What do creationists and climate change deniers have in common?

This is not the first line of a joke, but the theme of this commentary piece appearing in Earth. The author is Steven Newton, who works for the National Center for Science Education. The NCSE has been focused on protecting the teaching of evolution in public schools, but a few months ago they branched out into climate change. Why?

I talked to Newton yesterday, and he said the organization has had a number of requests to step into the heated issue of global climate change. Some of the latest anti-evolution bills include climate change as well. These bills are pushed as “academic freedom” bills, and people at NSCE think they’re aimed at allowing teachers to push antiscientific propaganda.

Newton asked me what I did to bring on such a torrent of nasty press from the Discovery Institute – a creationist/intelligent design think tank. I could venture a couple of guesses as to why they’re not happy with me. I’d worry a lot if I got any praise from them. But I’ve gotten even worse from the more extreme climate denial websites.

So one thing creationist and climate deniers have in common is both have me on their bad lists. Creationists and climate deniers tend to use the same technique to bash journalists who disagree with them – they accuse us of being too stupid to understand the fine points of intelligent design or climate modeling. I’ve seen that with other pseudo scientists as well, accusing journalists who challenge them of being too dimwitted to truly comprehend homeopathy, astrology or whatever junk they’re peddling.

But are there any philosophical similarities? Here’s what Steve Newton wrote in is Earth piece:  

What it boils down to is that creationists and climate change deniers both reject central principles of science on ideological, religious and political grounds. Moreover, they deny not just these principles, but also the idea of science itself as a way of knowing about the world.

Attacks on evolution and climate science are both based on the rejection of well-established scientific techniques. Geologists demonstrate the age of the Earth with the techniques of radiometric dating. “Bunk,” say young-Earth creationists: These techniques rely on unproven assumptions. Climate scientists develop complex computer models as a technique to understand what might happen to future climates. “Bunk,” say climate change deniers: Such models are just a convenient fiction.

Climate deniers often do well on tests of so-called science literacy. I think that’s an important piece of this story and one I hope to explore in an upcoming Inquirer column.

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