In a recent discussionon the beliefs and preferences of Americans, we broached the topic of academic liberal bias. I would like to take a particular subset of that discussion, and blow it out for further / more indepth debate…
Neva, a frequent contributor to this blog, made the following point…
Most scientists [do not] support conservative causes [because] Conservatives are promoting the suppression of reason. Conservatives have tied themselves to the religious groups that are trying to interfere the teaching of science in our schools. Conservatives are finding “experts” (with theories not published in any peer-reviewed literature) who will claim global warming isn’t occurring so that policy-makers don’t have to put restrictions on big businesses and their carbon emissions.
This is an interesting thought. I want to leave the global warming debate behind for a second and focus on her other point … teaching science in schools. I’m not certain that Neva’s directly referencing the debate between the theories of evolution, creationism and intelligent design, but these are a great example for the point I want to make in this blog entry. So we’ll focus there…
Although I agree that there are conservatives who have blinders on, and only want to entertain their own points of view in an academic setting, I would submit that this problem is just as rampant, if not more so, among liberals. I support neither side in this, believing that we should have open debate about what we know to be true (because it can be proven) and about what we believe to be true (because we function on faith based on evidence). My point in this blog entry is to draw distinction between the two, because it seems to me that few in the debate are willing or able to do so.
The theory of evolution is part science and part philosophy. Natural selection is an observed phenomenon. You can put it in a test tube, test it applying scientific method, and draw conclusions that can then be further tested, etc. That’s science. But to draw from those tests the conclusion that all life everywhere came about from nothing by random chance through the process of evolution is not science, it’s philosophy. There is no way to prove such a conclusion, it is faith based on evidence.
The theory of intelligent design is the same thing – part science, part philosophy. In every part of my life I observe that complex (or even simple) design requires a designer. Physics tells us that order tends toward chaos, not the other way around. We know from emperical evidence that in every case, if a closed system is going to become more structured, organized, etc, then energy is required. These are all scientific observations and discussions. However, it’s philosophy to draw the conclusion from these observations that there must be an all-powerful God who created the universe. We cannot prove or disprove such a statement. Faith based on evidence is required.
And this is where I struggle with Neva’s categorical claim that conservatives are supressing scientific knowledge and advancement. Although there are conservative whack-jobs (many very well-meaning) who would turn the US into a theocracy and who would overturn science in schools for the sake of far-more-blind-than-I’m-comfortable-with faith, this is not the majority. This perspective also no more represents mainstream thought in the conservative movement than partial birth abortion does in the liberal movement.
In my experience (mostly watching these cases come up in court and on the news, as well as having a brother who’s a science teacher), it is extremely common for liberals to cry “blasphemy” every time it is even suggested that we give *any* credence to *any* theory other than strict evolution in schools. I find very few liberals who are even willing to admit that the theory of evolution is part philosophy. They consider it to be pure science through and through, totally proven, and something that cannot be questioned by anyone who is to be taken seriously in academic circles. Would it not be more wise, more intellectually honest, and more helpful to students to give them multiple sides… “Here’s what the research shows, and here’s the conclusions scientists have drawn from that research. These scientists believe this, and these other scientists believe this.” ?
The debate over global warming is the same. Both sides can produce evidence to support their already-drawn conclusions, but both conclusions are partially philosophical. “The earth is heating up recently” is provable in a test tube. The statement “this is solely the fault of the SUV and big business, and we’re going to destroy the planet” cannot. Neither can “this is a natural cycle, and things will return back to normal eventually”. Personally, I’m very in favor of being more respectful of and cautious with the environment. I think republicans fall down here. However, there are many liberals who would take it too far, and be perfectly happy to level our economy to save the spotted owl. We need some clear-headed compromise and practical steps in this area, not extremism – from either side. (Parenthetically, I also believe in this particular case that it would be better to err on the side of caution, given how devastating the results could be if the libs’ perspective is accurate.)
But this is exactly why I bring up this point. As long as both sides are running around claiming that their philosophy is proven science, I don’t see how we can ever get to this much needed point of compromise. Can’t we all just admit that we’re functioning as much on faith as science, then start a dialogue on how we can meet in the middle?