Monday, March 2, 2015

The Warfare Thesis, Scientism and Vaccines

Hugh Hewitt Unhinged

Evolution is not merely a theory about biology. It is a much broader movement, tracing back to the Epicureans, that is more of a worldview than a particular theory. Of course evolution calls for a strictly naturalistic origins narrative. But it also has its own world view. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the so-called Warfare Thesis. Simply put, the idea is that naturalism is the pinnacle of scientific progress and that anyone who questions the dogma that the world arose spontaneously must be driven by nonscientific, religious motives. Hence there is a war between religion and science as scientists inexorably uncover new truths which the pious resist and oppose where they can. The Warfare Thesis can be traced back to the eighteenth century with thinkers such as Voltaire, Hume and Kant. Voltaire initiated what would become the unstoppable mythology of the Galileo Affair, reporting that Galileo had “groaned away his days in the dungeons of the Inquisition, because he had demonstrated by irrefragable proofs the motion of the earth.” Neither were true but this myth endures to this very day. Hume, with his arguments against natural theology, and Kant, with his celebration of the Enlightenment, portrayed the pious and the providentialists as na├»ve obstructionists. By the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries textbooks were informing students that Christians believed the Earth was flat until Columbus proved them wrong. Though the Warfare Thesis is well known to be a myth, it has an enduring and compelling appeal. No less a historian than Daniel J. Boorstin—Distinguished Professor of history at the University of Chicago, Director of the National Museum of History and Technology, and Twelfth Librarian of the United States Congress—promoted the flat Earth myth in his 1983 book, The Discoverers. Unfortunately, now in the Year 2015, the Warfare Thesis not only shows no signs of abating but is gathering yet more strength. Its misconceptions, stereotypes, delegitimizations and “we versus them” mentality are reaching a fever pitch.

One of the corollaries of the Warfare Thesis is scientism, the view of science as the objective source of truth. Poets deal with subjective feelings but scientists, in their spotless white lab coats, deal in unimpeachable facts. It is not uncommon to see “science” referred to as the authoritative source of all kinds of truths. We are told, for example, that products are scientifically proven and that research has now explained why people hold religious beliefs.

But scientism is not limited to advertisements and tabloids. In a recent Washington Post editorial piece, Fred Hiatt bemoans the fact that public opinion is not always aligned with scientific consensus. Hiatt’s opening sentence leaves little doubt what’s coming: “Sophisticated readers know a science denier when they see one.”

This is all Warfare Thesis. There are science “deniers” and there are sophisticated people who can spot them. If you disagree with “science” (as if there is such a monolithic thing), you are not a concerned or thoughtful citizen, you are a denier. In this “we versus them” world, the negative connotation is obvious.

Hiatt criticizes the “southern Bible-thumper denying the fossil in front of his nose.” Ah yes, those “southern Bible-thumpers.” They’re still denying the fossils, aren’t they. We really should do something about them.

Hiatt goes on to quote from polls showing that 88 percent of scientists believe genetically modified foods are safe to eat, compared with only 37 percent of the public; that 87 percent of scientists believe that climate change is mostly caused by human activity, compared with only 50 percent of the public; and that 98 percent of scientists believe that humans have evolved over time, compared with only 65 percent of the public.

Shouldn’t the public accede to the professionals? Shouldn’t we all accept the fact of man-made global warming? One wonders what Hiatt would do with the 13 percent of scientists who don’t go along with the politically-charged conclusion.

Hiatt apparently is not bothered that climate research is not exactly double-blind. Blackballing, funding pressures, career threats, peer-review manipulation, editorial board controls and even shutting down journals altogether are all part of the “science.”

Does Hiatt understand that science is conducted by humans and not robots? Humans with political, cultural, religious, social and career pressures and concerns. A few years ago global cooling was the concern. Indeed, as philosophers well understand, scientific consensus changes with the seasons and is hardly a paragon of truth. Scientists thought continental drift was crazy and that genetic mutations must be independent of need. Even Einstein rejected quantum mechanics. All of these are now well accepted.

None of this means that man-made global warming is not true. In spite of the data adjustments, and in spite of the thoughtful concerns that have been expressed, it may well be true. But we don’t need to start calling names when people aren’t sure.

What is disturbing about Hiatt’s editorial is that it appeared in the Washington Post, one of the nation’s leading newspapers. This dangerous exhibition of Warfare Thesis stereotypes and scientism is what leading opinion makers are thinking.

Nor is this merely a rare mistake of one journalist. This month’s cover of the venerable National Geographic magazine, pictured above, could hardly be a more explicit proclamation of the Warfare Thesis mythology. Inside Joel Achenbach explains the battle. He propagates the Flat Earth myth because, as he explains, some guy in South Dakota in 1893 built a flat-Earth model. And Achenbach ridicules any doubt about man-made global warming as a conspiracy theory. “The idea that hundreds of scientists,” writes Achenbach, “from all over the world would collaborate on such a vast hoax is laughable.”

