Friday, July 13, 2012

Science Is Not Religion

A hurricane does not have to make landfall to be a hurricane. Science doesn’t have to be believed to be the truth.

Today is the first day of the LNP’s first conference since their astonishing victory in Queensland in March. There are standing ovations, 101 items on the agenda, over 900 delegates. and aside from the usual barrage of political ephemera, one particular branch of the LNP has resolved to have climate science – which it calls propaganda - removed from school curricula.

In other words, this branch of the LNP supports and promotes restricting the access that children have in school to scientific knowledge. This is alarmingly close to censorship. So who are these people, and what is their justification for suggesting this awful change?
“The Noosa State Electoral Council should call on Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek to ‘require Queensland Government schools to remove environmental propaganda material [and] in particular post normal science about climate change’.”

LNP Member for Noosa Glen Elmes has absolutely no qualifications in science whatsoever, and neither does his influential party boss, LNP State President Bruce McIver. McIver, who lives on the Sunshine Coast (possibly in Elmes’ own Noosa electorate), is a former trucker and farmer, and rules over the LNP as if it was his creation. It was, in so far as he engineered the takeover of the Liberal Party by the Nationals and authorised the destruction of decades of Queensland Liberal Party documents.

Most notably, McIver is a prominent Sunshine Coast Christian who is keen to imbue the LNP with his earnest Christians values. He is a climate change sceptic, and has referred to the way that climate science is taught in Queensland schools as ‘brainwashing’. This is just another facet of the epic battle of evolution versus creationism, and the LNP, which is heavily influenced by the Australian Christian Lobby, are trying to use their influence to sway the public school syllabus so that it’s a closer reflection of their religious beliefs.

At last year’s LNP conference, Mr McIver was applauded for stating his concerns about climate science education:

Mr McIver said last year that he was shaken by the way issues were being taught when he and his wife visited their grandson's school. "We were shocked at the way the climate change debate on one side is being pushed in the classroom," he said "And not balanced perspectively. Our kids are being brainwashed under this Labor education system."

Brainwashing is a very strong, highly objectionable term. It’s also wrong.

Are we contaminating the syllabus with propaganda when we teach children that momentum is the product of velocity and mass? Just how much science is trustworthy, and how does Mr McIver, a man with no background in science or philosophy, make such a judgment?

Let’s get out of school and talk about science versus propaganda in our world. Does Mr McIver accept the physics of flight, or does he believe that when he flies, God holds the plane in his hands? Are teachers merely taking a position when school students are taught about fermentation – perhaps someone there’s another explanation for turning water (or juice) into wine? When his family is ill, does he want them to see a doctor or call for the laying on of hands?

There is also no credible debate about the existence of Anthropogenic Global Warming, known as AGW, meaning man-made global warming. It’s barely being debated anywhere in the world, other than in Australia, on Fox News and in Lord(?) Monckton’s sitting room. Where do we draw the line? Where does Mr McIver and the LNP think science stops and propaganda starts?

For a non-religious perspective, let’s turn to a man who has published 31 books on science, and who holds qualifications in astrophysics, mathematics, computer science, medicine, biomedical engineering and philosophy. Most importantly, he won the Australian Skeptic of the Year Award in 2007. Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, well known scientist and science educator has no doubts.

Dr Karl (@Doctor Karl on Twitter) has told numerous tweeters that AGW was proven in 1988. We have known for almost 25 years now that human activity has contributed to the rate of climate change. This is neither new science nor obscure knowledge.

“I wrote a story about the possibility of climate change in 1980. In 1985 I put it into my first book. In 1988, climate scientists of the world declared that climate change was real, it was caused by humans and it was going to be bad. And then…” he pauses. “Nothing happened. And then around 2004 I started up again around the same time that Al Gore was and they’re saying everything they were saying back in 1988.”

Still, there’s nothing that anyone can say that would convince Mr McIver and his supporters at the Noosa branch of the LNP to accept the scientific evidence around AGW, and I don’t give a horse’s patoote about what he believes. My concern is that science be taught as science, and not as a rival or threat to any religion.

In fact, the argument about whether climate change should be taught in schools as part of a general science curriculum is an extension of the larger debate about religion in Australian schools, the Chaplaincy programme, and the role of religious education in a society which is becoming less and less interested in religion.

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