"The second law of thermodynamics, a fundamental scientific principle stating that entropy increases over time as organized forms decay into greater states of randomness, has come under fire from conservative Christian groups, who are demanding that the law be repealed.
Calling the second law of thermodynamics “a deeply disturbing scientific principle that threatens our children’s understanding of God’s universe as a benevolent and loving place,” they are spearheading a nationwide grassroots campaign to have the law removed from high-school physics textbooks. The plan has already met with significant support in the state legislatures of Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi.”
Before you start worrying, this was a satirical item from The Onion, back in 2000, aimed at religious people who reject Darwinian evolution. However it’s not really an exaggeration. Religious fundamentalists who reject evolutionary theory are also rejecting geology, astronomy, Einsteinian and Newtonian physics, in fact the whole body of scientific knowledge going back to first principles, and replacing it with a couple of anonymous books and a God who, as Bill Hicks pointed out in relation to dinosaur fossils, must be a liar and a practical joker.
Yet these religious people don’t choose to attack Newton, or the theory of gravity, or light, or quantum physics. Why evolution specifically? If you haven’t already seen it, try watching Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial (2007), which is freely available online. This is an award-winning documentary describing the headline-grabbing court case between parents and the School Governors in Dover, Pennsylvania in which the governors were trying to force creationist ideas into biology classes and the parents were trying to stop them.
In the end the parents won, and the creationists were humiliated. But as you follow the interviews with protagonists on both sides of this celebrated case, you begin to see what it is that motivates those on the religious side of the debate. It is fear.
They are afraid that without God as first cause there really is no relevance to life. They fear that science is taking the heart out of the human experience and replacing it with numbers. They fear that a world with no meaning is a world with no mercy.
It was fear that originally incited the famous campaigning reformer William Jennings Bryan to take the prosecution case in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, fear that naked social darwinism would rampage across any possibility of social justice, would justify the worst excesses of unrestrained capitalism. This was the fear – and the profound misunderstanding of Darwinism – which drove Christians to break themselves against the juggernaut of science, and continues to drive them today.
It would be, from a scientific or a socialist perspective, so easy to laugh at these people as superstitious children. After all, they cannot win. Despite the recent avalanche of anti-religious books from the likes of Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Christopher Hitchens and others, there is no real danger of a return to a religious Dark Age. Of course they are wrong. Of course their arguments are ludicrous.
At the same time it is possible to feel some compassion for the fear and the desperation these, mostly ignorant and uninformed, people have, confronted with a world they don’t understand and in which they feel utterly helpless. Science to them is gas chambers, nuclear bombs, death rays, spy satellites and mind control. Wild stories about Earth-eating black holes and ‘strangelets’ guaranteed front-page coverage worldwide for the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider, an event only normally of interest to particle physicists.
People fear what they don’t understand, and in general society is scientifically illiterate, a situation many scientists find worrying. In public surveys on the supposedly dangerous substance Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO), which can corrode iron and kill humans if inhaled, up to 90% of respondents voted that it should be banned (DHMO = H20). (Source: New Scientist, 27 Sept 2008, p.76).
Socialists should care about the religion versus science debate because the theory of socialism is built on scientific principles, and anything which threatens rationality and evidence-based thinking must be anathema. However we should also be capable of seeing the larger picture. This isn’t really about Darwin, or the laws of physics.
This is about people who need to have a reason to go on living, which capitalism isn’t giving them. It’s about people’s need to believe in something, which capitalism doesn’t supply or has taken away. And it’s about having some hope for the future, of which capitalism has none. The world really does need some intelligent design, but in its business of living, not in its biology.
Socialists, as atheists, have to understand what some scientists seem unable to grasp, that the battle of ideas is not just a battle of the mind, it’s a battle for the heart. We can no more win hearts with economic methodology than scientists can with peer-reviewed research. If we scoff at notions of ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ because these things are not measurable in laboratory experiments, we utterly miss the point. The desperate argument of creationism is at one level a comedy of human stupidity. But at a deeper level it is a tragedy, the pathos of a human condition adrift and desolate in a world which cares only about money and believes in nothing at all. This is what Moslems and Christians despair about, and this is something with which we can surely empathise. This is the ‘sigh of the oppressed’ in the heartless world of the 21st century. Despite appearances to the contrary, capitalism is slowly and methodically destroying religion. What we need to do, as socialists, is recognise the emotional vacuum this is creating, and strive to fill it, before something infinitely worse does.