The March for Science: politics, ideology and not much scienceWritten by Subby Szterszky
What's inside this article
The year 2017 might be remembered as the year of the march. January saw the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., echoed by numerous sister marches in cities around the world. Despite its name, the march wasn’t really for all women. Those who don’t embrace progressive views on abortion or gender issues – pro-life feminists, for instance – were not welcome to attend. In other words, the march wasn’t so much about universal women’s rights as it was about ideology.
Along parallel lines, a March for Science was organized to take place on Earth Day, April 22. Although smaller in scale, it shared a number of traits with the earlier Women’s March. It too was centred on the U.S. capital, with various coordinated marches in other cities. Likewise, it wasn’t for everyone in its target community. Scientists who don’t hold “consensus” views on evolution or climate change – intelligent design advocates, for example – were not allowed to participate.
In other words, the March for Science, like the Women’s March before it, had a lot to do with politics and ideology. But it had very little to do with actual science.
A cultural shift on the meaning of science
To be fair, this paradoxical problem didn’t stem from the March for Science itself. It represents a much wider cultural shift in what is understood by the term “science.”
According to the classic definition, science is the study of nature via observation and experimentation. This leads to the formulation of hypotheses that can be tested, discussed, modified or replaced as the evidence may warrant. The knowledge thus gained can then be harnessed for human flourishing as well as for better stewardship of the natural world.
Over time, this understanding of science has been gradually eroded in the public mind. In its place, science has come to be seen as a worldview rooted in materialism, the idea that the physical universe is all that exists (no God allowed, or necessary) and that it came about by random natural processes. This belief system is thought to have answered most of the big questions of existence. Its gatekeepers among the cultural elite guard its orthodoxy with religious zeal. They invoke phrases such as “settled science” or “science has proven” or “science says.” Any expressions of dissent – questioning the mechanisms of Darwinian evolution or the causes of climate change, for instance – are roundly denounced as “science denial” or “anti-science.”
Progressive ideology masquerading as science
Not surprisingly, science as secular religion fits quite well into the larger framework of progressive ideology – all of which was on display through the March for Science. Its organizers affirmed as much on their Twitter account, claiming that “colonization, racism, immigration, native rights, sexism, ableism, queer-, trans-, intersex-phobia, & econ[omic] justice are science issues.”
In fact, they’re nothing of the sort. They’re social, political and ethical issues that have nothing to do with empirical science. But that didn’t stop the organizers from doubling down on their website:
“At the March for Science, we are committed to highlighting, standing in solidarity with, and acting as allies with black, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander, indigenous, Muslim, non-Christian, non-religious, women, people with disabilities, poor, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans, non-binary, agender, and intersex scientists and science advocates. We must work to make science available to everyone . . .”
Aside from the pointed omission of white, male or Christian scientists and science advocates, it is not at all clear what it means to “make science available to everyone,” much less what any of this has to do with science in the first place.
No diversity of ideas or opinions allowed
As one commentator noted: “March organizers say ‘our diversity is our greatest strength.’ They say ‘a wealth of opinions, perspectives, and ideas is critical for the scientific process.’ But they don’t really mean it. Their passion for diversity extends to race, religion, nationality, gender and sexual orientation, but not to opinions, perspectives and ideas.”
To put it simply, the core principle of the scientific enterprise – the free exchange and exploration of ideas, even minority or unpopular ones – was nowhere to be found at the March for Science.
In the event, the March turned out to be an exercise in self-congratulation, in preaching to the choir, as it were. Marchers carried signs ranging from the witty to the unprintable, many of them with snarky barbs aimed at those who don’t approach science from a progressive secular perspective. All in all, it wasn’t the most effective strategy for winning over dissenters. Then again, as ideologies go, materialist science seems less concerned with making converts of its opponents than with browbeating them into silence.
Christians are free to embrace true science
There is a danger, of course, for Christians to respond in kind with similar tactics. In the face of secular attacks, believers can become defensive and doctrinaire. They can turn scientific positions into points of orthodoxy, ungraciously dismissing those who don’t agree, whether within or outside the church.
But mockery and anger are no more effective as tools of persuasion for the Christian than they are for the secularist. And unlike materialism, the church has a great commission to make converts – not to science, but to Christ. More than anyone else, believers have nothing to fear from genuine scientific inquiry. If all truth is God’s truth, then that includes scientific truth. As such, science is yet another arena where Christians can engage non-Christians winsomely, with grace and enthusiasm.
In short, followers of Christ are free to approach science, as they do all things, to the glory of God. As one observer summed up, “Why march when you can marvel?”
Sources and further reading
Alex Berezow, “Why this scientist won't be attending the ‘Science March’,” American Council on Science and Health, February 2, 2017.
Jeremy Samuel Faust, “The problem with the March for Science,” Slate, April 24, 2017.
Faye Flam, “Why some scientists won’t march for science,” Bloomberg, March 7, 2017.
David Klinghoffer, “Science march massively confuses science with politics,” Evolution News and Science Today, April 23, 2017.
Chris Matyszczyk, “I went to the March for Science and the signs are troubling,” CNET, April 23, 2017.
Kate Sheridan, “Science march on Washington, billed as historic, plagued by organizational turmoil,” Stat News, March 22, 2017.
Jonathan Wells, “The March for Science is really a march for conformity,” The Stream, April 18, 2017.
A collection of critical responses to the March for Science from various scientists and science writers is available at The Stream.
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2017 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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