What happened to those fiscal priorities?

Well, different things come to the fore in state houses, Creationism Makes a Comeback:

The irony is that in the past, creationist institutions and advocates used to be allies of laws and reforms which would give a stronger role for a parents choice in their child’s education, whether through voucher programs, charter schools, or even homeschooling. There is a logic to this approach: rather than tear towns and communities apart over protracted and agonizing legal battles, simply give parents the power to choose what education their child can have.

Laws such as HB 368, and other “academic freedom” bills are not about giving parents more options about where they can get their children educated. They are about empowering and protecting those creationists who are already in the public education system and are waiting to be given the legal cover to evangelize and teach bad science.

I’m a conservative who is passionate about science. I can tell you from personal experience that the American right-wing’s periodic love affair with Creationism, whether through genuine sincere belief or political opportunism, is a major reason for the alienation of scientists from any engagement with American conservatism. I do not believe that scientist are by their nature lovers of the Leviathan, nor are they often died-in-the-wool cultural relativists. But often they have a hard time taking seriously a movement whose stated aim is to replace established science with science-inflected religion. I don’t know if it is amusing or sad, but many of my scientist acquaintances are very skeptical that I really can be a conservative. I don’t fit their image of a right-winger, and I am of course pro-science. Now, there are obviously orders of magnitude more American evangelicals than scientists. For politicians they are a substantial voting block which needs to be wooed. But for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

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23 Responses to What happened to those fiscal priorities?

  1. Susan says:

    You’re not alone; very few people believe I’m a conservative either. If they found out they’d drop dead of chagrin. And I’d probably lose some income, so discretion is clearly the better part of valor and bill-paying.

    As for creationism being taught in the public schools…I’ve always thought, possibly incorrectly, that the movement is just a back door way of re-inserting God into the public schools ever since mandatory prayer and a psalm reading in home room were abolished. I don’t think creationism was taught in any science or biology classes prior to that, certainly not in the northeast.

  2. Jason says:

    What would it gain them? The world of course!

  3. Polichinello says:

    “Teaching the controversy” is one of those things that would work if it were applied in good faith. Really, it was trying to understand the merits of ID that gave me a better understanding of evolution itself, because I had to read about evolution to understand where the IDers were coming from.

    However, I think we all know that this won’t be applied in good faith, and beyond demanding that students at least know how evolution works and testing to ensure it, I can’t think to make it so.

  4. Sean says:

    But for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

    The conservative movement lost its soul when it traded GOP electoral success and support for GWB for adherence to anything resembling a conservative view of the world. After 9/11, “conservative” mutated into whatever Bush wanted to do, which was almost never a net positive for individual freedom. The following were almost mandatory positions for conservative pundits just five years ago: Support for wars of choice, unwarranted government surveillance of American citizens, indefinite detention without trial, torture, and giveaways from the public treasury to corporations. Most of those are still Fox News talking points, and none of them can be defended using the arguments in “The Conscience of a conservative.”

    I was a very active political conservative until 2004, when it became impossible to align myself with what “conservatism” had become. Creationism is just the tip of the iceberg.

  5. Yes the conservative movement sold its soul for Bush. However, since we are inevitably stuck in the binary dynamic of American politics, say, how many pledges have Democrats the supposed party of ‘civil liberties’ broken over the decades? Being anti-war? Against the drug war?
    How about all those increasing nanny state regulations? Silence over SWAT raids conducted on the basis of regulatory non-compliance (say, growing orchids)?
    Might I remind you that Democrats voted for the Iraq war with a significant majority?

    Okay yeah so except principled leftists like Glenn Greenwald, and paleocons and paleolibertarians like Ron Paul, everyone else is discredited.

  6. Sean says:

    @Contemplationist: Not much to disagree with here. The Dems suck too.

    The difference that I see is that when Bruce Bartlett criticized Bush, he lost his job and his friends over it. When Glenn Greenwald criticizes Obama, he’s invited on Rachel Maddow’s show to talk about it. The intellectual closing of ranks isn’t anything close to as severe on the left as it is on the right.

