Monday, October 8, 2012

Science Trumps Ignorant Congressman

Just when I think it’s impossible for legislators to be more ignorant, Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA) took the plunge. 

In taped comments that supposedly were an off-the-record explanation of his religious views, the learned lawmaker recently derided evolution as a lie from the “pit of hell.”  He insisted the evolution and the Big Bang theory of the creation of the universe are designed to “convince people they do not need a savior.”

Of course, news of that particularly uneducated viewpoint came about the same time that the 2012 Nobel; Prize in Medicine has been awarded to two scholars who revolutionized our knowledge of how cells and organisms develop.

Englishman John B. Gurdon won his prize by challenge the claim that specialized cells cannot be altered.  In 1962, he demonstrated that cells contain information that allows them to change from one type to another.  In 2006, Japan’s Shinya Yamanaka followed up on Gurdon’s work and discovered how to reprogram mature cells to become immature stem cells.

Hint to Rep. Broun: the studies work because evolution is correct.

More importantly, both scientists achieved results by going against conventional wisdom.  They didn’t accept the teachings of their time, but researched, experimented and made important discoveries that will help all of us.  Because of them, doctors can create stem cells from any cell, potentially providing cures for diseases and aiding in the regeneration of damaged body parts.
That’s the point of science: the investigation of reality; the slow, meticulous study that uncovers the secrets of nature.

Religion?  That’s the statement of some arbitrary fact with the proviso that it can’t be investigated.  It must be believed.

The end result is the complete ignorance of a lawmaker who is running unopposed and will have the opportunity to vote on the important issues of our day.  After all, he’s a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Global warming?  Just a lie.  The oceans turning to acid?  That’s not how the Bible says the world would end. Overpopulation? Be fruitful and multiple, the Bible says.  What can be clearer than that?

Broun also does not think that the Earth is more than 9,000 years old.  It doesn’t bother him that chemical studies of artifacts prove conclusively that humans have lived far longer than that.  Nope.  He’s committed to the fundamentalist view that creation had to have occurred only a short time ago because the Bible talks about God creating the world in six days.

Drummond (Spencer Tracy, left) and Brady (Fredric March)
That topic was addressed in the movie Inherit the Wind, when Col. Henry Drummond asks Col. Matthew Brady how long the days were, since the sun and the moon weren’t created until the fourth day, according to the biblical account. 

Brady, representing fundamentalists, is befuddled by the actual length of days without a sun or moon. Even a few extra years would give time for dinosaurs to roam the Earth, but Brady can’t do that.  His beliefs have been pigeon-holed into a tiny square box.

Maybe he should have read the writings of Albert Einstein, who also address religious questions while revolutionizing man’s knowledge of space and time. In a letter auctioned off on eBay this week,   the German-born scholar “dismissed the idea of God as a product of human weakness" and called the Bible “a collection of honorable but primitive legends that are nevertheless pretty childish.”

He was only perhaps the most intelligent human who ever lived.  What did he know?

The problem is that Broun is hardly alone.  Fundamentalist legislators like him decry the failures of public education and then do everything they can to undermine knowledge to enhance their own beliefs. 

I don’t care what Broun believes.  No one else does either.  However, I do care that someone like him has any say in the education of our children and the future of our country.

We all need to be saved from someone like Broun.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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