About

I’m a Republican, Atheist, Professor, which is where the acronym RAP sheet comes from.  (I rejected the title Conservative, Republican, Atheist, Professor after a few moments’ consideration.)

The motivation for this blog is that I often feel like I am a member of the world’s smallest demographic.  Certainly, there are no shortage of atheists in the Academy, but the combination of atheist and professor almost guarantees a liberal – or even leftist – political outlook.

So in addition to needing this blog as an outlet for opinions (the Academy is no place for the free and open exchange of political ideas – let that fact sink in), I am also using it to illustrate a question that drives me nuts: why are intellectuals and atheists so monolithic in their political philosophy?  The question intrigues me because I take political conservatism as axiomatic given my atheism and given my academic knowledge in the fields of neuroscience and psychology.

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15 comments

  1. To answer your question: Since conservatives tend to be religious, and many don’t respect science (evolution, climate change, etc), it seems natural that atheists and intellectuals tend to be liberal.

    1. The first part of your reply must be incorrect, since many liberals tend to be religious as well. Joe Biden told us during the VP debate that his Catholicism guides everything he does. As someone who works in the academy, I can assure you that many “intellectuals” also don’t respect science. The amount of unscientific, uncritical thinking coming out of deconstructionist-dominated humanities departments is depressing to me as a scientist.

      If, as you suggest, liberals were deeply respectful of the scientific method, then why is it that they rarely seem to insist on evaluating evidence that their programs are having a positive impact? The conservative religious economist Thomas Sowell, who I admire, became a conservative when he realized both that his analyses showed that minimum wage laws were damaging to the poor and that no one else at the Department of Labor seemed at all interested in evaluating the effect of minimum wage laws.

      You have to separate skepticism about 2 particular theories – climate change and evolution – from skepticism about science – a way of knowing about the world through the testing of disprovable hypotheses. Someone who respects science – indeed scientists themselves – have an obligation to be skeptical of particular scientific theories. While I agree with you that the rejection of evolutionary theory – despite overwhelming evidence – by some conservatives – is an example of unscientific thinking, there are legions of examples of unscientific protection of the leftist “faith” as well. Indeed, that’s why I started this blog. I can’t believe how unscientific and uncritical is the faith of the leftist program among my scientific and academic colleagues.

      1. I’ve pricked a few of those leftist theories with facts. They do not believe in facts that disprove their opinions. One unrepeatable, shoddy bit of science that fits their belief is of more value to them than 100 repeatable, documented facts.

  2. Another explanation put forth by Skeptic Magazine (http://www.skepticblog.org/2012/10/23/why-ayn-rand-wont-go-away/#more-19544) claims that it has more to do with moral absolutism vs moral relativism. Conservatives in general tend to be absolutists and liberals, relativists. Either can be religious but one is more forgiving about deviations (or deviants, I suppose, depending on your point of view). I’d guess your views in general tend slightly more toward libertarian?

    The Skeptic article also argues from the point of view of evolutionary biology. You might find it interesting based on your academic background.

    And, by the way, thank you for finding and commenting on my blog.

    1. Thank you for the link. I look forward to reading. Skeptic is almost always thought-provoking. I think it is fair to say I tend “slightly” more toward libertarian; at least, the thing I value most when deciding which federal politician to vote for is their stance on the size of government and respect for individual rights.

    2. I have now read your link and indeed, it was quite good. I am an admirer of John Haidt’s work (mentioned in Shermer’s article) and have read his book. I think he’s probably on to something.

  3. I find your intellectual position consistent since honest inquiry begins with skepticism. That then elevates evidence above emotion.

    1. That’s a nice way of putting it, thank you. As it happens, I lectured today on “scientific thinking” to my Psychology students, with essentially the same message. I also mentioned the emotional reasoning fallacy. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. This is great! I live in San Francisco and work in a very liberal workplace. While I don’t necessarily identify as a republican, many of my views are consistent with the right as opposed to the left. It frustrates the hell out of me, the question that you pose above. Not so much because of personal tension, but because I am so aware of the shallow and inadequate blanket cast over political and religious identities that ends up defining how we behave toward each other. The mere mention of the word republican where I work will turn everyone off. They will stop listening and begin only to rampantly assume. I am glad to have found your site. I look forward to more.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Johannes. Your comment has given me an idea for a new blog post (we’ll see if I can flesh it out) which is a little dissertation on the “in-group/out-group” effect in psychology. First, humans have a troubling ability to identify with a particular group (e.g., “Democrat” or “Republican”). The group they join is the “in group”. An observation that social psychologists have made is that we tend to see the in group as diverse and the out group as monolithic. A Democrat can quickly come to see all Republicans as “extremist” as use that as rationale to not listen to a word a Republican says. A Republican can quickly come to see all Democrats as socialists out to subvert the Constitution, and likewise close their mind to anything a Democrat says. If this blog attracts readers like you – wanting to listen to all sides and recognize people as individuals an not as members of a group with an emotional label attached – hurray.

      1. That sounds like a fascinating post! I have been thinking of doing one similar, but I lack the background in psychology that you have, and so a concrete basis for the post eluded me.

        Having moved to San Francisco recently, I have noticed the effects of this in-group/out-group concept in a very new and alarming way. I was always interested in the notions of group identity replacing individual identity. It seems that many people, in search of some concrete self, will lazily adhere to the criteria of a group. Rather than intaking what information they can and deciding for themselves what beliefs or moral code to create, they just adopt an already existing one. A group like this then, for example, might slander religious groups for their ‘blind membership,’ and yet their subscription to whatever beliefs they have adopted stems out of the same mechanism. Although belonging to this group seems like a step away from individual definition in my opinion, it actually serves to make the individual feel wholly identifiable and comfortable, strengthening their resolve. It is, to some extent, an inevitable phenomenon I suppose, but a frustrating one. I think a lot of casual racism too, must arise out of this in-group/out-group phenomenon.

      2. And now I’ve written it. Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. I have changed my display name to NeuroProf to separate my blog name from my user name.

  6. Mark Spahn · · Reply

    Is this blog defunct?

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