Republicans turn their back on the Enlightenment?

The Left tries making evolution an election issue.

Below is Telegraph (UK) editor Tom Chivers’ attack on GOP presidential candidates for raising issues with evolution and climate change.

But while evolution is not an election issue, climate change and other science-related issues are. And we’ve worked hard to make climate a litmus test.

So the GOP candidates are on firm scientific ground questioning the “nonsensus.”

As to skeptics of evolution (whatever that means) versus believers in global warming alarmism (like Chivers), we’re not worried by the former (since belief/non-belief in evolution is irrelevant to fixing our economy) and we’re terribly scared by the latter as they would impose totalitarian government upon us.

Republicans turn their back on the Enlightenment
By Tom Chivers
January 10th, 2012, The Telegraph

Over in the US, the Republican party is choosing its presidential nominee to face Barack Obama in November. But whoever wins, science may lose.

The Grand Ol’ Party (GOP), as the Republicans are known, has an uncomfortable relationship with scientific fact. Rick Santorum, a frontrunner in the nomination race, has said of a fellow candidate: “If he wants to believe he is the descendant of a monkey then he has the right to believe that, but I disagree with him on this liberal belief.” Yes: acknowledging biology’s central premise is “liberal”. His opponents Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachman and Newt Gingrich have all made noises doubting either climate change, evolution or both; only Jon Huntsman, a forlorn no-hoper, acknowledges the reality of both.

It’s not just the candidates. Fifty-two per cent of Republican voters reject the theory of evolution, saying mankind was created in present form within the last 10,000 years; just 31 per cent think man-made climate change is happening. In Congress, Republicans fought stem cell research and the HPV vaccine. Sarah Palin, ignoramus-in-chief, mocked “fruit-fly research” as a “pet project [with] little or nothing to do with the public good,” rejecting at a stroke most advances in genetics since Gregor Mendel.

“Is the GOP anti-science?” asks Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science and Unscientific America. “It depends on your definition. If you mean ‘Takes many positions that are contrary to scientific understanding’, then yes; if it’s ‘Has an animus towards scientists’, then data suggests it’s true; if it’s ‘Wants to de-fund scientific research’, it’s less clear, but to some extent true.”

To some extent, the cause is obvious. Religious conservatives have difficulties with science, notably evolution and a lot of medical research. Fiscal conservatives are leery of the idea of global warming, because the proposed responses are seen as constricting of business.

But it hasn’t always been like this in the party of Eisenhower and Lincoln. A move towards anti-intellectualism began in the 1960s: “The Republican political elites decided to energise their base around culture-war issues, like women’s rights, gay rights, separation of church and state, and abortion,” says Mooney. “It was called ‘Nixon’s Southern Strategy’, and it worked: the Republicans became the party of people who have very, very traditionalist views on cultural issues.”

This Nixonian strategy actually changed conservative psychology, according to Mooney. “It’s been argued convincingly that when you energise people around these sort of issues you get an authoritarian streak coming out, characterised by rigidity and inflexibility, thinking that you’re absolutely right and the other side is absolutely wrong; a need for certainty, a need for order.” This black-and-white thinking does not sit well with science’s error bars and uncertainties.

Worse, it’s become a vicious circle. The Republican party is trapped by its own anti-science tactics. Part of the culture war strategy included attacking intellectuals: describing them as weak and spineless and effete. Academics, always liberal-inclined, responded by becoming more so: “They’re so overwhelmingly liberal now it’s kind of ridiculous, and so is the scientific community. The Democratic party is drawing the votes of people with advanced degrees, and the Republican party is not,” says Mooney. So, in turn, the Republican party reacted by becoming ever more distrustful of intellectualism, and pushing wave after wave of scientists and academics from the Right to the Left. “The more the Republican party rejects nuance and attacks knowledge, the more the people who have knowledge go the other way. It shows in statistics about liberalism among professors and scientists, and distribution of PhDs across the parties: there’s a giant knowledge and expertise gap.”
And to appeal to this anti-intellectual base, the Republican elite now have to pretend to be stupider than they are. Gingrich, who in earlier years repeatedly acknowledged the dangers of climate change, suddenly dropped a chapter written by a climate scientist from an upcoming book after getting challenged on air by Rush Limbaugh, the hugely influential Right-wing talk radio host; Mitt Romney moved from “I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that” to “We don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet” in the space of three months.

Do they mean it, or is it pandering to their anti-intellectual base? “Santorum, Bachmann and Perry are completely out of touch with reality. With Romney and Gingrich, many people get the impression that they know what’s right and what’s wrong, but can’t say it,” says Mooney.

Perhaps. But nowadays, to get far in the Republican party, you can’t be part of what George Bush might call the reality-based community. It’s a worrying state of affairs: America is becoming an intellectual two-speed nation, with a technocratic, informed elite and a scientifically illiterate rump who are falling behind economically in their increasingly knowledge-based economy. The GOP is increasingly the party of the uneducated: it’s bad enough for them, but if it means voting stupid people, or people who are pretending to be stupid, into the most powerful office in the world, it’s bad for the rest of us too.

4 thoughts on “Republicans turn their back on the Enlightenment?”

  1. I’m surprised that there isn’t more skepticism for evolution at, particularly since the primary justification for it is the same as global warming or climate change – the majority of scientists believe it. Where is the empirical support for evolution? Has someone actually observed an organism “evolve” into a different organism? How can evolution be rationally supported? If man is the product of millions of years of random chemical processes, then that means that our brains are also the result of such processes. Logically, then, if that’s the case, we can’t make rational choices because our thoughts and decisions are driven by chemistry (we can’t help what we think), not independent thought.

  2. “Fifty-two per cent of Republican voters reject the theory of evolution”, but one poll estimates that only 27% of American voters identify themselves as “Republicans”.
    The math (0.52 * 0.27 = .14) tells us that this is only 14% of the electorate. The anti-Darwinists are almost universally fundamentalist Christians, and hardly going to ally themselves with the Democratic party which has openly embraced Atheism. This is an effort at ad hominem argument, smearing the entire Republican party with a broad brush. To imply that the Republicans are all Luddites is at best mendacious – and wrong.
    The reality is that certain people will *always* vote within their favorite party, but these are never a decisive group.
    The decisions are inevitably made by the largest of all voting groups – the ‘Independents’ (aka ‘undecided’). It is within this group that most of the ‘enlightened’ may be found, and evolution is to them a settled fact and a non-issue in the political theatre.

  3. The Democratic Party’s support comes from two groups, people with advanced degrees and high school dropouts. The Republican support comes from high school graduates and people with two year and four year degrees. This causes me to ask “What is it about advanced education that causes people to adopt the views of high school dropouts?”

    High school dropouts see themselves as victims of a world they can’t control. People with advanced degrees see themselves as uniquely suited to run the world, yet they too, lack the power to implement what they regard as their vastly superior knowledge. What they have in common is the sense that they are not in control of things, yet should be.

    They follow anything that might provide them with the power they crave, global warming, the idea that pollution is getting worse, Keynesian economics etc. Don’t “follow the money”, Follow the “power”.

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