I don't mean to imply that our species would die out necessarily if we are unable to come up with satisfactory scientific discoveries and technological advances to solve our environmental and population problems. Many, many will, but ours may not. We're quite clever and resourceful when we need to be. More than likely, Homo sapiens would survive, unless the intense competition for resources triggered a nuclear war or unless the outcomes of global climate change are far worse than predicted. Most of us, or our children, or theirs, though, would die. We and they would die hunger or in violence, and in tremendous suffering. This is what we should expect when we exceed the carrying capacity of our environment, and our carrying capacity is at present immensely bolstered by technological advances. Given the challenges we face, it is also dependent upon very big new ones.
Also, I don't mean to imply that science and technology will automatically save the day. In fact, I have only a little cause for concern regarding the likelihood of the necessary scientific discoveries and technological implementation being achievable to stave off disaster. What I fear is politics. We need to implement those discoveries on an intelligent, integrated, global scale with surprising rapidity to prevent some pretty bad outcomes that may, indeed, be disastrous. And that's where the problem lies with theological science denial. To implement these necessary changes successfully requires enough public trust in science to enable it, allow it, and fund it.
I think the severity of this problem is one that people are dimly aware of and yet that they strongly underestimate. It's not new, by any means, for theologians to denigrate and obstruct scientific advancement, but it has had a new resurgence in popularity lately. Many theologians in our technological world are desperate to attempt to put their faith on a level with science, and they do it by outright science denial and the undermining of public trust in science. Given the success of science, obvious in their lives and critical to their abilities to disseminate their messages far enough and wide enough to be a real problem, this issue would be laughable (because theology can't beat science in a war of ideas on their own merits). But it's not. The problem is that some of the science denial memes are highly infectious with those smart enough to get behind them, and they spread from theologian to pastor to flock with astonishing efficiency. Then, these people--who constitute a nontrivial portion of the American population, which is the group most relevant for a variety of reasons--vote.
The current popular brand of this dangerous nonsense with evangelicals is the "Pyrrhic skepticism" sort. Pyrrhic skepticism is extremely radical skepticism, like brains-in-vats, computer simulations, can't know reality exists radical. Many evangelical theologians are employing it out of desperation against the steady, reasonable informed skepticism advocated by and underpinning scientific methodology. The general flavor is that skepticism should be so skeptical that it denies that we can prove or establish anything--for example not even that the world exists or that we do in it--then arguing that everything has to be taken on "faith." Once faith is thusly "justified," in comes a cartload of faith-based nonsense.
This toxic argument is deceptively seductive, especially if the recipient has a pre-existing bias to favor faith (to protect emotionally and socially driven religious beliefs in most cases). The claim of the argument is that since "science can't prove itself, it takes as much (or more) faith to believe in science than it does," say, to believe in God. It doesn't matter that this is nonsense. It is seductive to the faithful, and it is widely accepted.
Consider this example of how this argument can feel seductive, quoting from John Loftus's Outsider Test for Faith: How To Know Which Religion Is True (See OTF, p. 107). Retired Christian professor of philosophy Mark Hanna is writing to undermine Loftus's construction, saying:
If the only thing we should trust is the sciences, then we should not trust the claim that the only thing we should trust is the sciences. The assertion itself is not a scientific one nor is it discovered or justified by any of the sciences. It is a non-scientific, mistaken philosophical judgment about knowledge and the sciences, and yet he [Loftus] trusts it. So the sciences are not the only thing he trusts. ... It is beyond dispute that the empirical sciences neither contain all knowledge nor are they the only means for gaining knowledge.Mostly, this is a ridiculous, straw man accusation, but here we see the theologian's game. In some sense, he's right--it's not essentially something science does. The philosophy of science has already solved this problem, for all intents and purposes, noting that we aren't aiming for the kind of certainty it seems to suggest. Still, following this argument comes truckloads of others. I am not suggesting that Hanna goes to Pyrrhic skepticism, but many do, and Hanna's work misinforms them. This brand of science denial holds a lot of appeal to pastors and congregations that are too easily impressed with the pseudo-profundity of movies like The Matrix, a theme that rests in the popular culture of much of the modern world now. Right behind this nonsense, though not necessarily from Hanna in this instance, is the big claim: that scientists accept trust in the sciences based upon "faith," and so faith is "justified."
Obviously, this is utter tosh. It's a game in which a pinprick in the fabric of our model of the world is poked, and then a truckload of unsupported assumptions are driven through on a false equivalence: that all forms of "faith" are essentially equal. Science does not operate on "faith," it operates on confidences, usually statistical. In fact, science operates specifically on doubt, requiring statistics on repeated examinations to overcome that doubt. That's why it works! Philosophically, the underpinnings of science may be axiomatic constructions like in any other methodology or philosophy, but science has the undeniable advantage over others of working. It reliably produces reliable results. Planes fly. Bridges hold vehicles. Computers work with and transmit data. Medicine performs the near-impossible, the closest thing we can call to miracles. We now depend upon those results because so does agriculture.
So, the problem is that theologians are willing to make these science-denying arguments, pastors are eager to disseminate them to keep the faith strong in an increasingly technological and secular world, and believers are happy to soak them up as insulation against the attacks that they perceive against their faiths, which satisfy core psychosocial needs for them and literally define their worldviews. Then these believers, so misinformed, vote in modern democracies, and as is amply testified to at least in the United States at present, they elect to high offices scientifically illiterate, scientifically hostile, ideologically motivated imbeciles with the same drive to denigrate science anytime it threatens their core beliefs.
This is a problem. A big problem.
For what may be a very broad majority of us, we face the situation where a public science denial campaign, if effective, could literally be suicide, inviting upon ourselves suffering, violence, and deaths numbering perhaps in the billions all within the next few decades. Sadly, this is unlikely to be terribly hyperbolic--estimates of the economic damages of global warming alone exceed $180 trillion by 2050. Our challenges at present require massive innovation and massive implementation that is currently a massive political impossibility. The controls are mostly in the hands of the wrong people, and the minds of those that put them there are becoming increasingly poisoned with anti-science rhetoric and belief structures. We're already decades behind where we should be for this very reason, and the science-denial memes appear to be spreading more effectively than ever. Science denial, sufficiently successful now, could be global suicide--the slow, painful, violent, suffering kind.
To target the apologists specifically, noting that these criticisms apply to politicians and members of the public as well, from this we can draw two possible conclusions. One is that these theologians are insufficiently educated about science to make responsible statements about it and do not understand the scope and imminence of the problem. Given their sway, that's irresponsible in the extreme. Secondly, we might conclude that these theologians simply don't care. Religious faith and science are fundamentally incompatible, this fact has been exposed, and despite our dependence upon science and technology, for whatever ultimately selfish, indefensible reasons theologians are choosing to push faith directly at the expense of scientific literacy and implementation.
Thus, in either case, these theologians--and politicians and everyday folks like unto them--are desperate enough to protect their faiths by promoting science denial actually to do it. From that, we can see another aspect of the moral bankruptcy of faith: religious faith is content to watch the world burn to protect itself, blind to the imminent danger that could lead to the wonton suffering and deaths of billions of human beings.