Sunday, September 27, 2015

I'm Not the First Guy to Observe This

Someone posted a link to this video clip by Bill Nye the Science Guy, allegedly "bring[ing] science to bear on the abortion debate."

This reminds me of a cartoon I once saw of a business meeting, all men in suits except for one woman. The leader of the meeting is saying, "That's a very interesting suggestion, Miss Jones. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it." Nye isn't saying anything that women haven't said many times, but of course, being science-based, a male statement counts for more.  His bowtie alone inspires absolute confidence!  Science has been brought to bear on the abortion debate before, but of course Nye's fans are historically illiterate, so they can't be expected to know that.

I like the "He tends to prefer facts" bit. Well, let's look at some facts. Nye alludes to "'men of European descent' having their own interpretation of 'a book written 5,000 years ago' and then deciding that abortion should be illegal." What book could he be talking about? The Bible was written less than 3,000 years ago, parts of it less than 2,000, by men of West Asian descent; many of its present-day fans are of African and East Asian descent. Further, the Bible doesn't say anything about abortion. So, those -- whatever their descent may be -- who oppose abortion aren't basing it on the Bible.

Another science-based writer who sought to shed scientific light on reproductive issues reported that "among women between the age of fifteen and forty-nine in the United States, 70 percent of Catholic women were using some form of contraception in 1995, about the same percentage of all women in that age group. ... The data are quite clear: the Catholic Church has very limited moral authority with Catholic laity in matters of sexual behavior and reproductive health."  In fact, Catholic women are more likely to get an abortion than Protestants. So, even people who officially accept the authority of that five-thousand-year-old book nevertheless do what they want to do.  That's at least partly because the Church no longer has the power to punish them; as the composer Hector Berlioz observed of the Roman Catholic Church more than a century ago, "Since she has ceased to inculcate the burning of heretics, her creeds are charming."

The "science" Nye cites has little, maybe nothing to do with the issue. One could accept his every claim yet still oppose abortion, perhaps out of a desire to control women that doesn't come from religion but uses religion to give more authority to policies that wouldn't otherwise have any. Many atheist, pro-science males still want to control women. Religion has no inherent moral content: people put their wishes and prejudices into the religons they invent. But then science has no inherent moral content either, apart from the professional ethics that govern scientists' work internally.  And alas, when scientists who don't know very much outside their specialties try to address social or political issues, they generally make fools of themselves. Well-intentioned fools, often, but fools nonetheless.