Science deniers

Keith Stanovich is author of The Rationality Quotient and emeritus professor of applied psychology and human development at the University of Toronto. He writes:

As a political strategy, this “party of science” labelling might be effective, but epistemic superiority cannot simply be declared on the basis of a few examples. A cognitive scientist is forced to be pedantic here and rain on the progressive parade. In fact, any trained social scientist would be quick to point out the obvious selection effects that are operating. The issues in question (climate science and creationism/evolution) are cherry-picked for reasons of politics and media interest. In order to correctly call one party the party of science and the other the party of science deniers, one would of course have to have a representative sampling of scientific issues to see whether members of one party are more likely to accept scientific consensus.

In fact, it is not difficult at all to find scientific issues on which it is liberal Democrats who fail to accept the scientific consensus. Leftists become the “science deniers” in these cases. In fact, and ironically, there are enough examples to produce a book parallel to the Mooney volume cited above titled Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left (2012). To mention an example from my own field, psychology: liberals tend to deny the overwhelming consensus in psychological science that intelligence is moderately heritable.

This isn’t the only instance of left-wing science denial, though. In the area of economics, progressives are very reluctant to accept the consensus view that when proper controls for occupational choice and work history are made, women do not make more than 20 per cent less than men for doing the same work.

Progressives tend to deny or obfuscate (just as conservatives obfuscate the research on global warming) the data indicating that single-parent households lead to more behavioral problems among children. Overwhelmingly progressive university schools of education deny the strong scientific consensus that phonics-based reading instruction facilitates most readers, especially those struggling the most. Many progressives find it hard to believe that there is no bias at all in the initial hiring of women for tenure-track university positions in STEM disciplines. Progressives tend to deny the consensus view that genetically modified organisms are safe to consume. Gender feminists routinely deny biological facts about sex differences. Largely Democratic cities and university towns are at the forefront of the anti-vaccine movement which denies a scientific consensus. In the same cities and towns, people find it hard to believe that there is a strong consensus among economists that rent control causes housing shortages and a diminution in the quality of housing. [Research citations for all the above are available from the author here.]

I will stop here because the point is made. There is plenty of science denial on the Democratic side to balance the anti-scientific attitudes of Republicans toward climate change and evolutionary theory. Neither political party is the party of science, and neither party exclusively contains the science deniers. Each side of the ideological divide accepts or denies scientific consensus depending upon the issue in question. Each side finds it hard to accept scientific evidence that undermines its own ideological beliefs and policies.

Bias is difficult to see. That’s one of the reasons that toleration and a healthy pluralism so important.

Liquid modernity

Rod Dreher introduced the concept of “liquid modernity” into my life through his Benedict Option book. Dreher writes a bit about liquid modernity in light of Sen. Ben Sasse’s recent remarks:

This weekend I am at an event called The Gathering, for Christian philanthropists. …

Yesterday I heard a wonderful lunchtime address by Sen. Ben Sasse, who told the audience that the US is going through an unprecedented historic transition right now, driven by economic restructuring, technology, and other things.

“We’re entering an era for the first time in human history where people are going to hit forty to fifty [years old], where their entire skill set will cease to exist, because of technology,” he said. Sasse went on to discuss the strong challenges this new world pose to human community.

According to Sasse, social science data show that a human being needs four basic things to be happy:

  • A theological or philosophical view that explains death and suffering
  • A family
  • Close friends
  • Meaningful work (Defined as work in which people think that they’re needed. “Not, ‘Do I make a lot of money?’ but ‘When I go to work, are there actually people in the world who need what I do?”

Sasse said that technology and automation is going to rob more and more people of meaningful work — and that whether we like it or not, this is going to have tremendous impact socially and psychologically.

He also quoted some statistics showing that loneliness, isolation, and the withering of friendship in recent decades has gone up markedly.


In the years to come, he said, we will see lots of confusion as fragmented, atomized people scramble to find a “new tribe.” The senator said that Christians will have to “figure out how to revalue place and the local at a time when place and the local is evaporating for most people.”

He ended by urging the philanthropist to “invest time and treasure” figuring out how to teach people to do this, and to make it possible.

Whether the senator realized it or not, he’s talking about sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of “liquid modernity,” in which nothing is solid. The world Sen. Sasse describes is Bauman’s world.

