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Book Review : Resisting the Green Dragon

Tue ,10/04/2012

 

Preface: I first encountered the Green Dragon on a blog post by Publius Redux where he introduced it with: “Now, here is a novel analysis of the undercurrent of urgency and irrationality characteristic of climate doomsayers’ prophecy. This explains the haunting familiarity of the preaching and proselytizing we have endured from the climate change fearmongers.” Curious, I tracked down an article about Resisting the Green Dragon by Dr. James Wanliss, Associate Professor of Physics at Presbyterian College. Finding no religious or scientific arguments that could possibly address the issues in the article, I wrote a play about what the future might hold for Dr. Wanliss, Publius and their followers.Sometime later I received a critique of my play from Dr. Wanliss and  subsequently offered to write a proper review if Dr. Wanliss would send me a copy, which he did. Dr. Wanliss said he wrote the book in part because he had been bullied by environmentalists. That is certainly a very bad thing, however replying in kind is usually not the correct response and revenge often hurts others than its intended victims. If you identify with environmentalism, mainstream religions, or believe we should be good stewards of the Earth, you may feel bullied while reading the book.

 The book claims not “to provide scientific or economic answers” as that is done by “multiple excellent resources that appear in the endnotes.” However those resources and end notes do not accurately represent the views of scientists, economists, or environmentalists – but are carefully picked from extreme positions, as are his examples. Dr. Wanliss gives examples of vegetarians, PETA members, Eco terrorists, environmental extremists, and someone who thinks men are “useless breathers” – and tries to claim they are representative of the Christian stewardship movement. They are not. Environmentalists may want you to make responsible choices, but that does not mean they want to “control how you live, eat, drive, and even the light you use to read by .” Environmentalists may have a goal of achieving balance in nature and sustainability, but Dr. Wanliss claims sustainability places “human life directly in the crosshairs of violent men.” And, are those violent men found in the Christian stewardship movement?

 The Cornwall Alliance: The book was published by the Cornwall Alliance which has chosen the Green Dragon as a symbol of their opposition to the growth of environmentalism in Christian churches. The Cornwall Alliance describes itself as a grassroots Christian movement. It does not disclose its funding sources but many paths to it come from corporations and fossil fuel interests and its message is certainly favorable to them. Dr. Wanliss says that he did not receive an advance from the Alliance and profits only from the royalties on the book. The Alliance has produced a series of videos based upon Resisting the Green Dragon , assailing its hold on the churches. There is little truth to much of the propaganda in the videos. They seem designed more to protect the profits of the fossil fuel companies than to protect the Earth, or the people who depend on the Earth for survival.

It became apparent in the early 1980s that carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels was causing changes in the environment that would impact mankind, particularly those in poor and indigenous societies who do not have the resources to adjust to the changing climate. Many churches have adopted statements encouraging environmentalism based upon good stewardship, some specifically mentioning the threat of greenhouse gases. For example, the denomination sponsoring the Presbyterian University where Dr. Wanliss teaches stated in 1989 and reaffirmed in 2008, its “serious concern that the global atmospheric warming trend (the greenhouse effect) represents one of the most serious global environmental challenges to the health, security, and stability of human life and natural ecosystems.”

Dragons: The Green Dragon on the dust cover of the book is a very ugly Dragon, but Dr. Wanliss may have misjudged what is in its heart. Though some mythical dragons were portrayed as evil, Draco in Dragonheart and Sapphira in Aragon imparted their ancient wisdom to mankind and helped them in the times of crisis. And it was the flying dragons in Avatar who helped the Na’vi drive out the greedy corporation destroying their planet and their homes for the sake of ore. Perhaps the Green Dragon is being vilified by the Cornwall Alliance so that we will not heed its message.

 Science: Although Dr. Wanliss is a physicist, there is very little climate physics in the book. He seems to have arrived at many of his opinions about climate science, not from peer-reviewed literature, but by films made by Al Gore and Martin Durkin, neither of which are scientists. Dr. Wanliss points out the errors in The Inconvenient Truth, and rejects it entirely. However, Al Gore received a Nobel Peace Prize for his environmental work and his movie won an Oscar. The movie also had its day in court in Dimmock v Secretary of State for Education, a suit which sought to prevent the educational use of An Inconvenient Truth in England. The court ruled that, though the film had some errors, it was substantially founded upon scientific research and fact and could be shown.

