In Dr. Seuss’s environmental treatise, The Lorax, the question “Who speaks for the trees?” is asked. In the post-factual world in which we currently find ourselves, a similar and equally pressing question is, who speaks for science?
A month or so into the Trump administration, virtually everyone by now must recognize that science is under relentless attack. And it’s not just science that’s under attack – it appears that any fact that conflicts with personal opinion can be dismissed out of hand. In this environment it seems perfectly acceptable to create your own “facts” to suit the narrative you have in mind.
It really doesn’t need to be said that this is a dangerous trend. Our leaders, as powerful as they might be, can’t twist the laws of the natural world to suit their own purposes. The Soviet Union found this out when they decided to embrace the fraudulent genetics of Trofim Lysenko rather than the genetics accepted by the world’s scientists. Their decision to politicize science, to believe that genetics would work as they deemed it should rather than how nature said it must, delivered a major grain shortage to the country.
So who, in the face of the relentless demeaning of science and fact coming out of Washington, will stand up and say, “This isn’t right?” Who will speak for science?
Yes, many scientists have been and will continue to do just that. But their critics are already saying that they’re simply yet another special interest group promoting their own goals. Why should we listen to the scientists about science, the argument goes, since they have a vested interest in the outcome of the debate?
So, who will speak for science?
There’s good reason to believe that an important group, perhaps a surprising group to many, may well be taking up that mantle. Who are these people? They are religious leaders who understand the value of truth, who recognize that science is a critically important facet of society. And these religious leaders seem increasingly willing to speak for science.
A couple of recent examples will make this point, but it is important to recognize that this is nothing new, that many religious leaders have been supporters of science for an extended period.
• The most recent issue of Covalence: The Newsletter of the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology led off with an editorial urging people to speak out: “religion and science have a shared role in promoting positive relationships for the public good. Such an effort is of increasing importance as scientific initiatives increasingly may overlap with social justice issues, such as education and population displacement as a result of climate change. So lace up your shoes, design your signs and hit the streets in the support of science.”
• Hundreds of religious congregations representing eight countries came together for the 12th annual Evolution Weekend (10-12 February 2017) to celebrate the compatibility of religion and science.
• Under the auspices of The Clergy Letter Project, more than 14,400 clergy from all across the United States have signed letters making it clear that science must be supported and that doing so poses no threat to religion.
Who will speak for science?
Clergy members and religious individuals will speak for science. Organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion, The Biologos Foundation, The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, IRAS: The Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, WesleyNexus: Science and Religion within the Wesleyan Tradition, Zygon Center for Religion and Science, and many more like them have been doing this for quite some time – and there’s no evidence that they’ll be stopping any time soon.
Perhaps an even more important question is: Will you join with members of the religious community to speak for science?
Will you do it now, before it’s too late, before “alternative facts” becomes something more than a joke?
Will you do it now, before it’s too late, before climate change research, environmental research and support for public health is purged from our government for ever?
Your voice is needed now more than ever.