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Friday, June 20, 2014

Recommended read from Reason vs. the right: Have conservatives abandoned science and rationality?

"The recent reboot of the show Cosmos on Fox further demonstrated how partisan the very idea of science and empiricism has become. The show, which features astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson taking over the host role from the original’s Carl Sagan, was aggressive in defending science, curiosity, and following the evidence from people who would rather rely on faith or authority, but it took no partisan positions. Nonetheless, it was immediately understood by Americans both left and right as a “liberal” show, merely for its strong insistence that facts should not be ignored in favor of wishful thinking.

Even though the show was hosted on the Fox network channel, Fox News, the conservative cable channel, did not hold back in the slightest from attacking Tyson for perceived liberalism. In a shockingly racist segment, host Greg Gutfeld and guest Gavin McInnes dogged relentlessly on Tyson, insinuating that he can’t really be an astrophysicist and making fun of “white liberals” for being enthusiastic about Tyson and his work. It only grew uglier with McInnes claiming that Tyson deserved to be mistreated based on his race when he was young because he “fit the profile” by having “a huge afro.”

While that was the ugliest example of race-baiting, overall conservative media had a tendency to treat Cosmos like its insistence on empiricism and rationality was inherently a culture war issue, so much so that many Christian conservative media outlets attacked every episode in the series with fervor. It wasn’t just when it came to Tyson’s acceptance of evolutionary theory, either. Christian conservatives threw a fit because the show told the story of how Giordano Bruno, a 16th century monk, was burned at the stake for free-thinking. Even though the story fit directly into the larger argument the show made about the dangers of repressing free inquiry, Jay Richards of the Discovery Institute felt that criticizing the church for torturing a man to death should be off-limits because the man in question was a monk, not a scientist.

Or, even more hilariously, when Tyson mentioned in passing on the show that Christmas was established by the church not because it’s actually Jesus’s birthday but because the church needed a holiday to compete with the popular pagan Saturnalia, Richards completely exploded in rage and denial. “We learn that the holiday celebrated by a couple billion Christians is really a camouflaged take-over of Saturnalia, the High Holy Day when ancient Romans celebrated Saturn, the god of agriculture,” he whined. The only problem is that when Christmas was established, Christianity wasn’t a religion with two billion followers. It was an upstart faith and Saturnalia was, in fact, one of the hands-down most popular days of the year for the followers of the pagan faiths that had been dominate for thousands of years. None of this requires math to understand, but now the right has gone so anti-evidence that even boring old history is considered up for debate."

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