Monday, June 4, 2007

Brownback Mountain

Doing my weekly blog reading awhile back I discovered a mountain of criticism on scienceblogs aimed at Kansas Senator and presidential candidate Sam Brownback's New York Times Op-Ed, "What I Think About Evolution."

Josh Rosenau made an important point in a humorous aside that I think needs more emphasis and explanation. Brownback had written this:

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

Josh Rosenau responded:

This is roughly how we got to war with Iraq. We looked under a bunch of stones, found no evidence of ongoing WMD programs, concluded that any evidence which undermined the truth President Bush already knew "should be firmly rejected," and now our troops are stuck in the middle of a civil war.

Yes, Josh, Brownback has displayed exactly the style of thinking that leds people into the kind errors of the Bush administration has been making for years, and not just in Iraq. Every distortion of science Chris Mooney wrote about in "The Republican War on Science," from lying about embryonic stem cells lines to denying climate change, has it's origin in this style of thinking. Chris Mooney even touched on this style of thinking in his book and he called it Lysekoism, which is attempting to distort science in order to bring it into line with political orthodoxy.

It's only rough because it hasn't been given sufficient analysis yet. Fundamentalism isn't just an unjustified belief; it's a style of thinking that supports unjustified belief. It's more general form has been called "logical preposterism."

This is where you start with your conclusion and evaluate evidence depending on whether it supports your predetermined conclusion. Brownback is putting what is supposed to come last, the conclusion, first.

The most remarkable thing about Brownback's Op-Ed is how nakedly the logical preposterism shines through with statements like "we know with certainty at least part of the outcome," and "Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science."

Usually the Republicans try to veil and obscure their war on science so people don’t see the logical preposterism that underlies all their arguments. But in Brownback's Op-Ed logical preposterism and faith are synonymous.

1 comment:

John said...

I think Brownback is starting on what is, for him, a hugely slippery slope. In fact, microevolution IS macroevolution; many micros make a macro. That's how it works. So, to admit micro gets him macro, no matter how you play it.

You're right about the structure of fundamentalist thinking. And these sorts of irresponsible editorials, where he'll just walk away and never have to account for much of what he's said. Or live up to the consequences. Etc.

Par for the course with these guys.

Thanks for the post. I've written on the same editorial, actually. Check it out if you have a chance.