Guest Address: Dr. Scot C. R. Rafkin
Dr. Scot C. R. Rafkin, Assistant Director, Dept. of Space Studies at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, TX. He is a leading scientist in the field of planetary atmospheres with a specialization in mesoscale modeling and dynamics. He currently chairs the MEPAG Climate Committee, is a member of the NASA Planetary System Science MOWG, and has served on Science Definition Teams for Mars and Titan missions. Dr. Rafkin is Science Advisor, and current Chairman of the Advisory Committee for the National Atheist Party and holds a B.S., Dept. of Atmospheric Science, UCLA, 1989, an M.S., Dept. of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, 1992, and a Ph.D., Dept. of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, 1996.
Reflection on Darwin Day One Year Later
Scot Rafkin, Ph.D.
National Atheist Party Science and Technology Advisor
A year ago, a short piece of mine (see here) was released through the National Atheist Party in celebration of Darwin Day. I noted at that time that “at the political level, the acceptance of evolution, particularly in the U.S. remains a battle.” I would not have expected for much to have changed just one year later, and indeed, it has not. Yet, events over the last year provide for both a glimmer of optimism and a reminder for continued vigilance.
On the positive side, the U.S. population generally rejected the anti-science positions of the neo-evangelical Republican Party. The generally more scientific fact-accepting Democratic Party made gains in Congress, and of course, the more-likely-to-accept-science President Obama was reelected over the overwhelmingly more anti-science ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Even within the losing team, Mitt Romney has gone on record as one of the few major Republican Presidential candidates to accept evolution. That a candidate accepting evolution can achieve the Presidential nomination in today’s ultraconservative Republican Party should count for something (even if he plays both sides by claiming evolution guided by the hand of God and taking the non-overlapping magisterial approach that denies conflict between “true science” and “true religion”). An additional reason for optimism is the continued rise in the percent of the U.S. population that defines itself as something other than religious in poll after poll. Just as the growth of more liberal minorities in the U.S. spells trouble for the anti-science party, the shifting religious demographics will continue to drain their lifeblood. At the state and local level, proposed laws that either directly or indirectly seek to permit the teaching of creationism have generally been defeated in the legislatures.
Despite small battle victories, the war is not won; now is not the time to let our guard down. Creationist bills continue to be proposed at the local and state level, and it is only through strong and vocal activism by organizations such as the NAP and its members that these bills fail to become law. There remains a constant threat by sitting and would-be members of congress to tear down Jefferson’s Wall of Separation. Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA), who declared that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell” and who is currently a sitting member of the House Science Committee, is looking at retiring Senator Saxby Chambiss’ seat. Looking forward four years, leading Presidential Republican candidates are already vociferously spewing anti-science rhetoric, either pandering to their religious base or being True Believers™ themselves (e.g., Marco Rubio’s comments about the age of the Earth). And let us not be tempted to think that the alternative in our two party system is much better. Democrats are often just as eager to flaunt their religious convictions, including the President. Neither side is ready or willing to recognize that morals are not endowed by a creator and that our fate is in our own hands. Failure to recognize and accept self-determination is not a virtue but a vice, and when belonging to a politician, this failure represents a threat to us individually, as a society and globally.
Now, more than ever, the time has come for a new party—a party that finally represents rational thought, scientific-based decision making and evidenced-based policies. As I stated last year, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution makes it clear that “it is up to us and us alone to govern ourselves. Science will provide the facts and tools we need to do this. Reason will show us the way.” We have billions of years of evolution behind us. We owe it to ourselves, future generations and to Charles Darwin to start acting like it.