Alright, so what does liquid modernity really mean? Here what Zygmunt Bauman thought:

Liquid Modernity is sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s term for the present condition of the world as contrasted with the “solid” modernity that preceded it. According to Bauman, the passage from “solid” to “liquid” modernity created a new and unprecedented setting for individual life pursuits, confronting individuals with a series of challenges never before encountered. Social forms and institutions no longer have enough time to solidify and cannot serve as frames of reference for human actions and long-term life plans, so individuals have to find other ways to organize their lives.

Bauman’s vision of the current world is one in which individuals must to splice together an unending series of short-term projects and episodes that don’t add up to the kind of sequence to which concepts like “career” and “progress” could be meaningfully applied. These fragmented lives require individuals to be flexible and adaptable — to be constantly ready and willing to change tactics at short notice, to abandon commitments and loyalties without regret and to pursue opportunities according to their current availability.[2]Liquid times are defined by uncertainty. In liquid modernity the individual must act, plan actions and calculate the likely gains and losses of acting (or failing to act) under conditions of endemic uncertainty.[3] The time it takes to fully consider options and make fully formed decisions has fragmented.

As society progresses, the creation of value liquefies and begins to flow unfettered. The production time it takes for value to occur declines. To survive, products and interfaces must quickly flow from spaces of high-resistance and poor usability to spaces of low resistance and user interaction. Successful interfaces induce a liquid state of flow in their users. Environments are becoming aware of relevant information, and are able to pull context-aware data into play when necessary. Devices can be small on the outside, but large on the inside.

If we’re living in a “liquid” time, that suggests that there really can be no meaningfully progressive sort of politics or mainstream social consciousness. It’s a radical idea, because it suggests that to thrive requires laying down the sort of social and physical roots that so much of the 20th century’s technology freed us from, starting with the combustion engine and automobiles and reaching its zenith with the internet.

Power alone fades

In light of Pope Francis’s and Archbishop Paglia’s dissolution of John Paul the Great’s Pontifical Institute for Marriage and Family, Ross Douthat writes:

On issues large and small, Francis has decentralized authority informally while retaining all the formal powers of his office and encouraged theological envelope-pushing without changing the official boundaries of what counts as Catholic teaching and what does not. This has effectively created two different versions of that teaching — the one on the books versus the one that the pope offers in his winks and nods — to which different Catholics can appeal. …

As a result the only Catholic certainty now is uncertainty. Under Francis the church’s teaching on communion for remarried divorcees varies from country to country and diocese to diocese, and even papal admirers can’t seem to agree on what the official Vatican position entails. The church’s teaching on suicide now varies in different parts of Canada, and since the Vatican seems to accept that variation a Belgian religious order has pushed things even further, insisting that it intends to actually carry out assisted suicide at its hospitals. (This Rome seems to regard as a bridge too far — but the Belgians are not submitting quietly.) …

It is hard to know what will come of this era’s Catholic crisis. Can the church really become Anglican, with sharply different Christian theologies coexisting permanently under a latitudinarian umbrella? Is the period of dueling inquisitions and digital militias a prelude to the sweeping liberal victory that many Catholics felt that John Paul and Benedict cruelly forestalled? Will the pendulum swing back, as Francis’s nervous allies fear, leaving his legacy to be buried by young traditionalists and a reactionary pontiff in the style of HBO’s “Young Pope”?

Faith gives some observers certain answers, but natural reason counsels doubt. Regardless, firings and cancellations and self-protective censorship will not make the conflict any less painful in the end. There is no way forward save through controversy. Postpone the inquisitions; schedule arguments instead.

I’m incredibly conflicted about Pope Francis’s actions relating to the Pontifical John Paul II Institute. I think there’s incredible promise in Amoris Laetitia, particularly on the vision of Christian accompaniment in our time, that deserves to be developed and bear fruit. But the decision to dissolve John Paul’s Pontifical Institutes and create new ones bearing John Paul’s name (but with a mission to treat Francis’s vision as the touchstone) strikes me as graceless.

Worse, raw power politics has now come tumbling out onto the public stage as a result of these actions for all to see. And as Douthat points out, it seems increasingly impossible for academics, theologians, and philosophers to have meaningful conversations surrounding the central Christian beliefs raised over the past few years without being fired, dismissed, marginalized, or called names. Pope Francis himself has engaged in name-calling and stereotyping from time to time, which seems to me to the detriment of his own authority.

