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It has become an article of faith among those on the secular left that they are the natural allies of scientific rationality. At the time of the 2004 election, both Robert Reich and Garry Wills styled religious conservatives as the enemies of science who threatened to bring in a new dark age. This appraisal, excessively flattering and self-congratulatory to themselves, while unfairly condemnatory of others, arises from two on-going campaigns.
The first, which has been running far longer than any play on Broadway, is the organized effort by partisans of Darwinism to eviscerate the social influence of Christianity. We are usually led to believe that, from the beginning, benighted churchmen and politicians sought to repress knowledge of evolution, but the reality is that Darwin’s bulldogs, such as T. H. Huxley and Francis Galton, quite purposefully picked the fight themselves and angrily brushed off those Christians who did attempt to accommodate their faith to the newly proposed paradigm. Science and ideology merged for the purposes of beginning a culture war.
The Real Knuckle-Draggers
The second campaign, of much more recent vintage, has been fought over the use of embryonic stem cells. Pro-lifers indeed object to destroying embryos for the purpose of research. But this objection has nothing to do with a bad attitude toward science as a way of knowing or solving problems. The objection is to terminating nascent human lives. However, the trope about conservatives and/or Christians being anti-science continues to be wrung out like a wet, dirty, threadbare old towel because it still has its uses.
In thinking about this public game of claiming to be the advocates of science against the knuckle-dragging illiterates who understand it not, I am often struck by the degree to which liberal materialists themselves are not scientific when it threatens their view of the good life.
Consider nuclear power. I recently drove past the giant cooling towers of a nuclear plant on the Alabama-Tennessee border that never went on line. It wasn’t rabid theists who kept that facility from producing cheap and clean energy for the citizens of the region. Despite the proven record of nuclear power where we do have it in America and where it is widely used in Europe, liberals have chosen to act as if the 1970s film The China Syndrome settled the matter for all time. Detractors can point to the disaster of Chernobyl, but that happened in a nation that was literally falling apart from the inside.
The part of life where the self-proclaimed secularist tough-mindedness about science is perhaps most overblown is with regard to sex. Since Kinsey wrote his famed study (something much covered in this publication), the American secular left has been astonishingly credulous about the desirability of laissez-faire sex. Their basic stance can be summed up by the Bloodhound Gang’s thoughtful and well-considered lyric, “Baby, you and me ain’t nothing but mammals, so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.” This bit of verse, of course, was an elaboration of the important musico-sexual treatise of George Michael (a role model for rational, healthy sexuality): “Sex is natural. Sex is good. Not everybody does it, but everybody should.”
Sex & the Scientific Outlook
How well does it work to encourage promiscuous sex accompanied by birth control pills and condom use? Ask an obstetrician-gynecologist about the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases in young women. The rate is exceptionally high. We may well reap a demographic disaster of infertility down the road. Let’s pray that P. D. James, who wrote The Children of Men, is no prophet.
Abortions continue to be performed in huge numbers despite the past assurances of some on the left that modern birth control would eliminate the need for the grisly procedure. And of the children who are born, an alarmingly high number are born to single mothers. As a group, these children are substantially more likely to do poorly in school, abuse drugs, commit crimes, require governmental assistance, and serve time in jail—and to see the cycle repeated when they have children of their own.
Is it a scientific outlook that would maintain that this state of affairs is somehow conducive to human flourishing? Or would the evidence-driven observer be more likely to affirm that sex within marriage is far more advantageous to women than promiscuity? A more logical mind could also see very well that social support for traditional marriage would help with the recurring problem of convincing men to raise their offspring rather than simply siring them.
And let us dwell for a moment on the record of the secular left’s “rational” approach in the matter of procreation. In the case of the unborn child, for example, pro-choicers for a long time stubbornly clung to the notion that the child inside the womb was no more than a cluster of cells, undifferentiated tissue, and/or a tumor-like growth. They maintained this stance long after Lennart Nilsson’s landmark photos of fetuses were published in Life magazine in 1965, and even beyond the advent and regular use of ultrasound technology.
It has only been within the past decade, when major corporations began using images of unborn children in their advertising and parents began purchasing ultra-detailed images of their in utero babies, that supporters of broad abortion rights began to abandon the dehumanizing and, yes, anti-scientific language of the fetus as inert matter. Some years ago, the famed feminist Naomi Wolf broke ranks with her side just enough to plead for recognition of the humanity of the fetus, lest the battle be lost through a failure to acknowledge what is obvious to non-ideologues.
The point of all this is really quite simple. Science doesn’t belong to anyone. When science brings us true knowledge, then we all do well to follow it. Augustine maintained that it was a scandal for a Christian to demonstrate ignorance about the natural world and to scorn solid learning in such matters. What theistic conservatives sometimes take issue with is not science itself, but the ideological use of science and the promotion of projects that science makes possible but that pose extraordinary ethical dilemmas.
Liberal secularists, as I’ve tried to demonstrate above, have no good place to stand in accusing us of failing to appreciate the value of science. Like us, they evaluate science and what it can achieve in the light of their own values and (hopefully informed) opinions. Their pretense that they stand Spock-like in their impartial rationality as they try vainly to free us from our prejudice and superstition is both ill-considered and unjust. •
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