Laughable? Apparently Achenbach is unaware that scientists “from all over the world” have agreed on all kinds of theories that were later discarded as clearly false. And what about the scientists who do not agree? Even James Lovelock admits that he was “a Little Too Certain.” Dismissive language and delegitimization are not helping.

Vaccines

This latest round of the Warfare Thesis has also featured concerns about vaccines. The most significant work in the formation of the Warfare Thesis was Andrew Dickson White’s 1896 volume, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. White took the mythology to new levels, covering a wide spectrum of topics including vaccinations. Today, vaccinations continue to service the myth as evidenced by various commentators.

Radio journalist Hugh Hewitt, for example, has been castigating parents who do not vaccinate their children, assuring his listeners that vaccines are safe and the decision is a no-brainer. What about the many vaccine injuries? Hewitt echoes Hume with the absurd refrain that correlation does not imply causation. How then does Hewitt advocate vaccines in the first place?

But Hewitt has no time for such fine points as he belittles those who don’t go along. It’s Hume and White all over again. The lie that vaccines are safe because correlation does not imply causation did not begin with Hewitt. It is a common explanation used to dismiss and ridicule questions regarding vaccine risk.

CNN has also been attacking the vaccine issue. Reporter Sanjay Gupta recently interviewed the U.S. Surgeon General, urging him to recommend a federal law mandating vaccinations. Gupta became increasingly concerned in the interview, suggesting to the Surgeon General that those who do not vaccinate have sinister motives. Gupta unequivocally declared vaccines to be safe while the CNN anchor Jake Tapper was visibly angered at the thought of anyone declining vaccinations.

We are now living in a Warfare Thesis driven culture. Vaccines, as with the other topics that have been subsumed by this mythology, are far more complicated than this dangerous scientism allows. Vaccines have a long history of causing a wide spectrum of injuries and death. That is a scientific fact that all responsible researchers and health practitioners understand.

The message that vaccines carry no risk is simply a lie and an example of the dangers of White’s false history. Consider Lorrin Kain who died on December 22, 2009. In the spring of 1994, at the age of 6 weeks, Lorrin’s parents took their baby to be vaccinated. Their lives would never be the same. Lorrin sustained severe brain damage and would have uncontrolled seizures for the rest of her life. At the age of 15 she finally succumbed. And now the Kain’s are being told that the decision to vaccinate is clear-cut and that vaccines carry no risk.

13 comments:

  1. Great article! Demonizing and belittling opponents of materialist/atheist ideas is very important in the war of worldviews. So is indoctrination and conditioning of the young generation. Young have to be taught what to think.

    “The very power of [textbook writers] depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all.”
    ― C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

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    1. Lewis was, of course, quite comfortable with the religious indoctrination to which children were subjected in the home and in the church long before they were capable of evaluating those claims critically.

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    2. Ian

      I was exposed to communist atheist indoctrination when I was young. We were supposed to worship communist leaders. Now there is a new fashionable consumerism indoctrination happening in society. We are supposed to worship celebrities and consumer products. These are all empty worldviews that provide no fundamentals and basics for human society to function long term.
      I would rather follow C.S. Lewis' advice than Dawkins, Haris, Krauss etc

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  2. Its so lame saying opponents of evolution are opponents of scienc. That means hugh numbers of people.
    Creationists are articulate that we oppose a few conclusions touching on origin issues.
    We make our case. saying we oppose science is a cheap silly strangely desperate slur. It must be they know they can't say christian doctrines are false and be persuasive to chjristians. So the lame profiling.
    They smell they are losing i think.

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    1. I think we understand that not all critics of science are critical of all science. We also understand that much of this criticism is driven by the fear that science could undermine the credibility and authority of religion or, at least, some of their claims and judgments.

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    2. They don't understand or admit it. It is policy to say disagreeing with some conclusions in origin issues is disagreeing with all science.
      The criticism is not driven by fear but sincere opinion that its error that contradicts the bible.
      Its conclusions fighting conclusions.

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    3. Ian:

      much of this criticism is driven by the fear that science could undermine the credibility and authority of religion

      The Warfare Thesis, in a nutshell.

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  3. We are now living in a Warfare Thesis driven culture. Vaccines, as with the other topics that have been subsumed by this mythology, are far more complicated than this dangerous scientism allows. Vaccines have a long history of causing a wide spectrum of injuries and death. That is a scientific fact that all responsible researchers and health practitioners understand.

    If you have to defend yourself against attacks then you can find yourself in a war situation whether you like it or not. The pharmaceutical and healthcare industries have found themselves under sustained attack from an anti-vaccine movement not discouraged in the slightest by the fact the the original research that inspired them has been discredited and withdrawn or that no other research has found a link between the MMR vaccine an autism. They are at war with science and will accept nothing other than unconditional surrender.

    The message that vaccines carry no risk is simply a lie and an example of the dangers of White’s false history. Consider Lorrin Kain who died on December 22, 2009. In the spring of 1994, at the age of 6 weeks, Lorrin’s parents took their baby to be vaccinated. Their lives would never be the same. Lorrin sustained severe brain damage and would have uncontrolled seizures for the rest of her life. At the age of 15 she finally succumbed. And now the Kain’s are being told that the decision to vaccinate is clear-cut and that vaccines carry no risk.

