stubborn ideology. For George W. Bush also expressed disbelief in evolution and publicly supported teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public schools under the guise of “tolerance.”

Melting glaciers, shrinking polar ice caps, rising seas and profound weather events brought on by global warming may ultimately convince even the greatest skeptics that manmade climate change is real. But when that happens, it will undoubtedly send conservatives running to find ways to place blame on scientists and the so-called “liberals” who support them for letting it all happen. The argument will be that scientists just weren’t convincing enough.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, Thursday, January 22, 2009.

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