Today marks the debut of guest-blogger Cynthia Burack at TSZ. A professor at the Ohio State University, Cynthia is a political scientist who tools are feminist political theory and political psychology. We have worked together in the past on several projects, including work on group dynamics and resistance to diversity (see sidebar, NWSA Journal article) and on evaluating STEM department websites for diversity. What follows, however, is entirely Cynthia’s work. I am grateful that she has allowed me to present it here. I think it is very important for all scientists to hear.
Zuska has asked me to write a few words about the Christian Right’s approach to science, and when Zuska asks you to do something–well, it’s an offer you shouldn’t refuse. I’m not a scientist–in fact, I’m a political theorist–but I spend a good bit of my time following what Christian conservative leaders teach about a variety of political issues, including science policy. I want to know how leaders are instructing followers. This means that I’m interested not only in what political candidates people are likely to vote for but in how citizens come to understand issues and what kind of knowledge they are likely to pass on to others in their homes and communities.
In September, I attended a Christian Right conference with well over a thousand participants at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. The meeting was The Washington Briefing: 2006 Values Voter Summit, sponsored by four conservative Christian organizations: Family Research Council Action, Focus on the Family Action, Americans United to Preserve Marriage, and American Family Association Action. Featured at the summit were many of the rock stars of the conservative Christian movement, including CR organization leaders such as Dr. James Dobson, Gary Bauer, and Tony Perkins, but also Republican members of Congress, Republican Governors, and luminaries such as Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter. For the most part, the subject matter of the conference didn’t overlap significantly with science (interestingly, I heard no mention of recent debates over the teaching of evolution in public schools). Presenters discussed terrorism, presidential authority, abortion rights, gay rights, immigration (note: a dose of good sense about the engineering challenge posed by a 700 mile fence on our Southwest border would not have been out of order), and a host of other social/political issues. However, inevitably, some issues of interest to any social movement sit at the intersection of politics and science, and as it happened, one of the topics on which conferees were instructed in Washington, DC was global warming.
You may not be surprised to learn that, in the Right world, global warming does not exist. Nay-sayers have been making this claim since scientists first began sounding the alarm about climate change, and no amount of scientific evidence produced in the interim has had any effect on this conclusion. Some may be a little surprised, however, to learn just what it is that the Christian Right says its global warming adversaries are up to and why Americans should reject their claims. A member of Congress, James Inhofe (R-OK), was on hand at the Summit to instruct the hundreds of activists present, and the no doubt larger audience reached by other media, that global warming is a nefarious creation of the United Nations.
Why did the UN cook up the idea of global warming? To “shut down the machine called America.” In fact, we learned, global warming is a plot to destroy the US economy and to initiate one-world government–a goal not only of the UN but of the American political left more broadly. Establishing his Christian credentials, Inhofe invoked Romans 1:25 (For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever) to suggest that taking steps to ameliorate global warming would constitute a form of idol worship. And he urged conferees to spread the word about the plot in their churches and in organizations of which they are members.
Scientists are in no way responsible for Inhofe’s nonsense on global warming, which is particularly appalling from a political leader. However, we need scientists to explain and debunk, and scientists can’t know what they’re up against unless they listen in to venues like this one. Admittedly, listening in can be difficult (and time-consuming), but there’s no other way to know what is passing for knowledge to many millions of Americans.
To learn more about the Value Voters Summit, check out web-published reports from critics: Running Against Sodom and Osama, by Chip Berlet and Pam Chamberlain of Political Research Associates and Internal Enemy: Gays as the Domestic al-Qaeda, by Sean Cahill and Cynthia Burack (yours truly) for The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Both reports follow the Summit itself in highlighting the threat of terrorism and gays to America–but don’t miss any of the other scary bits!