Oh goody, another lovely round of that increasingly popular parlor game, "Science Says." And just in time for Lent! James Cameron, the masterful storyteller who directed "Titantic," is clearly banking on the special media power this game has when someone (preferably a scientist, but a Hollywood director in a pinch will do) asserts that what science says ... is that the Bible is wrong.
Science vs. religion, round 457!
Science says Jesus married Mary Magdelene, produced a son named Judah, and the whole family of Nazarenes is buried in a tomb in Jerusalem. We have the mitochondrial DNA and the Discovery Channel documentary to prove it!
When science and "The Da Vinci Code" start saying the same thing, you have a marketing powerhouse. Especially when Christians, bless 'em, can be counted on to rise up in futile indignation, which public display of emotion just feeds so beautifully into the original storyline: Intellectually challenged religious zealots feebly dispute what science says. POW! BAM!
"It's going to get a lot of Christians with their knickers in a knot unnecessarily," Ben Witherington, a Bible scholar at Ashbury Theological Seminary, told The New York Times. Because who but conservative Christians, bless 'em, still wear knickers, much less knot them in anxiety over the latest scientific discoveries?
The filmmakers' DNA tests suggest that the "Yeshua" remains and the "Mariamene e Mara" remains (aka "Mary Magdalene," through the complex theories of a Harvard professor) were not related on their mother's side. So who knows? Heck, they could have been married, right? The DNA proves it, unless, of course, they were related on their father's side, or Mariamene e Mara was married to or maybe just the daughter or sister of someone else in the tomb. Amos Kloner, a former Jerusalem district archeologist who examined the tomb in 1980, calls the allegedly new evidence "not serious."
But the Science Says game works so well that people play it with the same dogmatic fervor they once played The Pope Says, and for a similar reason: Because if science really says something, you no longer need brook the irritation of tolerating dissent.
In a recent column on a U.N. report on climate change, Ellen Goodman noted that only 25 percent of college-educated Republicans believe global warming is caused by humans, while 75 percent of college-educated Democrats do. The sociology of truth is a fascinating phenomenon. But Ellen the Scientific sees only proof of conservative dogmatism: "The certainty of the human role is now somewhere over 90 percent. Which is about as certain as scientists ever get. ... (G)lobal warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers." That is to say people who disagree with Ellen are either very bad or stark raving mad, and either way she can dismiss them.
But of course Goodman is quite wrong about one thing: Scientists are far more than 90 percent certain about most scientific truths. It is social scientists who aim for 90 percent (or 95 percent) certainty, and the large margin for error -- a 1-in-10 chance by the authors' own estimate that the report is simply wrong about the cause of global warming -- is a telltale sign that what we have here is not a hard scientific fact, but a scientific judgment, a possibility, a probability perhaps, but hardly an undeniable fact like the Holocaust.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review published an interview this week with Timothy Ball, a dissenting climatologist who thinks sun-spots, not carbon emissions, best explain the 500-year trend toward global warming. (You can read what he says here: www.elynews.com) It's an important debate, but the most important thing about the debate is to notice when the Science Says card is being played inappropriately as a way to shut down debate: "As soon as people start saying something's settled, it's usually that they don't want to talk about it anymore," notes Ball. "A consensus is not a scientific fact." Amen to that.