<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>GOD TOLD ME TO DENY</b> <p> <p> <i>Wandering in a vast forest at night, I have only a faint light to guide me. A stranger appears and says to me: "My friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly."</i> —Denis Diderot, <i>Addition aux Pensees Philosophiques</i> <p> <p> In a sense, religious belief is intrinsically a denial of science. Religion, like science, was born out of the universal human urge to produce explanations for phenomena. When the major religions began, a lot of phenomena were absolute mysteries. Why does wind roar and fire burn? How does the land produce the water that keeps the river flowing? What moves the sun in its daily path across the sky? Religion offered answers to these and plenty of other questions, and can thus be thought of as humankind's earliest stumbling attempt at science. There were forces in the world that were obviously far more powerful than anything mere humans could conjure—earthquakes that shook the land, volcanoes that filled the world with ash and fire and noise, storms that made the heavens tremble—so it must have seemed obvious these events were engendered by superhuman beings: gods. <p> The function of religions, then, was to explain the inexplicable. But along came people with inquiring minds who weren't satisfied with the "gods did it" catchall explanation. The shadow of the inexplicable began to be pushed back on every side, and—barring various dark ages—shrank ever more swiftly, until today there are only shreds of it left. And yet people go on believing in religious claims and denying scientific ones, even in instances where the latter have been proven beyond all rational doubt. Why? <p> In their book <i>The Unreality Industry</i> (1989, p. 127) Ian Mitroff and Warren Bennis offer a succinct answer: <p> Our minds are set up to simplify, to bring order to a world that often is as chaotic as it appears. To do this we not only throw out a great deal of information that is presented to us but we lock in, long after they have seemed to retain [any] usefulness or validity, older patterns and pieces of information. <p> <p> We're all guilty of this offense. Plenty of perfectly intelligent older people still think of the atom as a cluster of big pool balls around which smaller ones orbit, because that's the model they were taught in school and there has never seemed any compelling reason to update their thinking. But in other instances it <i>matters</i> if we cling to old, wrong explanations. <p> A difficulty facing anyone who seeks to discuss scientific denialism with the devout concerns the latter's deceptive tendency to label as science all sorts of things that patently aren't; it's difficult for someone who's merely read the label to accept that "Creation Science" isn't science at all. Whatever the motives of the person who wrote the label, the con trick is very often effective. Taner Edis sums this up well in the Islamic context in his <i>An Illusion of Harmony</i> (2007): "Fundamentalists sincerely think of themselves as supporting science while endorsing views that would cripple scientific practice" (p. 75). How many Americans who support the inclusion of Intelligent Design (ID) in the school science curriculum on the grounds that this would be "teaching the debate" realize how such a measure would cripple school science education? Many such advocates are not fundamentalists; some aren't even religious. They've been misled into believing that pseudoscience is science. <p> It seems adherents of traditional belief systems, confronted by the undoubted achievements of science and technology, have three available ways of reacting: <p> • They can cling yet more fervently to the traditional belief system, thereby denying science and reasserting their irrationalism. <p> • They can adapt their traditional beliefs so that these accord—or at least seem to—with scientific reality. Thus, when geology required the history of our planet to be hugely longer than allowed for in Genesis, many Christians readily adapted their beliefs. <p> • They can reject the traditional belief system—at least as a description of physical reality, even though it may still have value for them at what we could call a spiritual level. For example, many who reject the supernatural aspects of Christianity nevertheless abide by an approximation of its moral code, such as tolerance and "good works." <p> * * * <p> In <i>The Great Derangement</i> (2008), Matt Taibbi describes, among much else, his experiences as a mole amid the fundamentalist Cornerstone Church in Texas, part of the John Hagee Ministries. One episode (pp. 177–80) serves well to suggest an explanation as to why the reactions of so many US Christian fundamentalists seem so frequently divorced from reality. The occasion Taibbi describes is a sermon by Matthew Hagee, "both dumber and more vicious than his dad," in which the preacher seriously misrepresents various environmental concerns before lambasting them as anti-American, the relevant activists as puppets of Satan, and so forth. So far, so customarily loony. But then Hagee (p. 178) went a step further: <p> Encouraged, the portly pastor now looked down at his pulpit and read from a bunch of paper sheets. <p> "<i>Time</i> magazine says that the Sierra Club and others met with environmental leaders in Brazil in 1992 to discuss how to use the environment to