Author: Maggie McGovney
After many a debate, I’ve said that I wish I could choose science as my religion.
That’s not to say science belongs in the same category as faith. The good thing about science is that you don’t need to have faith in it; in fact, it wishes you wouldn’t. It demands skepticism. It says, “Please question me. Please argue with me. Please be as credulous as you can. If you find something about me that isn’t right, let everyone know so that we can fix it.” I want science to count as my religion because of the respect religion gets in our culture.
If someone says “that’s against my religion,” that is almost always considered to be more important than what’s scientifically accurate. Many schools in the U.S. are required to teach creationism alongside evolution, but asking a church to teach evolution alongside creationism would be called religious persecution. Not to get political, but I challenge the world to show me one single argument against gay marriage that isn’t based in religion, directly or indirectly. And that’s just the beginning.
One example that is personal to me: vaccination. My mother is immunocompromised. One single person who isn’t vaccinated against the flu can infect her and cause her to have a multiple sclerosis attack bad enough to cause her to permanently lose feeling in her legs and more than likely affect her mobility. I know because a bout of the flu caused her to permanently lose feeling in her feet a few years back. She now walks with a cane and can’t always do activities she used to love, like hiking and riding her bike.
Every single piece of scientific literature on the subject supports the use of vaccines as safe except in the very occasional person who is immunocompromised or allergic, and science also says that there are many people like my mom who can be really, physically harmed by people in their environment who are not vaccinated. However if one person decides not to vaccinate because of their religious beliefs, or because they disagree with the overwhelming consensus that vaccines are healthy and safe, they have the right to not vaccinate, no matter the harm it does to others.
Wasn’t I just saying that science is based on dissent? Without dissenting opinions, we wouldn’t have the theory of gravity or know that the sun is at the center of the solar system. Galileo, Einstein, and Newton were dissenters (not to mention Charles Darwin). However, these dissenters were not just people who read a book or did some “research” on the internet. They were all people who studied for years and understood the science behind their subjects. According to research from the University of Chicago, 11% of the US population believes that the government is replacing less efficient incandescent bulbs with fluorescent bulbs because they mind control the population into being more docile. Many more think that fluoride in the water is also about mind control (spoiler alert: it just prevents tooth decay). If you disagree with the current scientific consensus on a subject but do not actually study that field of science, it may not be the consensus that is incorrect.
One issue that affects all of us on this little blue planet: climate-change. This is hotly debated by non-scientists, but according to NASA, 97% or more of publishing climate scientists agree that the average temperature of the Earth is getting significantly hotter as a direct result of human-produced carbon emissions. These are people who have studied for years, who understand how to interpret the data better than anyone else. This is not a matter of belief, yet we just elected someone who does not believe in climate-change into the oval office. Unfortunately, not believing in it hard enough doesn’t make it go away any more than not believing in vaccines can protect you from getting sick (or making others sick).
All of this feeds into why legislators who claim to make laws based on their beliefs and not on science scare me so much. Science is based on information that can change over time, just like the political climate of a country, and just like the US constitution was intended to. Science encourages debate and dissent and accepts counter-evidence. Science does not assign inherent moral value to anything or anyone. Science is about seeing the world not as we would like it to be, but as it is. Science examines the best information available and uses that to make decisions. Science has been wrong (over and over and over) but eventually it accepts changes where they need to be made. Can any religion, or any belief system, say the same thing?
Sources for the curious: