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It’s a world of people out there who think the truth hurts

The problem with this country is, we can’t handle the truth. Unless it’s our own truth.

I was dwelling on the fragility of truth about a week ago, while watching the debate on creationism vs. evolution between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, the intellectually shuttered fellow who runs a Kentucky museum dedicated to the notion that The Bible is literally true. A poll conducted a couple of days after the debate indicated that 92 percent of people who watched the event on the Internet believed Nye had won. That poll, by the way, was conducted by Christian Today.

So the debate was a bit more one-sided than even the last Super Bowl. Nevertheless, it was fascinating viewing, with Ham the Biblical coelacanth, living evidence that there are people out there who think the fossil record is a prank by God. And by the way, when Pat Robertson – who believes that hurricanes are caused by gay people – tells you to quit saying crazy stuff, you know you’re off the charts.

Score a big win for the truth. Otherwise, it’s a world of people who think the truth hurts.

Let’s start in that most-obvious portal to fantasy, politics. Politicians are rarely held  accountable for distributing misinformation. The Affordable Care Act and its death panels, immigration and anchor babies, rich money-hoarders as job creators, Obama is a Muslim Socialist emperor from Kenya. The leaders who manufactured these long-refuted talking points still have many followers. As does New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a man who’s willing to punish his constituents if a mayor didn’t endorse him, or back a real-estate project that Christie favored. Nor does the truth fare well in Kentucky, where Senator Mitch McConnell is either a liar or has horrible reading comprehension skills. Last week he said the Congressional Budget Office estimates Obamacare will cost the country two million jobs, when it says no such thing.

Here’s one of my recent favorites. Kentucky senator and proven plagiarizer Rand Paul often refers to “studies” to back up his claims, yet rarely names those studies. But last month, while insisting that employers are less likely to hire people who have been unemployed for long periods of time, he did cite one example: A paper written by Rand Ghayad, not yet a high-level economist, just one who’s finishing up his Ph.D. in economics from Northeastern University. Unfortunately for Paul, Ghayad was less than appreciative of the attention. Just because companies discriminate against the long-term unemployed doesn’t mean long-term benefits are to blame,” Ghayad wrote in rebuttal in The Atlantic magazine. “Paul might know that if he read beyond the first line of my paper’s abstract.”

We know government officials in West Virginia have a problem with the truth because 300,000 people there whose water has been rendered unusable for a month after a massive chemical spill are being told it is now safe to drink. Except those officials are falling far short of making definitive assurances, because the water still has an odd odor to it. “Just because you smell something doesn’t mean it’s not safe,” said Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water. Would you take his word on that?

You can’t. Apparently moonshine stills tucked away in the mountain hollers of West Virginia get more government regulation than the chemical storage tanks rusting on the banks of the state’s beautiful rivers. We know the people who spilled those chemicals downplayed the size of the spill at first, and later admitted it was actually a much larger event. BP did the same thing with the Gulf oil spill. That’s the strategy every time an industry is confronted by an ecological disaster. Lie about how minor the damage is, then work your way up to: Run!

NBC’s Olympics coverage is a lie. Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko was forced to withdraw from the men’s figure-skating competition because of an injury before the start of Thursday’s event. Unwilling to admit that it had lost one of that evening’s marquee figures – NBC’s broadcast of the event is delayed because of the nine-hour difference between Sochi and the U.S. Eastern time zone – the network continued to promote Plushenko’s appearance throughout the day. It even used a quote from the skater, saying he would compete, words taken from an interview recorded days earlier. Using lies to hype a drama that never happened.

Holocaust-level exaggerations can be useful when the evidence is weighing in heavily against you. We heard some rich guys this week dismiss the dangers of income equality by comparing their critics to Nazis. Those critics, incidentally, include the majority of the world’s economists and the Pope.

We heard arguments supported this week by absolutely ludicrous dishonesty. Colorado Republican Sen. Bernie Herpin challenged a gun control measure in his state by suggesting that high-capacity magazines shouldn’t be banned because the guy who shot up a Colorado movie theater in 2012 had one that malfunctioned, preventing more carnage. Speaking of the accused shooter, James Homes, Herpin said it “was maybe a good thing he had a 100-round magazine because it jammed. If he had instead had four, five, six 15-round magazines, no telling how much damage he could have done until a good guy showed up.” Twelve people dead and more than 70 wounded puts the lie to the twisted theory that a reliance on defective weapons will keep us safe.

Enraged that Woody Allen was being honored at the Academy Awards, Dylan Farrow, daughter of Allen’s former longtime companion Mia Farrow, wrote a damning essay reviving old accusations that Allen had molested her when she was 7 years old. Disinterested in weighing both sides on Farrow’s serious accusations of child abuse, Allen’s Hollywood supporters trampled the alleged victim in the rush to defend the comedian and director.

And perhaps most notably this week, there was an announcement by Michael Sam, the star defensive lineman on a very good University of Missouri football team, that he is gay. Reactions were wide ranging, and it’s no surprise that there are a lot of homophobic bigots lurking in the Internet weeds. But most interesting was the reaction of NFL people who insisted that the league “is not ready for a gay player,” and warned that allowing a gay man into a locker room would endanger its “delicate chemistry.”

I’ve been in plenty of locker rooms. Delicate chemistry isn’t quite the right description.

Other NFL authorities questioned why Sam would come out now, right before the NFL draft, and likely ruin his chances of being picked higher. Their suggestion was clear: Lie to your future employer.

Sam made the tough decision. The decision that felt right to him. He wanted to be honest with himself, and those around him. “I want to own my truth,” he said.

The truth, instead of a lie that others are more comfortable with.

Evolution vs. creationism: A Ham on Nye sandwich

A handful of science Grumpycats warned Bill Nye to not do it. Don’t get onstage and debate that creationist guy. It’ll lend credibility to the anti-science crowd.

Nye went ahead with it anyway. Tuesday night he crawled into the den of ignorance, defending evolution against Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum, right there on Ham’s home turf. A so-called learning center in Petersburg, Ky., that suggests dinosaurs and humans once lived side by side. For me, this was must-see Internet.

Bill Nye the Science Guy is one of my heroes.  He speaks truth to lunacy.

For more than two hours, in what was generally a civil debate, Nye and Ham went at the question of whether Ham’s claim that creationism is a realistic explanation for the existence of mankind. The combatants each got a five-minute opening statement, followed by a half-hour slot to plead their case. I’ve included the entire video here, including the 13 minutes of pre-show New Age music to calm you down.

Ham started, and presenting a slide show of murky logic, the most obvious point being his contention that there are two kinds of science: Observational science and historical science.If I understood Ham correctly, observational science is what scientists can see today. Historical science is stuff that happened in the past. Since we’re not there, he argued, we don’t really know, do we?

The yawning hole in Ham’s logic here is enough to sail an arc through: If “not being there” refutes scientific data – such as counting tree rings to see how old the tree is – doesn’t that also refute using The Bible as a historical record? It isn’t an extemporaneous document. It’s authors didn’t know Adam and Eve.

Nye countered with fossils, geology, the stars. Science facts that add up to the Earth being 4.6 billion years old, not the 4,000 to 6,000 that Ham believes it is, as a literal interpretation of The Bible suggests. Nye went after the physical impossibility of a worldwide flood, and the logistical improbability of a Noah’s Ark. He pointed out that the sharp teeth of lions shows they weren’t vegetarians during Noah’s time, as Ham claims. The further Ham got from his opening half hour, the more ragged his argument grew.

The final portion of the debate was questions from the audience. They were a tough audience. They wanted to know, how do life forms develop a conscious state? Nye admitted he didn’t know some of these answers. He didn’t know what was there before the Big Bang, and the creation  of the universe. No one does, he said.

“There’s a book that has the answer,” was Ham’s reply to those big questions.

Bill Nye the Education Hero said several times during the debate that we can’t allow a generation or two of American kids to go though school with an improper science foundation. We’ll fall behind, he said. We must invest in research. America must continue to innovate. Faith and religion can be a wonderful thing, but they doesn’t create life-saving medical procedures. They don’t create the Internet, they don’t create the advances in farming that allow the Earth to feed seven billion people. The Bible may be inspirational literature, but it doesn’t have all of the answers. Moses wasn’t splitting atoms.

