Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Politics of Science versus Christianity, Hypatia of Alexandria: Women's History, March 6th

In Minnesota we have conservative politicians like State Representative Mike Beard, who was the assistant minority whip dating back to 2007, who believes in making government policy based on his Christian faith, not on facts and certainly not on the basis of a solid understanding of science.  Beard wants to bring back coal mining in Minnesota, and more coal-powered electrical plants:
"A lot of what Beard knows he learned in church. One Congressman, talking about global warming, recently said that God wouldn't allow man to do anything to destroy the planet. Beard told me, "It is the height of hubris to think we could."
Beard epitomizes the politician who gets his information from religion, and from partisan sources, some of them funded by the producers of fossil fuels that are the subject of regulation - hardly reliable, or objective, honest sources. As the same article notes:
Mike Beard is a free-market conservative and pro-business. No one who calls himself those things can afford global warming to be true. There is a political belief that solving global warming will destroy American business. American business deplores government interference. Global warming regulation and legislation requires governments to act. But Professor Abraham says he would love to see free-market solutions arise. The problem is, he says, nobody on the conservative side is coming up with ideas. [my emphasis - DG]
Beard, and other conservatives in our state legislature are a microcosm of conservative science deniers in government nationwide most of whom believe they are operating on faith, and therefore don't need to be scientifically accurate or to have a scientific education.  Who are the people who oppose these anti-science positions?  From the same article:
Rep. Kate Knuth is in the party out of power. She is one of the people he [Beard] lectured the other day on the science of global warming. Knuth has degrees from the University of Oslo, the University of Chicago and Oxford. She is a Fulbright Scholar and teaches at Hamline's Center for Global Environmental Education. She voted against lifting the moratorium on coal. She is in the minority.
The anti-science crowd on the right doesn't believe in the dangers of climate change, and doesn't believe in evolution.  They are willing and even eager to make government policy in all areas, from energy to education, based on those beliefs rather than knowledge and facts.  Who funds this pseudo-science they follow?
Some of the most determined opponents of action on climate change in the U.S. are so-called libertarians, motivated by an ideological commitment to minimal government and "free market" laissez-faire capitalism. Their efforts on behalf of unregulated corporate wealth and power have been funded heavily by patrons in the fossil fuel industry. While ExxonMobil has drawn much attention for its patronage of global warming denialist activity by such groups, much less public attention has been paid to the activities of the multibillionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, owners of Koch Industries.
I find this alarming when I look at the data here.
As expected, more highly educated adults believe in "evolution:"
74% of people with post-graduate degrees believe in "evolution," as do:
48% of college graduates
50% of adults with some college
41% of adults with high school or less.
More frequent attendance at religious services correlated with a lack of belief in "evolution:"
24% of those who attend weekly believe in evolution, as do:
52% of those who attend nearly weekly or monthly, and
71% of those who attend seldom or never. 
As expected, political affiliation reflects a difference of opinion on origins:
Only 30% of Republicans believe in "evolution;" 68% do not.
61% of independents believe in "evolution;" 37% do not.
57% of Democrats believe in "evolution;" 40% do not. 
The five main reasons why people say they do not believe in "evolution" are their belief Jesus Christ, belief in God, "due to my religion or faith," "not enough evidence," and belief in the Bible.
 Not surprising, Beard's education was primarily religious, per his wikipedia article:

Beard graduated from Bethany College of Missions in Bloomington, earning his B.A. in Bible Missions. He later attended entrepreneurial classes at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul. He was the owner and operator of Macalester Park Public Company from 1987-1995, and has been publisher of the Minnesota Christian Chronicle newspaper since 1994.
I have argued here often that while I value religion very much in individual lives, it has no place intruding into government policy in our secular nation.  No religious belief, no matter how devoutly held, should be imposed or intrude upon others who may believe differently or who may hold no particular faith, or may be atheist.  Policies need to be logical and factual and objective; not ideological, not theological.  That is the only course to respect freedom of all religions, and to make responsible, effective government policy and law.
This led me to look at how far back there had been a collision between Christianity and science, in writing today's women's history month profile.  I wanted to look at how far back this particular collision had been taking place.  I came up with an early example:
Hypatia of Alexandria: C370-415AD, was a Greek woman living in Alexandria, Egypt; she was a noted neoplatonist philosopher, an astronomer, and a renowned mathematician, known world wide in her age as a scientist and head of the famous school.  She is regarded as a martyr to science equivalent to better known Socrates.

Her murder by a Christian mob, including 'monks armed with oyster shells', (other accounts say pot shards) was said to mark the end of classical antiquity.

Does this apply to the current legislative views of people like Mike Beard? It does:
Although Hypatia's death has been interpreted by some as an example of conflict between religion and scientific inquiry, contemporary historians of science have a different view: she essentially got caught up in a political struggle. In the words of David Lindberg, "her death had everything to do with local politics and virtually nothing to do with science".[16]
One day in March AD 415,[27] during the season of Lent, her chariot was waylaid on her route home by a Christian mob, possibly Nitrian monks[27] led by a man identified only as Peter, who is thought to be Peter the Reader. The Christian monks stripped her naked and dragged her through the streets to the newly Christianised Caesareum church, where she was brutally killed. Some reports suggest she was flayed with ostraca (pot shards) and set ablaze while still alive, though other accounts suggest those actions happened after her death

The month of March - the month during which Hypatia was murdered, in addition to being Women's History Month - seems an appropriate time to look at the lessons of history, and to apply them to the conflicts of our modern politics, science and religion. While no one is suggesting that this conflict will result in the murder of modern scientists by modern Christians, the concern is that their clinging to faith instead of facts might ultimately kill us all, and destroy the world besides. It is important we need to continue to push back at all religious theology that denies or ignores facts and science, and never more so than in our government.

1 comment:

  1. We caught the film Agora about a week ago, which was about Hypatia of Alexandria. The parallels are indeed frightening--Crazed Christians working on a new dark age.