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Every time Pat Robertson makes the news, it confuses me for a moment because for some reason I am always under the impression that he died a few years ago. Then I remember it was that other inexplicably influential televangelist who was always blaming people caught in natural disasters for pissing off God with their reckless sinning, not this one.

Robertson is still with us. And he wants you to know that science is legitimate, except in certain areas where it's not, and the delineation between those two areas is, as always, whatever religion says it is. Here ya go, via Right Wing Watch:

"God created the world; the laws of nature were created by God. True science tries to find out what God put in the world. The trouble is where scientists speculate about theology and they don’t know what they’re talking about because they weren’t there. They can’t speculate about the origins of life because they weren’t there. If they tell you observable phenomenon then we ought to believe them, and I tell you if you find a geologist who tells you something existed 300 million years ago then you better believe them because he knows what he’s talking about. We don’t want our religious theory go with flat earth."
You may think this sounds confusing. Maybe, but it's also one of the most concise explanations of the relationship between fundamentalism and science I've ever seen. A religious figure or institution declares themselves to be the Speculation Police, defining what areas of physical law or common history may or may not be speculated upon by individuals not versed in the Holy Word, and that is that. Later, as that particular policeman gets more comfortable with whatever scientific premise is being advanced (usually long after the rest of the world, and usually long after said scientific premise has already resulted in a few hundred years of other scientific progress based on the obvious truth of the thing), the theology is revised to begrudgingly accept the thing, and life (and religion) goes on.

(Continued below the fold)

True science tries to find out what God put in the world.
A lot of churchgoin' scientists out there would agree.
The trouble is where scientists speculate about theology and they don’t know what they’re talking about because they weren’t there.
As opposed to you, who was there? Huh? I'm not sure I've heard many scientists speculate about theology, but the world is a-poppin with theologians speculating about science. Scientists only "speculate about theology" if you're defining whatever bits of science you don't agree with to be "theology" and calling it done.

Science speculates about all sorts of things that science "wasn't there" for. It's often the entire point. Religion, for that matter, is based from stem to stern on speculating about stuff none of the practitioners were there for, so this isn't just the pot calling the kettle black, this here pot is calling the kettle a pot.

They can’t speculate about the origins of life because they weren’t there.
And there we go: the origins of life are "theology," so scientists need to back off. No speculating over here! Speculate over that other stuff, like gravity and quantum theory and whether gay penguins were born gay or were pressured into it by a permissive penguin culture that watches too much goddamn TV.

By definition, no humans were there to watch life begin. Pretty sure that counts as a truism, that one. Speculation, though, that we can do! We know what the basic compounds are. We know how they can be created. We know that animal 1 came before animal 2, and we know that big bird-like lizard things were the earth's first go-round at a dominant species (dominant primarily for being freaking awesome; their typing ability, however, sucked, thus dooming them to banal and twitterless lives.)

If they tell you observable phenomenon then we ought to believe them,
Well, that's awfully big of you. Look, that's a sun! That's a moon! Fire hot!
and I tell you if you find a geologist who tells you something existed 300 million years ago then you better believe them because he knows what he’s talking about.
... said the anthropomorphic hare, backing over its own argument in its SUV, oblivious to the screams of the poor little thing. Wait, what?

It may sound like a reversal of Robertson's argument, but it's the crux of the whole thing. A scientist can tell you want happened 300 million years ago (the admission of the existence of a "300 million years ago" itself a big concession, inside certain religious circles) if the fellow knows what he's talking about, which is defined as stuff that is not controversial, which is further defined as anything that our religion can tolerate without having to revise the hymn books. That line is drawn based on the religious figure's personal theological preference, and like all religious objections to scientific progress, backpedals all the time.

We are allowed to believe in electrons because electrons are uncontroversial. (The logic there is circular, yes, but you would be hard pressed to find a deeper premise involved.) There are no religions that I am aware of that have doubting the existence of electrons as a central point of faith, although I am sure there are no doubt preachers here and there who believe matter is bound together by God's love and electricity is produced by God shuffling his socks, and that you're going to Hell if you take it any further than that.

The premise that humans are divinely chosen, though, separate from all the animals and not tarnished with their filthy, filthy animal genes and histories, is still a central article of faith to many. This is because of the deep-seated need for humans to feel good about themselves, and if we can't feel good about ourselves based on our own performance, at least we can feel superior to the chicken, the monkey, and the aforementioned non-tweeting thunder lizards. It is in many ways the last stand of mankind's superiority. We already gave up our claim to being the central point around which the entire rest of the universe orbits. We already, begrudgingly, accept that the earth existed for a great long time before we ever came around (again, however, with nontrivial objections among true fundamentalists, so Robertson had better watch out for them). We even accept that monkeys and people are made up of almost exactly the same stuff, so long as you stop the questioning right there, mister biology-guy, and don't go any further.

We'll accept that monkeys and people are damn, damn similar. But God made us special. He made the monkeys, and the giraffes, and the labradoodles, but then he stirred together humanity's recipe in a separate pot. A clean pot, thank you very much. A clean, magic pot. Give us that much, at least; otherwise we don't have much left to feel superior about.

It is the same proclamation of mankind's divinely granted centrality that has been at the heart of every other religious beef with science. (The notion that God will simply "fix" climate change because he wouldn't let anything bad happen to us, but f--k the polar bears, is a particularly egregious example.) But even fundamentalists have a very difficult time finding the line between acceptable science and the naughty stuff, which is why when Robertson finishes up with:

We don’t want our religious theory go with flat earth.
... he truly means it, and truly seems wary of being seen as a religious science-prude. Of course good Christians do not believe in a flat earth anymore, that would be embarrassing and backward and stupid. The flat earth religious theory was given up centuries ago. The new battleground is still defined as "theology" in the abstract, but more specifically now, it is the "origins of life," and more specifically still "anything that otherwise knowledgeable geologists, biologists, physicists or climatologists might tell us that still happens to piss us off, and gawd knows that's a long and ever-changing list."

That guarded margin, though, the sketchy area between things we know and things we are not allowed to accept, is a fascinating place. We're allowed to know how old the earth is, but don't ask too many questions about the details. We're allowed to know that we share most of our DNA with monkeys, as long as you keep that one last wall in place and don't ask why that might be.

You have to give credit, though: It's got to be a maddening thing to try to parse out where those lines are. You either have to think about it for a very, very long time, or simply not think about it at all and call it done. Both approaches, surprisingly, seem to achieve the same result.

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