Political Science

Official Portrait

Official Portrait

This made the news a few years back. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida had an interview with a reporter for GQ Magazine that included the following interchange:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

Marco Rubio: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

I have to tell you it is so refreshing to hear from an elected official that there are some things about which he is clueless. No, it’s not all that refreshing.

It is not refreshing to learn we have elected officials who are absolutely clueless about some basic science. I’ve mentioned before, this GQ reporter missed a great opportunity to ask the critical question: “Are you a high school graduate?”

Having lost that round, I’m still comfortable with the knowledge that Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is the only elected official who couldn’t pass a high school science quiz.

Oops! Apparently I lost that one, as well. A closer look reveals the bad news just keeps piling up.

Earlier this year Republican candidates for Texas Lieutenant Governor tried to out race each other to the bottom in their grab for the nomination. As The Dallas Morning News reported:

AUSTIN — Down to the final five weeks of their hotly contested primary race, the four Republican candidates for lieutenant governor took staunchly conservative positions on abortion, illegal immigration and education in a televised debate Monday.

They struggled to distance themselves from each other on the issues, although Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Sen. Dan Patrick targeted incumbent David Dewhurst over his management of the Senate and other matters.

All four took strong anti-abortion positions, opposing exemptions for cases of rape or incest. Each supported allowing the teaching of creationism in some form in public schools. And each said they disagreed with a state judge’s decision last week to order that a legally dead Tarrant County woman be taken off life support despite the fact that she was pregnant. The case has caught national attention and raised questions about Texas’ end-of-life laws.

I’ve highlighted the essential text from the story. Texas Freedom Network is my source to links on this. A blog post by Dan bores in on the ultimate winner, Dan Patrick, who may have provided the choicest quote:

Our children must be really be confused. We want them to go to church on Sunday, and we teach them about Jesus Christ. And then they go to school on Monday. They can’t pray. They can’t learn about creationism. They must really be confused. And they have a right to be confused because we as Christians have yielded to the secular left and let them rule the day in this country. … When it comes to creationism, not only should it be taught, it should be triumphed. It should be heralded.

In case you missed what the Lieutenant Governor-elect said, allow me to put it into language thinking people can understand: “When it comes to stupidity, not only should it be taught, it should be triumphed. It should be heralded.”

Do you want a bright spot in this? I’ll give you a bright spot. Not all of the nudniks running could get elected. One of those who failed to advance was Attorney General candidate Barry Smitherman. As reported by the Dallas Observer.

In case there were any doubt, Smitherman put them to rest during an hour-long interview this week with Arlington’s Lone Star Tea Party. His praise for the industry, mostly unsolicited, was effusive. Even when the interviewer queried him about Common Core, the federally backed education curriculum currently the subject of innumerable Tea Party conspiracy theories, he steered the discussion back to his favorite topic.

“I was not following this issue previously until a mom down in Corpus Christi showed me a a lesson plan that said ‘Fossil fuels are bad because …’ and then you filled in the blank,” he said. “And the child filled in ‘because they pollute and are not renewable’ and that was the right answer! And as I delved into this more and more, I began to see a curriculum on energy that was completely biased against fossil fuels — this is in Texas! In Texas public schools, talking about the fact that oil and coal and gas pollute!”

Clearly outrageous, just like the notion of global warming. “Now they call it ‘climate change,’ because the earth is not warming,” he quipped. “In fact, up here in North Texas, we know the earth is not warming: it’s been bitterly cold the past four or five days.”

The earth is not warming, and we know that, because “it’s been bitterly cold the past four or five days.” Candidate Smitherman’s grasp of science essentials is breath taking. Another way of saying that is “his grasp of science will take your breath away.”

Don Huffhines won election to Texas Senate District 16 (Dallas). KERA TV in Dallas interviewed him in March and elicited this remarkable comment:

Teaching creationism: “I certainly think all students should be aware of creationism,” Huffines told KERA. “They should be aware of that, absolutely. Teaching it as a science, it should be taught on equal footing.”

By now I should be completely out of breath. However, there’s more.

In September National Journal reported on the text book acceptance process in Texas. Particularly interesting was the stance of Board of Education member David Bradley:

“Whether global warming is a myth or whether it’s actually happening, that’s very much up for debate,” Bradley said. “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.”

Bradley is not a climate scientist, but he’s about to make big decisions governing what Texas students learn about climate change.

In November, Bradley and the rest of the state’s 15-member board will vote to adopt new social-studies textbooks for public schools from kindergarten to 12th grade. When he does, he says that part of his mission will be to shield Lone Star schoolchildren from radical green rhetoric.