Dr. Wanliss embraces Martin Durkin’s movie, The Great Global Warming Swindle, though it is based upon bad science and fraud. How do I know that? Mr. Durkin gives the impression he is a geophysicist but his degrees are in medieval history and financial journalism. The movie distorts the work of some of the scientists that appear in it. For example, Dr. Friis-Christensen, said, “parts of the graph were made up of fabricated data that were presented as genuine.” He should know as it was his research that was distorted to support claims that recent climate change was the result of solar activity. Also, Dr. Carl Wunsch points out that the movie uses his data but distorts it. Ihe ocean would have had to release more CO2 than they had absorbed, so impossible that he calls it fraud. The movie also distorts NASA’s temperature record, something that can be easily checked. The two graphs are below, with the screen shot on the left showing how Durkin redrew the graph to support his claim that most of today’s global warming occurred before 1940.

 A 2010 StanfordUniversity poll of 1,372 climate scientists found that 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in climate science agree that global warming is occurring and man activities are the main factor. Research shows that global warming is causing many undesirable changes in the Earth and that no natural factors are significantly responsible.

 Ecology: Dr. Wanliss does not seem aware of the principles of ecology or the interrelation among species, as he says: “There has been, in past decades, a cosmic shift towards a social climate that begins to favor the environment — polar bears, trees, and bugs — over human beings.” Well, where would we be without the bears, trees, the environment, and umm … bugs?  He thinks that “destruction of one species can enormously benefit many others” and that man had a right to hunt sperm whales to extinction if we needed the oil. However, he does not seem aware that many species depend on the nutrients that the whales distribute throughout the ocean.  Passenger pigeons, once an important source of food, were hunted to extinction. And whooping cranes and buffaloes almost disappeared forever, but were saved from extinction by chance and a tremendous effort on the part of conservationists. Would we have missed them? The book tells the story about the Canary being used to test the safety of coal mines, using it to point out that some bird lover may have objected, putting the bird’s safety above that of the miners. Ecologists now tell us that many species are beginning to disappear from the Earth and many more are threatened by global warming. Would we want our grandchildren to go into a coal mine where the Canaries are dying?

Economics: Cap and trade is considered to be the free market solutions to reducing carbon emissions. It may not be the best, but it will help and it appears to be the way the nations are heading. Dr. Wanliss argues against it because he thinks it will lead to the creation of a world government and because of its high cost. We all share the same atmosphere and it is necessary that all industrialized and developing countries cooperate, but that is not the same as establishing a world government. Dr. Wanliss claims the cost of cap and trade regulations would amount to an annual cost of “$120,000 for the average family of four”. That value is unrealistically high – and it also ignores the cost of not acting. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost of the cap-and-trade program by 2020 would average about $175 annually per household.

It is possible to estimate the cost of inaction on global warming. The Stern Report, using the results from formal economic models, estimates the overall costs and risks of climate change is equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year. And unaddressed, the cost could rise to 20% of GDP or more by 2050 – and increase the risk of an environmental catastrophe. Using 5% of the US GDP for 2010 would give an environmental cost of $727 billion. Reducing carbon emissions would also reduce particulates which the American Lung Association  cites as the primary cause 38,000 heart attacks and premature deaths each year as well as 1.5 million cases of acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma – which they estimate has an economic cost of $281 billion. Those two add up to about $1.01 trillion annually, and that is just for theUnited States. And what cost was should we put on premature death?

Religion: Dr. Wanliss’ view of the relationship between man, other species, and the Earth’s resources is based upon the doctrine of Dominionism. He bases this belief upon his interpretation of Genesis 1:28 “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” From there, he uses a number of carefully selected Scriptures to argue how  “ the humans’ filling and ruling of the Earth can release it from bondage.” It is his view this will bring about the Second Coming which will render efforts to protect and sustain the planet useless.

