March to voice scientists' concerns

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Organizers of a "March for Science" in Washington claim their event will express the views of scientists worried about the future of their profession under the Trump administration. But critics say the march may be driven by liberal ideology more than empirical science.

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William Dembski, a science and culture analyst who formerly served as a leading voice in the Intelligent Design movement, told Baptist Press a "'March for Science' only becomes necessary when ideologues, claiming the mantle of science and seeking to deny it to others, look to politics to decide issues that properly need to be decided by reason and evidence."

Dembski added in written comments that "humanity's role in global warming, the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, the teleology in evolution all deserve healthy debate."

Yet the March for Science appears intent "to short circuit such debate by waving science as a banner rather than admitting that science is an all too human enterprise in which fallibility and uncertainty frequently reign, and where overconfidence, and indeed even persecution of dissent, is a sign of both ignorance and ideological fervor," Dembski said.

The concept of a March for Science developed in late January when Jonathan Berman of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio saw a call for such a march in an online discussion. In response, he set up a website, created social media accounts for the event and had nearly a quarter million social media supporters in three days, The New York Times reported.

The march is scheduled for April 22 in Washington.

"Yes, this is a protest, but it's not a political protest," Berman told The Times. "The people making decisions are in Washington, and they are the people we are trying to reach with the message: You should listen to evidence."

California Baptist University physicist Kyle Stewart told BP some scientists truly do feel attacked by the Trump administration. He added, however, that "differences between the naturalistic worldview and the Christian worldview" can "lead to disagreement" over how scientific data are interpreted.

"As a follower of Christ, and a scientist, it is my fervent belief that when science is investigated with an open mind, scientific truths (just like any other kind of truth) lead to a greater knowledge of our Creator God," Stewart, assistant professor of physics at Cal Baptist, said in written comments.

"Therefore, we as Christians should always be on the side of truth, and we should encourage open and honest communication, and I believe that 'being on the side of truth' includes encouraging communication from scientists on their latest findings -- even in scientific fields that are steeped in political controversy," Stewart said.

Messages on the March for Science social media accounts have led some to wonder whether the movement is concerned exclusively with scientific data.

The March for Science Twitter feed expresses concerns with President Trump's executive order on immigration and his nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. It also appears to sound a note of support for former vice president Al Gore's climate change policies and retweeted an endorsement of the march from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The American Council on Science and Health quoted a Jan. 28 tweet by March for Science leaders stating, "Colonization, racism, immigration, native rights, sexism, ableism, queer-, trans-, intersex-phobia, & econ justice are scientific issues."

The tweet appears to have been deleted, though a rainbow icon remains in a Jan. 28 tweet advocating diversity in science.

Dembski, who has taught at both Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, criticized supporters of the march who seem to use the term "settled science" in attempt to silence debate.

"'Settled science' is a misnomer," Dembski said, "suggesting that science has ceased to think. Instead of marching for science, scientists in controversial areas of study would do better to spend time in a civil and focused discussion with other scientists who take competing views. That might actually lead to some fruitful progress."

He added, "Science is not a matter of consensus. It does not need to be settled. It will settle itself when the answers become clear. Until then, science needs to encourage diversity and not stifle it with a 'March for Science.' "

As an "example of how scientific debate should be conducted," Dembski cited a discussion of climate change by climate scientist David Karoly and physicist William Happer. The discussion is available online at http://www.thebestschools.org/special/karoly-happer-dialogue-global-warming/.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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