The democratization of opinion: reason and science in the balance. Yet another reason not to support John McCain.

Mildred, I think we have a problem. Our culture is facing a “democratization of opinion” that seriously threatens its core post-Enlightenment values of reason and science.

Yesterday, a quote in a NY Times article called “Philadelphia Set to Honor Darwin and Evolution,” by Jon Hurdle, caught my eye.

“…polls shows that a majority of Americans believe God created man in his present form and that the number of people who accept the evolutionary model of human origins is declining.”

A MAJORITY? The numbers DECLINING? Can this possibly be true?

The article isn’t focused on why these unnerving statistics are true, but rather on an effort by nine Philadelphia academic, scientific and cultural institutions to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s seminal work, “The Origin of Species” by increasing public understanding of evolution. It is a good thing when recognized authorities attempt to counter the increasingly successful effort by the “faith-based” community to place its ideas about creationism and/or “intelligent design” on the same playing field as science. And it is a good thing that the event will feature John E. Jones III, a federal judge who ruled in 2005 that teaching intelligent design in public classes was unconstitutional.

However, those of us who worry that America is heading inexorably backward, perhaps even backward into a new dark age, are not appeased. The question in my mind at least is WHY are more and more people accepting and clinging to pre-Enlightenment ideas?

One reason is that our opinion leaders, including our current President, are themselves confused. Here’s a piece from a Washington Post article from 2005 on George Bush’s remarks about evolution and creationism/intelligent design:

“Both sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about,” he said, according to an official transcript of the session. Bush added: “Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. . . . You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes.”

There are those so disgusted with George Bush that they simply shake their heads in disbelief when he speaks, but the fact is he IS the President, and (even though some might argue) the country actually elected him, and the point he was making proves my premise, which is the nonsensical idea that many people nowadays hold that all opinions are equal.

Later in the article:

With the president endorsing it, at the very least it makes Americans who have that position more respectable, for lack of a better phrase,” said Gary L. Bauer, a Christian conservative leader who ran for president against Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries. “It’s not some backwater view. It’s a view held by the majority of Americans.”

Gary Bauer is a man with whom I probably don’t agree on very much, but on this issue he speaks some truth. Whether “intelligent design” is a “backwater view” or not, and whether a majority of people believing it makes it “respectable” are debatable points, because “debatable” and “respectable” are subjective issues on which people may legitimately disagree. But there can be but there can be no debate that the view IS held by the majority of Americans, because this is an observable fact. We have seen over and over in these last eight years what happens when public policy is made according to opinion and/or faith-based ideas rather than evidence and facts, and nowhere are the dangers of doing this more apparent than in the pseudo-debate over evolution vs. intelligent design. What’s been happening in this arena is that those who believe in creationism have in this and many other areas done an end run around established expert opinion by creating their own colleges and think tanks and PhDs. This is of course aided and abetted by the democratic nature of the Web and its increasing influence.

In almost every area, the Web eliminates the need or desire for traditional cultural authorities who have been vetted and approved by some established entity. The Web (and even Cable News) asks us to “vote” on everything, either directly or through our clicks–from our favorite books, to whether we think there is life on other planets, to whether “intelligent design” belongs in the science classroom. If everyone can be a critic, no more do we need consult literary critics or writers who have studied writing and literature. If everyone is or can be a citizen journalist, no more do we need to consult actual journalists who adhere to established standards of reporting. And if everyone is a scientist, no more do we need to consult—

Uh-oh.

Yet NO reputable scientist–religious, agnostic, or atheist–supports the idea of intelligent design as science, and it remains essential for citizens of this country to employ enough critical thinking to understand at least that in certain cases we must defer to our established experts, even if our natural psychological tendency is to seek out those who agree with us.

And now we come to John McCain. According to evolutionary biologist and UC professor Jonathan Eisen on his blog, The Tree of Life when John McCain was asked about evolution, he said:

“I think Americans should be exposed to every point of view,” he said. “I happen to believe in evolution. … I respect those who think the world was created in seven days. Should it be taught as a science class? Probably not.”

Probably not? Well, I’m glad John McCain at least “believes” in evolution, and I SUPPOSE this is a better position than Bush’s even more egalitarian, “democratic” stand, but I have to wonder, along with the progressive Website Think Progress, how much more pandering McCain is going to do in his current effort to shore up the Republican base in his “lurch to the right”

Here is a quote from Think Progress.com’s 2007 reporting on the issue:

February 23, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will be the keynote speaker for the most prominent creationism advocacy group in the country. The Discovery Institute, a religious right think-tank, is well-known for its strong opposition to evolutionary biology and its advocacy for “intelligent design.” The institute’s main financial backer, savings and loan heir Howard Ahmanson, spent 20 years on the board of the Chalcedon Foundation, “a theocratic outfit that advocates the replacement of American civil law with biblical law.”

McCain has an ambiguous record on whether he supports intelligent design in the science curriculum. In 2005, he said it should be taught:

Daily Star: Should intelligent design be taught in schools?

McCain: I think that there has to be all points of view presented. But they’ve got to be thoroughly presented. So to say that you can only teach one line of thinking I don’t think is – or one belief on how people and the world was created – I think there’s nothing wrong with teaching different schools of thought.

Daily Star: Does it belong in science?

McCain: There’s enough scientists that believe it does. I’m not a scientist. This is

something that I think all points of view should be presented.

If John McCain wants to ally himself with these people, that’s his right, but at least he should speak truth to them, plainly and clearly. No, there are NOT enough scientists who believe that it does. Thank God for that.

And by the way, God help us if we have to suffer through another four or eight years with a President who’s mind is so muddled that he speaks as McCain does in sentences like those quoted above.  Here’s another pair of facts to consider: Barack Obama was magna cum laude; McCain’s class ranking at Annapolis was 894 out of 899.

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