Ordinary people used to accommodate Mark Twain’s 19th century definition of faith as “believing what you know ain’t so.” But the pervasive and convincing role of science in 21st century life makes it a lot harder to disregard objective facts in the service of religion.

Pope Francis made headlines last month by reiterating the Catholic Church’s teaching that science and belief in God are completely compatible. The pope noted that evolution is a proven fact and the universe got its start in a Big Bang, almost instantly exploding into existence, eons before a literal reading of the Book of Genesis would suggest. In fact, it was a Catholic priest who first postulated the Big Bang Theory and the church decades ago adapted its teachings to the reality of evolution.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “…methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.”

It is, ultimately, less newsworthy that the pope believes in the power of science than that many American politicians do not. Or they pander to those who dismiss science.

“Well, I’m no scientist,” has become the mantra of candidates – mostly Republicans – who choose to disregard climate-change warnings, instead preferring to do the bidding of contributors from the fossil fuels industry. For them, politics means “not believing what you know is so.”

Willful ignorance of science isn’t a Catholic teaching, but a convenient and lazy strategy embedded in the American protestant heartland. In no other highly developed nation will you find mainstream leaders so cravenly dedicated to stupidity when it suits their purposes.

So bravo to Pope Francis. May his humble belief in reason rub off on Congress.

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