 But, is the Earth not growing full? There are now 7 billion people on the planet and at our present birthrate, the population will double again this century. And have we not established dominion over the Earth? We now have fish and game laws, catch limits, and international treaties to protect other species as our needs have grown until we threaten their existence? The caveat in Dr. Wanliss’ argument is that the Second Coming will not occur until man has established Christian dominion. There are many religions on the Earth, and even among Christians, there are many different interpretations of the Scriptures. What he believes is necessary is very unlikely to happen in the next 50 years, and even if it did, there is no assurance that Dominionism is the true religion.

 Those who argue for Christian stewardship think that dominion means “benevolent rule”. Does it seem reasonable that God would make the heavens and the Earth and all the species, proclaim them good, and then give man a license to destroy them if he wished? And do some men have the right to seek dominion if by doing so they damage the lives and resources of other men? Dr. Wanliss makes a special point that dominion is not domination; however, men who wish to dominate and exploit the environment for profit will certainly find his arguments useful.

Native people: The book claims that the environmental movement is” dreadfully harmful to the environment and humans, particularly the poor” and at one point claims that environmentalists may be responsible for millions of deaths. It is most cynical and wrong to claim that environmentalists are somehow responsible for deaths and damage in the poorer countries of the world. Global warming is changing the environment and increasing the probability of severe weather events, particularly droughts. Last year’s drought on the Horn of Africa led to widespread famine and many deaths among the poor. The people of Kashmir are concerned that the glaciers that feed their streams in the summer are receding – making less water available. The Sherpa of Tibet worry that their villages may be flooded by lakes that now form each summer from melting glaciers, held back by unstable ice dams.

The Inuit in Greenland cannot use their traditional hunting grounds at the ice is too thin for their dog sleds to traverse. Those in the Arctic are having to move their coastal villages to keep them from being eroded away by wave action of open seas, which used to be ice year-round. Their inland villages are threatened because the permafrost upon which they are built now becomes a quagmire in the summer. They are being forced to change a way of life that sustained them for centuries. While some may adapt, their way of life and culture will be destroyed, and many will likely end up among the poor and unemployed.

Population: Dr. Wanliss says God has commanded us to fill the Earth and that we should let God decide how many children we shall have. But do not men and women have free will and the right to decide such things?  And, what happens when the earth is full? The Earth’s population has just surpassed 7 billion people and, at our present birthrate, will reach 14 billion sometime in the latter part of the 21st century. The Earth is finite and evidence suggests that the carrying capacity of the Earth is somewhere between 10 and 12 billion. When a population exceeds the carrying capacity of its environment, there is usually a massive die off of the population. For us, this might mean the deaths of billions of people through starvation and wars over resources.

 Prudence: Dr. Wanless believes that man has a remarkable ability to reason, and that is certainly true.  God has given us science so that we may understand nature by observation and reason. Scientific research shows that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that is damaging the Earth and will do so even more in the future. The EPA has determined that CO2 is an endangerment that may be regulated under the Clean Air Act, and the Supreme Court has upheld that ruling. Dr. Wanliss opposes action to correct the problem and thinks that when the Earth is full and Christian dominion is achieved, God will make our problems disappear. What if he is wrong? We will have a very full and a very hot, inhospitable Earth through our own ignorance, and not through God’s will. The Green Dragon, though a mythical creature created by Dr. Wanliss, would be a good symbol for Prudence.

 Resist? Dr. Wanliss is advising us to resist the Green Dragon based upon his religious views and personal philosophy. His book would certainly encourage some interesting discussions about the meaning of Hebrew words, the interpretation of scriptures, the meaning of free will, and the responsibility Christians have toward mankind, other species, and the Earth itself. Those discussions should occur among scientist, theologians, and philosophers who have the knowledge to defend their ideas. However, it seems wrong to use the power and respect that people have for ministers and Scripture to criticize Christians who believe in good stewardship. The Cornwall Alliance does just that, as resisting the Green Dragon aligns with profit motives. The only time Jesus showed anger in the Bible was when he drove the money changers from the Temple. How might Jesus feel about the Cornwall Alliance using Dr. Wanliss’ book to bring their corporate interests into places of worship? Perhaps Dr. Wanliss should rethink whether he wishes for his book to be used in that way.