    There is no such thing as a 100% safe therapy or drug. Thee is a saying in the pharmaceutical industry that a compound which has no side-effects has no effect. A lot of research is about maximizing the benefits of a treatment by minimizing risks which you can never entirely exclude.

    So while the case of someone like Lorrin Kain is undoubtedly tragic so are the cases of all the children who died from what are now preventable diseases like measles before vaccines became available. I'm sure we could find equally heartrending stories about such children. The only good thing that could be said to have come out of such loss are the vaccines that have prevented millions more such tragedies from ever happening. Would even the anti-vaxxers really prefer that all those children's lives had been lost. I don't think so.

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    1. "There is no such thing as a 100% safe therapy or drug."

      You're not listening to Sanjay Gupta.

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    2. He's not the only doctor in the medical profession.

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  4. Wow this is a dumb post. Saved and tweeted for posterity, as with the Hunter's other anti-vax post.

    Reasons it's dumb:

    1. The Warfare Thesis was supposed to be about science versus religion. The modern anti-vaccination movement is not primarily religious, it is primarily about liberal forms of quackery. Although, apparently Cornelius is seeking to link the two.

    2. Just where does Cornelius Hunter get off ignoring virtually all doctors, the strong fundamental logic and scientific understanding behind vaccination, and the massive weight of hundreds of studies of millions of vaccine patients? One anecdotal case could have many, many explanations, including mere coincidence.

    3. The fact that ID people, allegedly pro-science, aren't even challenging Hunter on this, either here or at UD, says volumes about either their shoddy scientific acumen or their crazy preference for perverse contrarianism against the alleged dogma of mainstream science, even in the case where the public health is at stake.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow this is a dumb post. Saved and tweeted for posterity, as with the Hunter's other anti-vax post.

    Reasons it's dumb:

    1. The Warfare Thesis was supposed to be about science versus religion. The modern anti-vaccination movement is not primarily religious, it is primarily about liberal forms of quackery. Although, apparently Cornelius is seeking to link the two.

    2. Just where does Cornelius Hunter get off ignoring virtually all doctors, the strong fundamental logic and scientific understanding behind vaccination, and the massive weight of hundreds of studies of millions of vaccine patients? One anecdotal case could have many, many explanations, including mere coincidence.

    3. The fact that ID people, allegedly pro-science, aren't even challenging Hunter on this, either here or at UD, says volumes about either their shoddy scientific acumen or their crazy preference for perverse contrarianism against the alleged dogma of mainstream science, even in the case where the public health is at stake.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nick Matzke:

      Wow this is a dumb post. Saved and tweeted for posterity, as with the Hunter's other anti-vax post.

      Reasons it's dumb:

      1. The Warfare Thesis was supposed to be about science versus religion. The modern anti-vaccination movement is not primarily religious, it is primarily about liberal forms of quackery. Although, apparently Cornelius is seeking to link the two.


      The Warfare Thesis is, on the surface, about science versus religion. But those are broad categories. What the Warfare Thesis is really about is dismissal, delegitimization, demagoguery and scientism. You could say its motto is “Offense is the best defense.” Take non scientific, indefensible, positions and advance them with scathing criticism, ridicule and scorn of anyone who would dare so much as question them. That was amply demonstrated in the most important work advancing the Warfare Thesis, Andrew Dickson White’s late nineteenth century work which, yes, included a chapter on vaccines. As with his other myths, anyone who questioned vaccines, and they were known to be dangerous, must be a religious nut.

      Furthermore, religious convictions, as you Nick have so amply demonstrated so many times, are far more fundamental within the Warfare Thesis advocates, such as yourself, than without.


      2. Just where does Cornelius Hunter get off ignoring virtually all doctors, the strong fundamental logic and scientific understanding behind vaccination, and the massive weight of hundreds of studies of millions of vaccine patients?

      Ignoring doctors and ignoring evidence? How is it ignoring doctors and ignoring evidence to state indisputable facts? No doctor or researcher would tell you there is zero risk to vaccines. Such false claims are promoted by people like you, seeking to spread scorn and ridicule.

      The point is that vaccines, as with a great many medical procedures, do not fit well into scientific formulas and blanket statements. They are, however, wonderful devices for demagoguery and ridicule.


      One anecdotal case could have many, many explanations, including mere coincidence.

      That is sickening and dangerous. Even the conservative vaccine court agreed Lorrin Kain was devastated by vaccines. This absurdity comes right out of David Hume. You are doing precisely what you accuse me of, and using your logic there would be no basis for advocating for vaccines.


      3. The fact that ID people, allegedly pro-science, aren't even challenging Hunter on this, either here or at UD, says volumes about either their shoddy scientific acumen or their crazy preference for perverse contrarianism against the alleged dogma of mainstream science, even in the case where the public health is at stake.

      Unfortunately you have, once again, provided the perfect example, illustrating precisely the OP’s point

      Delete