In an op-ed statement in today's New York Times, Adam Frank maintains that Americans are now living in an age of denial in which scientific truth has been politicized to suit faith-based groups, resulting in increasing ignorance in the public at large about basic scientific truth regarding issues from climate change to immunization to evolution. Frank states,
Today, however, it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact.
At his Slacktivist site recently, Fred Clark provided an excellent example of precisely the point Frank is making: Fred notes that Missouri state representative Paul Wieland (a Catholic) has filed suit against the federal administration to opt out of health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, because
I see abortion-inducing drugs as intrinsically evil, and I cannot in good conscience preach one thing to my kids and then just go with the flow on our insurance. This is a moral conundrum for me.
But the tiny little problem of scientific fact, of truth, here: the ACA doesn't cover "abortion-inducing drugs." It can't do so. That's forbidden by the Hyde amendment. As Fred notes, the German Catholic bishops' conference has looked carefully at the scientific evidence about how the drug that Wieland is calling abortifacient--the so-called "morning-after" pill--actually works.
Sound scientific evidence based on exhaustive research shows that the morning-after pill is a contraceptive. It's not an abortifacient. And so as Fred states, Rep. Wieland is lying about the dilemma of conscience on which his lawsuit is based: he's using the lawsuit to continue spreading a lie in the public square that many of those on the religious right, including Catholic bishops, deliberately keep telling about the ACA--that it forces taxpayers to pay for abortions.
One of the effects of telling this lie repeatedly in order to politicize the discussion of the new healthcare plan to satisfy some faith communities is to undermine respect for scientific truth, for truth in general, in the public square. This lying in the name of God, which attacks scientific truth, dumbs the public down in order to score political points for certain religious constituencies.
It undermines the common good, in other words, since it's in the interest of all of us to inculcate a respect for truth--no matter its source--among everyone in the societies in which we live.
Another pertinent example of the same process from Michael Bayly's Wild Reed blog yesterday: Michael excerpts an essay of Catholic ethicist Daniel Helminiak from his collection entitled Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth (NY: Harrington Park Press, 2006). The essay, "The Right and Wrong of Sex, Queer and Otherwise," argues that Catholic magisterial teaching about natural law distorts natural law, which might be called "science-based ethics," by distorting or ignoring abundant scientific evidence about human sexuality.
The magisterial approach to human sexuality, which insists that natural law (i.e., scientific evidence) compels us to regard sexuality as all about--only about--procreation ignores clear scientific evidence that human beings engage in sexual expression for many reasons that go beyond the intent to procreate. The magisterial approach reduces human sexuality "to a mere biological function and turn[s] human sexuality into a barnyard-animal affair." But most lay Catholics know full well that sexual expression functions in their married lives in many other significant ways: it communicates their love for each other; it deepens and seals their relationship to each other.
As Helminiak also notes, the magisterial insistence on condemning homosexuality, with its declaration that gay people are intrinsically disordered, also deliberately ignores clear and abundant evidence that homosexuality is a normal and natural variant of human sexuality that is in and of itself morally neutral: as Helminiak notes,
The overwhelming bulk of scientific evidence has shown that gay is good, that nothing is inherently harmful or abnormal about homosexuality. Medical research has discovered the cause of AIDS – not homosexuality, but a virus – and has required the use of condoms. Psychological studies show that the distinctive function of human sex is intimacy and relationship, not procreation.
What happens when powerful religious bodies deliberately ignore, distort, or suppress scientific evidence, and the kind of truth yielded by scientific observation, in a society? What happens is not good.