Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why ask politicians scientific questions?

I hadn't realized that, on the left, Marco Rubio's noncommittal answer on how old the Earth is had disqualified him from holding higher office because it demonstrates that he is against science or something. What idiocy. Daniel Engber at Slate destroys these liberal criticisms by pointing out that Barack Obama had given a remarkably similar answer back in 2008 when asked what he would tell his daughters if they asked him if God had created the universe in seven days. All that Rubio's and Obama's answers demonstrate is that they're politicians who don't want to offend those who believe in a more literal interpretation of the Bible and those people who don't believe in the Biblical story of creation.

Allowing these sorts of ambiguities should be just fine. After all, Charles Darwin was a believing Christian. So was Isaac Newton.

And as Engber points out, so is the man Obama appointed to head the National Institutes of Health.
President Obama knows this fact as well as anyone. In 2009, he appointed Francis Collins, the brilliant geneticist, to head the National Institutes of Health. Collins is a thoughtful Christian who happens to believe in the virgin birth and the resurrection. "There's nothing inconsistent with God on rare occasions choosing to invade the natural world in a way that appears miraculous," he told Time magazine in 2006. "If God made the natural laws, why could he not violate them when it was a particularly significant moment for him to do so?" This man runs a $30 billion program in biomedical research, and he runs it pretty well.
Politicians aren't scientists and they aren't pastors, either. Instead they've learned to follow a different set of laws—those that dictate what to say, not what to think. That's why Rubio and Obama sound so much alike. They're taking notes from the same textbook.
There is no reason to believe that someone's doubts or ignorance about geology mean that the whole foundation of our system disintegrates as one of Rubio's critics apparently believes.
What about Rubio's assertion that the age of the Earth "has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States"? That's the claim that gave Phil Plait "a chill," since science is "the very foundation of our country's economy." At Forbes, Alex Knapp declares that "this economy, at its root, is built on a web of scientific knowledge from physics to chemistry to biology. It's impossible to just cherry pick out parts we don’t like." If we get it wrong on Earth's creation, these critics say, the United States will fall apart.
Knapp goes on to argue,
Now, this doesn’t mean that our representatives to the Congress and to the Senate should be scientific experts. But if they hold ideas about the world around us that are fundamentally at odds with scientific evidence, then that will ultimately infringe on their ability to make reasoned judgments about a host of issues where the economy touches technology. And that could end up harming the economy as a whole.
Really? What happens when scientists disagree or disprove a theory? Should politicians who had been raised on Newtonian laws of physics been thrown out of office once Einstein came along? And how many politicians understand either Newton or Einstein? Isn't this why we have experts or do we expect our politicians to be modern Renaissance men who knows both the laws of economics and physics? I'd prefer they understand the laws of economics, but economists argue about those themselves.

Why do people who don't want politicians inserting their religious beliefs into public policy insist on asking politicians about their religious beliefs?