Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Viruses have a strong role in Evolution

A story making the rounds reports on a study that suggests that viruses may have had a very strong influence on human evolution.  The Economic Times reports the following:
In a new study, researchers apply big-data analysis to reveal the full extent of viruses' impact on the evolution of humans and other mammals.

The findings suggest an astonishing 30 per cent of all protein adaptations since humans' divergence with chimpanzees have been driven by viruses.

"When you have a pandemic or an epidemic at some point in evolution, the population that is targeted by the virus either adapts, or goes extinct," said David Enard, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University.

“We knew that, but what really surprised us is the strength and clarity of the pattern we found,” said Enard.
This is not so surprising. We already know that endogenous retroviruses have had a very large role to play in human evolution and that the pattern of their dispersal provides some of the best evidence of common ancestry.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

William Dembski Comes Face to Face With the Closed-Mindedness of Young Earth Creationism

Disgraced Christian Comedian Mike Warnke once upon a time referred to someone as being so narrow-minded that he “could look through a keyhole with both eyes.” That is, apparently, what William Dembski found when he attempted to engage the young earth creationism movement about some of their core claims. He has a fairly lengthy post on his own site, in which he reposts an updated interview that he did with The Best Schools.

I, and others (here, here and here), have been very critical of Dembski over the years because of his persistent misunderstanding of the basic workings of evolution.   Nonetheless, I share his consternation.  A bit back, he wrote a book titled The End of Christianity (which I am embarrassed to say I have yet to read) in which he addressed the notion of evil within a Christian context that allowed for an old earth creation. He writes:
What I was dealing with in The End of Christianity is a more narrow problem, namely, how to account for evil within a Christian framework given a reading of Genesis that allows the earth and universe to be billions, rather than merely thousands, of years old. I’m an old-earth creationist, so I accept that the earth and universe are billions of years old. Young-earth creationism, which is the more traditional view, holds that the earth is only thousands of years old.

The reason this divergence between young-earth and old-earth creationists is relevant to the problem of evil is that Christians have traditionally believed that both moral and natural evil are a consequence of the fall of humanity. But natural evil, such as animals killing and parasitizing each other, would predate the arrival of humans on the scene if the earth is old and animal life preceded them. So, how could their suffering be a consequence of human sin and the Fall? My solution is to argue that the Fall had retroactive effects in history (much as the salvation of Christ on the Cross acts not only forward in time to save people now, but also backward in time to save the Old Testament saints).
Make no mistake, Dembski still does not accept biological evolution, at least not to the level that is traditionally accepted within the scientific community.

The overall reaction he received surprised him, although in hind sight, some of it should have been predictable:
Ken Ham went ballistic on it, going around the country denouncing me as a heretic, and encouraging people to write to my theological employers to see to it that I get fired for the views I take in it.
That's the “both eyes” part.  Then he says something that I have thought for some time, and it is something that has been touched on by writers such as Mark Noll and Karl Giberson:
There’s a mentality I see prevalent in conservative Christian circles that one can never be quite conservative enough. This got me thinking about fundamentalism and the bane it is. It’s one thing to hold views passionately. It’s another to hold one particular view so dogmatically that all others may not even be discussed, or their logical consequences considered. This worries me about the future of evangelicalism.
I have seen this mentality rise within the young earth creation community. To an extent, it has always been there, in that there is, in published book after book (no scholarly articles), no possibility broached that the strict, literal reading of the Primeval History cannot be correct.  This is a serious problem within fundamentalist evangelicalism and is part and parcel of the entire problem that the movement has with any sort of reasoned academic debate.

It is also the same mentality that encourages the break with the historical church and the writings of the church fathers, to the point where many fundamentalist evangelicals are so busy trying to be evangelical that they don't know what "Christian" actually means.  One last quote from Dembski drives this point home:
Fundamentalism, as I’m using it, is not concerned with any doctrinal position, however conservative or traditional. What’s at stake is a harsh, wooden-headed attitude that not only involves knowing one is right, but refuses to listen to, learn from, or understand other Christians, to say nothing of outsiders to the faith. Fundamentalism in this sense is a brain-dead, soul-stifling attitude. I see it as a huge danger for evangelicals.
The young earth creation movement is the embodiment of this mindset.

