Faith v. Science – A Take on the Red-State/ Blue State Divisions

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.” Many conservative commentators are fond of using the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s quote to chastise liberals for alleged fallacious arguments.  I would caution them to be mindful of another oft-used proverb; “it is like the pot calling the kettle black.”  While I could list countless examples of conservative voters relying upon erroneous assumptions (the high percentage of Bush voters who continue to believe in Hussein’s WMDs and that Iraq participated in the 9/11 attacks come easily to mind), I wish to focus on another “fact” which is dear to many Evangelical Christians.  Since the 1980s, Evangelical Christians have been credited with assuring victories for conservative candidates in five of the seven presidential elections. Emboldened by these successes, evangelicals are seeking to flex their political muscle (to spend their political capital) and once again advance the claim that ‘creationism’ stands on equal, if not firmer, scientific ground than does evolution.  These individuals accept as fact a literal reading of the creation story told in the Book of Genesis.  These people are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts.  It is fact that the earth is billions of years old, not thousands.  It is a fact that earth was not created in six earth days (which in and of itself, is a rather circular reference, because what is an earth day, before the earth was created).  A literal reading of the Adam and Eve story is not supportable.  These are facts and school children, are entitled to the facts, not to a Taliban style conservative religious indoctrination.  


I do not discount the sincerity of the evangelicals’ beliefs; I do, however, disagree with their attempt to force their faith upon the rest of the nation.  I am a Christian.  I believe that God created the earth; I believe that the Book of Genesis is divinely inspired and does relate certain truths.  I, however, do not believe that it imparts a scientific statement of creation.  I liken it to a common answer a parent gives his or her five-year-old child to the age-old question, “where do babies come from?”  Few parents will respond with a detailed discussion of reproductive biology, vivid descriptions of sexual acts, and even fewer will delve into the complex nature of cellular division. A five years old does not need to hear details of sexual acts and most probably could not understand them if told.  Most such parents see the question as calling for something else and will reassure the child that he or she was born out of love, was terribly wanted and is extraordinarily special.  This is what the child wants to know and needs to hear.  God, as a parent, knew what the people of Israel needed to hear, and I believe that Genesis tells that story.  As with the parent’s story, Genesis is spiritually correct, emotionally correct and an honest statement of what the faithful needed to be told and what they could understand at the time. It is not however, a statement of scientific fact, anymore than is a claim that babies are brought by storks.


My views of Genesis are just that, my views, my opinions.  I am entitled to them, but I am not entitled to impose them upon others of any faith, or of no faith. Nor are the Evangelicals similarly entitled.  The genius of our Constitution is that is that it separates the public sphere from that of the religious.  As we go forward, we must be ever mindful of this original intent of the framers.  I suspect that on Election Night in 2008, I will watch the electoral map light up much (if not exactly, as it did in 2004.  Then as I watched the blue and red states light up on the national map, I realized that we are two Americas, not the rich versus the middle class as John Edwards argued, not even the religious versus the secular as the media now claims, but rather one America that is comprised of people of faith and without faith who accept science and a second America of people who chose do disregard science.  As much as I would like to pretend otherwise this division is also a fact, and as I stated earlier I am not entitled to my own facts, but must rather accept this.  The question I ask myself is where do we go from here.  This requires that I recognize other facts – I am not going to be able to convince the Evangelicals that they are wrong, nor are they going to convert me.  Sadly this division will be with us for a very long time. If not checked this division will, if not literally, figuratively tear this nation apart.  We have learned that the Evangelicals will vote against their economic interest to advance their cultural aims.  I must admit that I will do the same.  Both red voters and blue voters now see that economy and even the Iraqi war are less important than what has been dubbed the “culture war.”  Neither side is prepared to give in.  This is a recipe for disaster.  One, which I fear, may come unless something changes.


Accepting these facts leads me to a single conclusion. The problem is that the two Americas each are, at the core of their existence, operating not with merely different philosophies or opinions based upon interpretation of the facts, but rather each America begins its analysis of the world situation with different facts.  At this point it useful ask the question, “what is a “fact.”  The Oxford English Dictionary defines “fact” as


[s]omething that has really occurred or is actually the case; something certainly known to be of this character; hence, a particular truth known by actual observation or authentic testimony, as opposed to what is merely inferred, or to a conjecture or fiction; a datum of experience, as distinguished from the conclusions that may be based upon it.

Facts therefore are the foundation of all discussion.  They form the basis from which opinions are formed, arguments made and conclusions reached.  Two people who agree upon the facts can, and often do, draw different conclusions, but they can talk and listen.  People who disagree upon the facts can only pull their hair out and see the other as misguided or worse.  Those of us who accept the scientific model derive our facts from observation, from inspection, from the scientific method.  We may be liberal or conservative, but we operate with a basic set of facts from which we proceed to argue.  Our disagreements may be heated, but they are capable of resolution and compromise.  Even when we loose an argument (or an election) with another possessing this worldview, we can admit defeat and go on to fight another day.  Similarly those whose worldview leads them to factual determinations based upon the revealed truth of the Bible can also, within their ranks, engage in meaningful discussion and argument.  Within each group Senator Moynihan was correct.  The problem arises, however, that the two groups cannot argue rationally with each other; they cannot compromise on issues if they cannot agree upon the facts. Between the two groups, however, there can be no meaningful discussion.  On a host of issues, this is where we find ourselves.  While we may not be entitled to our own facts, but we have them.


I wish that I could state as fact that I knew the solution; I cannot, but I do have an opinion. Many on the left will cringe when I mention my proposed solution, but I ask them to hear me out.  States’ Rights – yes the battle cry of the segregationist right in years past.  I propose that it is in the 10th Amendment that we find our uneasy peace. Since its inception, this nation has been divided, over slavery and race relations, over agrarian and industrial ways of live, over religion, over immigration over countless issues, there have always been two Americas.  The framers recognized this and provided for it.  They created and guaranteed a federal system of government, with State and local governments regulating the overwhelming majority of issues.  On most questions, South Carolina could go its way while Vermont went its.  Under the original framers’ intent it would be the states that dealt with marriage, education, most criminal law, torts and the countless other matters which preoccupy our daily lives.  The national government was to focus solely on a short list of truly national concerns, war/peace, international relations, the currency etc.  If we are to live together we should return to this principal.  Let Massachusetts legalize gay marriage, let California conduct stem-cell research, let other states take contrary views and get these arguments out of the national debate. These issues must be left totally to the states.  Those like myself can live happily in the Northeast and the Evangelicals can do likewise in Kansas and Oklahoma.  This is not an ideal solution and will require blue voters in red states, and visa-versa, to endure local governments making policies with which they disagree.  But it will maintain the peace and allow our future national elections to focus solely on national issues, such as the war and international policy. 


Thus, you may ask as I really writing on the “No” or the “Yes” side of this debate.  Maybe you will think me a bit like Hillary Clinton (speaking on driver’s licenses for undocumented aliens) but I will say that while I am strongly opposed to the teaching of creationism, I believe that it should be a local issue and believe in the end that those schools who teach science will, in the end, win out as it will be they that are able to better prepare our youth for the world they live in and the marketplace of ideas will force the correct choice.  In the mean time each of us needs to focus on more important issues.




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