tampabay.com

A reality-based look at science

By ROBYN BLUMNER
Published December 9, 2007


What happened to Christine Comer makes me wonder whether America is really emerging from its Age of Unenlightenment.

Comer was forced to resign her position as director of science at the Texas Education Agency because she forwarded an e-mail about a lecture on the fallacy of "intelligent design" and creationism as a scientifically grounded alternative to evolution. Comer, who spent 27 years as a science teacher and had been in her post at the agency for nine years, was told that the agency must remain "neutral" on the subject.

Neutral? Are they kidding? On the one hand you have a theory that has been successfully tested using the scientific method for more than 100 years and whose accuracy has been repeatedly affirmed by the vast fields of biology and genetics. On the other hand you have a hypothesis that relies on supernatural intervention for which there has been no legitimate scientific testing or objective proof.

Florida is also now in a dust-up due to the inclusion of evolution in its proposed science standards. Donna Callaway, who was appointed to the state Board of Education by former Gov. Jeb Bush, said she'll oppose the new standards because of it.

Really folks, in this information age when scientific innovation is the key to our nation's future, we don't have the time to be mucking around in this tired debate. You don't produce doctors and scientists by teaching science from the Bible. Period.

Not surprisingly, a former adviser to George Bush as Texas governor who also worked in his federal Department of Education provoked the Comer witch hunt. Lizzette Reynolds, deputy commissioner for statewide policy and programs, complained about Comer's e-mail and called for her termination.

These are the kinds of dim-witted people who have been elevated to key posts in the Bush administration, marking it as one promoting loopy religiosity over fact and evidence.

Think about some of the administration's policies that have emanated from Bush's radical religious views:

- The suspension of most federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research (Bush to Parkinson's patients: Drop dead!).

- The spending of hundreds of millions of dollars on demonstrably useless abstinence-only sex education (Why Johnny has herpes).

- The effort to prevent emergency contraception from being sold over-the-counter (How to guarantee increased abortions).

- And the retraction of appropriated international family planning money (Ditto).

Bush's Iraq "crusade" is perhaps the most disturbing example of his Christian manichaeism, but even his administration's long-standing antagonism toward the evidence of man-made global warming has religious overtones, with a hint of The-End-Times-Are-Nigh uninterest in its consequences.

Yet in every case where the administration ignored objective fact or science in favor of religion, Bush took this country down the wrong path, harming people's lives and endangering health.

The "salvation" for those of us in the reality-based community is that the Bush administration is soon looking at its last year in office, and maybe, finally, the war on science is also coming to an end.

But maybe not.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is gaining as a GOP presidential contender. He may be a friendly face, but the ordained Baptist minister is no friend to reason. In the Republican primary debate last May he was one of three in the field to raise his hand to proclaim that he does not believe in evolution.

In a later debate, Huckabee rejected for himself the belief that we are "descendants of a primate," magnanimously suggesting that it was okay if others chose to. Gee, thanks.

Pretty much all the presidential candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, are freely spouting off about the centrality of faith in their lives (with Mitt Romney promising that his is not too weird), but it is only Huckabee who is the dogma-driven real deal - a man who as president would follow in Bush's antiscience, anti-intellectual footsteps, a man who would feel "chosen" for the job and licensed by a power higher than the will of the voters.

The mission-zeal with which Bush has arrogated power and his maniacal unwillingness to compromise is packaged righteousness, pure and simple. Remember that Bush said he appealed to a "higher father" for strength when journalist Bob Woodward asked him if he'd consulted his father before invading Iraq.

Who needs information grounded in experience when you have prayer and prophesy?

And Huckabee would be Bush redux.

Here is something scary-ignorant. Last week, the Web site ChristiaNet.com, which bills itself as "the world's largest Christian portal," cheered the results of a survey it took finding that half of its 1,400 Christian respondents said that dinosaurs and man roamed the Earth at the same time.

Putting aside that the schoolteachers of these people should be slapped silly, these are Huckabee's peeps. We can't afford to put this kind of backward thinking and scientific illiteracy in the driver's seat again.