Dec 7th 2013

God Created Gravity: Why the U.S. Can't Keep Pace With Slovenia

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology

Two recent headlines appearing within a few days of each other should have warranted greater attention: "School Science Lesson Claims Gravity Was Created by God" and "Best Education in the World: Finland, South Korea Top Country Rankings, U.S. Rated Average." The explanation for the latter is fully explained by the former, yet not enough of us seem to make the obvious connection.

The far right can stick their collective heads in the sand and talk about American exceptionalism, but the rest of the world is getting educated in the meantime. America is indeed number one - in self-delusion. While flag wavers congratulate themselves on how awesome we are, the world looks on bemused: only six percent of American students achieved advanced levels on an international standard, behind 30 other countries. We rank 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading. We are behind Lithuania and Slovenia - two countries a majority of American students could not identify on a map.

Many factors have brought us to this sad state of affairs, but we can no longer ignore the 600 pound gorilla and trumpeting elephants in the room: religion is killing us. While our kids are being taught that god created gravity, children in Zaire are learning about Newton and Einstein. As children in Lichtenstein are being taught about the warping of space-time, American kids are learning that "people who do not believe in god" are incapable of understanding gravity.

American religiosity has become an existential threat, undermining the foundation of our future prosperity by contaminating our educational system with superstition, fable and myth. We see this with evolution, vaccines, climate change, energy policy and a host of critical issues that should be based in science but instead are hijacked by ignorance. We are 17th in the world in science, but instead of improving our education, we continue to fight battles more appropriate to the 16th century. Let's look at a few specific and tragic examples in which religion has triumphed at the expense of our educational system and with great harm to society.

Evolution

Religion is the only explanation for why evolution creates such a fuss in our society. We do not see people getting exercised about Quantum Mechanics, String Theory or the Theory of Relativity. But mention evolution and you invoke an immediate and visceral reaction. Local school boards are elected, rejected and then re-elected solely on this issue. No other scientific discovery is so deeply embedded into the fabric of American politics.

Evolution is one of the most successful, thoroughly documented scientific discoveries in human history. We can see evolution in a Petri dish. Evolution has been validated across multiple fields of anthropology, geology, genetics, embryology, bacteriology, virology, and biogeography. Evolution is a fact, an undeniable, proven fact, as certain as the existence of atoms. Only some of the details of the mechanisms of evolution remain to be elucidated. Cancer is a fact, though not all the mechanisms leading to malignancy are understood. Theory does not imply uncertainty; instead, theory means a grand idea, such as General Relativity or Evolution; well-established principles that encompass and explain a broad range of phenomena.

However, more than 75 years after the trial of State of Tennessee v John Scopes and despite incredible advances in biology, many public school boards strive to eliminate the teaching of evolution from the curriculum.

The debate about intelligent design in public schools is a uniquely American phenomenon, a quirk of our history and culture. Beyond the theocracies of the Middle East, religion permeates American politics in a way not found anywhere else in the world. No other developed country, east or west, is host to a serious political movement dedicated to the destruction of secularism, with evolution exhibit number one.

We have to go all the way back to Italy in 1614 to find another example of a powerful political machine dedicated to the suppression of a broad scientific truth with deep implications for human understanding. That is the year in which Galileo's observations of the earth orbiting the sun were first denounced as a threat to the established authority of the Catholic Church, which claimed Galileo's doctrine to be false and contrary to the divine and Holy Scripture. We have regressed four centuries. Intelligent design is nothing but a transparent fig leaf for creationism, a child of that dark era in the 1600s. Comparing creationism or intelligent design to evolution is no different than insisting that we teach today that the sun actually orbits the earth as an alternative theory to modern astronomy. Only in the United States are such discredited views taken seriously by a large portion of the citizenry. We can and should do better. Intelligent design has no place in a science classroom - and it does not in any western country outside these United States.

Vaccines

Perhaps you believe that teaching that god created gravity is harmless, no big deal, nothing to be exercised about. But disdain for objective truth has real and tragic consequences... which brings us to measles and the issue of childhood immunization. Vaccines are one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine, saving hundreds of millions of lives and improving the quality of life for countless others. But because of medical illiteracy and misplaced religious zeal, some parents are, in a display of dangerous ignorance, forcing school boards across the country to accept students with no vaccination history. Consequently we recently witnessed the biggest outbreak of measles in 15 years, double the number of cases seen typically. With the success of vaccines we forget, ironically, that measles is deadly; prior to vaccinations about 5000 people died annually in the United States from the disease. In 2008 measles killed about 170,000 worldwide. With the best intentions to protect their children, parents are in fact playing a deadly game of chicken based purely on ignorance - lack of knowledge of the benefits of vaccination compared to the inaccurate, overstated and simply wrong conclusions about the dangers.

