In my last post, I began to explore the place and need for religion and faith in our society and in our unconscious minds. I define religious faith as a shared belief system which is not supported by any available facts. The belief in Intelligent Design, for example, does not have to be rooted in any particular religion, but is clearly a religious belief; ie, there is no way currently to test the hypothesis. In contrast, the Theory of Evolution does lend itself to making and testing various hypotheses and has been supported by a large volume of evidence over the years. Again, whether one believes in Evolution or not, the salient point is that Evolution allows for the generation of testable hypotheses. If it did not allow for such, it would be faith, not science. Of course, all of the observations of Evolutionary theory can be explained by Intelligent Design, but there would be no way to test their hypotheses.
I have come under some attack in the last year or two when I have talked about Liberalism and the left as overlapping and inhabiting the core of the Democratic Party. I recognize that I have not clearly defined what I mean by "liberal" or "left" and one should be reticent about relying on "conventional wisdom" for one's definitions, however, I do think the terms are adequate short hand for a certain political stance. [A future post might profitably look at what exactly are the core philosophical tenets of modern American and European Liberalism and Leftism. I welcome any suggestions in this area, especially from my liberal friends.] Without going into a long exposition of Liberalism, I would like to look more closely at the clash between two of the foundation stones of the American left and determine whether these ideas are based on rationality or faith.
I would suggest that most on the left consider themselves to be Secular Humanists. They firmly believe in Evolution, strict separation of church and state, Affirmative Action, Government aid to level the playing field and lift up those who are unable to succeed in the Capitalist System (aka "victims"), and freedom of Speech when it doesn't clash with the Rights of minorities who might be injured by such speech, and that War is almost never justified and can only be conducted under the auspices of an International Coalition (the UN). There is of course more to this, it is not meant to be an exhaustive list, and quite obviously, not every Democrat, Liberal, or Leftist agrees with all of the above. I would further submit that the ultimate arbiter of the Liberal position is the paper of record, the New York Times. This is instructive.
On Sunday, the Times chimed in on the Lawrence Summers kerfuffle. I rarely read the Times anymore, finding them all too predictable and unable to simply report the news without introducing their particular bias to the reports, however, I was at a friend's home and there was the Sunday Times and I took a look at the Op-Ed page. Here is an excerpt:
All of which, of course, takes us to Lawrence Summers and his china-smashing remarks on gender and academia. Back in January, the president of Harvard shared his thoughts on why so few women get tenure at the best schools at a conference on "Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce." His conclusion - couched in many assurances that the jury was still out - was that female scientists are distracted by the demands of family, and that "there are issues of intrinsic aptitude."
Dr. Summers told his audience that he wanted to be controversial, and if that's so he must be extremely gratified by the results. Several apologies and clarifications later, Harvard now has two brand-new task forces on recruitment of women and a restive faculty that seems to be teetering on the verge of revolt. Last week's release of the long-sought transcript of his remarks is not likely to improve things much. Dr. Summers compared the shortage of female scientists at the highest ranks of academia to, among other things, the shortage of Jewish farmers, and white men in the National Basketball Association. (Coming soon: Female Biologists Can't Jump.)
As always, it is best to take a look and read the while thing here. (It does require registration). Since the full transcript of his remarks are available in many places, including from Harvard here it is worthwhile wondering how the Editors of the Times arrived at their rather dismissive and supercilious conclusions. If they read the entire transcript, they would have understood that the point of the talk was to raise uncomfortable questions about whether or not inherent attributes of men and women were involved in the relative paucity of women in the sciences. This is not a terribly controversial point of view outside of Academia and such bastions of liberal thinking as the New York Times. Only people as bright and talented as Professors and Newspaper editors could convince themselves there are no innate differences between men and women. Since there is a growing body of data supporting the fact that men and women's brains are wired differently in some fundamental areas, it is hard to see how the question Summers raised could be so distressing. Yale at Horsefeathers offers a brief description of some of the factors that influence personality and development (italics mine):
Anyone familiar with the relevant scientific data having to do with personality formation, which includes choice of profession and the complex behavioral phenomena associated with it, will understand that such processes entail a large array of influences from genetic, developmental, experiential, and later, educational, and social spheres. No one set of influences is determinative and it is clear that they impact differentially on males and females from conception on. There is, of course, much overlapping in function between males and females, and between one person and another, since the species shares the same genome, more or less. But there are unique and individual differences between human beings and between males and females. There can be no such thing as biological equality or indentical-ness between people, not even in the case of identical twins. Unfortunately, the feminist myth of equality of the sexes is a hopeless fantasy and one of the major follies of post-modern life.
Notice the reference to the "feminist myth of equality of the sexes." Arnold Kling, in a post at Tech Central Station writes on "Ego, Testosterone, and the Academy: Why the Controversy Over Larry Summers is Important." He points out that for much of Academia, the idea that the lack of women in the sciences may have some biological determinants is a forbidden idea. It is such a threatening thought that even to raise the question is dangerous. He relates a story from his daughter's college experience:
At the University of Maryland, my oldest daughter, Rachel, took a class in which one test included a question in which she was asked to respond to the statement "Gender is socially determined." This was given, not as an essay question, but as a machine-graded true-false choice. Having read the textbook for the class, Rachel knew that the machine would treat "true" as the correct answer. She herself believes that the answer is something other than "true." Perhaps, if given an opportunity, she could have written a thoughtful, balanced essay on the topic. Evidently, however, her professor does not have a sufficiently open mind to be willing to face such an essay.
The question facing Lawrence Summers as he gave his talk was, "True or false: the explanation for the high ratio of males to females in physics, math, and engineering at universities like Harvard is cumulative sex discrimination." Evidently, the textbook answer is "true." Instead, Summers gave a thoughtful, balanced essay answer that was something other than "true." For that, many modern academics, including some smug critics at MIT and other prestigious institutions, believe he deserves a bad grade. Shame on the critics. Praise to his defenders.
When people refuse to even allow a question to be asked, they are no longer in the realm of reason but have entered the halls of religion.
In effect, the meme suggests that there are no inherent differences (Nature) between men and women and all differences in outcome can be attributed to social influences (Nurture). If you have any doubts that this is a religious belief rather than a fact based opinion, do the following thought experiment. Imagine yourself in a room full of Homosexual activists. Imagine yourself giving a talk in which you suggest that Homosexuality is the outcome of a complex interaction between a child's inherent constitutional make up (Nature), including the structure of his brain, and his emotional development in relation to his early childhood and parenting experiences (Nurture). The idea that Homosexuality is genetic (any time you read that something is "genetic" take it with a large grain of salt; as I once read, genes encode for proteins, not behavior) is a "given", scarcely more open to discussion than the idea that women and men are not equal.
I would suggest that a great many of the core beliefs of the Liberals and the Left are no longer supported by the data available to us in laboratories or in nature (history). Liberalism has become a religious philosophy.