(c) 2012 J.C. Moore

Aristotle’s Contribution to Science, Education, and Physics

Tue ,28/12/2010

Aristotle thought that Nature could best be understood by observation and reason – and that all  knowledge should be open to examination and subject to reason.

Science Education has shown a renewed interest in Aristotle’s works. (1) Today, theories in science are often based on abstract and mathematical models of the world.  Students sometimes use the theories and equations without understanding how they were developed, their limitations, or even what problems they address. The development of an idea from Aristotle to the present would make physics more interesting and understandable. (2)  Aristotle’s works are reconstructions from fragmentary notes. He had the most rudimentary of scientific equipment, his measurements were not quantitative; and he considered only things that were observable with the eye. Ignoring these limitations has caused some to distort the significance of his work, sometimes to the point of considering Aristotle an impediment to the advancement of science. However, we should not project the framework of contemporary science on Aristotle’s work – but we should read his works and examine his Natural Philosophy in the context of his times. (3)

Scientific Method: In ancient times, events in Nature had been explained as the actions of the gods. The early Greek philosophers  questioned the role of the gods as the cause of events and by the fifth century B.C. the Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, had separated philosophy from theology. But, if the gods were not the cause of events, what was? Philosophers advanced explanations based on philosophical principles and mathematical forms. Aristotle found that unsatisfactory. He decided the principles of nature could be found within nature and could be discovered using careful observation and inductive reasoning. Observations must be capable of being observed by the senses and should include the four causes: the composition, the shape (or form), the motion (or change), and the end result (or purpose). Identifying the four causes insured a thorough understanding of the event. Chance or spontaneity were not considered causes. He thought all things in Nature should be open to examination and subject to reason – and he set about applying his methods to all knowledge.

Aristotle founded a school in Athens at the Lyceum which provided the world’s first comprehensive study of human knowledge from the perspective of natural philosophy. His lectures followed a pattern that formed the basis of the scientific method. They included a statement of the idea or problem, the precise definition of terms, a statement of what he and other scholars thought about the matter, the observations, arguments based on how well the ideas agreed with observation, and finally what could be concluded. His lectures notes are important as they not only show clearly his reasoning but they preserve many of the ideas of his contemporaries. (4, 5)

Physics: In his work,  Physics, (6) Aristotle examined the nature of matter, space, time, and motion. He had few tools for experimentation and could not measure time or speeds. He would not allow invisible forces so his reasoning did not include gravity. Things fell to Earth and the moon circled the Earth because that was their nature. He proved that infinite linear motion and voids could not exist on Earth. Without those, he could not escape the complexities of the real world or fully understand inertia. In spite of his limitations, Aristotle made some remarkable contributions to physics and laid the groundwork for Galileo, Newton, and Einstein. He reasoned that infinite velocities could not exist, that time and movement are continuous and inseparable, and that time was even flowing, infinite, and the same everywhere at once. These are all true and a part of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Some consider that Aristotle’s greatest contribution to physics was his description of time.

Reading Aristotle reminds one of reading Einstein. He takes the simplest of observations and in it discovers fundamental truths. Force is a push or a pull. A horse can pull a cart and the cart pulls back on the horse and when the horse stops, the cart stops.  Rest, then is the natural state of matter and the mover is acted on by that which it moves. These ideas became part of Newton’s Laws. He observed that there was both static and kinetic friction that opposed motion by studying shiphaulers. A hundred men could pull a ship but one man could not. Furthermore, he observed that the power needed to keep the ship moving depended on the force required and the speed. That is like the definition of power used today and, incidentally, something that Newton got wrong.  Aristotle examined objects falling in fluids and realized friction existed there also. He found that the speed of objects increased as the weight of the object and decreased with the thickness of the fluid. This is now a part of  Stoke’s Law  for an object falling at its terminal velocity. He also considered what would happen if the fluid became thinner and thinner but rejected the conclusion as that would lead to a vacuum and an infinite speed, both which he considered impossibilities. Galileo allowed those impossibilities and is credited with discovering kinematics.