The problem is not theoretical but real and deadly. Because of one paper published in 1998 in the medical journal Lancet, subsequently withdrawn for suspicions of scientific fraud, and fully discredited by later study, tens of thousands of parents risk their children's health by withholding critical vaccinations against terrible diseases. Rates of childhood immunization for measles (rubeolla), mumps, and rubella (German measles) have yet to fully recover from the impact of this one discredited paper. And many parents still insist that vaccines cause autism, even in the absence of any evidence to support the claim with the withdrawal of the original paper. Myth has usurped fact. In many school districts, including wealthy ones like in San Diego County, the number of unvaccinated children has nearly tripled since 1990. This affects everybody, not just those who choose to avoid vaccinations. Case in point: a few years ago San Diego County experienced the worst outbreak of deadlyWhooping Cough in local history as more parents eschewed vaccination against that disease. And let's be brutally honest; we can lay the death of every child who dies of this preventable disease directly at the feet of all the parents who chose not to vaccinate their children. Unlike most diseases that require only 85% vaccination to create herd immunity, Whooping Cough, and measles, requires 94% immunization to protect the public. Ignorance, the willingness to dismiss hard evidence when inconvenient, or inversely the readiness to reach a conclusion in the complete absence of evidence are all symptoms of scientific illiteracy growing in the nutritive soup of religiosity.

Climate Change

Oddly, many accept the link between autism and vaccinations with no proof, but when it comes to climate change, the demand for proof is never satisfied no matter how convincing such proof may be. Many accept the existence of ghosts with no evidence, but deny the reality of a changing climate with proof before their eyes. This differential deference to evidence is clear indicator that much of the American public lacks the tools to evaluate issues rationally. Without science, reality becomes just an option to be rejected whenever the real world gives us inconvenient truths. In this frightening environment in which fiction becomes fact, the conclusions from years of careful research, scrutinized by competing scientists and published in peer reviewed journals now carry no more weight with the public than the random thoughts of a bloated pundit. Talking heads with no training now have the same authority as highly qualified experts. So global warming is dismissed as a liberal hoax in spite of a preponderance of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. Climate and weather are mistakenly thought to be the same. So with every cold snap in winter we hear, "See, it snowed - I told you climate change was a joke." Articles noting the acceleration of climate change are ignored by the press, focused on an audience obsessed with the Kardashians; melting ice caps just can't compete. When presented with solid evidence, skeptics selectively demand more "proof" without any sense of irony that they demand no proof for virgin birth, talking snakes, 900 year old men, Immaculate Conception and resurrection.


Wasteland


So let us come back to our low international rating in education. We debate climate change and evolution because society is still largely unable to embrace the scientific method, which is neglected in our classrooms, which perpetuates our downward spiral. Although understanding the basics of science is critical to everyday life in a technology-driven society, the subject is given only cursory treatment in most public schools. As a result, people are often poorly equipped to understand the complexities of an issue before forming an opinion about the costs and benefits of adopting or restricting a particular technology. And so we lag behind Lichtenstein.

Steeped in this wasteland of scientific illiteracy we march ever further toward a theocracy; a secular society cannot stand without deference to fact. We are in danger of becoming the Iran of the West, or a bad copy of the former Soviet Union. Under the communist dictatorship children were taught that Stalin was a hero and that capitalism was a great evil, or that Russia invented the telephone and airplane, with no regard to the truth. We are about to make the same mistake in twisting history to indoctrinate our children with stories about god and gravity.

As religiosity has ascended in American life, policy debates have become faith-based rather than being anchored in logic. Support for a policy position becomes unmoved by contradictory facts because proponents simply "believe" the position to be correct even in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. Just as there is no way to determine relative validity between religions, or to diminish faith with facts, as soon as logic is removed from policy debates, competing positions are no longer evaluated based on relative merit, but are supported as inherently right, immune to any reasonable counter arguments. This slide away from secular debate leads increasingly to polarization, greater animosity and a loss of civility because the only way to support a position is simply to assert supremacy as loudly as possible. We are reduced to childlike tantrums of "I'm right, you're wrong, I win." Without logic, there is no common basis for discussion, and no way to mediate disputes. The death of secularism is the death of civility, and nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the debate about teaching science in schools free from religion. Our international ranking suffers because we have not yet learned this lesson. Slovenia has.




Originally posted on the Huffington Post, posted here with the kind permission of the author.


Facts & Arts is a platform for owners of high quality content to distribute their content to a worldwide audience.

