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Editorial note:  The following critique of the secular left will surely ruffle some feathers, so be forewarned.  However, the essay is not intended to offend anyone or any group.  Rather, it is intended to spur some self-reflection among my fellow liberals, progressives, and secularists regarding issues larger than the individual causes we each support.  The world today faces unprecedented existential crises.  To have any chance of remedy, we must rediscover who and what we are and to rally around those core values.  The great diversity of the Left is not the problem, but our internal fracturing is.

By Robert A. Vella

Early in my grammar school education, I developed a special interest in science that later became my greatest passion.  What led me in that direction is difficult to say.  Perhaps it was simply the realization that I was good at science, so good in fact that the few grades I received lower than an A annoyed me.  The lone C grade I received for high school chemistry still bothers me to this day.  Once I started attending college, I knew my career path would be in the academic sciences or technology fields.  My heart was set on astronomy, specifically cosmology;  but, I ended up pursuing a computer profession because it provided the most promising job prospects at the time.

One of the first things I noticed in my formative science education was that most of the other students didn’t like science classes and/or didn’t perform well in them.  It seemed as though us kids who did succeed were different somehow.  Maybe our brains were better wired for the intense focus and monotonous rigor necessary for scientific studies, I don’t know.  My brother, for example, was so disinclined towards science that he quit college and pursued a blue-collar career.  In any case, whatever made us different caused a social schism of sorts.  We, the science “nerds,” were the unpopular minority.  We didn’t relate well to the others, and few of them understood or even cared about us.  Most strikingly, a communication gap was evident.

As I progressed in the post-college working world, I noticed something else peculiar.  My orientation towards science began eliciting resistance from family, friends, and acquaintances.  It was hard finding anyone willing to listen to me if I brought up any science-related topic.  Once, my fiancé and I stopped at Donner Summit in the Sierra Nevada mountains on the clearest night I’d ever seen.  The brilliant multi-colored stars and planets were a radiantly spectacular scene!  As I identified and described several of the stunning celestial bodies, my mate became bored, then irritated, then demanded we continue homeward.  I wondered why she couldn’t appreciate the exquisite beauty of that very unique moment.  She never did say, nor did I ever ask.

But, that isolated incident was just a taste of things to come.  By this time, Ronald Reagan was President and the Christian fundamentalist Moral Majority was making itself heard.  My scientific perspective was no longer being met with disinterest or ridicule, but with confrontational disagreement and occasional hostility.  It was obvious that the faithful had become overtly anti-science especially concerning the subject of evolution and the big-bang theory of the universe.  Even casual discussions frequently turned into heated arguments.  Basic scientific principles, verifiable facts, and generally accepted knowledge, were now being openly contested on a societal scale.  It was the Scopes Monkey Trial multiplied thousands of times.

This religious fervor persisted in America, ebbing and flowing slightly over the following decades.  By the 2000s, I began to notice another anti-science, anti-empiricism attitude rising in the country.  It was coming neither from the “science is for nerds” crowd nor from evangelicals, but typically from religious “de-converts” who had left their churches for the rationalism of New Atheism or for the secular spiritualism of eclectic belief systems such as pantheism, Gaiaism (i.e. naturism), and gender feminism (see:  Are gender feminists and transgender activists undermining science? and:  Feminists should end their distrust of science).

This new amorphous anti-science movement coincided with the rise of far-right nationalist populism which culminated in the election of President Trump.  Prior to his electoral victory in 2016, conservative politics in America was already deeply lost in the “alternative facts” virtual universe epitomized by Fox News.  After his inauguration, Trump began aggressively attacking the legitimate news media with his “fake news!” mantra.  Consequently, the best objective frame of reference we humans have ever created – empirical science – had come under siege from both sides of the cultural and political spectrum.

Now, subjective opinion has been elevated above verifiable evidence and real facts while debate over social issues has become perpetual with the marginalization of our only impartial arbiter.  This is intrinsically an anarchical situation where those who can wield the most power and force determine the outcome.  Civilization, under these rules, cannot endure.

I have asked myself repeatedly how and why this has happened.  Aside from the natural aversion to science felt by many people which I described in the first part of this essay, is there any commonality between religious fundamentalists and those who have de-converted from religion?  From my own Catholic upbringing, I found a possible answer.

