The Critical Mass

The 21st century isn’t here yet, but we’re getting close

 Would God really have created our complex and planet-filled universe, and not expect us to be inspired by its potential?

Would God really have created our complex and planet-filled universe, and not expect us to be inspired by its potential?

Believe what you want. The Earth is 6,000 years old?  Humans were created by God in his image? Obama was born in Kenya? Go ahead and think so, there’s plenty of room here for all kinds of beliefs. It’s a big world. And an old one: 4.54 billion years old, in fact.

As a hefty news consumer, I’ve drawn the conclusion that the world holds two different types of beliefs. If you believe God created all life on this planet, that’s what’s called a faith-based idea. As is the belief that Santa Claus exists. As is the fear that, if I take your picture, my camera will capture your soul. These are all ideas completely unsupported by any evidence. They’re only endorsed by what you read in a book. Something your parents told you. A movie that you once saw that presented a shallow interpretation of indigenous peoples’ reactions to unfamiliar technology.

The second type of belief? Fact based. Time tested. scientifically proven. The fossil record tells me that all animals evolved from simple, one-celled life forms. And I really wouldn’t care if you think fossils are just intriguing rocks that God scattered around the planet to mess with our heads – it’s your right to be wrong.

I wouldn’t care, that is, if it weren’t for one jarring problem. Those who are wrong can really make life tough for the rest of us. Here’s an example. Say you’re a Republican politician who follows your party’s most-extreme beliefs about abortion. That means you’re against stem-cell research, because you believe that it kills babies. So you vote against funding stem-cell research. If you’ve floated to the top of the Republican depth chart, as George W. Bush once did, you create legislation that makes it difficult for serious scientists to study the promising role that stem cells could play in regenerating human tissues. A breakthrough that might help cure paralysis, or slow your mother’s encroaching Alzheimer’s.

Here’s another example. Say you’re a Republican politician who’s on your party’s ticket as candidate for vice president. That mean’s you’re the pit bull. With lipstick. You attack everything that the Democrats stand for. Especially spending money on useless science. That means one day, during a speech, you mock the idea of the government spending money on researching fruit flies. Money for fruit flies! What typical government waste!

I happened to see Sarah Palin express just such outrage, back in those goofy days when she and John McCain were making their bid to run the country. And I knew one thing at that very second that Palin didn’t know. That fruit flies are very important in  the field of genetic research. Since fruit flies have such a short life span – dozens of generations can pass before your eyes over the course of a couple of weeks – scientists can study genetic mutation on fast forward. I knew this, and I’ll bet millions of Americans that day also knew it. Yet Palin didn’t. And she wanted to be a part of important budget decisions that would impact the lives of many, many Americans.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the wasteful spending of the Obama administration included “buying $47,000 cigarette-smoking machines.” Shocking. Unless you know the facts. The Veterans Administration uses one of those $47,000 cigarette-smoking machines for testing new treatments for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. That’s the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Boehner, a smoker, probably doesn’t want to hear this fact either: But in a 2010 study, the American Cancer Society estimated that the disease would cost the county $49.9 billion that year.

After a few years of hearing elected leaders arguing with scientists that climate change is a hoax, and claiming women have a way of shutting down pregnancies in the case of rape, there can be no denying that the Republican Party lives in a  fact-void world. These are dangerous people who, rather than calling for violence-free schools, are pushing legislation allowing teachers and school janitors to pack heat. “Some day, our side is gonna win one of these shootouts….”

Time lays waste to wrong ideas. We were wrong to invade Iraq. Gay marriage hasn’t destroyed the institution of marriage. And sometimes, time takes time. The state of Mississippi didn’t get around to officially ratifying the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned slavery in 1865, until Feb. 7, 2013.

Minority points of view must be heard and properly represented. But not to the point that it shuts down a society’s ability to move forward. Scientists are using 3-D printers to make replacement human ears. Brain researchers have discovered that chimpanzees have better short-term memories than humans. Geneticists confirmed a few weeks ago that the 500-year-old skeleton of Richard III has been found buried beneath a parking lot in England. Astronomers are discovering new planets every week.  The future isn’t to be feared. Would God really have created our complex and planet-filled universe, and not expect us to be inspired by its potential? The 21st century promises to be a really cool and exciting place. But only those who don’t believe in it would step aside, and allow the rest of us to get there.