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Is social justice killing science? Why we need to define 'truth'

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The mission of scientific discovery, Johannes Kepler believed, was “to think God’s thoughts after Him.” Even for scientists skeptical of the supernatural, for a long time at least, the task of science was to discover truth. As a fictional scientist in Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth put it, “Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are useful … because they lead little by little to the truth.”  

Today, however, the pursuit of truth in the natural sciences is increasingly eclipsed by the tyranny of political correctness, and some frustrated scientists are crying foul. In early November, in fact, over 150 professors and scholars gathered at Stanford University to talk about the growing threats to the scientific enterprise and to academic freedom.  

Among the speakers was Williams College biology professor Luana Maroja, who gave a troubling presentation on the ways progressive ideology is strangling her discipline. Dr. Maroja, a frequent advocate for evolutionary theory, has long slammed critics of Darwin as “creationists” who prioritize religion over science. These days, however, she’s more concerned about threats to science coming from another religion: the “woke” left.

In her presentation, she cited the growing number of Biology 101 classes where students are taught that the sexes (not just gender) exist on a “continuum.” She pointed to statements by several schools, and even the Society for the Study of Evolution, that blur the distinction between male and female, which is, she said, a “bedrock insight” of biology. 

Dr. Maroja cited published papers that urge biologists to be “inclusive” by only talking about organisms that show the least difference between the sexes, even “when that has no relevance to any animal or vascular plant.” She even described efforts to restrict access to population genetics data out of fear that such data might be used to promote discrimination.  

In other words, biologists and other scientists are being taught to ignore or are being denied vast amounts of evidence simply because that evidence could threaten politically favored ideologies. According to Dr. Maroja, it has become “taboo” to note “any disparities between groups that are not explained as the result of systemic bias.” Put differently, the push to obscure the truth about sex and keep population genetics under lock and key is the result of a belief that people (and perhaps animals) are blank slates onto which society imposes roles and identities, and no data to the contrary should be allowed.  

Sadly, this very unscientific approach to science is becoming a running theme. Recall the recent announcement by the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Human Behaviour that they will now filter submissions based on how well they promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Scientists like Lawrence Krauss, also no friend of religious conservatives, rightly complained that such requirements subjugate science to politics.  

The Stanford gathering could be a new high-water mark for anti-“woke” backlash among scientists. As Dr. Maroja concluded at the gathering, when science “becomes an extension of ideology,” it is no longer concerned with “pursuing knowledge and truth.” Simply put, it ceases to be science. 

There are, of course, other ideologically driven problems with the scientific establishment that go well beyond social justice censorship. Scientists are fallible, and the worship of science as a source of final knowledge and ultimate meaning is itself a corruption of science called scientism. Even so, the growing number of scientists complaining that their institutions, sponsors, publishers, and even peers are now more interested in reaching approved conclusions than provable ones is revealing. This kind of censorship is not only dangerous: It underscores the impossibility of a value-neutral academy.  

In Jules Verne’s rosy telling, scientists fearlessly seek out the truth, following the evidence wherever it leads. However, as authors such as Stephen Meyer, Glen Scrivener, and Rodney Stark have pointed out, this quest for objective truth is itself a feature of a worldview historically distinctive to the West and Christianity. As all three authors argue, it’s no coincidence that modern science was born of Christendom and nowhere else.  

In sharp contrast, ideologies rooted in postmodernism render fact subjective and see power plays behind every truth claim, and therefore undermine science. Old-fashioned scientific atheists may mock social justice warriors who want evidence to bend to their feelings but cannot explain why evidence shouldmatter if the world is nothing but matter. There is no way to explain why reality is comprehensible or truth attainable, if, as C.S. Lewis put it, thoughts are nothing more than the “flux of the atoms” in scientists’ brains.  

We should all agree that the mission of science is to seek the truth about our world, but that requires a working definition of “truth.” Unless scientists can supply that definition, the very unscientific demands of political correctness will continue to make their jobs difficult.


Originally published at Breakpoint.

John Stonestreet serves as president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He’s a sought-after author and speaker on areas of faith and culture, theology, worldview, education and apologetics.  
Shane Morris is a senior writer at the Colson Center, where he has been the resident Calvinist and millennial, home-school grad since 2010, and an intern under Chuck Colson. He writes BreakPoint commentaries and columns. Shane has also written for The Federalist, The Christian Post, and Summit Ministries, and he blogs regularly for Patheos Evangelical as Troubler of Israel.

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