15 January 2012

The Partisan Divide on the Tebow Question

Something to keep in mind when considering ongoing battles over public opinion on various questions related to science on issues like evolution, climate change, genetically modified foods and so on: Consider that about 4 in 10 Democrats and 5 in 10 Republicans think that Tim Tebow's success on the football field (pictured below) can be attributed to "divine intervention."  Data here in PDF from a polling firm called Poll Position.
Political debates that involve science will be far more productive-- for both policy and the health of the scientific enterprise -- if the focus of debates is on policy options rather than what people happen to think about this or that. As Walter Lippmann once said, democracy is about getting people who think differently to act alike, not to get them to think alike.


  1. This is why it is so critical to preserve our objective faith, science. It represents the best process to identify and exploit our environment for a common purpose.

    It's ironic that while Republicans defer to a divine God, it is Democrats who tend to defer to mortal gods (e.g. authority). Well, to each their own; but, history has identified greater weakness when people rely on the latter.

    This is a topic which has presented a long and enduring philosophical debate.

    It is undeniable that there exists an as yet unidentified underlying order to our universe. To attribute its origin to God or another source is immaterial when our faith (either in divinity or another constrained to a limited frame of reference) does not preclude us from objective review and understanding of our physical space.

    I think the relevant principle when it comes to acts of God is: God helps those who help themselves. Whether it is God or nature, the best we can determine about our existence is that it is a test of individual conscience. When we follow the prevailing order, the outcome, excepting for contrary forces, tends to produce positive progress. Our objective faith identifies two prevailing orders: nature (e.g. instinct, reproduction) and enlightened (i.e. conscious). Both are capable of influencing the environment that surrounds us. While it is the latter which, presumably, gives rise to our freewill.

    The division between people who place their faith in God, and who do not, has encouraged and sustained unproductive enterprises. It is likely only in the post-mortem that we will either learn our true nature or simply cease to exist. If it's the former, then we may have already lost. If it's the latter, then none of this actually matters.

    The real threat to peaceful coexistence and harmony between people is the fact we live in a world with finitely accessible resources and, paradoxically, individual dignity. It is the latter which results in conflict when individuals dream of physical, material, and ego instant gratification, without giving proper consideration to the former and without a mutual respect for the latter.

    Dr. Pielke, what is your perspective of the unknown? What motivates people to persist and even reproduce? Is it merely a distraction from death?

  2. The poll is misleading. It is X% of Democrats and Y% of Republicans who pay an inordinate amount of time and attention to sports news and sports pundits that have those opinions. Perhaps it is the sports connection and not the political/religious connection that drives the results.
    Besides, it looks like God liked the Patriots more than He liked the Broncos.

  3. Considering how poorly he actually played, would this be considered a slam on God?

    I'd say his "success" is more a function of media fools than anything else.

  4. The real threat to peaceful coexistence and harmony between people is the fact we live in a world with finitely accessible resources

    In practical terms this is wrong-headed. We fret constantly about peak oil, and yet 200 years ago any oil at all would barely register on our list of "accessible resources". And should nuclear fusion become feasible, all the fretting about running out of fossil fuels will have been so much wasted energy.

    Human ingenuity will continue to provide what amounts to provide increasing resources. What we need are peace and scientific progress to ensure that they can be harnessed.

    Humans go into conflict a lot. But rarely over resources. The number of wars fought primarily over resources is tiny, whereas those fought for reasons of extension of power, prestige or ideology are legion. When humans face resource constraints the commonest solution is to band together to solve them.

    The idea that humans will inevitably struggle over resources is not very useful. We are much more likely to struggle, in fact, about whether a man can or cannot be the subject of divine intervention.

  5. Mark:

    The key is accessible and resources.

    There exists only limited, circumstantial evidence to suggest that hydrocarbons, and oil in particular, are the exclusive product of organic matter. There is evidence that the their accessibility is dependent on time and space. That is to say they are produced in a subterranean source and emerge in sinks, some of which are accessible and others may become so in the future with advances in technology and processes.

    When I refer to resources, I am not limiting them to natural or energy. I include both natural, artificial, and human (i.e. people). Both the quantity and quality of these resources are in fact finitely accessible. For example: not everyone will enjoy a beachfront property in Hawaii.

    Incidentally, it is this issue which establishes that egalitarian philosophies need to be, in practice, constrained beyond their theoretical limit. People love the theory, but they ignore the reality, where the ideologies born from those philosophies cannot be generally realized in our world. This is the reason why most of them devolve into effective slavery.

    When I refer to "peaceful coexistence and harmony", I am not limiting their attribution to nations or any other large scale organizational construct. We observe the conflict at high levels and descending to individuals. Those conflicts typically revolve around dreams of physical, material, and ego instant gratification. There is an inherent finiteness to all three, which when transcended lead to conflict. Then there are individuals with delusions of grandeur (e.g. dictators, rebels) and others who choose to fail (e.g. common criminals). They are, in fact, struggling to control finitely accessible resources. Not the least of which is individual humans.

    Your final point is both right and wrong. Only Islam , which wreaks its campaigns of pillage, slavery, discrimination, and dispossession over a period exceeding 1000 years, has matched or exceeded the same loss and degradation of life in secular regimes (most notably communism, socialism, and fascism; but also dictatorships). The common thread is not divinity, which is merely one individual or cooperative's justification, but dreams of instant gratification, principally through redistributive and retributive change, but also through fraudulent exploitation.

    I have attempted to avoid making specific claims, because the devil is indeed in the details, and must be qualified. It is much more likely to identify sound principles than their realization.

    I think we agree in principle, but this communication format does not lend itself well to holding a conversation. So, we make an effort to be comprehensive, but it's a challenge, since we cannot timely elaborate on our positions.