I encourage you to read the whole interview.  He has some very damning things to say about how the fundamentalist evangelical world treated him after the book came out.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Lauren Saville: The Importance of Teaching Human Evolution

Lauren Saville has written a post for NCSE titled "The Importance of Teaching Evolution."  Inevitably, the post deals not just with human evolution, but with climate change as well because, just as rejection of human evolution goes hand in hand with climate change skepticism on the right, acceptance of the two go hand in hand on the left.  So, why should we teach human evolution?
From an early age we wonder where we come from; evolution explains that for us. From the amazing array of fossils that have been found in Africa, Asia, and Europe we can piece together our evolutionary lineage from Australopithecus to early Homo sapiens and explore the different species that branched off in between. By studying the fossil record we can understand when we began walking upright, by noting all the huge morphological changes that distinguish us from other great apes, such as our wide bowl-shaped pelvis, big toes in line with the rest of our feet and shorter arms. We can see when our brain size increased (when Homo erectus came about) and the subsequent huge change in our technology. As they say, the rest is history.

Tapping into our inherent curiosity about our history and origins is a great way to get students excited about science. Who does not want to know why we do the things we do and look the way we do? Learning about our own evolution helps students feel connected to science.
I would add that one of the reasons we should teach human evolution is because it places us in the wide pantheon of evolution on the earth, which began some 3.5 billion years ago. It gives us an idea of the vastness of time. Humans, in their (relatively) current form, have been around for almost 200 thousand years. Our genus has been around for over 2 million years. How long is that? If you started counting by ones out loud, it would take you twenty-two days of straight counting to get to two million.

To count to one billion would take you 31 years!!

Evolution has been going on for three and a half times that long. We are part and parcel of the grand design of life and should take joy in that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ken Ham, Evolutionary Creationism and Reality, Part II

As I mentioned a few days ago in a post on Ken Ham's attack on evolutionary creationists, the thrust of his argument is that Christians who accept the science of evolution “are mixing the religion of death with the religion of life — death came after sin, Jesus conquered it. Evolution requires death over millions of years, death is a 'friend' that produces life and death ends it all,"  Implicit in this approach is that physical death accompanied the fall of Adam, a real person, and that, in contrast to the world prior to Adam's sin, death now pervades the natural world.  Acceptance of evolution, therefore, requires acceptance of death before Adam's sin.  Yesterday, I suggested some theological alternatives to this perspective.  But there is also another response to Ham's attack.

It is irrelevant.

Ham argues that, as Christians, we cannot accept evolutionary creationism because we reject the purpose of Christ's death and resurrection as having atoned for the sins of one man: Adam. Even if this were true, what bearing does it have on the reality of evolution or the age of the earth?

One of the pervasive features of the arguments that are posited in favor of a creation that is 6,000 years old is that they simply do not stand up to scrutiny.  Entire books and web sites are devoted to pointing out the holes in young earth creationist arguments.  For example take just about any paper in TalkOrigins, NCSE, or BioLogos and you will find concrete evidence for evolution and an old earth creation and articles debunking of young earth arguments.  This is a very fruitful area of research.  Excellent books exist, written by geologists, palaeontologists and historians.  These include
  • Don Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters
  • David Montgomery's The Rocks Don't Lie
  • Kenneth Miller's Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul and Finding Darwin's God
  • Carol Hill, Gregg Davidson and Wayne Ranney: Grand Canyon: Monument to An Ancient Earth
  • Davis Young and Ralph Stearley: The Bible, Rocks and Time
  • Davis Young: The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extrabibilical Evidence
  • Andrew J. Petto and Laurie Godfrey: Scientists Confront Creationism: Intelligent Design and Beyond
Many of these books are written by Christians who have analyzed the evidence and have concluded that there is undeniable evidence of an ancient earth and that evolutionary theory does, in fact, accurately describe present and past biological diversity.   This is, by no means, an exhaustive list and a search of Amazon will bring up literally hundreds of such books.