reduce the American population from 175 million to 75 million, to control us. This was 1992. How many environmental laws have they passed since then?" <p> <p> Later, Taibbi combed through the entirety of <i>Time</i>'s coverage of the 1992 Earth Summit and discovered there was no such reference. <p> Next Hagee cited a law that Congress had attempted to pass a few days earlier, a law intended to encourage abortions through promoting fetal screening for genetic defects. Again, Taibbi checked. The act being lied about was the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, whose purpose was to prevent discrimination by employers and insurers on the basis of individuals' genetic information as revealed through medical tests. <p> Large swaths of US Christians have as their main source of authoritative information on scientific issues—authoritative because beamed down directly from God—the accounts given to them by the preachers they have come to trust. It's hardly a wonder that all these individual fundamentalists "know" a version of the sciences that bears little relation to reality. <p> But it's not just at the level of preacher/congregation that false science is being disseminated. There are fundamentalist institutions, from faux universities to supposedly educational publishing houses, dedicated to the propagation of righteous falsehood. The second edition of <i>Science 4 Student Text</i> was published by the Bob Jones University Press in 2004. Here is its "explanation" of electricity: <p> Electricity is a mystery. No one has ever observed it or heard it or felt it. We can see and hear and feel only what electricity does. We know that it makes light bulbs shine and irons heat up and telephones ring. But we cannot say what electricity itself is like. <p> We cannot even say where electricity comes from. Some scientists think that the sun may be the source of most electricity. Others think that the movement of the earth produces some of it. All anyone knows is that electricity seems to be everywhere and that there are many ways to bring it forth. <p> <p> The question obviously arises: Surely many of the parents whose children are expected to learn from this textbook, however devoutly Christian they might be, must <i>know</i> that stuff like this is twaddle ... so why haven't they battered down the doors of the Bob Jones University Press to tell the august editors to do a little better? <p> As Bertrand Russell wrote, in "Is There a God?" (1952): <p> If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion.... But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity.... <p> <p> Major Christian religious figures in the US like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have blamed disasters such as the 9/11 attacks and the 2005 flooding of New Orleans on the nation's permissiveness, specifically the widespread tolerance of homosexuality. In April 2010, a few weeks after the US Senate passed the first healthcare reform bill in decades, the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, sending a plume of ash into the high atmosphere, where it streamed in the direction of Europe and caused perhaps the biggest disruption of plane traffic ever. It takes a nimble mind to make a connection between healthcare reform and a volcanic eruption, but in his show on April 16, 2010, Rush Limbaugh was up to the challenge: <p> You know, a couple of days after the healthcare bill had been signed into law Obama ran around all over the country saying, "Hey, you know, I'm looking around. The earth hasn't opened up. There's no Armageddon out there. The birds are still chirping." I think the earth has opened up. God may have replied. <p> <p> Just a few weeks earlier, Pat Robertson had claimed the Haitians had brought the 2010 Port-au-Prince earthquake upon themselves because long ago they'd made a pact with the Devil. And a few days after Limbaugh's broadcast the US online political magazine <i>WorldNetDaily</i> was promoting the ideas of Mark Biltz, pastor of El Shaddai Ministries in Bonney Lake, Washington, concerning biblical astronomy. The Second Coming is likely to be in 2014 or 2015, Biltz believes, because a recently observed gamma ray burst from the direction of the constellation Boötes, which contains the bright star Arcturus, is a message from God to this effect: "The word 'assemble' is the same word that is translated as 'Arcturus' in Job," he said. "So it means the same thing, to assemble, to come. And if you'll notice the word 'come' is 'bo,' which is the name of this constellation: 'Bo-otes.'" <p> At the time, <i>WorldNetDaily</i> had just initiated a lawsuit against the White House Correspondents' Association for failing to recognize it as a serious news organization. <p> * * * <p> It was Hindu mathematicians who discovered the concept of zero, possibly in the sixth century; they transmitted it in due course to the Arabs, and thence, a very long time later, it reached Europe. The seventh-century Brahmagupta knew not only of the concept of infinity but of its properties. Sripati, in the eleventh century, worked out the means of solving what came in the West to be called Pell's equation: <i>y<sup>2</sup>-nx</i><sup>2</sup> = 1. The European name for the equation honors the English mathematician John Pell, whose work trailed Sripati's by a small matter of six centuries. By the ninth century, Indian mathematicians could figure pi