Friday, September 10, 2004

Too Rambling for a Proper Title

We on the left never tire, it seems, of blasting the religious right for their rejection of Evolution. Representative is a letter to the editor of the Witchita Eagle belittling creationism as "a laughingstock," "psuedoscientific double-talk," "scientific ignorance," and "blind religious dogma." (This in the space of a five-sentence letter.)

Indeed, this blog has "nudged" the religious right on the issue on at least one occasion.

But I found myself wondering today: what precisely is the cause of our indignation?

I came to musing about evolution and the religious right rather circuitously. I was reading one of my textbooks the other day and stumbled across the following sentence:
"Judges and lawyers, as well as academic commentators, ought to use efficiency in the production of wealth as the principal standard for evaluating current law."

What may be most striking to the layperson with no legal or social science training is how unremarkable the sentence is. This type of materialism/utilitarianism is by far the dominant paradigm in legal and economic scholarship. To put it differently, the smartest folks who study this stuff judge law and policy in that way -- by its "efficiency in the production of wealth."

But anyone who has been following these pages knows that practitioners of the Social Gospel must reject this. We reject the idea that a law's effect on total societal consumption necessarily indicates its justice or injustice. In deference to Jesus' special concern with poverty, sickness, and oppression ("The Spirit of the Lord...has annointed me to bring good news to the poor[,] to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free..." Lk 4:18), we judge a law's justice primarily by its effect on these social ills. Utilitarian's enjoin: create happiness. We enjoin: ease suffering. The difference may be subtle, but its important.

But wait, what does this have to do with Evolution again? Well, I think its fair to say that in rejecting the utilitarian criterion for judging law and policy, I am rejecting the "expert" -- dare I say "scientific" -- opinion on the issue as a matter of faith. How is this different from what conservative Christians do with respect to the issue of evolution? Although I believe what I am doing is different in some important ways, at the grossest level of generality it isn't. I am rejecting the consensus of worldly knowledge on religious grounds.

So then back to my original question: on what ground do we judge the religious right for doing the same with respect to Evolution?

Tomorrow I'll discuss why I think my position on utilitarianism is a bit different in kind from the rejection of Evolution. For today, though, it is sufficient to say that liberal Christians should remember that all people of faith, by definition, hold to their religious principles against secular consensus in some situations. (If we accept all secular/scientific knowledge and only accept secular/scientific, then how are we really Christian?) This realization should make us a bit more reticent in our criticism of the right on Evolution.

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