In the biblical story of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2–3), God forbids Adam and Eve from eating the forbidden fruit on the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  They are seduced by a serpent (identified as Satan or the Devil in the Book of Revelation) to violate God’s order which gets them expelled from paradise and prevents them from ever again eating from the “tree of life” (i.e. immortality).  Allegorically, the “tree of knowledge” could easily represent the scientific pursuit of knowledge.  Does the story convey the message that to seek knowledge is to serve Satan?  If so, how ingrained is this message in our collective psyche?  Can the persistent decline in America’s secular public education system bring this subconscious memory to the surface?  How many of us today instinctually feel that science is somehow evil?

I’ll close with some quotes from the two articles previously cited.

From the Los Angeles Times piece by Debra W. Soh who is a sex writer and sexual neuroscientist at York University in Toronto:

Distortion of science hinders progress. When gender feminists start refuting basic biology, people stop listening, and the larger point about equality is lost.

[…]

Both the gender feminist and transgender movements are operating with good intentions — namely, the desire to obtain the dignity women and transgender people rightly deserve. But it’s never a good idea to dismiss scientific nuances in the name of a compelling argument or an honorable cause. We must allow science to speak for itself.

From The Guardian piece by Angela Saini who is a freelance science journalist and author:

The problem is that dismissing science as a body of knowledge means ignoring the best means we have of understanding ourselves. Like all sets of ideas, we need to see science for what it is: an imperfect but promising road to the facts. Correcting itself along the way – and there’s no doubt that corrections are needed – it explains our bodies, minds and place in the universe.

Further reading:  The Liberals’ War on Science

21 thoughts on “A Personal Discovery: The Satanization of Science

  1. People don’t like facts discovered by scientific analysis when the facts distribute or conflict with what they have long believed to be true, what they want to believe or when the facts differ from what their job and income depends on being true.

    In those situations they close their ears and eyes and scream louder to drown out the sights and sounds

    I don’t always like to face facts myself. I am particularly irritated when I am shown to be wrong on something I said or believed. Pesky facts can be do annoying.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, we all do that to one degree or another. It’s part of our human nature. But, to elevate our beliefs to the point where it becomes a general anti-science philosophy is something much more troubling. It means we value our subjective opinions over objectively derived knowledge, and that is a recipe for disaster.

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  2. Interesting exposition and analysis, Robert.

    Who benefits from our fear of science? It may well be the result of centuries of conditioning to control our minds and behavior. Some of us, like you, break free and can see and appreciate the Universe in all its glory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ideologies, such religious fundamentalism and political extremism, are the direct beneficiaries of anti-science sentiments although it also feeds the human ego. In an era where the primacy of subjective opinion is ascendant, this is all to obvious today.

      Yes, centuries of conditioning is undoubtedly a major factor; however, that doesn’t necessarily explain the current resurgence of anti-science attitudes particularly among secular liberals who were very accepting of science just a decade or two ago.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This reminds me of the historical rage of the RC church when the Bible was printed in English – so that people could read and think for themselves instead of having the “truth” dictated to them. Power interests are averse to facts. Admitting the reality of many peoples lives puts them in the position of justifiying why they maintain their exploitative status quo. Their strategy is to keep people ignorant, suppress facts, and trash with ad hominem attacks any who point out inconvenient truths.

    On another tack science/technical people are often lonely people. I only realised this with my father, who was a bit of a mechanical and electrical geniue (before computers) who when he met my husband also a mechanical expert spent more time talking to him than he had talked to anyone in the previous 10 years. In a family of women, not with technical interests – he had no-one on the same wave length. The same pattern is being repeated with my young great-nephew who is showing maths and technical talent – but surrounded by tech-dumb women. On a visit he startlingly awoke from zombie compliance when I pointed out the Cex electronic store where I am a frequent customer. My niece told me when he got home out of all the visits and activities we had done he only raved about the Cex shop and was very impressed that I had a customer card. My heart goes out to him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed, the Church was very opposed to printing the Bible in English because they would lose their position of power as the official interpreter. Great analogy!

      That’s an illuminating story about your father which I can totally relate to. The social problem of getting women and girls interested in science has been a stubborn one. In the course of my education and career, I have met some females who were quite skilled at science, but they were more the exception rather than the rule.

