KNIGHT: Can Perry summon courage of true convictions?

When science is a matter of political faith

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The modern-day faith in science makes the most fanatical fundamentalist look indifferent by comparison. Ever since Charles Darwin proposed his theory of macroevolution, which even he admitted had scant evidence to support it, the intelligentsia have pushed science as the Final Decider of All Things. If you think this is harmless, see how Alfred C. Kinsey’s cooked surveys on sex in the 1940s helped launch and justify the still-disastrous sexual revolution. And look at how junk science is littering Supreme Court opinions.

The thing is, science does not stay still. Theories come and go as evidence pours in to support alternative views.

Not so with evolution. Even when the late, prominent evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould admitted that the fossil record argues against gradual, Darwinian evolution, he came up with “punctuated equilibrium.” That is, he speculated that intermediate species don’t show up in fossils because of sudden, unexplained leaps into completely new species. As scientists unlock the secrets of the cell, it’s clearer every day that those leaps would involve millions of changes all at once, for no apparent reason.

But I’m not here to poke holes in evolutionary theory. I have a larger ambition, which is to expose the misuse of science as a false religion.

Real science aims to uncover natural truth and requires experiments to test hypotheses. That’s the scientific method. Another kind of science relies on speculation, which can be useful when it’s kept in its place. When making sweeping statements about events that happened far before anyone’s ability to discern the circumstances, scientists should be honest enough to include caveats, such as the handy word “theory.”

When someone says “Science has spoken,” he’s closing the door on other possibilities. GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman did that the other day when he tweeted: “To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

Well, I’m not going to call him crazy, but not all scientists believe in evolution or man-caused global warming. More than 31,400, for instance, have signed a petition calling global-warming theory into question. You can see it at petitionproject.org.

Scientific facts such as gravity can be measured. But when it comes to evolution and global warming, the confidence of conviction comes with a nagging bag of unanswered questions that need to be shut away, along with those asking the questions. For an example of the latter, see the emails from the University of East Anglia that call for blackballing global-warming dissidents.

On the bright side, science is not monolithic, which is why imaginative scientists break new ground. Imagine, for example, if Sir William Harvey had gone along with the idea that blood was localized in the body and did not discover the circulatory system, a quantum leap in medical science.

Or imagine that all scientists were cowed by Al Gore and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and stayed silent about glitches in global-warming theory, such as the Medieval Warm Period and the fudging of temperature data.

The reason I’m bringing all this up is because we’ll be hearing more in coming days about Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s remarks on why Texas schools teach creationism alongside evolution. Atheist Richard Dawkins, who was exposed in Ben Stein’s “Expelled” documentary as, well, arrogant, wrote in The Washington Post about his faith in evolution while excoriating Mr. Perry. He wrote:

“Q. Texas governor and GOP candidate Rick Perry, at a campaign event this week, told a boy that evolution is ‘just a theory’ with ‘gaps’ and that in Texas they teach ‘both creationism and evolution.’ Perry later added, ‘God is how we got here.’ According to a 2009 Gallup study, only 38 percent of Americans say they believe in evolution. If a majority of Americans are skeptical or unsure about evolution, should schools teach it as a mere ‘theory’? Why is evolution so threatening to religion? A. There is nothing unusual about Gov. Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history.”

Mr. Dawkins goes on to chalk up as random occurrences the mind-bending complexity of a mere cell or a bird’s exquisite physiology. Anything can happen in billions of years, right? We can even evolve Lady Gaga.

He reveals the intensity of his own faith when he claims that evolution explains “everything about life, including our own existence.”

Really? Can it explain why we exist at all, where we’re going and what purpose we should have? I think the God part of Mr. Perry’s statement is what really got Mr. Dawkins‘ dander up. Mr. Perry says he believes God created heaven and earth and there’s no way Mr. Dawkins can prove him wrong.

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