With us or against us

One problem with Bush’s crude dichotomy was it forced potential allies into an uncomfortable choice. Every country had to unequivocally support everything we did to be considered a friend. Agreeing with us even 99% of the time no longer sufficed. In my experience we liberal scientists mostly, and rightly, attacked this attitude as counterproductive.

The tragedy is that our disdain for Bush’s politics doesn’t prevent us from imitating it.* Why else would those who disagree with evolution be branded as anti-science rather than anti-evolution? Just as countries supported Afghanistan and the broad goals of the war on terror while disagreeing with Iraq, people support Newtonian physics and the broad goals of science while disagreeing with evolution. The sheer fact that many, many scientists don’t believe in evolution obliterates the false notion that anti-evolution equals anti-science. Anti-science is a meaningless term if it includes members of the National Academy.

Whether we like it or not, the overwhelming scientific data indicate that rejecting evolution is perfectly compatible with supporting much of science. And this outcome shouldn’t really be that surprising. For all the bluster about the scientific method and thinking scientifically, much of science requires discrete skills like writing computer code, solving differential equations and working in a machine shop. And again, it is demonstrably true that people can master these skills while holding otherwise unscientific beliefs. Don’t believe me? Ask Henry Shaefer. Scientists ignore these inconvenient data in our fight. Ironically, ignoring inconvenient data is exactly what we accuse those creationists of.

I’d much prefer we address this issue with an attitude of (gasp!) accommodation. In the end we almost certainly will not convince creationists to change their beliefs. So what’s wrong with letting them know that particle physics, geochemistry and materials science are still open? Surely branding creationists as anti-science for disagreeing with a single theory makes it harder to engage them in fields outside biology. Why force people to agree with us 100% of the time or not at all?

*Technically scientists used this approach way before W. So it’s truer that that he imitated us rather than the other way around! Interestingly Bush’s foreign policy was as unsuccessful as scientists’ creationism policy. Coincidence? I think not…


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