Archbishop Paglia has presented the reconstitution of John Paul’s Pontifical Institutes as an “enlargement” of their purpose and his manner suggests that these changes are in harmony with Christian teaching. Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, founding president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute, said plainly last year that “only a blind man could deny there’s great confusion, uncertainty and insecurity in the Church.” Simply put, Archbishop Paglia’s words cannot be taken at face value, because the concrete result of +Paglia’s actions in this instance is explicitly the diminishment of John Paul’s teaching witness. As valuable as Amoris may be, a single teaching encyclical cannot seriously be understood to “fulfill” the entirely of John Paul’s witness. And in light of John Paul’s canonization, these are even stranger actions.

Fundamental Christian theology is at stake on the nature of Jesus Christ and his teachings, particularly relating to sex, family, marriage, and communion. As Douthat writes, now is the time for authentic dialogue and argument about these things. Along that path, alighted by charity and truth, we have a chance of walking with Christ. It seems to me that Archbishop Paglia’s actions invite rupture in Christian theology, and that Pope Francis’s refusal to treat his cardinal brothers’ questions about Amoris as worth debate does serious injury to the power of the pontifical voice.

If Amoris is meant to result in “irreversible” changes to Christian theology and pastoral practice, it can only do so through theological engagement; power alone fades.

A far better way for Amoris to be meaningfully promulgated would have been the creation of a new and parallel Pontifical Institute, with first-rate theologians, philosophers, scientists, etc. who would bring forth Amoris’s fruits. Dissolving John Paul’s Pontifical Institutes and dismissing their faculty is the sort of action that invites exactly the sort of conflict and cultural/theological war that Pope Francis seems in so many other ways to transcend for the better. At best, this was a strategic error on the part of well-intentioned reformers. At worst, it was a provocation of the sort that necessarily invites conflict.

At present, things that are sins in Philadelphia are encouraged in Milan. If this is not rupture, what is?

Church of the Nativity

National Geographic shared this incredible post the other day, and I saved it and am sharing it:

Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 4.47.00 PM.png

Photograph by @simonnorfolkstudioon assignment for an upcoming story for @natgeo … Mosaics at the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem: The Doubting of Thomas.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is the only major church in the Holy Land that survives intact from the early Christian period. The Church of the Nativity was originally commissioned in 327 by Roman emperor Constantine and his mother Helena over the cave that is still traditionally considered to be the birthplace of Jesus. The present church was built by the Emperor Justinian after the destruction of the Samaritan Revolt of 529 CE. In 614, the church had a narrow escape. A Sassanian army from Persia had invaded the Holy Land and proceeded to destroy all the churches. However, they desisted at Bethlehem because they recognised the images of their ancestors, the Magi, above the entrance to the Church.

The site is currently under restoration within an international project managed by the Palestinians through the Project Client “The Palestinian Presidential Committee for the Restoration of the Nativity Church”. Work on the mosaics is part of an estimated $19 million makeover -the building hadn’t undergone major repairs since 1479. Of the 2,000 meters of original mosaics, only 150 meters squared remains. Mosaics created 155-1169CE

The artist, Basilius, signed his name in Latin and Syriac — using tesserae. Basilius did the technical work, Aram was was the artist.

Follow @simonnorfolkstudio for updates, outtakes, unpublished and archive material.

I grew up attending weekly mass at Nativity parish in Warminster, Pennsylvania.

Walden Pond of our own natures

William Deresiewicz writes on solitude and its constellation of goods:

And losing solitude, what have they lost? First, the propensity for introspection, that examination of the self that the Puritans, and the Romantics, and the modernists (and Socrates, for that matter) placed at the center of spiritual life—of wisdom, of conduct. Thoreau called it fishing “in the Walden Pond of [our] own natures,” “bait[ing our] hooks with darkness.” Lost, too, is the related propensity for sustained reading. The Internet brought text back into a televisual world, but it brought it back on terms dictated by that world—that is, by its remapping of our attention spans. Reading now means skipping and skimming; five minutes on the same Web page is considered an eternity. This is not reading as Marilynne Robinson described it: the encounter with a second self in the silence of mental solitude.

Isolation, intimacy, and proximity remain as important now as in the past, but how actively are we constructing (and I mean physically constructing) our lives and our homes and our communities to make the “Walden Pond of our own natures” a reality? Deresiewicz asks: “What does the contemporary self want?”

