Hartley: Big banging scientists’ heads against the wall | AspenTimes.com

Hartley: Big banging scientists’ heads against the wall

I read an article on the Internet a couple of weeks ago, and I didn’t think much about it at the time. It concerned the results of an Associated Press-GfK poll that asked people to rate their confidence in various scientific statements, and it never became a particularly big story. It kind of came and went pretty quickly.

Something about the article stuck with me, however, and the more I thought about it over the ensuing fortnight, the more I decided that there was part of it that demanded further discussion. It involved one of mankind’s oldest questions, and I think the way Americans answered the question — and the way scientists responded to that answer — is interesting.

The statement that respondents were asked to rate was “The universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang.” Just 8 percent were “Extremely confident” in the statement, while 30 percent were “Not at all confident.” Overall, 51 percent rated themselves as “Not too/not at all confident.”

According to the AP story about the poll, “Those results depress and upset some of America’s top scientists, including several Nobel Prize winners, who vouched for the science in the statements tested, calling them settled scientific facts.”

One Nobel Prize winner, Randy Schekman, of the University of California, Berkeley, said, “Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts.”

Excuse me? Did you just call more than half of Americans ignorant because they disagree with you? You self-important, preening know-it-all. Get the hell over yourself already.

Since when is the Big Bang an established fact? Nobody doubts your science, but just because you calculated how quickly the things you can see are moving away from one another doesn’t necessarily mean that the universe exploded into existence, no matter how smart you think you are.

If you look at an atom with electrons orbiting a nucleus, it’s a little like our solar system, which is a little like our galaxy, which is a little like our local galaxy cluster, which is a little like our local galaxy supercluster. Isn’t there a chance, Dr. Schekman, that everything we can see is just part of some local supersupersupercluster, and we haven’t invented a telescope powerful enough to see beyond it yet?

And then, of course, there’s the question of what, exactly, exploded during the Big Bang if nothing existed beforehand. That’s already been debated to death, though, so we won’t waste time on it here.

Predictably, the offended scientists blamed the lack of confidence in the Big Bang on religion. Another Nobel Prize winner, Robert Lefkowitz, of Duke University, said, “When you are putting up facts against faith, facts can’t argue against faith.” Again, the Big Bang isn’t a fact, but we’ll ignore that.

Faith in a religious creation myth certainly can explain some of the 51 percent, but it definitely doesn’t account for everyone. I, for one, subscribe to no religion, but I would call myself “Not at all confident” in the Big Bang. Do I accept that the Big Bang could be true? Sure, but that doesn’t mean it is.

And think about it: Which of these oversimplified statements requires more faith, anyway: “A guy (or gal) made everything,” or “There was nothing, and then there was an explosion, and then there was everything”? Seems like a push to me.

The only established fact we have about the beginning of the universe is the fact that we don’t know when it happened, how it happened or even if it happened (although we can take a pretty good guess at that last one). No amount of calculations or theoretical models will ever change that.

It’s not very often that Americans receive credit for their intelligence these days, but in this case we deserve it. Schekman may consider half of the country ignorant, but I applaud the 51 percent for not blindly accepting a statement because some scientists told them they should.

As for you scientists, whose arrogance was so nakedly on display with your comments, I encourage you to come down off your high horses and mingle with the unwashed masses. We’re obviously not as smart as you, but we’re not so bad.

And don’t be afraid to admit to us that there are some things science just can’t explain. Most of us already know that, and we promise not to hold it against you if you stop acting so superior.

Todd Hartley has never watched “The Big Bang Theory” despite being told he should. To read more or leave a comment, please visit http://zerobudget.net.

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