Thank you, Sean on Twitter, for making my day last night by drawing my attention to the latest front in the battle of wingnuts vs. science. Often, when we pro-science sorts are arguing about evolution with wingnuts, they’ll pull the “it’s just a theory” card, to which we often reply, “It’s also called the theory of gravity. Are you going to argue with gravity?”
Answer: Of course they are.
I sometimes still find that people on the liberal, or at least thoughtful, side of the fence still think that global warming denialism and creationism are discrete things borne out of an emotional need not to believe either in global warming or evolution, and while that’s true, I think it’s deeper than that. I think that science itself is under attack, and that the reason that conservatives are so eager to lash out against it has to do with an anti-modernist bent. This is especially true when you understand that science really is a threat to religion. A lot of people say it’s not, because science doesn’t address “spiritual” needs, but said folks are really overrating the importance of spirituality for most people—or assuming that this urge isn’t better scratched by loving others and enjoying life. Religion really draws its power from explanation. It gives order to the world. And science is poaching that territory rapidly, which pisses off authoritarians, because they rightfully understand that if they lose the power to create facile goddidit explanations for everything from gravity to the problem of evil, they will lose their power over people. Thus, the attack not just on specific scientific theories, but on science in general, and most of academia, as well.
The latest installment is Bill O’Reilly’s war on gravity. Or, specifically, his belief that goddidit is a better explanation for the tides than the real explanation, which is that they’re created by a combination of moon and Earth gravity. He had this exchange with David Silverman, president of the American Atheist Group on his show:
O’REILLY: I’ll tell you why [religion's] not a scam, in my opinion: tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that.
SILVERMAN: Tide goes in, tide goes out?
O’REILLY: See, the water, the tide comes in and it goes out, Mr. Silverman. It always comes in, and always goes out. You can’t explain that.
Of course, the problem with this is that 3rd graders can in fact explain that, at least well enough to basically trump the goddidit theory. You don’t need in-depth knowledge to understand that gravity pulls on the oceans, and they basically slosh around, except with predictable regularity because the moon is predictable. Once this was pointed out to O’Reilly, he called people who understand the theory of gravity “pinheads” and suggested they hadn’t thought this through, because they totally didn’t know where the moon came from! Also, they can’t explain why god gave us a moon but didn’t give those uninhabited planets moons.*
I would like to point out that O’Reilly’s explanation of why you have to believe in god because that means there is “order”. To which I must point out that this is the authoritarian, patriarchal mind at its best—he wishes to believe that him being on top of others is the natural order, so he creates a parallel fantasy of a white guy in the sky who created everything, and his power is derived from the magical white guy in the sky, because presumably they look alike and are both assholes. Also, said white guy in the sky making all the rules means you don’t have to think any more, just obey. People who say that religion is about “spirituality” miss this, because really, many religious people like O’Reilly like religion because it makes the universe seem small and orderly. In reality, the universe is huge and, from the small human perspective, seemingly chaotic, making an atheist understanding of nature ironically more awe-inspiring than any petty god invented by mostly illiterate people from the ancient world.
At one point in this rant, O’Reilly, in an attempt to be satirical, suggests that the non-god explanation is something crazy, like suggesting that a meteor hit the planet and created the moon. In fact, this is basically what happened.
Because we know how the Moon got there (a Mars-sized planet struck the Earth a glancing blow about 100 million years after it formed, splashing debris into orbit which coalesced to form the Moon).
I’d read the whole post by Phil Plait, who breaks down just how silly this all is. Basically, we know all the stuff that O’Reilly claims we don’t know: where the Sun came from, where the moon came from, and of course, why other planets don’t have moons. The answer to that is, they do. Mars—who O’Reilly says doesn’t have a moon—has two. If I recall from my days of star-gazing with my dad, Jupiter has like eleven billionty moons. If you’re trying to make an argument that god loves us special best by looking at moons as evidence, then you have to believe god loves Jupiter most of all.
The only move O’Reilly can make now is to attack the theory of gravity, which is how all these other ideas hang together. Screw attacking Darwin! It’s time to go after Newton!** Maybe O’Reilly can work with the Insane Clown Posse on their next big hit single, “Miracles II: Falling Apples, How Do They Work?”
The good news is that this expanded war on science from conservatives is going to eventually come into conflict with their support of endless spending on weapons research, some of which requires knowledge of the basics of astronomy and physics that explain how the moon got there and the tides works.
*Yes, I know. Finish the post before leaving a comment crowing about how I didn’t note that there are other moons, because I did, in fact, do so later in the post. I don’t want you to look foolish in your eagerness to demonstrate your swift recall that Mars has two moons.
**Seriously, we all know is more complicated than that, and that Einstein played a role in revising Newton’s theories, etc. Just let that pedantry go for a moment and enjoy the joke.