Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why We Should Care What Perry Thinks

Kevin Williamson over at National Review poses an interesting question about the views of a politician like Rick Perry, for which he has been pelted with punditry:

Why would anybody ask a politician about his views on a scientific question?
In other words, why should we care what Perry or any other politician personally thinks about any given scientific issue, like climate change, or evolution, or stem cell research? Any answer Perry would give to a question like that would absolutely be geared toward cementing his standing with his base of support, with the hope that others would be persuaded to consider him a serious candidate. As Williamson writes,

Evolution is a public question not because politicians have anything intelligent to say about the science, but because the question provides a handy cudgel to those who wish to beat the Judeo-Christian moral tradition into submission in the service of managerial progressivism.
Well, this goes both ways, doesn't it? If the question were asked to a progressive candidate about his views (as if we didn't know them already) by a conservative media outlet like Fox News, you can be sure it would be done as a way to beat the progressive tradition into submission in the service of the religious absolutism currently masquerading as morality.

Jim Manzi defends Williamson, but his key point appears to be this:

The role of rational politicians, then, is to have an understanding of the boundaries of actual scientific expertise, and accept consensus scientific findings within these fields as practical “givens” in determining policy – but not to be snowed by everybody with a bunch of equations into accepting their personal politics as indisputable by any rational human.

Jim seems to be saying that the right needs to stop criticizing (or worse, ignoring) the actual science, but to point out that the science doesn't really prove the political points for which the left cites the science. So, when Al Gore talks about climate change, when he trots out scientist after scientist who support every assertion Gore makes about climate change, the right is supposed to say, "Well, Al, we acknowledge that climate change is a problem, but the science you're citing doesn't really prove that we need to actually do what you say we should do." Fair enough, so perhaps the left should say, "Well, Rick, we acknowledge your belief that evolution is a theory that's out there, but neither your certainty about your belief nor your interpretation of your religious text come close to refuting one pebble in the mountain of scientific evidence that suggests otherwise."

It's beyond insipid to think that Perry's views that climate science is manipulated to serve a liberal agenda, or that evolution is just "a theory that's out there," don't matter. A Perry presidency or a Bachmann presidency can mean real-world consequences to the advancement of science in the pursuit of solving real problems. We already see clearly how religious fundamentalism in this country has dumbed down the population in general, with millions believing with every fiber of their beings that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs served men who walked the earth with them. Think about the leader of the free world occupying the White House and refusing to listen to the arguments of those who believe differently than he does. Last time I checked, religious fundamentalists (i.e., Christianists) don't hold open-mindedness high on their list of positive personal virtues. They celebrate the fact that it's all been solved for them, that it's all God, all the time, and life on this earth is irrelevant so long as we accept JAY-zus! into our lives. And, as it so happens, there are those who want to do everything they can to infiltrate every level of society so that their narrow religious view dominates the discussion. And you can count Rick Perry as one of "those."

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