    Also, when Dems cave on civil liberties, it’s usually not because they are being “liberal,” nor is the action generally defended in terms of liberalism. The particular crime of the conservative movement over the last 10-20 years has been to redefine conservatism as “anything the head of the GOP says,” or “anything that gets more Republicans elected” (the explicit rationale for the K Street Project). I don’t know of anyone arguing that the proper “liberal” response to Gitmo is to keep prisoners there indefinitely.

  7. Mark Plus says:


    >The particular crime of the conservative movement over the last 10-20 years has been to redefine conservatism as “anything the head of the GOP says,”

    That aspect of conservatism bothers me as well. The values of rugged individualism and self-reliance in conservatism coexist uneasily with a hierarchical and authoritarian view of society.

  8. RandyB says:

    Remember in January when the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) came out, saying that very few American public school pupils were proficient in science? The least proficient were African-Americans, and among whites the least proficient were those in the South.

    It’s my view that American politics suffers from the fact that these two groups define our political spectrum. There’s no real way to approach questions about welfare and single parenthood, or the wisdom of military spending, from an evidentiary perspective because it’s dogma for one party or the other.

    Just as there’s a party of the city, the poor, the blue collar worker, and the sexual libertarian; and one of the countryside, the rich, the business owner, and the moralist; but none of the suburban, middle class while collar employee of a large company, serial monogamist; there’s no place on the political spectrum for the data-driven opinionist.

  9. John Mark says:

    I think the answer to your question “What happened to those fiscal priorities?” is that people don’t want money that is being spent on them, cut. Social Security recipients, Medicare recipients, farmers, and residents of military towns all like the government spending money on them. It’s other people they don’t want the government spending money on. So, since Republicans can’t really make significant cuts in spending without being punished at the polls, they have to change the subject, and that’s where religion comes in. In addition to all the creationist nonsense, look for a bunch of state ballot initiatives designed to bring this target audience to the polls in 2012 to combat the (equally imaginary) threat of having an unpopular, tiny religious minority impose Sharia law. It’s certainly easier than fiscal discipline.

  10. John says:

    As far as I know, the only time in recent history scientists ever made a concerted political effort was in 1964, against Goldwater. Scientists and Engineers for Johnson-Humphrey got 50,000 members to join (including 25 members of the Harvard chemistry department who wrote an open letter denigrating Goldwater), and raised $500,000 (in 1964 dollars). As a pro-science type myself, I regret that conservatism is just not in most scientists’ blood.

  11. GTChristie says:

    I believe that creationism (and its contrast with evolutionism) belongs in philosophy class, not science class.

    If we want well-educated students, schools should not confuse young minds with the mistaken notion that science is merely a matter of opinion. There are diverse opinions among scientists even within their own specialties, of course, but the scientific endeavor is not intended to improve opinions, but to constantly improve our knowledge.

    That work is hard enough to do — facts are elusive enough — without undermining in the science classroom the discipline known as “scientific method.”

    To avoid confusing students about what science is and what it’s not, schools should let science be science in its own context within the science classroom. Its relative merits (and alternatives) should be discussed elsewhere in school. If we “must” teach creationism for its equal-time value in the wider context of society, then let it be taught, but not in science class.

    Anyone who sees the wisdom in this clear, logical solution to the problem “what to teach” by adjusting “where to teach it” should propose this solution wherever these issues are discussed.

  12. Jim says:

    I certainly prefer science to creationism. But I agree with the author of the article; I’m all for voucher programs, charter schools, etc. – programs that increase freedom of choice in education (freedom of choice necessarily must include freedom to make dumb choices). Unfortunately this isn’t about giving parents more options.

  13. CONSVLTVS says:

    I think a great many intellectual conservatives are quiet about being somewhat skeptical of religion. George Will has admitted to being an agnostic. But clearly, the right-wing orthodoxy includes making excuses for the most straw-headed claims of the faithful.

    It’s the easiest way for the Republicans to be something like populists.

  14. Polichinello says:

    But clearly, the right-wing orthodoxy includes making excuses for the most straw-headed claims of the faithful.

