Many things have occurred over the past few decades that have disturbed me to no end, including the current disarrayed situation in the executive branch of our federal government. But I have faith that our institutions are basically sound, will eventually prevail, and we will overcome the present aberration.
But an even more menacing threat to our national sanity has arisen that could set our society back many generations. The political right wing, partnered with the religious fundamentalists, has launched an attack on scientific knowledge and progress, even the very validity of science itself. This trend has recently emerged, but few informed Americans yet realize its full implications. What we face is a well-organized, well-financed conservative effort toward science denial. A small but vocal number of conservative politicians and clergymen have assumed denial positions against biological evolution, human-induced climate change, vaccinations, stem cell research and other scientific and technological innovations.
This latest anti-science movement originated with the infamous Scopes "Monkey Trial" against the teaching of evolution in Dayton, Tenn., in 1925. Prosecuting attorney and three-time unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan argued before the court that the teaching of evolution caused moral decay in America’s youth by undermining the authority of the Bible. After losing to Republican candidates in three elections Bryan continued to campaign against the teaching of scientific evolution in American classrooms.
The sensationalist press coverage of the trial made Bryan appear rather ridiculous and turned a large segment of the American public against the creationist position for a generation or more. It also drove many scientists into the Republican Party, but this didn’t last long. Since the Scopes trial, advances in biology based on evolution theory have fueled the new biotech industry and created countless innovations in medicine, agriculture and related fields.
Founding father Thomas Jefferson declared that if anyone can discover the truth through reasoning and science, then no individual is naturally closer to the truth than another. True knowledge comes from systematic study, testing and retesting, not through ideological pronouncements or theological assertions. He also felt that those in authority have no right to impose their beliefs on others.
Science denialism depends partly on unfounded and unsupported fears of health and environmental dangers such as the fear that cell phones cause brain cancer (elementary physics shows this is impossible) and that vaccines cause autism (no link whatsoever has been found). But I think the greatest display of arrogant ignorance is the fundamentalists’ insistence on the teaching of "creation science" — bad science and even worse theology — in our public schools. But an even greater danger lies in the anti-science lobby’s blocking of any action against human-induced global warming, a fact supported by 97% of our climatologists and earth scientists.
How widespread and pervasive are these science denial arguments? Candidates who began to lag in the 2016 Republican presidential primary would purposefully make anti-science statements and almost immediately experience a rise in the polls. That’s scary!
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.