Nicholas Carr’s 2009 Atlantic piece speaks to this:

If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with “content,” we will sacrifice something important not only in our selves but in our culture. In a recent essay, the playwright Richard Foreman eloquently described what’s at stake:

I come from a tradition of Western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.”

Are we going to be a people who approach the world with a sort of ruggedness and skepticism informed by an understanding of past and present of a decent depth, or will we be more like sponges, absorbing (but not necessarily processing or placing into a context) minute-to-minute information without fitting into a comprehensive vision of the world or narrative that is necessary for information to have meaning that can provide depth to life? Leon Kass answers:

No friend of humanity should trade the accumulated wisdom about human nature and human flourishing for some half-cocked promise to produce a superior human being or human society, never mind a post-human future, before he has taken the trouble to look deeply, with all the help he can get, into the matter of our humanity—what it is, why it matters, and how we can be all that we can be. …

For deep thought, we need solitude. It’s vital, because in silence we come to know ourselves.

Leisure requires thought

Jane Clark Scharl writes:

In his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture, [Joseph] Pieper writes, “In order to gain a clear notion of leisure, we must begin by setting aside the prejudice . . . that comes from overvaluing the sphere of work.” …

Leisure requires thought, particularly the kind of thought we call contemplation. This isn’t the analytical thought we apply when making difficult decisions or assessing the quality of someone’s conversation. It’s also not daydreaming. Pieper describes it as the mode of “man’s spiritual and intellectual knowledge, [which includes] an element of pure, receptive contemplation, or as Heraclitus says, of ‘listening to the essence of things.’”

Leisure is deep reflective thinking, not speculating or fantasizing, but pondering. In a world where most of us tend to relocate every few years and keep in touch via text, it is rare to have a friend with whom to contemplate. It is most probably difficult to have an occasion in which to ponder the divine if you live in a city miles from the serene, silent, open country, and your days are scheduled to the minute.

But ponder it we must, because it means turning our attention toward realities beyond work and considering different understandings of happiness, such as Aristotle’s (human flourishing in accordance with virtue), Plato’s (love of wisdom), and Christ’s (personal knowledge of God’s eternal love for us). We consider our own value differently, such as when St. Paul calls us “children of God” or St. Thomas Aquinas says the human soul is “a mover moved.” These are not ideas we can absorb quickly; we need time and space to think them through.

The pursuit of happiness is not a trivial one, and the pangs of FOMO should push us to ask hard questions about what we believe about ourselves: Where does our value come from? What do we hope will make us happy? We won’t find the answers in social media, a thrilling job opportunity, or a romantic relationship. We will, however, find them in contemplation, in a festival or a “walk in the country,” in dwelling with the divine, where we can hope to find the peace revealed to the Psalmist: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

People say “time is money” because they understand money to be the only meaningful type of value. But really, “time is value.” Thinking this way, it might be easier to recover an appreciation for the value of leisure in a work-obsessed climate.

American Christianity changes

White Christians are now a minority in America:

Christians overall remain a large majority in the U.S., at nearly 70 percent of Americans. However, white Christians, once predominant in the country’s religious life, now comprise only 43 percent of the population

The change has occurred across the spectrum of Christian traditions in the U.S., including sharp drops in membership in predominantly white mainline Protestant denominations…

About 17 percent of Americans now identify as white evangelical, compared to 23 percent a decade ago, according to the survey.

The survey also found that more than a third of all Republicans say they are white evangelicals, and nearly three-quarter identify as white Christians. By comparison, white Christians have become a minority in the Democratic Party, shrinking from 50 percent a decade ago, to 29 percent now. Forty percent of Democrats say they have no religious affiliation.

Among American Catholics, 55 percent now identify as white, compared to 87 percent 25 years ago, amid the growing presence of Latino Catholics, according to the report. Over the last decade, the share of white Catholics in the U.S. population dropped from 16 percent to 11 percent. Over the same period, white mainline Protestants declined from 18 percent to 13 percent of all Americans.

These are incredible changes in an America that has been historically white, and particularly whose identity has been so bound up in the Calvinist/Protestant work ethic. I might live to see Christians become a minority in America. As a white Catholic American, I’ll certainly live to become a minority. Archbishop Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land becomes more apropos.