Our new president said some admirable things in his Inaugural Address, but there were many things that likely galled those who didn’t vote for him. One that stood out to me was this comment about science. What exactly did he mean, rightful place? To decode his meaning, it’s important to understand the mindset and worldview of the left.
Many on the right who commented about this specific phrase took it to mean that global warming (now “climate change”) and embryonic stem cell research would now get the focus and money they supposedly deserve. And certainly that is what Obama was referring to, the "science" that supports the objectives of the Democrat Party.
But I believe it meant far more, whether he intended it to or not. The lefty blogs and commentators that I read about this jumped on the contrast of “Science” to the “faith-based” world of President Bush. In six words President Obama, I’m sure more than he knows, laid down the gauntlet in the cultural clash of our time.
“Science” as we all know has become the de facto authoritative force for all truth and morality in Western culture. Of course science cannot play the role fully or very well, because science isn’t philosophy or religion. The true “rightful place” of science is in the area of observable, empirical data. But “science” circa 2009 is observable, empirical data along with a whole host of non-empirical assumptions and political agendas.
President Obama’s “Science,” and that of all his pals on the secular left, and in fact of most Americans, including many on the right, is the Magisterium of our time. We look to science as medieval man looked to The Church. “Science” will save us, “Science” will comfort us, and “Science” will interpret our world, our place in the universe, the meaning of our lives. That is quite a lot of baggage for a branch of knowledge that depends on the empirical and material substance of our world, one that can never tell us why anything exists at all or if there is any meaning beyond the physical substance.
Science began to break its bonds from philosophy and religion with Copernicus and Galileo. This discovery, some argue, started mankind on the road to seeing the earth as an infinitesimally small ball in a vast and infinite universe, with nothing special about it or its inhabitants. For the next several hundred years philosophy latched onto this very real revolution and paved the way for Darwin to enshrine chance as our real creator. A completely atheist worldview now became plausible, undergirded by its own “creation story."
Thus “Science” has become the alternative and authoritative epistemology in mankind’s search for truth and meaning, always hoisted as our salvation from religious ignorance and the blight of life lived in a very messy world. Further, the secular and just as often the religious left use “Science” as cudgel to keep religion, specifically biblical Christianity in both Protestant and Catholic forms in its place, safely behind locked doors where it will not infect the body politic.
So when Christian President Barack Obama says he wants to restore “science to its rightful place” you can bet that many of his listeners hear much more than “climate change” and embryonic stem cell research.
UPDATE: One of our [Culture Project] Advisory Board Members, Herb London, pointed out something important to clarify what I was saying: "Science does not intend to answer everything; scientism does."
—Mike D’Virgilio is a founder of The Culture Project, where this article originally appeared.