In other words, Ken Ham can rail against the acceptance of evolution by Christians but it takes on the air of someone railing against something like atomic energy.  There is no shortage of people out there who protest against the use of atomic energy and decry the evils that it brings upon the world.  This has no bearing on the existence of atomic energy.  It simply is.  The massive amounts of evidence that support evolution reflect the fact that it simply is.  It has as much evidence to support it as there is to support an ancient earth.  And as with an ancient earth, there is no escaping the concept of death.

 Consequently, Ham's attempts to attach moral and spiritual significance to both evolution and “millions of years” are misguided.  The vast majority of theologians understand this and the relevant science has, at least incipiently, been in place for over seventy years.  They also understand the pitfalls of interpreting the scriptures literally, as I pointed out in the post a few days ago.  It is only the supporters of the  relatively recent young earth creation perspective who fail to understand this. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Ken Ham to Give Public School Students a Huge Discount for Ark Encounter

When I saw the eye-popping ticket price for Ken Ham's Ark Encounter, it pretty much cemented my initial decision to not attend, even as a curiosity trip.  Adults 13 and over: $40, children 5-12: $28.  This came in concert with an announcement that the entrance fee for the Creation Museum, itself, would rise from $24.95 to $29.95 to “cover costs.”  As has been pointed out, one only needs to raise ticket prices to cover costs if attendance is flagging or inflationary costs of materials rises dramatically.  Since there have been o significant changes to the CPI in recent memory, it is largely possible that the former is happening.

But now, it seems, that Ham has made an offer of $1 admission to all public school children.  Brad Reed of Raw Story writes:
Hopefully, any school that actually takes advantage of this offer will go there to have students point and laugh at exhibits of Noah’s family rounding up dinosaurs onto an ark.

That said, there is sadly a chance that schools will see the Ark Encounter as a legitimate “educational” exercise, which is why groups like the FFRF are sounding the alarm to parents who don’t want their kids coming home from school believing the Earth was created 6,000 years ago and that Jesus used to heal lepers while riding around on a triceratops.
I will be curious to see if this moves the needle in terms of attendance, which may not be as good as was indicated by Ham.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ken Ham, Evolutionary Creationism and Reality

Ken Ham has recently taken to the airwaves to lambast those of us who accept the science of evolution but also profess a faith in Jesus Christ as savior and Lord.  This was reported in the Christian Post a few weeks back and I am just now getting around to commenting on it.  Stoyan Zaimov writes:
Young-Earth Creationist Ken Ham, who is getting ready for the opening of the Ark Encounter in Kentucky on July 7, has accused Christians who support the theory of evolution as being people who follow a "religion of death."

"Christians who accept millions of years are mixing the religion of death with the religion of life — death came after sin, Jesus conquered it. Evolution requires death over millions of years, death is a 'friend' that produces life and death ends it all," Ham wrote in a Facebook post over the weekend.

"The Bible describes death as an enemy that will one day be destroyed — through Christ's death and resurrection we are offered life with God. Creation is a religion of life — death is a result of sin, our Creator paid the penalty for sin and offers the free gift of salvation — it's all about life. Christianity vs. secularism is really a battle between the religion of life and the religion of death," he added.
This notion that physical death is the direct result of the fall is a pervasive teaching in modern evangelical Christianity. Has it always been this way, though? Leaving aside all of the genetic and palaeontological evidence that humanity cannot be traced back to a single pair of individuals, is the notion of no physical death before the fall a tenable idea? It isn't from a population standpoint as a world such as that would be massively overpopulated in very short order. As one person wrote about that post: “Was God bad at math?”  Another commented: “How would the threat of death have meant anything to Adam had he not been acquainted with it?”

Theologically, the doctrine of original sin has also been the recipient of much scholarship over the centuries such that Ham's perspective is but one of many.