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      • I favoured science and technology but was let done by weakness in maths. I ended up doing Philos/Soc at uni and my best subject was Scientific Method. I always regret that my failure at maths misdirected my career.

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  4. I must say, personally I’ve hardly ever encountered anti-science attitudes among non-religious people, except in cases where they’re into some specific other form of nuttiness like astrology or the anti-vax stuff.

    If you’re noticing this among de-converts from religion specifically, the problem may be a residuum of attitudes and ignorance left over from religion. I do know one person who left religion just a few months ago, who doesn’t accept the idea that evolution fully accounts for complex life, because it just seems intuitive that some life is too complex to be accounted for that way. He doesn’t really understand evolution very well, though. Religious people who lack knowledge of science and have been brainwashed with anti-science arguments don’t suddenly become knowledgeable and open-minded when they deconvert. Eventually many of them will, but it takes time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anti-science attitudes among the secular left is a very real thing and it’s getting worse. I experience it almost daily on this blog. “Technology is evil,” “Science is a philosophy like religion,” and “climate change is natural,” are just a few of the many memes that are repeated. It seems to be spreading fastest among the feminist/naturalist crowd.

      I think your assessment of this social phenomenon is very accurate.

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      • That’s interesting. I’ve certainly seen negative reactions to certain kinds of technology, notably when I’ve posted about life extension, but a lot of that seems to be due to misunderstanding of specific issues.

        Well, in the unlikely event that the theocrats and anti-science types of whatever stripe do succeed in slowing down the progress of science, then scientific progress (and a lot of the researchers themselves) will just move to other countries. To some extent it’s already starting to happen. If such attitudes were to remain dominant for too long, the US would fall behind other advanced countries and eventually become irrelevant. They can’t stop progress, they can only rearrange it.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. People who are against science and technology are hypocrites. Next time they get run down by a car or develop a serious health complaint they will be taking the miracle of modern medicine for granted – which includes all the machines, and scientific knowledge which underpins.
    Of course, if we could force people to live by their asserted values, we could deny them treatment and let them die out. (Joke)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Too many people fear their wall of reality (as they see it) crumbling into a pile of dust when they learn new things. Fear takes over their minds and illogical ideas can run rampant. It’s why I dislike belief systems in general. My interpretation of belief systems includes not only systems referred to as religions, but all systems of thought which can limit creativity and/or objectivity.

    Capitalism is a big one. People are told that Capitalism is merely an economic system, but when you step outside of mainstream thought (indoctrination) and see it with a fresh perspective you see dogmatic beliefs thrust upon the populace that should be questioned – yet aren’t by most people. The corporate rulers can be viewed as the priesthood of Capitalism – a religion which has created the governmental system we could call corporatocracy (I’m sure there are other terms that work as well).

    Science has been under attack for centuries. The viciousness of the attack ebbs and flows with the particular set of ideas en vogue in a certain place and time, but those who fan the flames of ignorance of any sort (whether fighting ideas or groups of people) are always protecting their wealth and/or power. This particular evil (consolidating and protecting power) has led to patriarchy, genocide, slavery and virtually every type of violent oppression against life on the planet.

    My aversion to systems of thought and the use of labels (amazing tools of manipulating minds) is why I don’t identify as an atheist despite the fact that I don’t trust any religions. I don’t automatically not trust a particular religious person since some people are strong enough not to be manipulated by it.

    They’ve learned to use their minds instead of being used by their minds.

    However, most people are too weak, apathetic and complacent to use religion as anything more than one of a variety of guidelines to behavior. When emotions are played with minds become weak and are easily molded. We see how dangerous this is.

    I’m sure I went off course as I often do, but I hope I made a point – any point will do. 😀

    Actually, I take this subject very seriously and am greatly disturbed by the flagrant, well-organized attack against not only science these days, but against morality, justice and decency. It’s gotten so bad in recent years that people aren’t ashamed about flaunting their violently hateful, obsessive, irrational ideas that have no basis in truth or understanding. As long as they hurt those who are “different” and establish membership in a group they an identify with (preferably one they believe is in control).

    Thanks for the rant. 🙂

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