Facts & Arts' objective is to enhance the distribution of individual owners' content by combining various types of high quality content that can be assumed to interest the same audience. The thinking is that in this manner the individual pieces of content on Facts & Arts support the distribution of one another.

If you have fitting written material, classical music or videos; or if you would like to become one of our regular columnists, a book reviewer or music reviewer; or if you wish to market or broadcast a live event through Facts & Arts, please contact us at info@factsandarts.com.




 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 30th 2020
EXTRACT: "With the US presidential election barely a month away, former Vice President Joe Biden and his advisers are devising his national-security policy and creating shortlists to fill the cabinet’s ranking positions in the event that he defeats President Donald Trump. But while presidential hopefuls traditionally have focused first on contenders to run the state, defense, and treasury departments, this time is different. With the intelligence community in an increasingly perilous state, Biden should choose a top spymaster before making any other personnel decisions."
Sep 29th 2020
While today's mounting global disruptions have accelerated an ongoing shift in global power dynamics, neither China's rise nor the emergence of COVID-19 can be blamed for the West's lost primacy. The United States and the United Kingdom took care of that on their own, with a complacent Europe watching it happen.
Sep 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "One thing is clear: the world cannot trust Xi’s dictatorship. The sooner we recognize this and act together, the sooner the Beijing bullies will have to behave better. The world will be safer and more prosperous for it."
Sep 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "Four years of political turmoil under Trump may well end with massive violence akin to a civil war. Trump is priming his base to act violently, and with over 390 million firearms in the hands of Americans, one can only imagine the calamitous consequences if violence is to erupt between his supporters and those who oppose him..... The Republican leadership in every state and every municipality are the prime body that can stop this potential calamity from occurring. Time is of the essence. Should the Republican Party as a whole fall short of taking a stand against Trump at this juncture, they will subject the nation to turmoil unseen since the Civil War. Not a single Republican leader will be able to claim that he or she were not warned."
Sep 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "I continue to expect this broad dollar index to plunge by as much as 35% by the end of 2021. This reflects three considerations: rapid deterioration in US macroeconomic imbalances, the ascendancy of the euro and the renminbi as viable alternatives, and the end of that special aura of American exceptionalism that has given the dollar Teflon-like resilience for most of the post-World War II era."
Sep 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "Covid-19 essentially hit the “fast forward” button on emerging trends in a variety of sectors of national economies, hastening the demise of the shopping mall, laying bare how unnecessary being physically located in commercial work spaces is, and sounding the death knell for numerous 100+ year-old brands that had failed to adapt to the blistering pace of change in the digital economy. Failure to contemplate and embrace the future is leaving carnage in its wake.......The onslaught of dramatic change that has accompanied Covid-19 reminds us that fragile systems crack when exposed to unexpected events while antifragile systems have the ability to resist shocks."
Sep 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, recently declared that aggression and expansionism have never been in the Chinese nation’s “genes.” It is almost astonishing that he managed to say it with a straight face. Aggression and expansionism obviously are not genetic traits, but they have defined President Xi Jinping’s tenure. Xi, who in some ways has taken up the expansionist mantle of Mao Zedong, is attempting to implement a modern version of the tributary system that Chinese emperors used to establish authority over vassal states: submit to the emperor, and reap the benefits of peace and trade with the empire."
Sep 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Seventy-five years ago, the prestige of the United States and the United Kingdom could not have been higher. They had defeated imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, and they did so in the name of freedom and democracy. True, their ally, Stalin’s Soviet Union, had different ideas about these fine ideals, and did most of the fighting against Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Still, the English-speaking victors shaped the post-war order in large parts of the world. The basic principles of this order had been laid down in the Atlantic Charter, drawn up in 1941 by Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt on a battleship off the coast of Newfoundland."
Sep 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "After Trump’s inauguration in January of 2017, millions demonstrated their disapproval. We can expect the same, no matter how this election turns out. With both sides framing this election in “end of the world” terms; with the president calling into question the legitimacy of the vote, even before it happens; and with the president warning his supporters that they may have to take up arms to defend him – we have a recipe for disaster that may occur in the days that follow this election. This may very well be the Armageddon election of our lifetime."
Sep 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "The Huawei case is a harbinger of a world in which national security, privacy, and economics will interact in complicated ways. Global governance and multilateralism will often fail, for both good and bad reasons. The best we can expect is a regulatory patchwork, based on clear ground rules that help empower countries to pursue their core national interests without exporting their problems to others. Either we design this patchwork ourselves, or we will end up, willy-nilly, with a messy, less efficient, and more dangerous version."
