The March 26th edition of the New York Times included a column by Stanley Fish which cogently captured a core issue which makes public discourse so difficult in our day.
But the desire of classical liberals to think of themselves as above the fray, as facilitating inquiry rather than steering it in a favored direction, makes them unable to be content with just saying, You guys are wrong, we're right, and we're not going to listen to you or give you an even break. Instead they labor mightily to ground their judgments in impersonal standards and impartial procedures (there are none) so that they can pronounce their excommunications with clean hands and pure—non-partisan, and non-tribal—hearts. It's quite a performance and it is on display every day in our most enlightened newspapers and on our most progressive political talk shows, including the ones I'm addicted to.
The column was prompted by a network television discussion on global warming in which the host challenged accepted mainstream opinion on the subject. Chris Hayes, at least according to Fish,
"observed that when we accept the conclusions of scientific investigation we necessarily do so on trust (how many of us have done or could replicate the experiments?) and are thus not so different from religious believers, Dawkins and Pinker asserted that the trust we place in scientific researchers, as opposed to religious pronouncements, has been earned by their record of achievement and by the public rigor of their procedures. In short, our trust is justified, theirs is blind."
It was left to Fish to point out the irony.
It was at this point that Dawkins said something amazing, although neither he nor anyone else picked up on it. He said: in the arena of science you can invoke Professor So-and-So's study published in 2008, "you can actually cite chapter and verse."
Chapter and verse? If anyone literally appealed to a scriptural chapter and verse in public discourse, the mere appeal would almost ensure their argument would be dismissed. It's not every day that a column in mainstream media points out its self-inflicted hypocrisy as directly as this. But there is no point in gloating. In fact, a lament may be more in order. One column a trend does not make, neither is an admission of liberal blindness published in the New York Times likely to change what has become an addiction. That is why one need not quote the New York Times in order to ascertain something is true, in spite of the preferences of certain elites. However, when the occasion presents itself, one would be a fool not to take advantage of it.
Presuppositions matter. We interpret the world according to our belief systems. Belief based on reason is as much a belief as belief based on revelation. There are authorities beyond the academic study du jour. Neutrality is a myth. And now we can even claim the New York Times as an authority for saying so.