"Unable Even To Think In Empirical Terms"

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In response to the above video of Rick Perry repeatedly asserting that abstinence works in the teeth of evidence to the contrary, Jon Chait sums up the problem:

Perry appears completely unable not only to answer the question but even to think in empirical terms.

Steve Benan adds to Chait:

The problem here isn’t just that Perry has the wrong answer. The more meaningful problem is that Perry doesn’t seem to know how to even formulate an answer. He starts with a proposition in his mind (abstinence-only education is effective), and when confronted with evidence that the proposition appears false (high teen-pregnancy rates), the governor simply hangs onto his belief, untroubled by evidence.

Even worse than the regressive substance of Perry’s policy positions is the degradation of thought itself he and Bachmann and Santorum (and more Republican candidates) exhibit and proudly represent. They are so serious about bringing faith into politics that they go beyond just arguing in the public square for positions that are consistent with their faith, they turn political positions themselves into statements of faith. They “believe that marriage is between a man and a woman”. They do not make an argument for why excluding homosexuals from marriage would be a non-discriminatory policy or show any demonstrable benefits to society that would be gained from it. Instead they just assert a creed and treat an obvious social construct (marriage) like an invisible metaphysical reality in which they “believe” despite no evidence and with a contemptuous hostility towards the very demand for evidence.

While, in principle, I much prefer that people did not get their values from dogmatic faith traditions but reasoned them all out philosophically and in a scientifically informed way—I nonetheless respect people’s rights to settle difficult, ambiguous moral/political questions by erring on the side of what their tradition (faith tradition or otherwise advises) as long as in the public square they respect the demands of evidence and rationality when advancing their positions. The Republican party has gone well beyond encouraging people to settle difficult questions in accord with their faith-shaped consciences to the point of shamelessly making all moral and political matters into blind leaps of faith and all political utterances into confessions of faith. And in this context, because faith is elevated to such a virtue, disdain and indifference to evidence are becoming trumpeted and not even disguised.

Elsewhere I have tried to demonstrate how it is faith which more than anything else poisons religion. In the Republican party everyday we are getting more and more examples of how it poisons politics.

H/T: Unreasonable Faith

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Mary C. Young

    What I hate the most about it is how the rhetoric of Republican candidates today SHAMELESSLY panders to people who refuse to think. It doesn’t matter WHAT question is asked of these candidates all they need to say is “God” or “God-fearing” and talk about “values and beliefs” and there is a whole group of people willing to mobilize for them. Rick Perry doesn’t need to respond to the questions asked of him because the people who love him the most don’t actually care if he answers the question. They’re looking for their favorite buzz words that will somehow fix everything.

    I met a woman this summer (won’t say her name) in the Texas legislature. She had a colleague who would always appear on television saying outrageous things about immigrants and completely and utterly dodging the questions asked of her. She would just repeat 5 or 6 lines over and over again and she said, “What I say on TV is not what I think or even my responses to questions, it’s what my constituents want to hear. If I go on Anderson Cooper, I don’t listen to a word he says I just say the things that the people who elected me want to hear.”

    I think the above anecdote is what disappoints me the most. I don’t know much about Bachmann or Perry, but I’m familiar with Santorum and he’s no dumb man – he wasn’t even anti-intellectual until this election season. They are flat out manipulating people and encouraging them to be stupid so that they are easier to manipulate.

  • physioprof

    Not that I think Perry is anything other than a sicke-fucke ignorant motherfucken pigge, but you are mischaracterizing Perry’s response to the question. What he is saying is that abstinence–i.e., not fuckeing–works to prevent pregnancy, which is obviously correct.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      But that’s not an answer to the question, which is whether telling kids only not to have sex is an effective policy for preventing pregnancy. Switching the subject to the obvious truth that you can avoid pregnancy by not having sex is evasive. It’s a different kind of faith position, this time a faith that the average teenager can be expected to do this or faith that adherence to this moral ideal is more important than all pragmatic considerations and compromises (and worth all the negative trade offs).

    • physioprof

      Agreed that he’s being evasive, but all politicians give evasive answers to questions when they don’t like the straightforward answer. Look, Perry is a scumbag, a liar, and in every way repugnant as a presidential candidate. But that interview clip does not provide evidence for your contention that his is “unable even to think in empiricial terms”.

      In fact, it provides evidence that he *can* think in empirical terms and understands very clearly that the empirical fact of Texas’s terrible teen pregnancy rate implies that Texas’s abstinence education program is not effective at preventing teen pregnancy. Because if he didn’t understand this, then he wouldn’t have been evasive in answering the question.

      The fact is that Perry is lying by omission. What he is omitting to reveal is the fact that the *goal* of Texas’s abstinence education program–which is all about refusing to teach kids about contraception and providing access to it–is not to prevent teen pregnancy, but rather to ensure that teens who do fucke will be as likely as possible to suffer for it.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      If he were able to think in empirical terms, he could find other facts or other ways to spin numbers when he lies. The point was he dodged even debating on empirical grounds and just insisted that this way will work even though it’s been given a chance to work and there are these numbers that show it doesn’t. He evades empirical terms altogether and dodges into faith. Now maybe you think there’s no empirical argument that can be adduced at all. But it’s not clear that he really looks at the issue at all outside the faith-based insistence that this is just the way it has to be for moral reasons.

      Ultimately, what this is is a debate about whether he’s a liar pandering to the religious or one of the deceived religious himself. Just because he’s a politician does not rule out the latter. Some people really do not know how to bend to empirical facts or engage them cogently and do start babbling about faith as a way to evade them. Otherwise, there would be no one for the manipulative politicians to prey on when they talk like Perry does.

      So, the question is whether Perry is a true believer or not. If he is, he may not really be any good at reasoning in empirical terms, he may be a dogmatic man of faith to the core, as I argued. If he is not, then okay, he’s a liar. But I don’t think the video settles it.

  • Cuttlefish

    Perry is quite capable of thinking in empirical terms when it suits him ( http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2011/08/22/turns-out-rick-perry-loves-science-after-all/ ). He is also a shrewd politician, who knows that empiricism is a powerful tool, and so it is best to use it when it suits him and ignore it when it does not. As physioprof says, he’s lying by omission.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Great link, Cuttlefish.

      It is pretty good evidence that he can think with at least a little rigor empirically in some cases at least.


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