Happy new year readers. You haven’t heard from me in ~7 months, and I just wanted to let you know I’m still alive. As you may have suspected, I’ve been quite busy with all sorts of changes in my life.
But through all that, I have managed to write a couple long-form pieces. For Issues in Science and Technology, I reviewed The Penultimate Curiosity: How Science swims in the Slipstream of Ultimate Questions. You can check out my review here.
I also wrote another essay for the Federalist about race, diversity and conservatives. You can find that here.
I’ll try start writing some more in the new year. In either case, have a great 2017.
To make a political decision, you sort through the evidence to find the facts that are most relevant to the issue—and “relevant,” please note, is a value judgement, not a simple matter of fact. Using the relevant evidence as a framework, you weigh competing values against one another—this also involves a value judgment—and then you weigh competing interests against one another, and look for a compromise on which most of the contending parties can more or less agree. If no such compromise can be found, in a democratic society, you put it to a vote and do what the majority says. That’s how politics is done; we might even call it the political method.
That’s not how science is done, though. The scientific method is a way of finding out which statements about nature are false and discarding them, under the not unreasonable assumption that you’ll be left with a set of statements about nature that are as close as possible to the truth. That process rules out compromise. If you’re Lavoisier and you’re trying to figure out how combustion works, you don’t say, hey, here’s the oxygenation theory and there’s the phlogiston theory, let’s agree that half of combustion happens one way and the other half the other; you work out an experiment that will disprove one of them, and accept its verdict. What’s inadmissible in science, though, is the heart of competent politics.
I love the term political reasoning. I’ll try expand on it in an upcoming post.
Happy summer folks! I’m trying to resume blogging after the big move. There’s still much to unpack…but I’m relaxed enough to start focusing on my writing again. With that, here’s a nice quote from a recent Slate essay on how much it would suck to have a country ruled by science:
My work with creationists shows how impossible it is for humans to behave rationally. We are always informed by our biases. For example, a careful analysis of creationists’ scientific knowledge shows they know as much science as anyone else. It’s just that they deny scientific claims. In my fieldwork in one creationist evangelical high school, I found students perfectly capable of answering correctly every question about evolution in their AP Biology exam. They simply used phrases like scientists believe in their answers so as not to betray their creationist bona fides. This is actually an extremely rational way for them to handle the discrepancy between their faith and mainstream science.
Hello readers. I know you’re used to long absences from me. But I still feel compelled to apologize and explain. My wife and I decided to take the plunge and buy our first house. So we’ve been busy figuring out this crazy world, and planning our move. You can say we’re movin’ on up.
I hope to resume more frequent blogging in July.
This one is coming a bit late. I’m making it extra long to make up for it.
- First check out the highlights video above of the West Indies victory against England in the T20 World Championship.
- Check out the Bald Scientist on the ‘God-Talk’ podcast.
- Big data has not revolutionized medicine.
- Yet another take on the (allegedly) terrible PhD job market.
- The smug style in American liberalism.
- Neil deGrasse Tyson is no fun.
- The rise and fall of Theranos.
- Apparently this whole farm to table thing is a myth.
- Nicholas Carr on how Facebook’s users are changing how they use it.
- The science studies fan in me loved the deep reporting on the sugar conspiracy.
- Andy Revkin on what he’s learned from covering climate change for decades.
- Russell Moore on the priority of adoption.
Enjoy the weekend folks!
Let me explain with a story. I once had a colleague who was an accomplished amateur photographer. Every now and then he hosted an informal ‘Photography 101’ lunchtime seminar. He pitched it as: “Curious about photography? Well, I’m passionate and knowledgeable about it, and can provide some insight. Attend and maybe you’ll start to love photography too!” Now substitute ‘Christianity’ for photography in his pitch and try to imagine the response.
Religious beliefs are often denied the allowances we make elsewhere, like amateur photography. I am almost certain HR wouldn’t allow a ‘Christianity 101’ lunchtime seminar. On the other hand, we grant allowances to religion we don’t grant to others. Religious organizations are exempt from certain Obamacare provisions, for example.
Agellius and Victor argue that this special treatment arises because religion is more than just a belief. It is a way of life above man-made laws. Many religions both compel and prohibit certain actions.
While I agree with that stance, I question whether it uniquely applies to religion. Secular pacifists might also argue that their conscience compels them to act in a certain way. Ethical vegetarians are probably in the same boat, as are people opposed to modern agriculture. Religious faith may impact your way of life in multiple dimensions, and may do so strongly. But it’s a spectrum rather than something unique to faith.
Which is why I think that, in an increasingly secular age, we who care about religious freedom should stress these commonalities. We should highlight that freedom of religion is a subset of freedom of conscience, and that all of us would be aghast if we had to violate our conscience. Christians aren’t special in that regard.