In his preface to “Mere Christianity,” C. S. Lewis explains what happens when words lose their original meaning. Take the word “gentleman.” Once upon a time, Lewis writes, a gentleman was “one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone ‘a gentleman,’ you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact.”
Gradually, however, “gentleman” evolved into just that—a compliment. A true gentleman was no longer someone who met the objective qualifications, but a person whom the speaker liked. Thus, concludes Lewis, “gentleman” became a useless word.
I think another important word is undergoing this same redefinition. That word, alas, is science.
There was a time when “science” meant the systematic pursuit of knowledge through experimentation and observation. But it’s rapidly becoming a synonym for progressive politics and materialist philosophy.
To be labeled a “science-denier” in 2017 often just means you’ve upset someone who insists on teaching strict, Darwinian orthodoxy in schools, or who advocates particular climate legislation, or who supports ethically fraught research on embryos.
In contrast, being “pro-science” has become a shibboleth for supporting progressive ideology. Think of a recent ad by National Geographic with the caption, “Stand behind the facts. Stand with science. Stand for the planet.” But just weeks prior, National Geographic had run a cover depicting a nine-year-old boy dressed as a girl. Because, as we know, they stand with science.
But if there were ever going to be a ceremony inaugurating this new and useless definition of science, it’s got to be last weekend’s “March for Science” in the nation’s capital, co-chaired by Bill Nye, “the science guy.” Nye, a children’s TV host from the nineties with no formal training as a scientist, has recaptured the spotlight with his videos on climate change, abortion, women’s rights, and other topics.
To say his arguments in some of these videos are embarrassing is being kind. For instance, in one odd and rambling speech promoting abortion, Nye claimed that because many lives end through natural causes before they leave the womb that it’s okay for us to kill the unborn ourselves. That’s like saying it’s okay to kill adults, because millions die of natural causes. That does not stop Nye’s supporters from honoring him as a champion of science.
But not all of the marchers are fans. After issuing several revisions to his massive “Statement on Diversity and Inclusion,” the organizers of the March for Science are fending off critics who complain that Nye is a white male whose fame is the result of privilege. One wonders who, exactly, was in charge of this debacle. An official tweet, which has since been deleted, declared that “Colonization, racism, immigration, native rights, sexism, ableism, queer-, trans-, intersex-phobia, & econ[omic] justice are scientific issues.”
Heather Wilhelm at National Review got it right when she wrote that the whole event was collapsing into a civil war of competing left-wing agendas.
I hope someone—anyone—who still believes science has a definition independent of politics will speak up. Because whether it’s the denial that life begins at conception, the denial of sex and gender as biological facts, the denial of decades of research proving that children do best with their father and mother, or the denial of dissenting voices on Darwinism, the left has proven quite capable of ignoring science.
Language is powerful. Words matter. And “science”—real science—is too important a word for us to let go the way of “gentleman.”
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/RomoloTavani
Publication date: April 26, 2017