September 28, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Darwinists Root for Obama

Ministers in churches are not allowed to promote political candidates, even though they do not take government money.1  Scientists, who often do take federal money in the form of grants, openly take positions on the presidential candidates they feel will further their interests.  Is this proper?
    Both Nature and Science this week did extensive reporting on the presidential and vice-presidential candidates.  While the magazines and the organizations behind them do not receive tax money directly, they act as the leading voices of scientists who are largely supported by grants, and thus they stand to profit directly from the level of funding a President supports.  Nature’s editorial bluntly stated, “The most worrying thing about a McCain presidency is not so much a President McCain as a Vice-President Palin.”  Their concern was over her opposition to embryonic stem-cell research, and the claim that “She is a creationist” (but see Evolution News).  In fact, Nature went out of its way to point out the differences between Obama and McCain on the issue of intelligent design, quoting Obama’s answer with apparent satisfaction:

I believe in evolution, and I support the strong consensus of the scientific community that evolution is scientifically validated.  I do not believe it is helpful to our students to cloud discussions of science with non-scientific theories like intelligent design that are not subject to experimental scrutiny.

This was contrasted with McCain’s stance quoted in absentia that “I believe in evolution.  But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also.”
    Nature also voiced a strong partisan stance in its lead editorial:

McCain has courageously bucked his party’s more parochial viewpoints in the past, as when he fought for a cap-and-trade system long before it was politically popular.  But his selection of Palin as a running mate suggests a new-found willingness to pander to his party’s far-right wing.

Science Now proudly published a list of Nobel prize winners who support Obama and noted his strong commitment to science funding, while pointing out McCain’s apparent lack of specificity about spending for science.  Other subtle biases could be found, such as Nature’s diagram of seven smiling science advisers for Obama, compared to five frowning science advisers for McCain.  Science quoted an anonymous academic lobbyist without providing a comeback: “Obama has thousands of advisers, and McCain has two guys and a dog.”  This begs the question that more is better.  Even if the numbers were true, two wise advisers might be preferable to a thousand self-serving lobbyists.  No such slurs were applied to Obama, who instead was praised for his promises to double science funding.  McCain only got some faint praise for indications he might end “the Bush Administration’s war on science.”  No mention was made that taxpayers foot the bill and might have an opinion about how their money is spent.  In fact, the word “tax” was nowhere to be found in Jeffrey Mervis’s report in Science that began, “When it comes to soliciting scientific advice, Barack Obama welcomes a cast of thousands, whereas John McCain plays it close to the vest.”
    Perhaps the most blatant insertion of anti-religious philosophy into presidential politics was a book review in Nature by Jerry Coyne (U Chicago).  Nature had invited several scientists to recommend books on science for the candidates to read.  Here was Coyne’s recommendation:

There is a crisis in scientific literacy in the United States: only 25% of Americans accept our evolution from ape-like ancestors, yet 74% believe in angels.  Republicans make it worse by proposing that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public-school science classes.  Anyone aspiring to be president should have a basic acquaintance with evolution and with the masses of evidence that it’s not just a theory, but a fact.  Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species comes to mind, but it is outdated and written in turgid Victorian prose that is uncongenial to modern readers.  Future US leaders should read a short, popular work that lays out the evidence for evolution and dispels the spectres of creationism and intelligent design without dwelling on religion.  Sadly, no book fills this niche.  My attempt, Why Evolution is True (Viking, 2009), will be published only after the election.  Until then, I suggest Richard Dawkins’s brilliant exposition of natural selection.  If a presidential candidate doesn’t accept evolution after reading this book, there is no hope.

