Public education has always been a target for the Religious Right, particularly after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Christian schools, most notably Bob Jones University and Falwell’s Liberty University, were launched en masse in the 60’s and 70’s to preserve racial segregation and continue to be a focal point for conservative power-brokers like Betsy DeVos.
Gov. DeSantis of Florida seized the opportunity to whitewash history by banning Critical Race Theory (CRT), leading other states to follow suit with their own anti-CRT bills. After his success in banning CRT, DeSantis quickly followed up with anti-LGBTQ legislation. His Don’t Say Gay law banning books, teaching materials, and discussions that acknowledge LGBTQ identities has now been extended to all K-12 grades.
Giving people like Rufo power in an academic institution of any kind is like handing a loaded firearm to a toddler. It won’t end well.
While I’m not surprised by the actions of conservatives like DeSantis and Rufo, I’m always surprised at the lack of public alarm and outrage. I suppose many of us are numb from the unrelenting barrage of assaults on individual liberties and the civil and human rights of pretty much anyone not identifying as a white, straight, cisgender, conservative Christian.
But I’m most disappointed by the silence of those in the scientific community, and more broadly, anyone who values critical thinking. It’s been about five centuries since the start of the Scientific Revolution, when great minds like Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Isaac Newton began to publish scientific discoveries that contradicted Holy Scripture. These early scientists sought truth, not by relying on interpretations of Christian doctrine, but through logic and reason.
The Catholic Church, of course, considered the Bible absolute truth – the inspired, incontrovertible Word of God. Those who suggested anything to the contrary faced inquisition and persecution.
In spite of this, scientists continued to expand the horizons of human knowledge and seek answers to life’s mysteries. Through the centuries, these scientists used much the same process in their quest for truth and knowledge. The process that emerged was perhaps humanity’s crowning achievement: the scientific method.
The scientific method is unique in that it allows us to acknowledge and embrace uncertainty rather than deny and flee from it. Like any tool, the scientific method isn’t intrinsically good or bad, as some would have us believe. It simply provides a framework that relies on facts and evidence rather than strongly held beliefs. To gather this evidence, we must be able to test our claims through measurements and observations that are repeatable and verifiable.
To use the scientific method, we must first differentiate between subjective truth and objective truth. People may hold religious beliefs they consider their personal truth, which is of course a subjective truth. Objective or absolute truth, however, requires facts that are supported by evidence.
Just like with any other hypotheses, to determine if religious beliefs are objectively true requires that they are testable, repeatable, and independently verifiable. Since we can’t even conceive of a way to test religious or supernatural beliefs, no one can claim they are objectively true. No one knows with any certainty.
Herein lies the problem. After centuries of Scientific Revolution, mainstream religions still promote their doctrine as indisputable and absolute truth – and we have collectively failed to hold them accountable. This failure has resulted in some of the most horrific crimes against humanity, from genocide and conquest to slavery and segregation.
The concept of faith, which can be such a powerful force for good, is by its very nature susceptible to the most egregious abuse and manipulation. Religious exploitation proved such an effective way to exert power and control over a populace that it became the ultimate weapon of man. Conservatives today seem to have perfected that weapon.
Conservative leaders, legislators, and judges have acted with impunity in circumventing the Constitution and favoring religious beliefs over facts and evidence. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the GOP’s legislative assaults on Black identities, LGBTQ rights, gender-affirming health care, and women’s rights to bodily autonomy.
Amanda Tylor, the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), describes it this way,
“Christian nationalism is a political ideology and cultural framework that seeks to merge American and Christian identities…”
The ‘Christian’ in Christian nationalism is more about identity than religion and carries with it assumptions about nativism, white supremacy, authoritarianism, patriarchy, and militarism.”
Christian nationalists have united their voting base by tapping into the Religious Right’s fear and rage. They’ve assembled a Supreme Court majority that openly embraces Medieval Christian doctrine in its rulings and empowers states to do the same. Conservative judges and legislators at all levels of government have a green light to erode women’s reproductive rights, suppress the Black vote, deny LGBTQ equality, and eradicate trans kids from existence.
Since the source of Christian nationalist power comes from evangelical, Catholic, and like-minded churches, those churches are as culpable as the conservative leaders who exploit them. I do not believe we can achieve any semblance of lasting justice and equality in our country until we prevent the weaponization of religion and hold churches accountable for their role.
Our Constitution is an extraordinary example of how the scientific method can be applied to governance. But we have clearly failed to enforce it properly, starting with separation of church and state.
In this, the Scientific Revolution fell short. The reason for separating church from state is that faith is not fact. Decisions at every level of government must be based on facts, data, and evidence – not supernatural speculation.
This acknowledgement does not imply that any religion is false, for we can no more prove that God does not exist than we can that God exists. Nor does it diminish an individual’s religious freedom.
But it does prevent anyone from weaponizing religion by claiming they have the religious freedom to dehumanize, condemn, or persecute others. Dr. King spoke of this very issue in his 1965 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta,
“The first saying we notice in this dream is an amazing universalism. It doesn’t say, ‘some men’; it says ‘all men.’ It doesn’t say ‘all white men’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes black men. It does not say ‘all Gentiles’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes Jews. It doesn’t say ‘all Protestants’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes Catholics. It doesn’t even say ‘all theists and believers’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes humanists and agnostics.”
It’s impossible to imagine the Black Freedom Movement succeeding without the passion and resolve of churches that embraced the social gospel. And it’s impossible to imagine the success of the Scientific Rebellion without those same churches leading the way. Democracy and religious freedom depend on inclusive churches standing up against Christian nationalism.
In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King made it clear that the greatest threat to Black freedom was not white supremacist ideology, but the “white moderate.” King was particularly disillusioned with the silence and inaction of white Christian churches and ministers who say, “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.”
We are now in need of a Scientific Rebellion to pick up where the revolution left off. And as with any rebellion, there is no middle ground. If you’re neutral, you’ve thrown your lot in with the oppressors.
Where do you stand?
About the author: Peter Tchoryk is an engineer and a dad who discovered he had a lot to learn from his kids. He is committed to making this world safer for all those who are persecuted for trying to live authentically. To learn more, check in with us at ScientificRebels.com, listen to our Podcast, or contact the author directly.