When Trumpism Goes (Anti)-Viral

Sometimes it is difficult to argue that religious conservatives aren’t simply anti-science. When it comes to news about coronavirus, for example, conservatives from Trump on down are making kooky claims. Why?

Let’s back up a minute first. When it comes to big questions like evolution/creationism and climate change, conservatives have a hundred-year history as the anti-science side. However, as I’m arguing in my new book about creationism (cover art updates coming soon), it has never been a fair accusation. Religious conservatives have always loved capital-s Science. They just haven’t trusted the scientists who have usurped control over it.

With Trumpism ascendant, however, I’m wondering how long conservatives can maintain their fingertip-grasp on scientific legitimacy. Perhaps most religious conservatives would share my scorn for the latest batch of hooey coming from a few conservative preachers.

For example, who in their right mind could endorse Jim Bakker’s snake-oil claims? No thinking person—conservative or otherwise—would take Bakker’s claim about his magical “silver solution” seriously, even when he claims it eliminates coronaviruses.

And it will be tempting for thoughtful conservatives to pooh-pooh the exalted exhalations of preachers such as Omaha’s Hank Kunneman. On February 9, Kunneman prophesied that Trumpism had kept America safe from the coronavirus. As Kunneman said,

Listen to the words that I speak to you at this moment, says the Living God. Why do you fear, United States? For I have spoke to you before, and I speak to you again. I have extended and opened a window of mercy to this nation at this time. Therefore the virus that they speak of, the prognostication, the diagnosis—my mercy is the quarantine that shall be greater than what they have spoken to you, United States.

Because of the administration that stands in this land, who honors me, who honors the covenants of your forefathers and of the Constitution, and because they have aligned themselves with Israel, and because they have sided on the right side of life—life in the womb, life given outside of the womb—therefore I give life to this nation, and I give mercy. Do not fear this virus, says the Spirit of God.

I know plenty of intelligent conservatives who would shake their heads at this sort of anti-scientific mumbo-jumbo. Lots of conservative religious people will tell you that their religious beliefs do not put them at odds with science. They will say that there is no need to pretend that “Science” and “Religion” are opposed to one another. And for what it’s worth, I think they are right. There’s no need for conservatives to discredit science in order to prove their religious bona fides.

In Trump’s America, however, the mumbo-jumbo has taken over at the top. When it comes to things like coronavirus, Trump has unleashed the full deadweight of his anti-scientific worldview. Recently, he told a group of governors,

The virus that we’re talking about having to do, a lot of people think that goes away in April, with the heat, as the heat comes in, typically that will go away in April.

Trump’s current blast of anti-science is nothing new. Back when he was a private citizen, he was already fond of over-tweeting his aversion to scientific knowledge. When it came to Ebola, for example, Trump famously warned against readmitting exposed medical workers and a patient to the United States. Trump did not seem to care that the Ebola virus had already come to the US by 2014, with several safe labs studying it.

trump ebola 2014Heedless of science, convinced of his own superior knowledge, Trump might just be trashing the careful, difficult work of generations of religious conservatives. For a hundred years now, thoughtful conservatives have worked hard to overthrow popular misconceptions. Conservatives have labored to convince America that they are not anti-science even though they are pro-God. With a few tweets, Trump seems to have tipped the scales once again, tying conservatism and religion to a crude anti-scientific outlook.

Is This Progressive College Anti-Science?

How do you know your gender?  At the conservative Weekly Standard last week, Jonathan Last took Smith College to task for leftist anti-science when it came to gender identification.  Are Last’s accusations fair?

First, some background.  Smith College, an historic women-only school in western Massachusetts, has finalized its position on transgender students.  In short, the leaders at Smith decided on what we might call a “past-the-gate” rule.  If a student identifies as a woman when she applies, she may be admitted.  This is true no matter what gender she was assigned at birth.  If, however, someone identifies as a woman as a freshman, but transitions to a man during his time at Smith, he will be permitted to remain, even though Smith maintains its women-only rule.

Make sense?  In other words, the leaders at Smith want to recognize students’ right to identify their own genders.  It is not biological hardware that determines gender, Smith agrees, but rather a person’s identification.

Is this anti-science?  Last thinks so.  As he puts it, this decision

has shown that the left’s allegiance to capital-“S” Science is only a sometimes thing. Progressives believe that science contains the definitive answers to all questions—except when it doesn’t, and we must accept the idea of deep, human truths, which might contradict science.

Of course, anyone who spends time with culture-war issues knows that the Left embraces plenty of anti-science.  There are lots of progressives who oppose vaccines and genetically modified food.  But this transgender case seems trickier.

Last accuses Smith of ignoring the claims of science.  He implies that the scientifically verifiable claims of biology should be given more weight than people’s subjective ideas about their true gender identification.

Deluded?  Or scientific?

Deluded? Or scientific?

Now, maybe I’m blinded by my progressive prejudices here, but isn’t there a scientific reason to believe that gender is something beyond simple biology?  In other words, we may be born with primary and secondary sexual characteristics, but there is a divide between having certain biological characteristics and identifying as a particular gender.

So Last’s accusation raises an interesting question.  If we view gender identification as merely a belief, a feeling, or a choice, then Smith College’s decision seems to place those non-scientific things above scientific proofs.  But if we trust mainstream scientists such as those at the American Psychological Association, gender identity is something more.

So who are the real anti-scientists here?  Conservative intellectuals who deny the internal aspects of gender identity?  Or progressive college leaders who ignore biological verities to respect students’ preferences?