    Given that left-wing orthodoxy insists on making over my neighborhood into a scene from Blade Runner, the right remains far and away the lesser of the two evils.

  15. PiPer says:

    Given that left-wing orthodoxy insists on making over my neighborhood into a scene from Blade Runner…

    One of the reasons I come to this blog is because I generally get thoughtful, insightful posts from a conservative perspective. Not the usual closing of ranks that is the hallmark of recent Republican politics. I enjoy this blog because it one of the few places I find conservative introspection, not right-wing political demagoguery.

    Poli, I have read your posts for a long time, you are obviously well informed and intelligent. But given the reflexive and reactive tone of many of your posts, you often leave me disappointed. You seem to have so much to share, yet you allow yourself to fall into the “us vs. them” silliness that I come here to avoid.

  16. Acilius says:

    @GT Christie: I don’t think it would defuse the controversy if public schools let students see what philosophers have done with Creationism over the centuries. Our host’s namesake, David Hume, sliced the forerunners of “Intelligent Design” to ribbons in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, completed 33 years before Darwin was born. Surely people who are afraid that something bad will happen if their children are exposed to evolutionary theory are not going to be comfortable when they see that in the curriculum.

  17. Susan says:

    The schools could offer a course in comparative religion that would expose the students to all the creation myths.

  18. Clark says:

    Tell them to become politically involved. The only reason Creationists can get away with this sort of stuff is because so few are activists within conservativism pushing the alternative view. And one thing I’ve discovered, much to my shock, is that most of these political forums are attended by very, very few people. It doesn’t take a lot to have the same effect that say the Tea Party did the last election cycle. The sad fact is that people simply don’t get involved. The reality of politics is that politicians are primarily driven by those who care enough to come out in the actual process of democracy. (i.e. not blog writing, complaining to friends or the like but showing up at caucuses, public opinion gatherings, getting to know the people with power and so forth)

  19. Clark says:

    BTW – I’d second John Mark’s comments. I saw some polling regarding how favorable people were to crop subsidies and I was shocked at how high it was. (No time to look it up but I recall it was more than 50%) Yet that’s the most blatant of corporate welfare with an awful lot of that money effectively subsidizing Cargill or ADM rather than the small farmer’s from Grapes of Wrath.

    The public is ignorant and likes the idea of cutting costs but not the reality.

  20. Sean says:

    The reality of politics is that politicians are primarily driven by those who care enough to come out in the actual process of democracy.

    If only that were so. Politicians listen to those who elect them, which is to say, large donors. Concerned citizens at town halls can raise the profile of an issue, but a good politician knows whose support he REALLY needs.

  21. j mct says:

    Per such a law, it seems to be a bad law, but if that is the biggest creationist push after a Dem wipeout of a scale that the GOP controls more state elective positions than they have had since 1928, almost 100 years ago, that doesn’t seem to be any kind of bid deal given that law looks like pretty small beer.

    Per Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, by David Hume 1.0, his arguement against ID in there is based on ‘what fool would think that if logic and reason say X, therefore X, as in why should nature and the universe care in the least what the output of a human psychological process called logic and reason (an arguement) (IIRC he calls that ‘a perturbation in a local ether’) spits out’.

    Per that, you would be right that every ID book goes into the fireplace if you think Hume’s thinking on the matter is sound. The collected works of Richard Dawkins on evolution go into the fireplace right afterwards too though.

  22. Most academic scientists are going to be lefties anyway. Right-wingers do not want to work in academia and academia doesn’t want the right-wingers around. Creationism just provides a useful excuse to reject the Right.

    I consider Creationism pretty irrelevant. Arguments about immigration, social spending, taxes, foreign policy, and many other topics don’t have theories of human creation playing a big role, with the possible exception of policy toward Israel.

  23. Polichinello says:

    You seem to have so much to share, yet you allow yourself to fall into the “us vs. them” silliness that I come here to avoid.

    Well, you have two choices in our democracy, Pi. The Democrats bend over backwards to represent “them” in just about every sense of the word. So when it comes to painting in broad colors, yeah, I kind of have to go with the side that represents “us”, albeit very, very imperfectly.

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