The current construct of original sin owes much of its formation to Augustine, who, Otten argues, misread Romans 5:12.  He writes:
The RSV reads the following: ‘Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned’. Yet unlike contemporary exegetes Augustine does not read that death spread to all men because all men sinned, as has the Greek original behind the RSV, but ‘because all men sinned in this one man’. All emphasis is therefore on Adam as the progenitor of the human race, whose role is synecdochical for all humanity. Hence we find the human race thrown or
‘lumped’ together as a doomed mass (massa damnata), as it depends entirely on God’s grace for its redemption. If we pursue this line of thought, Calvin’s teaching of double predestination, to the effect that before creation God has elected some for salvation and others for damnation, does not seem that far away, given that it operates on a similar idea that the genealogy of the entire human race can be telescoped into the one figure of Adam in Paradise.
Otten is not the only one who argues for an alternate understanding of original sin. Duffy notes, for example, that there is no actual doctrine of original sin in scripture. He writes:
Notwithstanding, the classical doctrine emerged from reflection on Genesis 2-3. The Adamic myth, however, is not primarily speculation about the first humans committing the first sin, the guilt and consequences of which mark all succeeding generations. As Paul Ricoeur insists, the story is penitential in motive, a reflection of Jewish penitential spirit as revealed in the Psalms and the prophetic literature. The real thrust of the Yahwist's Adam myth is to separate the origin of evil from the origin of being.
John H. Walton argues for a priestly role for Adam, which he is given in Genesis 2: 15:
We can presume that it is in this role that Eve serves as a complementary helper to Adam (not simply as a reproductive partner5). This priestly role, not mentioned in the first account, would support an understanding of Adam and Eve as the fountainhead for humanity that may be understood as representational rather than biological. Adam (and eventually Eve) is plausibly differentiated not as the only members of their species, but as the designated representatives of their species in the center of sacred space—a species that has been endowed with the image of God (an act of [functional] creation). If one were to adopt this hypothesis, Adam and Eve would not necessarily be the first humans in God’s image or those through whom all humanity is descended.6 But as the human representatives (priests) serving in God’s presence, the disorder of sin would be seen as entering the world through them, and all humans would now be subject to that disorder and would be seen as being corporately subject to sin through these representatives. That disorder has permeated human nature.
The most important issue in Romans (and theology in general) is that people in the image of God sinned, and therefore all are subject to sin and death and in need of salvation. Adam was our first High Priest, and Christ is our ultimate High Priest. The Bible therefore could be read as requiring only that the sin of our representative Adam extended to us all, as the salvation of our representative Christ is extended to us in a similar manner.
If sin did not originate in one biological man, then it has no fixed point in time.  Seen in this light, the necessity of having a six-thousand year creation is removed, allowing for the span of time that conventional science suggests describes the universe in which we live.  It also opens up the possibility that the prehistory of humanity is one of an ongoing saga of evolution.

Zaimov closes with another Ham quote: 
In another message in March, he said Christian leaders who do not interpret the creation account in Genesis 1-11 literally are leading people astray.

“Genesis 1-11 is like the foundation to a house. The whole structure stands upon it — all of our major doctrines like sin, salvation, the coming consummation, marriage, and more are grounded in Genesis," Ham wrote in his post at the time.

“Sadly many Christian leaders say Genesis isn't literal history and in doing so they undermine the foundation. No wonder such a large percent of church millennials don't defend marriage as for one man and woman. They no longer have a foundation to base their thinking on,” he added.
Two things came to mind when I read this.  First, the foundation to a house can be one of several different shapes.  It might be round (Conrad Hyers' understanding that the creation story's purpose is to establish the one true God by dispelling the pantheistic gods), or oblong (Walton's understanding that the creation story is a story of the ordering of the sacred space of the temple) or even square (Ken Ham's six-day literal reading of Genesis).  There are many different ways of reading these passages, most of which do not entail a literal understanding of them. 

The second thing that struck me is that, because we might not have a six-day understanding of our creation has little bearing on our understanding of marriage, since that is mentioned throughout the Bible. Paul waxes cogently about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 as well as other scattered places. 

