Friday, September 23, 2011

Leonard Steinhorn Wants to Know How The GOP Became the Anti-Science Party

Writing for HufPo, Leonard Steinhorn has some comments on the GOP and the race for their nomination.  He writes:
It would be easy to take this Republican drift from reality and rationality as evidence that the party is comprised of know-nothings and the uninformed. "Anti-knowledge" is how New York Times columnist Paul Krugman labels the GOP. But in truth there are as many educated, thoughtful Republicans as there are Democrats, people who in their lives and businesses apply strict standards of evidence and rationality to their daily decisions. Perry is certainly no rube, having governed the second largest state in the nation for ten years, and Bachmann is a former tax attorney. If higher education is any gauge, Republicans and Democrats typically split the vote of those with a college degree.
It is quite unusual to read a political commentator writing these things since it seems to be a meme in the media that Republican = ignorant. Anecdotally, it is also hard to counter this meme.  Many of my friends that are democrats tend to view me as an anomaly: a thinking republican.  But someone can be very intellectual and thoughtful and yet have no knowledge of a particular subject.  I don't know beans about psychology and couldn't tell you a single theoretical construct in the field. This doesn't make me stupid or anti-intellectual. It does, however, make me ignorant.  He mentions the GOP distrust and general disdain for liberalism in this way:
This disdain for liberalism has an interesting genesis given that so many red states have benefited from liberal governance in the form of rural electrification, water projects, and transportation infrastructure, and indeed many white southern and Great Plains politicians were once ardent New Dealers. That all changed, of course, with civil rights, which turned many white Americans from friends of liberalism to its most ardent foes. By enforcing civil rights, liberalism became a literal enemy of their way of life and a figurative threat to anyone who didn't want to accept the reality of a plural, diverse, and cosmopolitan America.
I have difficulty accepting all parts of this hypothesis.  For one thing, your average Republican doesn't mind paying for infrastructure such as roads, electricity, running water and so on.  They do, however, mind paying for things like Solyndra, rapid transit between large cities and the incredible expansion of the welfare state, including many benefits for illegal aliens.

For another, it flies in the face of much evidence that the conservative churches were some of the driving forces behind desegregation. For another, one is reminded of pictures taken at the time of conservative Charlton Heston marching in civil rights parades.  It is more likely the association between liberalism, atheism and evolution that is driving their distrust.

Most conservative Christians that I know tend to view evolution (and maybe climate change, I am not sure) as a tag-on.  They see people living what they see as good, Godly lives with proper theology and behavior and see that as desirable.  If these people also happen to reject evolution and climate change, so much the better.  This does not require an examination of these theoretical constructs, only an acceptance of others' perspectives on them.

Of all of the presidential candidates, only Ron Paul (who has since dropped out) and Rick Santorum openly ridiculed evolution and suggested that it was not a Godly perspective.  Indeed, most candidates don't so much reject evolution as include intelligent design in an almost ecumenical fashion.  Michele Bachman, for example, wants both taught so kids can choose which one they want to believe in.  While this is ignorant of science, it is not caustic or hateful.

The charge of anti-intellectual populism is harder to shake.  I think that there are two large issues here: the growing liberalism of academia over the last four decades, and the general contempt that many in academia feel for what they consider the uneducated masses.  I spent enough time at the University of Tennessee (nineteen years) to know that, at least at that institution, both of these perspectives are entrenched.  When you add to this the vocal hyperatheism of Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, all of whom are intellectuals of one sort or another, many conservatives have no problem rejecting the whole package.

He continues:
Let's be clear: science and religion are not incompatible. The Catholic Church has made its peace with evolution and has no problem with the science of climate change. The current director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis X. Collins, is a born-again Christian who accepts evolution and simply sees the hand of God in its creation.
But for many evangelical Christians it's far more convenient to reject science than to deal with the dissonance between scientific explanations and what's written in the Bible. To them, science is yet another tool in the secular assault on their religiosity. Unlike the good book, it is not to be trusted. The Scopes Trial remains very much alive for them.
It is not so much that they are rejecting science as much as they are rejecting mainstream science.  Most evangelicals are quite happy with the brand of “science” that is promulgated by organizations such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research which teach the straight recent earth creation model.  It is this brand of science that has quite literally taken over the home schooling market—crowding out any mainstream curricula.  Most aspects of modern science are seen to be at odds with the evangelical mindset and many evangelicals, and those who write for these institutions have adopted the Henry Morris viewpoint: “When science and the Bible differ, science has obviously misinterpreted its data.” (source unknown) This meme is so strong that many evangelicals would rather, as Steinhorn notes, avoid the science question altogether than delve into the evidence.  It makes complete sense that their candidates would do the same.



  1. Of all of the presidential candidates, only Ron Paul (who has since dropped out) and Rick Santorum openly ridiculed evolution and suggested that it was not a Godly perspective.

    Ron Paul hasn't dropped out yet.

  2. My fault. Bad information. Thanks for the correction.

  3. It's one thing to avoid science because you think you might have your cherished notions challenged. That's understandable (but childish). It's quite another to openly challenge these scientists and use as your weapons lies or "facts" that have been refuted decades ago. I would call this irresponsible pandering.

  4. Don:

    Agreed. I don't think that most of the rank and file do that and I don't think that most of the GOP candidates do that. I just don't think they have the time to investigate the arguments.

    This is why I hold in special contempt organizations like AiG, Creation Ministries International, and the ICR. As I told my wife last night, if someone continues to maintain a position that is untenable and they have been shown the evidence why it is untenable, at some point, they are lying. It is no longer ignorance or misinterpretation, it is a lie.

    When these organizations continue to argue that there are no transitional fossils in the geological record, they are lying. There isn't any other excuse and there isn't any other explanation.

  5. Thanks for this post. Very insightful, especially for someone like me that hasn't kept up on the political discussion.