Instead, Bradley plans to push for textbooks that teach climate-science doubt—presenting the link between greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity and global warming as an unsubstantiated and controversial theory.

For people who do study the climate for a living, that mission is infuriating as it misrepresents the state of climate science: Surveys of peer-reviewed academic studies show that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human activity is the primary driver of global warming. That’s not universal agreement, but it’s a far cry from the “some-say-yes-some-say-no” treatment of the topic that Bradley hopes to see in Texas classrooms.

Of course, not everybody who threw up in science class is running for election. The Dallas Morning News reported in August on an interview with Jason Lisle, “an astrophysicist” and and also the research director at the Institute for Creation Research, now headquartered in Dallas. Lisle bespoke the true sense of “creation science.”

“I think everyone here is doing it because we believe in the message and we ultimately want people to be saved,” he said. “We want people to realize the Bible is trustworthy in matters of history and when it touches science. And because you can trust it in those areas, you can trust it when it comes to how to inherit eternal life.”

ICR in Dallas

ICR in Dallas

Lisle laments that legitimate science journals wont publish works by creationists such as himself. Mainstream science employment is not open to creationists due to the associated stigma. The problem is, creationists generate this stigma principally by their fact-deficient arguments.

Lisle says his team analyzes the same data as secular scientists — but they interpret it differently, and often find flaws in accepted assumptions.

For example, Lisle cites the “spiral winding problem” as evidence that galaxies cannot be billions of years old. Essentially, he says if stars had been swinging around galactic centers for billions of years, they’d look more like massive phonograph records than what we see through telescopes, which are loose, hurricane-shaped spirals.

Or oceans — if they’d been around a billion years, they should be more salty. Or genetic mutations — if humans are hundreds of thousands of years old, there should be more genetic wrinkles in our DNA. Or dinosaur bones — if they’re millions of years old, scientists should not be recovering soft, protein-based tissue in them.

“It’s not proof, but it’s certainly clear evidence that perhaps these fossils are not 65 to 85 million years old as evolutionary naturalism says,” said Frank Sherwin, a zoologist at ICR.

Taking the first of the above, spiral galaxies do not get their spiral signature by the “spiral winding problem” that Lisle cites. The North Texas Skeptics reported on this fallacy twenty years ago:

1. Galaxies Here’s the rub. Look into the sky and you see spiral galaxies; clouds consisting of billions of stars spinning about a common center in a pinwheel formation (see Figure 1). Measurement of the rate of motion of the individual stars discloses a troubling concern. The stars near the center of the galaxies are moving at such a rate that they will circle the center more quickly than stars farther out. A quick mathematical analysis will show (and Humphreys has done so) that after a few million years a spiral galaxy gets “wound up” by this process. The spiral shape completely disappears within a half billion years, leaving us to wonder what happens in the remaining fifteen-plus billion years of the universe. Why aren’t all galaxies wound into flat disks by now, especially the Milky Way galaxy where we now are and where we have been for over four billion years? Young Earth creationists will assert that these galaxies have been in existence much less than four billion years, maybe even less than 10,000 years. Of course this misses the question of why the galaxies got wound into a spiral in the first place, a process that ought to take at least a million years.

Strahler cites a work by Steven Dutch2 explaining that even spiral galaxies are approximately flat disks of stars and that the spiral features are bands of new stars that shine more brightly in the blue spectrum, giving the overall galaxy its spiral appearance. Even with this explanation the spiral galaxy argument will continue to provide fuel for the creationists for years to come, since the new star explanation will not be easy to understand by the population at large.

The footnote cited is to an item in a book by Arthur N. Strahler Science and Earth History – the Evolution/Creation Controversy, (Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY).

The ocean salt is a creationist argument that says more about the person making it than it does about the age of the earth:

Throughout recorded history man has longed to understand his surroundings and environment. Science was born from these observations of the natural world. One of the most important questions raised about the world it is. Over time, many different methods of dating the Earth have been attempted, with most of them failing. One such failed dating technique is measuring the present salt content of the ocean to create a time scale to determine how long it has existed. This technique was introduced nearly 300 years ago, and it was researched by many prominent scientists for several hundred years until it fell out of favor because of obvious drawbacks in the method. Curiously, the salt clock method is somewhat of a controversy even today as proponents of a young Earth model are resurrecting it as proof of an allegedly 6,000-year-old Earth. To understand how valid dating methods work, one must explore invalid methods such as the ocean salt clock and know why and how it is ineffectual. One must also know the history of the method and how it came to be.

We can only hope our elected officials are not out there making equally foolish assessments of the world we live in. But don’t bet on it.

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4 thoughts on “Political Science

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