Counting Votes, Ignoring Science

Note: Deep thanks to all of you who responded – and generously – yesterday to the beginning of our year-end fund appeal. By my unofficial count – as Hadley Arkes notes below, we Americans seem to have trouble counting large public responses these days – we received support from every state in the Union and from several foreign countries. We still have a long way to go, but this sort of response is why I always trust TCT readers to keep us going, year in and year out. It’s especially helpful when you schedule a regular monthly donation since it allows us to plan out our work as the year goes on. But I have to urge those of you who have not given yet to do so as soon as possible. We all hope 2021 will be better than 2020 – it’s hard to see how it could be worse. Still, we’re all going to have to do more and better, given the challenges that are coming. Please, do your part in our common effort here. Click the button (by the way, for those who asked, checks are welcome too at the Virginia mailbox.) Keep The Catholic Thing a force in the Church and the world in 2021 and for many years to come. – Robert Royal 

We are still winding down from a presidential election that has all of the signs of a dystopian novel, sprung from a fevered imagination.  We may not be fiddling, but churning away at our keyboards while Rome is burning.  In recent history, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy knew the morning after Election Day that they had been elected.  Has it taken an advanced technology with computerized systems to bring us to this level?

And the answer, in part, is that it has. For we now have computerized systems capable of all kinds of manipulations, shifting and reassigning scores of thousands of votes.  As anyone could see, the move to mail-in ballots, with deadlines extended, with checks of identity foregone – anyone with experience could see we were heading for something worse than a train wreck.

Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal points out that the attempt to install these unsettling changes in voting had been the first order of business, the first bill offered in the House, when Nancy Pelosi took control.  But what Pelosi couldn’t get past a Republican Senate, the crisis over COVID could deliver.

Democrats pressing in Pennsylvania and other states could persuade allies among the judges to break from the strictures of the Constitution and rewrite the rules on elections that had been passed in their legislatures.  The media have been content to declare a winner here, even while a controversy rages around us.

It does seem to be that Joe Biden has broken through his persona as a Perpetual Loser Anywhere Outside Delaware.  And yet many have been left with the dark sense that someone out there was Giving Providence a Helping Hand.

Mr. Biden has declared, with the ring of affected authority, that when it comes to the virus, his Administration will respect the claims of “science.”   The implication, hardly left muted, is that Mr. Trump failed to respect the counsel given to him by his advisors with medical degrees – as though the spokesmen for science were never seriously divided or even confused themselves.

They proved to be embarrassingly at odds in their estimates of how widely or quickly the disease would spread, or even on the question of whether the wearing of masks made any appreciable difference.

But it is passing strange, to say the least, that this worship of science comes from the same people who have not had the wit, or inclination, over the past 50 years to open a textbook on embryology to see what science has to say on the question of when human life begins.   The question involves, of course, the human standing of the child in the womb.

When Barack Obama was asked about it in 2008, he said that it was a question beyond his “pay grade.”  Was it really beyond his reflexes, as a member of the Harvard Law Review, to open a book and do a little research? Anyone seeking an abortion was already aware of something “living” and growing in a womb.  The question was not whether a “life” had begun, but whether that life could be anything but human from its first moments.


If Biden and Obama had been inclined to open a book they would have found the leading textbooks showing a remarkable consensus on this question of when human life begins:

Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being. (Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology)

The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote. (Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition)

Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an ovum and a sperm. . . represents the beginning of a human being. The common expression “fertilized ovum” refers to the zygote. (Moore, Keith L. and Persaud, T.V.N. Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 4th edition)

It has evidently been the policy of the Bidens and Obamas to avert their eyes from such texts, bound to be so unsettling.  And yet the same people, with this cultivated indifference to science, have been quite emphatic in painting as Neanderthals anyone who would post a moral objection to research using the tissues of embryos and fetuses destroyed in elective abortions.

Is it really possible that American liberals have never heard the stories of the Nazi researchers?  They wanted to know just how much cold a pilot could bear if he were downed in the North Atlantic. The direct answer was at hand:  they could simply dunk some prisoners, since they were “going to die anyway.”

And has the Left really forgotten the infamous Tuskegee experiments, from the 1930s to the 1970s, with a control group of black men in Alabama left untreated in their syphilis?

This late in the seasons of our experience, does it really come as news now to liberals that there may be serious moral restraints even on the things that scientists deeply crave to know?

But of course we already know that the same people who regard nascent life as disposable have been readying a plan for us in the latter stages of life,  to give us the benefits of “choice” and “euthanasia.”   For patients no longer steady in their judgments, the decisions in some cases will flow to doctors, armed with the powers of life and death.

And they are likely to be doctors more and more in accord with their times, more and more delivered from any sense of  the moral grounds and limits of their vocations.


*Image: Grandmama’s Arithmetical Game by McLoughlin Brothers, c. 1870 [The Strong National Museum of Play, Rochester, NY]

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence Emeritus at Amherst College and the Founder/Director of the James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights & the American Founding. He is the author of Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is available for download. His new book is Mere Natural Law: Originalism and the Anchoring Truths of the Constitution.