to ten decimal places and had worked out the rudiments of coordinate geometry. Attainments in other areas of science were far from negligible. Yet, just as happened in Islamic science (see below), Hindu science thereafter went into a long period of eclipse. <p> The Indian cosmologist J. V. Narlikar was fond of observing that when the Steady State theory of the universe was widely accepted, Hindu scholars found plenty of passages in the Vedas that supported this cosmology. When the Steady State theory was ousted by the Big Bang theory, those same Hindu scholars discovered, <i>often in the very same passages, that</i> ... <p> Narlikar is just one of the great scientists India has produced. Among many others have been the physicist and polymath Jagadish Chandra Bose, the physicist S. N. Bose, the astrophysicist (and Nobel laureate) Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the molecular biologist G. N. Ramachandran, the physicist (and Nobel laureate) C. V. Raman, the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, the chemist P. C. Roy, and the astrophysicist Meghnad Saha. Yet, despite so many Indian contributions of distinction to modern science, all is not well within Indian science, according to Meera Nanda in a series of articles and books like <i>Prophets Facing Backward</i> (2003) and <i>The God Market</i> (2009). She points to an alliance of rightwing Hindu nationalists/ traditionalists (the Hindutva, organized as the Sangh Parivar), left-wing postmodernists in both the West and India, and the presence within Indian society of a "fashionable denigration of science." <p> Because of the efforts of the Sangh Parivar, there's an industry in reinterpreting—or pretending to reinterpret—the Vedas such as to maintain that they contain, albeit sometimes in coded or capsule form, information that just happens to match up with the latest scientific discoveries. As Nanda is keen to emphasize, "[A] scientific understanding of nature completely and radically negates the 'eternal laws' of Hindu dharma which teach an identity between spirit and matter." <p> Of course, "Vedic science" isn't limited to India; later (see page 169) we'll look at the work of US writers Michael Cremo and Richard L. Thompson on Vedic Creationism. We can note the irony of Western woomongers seeking universal scientific truths in the Vedas even as the inheritors of the Vedic tradition themselves—outside the ranks of the Sangh Parivar and their converts—are looking to modern science and technology as bases for their booming economy, while Indian scientists have, as we've seen, shown themselves to be at home among modern science's top echelons. <p> A second prong of the Hindu fundamentalist assault on science is to claim that traditional "sciences" like astrology and palmistry are of equal merit with modern Western science. Here the fundamentalists are abetted by the postmodernist school, with its idea that all knowledge is purely relative (see pages 20ff.). <p> At the same time, the Sangh Parivar are mounting an assault on modern science with the intent of devaluing it to the point where it can be safely ignored. Again, there are two prongs to this assault. One is to denounce modern science as aWestern construct, forced on conquered peoples by their colonial overlords. Those who speak out in favor of modern science and against superstition are guilty of "colonized" thinking. The other meme relies on, again, ideas borrowed from the postmodernists. Science is by its nature "deconstructivist": Faced by a major problem, its general approach is to break down that problem into its various bits in the belief that, by investigating the bits separately and then in groups, eventually a solution will be found to the original major problem. The Sangh Parivar dispute that the deconstructivist approach pays dividends. Their Vedic science is far superior in that its approach is not piecemeal but <i>holistic</i>. A wise Hindu will look not just at the bits but at the <i>whole picture</i>. The trouble is that this method was tried in the West and discovered to fail: Plato's philosophy may be fascinating but, so far as its ventures into science are concerned, it's brilliant tripe. <p> In <i>Science and the Indian Tradition</i> (2007) David L. Gosling describes how such "holistic" thinking essentially led Hindu traditionalists down a culde-sac. The Hindu concept of universal unity, while philosophically satisfying, bears—beyond the idea of unification—no real relation to unifying theories of science. <p> In modern India, as Gosling points out, one finds cutting-edge science and technology—like the widespread use of solar and other environment-friendly energy technologies—alongside prevalent belief in superstitions like reincarnation and even the eclipse demon! And our opinion of the work of the pioneering Indian physicist Jagadish Chandra Bose (see above) must be colored by the knowledge that he did considerable research into how plants experience pain, convincing himself this was a real phenomenon. As Meera Nanda observes, although the hypothesis was "falsified and rejected by mainstream biology in his own life-time [it] is still touted as India's contribution to world science in Hindutva literature." <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>DENYING SCIENCE</b> by <b>JOHN GRANT</b> Copyright © 2011 by John Grant. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.