My Encounter with The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Last week I wrote a post entitled “Black Holes and Political Ignorance.” In it, I quoted Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) who, reacting to the recent news that black holes might not exist, reportedly said: “Going forward, members of the House Science Committee will do our best to avoid listening to scientists.” A footnoted disclaimer appeared at the bottom of the page informing readers that the quote was taken from a satirical piece and that the representative had not actually said this, although that is obviously what he believes.
The same day I received an email from Zachary Kurz, the Communications Director for the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the U.S. House of Representatives. Mr. Kurz had become aware of my piece, which had been reprinted in Humanity+ Magazine, where the disclaimer was inadvertently omitted. Mr. Kurz requested that I update the piece to inform my readers that Chairman Smith had not really said: “the House Science Committee will do our best to avoid listening to scientists.” I notified the editor of the magazine who immediately printed a disclaimer at both the top and bottom of the page.
Republican Representative Lamar Smith of Texas
The reason the communications director is interested in public relations is that one could easily mistake the satire for the real thing. In fact, Representative Smith does not listen to scientists because Representative Lamar Smith is a Christian Scientist. For those who don’t know what this means please read on.
Christian Science is a set of beliefs and practices belonging to the metaphysical family of new religious movements. It was developed in 19th-century New England by Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910), who argued in her book Science and Health (1875) that sickness is an illusion that can be corrected by prayer alone. The book became Christian Science’s central text, along with the Bible, and by 2001 had sold ten million copies in 16 languages. …
There are several key differences between Christian Science and orthodox Christian theology. In particular adherents subscribe to a radical form of philosophical idealism, believing that reality is purely spiritual and the material world an illusion. This includes the view that disease is a mental error rather than physical disorder, and that the sick should be treated, not by medicine, but by a form of prayer that seeks to correct the beliefs responsible for the illusion of ill health. …
Between the 1880s and 1990s, the avoidance of medical treatment was blamed for the deaths of several adherents and their children; parents and others were prosecuted for manslaughter or neglect and in a few cases convicted.
Hopefully, this gives you a sense of the philosophical beliefs that inform Representative Smith. If you would like you can read about Mary Baker Eddy’s beliefs in animal magnetism, witchcraft, and others superstitions. But the more you read the more you will be convinced that this man should not serve on, much less head, this committee.
Now Representative Smith has a legal right to hold to whatever ignorant superstitions he likes. He is free to pray when ill rather than see his physician, which is exactly what he should do if he is faithful to his religious principles. It also makes sense that he opposes the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA because Christian scientists if they are consistent, have no use for medicine. The representative, to be consistent with his religious principles, also shouldn’t benefit from other technology, since technology is applied science.
Now, remember this man chairs the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. If all of us, conservatives, liberals, libertarians, socialists, progressives, and everyone else don’t take steps to change a situation where a religious fanatic uses his position to impede science we will soon live in a theocracy heading toward a new Dark Ages. And that world of superstition and ignorance before the Enlightenment was a horrific place. In it people with the plague prayed furiously … and then died miserably.
Finally, if you are a conservative interested in projecting American power in the world, remember that American power depends, not on the outstanding level of physical fitness of the American public, but upon smart bombs, drones, missiles, submarines, engineering, and computer software. Knowledge is power …
Here is the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in action. (The relevant segment begins about 3 minutes into the video.) Watch the scientifically illiterate Republican members of Congress juvenile attempts to critique a real climate scientist. Let us hope the Dark Ages do not return.