In legend, when Galileo invited the Bishop and other religious people to look through his telescope, they refused to look, fearing that Satan would use this device to corrupt their faith. From the days of Galileo and Copernicus, science has been hard pressed to convince both the religious and the ignorant that reality can be observed, manipulated, studied, analyzed, and documented to determine the nature of the universe. The Enlightenment must have felt like a chance–finally–for empirical reality to triumph over fantasy and allow scientific research to influence belief, practice, and policy. But along came Darwin and, once again, the “community of the faithful” reduced his observation-based assertions to attacks on God’s greatness. That battle is still going on, 157 years later. It won’t go away.
Enter Betsy DeVos, suddenly in charge of education in America. Once again, science is relegated to a position of conspiracy, this time to undermine business and development rather than religion (that torch was passed to abortion). The effort to deflect students from the public education system, and to use the money that would have been spent on their education as a tax credit to their parents, is touted as a means of inspiring improvements in public education. But this is a ruse. The real step back is that private schools can teach anything they like, without government interference in their curricula. The science syllabus can be pulled out of their holy writ, or out of their imagination, or out of their butt. It won’t be subject to any guidance or oversight by educated people. That will be Betsy’s gift to American education.
So a new generation of students can be raised without reference to observational science. The growing crack in the Antarctic ice shelf can be ignored, ridiculed as alternative facts, treated as a conspiracy, or explained as a natural phenomenon that is unrelated to human activity on the planet. In fact, all empirical information can be thrown into doubt as aspects of demonic influences that will lead us away from our faith in God, or our faith in business and development, or our faith in the responsibility of humanity to pass along a healthy planet to our progeny. And this is a giant step backward in the history of science, bought and paid for by heavy contributions to Republican senators. And the War continues.