Over the past 1.5 years of blogs, I’ve discussed all sorts of science deniers, from the Flat Earthers, to the geocentrists, to the various crackpots and fringe physicists, to the young-earth creationists, with their broad-based attack on most of biology, geology, anthropology, and cosmology. Nearly all of this attitude toward science comes from biblical literalism. But if you asked the average person, or even a physicist, whether Einstein and relativity were a threat to religion, you’d get a resounding “no.” Relativity may be a difficult to explain in layman’s terms, and sometimes counter-intuitive way of understanding physics at the extremes of velocity and space, but it’s hard to imagine why it would trouble a fundamentalist. Perhaps its importance to modern cosmology might make it an anathema to them, but it’s not threatening in and of itself, is it?
There you would be wrong! Apparently to the mind of some conservatives and creationists, ANY thing in science can become a threat to their world view, and therefore requires one of their bizarre forms of attack and rebuttal. Take, for example, conservative activist Andrew Schlafly. He is the son of famous anti-feminist homophobic activist Phylis Schlafly, and the editor of Conservapedia, a strange attempt to mimic Wikipedia but with a strong conservative bias. Andrew Schlafly is not uneducated: he has an engineering degree from Princeton, a law degree from Harvard and worked for Intel and Bell Labs. However, he has no training in any of the sciences that might challenge his conservative ideology, and it plainly shows in how he writes about subjects beyond his expertise. He is a classic case of what has been called the “smart idiot,” educated enough to sound convincing but not educated in the right areas of expertise to realize he’s wrong—and with strong ideological denial filters, confirmation bias, and issues of cognitive dissonance that cause him to perform some incredibly weird thought processes.
Naturally, Conservapedia denies global climate change and evolution, denies much of astronomy (especially “Big-Bang” cosmology) and geology, trashes environmentalism, lionizes capitalism and even the “robber barons” and trashes labor unions, claims that homosexuality is a mental disorder, claims that abortion leads to breast cancer, and makes many other demonstrably false claims about science and reality. It even obliquely supports the idea that the earth is the center of the universe, and implies that Copernicus and Galileo and modern astronomy are wrong! One would expect Conservapedia to push the idea that the earth is flat, but apparently those ideas are too retro even for Conservapedia. (Instead, it asserts that the “Flat Earth myth” about the past was cooked up by evolutionists to slander creationists—even though the idea is found in the Bible in many places!)
Strangely, Conservapedia does go so far as to trash Einstein and relativity. At first, it’s hard to imagine why the century-old idea from physics is any threat to a conservative’s view of the world. Like so many other people who don’t understand relativity, Schlafly has confused the scientific theory with the philosophical idea of relativism, the notion that there are no absolute truths but only truths taken in relative context. This, he claims, has been used by liberal politicians to justify their agendas, and was cited as a metaphor by Barack Obama in a law review article. (Which proves what, exactly?). Then Schlafly labors through 6000 words and many equations trying to debunk one of the best-tested ideas in all of science, making ridiculous claims that “relativity has been met with much resistance in the scientific world”. This may have been true when it was first proposed in 1905 and 1915, but it was widely accepted by nearly all physicists by the 1920s, when numerous experiments confirmed it. Schlafly points to the true but irrelevant fact that no one has received a Nobel Prize for relativity. Technically, Einstein received his 1921 Nobel for his discovery of the photoelectric effect and “for his services to Theoretical Physics”, without mentioning relativity directly—but it is the major “service to Theoretical Physics” that the citation refers to. In addition, the 1993 Hulse-Taylor Nobel in Physics for gravity waves depends on the notion of relativity.
Even stranger is Schlafly’s bizarre and highly irrelevant claim that “Virtually no one who is taught and believes Relativity continues to read the Bible, a book that outsells New York Times bestsellers by a hundred-fold.” Finally, as proof that relativity is wrong, he cites examples of “action-at-a-distance by Jesus, described in John 4:46-54, Matthew 15:28, and Matthew 27:51”. Wow! That’s the best way to debunk real science—quote Bible verses!