GMO opposition a blast from past
What do opposition to GMOs (genetically modified organisms), vaccinations and homosexuality have in common?
They’re considered unnatural and, thus, against God’s laws in the eyes of evangelical Christians, a majority of whom instinctively reject their validity, often on biblical grounds. After all, clinging to traditional received wisdom and groupthink, religious conservatives are innately prone to attacking any oppositional ideas.
For example, more than half of Christians, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, believe GMOs, such as gene-enhanced, pest- and drought-resistant wheat, are unsafe for human consumption because their DNA has been artificially tinkered with. In addition, 70 percent of all Christians believe scientists don’t fully understand the health risks of gene-spliced crops despite near-unanimous agreement among scientists that they are completely benign. Experts cite exhaustive studies demonstrating that genetically modified crops are as safe as any.
Among all respondents in the Pew study, a majority of Americans (59 percent) instead expressed more worry about a potentially inadequate future supply of food for the fast-growing global population while accepting the fact that GMOs are generally safe (69 percent).
Susan Okie, a physician, assistant professor of family medicine and a former medical news reporter, warned in a recent Washington Post op-ed that many scientists are alarmed that results of research into GMOs and other cutting-edge technologies unpopular with conservatives (and environmental zealots) are being distorted by bias, which contaminates rational discourse. She said “highly politicized camps of researchers” at the mercy of government funding and overly susceptible to the glow of media often “rush to publish any study that hints at a possible connection between an environmental exposure and disease.” The dispassionate, evidence-based nature of science is the victim here, as are all of us. At particular risk are citizens of Africa, where much of the world population growth is projected to occur in the near future—and who already struggle to feed themselves. For them, GMOs are a life-saver.
The un-loyal opposition in this un-grounded dispute is largely comprised of conservatives, who are disproportionately evangelical Christians and supporters of Donald Trump. No wonder they see bogeymen where none can be shown to exist.
To vaccinate … or not
Immunizations are another public-health area where opponents exhibit paranoid but unsubstantiated misgivings. Despite no evidence whatsoever that vaccines properly produced and applied cause disease, the fear still remains among some conservatives, as it has for centuries. It is a continuation of the same terror, less easily dismissed at the time, that emerged when a physician named Zabdiel Boylston began the then-radical procedure of inoculating people for smallpox during a 1721 epidemic in Boston.
Community leaders violently opposed innoculations, particularly Boston’s Protestant establishment (minus famed minister Cotton Mather, who, surprisingly supported them). Opponents believed applying smallpox pus in an open cut in the arm was a sin against God’s natural laws, and threatened Boylston, who was forced work in the dead of night. At one point, opponents also threw a malfunctioning bomb through Mather’s front window. In the end, the good doctor inoculated his entire family and 250 citizens of Boston, only six of whom died (a far lower mortality rate than for those untreated). Today, a modified procedure known as vaccination is used worldwide, where safe, dead cells of a disease agent (e.g., the polio and measles viruses) are injected, causing the body to naturally produce lifelong anti-bodies against the malady.
Note that the colonial opposition, as today’s anti-intellectual scrum, was not rational but instinctive and theological.
The love that has no name
Likewise, modern conservative Christian opposition to homosexuality is not evidence-based but prejudicial, based on the unscientific claim that God condemns same-sex coupling in the Bible. Nonetheless, science has demonstrated that homosexuality is part of a normal, natural sexual continuum among human beings and members of other species. The medical and psychiatric establishments have normalized the tendency and decades ago removed it from the American Psychiatric Association’s influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
I mention these errors of perception to reiterate a tragedy ongoing at least since the Middle Ages—that hidebound religious ideology is a heavy albatross around the neck of science and mankind’s ability to usefully comprehend reality.