The voice that speaks inside my head couldn't do anything but agree with Alex Rosenberg's conclusion near the end of his book, "The Atheist's Guide to Reality:" modern science leads to a left-wing ideology.
Like a lot else that Rosenberg says in his provocative book, this statement was jarring. Usually the scientific method is considered to be above politics. Scientists deal with objective facts about the world, while politicians mess around with subjective values.
Yet Rosenberg perusasively backed up his words. This pleased me, given that I'm both a progressive and an admirer of science. I've always figured there were good reasons for liberal political positions. Learning how they are based in reality helps explain why Republicans have become so anti-science.
The core fact that connects science with progressive politics is determinism.
Now, lots of people don't accept that almost everything in existence is under the sway of natural causes and effects. They either believe some supernatural force steps in from time to time to make stuff happen (miracles, divine grace), or that we humans have free will to do what we want, even if other entities don't.
However, there's no demonstrable evidence of either the supernatural or free will, which leads Rosenberg to say this ("scientism" is how he speaks of a scientific world view):
The key to scientism's radical political agenda is its commitment to determinism. Above the level of the smallest numbers of fermions and bosons, the universe is almost totally deterministic. That means that everything we do is just the consequence of the laws of nature and events in the distant past.
It's not up to us what went on before we were born, and we have no choice about what the laws of nature are. Therefore, none of the present and future consequences of the ways the laws worked with the past to bring about the present are up to us. That includes all of our actions and everyone else's too. So no free will anywhere.
This means that rich people -- the 1%, in today's parlance -- don't have a moral justification for refusing to share their wealth with the other 99%. They didn't earn or deserve their riches, because nothing in life ever is earned or deserved.
Admittedly, this way of looking at the world takes some getting used to.
It flies in the face of our intuitive feeling, "I can do what I want." Yet I started off this post by saying I couldn't help but agree with Rosenberg: given the laws of nature and the experiences that have shaped my brain, how I reacted to his statements about science and left-wing ideology was fully determined.
As is how you react to what you're reading in this blog post. As is how a billionaire came to have the net worth that he or she enjoys. As is how a poor person ended up without enough money to live on.
Humans appear to be hard-wired to prefer fairness, equity, and cooperation over unfairness, inequity, and conflict. Rosenberg describes how natural selection led Homo sapiens to become such a species. Given that our ancestors couldn't compete physically with larger, tougher animals on the plains of Africa, working together cooperatively was key to our evolving into the dominant mammals we are now.
So combine determinism and a core morality that values fairness, equity, and cooperation, and you get a science-based progressive political agenda.
Inequalities, even large ones, between people are morally permissible, perhaps even morally required, when these inequalities are earned. It's because you earned your rewards in life that you deserve them. That's why you have a right to them and why taking them away is wrong. It is this part of core morality that Ayn Rand objectivists, libertarians, and other right-wingers tap into when they insist that taxation is slavery.
The trouble with such arguments is that nothing is earned, nothing is deserved. Even if there really were moral rights to the fruit of our freely exercised abilities and talents, these talents and abilities are never freely acquired or exercised. Just as your innate and acquired intelligence and abilities are unearned, so also are your ambitions, along with the discipline, the willingness to train, and other traits that have to be combined with our talents and abilities to produce anything worthwhile at all.
...So, scientism plus core morality turn out to be redistributionist and egalitarian, even when combined with free-market economics. No wonder Republicans in the United States have such a hard time with science.
In a popular You Tube video, Elizabeth Warren (who is running for Senator in Massachusetts against Scott Brown) made a similar argument. At about the one minute mark she says, "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own, nobody."
Very true. Scientifically true.