On the day Donald Trump won the race for the US presidency, science suddenly became even more important to the lives of everyone, except perhaps many just don’t realise it yet.
Science uses the scientific method to build robust models of reality. Science reveals the mechanisms of nature and strives to explain how the universe works. Unlike governments, scientists don’t make laws, they are merely the people employing the scientific method in order to uncover them. Unlike the laws politicians make, the laws of the universe, such as quantum mechanics, gravity and the conservation of energy, are completely indifferent to the ideologies of mankind. If homo sapiens as a species vanished tomorrow, nuclear fusion would still turn hydrogen into helium keeping the sun shining and the earth would still orbit its sun.
For around 90% of the time since the first civilisations, human kind believed the sun went round the earth. It was obvious, it was absurd to believe anything else. But then science found that it wasn’t the case and we were not at the centre of the universe after all. In our modern more rational times, who now believes that the sun orbits the earth? Well, actually, surveys over many years in the United States have consistently reported that at least a quarter of Americans believe the sun orbits the earth and that our planet is less than 10,000 years old*
Although I am unclear on Trump’s exact position on the subject, his Vice President Mike Pence is a biblical young earth creationist, believing that god made the earth and the universe in seven days some 6,000 years ago. In his mind, the science that tells us the earth is around 4.5 billion years old is wrong. He also rejects evolutionary biology on similar grounds.
So why does this matter? Let the scientists do their thing and the politicians do theirs, and we’ll all be happy. Unfortunately it matters a lot - an awful lot. Just for starters, politicians driven by their own immutable beliefs contrary to all the evidence are dangerous people. They are on the same level as those who held a heliocentric view at the time of Galileo over 350 years ago and they haven’t moved on one iota since. But it’s even worse than that.
The vibrational absorption band of carbon dioxide has no concept of the American election and cares absolutely nothing for the beliefs of Donald Trump. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will continue to absorb heat radiating from the earth and the average temperature of the planet will continue to rise. Many in the United States - and in other countries deny anthropogenic climate change. Trump takes his fantasy a step further and claims that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to wreck the US economy.
Yet there’s as good scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change as there is for a 4.5 billion old earth and therein lies the problem. When belief and dogma trump reality, then we are in real trouble (pun intended). Not just the USA but the whole world appears to be losing the rationality that it gained through the turmoil of the Age of the Enlightenment .
The real irony in all this is that there may be evolutionary drivers that lead to delusional behaviour in humans. Those driven more by their delusions than reality may indeed seek political office. So it might turn out that science can not only tell us how we are doomed but why.
* just some examples:
National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, Survey of Public Attitudes Towards Understanding of Science and Technology, 2001, University of Michigan, Survey of Consumer Attitudes 2004
Gallup Poll June 2014 "In US 42% Believe Creationist View of Human Origins reported by Frank Newport