“Two things are infinite: the universe and stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” – Albert Einstein
Until not all that long ago in this country, if people just flat out denied established science, you might have called them ignorant or uniformed; now, for the most part, you can just call them Republicans.
As reported in “The Guardian,” a recent YouGov poll asked a large and varied group of folks the following question: “Generally speaking, how much trust do you have that what scientists say is accurate and reliable?” And what those pollsters found out is quite telling. Turns out there was little difference in answers between various ethnic groups, ages, geographical regions, or sexes. However, in what stands as substantiation for my otherwise provocative statement above, the poll results showed that Democrats are far more likely to trust scientists than are Republicans, with independents coming down somewhere in the middle.
And that is consistent with the findings of several academic studies and journals in recent years which have increasingly found that public trust in science has not declined since the 1970s—except among self-identified conservatives and those who regularly attend church. In other words, the base of the Republican Party.
Which I find to be about as fascinating as it is unsettling, and which set me first to thinking and then to some researching.
Because the thing is: science is not a matter of opinion; science, like the mathematics upon which it so much depends, is factual, not debatable. As what most of the world, with the painfully obvious exception of the group of folks at hand here, would agree is one of our finer contemporary thinkers, Neil deGrasse Tyson, once put it: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe it.”
Doubt that? Fine. You can doubt the existence of gravity, too, but go the top of a tall building, jump off, and see what happens.
So, what is going on? I thought we had moved past this particular mile marker on the highway of ignorance back in the 17th Century in what the history books refer to as either the Age of Reason or the Age of Enlightenment, where the advance in thought and knowledge might be best summed up by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant who challenged his fellow man to “dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!”
Indeed, Manny old boy. Sound advice then and sound now.
So why do so many smart people, successful people, just arbitrarily check their reason at the door when it comes to their politics?
Well, I rather expect it is going to take someone smarter than I to figure out the “why,” but I do think I may have discovered the cause of this particular effect, or at very least from which its modern incarnation stems.
Remember the Moral Majority? Way back in 1979 the contemporary Falwell fool’s father, the Right Reverend Jerry Falwell Sr., a Baptist minister and founder of the nation’s largest independent Baptist Church, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., paired up with a group of conservative political think tankers, among them Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie of nutty direct mail fame, to found what Falwell dubbed the Moral Majority to politically motivate “the majority of people regarded as favoring firm moral standards.”
Another prominent conservative man of the cloth (Mort Sahl might suggest cashmere), Ed McAteer, also fell in with the Falwell clan after having founded the Religious Roundtable in Memphis.
And while the Moral Majority was purely turgid with sound and fury, as such it was also fairly short-lived, having pretty well played out and been dissolved by the late 1980s. But both its spirit and the influence it so sought to exert, are alive and well today through Republican politics at virtually every level of government—for one fundamental and often overlooked reason.
The founding of the Moral Majority represented Falwell’s brazen and ambitious decision to go against what until that time had been the traditional Baptist principle of separating religion and politics.
Verily, having concluded (the Right Reverend was not absent ego) that the nation’s morality was decaying right in front of his eyes, Falwell’s entire intent was to create his own army of Christian soldiers “marching off to war” against the heathen hordes of humanism who were daring to infect America with such idolatries as might be represented by the reason and facts of science.
The denial of science is the willing embrace of ignorance and it is one of the more self-defeating themes of mankind that enlightenment can never quite seem to bury deep enough. Why, no less than Nicholaus Copernicus was vexed by it in the 1500s and wrote: “There may be babblers, wholly ignorant of mathematics, who dare to condemn my hypothesis, upon the authority of some part of the Bible, twisted to suit their purpose. I value them not, and scorn their unfounded judgment.”