By William K. Black. This article was first published on New Economic Perspectives.
This is my fifth installment describing the assault on education, science, sex, and modernity in Kansas that was inspired by the Koch brothers. The leader of Koch brothers’ retinue of politicians in Kansas is Governor Sam Brownback. In my prior column I explained how Steve Abrams, a leader of the Koch’s shock troops, demonstrated the wisdom of our family’s twin rules whenever he wrote an op ed. Our family rules are:
- It is impossible to compete with unintentional self-parody, and
- When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging
Abrams’ op eds were not the only gift to scientists and educators resisting the Kochs’ assaults on education, science, and modernity in Kansas. Political wonks will recall that (then) U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, in a May 2007 Republican debate among candidates for the 2008 Party nomination for the presidency, was one of three of those candidates who held up his hand when the moderator asked how many of them did not believe in evolution.
What even political wonks may not recall is that, nearly a decade earlier, Abrams had broken the trail Brownback was following. Brownback published an op ed entitled “What I Think About Evolution.” Brownback had forgotten how badly op eds in favor of bowdlerized biology blow up in the face of the writer (or, more likely, the Senator who signs what his staff drafts). Brownback claimed his op ed displayed his conciliatory and thoughtful approach to issues when he had time to think about his response to those issues and step back from politics.
“IN our sound-bite political culture, it is unrealistic to expect that every complicated issue will be addressed with the nuance or subtlety it deserves.”
We have the privilege of reading Brownback when he addresses a vital, “complicated” issue “with the nuance or subtlety it deserves.” Here is the link to his May 31, 2007 op ed.
Brownback: Evolution is false
Brownback’s op ed likely reads a bit strange to people who have never heard of “young earth creationists” (YEC). Abrams and the Southern Baptist’s lead theocrats have adopted the position that much of modern science (including physics, geology, chemistry, biology, paleontology, anthropology, oceanography, and climate science) is false because it purports to demonstrate that the universe was not created a bit over 6,000 years ago. Brownback did not reject YEC; he professed to be agnostic about it. He did reject any scientific finding as inherently unscientific if it contradicted YEC.
Brownback rejected evolution, using the template that Abrams had laid out.
“If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.”
The term “microevolution” is a pseudo-scientific non-distinction championed by Abrams and other creationists. Brownback takes Abrams’ position – evolution cannot produce new species. The Judeo/Christian/Muslim God created all the species that ever existed in a single grand act of creation over the course of days three-through-six. Because new species cannot arise by evolution, modern humans were after-meal snacks for T-Rex. Note that this result does not depend on the age of the earth. If new species cannot arise then they all had to exist from the time the Judeo/Christian/Muslim God created all the species. To put the matter gently, this claim has no basis in science and is refuted by multiple scientific fields. Brownback’s claim that “many biologists” believe that evolution cannot lead to the creation of new species is false. Brownback’s tortured dichotomy in which the only two choices possible are being an atheist who believes in science or an ultra-fundamentalist Christians who denies science is also false.
Brownbackian “Science” (faith is “truth” and real science is “atheistic theology”)
Brownback’s op ed made one of the most tin foil claims any politician has ever made about science. He redefined the word “science.” Brownbackian science is an oxymoron.
“While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.”
Brownback’s use of the verbal trinity: “conviction,” “know,” and “certainty” signals that he has nothing scientific to prove his claim that “man” was created to “reflect” the image of the Judeo/Christian/Muslim “God.” Science is only “welcome” in Brownback’s domain if it is “compatible” with the irrefutable “truth” represented by his personal faith. Scientific findings that “undermine” his personal religious beliefs must be excluded (“rejected”). His faith’s religious tenets represent “truth” that must never be subject to being revealed as untruths by science. In sum, he has re-defined “science” to mean the tenets of his personal faith and real scientists as “atheists” if they find information that would undermine his faith. Readers must ask themselves whether Brownback’s edict that any scientific finding that “undermines” any religious belief must “be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science” represents the “nuance” or the “subtlety” that Brownback promised us in his op ed. It actually represents the unintentional self-parody.
