“Faith in science is a belief”

November 6, 2009 • 5:10 pm

by Greg Mayer

There’s an article up on New Statesman, by Sholto Byrnes, announcing “It’s official: faith in science is a belief“. The sub heading says “New legal ruling places it in the same category as religion”.   It sounds like some sort of legal victory for creationists, of the kind feared by Michael Ruse: to have science in general, and evolution in particular, regarded as a faith-based enterprise on a par with creationism is a traditional goal of creationists.  As Duane Gish put it “Evolution theory is no less religious nor more scientific than creation.” But is this what has happened? In a word, no. The wording of the headline may be just clever enough to exonerate Byrnes of the charge of inaccuracy, but it’s surely misleading.

What a UK court said is

A man has been told he can take his employer to tribunal on the grounds he was unfairly dismissed because of his views on climate change….

His solicitor, Shah Qureshi, said: “Essentially what the judgment says is that a belief in man-made climate change and the alleged resulting moral imperative is capable of being a philosophical belief and is therefore protected by the 2003 religion or belief regulations.”

So, what’s been ruled a “belief” is the “moral imperative” arising from climate change, and this is the “it” that’s been placed in the same category as religion. (Under, I might add, the rather odd-sounding, to a non-Britisher, “2003 religion or belief regulations.”  As an American, whose school lessons in British history tended to center on Magna Carta and the 1689 Bill of Rights, and whose political forefathers rebelled to protect their rights as Englishmen, it is curious to me how few rights Englishmen seem to have these days when it comes to speaking their minds about matters scientific and religious.)

Byrnes exacerbates the misleading nature of his headline by asking

But I wonder if this ruling is quite so useful to those who look to science and rationality as guides to their lives as it might on the surface appear.

Why would he think that anyone interested in science and rationality would support such a ruling, let alone find it useful?  The underlying dispute is not about the epistemological status of science, but the sacking of an executive who objected to his employer’s environmental policies: the court ruling, as the much more accurate Independent headline had it, was about “green beliefs”. While I sympathize with the employee’s views on global warming, it seems distinctly odd to me that a court should find these views religious in nature. But in any case, the ruling is not about what the New Statesman headline suggests.

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Gish, D. 1985. Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record. Creation- Life Publishers, El Cajon, CA. p. 23.