The scientists who pissed and moaned about Nye going onstage with a creationist don’t understand that he’s standing up to forces that want to spend our increasingly limited resources on religious dogma. And it has to be their religious dogma, not that of any of the thousands of gods who have walked the planet for centuries.

Nye is standing up to the people who would cut NASA funding in favor of vouchers for charter schools whose curriculum are irradiated with dubious academics. The anti-science Neanderthals are dangerous. Today, one out of every three Americans do not believe in evolution.

What was perhaps Nye’s most-brilliant comment of the night seemed to pass unnoticed, after he admitted we don’t have answers to many of the world’s mysteries. Some day, he insisted, perhaps we will, if we keep working at it. Nye came off as a man delighted by the wonder and mysteries of the universe. Ham, as he pointed out, is simply satisfied with the answers that he reads in The Bible.

The Critical Mass

Bill Nye. Or maybe the guy on my bus, I'm not sure.

Bill Nye. Or maybe the guy on my bus, I'm not sure.

Bill Nye, I’m proud of you

Until a few weeks ago, I had only a passing familiarity with Bill Nye, who in the ’90s was “Bill Nye the Science Guy” to kids watching public television. I never saw his show there, being too old to learn by then. A couple of years back, I’d catch a glimpse of him as the environmentally concerned fusspot neighbor of Ed Begley  Jr., on the cable reality show Life With Ed. Nye and Begley spent a few half-hour episodes trying to one-up each other in the race to see who could fit more solar panels on his roof.

Nye was just a funny little fella with a bow tie  who I wouldn’t know if he sat down next to me on the bus ride home. In fact, there’s a guy on my bus who I now realize looks a lot like Nye.

A few weeks ago Nye was on, of all things, Chris Matthews’ talk-and-yell show on MSNBC. Matthews can be insufferable. There are times when the only sound he hears is his own voice. And he loves that sound. He rudely talks right over his guests, rephrasing his own question two or three times, like a narcissist incessantly combing his hair, until he’s satisfied that these are words worthy of being carved in marble. But other times, Matthews is listening closely, ready to pounce on a guest’s unsubstantiated utterance. And if you say something interesting – something that’s not a talking point – you’ve got the microphone.

Nye made two points that I’d never heard properly articulated in the past. He was asked why so many Americans didn’t think climate change is a reality. His response: When you live in a place like Oklahoma, and the nearest neighbor is a mile away, it’s hard to grasp the concept that human beings could actually change the face of the planet.

Then he addressed a second question. Why do so many Republican politicians believe in creationism, and not evolution? Nye’s response: Creationism is what a lot of them were brought up to believe.

But then Nye got to the real issue. People may believe what they choose. But we can’t allow them to choose the school curriculum. That’s dangerous, Nye said.

Here’s how he explained it to The Associated Press this week: “If we raise a generation of students who don’t believe in the process of science, who think everything that we’ve come to know about nature and the universe can be dismissed by a few sentences translated into English from some ancient text, you’re not going to continue to innovate.”

A Gallup poll taken in June reported that 46 percent of Americans believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Answers in Genesis, a pro-creationism group, says that Adam and Eve and dinosaurs walked the earth together.

“The Earth is not 6,000 or 10,000 years old,” Nye said. It is, in fact, 4.5 billion years old. “And if that conflicts with your beliefs, I strongly feel you should question your beliefs.”

With states like Tennessee and Louisiana legislating their students into stupidity by allowing faith to dilute science, where are the leaders of our country, coming to the defense of truth?

They are afraid to defend the intellect of this country. The country that put men on the moon, and invented the Internet, is OK with students being assured by authority figures – their adult teachers – that, yes, dinosaurs and man walked the earth together.

Bill Nye the Science Guy is a 56-year-old mechanical engineer. And like our fearful leaders, he has a career to protect. But unlike them, Nye is a very brave fellow, because the forces of ignorance in this country are very powerful.

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