Cosmology: We sometimes forget that Aristotle proved the Earth was a sphere. He observed that the shadow of the Earth on the moon during an eclipse was an arc. That was not conclusive as a disk might give the same shadow. The phases of the Moon and its appearance during eclipses show it to be a sphere and the Earth might be also. As one walks toward the horizon, the horizon falls away; and, as one walks North or South, different stars appear. These are as if one is looking out from a sphere. All things made of Earth fall to Earth in such a way as to be as near the Earth as possible. A sphere is the shape that allows this as it is the shape with the smallest surface for a given volume. All things considered, the Earth must be a sphere. Interestingly, an extension of that last argument is used today to explain the erosion of mountains, surface tension, the shape of droplets, and why the moons, planets, and stars are spheres.

Aristotle concluded that since all things fall toward the center of the Earth or move round the Earth, that the Earth must be the center of the Universe. The Moon and planets move around the Earth in circular orbits but must move in circles within circles to explain the variance observed in their orbits. The stars are fixed spheres that rotate around the Earth and the Universe must be finite else the stars at the outer edge would have to move at infinite speed. Aristotle was aware that if the heavenly bodies were made of matter, that they would fly off like a rock from a sling. He therefore added to the elements a fifth element, aether, to compose the heavenly bodies. Aether could not be observed on Earth but objects composed of it could move forever in circles without friction or flying away. (7) Perhaps Aristotle should have stopped with the moon, but the planets and stars were there and needed explaining. In spite of his model’s imperfections, Aristotle gave us a universe whose laws are invariant and capable of being discovered by observation and understood by reason. Aristotle’s model of the Universe lasted almost 20 centuries without significant modification and was so compelling that Renaissance philosophers and theologians built it into church doctrine.

Scientific Revolution: However, Aristotle’s model did not fit well with new observations made by 15th century scientists. Copernicus realized that the planetary motions would be simpler and better explained if the Sun were the center of the universe. Tycho Brahe’s careful observations of planetary motions supported the Copernican model. Galileo used the first telescope to observe that Jupiter had moons that revolved around Jupiter and not the Earth. This was convincing evidence and Galileo championed a revision of Aristotle’s model. There was much resistance to the acceptance of the heliocentric model and Galileo was threatened with a charge of heresy for promoting the idea. Some people now consider Aristotle’s  ideas as an impediment to the advancement of science. However, the impediment was not Aristotle’s ideas – but that Aristotle’s model of the universe had become woven into the doctrine of the Church.

Galileo’s kinematics was also in conflict with Aristotle’s work. Galileo’s experiment with falling bodies is considered as one of the ten greatest experiments of all time. He showed that a small weight fell from the Tower of Pisa at the same rate as one ten times as heavy. This was considered by some to be a triumph of Galileo’s kinematics over the simple empiricism of Aristotle. That was not, however, the whole story. Aristotle had not only examined objects falling in air but also in liquids. He found that the rate of fall in liquids increased as the weight of the object and decreased with the thickness of the fluid. This idea is consistent with Stoke’s Law  for an object falling at its terminal velocity in fluids. Aristotle even had considered the case of a fluid with no thickness (a vacuum), but rejected the possibility since the speed would become infinite. However, Galileo’s experiment was performed in air and, while correct in a vacuum, Galileo’s mechanics were not exactly correct in air. Had Galileo dropped his objects from a much greater height, he would have found that the heavy object would reach the ground half again as fast as the small object. This is observable in hailstones where a large stone will strike the ground at almost twice the speed of a small stone. Galileo’s mechanics are only valid in a vacuum and even then would allow the velocity to eventually become infinite, which conflicts with Einstein’s relativity.  No one has thought to criticize Galileo for that.

