Do YOU Hate Science?

We all know the stereotypes: Conservatives love God and hate science, vice versa for progressives. But it’s utterly untrue, and every once in a while we see new evidence to prove it. These days, the frouforale over James Damore’s gender/diversity manifesto at Google has us asking the question again: Who hates science?

We’ll get to Damore’s story in a minute, but first, a necessary reminder. SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing this, but I’m not interested in attacking or defending Damore. If I have to pick a side, I’ll generally stick with my progressive roots. Luckily, I don’t have to pick a side, so today I’ll bring up more interesting questions. I’m working these days on a new book about American creationism. One of the vital points to understanding creationism, especially the radical young-earth variant, is that creationists are not anti-science. Creationists LOVE science.

As anthropologist Chris Toumey puts it in his terrific and under-appreciated book God’s Own Scientists, radical creationists are just like the rest of America. They don’t dispute the authority of capital-s Science. In Toumey’s words, radical creationists have deep faith in the

plenary authority of science; that is, the idea that something is more valuable and more credible when it is believed that science endorses it.

For radical creationists, the problem isn’t science. The problem, rather, is that benighted false scientists have hijacked science and replaced it with ideologically driven materialism.

Of course, to the rest of us, creationists’ preference for their own bizarre “zombie science” makes their claims to love science hardly credible. To the rest of us, radical creationists seem to insist on their own outlandish scientific beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence from real science.

Are Damore’s opponents guilty of the same thing?

If you haven’t followed the story, Damore was a Google engineer who was fired for a leaked ten-page memo. In the memo, Damore opined that Google’s diversity policy was deeply flawed. The goal of hiring equal numbers of male and female engineers, Damore wrote, didn’t match reality. In fact, Damore wrote, there are biological differences between men and women that make men—as a statistical group—more interested in engineering.

Like Larry Summers before him, Damore was fired and vilified for his words. And like ex-president Summers, Damore insisted he was only citing scientific data.

At least one scientist agrees with Damore. Writing in the Globe and Mail, Debra Soh argues that

the memo was fair and factually accurate. Scientific studies have confirmed sex differences in the brain that lead to differences in our interests and behaviour.

I’m no scientist, of gender or anything else. But conservative pundits have latched onto Soh’s comments to howl that progressives are just as blind to real science as are radical religious folks. As Benedictine pundit Rod Dreher frothed wordily,

Gender non-essentialists are the young earth creationists of the Left.

Maybe, maybe not. But in one thing, at least, Dreher is exactly right. Just like young-earth creationists, the anti-Damorists insist they have real science on their side. When it comes to culture-war issues—whether it’s the nature of gender or the origin of our species—everyone insists they are the side of true science.

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9 Comments

  1. Paolo McConn

     /  August 10, 2017

    I love science in general and the scientific method in particular. However, I reject science as a religion that is perfect and infallible. There is no science that is ever truly and fully “settled” as our knowledge and understanding of the universe evolves. I am suspicious when science is used to further any agenda other than the expansion of our knowledge. Science has become too politicized and monetized especially in regard to climate. Scientists are only human and have biases and imperfections just like the rest of us. Why treat them as impartial arbiters of truth, our modern day priests?

    Reply
  2. Dan

     /  August 10, 2017

    Much science on gender and sexuality is new and not settled. It’s highly vexed by partisan ideologues on all sides as well. Google’s response to Damore is suggestive of vague, blanket speech codes. That’s terrible and guaranteed a potent reaction. They failed to identify the real problem that critics of any kind would have trouble refuting: Damore is taking a controversial conclusion of some scientific research and using it to validate a general theory that maps to a hierarchical power structure as a management philosophy. He also attempted to enculturate employees with his ideology through skits based on stereotyping. His employer is ultimately the arbiter of company culture and management philosophy. If they don’t like his “scientific anti-egalitarianism” and methods of promoting it, they ought to say so.

    The question of “scientific truth” is really not the main issue. A conception of basic human equality is a foundational theological-political premise of the alliance between Judaeo-Christian republicanism and the Enlightenment. That is the basis for the modern liberal state and the US, in theory. If it’s attacked on scientific grounds, that’s a problem apart from the truth or falsity of the scientific claims.

    I wish we could redirect this whole thing to a discussion of the ways we’ve accepted a lot of vague anti-egalitarianism within the liberal pluralistic order via technocapitalist libertarianism, massive wealth disparities neoliberalism created, technocratic and meritocratic idolization of certain skills and fields of knowledge, etc. People who have internalized the “obvious” structures of inequality around them — namely people of privilege and good fortune — often see it as self evident that essential differences explain winners and losers. This is dangerous and not justified by any settled science. The responsible course is to admit that and slow down, not rush to push people into boxes and use power + enculturation to make sure they stay where “nature” supposedly wants them.

    Reply
  3. What do you mean by radical when you say radical creationists?

    Reply
    • Donna,
      That’s my attempt to avoid getting into jargon-y terms such as “YEC” or “flood geology.” I know I need to be more careful the way I use them, but I try to make a distinction between creationists–which include almost every religious person from Abrahamic faiths (and many non-religious people, too)–and “radical” creationists who believe in things such as a literal six-day creation and a recent creation in the past six thousand years or so.

      Reply
      • Dan

         /  August 10, 2017

        What happened to “theistic evolution?” It seemed to me that “creationism” was eschewed by moderate evangelicals, but to differentiate themselves from liberal protestants and most catholics, they used terms like TE. In the 70s-80s agreeing with micro but not macro evolution was seen as a nuanced position. The problem is philosophical and not scientific — conservative protestants can’t accept any kind of process philosophy/theology, as identification of natural processes with God is attacked as pantheism. They are stuck with a very personal, anthropomorphic entity who thinks, speaks, and acts on an external physical reality.

      • “Theistic evolution” was often a term of accusation among evangelicals. Folks such as Russell Mixter at Wheaton in the 1950s insisted that their “progressive creationism” was not TE, since “progressive creationism” required repeated, personal, miraculous interventions by God. These days, as you know, the BioLogos crowd endorses “evolutionary creationism,” which they also have to defend against charges that it is merely warmed-over TE.

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