Scientific Illiteracy in Action!

The religionists who ignore science think that it doesn’t really matter what people think about science and religion because they ask different questions and all of that blather. Jesus and Mo have a nice take on the latest bit of apologetic forced on us from the Templeton Foundation through one of their Baptist tools, Al Mohler (Dr Al? Dr of what? Baptism?). Mohler and his Biologos enablers are full of shit. Biologos does the typical wishy washy namby pamby “teach the controversy” crap, which in the end gives legitimacy to wackjob fundies like Mohler, and puts their bullshit on the same plane as real science. Of course, on many basic questions, science and religion are asking the same question, science gets a different answer and religion doesn’t even bother to test for an answer since it already knows the truth. Virgin births, the age of the earth, the evolution of species, miracles, and such can’t simply be asking different questions. More pernicious are the consequences of religious exclusivism which shuts out the testing of dogma and denies the legitimacy of science.

First, as I’ve shown in several posts related to my forthcoming paper in Social Science Quarterly, fundamentalist religious beliefs and attachments to sectarian denominations and Catholicism undermine scientific literacy. People who adhere to these beliefs and associate with these organizations can’t correctly answer basic questions about science. Second, people who are ignorant make poor decisions about civic matters, and this can lead them to do things in their private and public lives which have negative consequences for them and for their communities. The concept of civic scientific literacy implies that knowledge of science is important, and that without it people and their communities are less able to capably navigate modern life. The case of global warming is a great example. Global warming deniers oppose the development of alternatives to carbon based fuels, and underplay the need to reduce demand for fossil fuels. They argue that there is nothing really wrong with the dramatic shifts in climate, and that if they occur, they are not really the fault of humans. They support political campaigns which seek to limit regulations on extractive industries, and diminish the enforcement of environmental laws put into place to ensure clean water and clean air (classic public good problems!). Further, deniers tend to drive big ugly cars, live long distances from work, and take up hobbies which are fossil fuel dependent. Deniers are heavily concentrated in particular regions and industries, as we would expect. If you make big ugly gas-guzzling American cars, it may be in your interest to ignore environmental problems and seek solace in “drill, baby, drill!”

Religionists doubt science from a perspective of ignorance, rather than interest. Having doubted science because of its conflict with dogma, fundamentalists find it quite easy to transpose their negative views of scientific resources and findings into other areas like global warming. Sure enough, using 2006 data from the GSS, I find that the ratio of people who believe environmental scientists regarding global warming to those who reject scientific findings is nearly three times lower among fundamentalist bible believers than among seculars who think the bible is a bunch of poorly written fairy tales. Notably, even fundies largely agree with global warming researchers (40% agree to 15% disagree), but the margins are much greater among less rigid believers and especially seculars (47% agree, and only 6% disagree).

This is a battle the fundies will lose if they keep fighting it. You don’t have to understand science to realize that the planet is heating up. Anyone North of the Mason Dixon line can tell. It used to snow, now it doesn’t. Frat boys used to drive their cars across the frozen Campus lake here at my humble university—nobody would dare even ice skate on it in the 10 years I have been here.

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