Scientific Progress: Many thought, and still think, that Galileo’s work was the final overthrow of Aristotelian physics and the start of a revolution allowing science to advance. That is not the case. It is just the normal progress of science that models and theories are revised as better observations and understanding occur. The Revolution was not so much an overthrow of Aristotelian Physics as it was in moving from the observable to the imaginable – and in again separating science from theology and philosophy. It is ironic that Galileo was accused of heresy for questioning the theories of a man who thought everything should be open to question and reason.

(1)  ERIC. http://www.eric.ed.gov A search of the database shows 78 papers in the last three decades are about the use of Aristotle’s ideas in teaching.

(2)  Stinner, A. (1994). The Story of Force: from Aristotle to Einstein. Phys. Educ., 29, 77-85.

(3)  Lombardi, O. (1999). Aristotelian Physics in the Contest of Teaching Science: A Historical-Philosophical  Approach. Science and Education, 8, 217-239.

(4)  Durant, Will. The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the Great Philosophers of the Western  World. 5th ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1949

(5)  Ross, W. D. Aristotle. 5th ed. London: Methuen & Co. LTD. 1949

(6) Aristotle, Physics. Translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye.
Provided by The Internet Classics Archive. Available at
    http://classics.mit.edu//Aristotle/physics.html
(7) Aristotle, On the Heavens. Translated by J. L. Stocks.
Provided by The Internet Classics Archive. Available at
    http://classics.mit.edu//Aristotle/heavens.html

Note: This article was originally written as the physical science
contribution to Aristotle's Enduring Contribution to Biology,
Physics,and Poetics by Surendra Singh, J.C. Moore, and Andrew Tadie.
It was published as Aristotle on Teaching Science  at the Seventh
International Conference on Teacher Education, New Delhi, India (2008)

The full article is available here.

(c) 2010 J.C. Moore

The Green Dragon : Is Global Warming a Religion?

Sat ,30/10/2010

How can a book go wrong with this introduction by Publius Redux? “Now, here is a novel analysis of the undercurrent of urgency and irrationality characteristic of climate doomsayers’ prophecy. This explains the haunting familiarity of the preaching and proselytizing we have endured from the climate change fearmongers.” (1)

Publius is introducing The Green Dragon by Dr. James Wanliss (2), a book about how environmentalism is committed to “the reconstruction of a pagan world order” and “rejection of Christian spirituality.” The author argues that the environmental movement “is a religion with a vision of sin and repentance, heaven and hell. It even has a special vocabulary, with words like ‘sustainability’ and ‘carbon neutral.’ Its saints are Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

That would certainly add to Al Gore’s list of accomplishments, Vice President, acclaimed movie director, Nobel Prize Winner, now possibly a Saint. I’m not sure how you can Canonize the entire IPCC, or Al Gore while he is living, but reality is apparently not a problem here.

Dr. Wanliss is upset by the strength of the Christian environmental movement which is based upon good stewardship. He blames this on the National Council of Churches as he goes on “Both professing Protestants and Roman Catholics bear a burden of guilt for the current political mess we are in with the global warming and other hysterias,” he argues. “If the church had not turned from the gospel of Jesus Christ it is unlikely the Green Dragon would have been able to so deeply sink its fangs into our lives.”

Perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but there’s more: “There has been, in past decades, a cosmic shift towards a social climate that begins to favor the environment — polar bears, trees, and bugs — over human beings.” Well, where would we be without the bears, trees,  environment, and umm … bugs?

He continues “environmentalists have infiltrated Christian higher education by careful placement of teachers and teaching materials on environmental activism in schools associated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Little by little the wolves try to douse Christian resistance and lead sheep by troubled waters to accept the inevitability of a divine environmental movement.” And, according to him, they want to “synthesize a Christian environmentalism that can succeed “only by exorcising truth, and ultimately, by expelling Christianity.”

It’s hard to argue with that. Instead we’ll just fast forward to the reception Dr. Wanliss, Pablius, and their followers get when they stand before the Pearly Gates.

St. Peter: Why are all of you here?

Dr. Wanliss: We exposed the Global Warmists as pagans. We have saved Christianity from their influence. We’re here to claim our rightful place in heaven.