Sep 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "China’s footprint in global foreign direct investment (FDI) has increased notably since the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013. That served to bring Chinese overseas FDI closer to a level that one would expect, based on the country’s weight in the global economy. China accounted for about 12% of global cross-border mergers and acquisitions and 9% of announced greenfield FDI projects between 2013 and 2018. Chinese overseas FDI rose from $10 billion in 2005 (0.5% of Chinese GDP) to nearly $180 billion in 2017 (1.5% of GDP). Likewise, annual construction contracts awarded to Chinese companies increased from $10 billion in 2005 to more than $100 billion in 2017."
Sep 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Emergence and spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 have created and still creating health issues, economic challenges, political crises and social conflicts around the world. These challenges and conflicts lead the international community to re-evaluate global governance and international structures, which is based on the second world-war and post-cold war. The pandemic will emerge a new era of international society that will not be similar to the pre-Corona world."
Aug 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "Russia has changed, and has been changing, since its beginnings in ancient Muscovy to its current condition as Putin’s realm. Some general features appear in much of Russian history. Most of its rulers have been authoritarian—but so, too, were most of England’s, France’s, and Germany’s. Many of its political and intellectual elites have considered Russia a special civilization deserving a place in the sun—but just as many have not, wanting to transform Russia into a Western state with Western values. Many Russians have been enamored of their country, but even more have probably damned it for destroying them and their children. What, then, is Russia? It is, and has always been, many, oftentimes contradictory, things—sometimes coexisting, sometimes getting the upper hand, always shifting, always eluding simplistic analysis. But, and this needs to be emphasized, the same holds true for every other country in the world."
Aug 26th 2020
EXTRACTS: "Double dips – defined simply as a decline in quarterly real GDP following a temporary rebound – have occurred in eight of the 11 recessions since the end of World War II. .............Financial markets aren’t the least bit worried about a relapse, owing largely to unprecedented monetary easing, which has evoked the time-honored maxim: “don’t fight the Fed.” Added comfort comes from equally unprecedented fiscal relief aimed at mitigating the pandemic-related shock to businesses and households.......This could be wishful thinking."
Aug 26th 2020
EXTRACTS: "There is no question that the re-election of President Donald Trump would endanger both the US and the world. Moreover, there is ample reason to fear that a close election could drive the US into a deep, prolonged constitutional crisis, and perhaps into civil violence.........One can only hope that the election will produce a decisive winner both in the Electoral College and in the popular vote. Yet, even then, tallying the final result may take time, owing to the massive increase in mail-in voting that is expected. Every ballot that has a postmark of November 2 or 3 (depending on the state) will be considered valid, which means that the final result will not be known until after Election Day. During that window of uncertainty, either or both campaigns may try to claim victory based on the current vote count. In any case, there is no chance that Trump will wait graciously in the Oval Office for days or weeks to receive the final tally. In interviews, he has already issued vague statements suggesting that he will not leave the White House if he loses; indeed, he seems to be actively preparing for such a scenario. If he follows through, the world’s leading superpower will find itself facing a protracted – and perhaps intractable – constitutional crisis.
Aug 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "the European Union is a community of values as much as an economic and trade bloc. But the behavior of member states such as Poland and Hungary has called into question their commitment to liberal democracy. Above all, in the US, President Donald Trump is widely criticized, even by lifelong Republicans, for not respecting or understanding the US constitution and the separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Does Trump even believe in democracy? Does he want all Americans to vote in November, regardless of race or party affiliation, or only those who will support him? And will he accept the election result if it goes against him? "
Aug 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "The fundamental difference in values between the West and China will remain indefinitely, and it is here that the West must draw the line. Any concession that entails a sacrifice of fundamental principles, for example in cultural matters, must be rejected. If this values-based approach results in economic disadvantages, so be it. By the same token, the West should abandon the conceit that it can push, force, or cajole China to become a democracy wrought in its own image. "
Aug 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "China is light years ahead of most of the rest of the world in deploying digital payment technology. Alipay or WeChat Pay apps are all that is necessary to accomplish almost anything that requires a payment in China; the country is largely already making paper money obsolete. "
Aug 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Seven hundred fifty billion euros is less than 5% of the stock of US government debt held by the public. It’s a drop in the bucket, in other words. And a drop does not a liquid market in safe assets make. Even if this really is Europe’s “Hamiltonian moment,” ramping up EU issuance by a factor of 20 will take decades. "
Aug 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "But the race is not over. In the 2016 election, prices moved the most in the two months just before the election. Trump trailed Hillary Clinton in prediction markets throughout the campaign and was seen as favourite only on election day – showing that the underdog can recover. So despite Trump’s poor position now, he might still regain some ground."