Ham's statement that evolutionary creationists are compromising is, therefore, without merit and his contention that the Genesis account is literal history is fraught with controversy.  This is not the place for an examination of the deficiencies of the young earth model, theologically, but they exist and they are numerous.  Evolutionary creationists can rest assured that they are worshipping the One True God and have not compromised on their faith.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Tracey Moody: Ark Encounter $62 Million in Debt

Tracey Moody, writing in Patheos in November of last year, suggests that, behind the grand opening of the Ark Encounter, there are financial concerns that Ham is not being upfront about. As she notes, the Ark 'n Park is being funded by a $62.5 million TIF. What is a TIF?
TIF stands for “Tax Increment Financing” and they’re usually issued in urban areas that are considered “blighted.” For example, suppose there was an abandoned shopping mall in a deteriorating community. A TIF can be set up to attract developers whose businesses may revitalize the area. The district officials could, for example, give the developers interest-free loans to build their project based on what they expect they can retrieve in property taxes over the next 30 years. That’s it. The developers don’t have to do anything differently from if they hadn’t been issued the TIFs at all. But now, rather than the property taxes going back to the community, the tax revenue is diverted to pay off the loan.

This can be a great help to the local economy if the development is a long-term success — it’s money well invested. The downside is, if the new developments fall short of projections (or fail entirely), the developers aren’t held liable for repayment and the burden of debt falls on the investors and taxpayers.

TIFs are controversial for a number of reasons and they’ve been discontinued in California, the first U.S. state to implement their use, because of the numerous lawsuits they led to (not to mention other unintended consequences).
So, at least on the surface, it seems as if Ham and his backers are hedging their bets, just in case the whole operation goes south. There are other incentives that the backers of the Ark Encounter managed to get out of the city of Williamstown, Kentucky (who's city planners plainly want this project to succeed at all costs):
According to Section VIII of the Memorandum of Agreement, in addition to the $62 million, the city and county agreed to other incentives (courtesy of local taxpayers):

$175,000 would be given to Ark Encounter to reimburse the amount they felt the property was overvalued.

$19,000 would go to Ark Encounter’s real estate agent, representing 2% of the total purchase price of the land.

98 acres of Grant County land would be sold to Ark Encounter for $1 (yes, one dollar).

As Moody notes, “These are perfect examples of public funding, regardless of Ken Ham saying again and again that, “No money will be taken out of the state’s budget to fund the Ark.””

There is additional funny business going on.  When Ham states that “No unwilling taxpayer will subsidize the Ark,” he is technically correct. The catch is that the Ark, itself, is the only non-profit portion of the park. Moody elaborates:
Crosswater Canyon, controlled by Answers in Genesis, is a non-profit that owns and operates two for-profit companies, Creation Museum, LLC and Ark Encounter, LLC. All donations for the project come in through the non-profit Crosswater Canyon, but all the tax incentives are applied to the for-profit Ark Encounter, LLC.

The literal Ark itself is the only non-profit portion of the attraction. So all the tax deductible donations people make are applied to the construction of the Ark, which qualifies as non-profit because it is an “educational tool.”

What about the land surrounding the Ark? That’s not technically part of the non-profit part of the park, so your donations wouldn’t apply there… but that’s why visitors will have to pay to park their cars (800 acres of land, and Ken Ham wants to charge people to park) and then pay admission to satisfy the business portion of the attraction.
Moody notes that she is a humanist and, while not antagonistic to Christian concerns, clearly does not share them. The report is fairly dispassionate, however, and her concerns are genuine. She notes that the Park would never survive in the real world because it needed tax-payer funding to succeed. This is, perhaps, true and, perhaps, not. Typically, large, for-profit sports teams get a municipality to pay for their stadiums and arenas because such edifices are, often, massive undertakings that can cost upwards of $100 million to build. For example, the Delta Center, in Salt Lake City (a much less euphonious appellation than ‘The Salt Palace,’ the arena it replaced) cost $93 million to construct, in 1991, which is $162 million in 2016 dollars.  Here in Knoxville, one of the sticking points in getting large, popular bands to come to the city is that, in order to finance the Thompson-Boling arena, on the University of Tennessee campus, a punitive ‘entertainment tax’ was levied on all entertainment in the city, adding up to 20% to ticket prices and to local hotel prices.

