Monday, September 08, 2008

It's probably good that I don't venture into timely political ramblings very often

Like Mark Shea, I was primed to vote for a third party candidate. I tend to vote Republican these days, but it felt like the time was right to step back and find a third party candidate who better represented my political views, rather than voting for the one out of the two frontrunners who just seemed a little less unrepresentative than the other. I haven't followed McCain's campaign or the associated issues terribly closely, so I didn't develop quite the personally skeptical view of the GOP nominee that Mark has, but I thought it would be as good a time as any to make a sort of implicit vote of no confidence in the GOP. Maybe in the long run, failing to win on an attempted moralist platform against a candidate who wants to ride the fumes of electoral symbolism into utopia is just the wake-up call the GOP needs.

Then McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate.

I started thinking that these incremental but largely unfruited steps toward ending abortion might come a little more quickly with a serious pro-lifer in the White House. I'm not pleased that ending abortion is like turning back the tide, but I'll prefer being thrown a bone in the Supreme Court or someplace on rare occasions to having a real crusader for life never win and hardly even inspire his competitors.

I think McCain-Palin, out of the two teams that have a reasonable chance at the presidency, is the better one. Policies aside, McCain has some leadership experience from his time as a military officer, and Palin actually has more executive experience than Obama. They'd all be new enough to the job that it's anybody's speculation how they'll handle whatever the world abroad and at home throws at them in the next four to eight years, so I'm not sure it's really worthwhile to worry about things that the candidates haven't had to deal with or comment on during the courses of their current jobs. I'm still on the fence about some of the other issues that get dredged up from the candidates' personal and professional histories in order to show inconsistency in their current platforms, but that's always the case, and I've seen more politicians change their minds on their less environmentally protective policies than I have on their less child protective policies after hitting the national stage, so if you're keeping score, add that in.

There are a few other issues on each side that I don't want to get into right now, but suffice it to say things were looking as well as I could expect until I heard that McCain and Palin don't have a problem with intelligent design and think it would be a good idea to have it taught alongside the traditional stuff.

I'm not trying to put a national science curriculum on par with life issues, mind you; the preceding was just so that we may take the life issues as read.

All right, I can't resist one parallel.

We've got another case of "compromise by concession" here. We see it in the abortion debate not infrequently; the pro-choice side, attempting to leverage the label, claims tolerance of women who choose not to abort, and ask why pro-lifers can't extend the same courtesy; the problem is that in trying to split the difference, we still have abortion, which satisfies the pro-choicers, and merely a strong prevent-things-leading-to-abortion-except-the-fact-that-it's-wrong program, which pro-choicers still consider a good thing; meanwhile, pro-lifers get nothing but blame for being too focused on the real root problem (disdain for the dignity of unborn children, and all too often their mothers), and not enough on the superficial root problem (mothers who fall back on abortion because it's easier than giving birth and everything associated with that). It's not all bad; something isn't good or evil based on quantity, but it can be better or worse if there's more or less of it. It's just that one side gets closer to its ideal society, and the other side has to put up with being a stick in the mud for not settling for half a morality.

What's this have to do with science?

ID, I will remind you, doesn't.

There's no place for it in science. ID might even be true--as a theist I will never deny that what exists came to be through the action of an intelligent, powerful entity--but it's not science. Science is about gathering empirical data and repeatability in testing phenomena. The goal is to accurately, to reliably, describe nature. Intelligent design offers no theories that can be proven, makes no claims that can be properly tested and disproven. All it does is point to inadequacies in the state of the art and make an argument from incredulity. It's a parasite on science--it has nothing itself to offer except what it borrows from philosophy or steals from physics and biology.

In good science, the limits of our understanding are openly admitted (if not always with the most sincerity by enthusiastic researchers). In bad science, one is told either "what you cannot measure cannot exist," or more germanely, "science isn't up to the task of answering these questions," even though in some cases it only might not be yet, "so here's something else you can call science to explain what science can't."

If I were a science teacher required to cover ID, all you'd get out of me is "Okay, we don't have all the chemical kinetics down to explain the apparent rate of mutation and speciation; ID draws a black box around this puzzle and calls it God, or at least an Architect; this is a God-of-the-gaps argument, and advances in science on fronts X, Y, and Z would leave ID without a leg to stand on."

I don't mean to rehash the entire ID thing any more than I meant to beat the dead coach team of abortion and prudent voting. Let's take my concerns on the public school curriculum as read, as well, shall we?

I'm kind of back to holding my nose and punching the chads with R's next to them. In eight years Bush hasn't done a lot to compromise biology and astronomy programs in this country, so I can hope that the next four or eight years wouldn't be any worse.

While I hold out that hope, though, should I expect something different with abortion? With ID, opposition was fierce enough that it just couldn't get much traction; the pro-life movement wasn't in much of a different situation.

So here I am, hoping that the pro-life movement will be advanced in the coming decade, at the grassroots level if not at the Supreme Court, while hoping that whatever salient power the White House has in influencing the national science curriculum isn't used to bring about political compromise in the classroom--and I haven't even gotten to global warming.

It's hard to hope that a brilliant political gesture from a candidate is more than just a gesture, and that another political gesture from the same candidate is nothing more than a gesture. That's the essence of trying to make a prudential judgment, I suppose.

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