In the same series, Kevin Padian (UC Berkeley) recommended a book that compared George Bush’s science policies to those of Stalin’s favored scientist, the charlatan Trofim Lysenko.  Speaking of McCain, Padian said, “His record on some science issues has been good, but his recent opinions, from energy to creationism in schools, have been drifting towards those of Bush.”  This seems to imply he thinks McCain’s opinions are drifting towards those of Stalin.  Lysenko had promoted pseudoscientific farming policies that resulted in famines that killed millions of people in Russia and China.  Padian failed to mention that Lysenko’s policies stemmed not from religion, but from his Lamarckian views of evolution (which Stalin felt were concordant with communist philosophy).
    It appears that scientific societies have no qualms about voicing their views on presidential politics.  Their views tend to be overtly pro-liberal, pro-Democrat, anti-conservative, and anti-Republican.  It’s noteworthy that they do not hesitate to apply the label “far right” to Republicans, but never apply the opposite phrase “far left” to Democrats.
    Many pastors, though, especially conservatives, seem to feel it is somehow illegal to mention the name of a candidate from the pulpit.  They fear it violates some supposed principle of separation of church and state, though in the Bill of Rights, the Establishment Clause is a restriction on government, not on churches.  America had a long history of political speech in the pulpit till in 1954, then-Senator Lyndon Johnson (a liberal Democrat) snuck in a “gag order” in an IRS bill that forbade endorsement of political candidates by ministers in church services (see Traditional Values Coalition article posted on  Conservatives have criticized this IRS rule as a wanton act of government intimidation against ministers who are guaranteed the rights of free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly in the Constitution.
    What will happen to pastors today who attempted to defy that order remains to be seen (see LA Times article).  The Alliance Defense Fund, a legal organization devoted to defending the religious liberties of Americans (example), had declared September 28 “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” to encourage pastors to defy the gag order and speak out on the positions of the candidates on moral issues.  At least 33 pastors took up the challenge.  The ADF describes this as not getting the pulpit into government, but getting the government out of the pulpit.  A senior legal counsel for ADF explained, “No one should be able to use the government [e.g., the IRS] to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights.”2
    CBS News reported the story after church Sunday, ending with a quote by Barry Lynn (Americans United for Separation of Church and State) that “you cannot turn your church or charity into a political action committee.”  No one thought to ask if that rule applies to scientific institutions like the AAAS (publisher of Science) – also a tax-exempt, non-profit organization.  A document on the AAAS website says the organization does not engage in lobbying or political activities.  But then, neither do most churches.  If the AAAS can print lengthy editorials mentioning candidates by name, when they clearly stand to benefit from policies of candidates they prefer, should that freedom be denied pastors and church leaders, who tend to have strongly held convictions about the moral values that elected officials can influence?  Barry Lynn seemed to be implying that voicing an opinion from the pulpit on a candidate’s moral values is indistinguishable from turning the church into a political action committee.  The question then becomes, should there also be separation of science and state?  When a tax-exempt scientific society urges political involvement, has it turned into a political action committee?
    While pondering that question, look what Science did last week.  It printed an editorial by former Congressman John Edward Porter, once chairman of the House Appropriations committee responsible for funding all federal health programs.  Like a fired-up preacher, Porter wrote with fervor to scientists in the AAAS congregation about the failures of the current administration and the need to learn the positions of candidates on science.  Porter even recommended scientists run for office.  “If all you do is vote,” he said, “you’re definitely not doing enough.  Get off your chair, do something outside your comfort zone, and make a difference for science.  All of us must be creative about what we can do to make a difference for the things we believe in.  Now is the time.”

1.  Tax exemption is not taking federal money; it is an application of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  Freedom from being forced to pay money is a very different thing than receiving money.  On matters of property, health, safety and secular matters, churches do abide by applicable laws and tax policies.
2.  It should be noted that churchgoers have the freedom to change churches if they don’t like what a minister says; in fact, one of the presidential candidates has been roundly criticized on that point for not leaving a church whose pastor openly ridiculed a certain former president and his candidate spouse.  To many pastors, the fact that there were no tax consequences for that church illustrates a biased application of the IRS gag order.

Interesting that Coyne ridicules the majority of Americans who believe in angels, while he believes in spectres.*  Too bad he didn’t get his little sermon book published in time for the election.  Anything he writes has a high probability of backfiring.  Who wants to bet that Why Evolution is True will showcase examples of microevolution, which is not controversial even among young-earth creationists, but will then extrapolate microevolution recklessly into molecules-to-man macroevolution?  Don’t hold your breath that Coyne will deal honestly with Darwin’s enigmas, like molecular machines, the origin of life, the fine-tuning of the universe, complex specified information in DNA, and the Cambrian Explosion.
    We hope several things are evident from this story: the lack of objectivity among scientific institutions; their far-leftist leanings (they adore Obama, who is the most liberal member of the Senate); their obstinate refusal to distinguish between intelligent design and creationism despite years of clarification by ID advocates; their illogical conflation of scientific literacy with acceptance of Darwinism; their identification of Darwinism and atheism with their political persuasion; their ability to lie with impunity in print about what ID leaders advocate in education; and the level of vitriol they can display toward religion.  They might barely tolerate a theistic evolutionist who prostrates himself before the Shrine of Darwin, but will explode in wrath against any member of the meaningless class labeled “People of Faith” who dares to suggest that a Designer (no matter how vaguely characterized) might interact with the world in any way.
    This is the way of the People of Froth (09/26/2005 commentary).  Add to that their pattern of refusing to publish opinions from the conservative or pro-ID side, and one has grounds to question their objectivity.  Isn’t objectivity a core value of science?  Where is it?  Is this how scientists and their institutions ought to behave?  Observe.  They exercise their political advocacy with the help of your tax money, but would forbid that freedom to ministers.

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