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 V.17 No.27 | July 3 - 9, 2008 

The Real Side

Got Your Mind Right?

Our national fear of facts

“But don’t you believe in global warming?”

I’ve received that response repeatedly when I ask questions about the science behind AGW, anthropogenic (man-made) global warming.

A well-respected entrepreneur who has launched hydrogen fuel cell and solar power companies keeps feeding me information challenging the theory of AGW. He sends me data showing a decrease in temperatures over the past decade. He opposes restrictions on industries that burn fossil fuels. He argues that mass indoctrination by Al Gore is diverting energy from far more important work, such as solving the technological limitations of electric car batteries.

I don’t know what to make of his arguments, so I ask around. When I run his information past global warming activists, their response is to put me on the defensive just for asking questions.

Hey, I’m only trying to find my way through this complicated issue. Maybe I’ve talked to the wrong people as I try to form my own conclusions. But this sort of shoot-the-questioner response is increasingly frequent in our national dialogue on far too many issues.

When I’ve asked abortion activists about scientific studies on the ability of fetuses to feel pain, I get this: “But don’t you believe in a woman’s right to choose?”

When I’ve asked environmentalists about technology that could allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge during winter months when caribou are absent, or why the caribou herd at Prudhoe Bay tripled in size during oil production over the past four decades, I hear: “Don’t you believe in protecting our last great places from destruction?”

We’ve replaced curiosity and open inquiry with secular declarations of faith.

It’s not just the Left that tries to stifle inquiry by implying heresy, immorality or mental deficiency in the mere act of asking a direct question. Memories are still fresh of the social penalties for questioning the case for attacking Iraq.

Echo chambers instead of magnifying glasses have become our favorite tools of learning. We prefer confirmation of what we already believe to anything that shakes our view of reality.

We’ve replaced curiosity and open inquiry with secular declarations of faith. These declarations act like gang signs, indicating whether the believer is One of Us or One of Them.

Think back to Gov. Bill Richardson’s answer during Melissa Etheridge’s interrogation of the Democratic presidential primary contenders. Did the candidates believe homosexuality was biologically caused? Richardson responded he wasn’t a scientist and didn’t know. As the American Psychiatric Association acknowledges, no one knows the origins and causes of homosexuality to the point of scientific certainty. There is no single, simple answer. But Richardson still failed his oral exam. That’s because he thought he was being questioned about the state of scientific understanding, when he was really being asked to show his stripes.

At another forum, Republican presidential primary candidates were asked if they believed in evolution. They were only given the opportunity to raise their hands, no discussion allowed. No one complained that “believe” was the wrong verb. Of course, the poll wasn’t intended to test their knowledge of scientific proofs of the theory of natural selection. The purpose was to see if they were ideological Crips or Bloods.

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, recently released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, suggests that 92 percent of Americans believe in God. I am constantly awed by the physicists, biologists, chemists, mathematicians, surgeons and engineers who embrace my belief in the existence of God. Their example of scientific minds being able to hold onto a belief in an unseen God bolsters my own faith. Yet facts, reason and logic continue to guide these people in the laboratory or operating room, in building bridges across wide chasms or in devising ways to repair failed organs. Faithful men and women of science don’t talk about “believing” in the genetic mechanisms of DNA, or “believing” in the second law of thermodynamics or “believing” that two plus two equals four. In their work, replacing scientific inquiry and unflinching objectivity with rigid beliefs that deter questions and ignore new knowledge would spell disaster.

But that seems to be what America is doing with increasing frequency when addressing its myriad of social, economic, environmental, national security and political difficulties. We’re becoming more concerned about getting our minds right than getting the right answers.

I think I will finally hunker down and watch Al Gore’s movie. That’s how I'll balance my global warming skeptic friend. For my summer reading, I’ll dive into Gore’s less well-known The Assault on Reason, in which he laments the decline of critical thinking and the rise in fear of facts in our national problem solving. It might be the most important work he’s done. But I’ll withhold that judgment until I’ve actually read the book.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail jims@alibi.com.

 
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