Dan Gardner is the New York Times best-selling author of Risk, Future Babble, Superforecasting (co-authored with Philip E. Tetlock), and How Big Things Get Done (co-authored with Bent Flyvbjerg). His books have been published in 26 countries and 20 languages. Prior to becoming an author, Gardner was an award-winning investigative journalist. More >

I'm a believer

I believe the earth has existed for precisely 3,213 years, five months, seven days, and four hours. Of course the reader will have to adjust these figures somewhat as I am writing this column a day before it will be published. I further believe that scientific evidence to the contrary -- geology, biology, and a couple of other "-ogies" -- is uncertain, inconclusive, hypothetical, epistemological, scatological, or phantasmagorical. As these polysyllabic words plainly demonstrate, I am an expert. Plus, I'm a trained chiropractor. And I'm really big on natural health products. So I'm a physician, a scientist, and a guy who uses very long words. I believe I have earned your respect. You may call me "Dr. Gardner." Another critical fact you won't hear in the mainstream media is that much of the evidence allegedly establishing that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and life has evolved from common origins over the last 2.5 billion years is fraudulent. Yes, fraudulent. Those responsible are dwarves who dwell in vaults dug deep beneath the Swiss Alps. Indeed, Mr. Charles Darwin was not the bearded Englishman people believe he was. He was, in fact, a Swiss dwarf. He did have a beard, though. All dwarves have beards. Yes, I am a Lunatarian. I worship the moon, which I believe to be a living creature. A cat, to be precise. A really big, very round cat. In space. In my faith, we believe it was 3,213 years ago -- plus several months, days, etc. -- that the moon coughed up the most awesome hair ball in the history of the universe. And thus was the earth created. The dwarves don't want people to know any of this. They prefer dogs. Generally, I avoid speaking so frankly about my fundamental beliefs. It's not that I'm embarrassed I believe things belied by five centuries of scientific observation. Heavens, no. It's the bigotry I can't stomach. So many people are intolerant and hateful toward people whose views are not their own. Just look at what Gary Goodyear went through. Goodyear is the minister of state for science and technology. He's also a chiropractor, so he's practically a scientist himself. But that wasn't good enough for the reporter who asked him if he accepted that evolution is true. Imagine asking the minister responsible for science if he accepts basic science. It was clearly an attack on religious belief. Pure bigotry. Naturally, Goodyear refused to answer the question on the grounds that basic science is a matter of personal faith and thus out of bounds for reporters. But the media wouldn't let it go. Pundits ridiculed the man. Some even suggested a cabinet minister who doesn't accept basic science shouldn't be the minister of science. Clearly, this was a witch hunt. Goodyear defended himself in an interview the next day. He accepts evolution, he said. "We are evolving every year, every decade. That's a fact. Whether it's to the intensity of the sun, whether it's to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it's running shoes or high heels, of course we are evolving to our environment. But that's not relevant. And that's why I refused to answer the question. The interview was about our science and tech strategy, which is strong." So the minister very clearly accepted that evolution -- defined as some sort of bizarre Lamarckian witchcraft involving high heels and the sun -- is a scientific fact. Naturally, this settled the matter for most reporters. Evolution is pretty trivial stuff, after all. They were keen to get back to serious news, like the prime minister going to the loo and missing a photo-op. But the fanatics wouldn't give up. You know the type. They're the Torquemadas with a not-so-hidden agenda of encouraging everyone to learn about and accept basic science. The arrogance and intolerance of these people is breathtaking. Fortunately, one man -- one brave man -- wouldn't back down. "Recently, we saw an attempt to ridicule the beliefs of a member of this house and the belief of millions of Canadians in a creator," said chiropractor and Conservative MP James Lunney in the House of Commons this week. "Certain individuals and in the scientific community have exposed their own arrogance and intolerance of beliefs contrary to their own." Now, I don't actually recall anyone ridiculing Goodyear's religious beliefs. I don't even know what those beliefs are. But let us not get distracted by details. What matters is that Lunney has articulated a magnificent rule for dealing with knowledge and belief in a pluralistic society: If someone believes something, you have to respect that belief. Even if the belief is untrue. Even if it is ludicrous. Even if it is as patently false as the lies spread by those nasty little dwarves in Switzerland. You have to respect it. And so now -- finally! -- I can state my Lunatarian beliefs openly, knowing that James Lunney, Gary Goodyear, and all the other sensitive conservatives would never, ever dare say I'm wrong. Or make jokes about hair balls.