Brownback is a lawyer. He knows that any law that defined the bible as the sole source of “truth” would be held unconstitutional under the Kansas and United States constitutions. He cannot get away with openly turning Kansas into the theocracy of Aynrandistan.
The only logical alternative is to make all religious tenets irrefutable “truth” and “reject” any scientific finding that would “undermine” any religious tenet “as an atheistic theology posing as science.” Brownback cannot adopt this alternative for several reasons.
Brownback does not believe the tenets of most other religions represent “truth.” He recently signed into law a bill that the proponents openly admitted was designed to forbid Islamic tenets from being applied by Kansas courts. Brownback, Kansas State Senator Susan Wagle, and Abrams do not believe that Islamic religious tenets represent “truth.” Wagle explained her support for the bill by ridiculing Islam as a religion that murdered women by stoning them.
Brownback cannot define all religious tenets as “truth” that scientists are not permitted to “undermine” through research findings because so many religious tenets are contradictory. Contradictory religious tenets cannot logically both represent “truth.” Scientists would be caught in infinite loops if they conducted research on questions subject to contradictory religious tenets. Any scientific finding would violate at least one religion’s tenets. Brownback may think the redefinition of science he proposed in his op ed “welcomed” scientific findings “compatible” with his personal religious beliefs, but as soon as we expand the requirement to “welcome” only scientific finding that are compatible with all religious tenets we discover that scientific findings compatible with Brownback’s personal religious views would have to be “rejected” under his re-definition of science whenever they “undermine” some other religion’s tenets. The scientists’ findings represent “an atheistic theology posing as science” according to Brownbackian “science.” Brownian motion is random, but Brownbackian motion is consistently retrograde.
That last example makes obvious another fatal logical flaw in Brownbackian “science.” A devout scientist whose research supports his personal religious views but “undermines” a contradictory tenet of some other religion cannot logically be accused of engaging in “atheistic theology posing as science.” We can recognize an even greater logical flaw at the core of Brownbackian science if we consider the universal situation in which religious tenets are not contradictory but simply different. It is illogical to label a devout Hindu paleontologist who finds fossil evidence supporting the emergence of whales as a species an “atheist” because her research “undermined” the beliefs of some Christian fundamentalists who interpret Genesis as requiring that they believe in YEC. Hundreds of millions of Hindus do not believe that their religion requires them to believe in YEC or refuse to believe in evolution
It is equally illogical to purport to define a scientist who is not religiously devout as acting pursuant to “an atheistic theology posing as science” because her research findings “undermine” some religion’s tenet. The scientist could be doing excellent research because she was competent and believed in following the scientific method. Her research finding that “undermined” a religious tenet could be accurate because the religious tenet was not “truth.” Brownback obviously thinks “atheism” is a terrible thing and that atheists embrace some single (undefined) “theology,” but other than not believing in a supreme, supernatural being, atheism provides a scientist with no guidance on how to conduct research or what findings she “should” make.
How Brownback is escaping the dilemma
“We” do not “know” that “man” “reflects” the “image” of “God” and “was not an accident.” Brownback defines these matters as “truth” based on his personal religious views. Brownback “knows” that humans were created on day six by the Judeo-Christian God in his image because Brownback takes Genesis as literal and inerrant. Most religions and religious adherents do not teach that “man” was created in the “image” of “God” (singular). Brownback escapes the dilemma by using allies like Wagle and Abrams to implement a policy that is nominally based on religious freedom but actually favors their particular religion. Brownback, Wagle, and Abrams want education, science, and law in Kansas to be “compatible” with their religious beliefs. They are delighted to twist education and science in Kansas to “undermine” rival religious beliefs and to draft the law to bar the courts from even considering rival religious beliefs. Brownstein knows that his legislative allies will warp “science,” “education,” and “law” in Kansas to fit their mutual, personal religious tenets. The actual implementation of Brownbackian “science,” “education,” and “law” in Kansas is and will be hostile to Islam and friendly to YEC and the Kochs’ business interests and dogmas. Politicians are experts in misusing politics to escape logical dilemmas.