All eyes are on Ham and his new wonder attraction.  It will be interesting to see what attendance numbers are and whether it declines in the same pattern that the Creation Museum's has.  

Thursday, July 07, 2016

The Ark Encounter is Open

Up until today, the largest wooden structure in the world was the Todai-ji, which housed the Great Buddha and is in the old Japanese capital of Nara.  Now, that title has been taken over by the new Ark Encounter, in Williamsburg, Kentucky.  Below is a short news story on the event.  In waxing on the new ark, the reporter reminds us of the astonishing fact that the original ark  was built without the benefit of modern tools.  Of course, the Todai-ji was built in 728 A.D. without the aid of modern tools also. 

One part of the interview involves a molecular geneticist who has signed on with the staff of the ark encounter.  She is asked how her degree has informed her in her work and she remarks that it confirms what the Bible says.  At one point, she is asked how they came up with the animals that are on the Ark, given that there has been so much speciation.  She responds that they got experts together, classifying animals into their original “kinds.”

What is glossed over here is that, if the ark actually dates to around 2400 B.C. (an absurd number given that we have recorded histories of other civilizations that date back further than this), then the level of speciation and extinction would be orders of magnitude greater than anything we have experienced before or since.  Entire groups apparently went extinct with no written record of their existence.  Why, for example, did the winged reptiles go extinct when they could have just flown away once the ark landed?  How did the vast majority of the marsupials end up in Australia?  These are just two of many, many questions that have no easy answers.  For a list of the staggering implications of a literal flood story and why it requires hundreds of separate miracles to pull off, see this FAQ from Talk Origins.

It is a remarkable achievement, but further contributes to the Disneyization of Christianity (zip lines, anyone?), where we focus almost entirely on what we think the Bible says rather than what it means.  Ken Ham and his organization are so engaged in the message that the earth was created 6000 years ago that they completely miss the fact that the early church writers who formed the foundations of our faith and guided the church into the second century, couldn't have cared less about when the earth was created.

The Ark Encounter: A monument to indulgence.

Hat tip to Rob Mitchell.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Phil Plait's Biased View of Anti-Science Purveyors

Phil Plait has a Slate article that squarely takes aim at Donald Trump (A "yuge" target!) and the anti-science views of the Republican party in general.  He writes:
As an astronomer I of course have certain pet projects; I’ve taken on astrology, Moon landing deniers, cosmic doomsday promulgators, and geocentrists. But a background in science allows me to broaden that approach, and I will happily help shoulder the load to debunk the claims of climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, homeopaths, and young-Earth creationists.

Some of these present a more pressing need than others, of course. Astrology is a minor issue compared with, say, someone who supports abstinence-only education.

But they’re all there, all the time, creating a background buzz of hogwash, an atmosphere of denial of science, evidence, and rational thinking … and that can have devastating consequences.
There are many reasons to castigate many republicans for their anti-science views and, in my experience, anti-evolutionary bills in statehouses spring almost uniformly from the minds of republican legislators. Having said that, Plait makes some very hasty judgements and omits some very critical information in his post. First, he writes:
Months ago, early on in the presidential campaign, I made light of Trump, saying that his particular candidacy would crash and burn when he inevitably said or did something so outrageous and horrific that people would flee his side.
I was wrong. I underestimated just how thoroughly the GOP had salted the Earth. Philosophical party planks of climate change denial, anti-evolution, anti-intellectualism, intolerance, and more have made it such that Trump can literally say almost anything, and it hardly affects his popularity.
First off, these aren't party planks.  No single Republican, except maybe Jeb Bush (maybe), intended to do away with science education and, in any event, it is doubtful they could.  He notes that Marco Rubio doesn't know how old the earth is.  Maybe not, but in his answer, he deferred to the scientists and said that it didn't matter in his campaign.  Political?  Yes.  Anti-science?  No.  Plait's "intolerance" link points to one Louie Gohmert, a Texas republican who wanted to be sure we don't have "gay space colonies."  I don't know any republican that thinks this way or even have this on their radar.

