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Dear Republicans, Science is Real

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I had double cataract surgery last week. Needless to say, I was scared going into the procedure. People crawling around my eyeballs, scraping and cutting! Wow.  

But the procedure was miraculous. No pain during or afterwards. And now, for the first time in my life since I was seven, I have long distance vision that’s near perfect. I can look out my window and see the flowers on trees half a block away, people’s faces on the sidewalk, the kind of sneakers they’re wearing, even the shoelaces in those sneakers. That was unthinkable last week; it all would have been a blur.  

In cataract surgery they remove the old eye lens, which has become occluded with a film that makes everything gauzy, and replace it with a new lens that comes in a fancy box that looks like it could be sold at Wal-Mart. They not only get rid of the gauzy cataract, they replace the old, near-sighted lens with a brand-new one. Although I can now see perfectly at distance, I still need reading glasses, but what an improvement over the old situation.

What a miracle modern science is! Throughout human history people with cataracts had to go blind. No longer! Then there was the time, in the 1990s, when I had intense pain in the side of my left knee, the result no doubt of heavy-duty downhill running in San Francisco. Again, throughout history, people would have had to deal with the pain, and their mobility would have been limited. But because of the modern miracle of arthroscopic surgery, the Kaiser doctors were able to operate on me, and within weeks, I was back to full running capacity. In fact, I took up the study of karate, developed a lethal kick, and got my black belt.  

I respect modern science. It saves lives and restores to people their abilities. That is so wonderful. And yet, here we are in 2020, and there is a segment of the American people—mostly Christian Republican Trump supporters—who hate science. They question it all the time, whether it’s concerning global warming, the truth of evolution, or the coronavirus pandemic, which they insist is a Democrat hoax.

Why do Republicans hate science so much? It’s because so many Republicans are evangelical Christians. Now, you have to realize that these peoples’ main source of information is not science, but their Bible. And the Bible, which was first compiled by multiple authors between 3,000 and 1,500 years ago but was subsequently rewritten, translated, retranslated and rewritten again multiple times, is completely illiterate about science. The Bible is, in fact, the quintessential definition of superstition, defined as excessively credulous belief in and reverence for supernatural beings.  

What does “excessively credulous” mean? Children believe in superstitions like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Adults know that these “beings” do not exist. Similarly, Bible believers believe in superstitions like a personal God in the sky (usually an old white guy with a long white beard), while “adults” know that no such being exists. Or—if they’re unwilling to go so far as non-belief—then at least they know that God may exist, but there’s no proof she does; and, at any rate, science—the explanation for the realities of the world—does not depend on the existence of God to justify itself, but is the ongoing effort to understand the physical realities that governs existence.  

Individual scientists, obviously, may or may not believe in God. Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics, was a Christian. Even Albert Einstein believed in Der Alte, “The Old One,” although he never defined just what he meant. But all scientists, regardless of their personal beliefs, believe in a science that seeks to describe the underlying physical properties of the world through comprehensible, provable physical mechanisms—not the personal actions of “supernatural beings.”  

This is where Christian Republicans get so confused. They want to believe in their Bible; indeed, the ultimate motive force of their lives is the Bible; to disbelieve it, or any part of it, would be tantamount to having their mental foundation stone completely undone. But that Bible is entirely inconsistent with science. If humans only adhered to the Bible as the fount of all knowledge, there would be no cataract surgery, no arthroscopic surgery on damaged knees. There would be no automobiles, no anesthesia, no plumbing—well, just about everything that has lifted humankind above the level of the apes would never have been discovered or invented. Of course, when Christian Republicans get cataracts or tear the meniscus in their knee, they never hesitate to run to their doctors to get surgery. They turn, in other words, to science, to heal what is broken. On the other hand, when those same scientists, in different areas of science such as climatology, tell Republicans that the climate is radically changing due to man-made fossil fuel emissions, those Republicans profess horror and disbelief. “God promised mankind he would never again destroy the Earth!” they cry, citing Genesis 9:13-16.  

That Christian Republicans do not see the hypocrisy and absurdity of their conflicted beliefs is obvious. Fortunately, most of us do, which is why we view Christian Republicans with such skepticism. We do not want superstitious, ignorant people—the kind of people who first denied the existence of coronavirus and, now, deny its epidemiological destructiveness—running our world. Sadly, in America, they do, for a simple reason: more of them showed up to vote in 2016 than the rest of us, by a very slender majority, but just enough to turn Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan red. That was a tragedy for America, but it also was a stain on rationality in America, which the people who voted for Trump, or who didn’t vote at all, will never live down.  

This post started out as a message for Republicans who don’t believe in science, but nothing I can say will change their minds. They’re stuck in their atavistic ignorance; they neither desire a truthful conversation nor are they capable of being convinced by fact. All we can do—the rest of us who do not have an “excessively credulous belief in and reverence for supernatural beings”– is to vote this November. That’s exactly what President Obama tweeted last week, that single, one-word admonition: Vote.          

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