I arrived at Dulles International early this AM on a red eye flight from Phoenix. I found the bus I would take into D.C. A 40-ish man in an overcoat was preparing to board the bus too. He was tall, and looked vaguely like Dick Van Dyke–friendly and easygoing, by appearance.
We spoke briefly, discussing various payment options for public transportation in the DC Metro area. He thanked me, and removed his overcoat–revealing a US Airways uniform with three bars on the epaulets. A pilot perhaps?
When he settled into his seat across from me, he pulled out this in plain view:
I found it disturbing. Alienating. Jesus, it bugged me that I might be in the presence of a creationist.
It bugged me that it bugged me too.
Why should it surprise me, since nearly half of Americans do not believe in evolution (more than half among Republicans)? Should I expect the doubters of science to keep their incredulity in the closet? Is this how a creationist feels when they know they are in the presence of an evolutionist?
He wasn’t flaunting it at all, or waving it in my face tauntingly. He was just passing the time on the bus with the book he happened to be reading.
My thoughts continued to race. I own a couple of anti-evolution books, more for irony and ridicule than anything. Perhaps my pilot friend was just keeping up on the forces opposing science. I couldn’t convince myself of this.
It even occurred to me–fleetingly–to say something to the guy. An inquiry, or a snotty comment, or disclosure that I–the friendly guy who helped him with bus–I am a supporter of the prevailing, accepted, not-controversial-among-scientists paradigm on the origin of species.
Leave him alone, I concluded. I put on my headphones and decided to listen to a podcast. I chose Skepticality – The Official Podcast of Skeptic Magazine. That didn’t help. I kept glancing at him and his infernal book.
How, I wondered, can someone whose livelihood requires that he use and understand the technology of modern aviation, how can this person reject science altogether in another realm of cognition. Clearly it is easy to do.
Take, for example, the 9/11 hijackers, who learned to pilot planes (with no interest in learning how to land them). Take them also as an example that superstitious beliefs have consequences–even some beliefs that seem to be benign differences of opinion. Take them as proof that the logical conclusion of such beliefs can be terrifying. This is where my thoughts took me while I continued my bus ride with Dick Van Dyke.
It’s always bugged me, how many religious people deny science when it is inconvenient to their cherished superstitions. Yet these people will also use the commonplace technology of modern existence–say, a microwave oven–as though the science and the appliance do not often rest on the same proven research, the same well-understood phenomena.
If you deny that microwave radiation can help establish the age of a fossil–or of the universe–isn’t it blasphemy to say that it can heat up your in-flight meal, much less that it can assist you in tracking weather for aircraft navigation?
If your profession puts you in contact with contagious air travelers from around the world, but you deny that species evolve through natural selection, shouldn’t you continue using last year’s flu vaccine–for it would be apostasy to believe that the flu virus has become resistant.
Update: Jan 2019
I recently found this article that does a better job expressing what I was trying to get at. (It almost seems like the author stole my idea and improved upon it.)
[T]he unity of science argument makes it clear that the creationist’s choice is a bitter one. He is not merely choosing an alternative account of the origins of animals, he is choosing an entirely different way of life. He must disbelieve and attempt to refute the entirety of science and its accumulated knowledge. The more you go against orthodoxy, the greater your burden of proof. Given this, the burden of proof on creationism is heavy. They need to make bold claims about what their theory predicts and verify them, and this has not happened.
To be consistent, extreme science skeptics such as creationists should not trust any existing technology. They should not use computers, drive modern cars, fly on airplanes, or have an MRI done, since the same science that tells us that animals evolved created these technologies. But of course these are reliable technologies. The best explanation for this fact and the fact that our cars go, our bridges do not fall down, hospital patients get better at ever-improving rates, and so on, is that the science behind these achievements correctly describes the world. [Emphasis added]Hirstein Ph.D., W, ( January,2013). Why Creationists Should Not Fly on Airplanes. Psychology Today. Retrieved January , 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindmelding/201301/why-creationists-should-not-fly-airplanes