Second, it is easy to find one idiot out there who doesn't have anything better to do than legislate stupid things.  Try extrapolating that to the Republican party as a whole.  You can't.  It is like saying that the protests of the Westboro Baptist church represent Christianity as a whole.

He also omits some critical information that skews his argument.  As Mischa Fisher wrote in 2013, in The Atlantic, The Republican party isn't really an anti-science party. She writes:
I'm the first to admit that there are elected Republicans with a terrible understanding of science—Representative Paul Broun of Georgia, an M.D. who claims evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell” is one rather obvious example—and many more with substantial room for improvement. But Republicans, conservatives, and the religious are no more uniquely “anti-science” than any other demographic or political group. It’s just that “anti-science” has been defined using a limited set of issues that make the right wing and religious look relatively worse. (As a politically centrist atheist, this claim is not meant to be self-serving.)

Republicans, and members of the traditionally Republican coalition like conservatives and the religious, are criticized for rejecting two main areas of science: evolution and global warming. But even those critiques are overblown. Believing in God is not the same as rejecting science, contrary to an all-too-frequent caricature propagated by the secular community. Members of all faiths have contributed to our collective scientific understanding, and Christians from Gregor Mendel to Francis Collins have been intellectual leaders in their fields. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian, wrote a New York Times bestseller reconciling his faith with his understanding of evolution and genetics.
Plait seems to be unaware of these examples. Fisher continues:
The more important question on climate change is not “how do we eliminate carbon immediately?” but “how best do we secure a cleaner environment and more prosperous world for future generations?”
It is on this subject that many on the political left deeply hold some serious anti-scientific beliefs. Set aside the fact that twice as many Democrats as Republicans believe in astrology, a pseudoscientific medieval farce. Left-wing ideologues also frequently espouse an irrational fear of nuclear power, genetic modification, and industrial and agricultural chemistry—even though all of these scientific breakthroughs have enriched lives, lengthened lifespans, and produced substantial economic growth over the last century.
As I mentioned above (and she reiterates), it is certainly easy to find Republicans promoting idiotic things, but Plait glosses over the idiocies that are promoted by Democrats, as almost all anti-vaxxers are.  He further conflates scientific issues with social ones (he is not the only one to do this).  He mentions abstinence-only education as if it were a scientific conspiracy theory, when in fact, it is a social/religious position that is disagreed on by conservatives and liberals, not on scientific but on behavioral grounds.   Put another way, the Bible teaches abstinence before marriage and many liberals think that is silly.

Plait's view of republicans is, in my experience, somewhat typical of the left's complete misunderstanding of the conservative mindset.   In his caricature of Republicans, he creates a straw man/cardboard cut-out that he then trashes. This is the viewpoint that he brings with him in his central premise: that anti-scientific tendencies are how we ended up with Donald Trump.  This premise is very debatable.  It is equally plausible that we ended up with Donald Trump because many in the electorate are tired of being told that their values and views are unimportant and insignificant.  They are also tired of federal overreach and see Trump as a (possible) alternative to this problem.  They also don't trust Hillary Clinton.  At.  All.

As governments here and abroad become increasingly plutocratic, it has not been lost on many people that they are losing their voice.  This viewpoint was brought front and center by the vote of the British people to leave the EU.  When interviewed, most of the people that voted “leave” did so because they felt they were losing their national identity and their ability to control any of their own destiny.  Donald Trump is tapping into that feeling.

Does Trump say stupid things?  Yes, he does.  Are some of his viewpoints untenable?  Yes, they are.  But his rise to power has little to do with anti-science views of his supporters.