Marco Rubio and the media’s curiously inconsistent approach to science

YouTube Preview ImageI wonder if any of our readers have read Thomas Nagel’s new book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. I’ve been reading the reviews and they’re fascinating. The New Republic review says Nagel, a devout atheist, has “performed an important service with his withering critical examination of some of the most common and oppressive dogmas of our age.”

From Alvin Plantinga’s review “Why Darwinist Materialism Is Wrong” in The New Republic:

ACCORDING TO a semi-established consensus among the intellectual elite in the West, there is no such person as God or any other supernatural being. Life on our planet arose by way of ill-understood but completely naturalistic processes involving only the working of natural law. Given life, natural selection has taken over, and produced all the enormous variety that we find in the living world. Human beings, like the rest of the world, are material objects through and through; they have no soul or ego or self of any immaterial sort. At bottom, what there is in our world are the elementary particles described in physics, together with things composed of these particles.

I say that this is a semi-established consensus, but of course there are some people, scientists and others, who disagree. There are also agnostics, who hold no opinion one way or the other on one or another of the above theses. And there are variations on the above themes, and also halfway houses of one sort or another. Still, by and large those are the views of academics and intellectuals in America now. Call this constellation of views scientific naturalism—or don’t call it that, since there is nothing particularly scientific about it, except that those who champion it tend to wrap themselves in science like a politician in the flag. By any name, however, we could call it the orthodoxy of the academy—or if not the orthodoxy, certainly the majority opinion.

The eminent philosopher Thomas Nagel would call it something else: an idol of the academic tribe, perhaps, or a sacred cow: “I find this view antecedently unbelievable—a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense. … I would be willing to bet that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a generation or two.” Nagel is an atheist; even so, however, he does not accept the above consensus, which he calls materialist naturalism; far from it. His important new book is a brief but powerful assault on materialist naturalism.

But it was another review of the book, which was also quite favorable to it, that really surprised me. I’ll just give the beginning and closing words from the review in The New Statesman:

Thomas Nagel is widely recognised as one of the most important analytical philosophers of his generation. In both the philosophy of mind and moral philosophy, he has produced pioneering and influential work. This book inherits many of the virtues of that work. It is beautifully lucid, civilised, modest in tone and courageous in its scope…

But I regret the appearance of this book. It will only bring comfort to creationists and fans of “intelligent design”, who will not be too bothered about the difference between their divine architect and Nagel’s natural providence. It will give ammunition to those triumphalist scientists who pronounce that philosophy is best pensioned off. If there were a philosophical Vatican, the book would be a good candidate for going on to the Index.

Yes, the worst sin isn’t even supposing that a prevailing view might be questioned but, rather, giving comfort to creationists. Dunh dunh dunh!

But that’s the media environment we’re in (this is straight up Kellerian philosophy that the New Statesman reviewer Simon Blackburn offered).

I thought of all this when reading the response the mainstream media had to an interview Marco Rubio gave to GQ. In only the second paragraph we get this prophetic bit from reporter Michael Hainey:

Rubio smiles a lot and likes to put people at ease. But he also speaks with the restraint of a guy who knows everything he says will be parsed and, most likely, used against him. “I’ve learned the hard way,” he says. “You have to always be thinking how your actions today will be viewed at a later date.”

You don’t say. I mean, this is obvious. You can’t have had a pulse for the last few years (much less the decades prior to that) and not have noticed that some politicians have to be particularly careful in dealing with the media. There’s a certain freedom that politicians on the left have in dealing with the media that politicians on the right don’t have. When was the last time you heard a pro-choice politician asked why he thought it should be legal to kill an unborn child just because she’s female. Never? That is correct. (Which is just astounding!) When was the last time you heard a pro-life politician asked about exceptions for rape? An hour ago? Probably.

The GQ interview is wide ranging, if by wide ranging you mean questions about Rubio’s favorite Afrika Bambaataa songs, his three favorite rap songs, whether there is a song he plays to psych himself up before a vote in the Senate and whether Pitbull is too cheesy. It’s obviously incredibly fluffy.

Here are two questions asked from the middle of the interview (in order):

GQ: You were obviously very moved by your grandfather’s dignity and your father’s dignity. What are the qualities that would qualify for a man to have dignity?

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

What the what?

Rubio gives a fairly standard political answer:

Marco Rubio: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

Oh no he did-unt!

Then a bunch of media outlets all lined up to freak out. This smugtastic Slate piece, which had to run a correction about whether sociology, linguistics, anthropology, and other sciences indicate that the Earth is billions of years old, was definitely my favorite.

I guess my problem with the whole scenario is that I don’t trust the media here. It’s not like we have a media where we see routinely tough questions asked about science as it relates to human life and dignity. You remember all of the outrage over opposition to stem cell research that destroys human embryos, don’t you? The cover stories, the factually inaccurate pieces condemning ethicists as anti-science? I do. Why don’t we see the same deluge of stories about embryonic stem cell research now? Do you have any ideas? Is it because embryonic stem cell research kind of turned out to be a bust whereas stem cell research that doesn’t destroy embryos is going gangbusters?

We don’t have a media that questions all sorts of scientifically questionable thinking so long as it comports with a particular agenda.

Instead we have a group of people who have very unscientific ideas about when human life begins (or, at the very least, never even have the thought of asking that question to politicians who support abortion on demand) act outraged.

You know who was the last “journalist” to ask President Barack Obama when he believes human life begins? It was that Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Warren. Do you remember Obama’s response? At the Telegraph: Tim Stanley has thoughts on this:

More importantly, if it’s okay for Barack Obama to say that abortion is “above my paygrade” and refuse to offer a guess as to when life begins, why is it not okay for Rubio to dodge a bullet when asked a question about the origins of the Earth? Considering that the question posed to Obama back in the 2008 election had serious moral consequences and Rubio’s does not, I can’t understand why Obama’s evasion is heralded as a victory for common sense but Rubio’s is treated like a declaration of war on science. The hysteria and hypocrisy are tiring at best.

I don’t care when the world began and I don’t care if my elected officials know either. I’m far too worried about a stagnating US economy and its spiralling debt. And yet, in these strange and worrying times, how “sciency” someone is seems to have become a litmus test for office – regardless of where they stand on the things that they can actually do something about.

It’s the miserable philosophy of a materialist liberalism gone mad – a systematised worldview that prefers to wallow in inconsequential data rather than explore profound questions about life and death. Note to the mainstream media: abortion is a more important issue than the age of the Earth. It personally affects a lot more people.

The hysteria and hypocrisy are getting to me, too. I find the whole thing ridiculous.

Note: I’m sure we all have our own political, theological and scientific responses to Rubio’s comments. I know I do. But while there are many places on the internet to express those views, this site is reserved for a discussion of media coverage. Please keep comments focused on media coverage, which still gives us a lot of room to have fun.


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