St. Peter, looking into a large black book: Hmmm. It says under Dr James Wanliss – “Poor stewardship, led a movement whose followers damaged the Earth that God had given man.”

Dr. Wanliss, looking nervous: We didn’t know it would turn out that way. Pollution is invisible – the changes to the Earth were so small at first – and we thought CO2 was only a plant food.

St. Peter: We gave you Science so you would understand those things. Didn’t you study it?

Dr. Wanliss: You know how those Global Warming scientists are, always going around casting doubt on our beliefs. You can’t be a Global Warmist scientist and be a Christian.

St. Peter, peering over his glasses: I don’t know. We’ve let a lot of them into Heaven. Who are you to judge them? And, he thundered, God is a little upset about that damage to the Earth.

Dr. Wanless, looking distraught: Are you going to send us to, to …?

St Peter: No, no. That’s not the punishment for poor stewardship. We’re going to send you back to Earth so you can clean up the mess you helped make of it.

Dr. Wanliss: But, but.. it’s hot down there and it’s certainly not a pleasant place to live. How would we know what to do?

St Peter, with a dismissive gesture: Some of you are scientists. Maybe you’ll get it right next time. We’ll check on you in 50 years. Poof!

(1) http://depantzd.newsvine.com/_news/2009/12/24/3674500-climate-the-new-god-of-left-wing-christianity (This article is now listed as  “removed by the Newsvine community”).

(2)http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/WTARC/2009/ss_politics0954_12_10.asp

Science Literacy and Religious Beliefs

Wed ,11/08/2010

Scientific literacy cannot be measured by a litmus test such as belief in the Big Bang or evolution.

Every two years the National Science Foundation produces a report, Science and Engineering Indicators, which surveys the public’s attitudes toward science. (1) The report found for instance, that the public’s opinion of scientists ranks at the top of 23 other occupations and there is broad support for public funding of science research.  In spite of that, Dr. Lawrence Krauss, is unhappy because a section of the 2010 report about the public’s  science literacy was omitted.

In a Scientific American article, he responds:

“And every two years we relearn the sad fact that U.S. adults are less willing to accept evolution and the big bang as factual than adults in other industrial countries. Except for this time. Was there suddenly a quantum leap in U.S. science literacy? Sadly, no. Rather the National Science Board, which oversees the foundation, chose to leave the section that discussed these issues out of the 2010 edition, claiming the questions were ‘flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs.’ In short, if their religious beliefs require respondents to discard scientific facts, the board doesn’t think it appropriate to expose that truth.”

However, the National Science Board was right that the section  confused knowledge and beliefs. For example, there is evidence for the Big Bang theory and many people know about it, but they have not incorporated it into their beliefs.  Only physicists and mathematicians would likely know what a singularity is, let alone believe the universe arose from one. Then, there is the problem of how the singularity came to be. Likewise, many people know of the adaptation of species to their environment such as resistance of viruses and bacteria to antibiotics and of insects to DDT. They may also be aware of our ancestors such as Luci and Ardi and know of the evolution of the horse. However, if you insist that the spontaneous generation of life is part of evolution, it may be rejected.

Dr Krauss is missing something important.  Aristotle established science as a method for understanding nature by using observation and reason. It is not a body of facts to be memorized and believed. As scientists gather more evidence, what we now regard as fact may be replaced with better ideas. We should not make “accepting evolution and the big bang as factual” a litmus test for science literacy. Just as scientists think religion should not be dogmatic, scientists should also refrain from dogmatism. Insisting people accept scientific theories which conflict with their religious beliefs  just makes them more likely to mistrust science on issues where it really matters.

As a practical matter, it is not likely that someone’s mind can be changed by claiming their beliefs are wrong or that they are based on mythology. Science teachers must deal with students who already have a belief system established. Their strategy should be to present science as a method that uses observation and reason to understand the physical world. Teachers must focus on the background knowledge and the evidence, and hope that at some point the student would see any conflicts and try to resolve them.

1)http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind10/c7/c7h.htm

2) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=faith-and-foolishness