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Are Catholics Scientists?

Further thoughts on the Marco Rubio/Young Earth Creationism foofarah (my earlier comments are here)…

1. I devoutly wish that Republicans and conservative fellow travelers who believe that it is perfectly orthodox to accept the scientifically justified narrative on the origins of humankind and the universe, and still believe in God, would start speaking up. There are lots of us. We need to be heard. Silence only feeds the narrative of secular liberals who wish to believe that religious belief is incompatible with science, and of religious fundamentalists who wish to believe the same thing, for different reasons. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, one in three Americans believe that human beings in some sense evolved, but that God directed it. A bit less than half of Americans believe in creationism, while 15 percent believe God had nothing to do with it. There is no majority view on this, but 33 percent believing in theistic evolution is a heck of a lot of people.

2. Whenever a partisan says, “We should trust science” as a guide to how politicians should vote, I want to say: “Oh? Should we have trusted science 100 years ago, when the scientific consensus favored eugenics?” As I’ve written here in the past, one of the best lectures I ever heard was Dame Gillian Beer’s presentation at Cambridge University several years ago in which she discussed how various factions in Victorian England took up Darwin’s findings as support for their political cause. Abolitionists said that science clearly showed that we were all brothers under the skin, and slavery should end. Imperialists said that science made obvious that some races were fit to dominate others. And so forth. Science holds authority today that the Church did in ages past, and can be invoked to support good causes and bad.

I am quite certain that if Science were able to demonstrate conclusively that there are measurable differences in cognitive abilities between the races, that no liberal would support making public policy on the basis of this research. And you know what? Neither would I. Science cannot be the final arbiter in deciding what is right and what is wrong. It is an important source of knowledge, but to say that it is the exclusive source of knowledge in all things is scientism, which is a form of idolatry.

3. I don’t buy this idea that a politician who admits to believing in Young Earth Creationism, or at least won’t rule out the possibility that it’s true, is not to be trusted with elected office, on the basis that anybody who won’t believe Science can’t be trusted in anything. Very few people actually believe this, no matter what they say when somebody like Marco Rubio indicates that he might believe the earth is 7,000 years old. If they were consistent in applying this belief, they could never vote for a believing Catholic. After all, Catholics who take their faith seriously believe that when certain men pronounce particular words over bread and wine, in a certain context, that bread and wine mysteriously become the body and blood of a 2,000 year old Palestinian Jew who was God incarnate, and remains so even though all scientific evidence confirms that it is nothing more than bread and wine. Can a person who refuses to believe the verdict of science in this matter really be trusted to have sound judgment on anything else? After all, it takes a geologist to tell us that the Earth is older than 7,000 years, but anybody who receives communion in a Catholic parish on Sunday can tell he is eating bread and drinking wine.

And yet, people who do not believe in God vote for Catholics all the time. Ask Catholic Joe Biden if he believes that the Eucharist becomes in some real, not just symbolic, sense the body and blood of Jesus Christ. He might say yes, or at most he’ll equivocate, a la Rubio on Young Earth Creationism. Despite this, tens of millions of secular liberals and liberal religious believers voted for such an anti-science troglodyte to continue on a mere one heartbeat away from the presidency.

Liberals compartmentalize all the time; if they didn’t, and if they applied a strict pro-science litmus test to their votes, they would never be able to vote for a believing Catholic, and probably not for any believing Jew, Protestant, or Muslim. Everybody compartmentalizes — even conservative politicians who believe in something as unsupportable as Young Earth Creationism, but whose judgment can certainly be sound on other issues. It depends.

William Jennings Bryan was wrong on evolution, but he was a tremendous progressive on economic matters back in this time. You’re really telling me you would have voted against him for president on the Darwin issue (had his position been known at the time), and voted in favor of William McKinley, the candidate of big finance, because Bryan was “anti-science”? Come on. I know the issue is hypothetical, because Bryan didn’t get involved in the Scopes monkey trial until decades later, and besides, McKinley surely believed as Bryan did too. Still, my point remains.

This is why I believe that gotcha questions about creationism and evolution, when asked of national politicians (versus state and local politicians who actually have the power to enforce school standards), are really about social sorting and status.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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