Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Aug/14

6

The culture of science is the culture of the Left

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Robert Tracinski, in What Atheists Have To Offer The Right‘s, kindly points to this website. He also goes on to assert:

That leads me to what atheists have to offer to this agenda. One of the problems with citing a religious foundation for freedom and Americanism is that these arguments tend not to appeal to those who don’t share your faith. People will naturally assume that, in order to agree with you, they have to believe in the same particular religious creed you have adopted. And given the vast range of religious belief, that’s a lot to ask for.

I’ve made this argument before. Modern American conservatism has become so culturally captured by the Religious Right that there’s a lot of talk about “Biblically based values” without much reflection that it might turn some people off who don’t share the basis of those values. I do think it is notable that conservatives with broad cultural influence such as George F. Will and David Brooks tend to have a secular affect (Will is personally an agnostic).

Trancinski goes on to talk about the relationship between conservatism and science at some length. I can speak here personally, as I am a scientist and a conservative. One issue is while most liberals may not be scientists, most scientists are liberals. Those who are not are invariably libertarians. I would cop to being conservative, albeit with a strong libertarian streak. And that makes me exceptional. The culture of scientists and culture of religious conservatives are so opposed to each other that a Christian evangelical friend who is an evolutionary biologist once told me he was asked literally every day how he could be a scientist and a Christian. I have been in the room several times where scientists talk about how they can outreach to the broader public, like conservatives, assuming of course that there were no conservatives in the room.

I don’t think this correlation is a logical necessity. It’s just an empirical sociological fact. And we have to deal with it in our political and policy culture. Most scientists exhibit strong domain specific in their cognitive competence, so there’s no reason to think that someone who has a strong command of molecular genetic mechanisms can therefore think cogently about global trade. But many scientists mislead themselves, assuming their powers of ratiocination are generally robust in all areas to which they put their minds. Scientists often are in fact ideally situated to be what F. A. Hayek would term Constructivists.

5 comments

  • Thrasymachus · August 10, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    There is nothing leftist about science, leftism has simply captured science for its prestige. Science is about what is observably known to be true, so almost everyone who is not mentally deranged is some kind of a scientist or another.

    A scientist can certainly be an atheist, but must believe in natural law- that’s what science is, after all. Science emphatically does not include “social science”, including economics. These are mostly exercises in obfuscation disguised as “science”.

    Since scientists are credible, even gullible people, from going to school for years and years a person might be a competent biological scientist but believe homosexual behavior is healthy and normal. Overall the demand to believe idiotic things taxes science a great deal and science will continue to get weaker and weaker.

  • Russell · August 10, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    It’s interesting that you mention Will and Brooks as examples. Because on many right-wing and Tea Party websites, they oft are demeaned as CINOs or RINOs.

    I’m not sure that what someone like Brooks means by conservatism has all that much overlap with what many on the American right mean by that. For them, it’s not enough to value international trade (which many liberals do, and not all on the right do). Or to think that Obamacare is an overly complex mess. It’s something more primal.

    And for many on the right, merely believing in evolution or global warming is enough to disqualify someone as conservative. That much science taint means someone isn’t really in the fold.

    Mind, I’m not arguing that Brooks and Will and similar intellectual conservatives aren’t conservative. Just that that kind of conservatism seems to occupy a small niche that shares only some labeling and votes with the American right today.

  • Mike Street Station · August 10, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    I don’t think it’s any surprise that scientists tend to be liberal. They are liberal for the same reason that the main stream media is liberal; those institutions were taken over by the left.

    I think it would be surprise if scientist’s political views matched the nation at large. The average non political person, spending the years in academia required to get your PhD, would find the default politics of their University liberal, so it doesn’t seem surprising that it would rub off.

    I would be curious as to the percentages of liberals vs conservatives in the different scientific disciplines. Would leftist be about the same or different percentage of the Physics department compared to Biology?

  • Anthony van Dalen · August 10, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    My guess is that scientists tend liberal because conservatives have developed a liturgical way of looking at everything. One does not consider free markets, Ronald Regan, the constitution, or America as humans or human constructs, flawed but generally successful, or even flawed and wildly successful. Rather they must at all times be mentioned only in tones of pure reverence, as if all are products of a benevolent God who happens to have a particular interest in that part of the land mass between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans between roughly the 25th and 49th parallels. The lack of irony or modesty among movement conservatives is almost painful to watch. The comments here are telling. Conservatives consider their ideology as Revealed Wisdom, thus one can only be a liberal through influence corrupting institutions, much like the devil lures us away from God.

    For the most part, scientists find this incomprehensible. However passionate we are for our areas of study none of us regard any of it worthy of worship.

    It suits conservative dogma to pretend liberals are their opposite, but this is nonsense. Liberals do not view big government an intrinsic good the way conservatives think small government is. Liberals consider government programs the way any reasonable person would consider the police: not something to love but something to regard as a necessary cost of running a civilized society. The key word is “reasonable”. Scientists are all about looking for reasonable models and see an intersection here with liberals that is missing with conservatives and their argumentative certitude.

    Movement conservatives have recently been putting scientists on their enemies list. Sadly, for them and America, they aren’t wrong to do so.

  • War of error · August 12, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    The obvious answer as to why “most” scientists today are “liberal” : the GOP has abandoned observable reality as the basis for policy while at the same time embracing “knowing nothing” as a political strength. This trend is exacerbated by a partisan media bubble that angrily lurches from one falsehood or misrepresentation to another. It has absolutely nothing to do with liberals taking over institutions as suggested above. It has everything to do with allowing right wing media figures ( who are only interested in ginning up short term outrage for ratings or for grifter style fundraising) to run the party with no thought towards any sort of long term governing strategy. Thus stem cell research isn’t to be allowed because a small percentage of the GOP base believes that destroying embryos that would be thrown out as a matter of course anyway is murder. Sarah Palin can make up “death panels” and is rewarded for her stupidity. 99.9 % of climate scientists are shunted off as partisans while .1% (the ones employed by Exxon) are the reliable ones for the right. Who wants to be aligned with angry know nothing corporate shills/grifters? Not people who base their findings on observable reality…

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