Jun 26 2015

The Disco-Tute’s Despicable Narrative

The Discovery Institute, in my opinion, is an intellectually dishonest propaganda organization trying desperately (and failing) to disguise itself as a legitimate scientific group. They promote the unscientific notion of intelligent design, which itself is just “scientific creationism” in disguise.

Because they dishonestly pursue an ideological agenda, they are the epitome of the phenomenon of allowing a narrative to control the interpretation and selection of facts and arguments, a process known as motivated reasoning. In the case of the Disco-Tute their narrative is that evolution is bad, and they therefore spend the bulk of their time trashing evolution in every way possible. Sometimes this leads to absurd positions, even by the baseline absurd standards by which the Disco-Tute lives.

A recent article on their blog, Evolution News and Views, hits what is perhaps a new low watermark, even for them: In Explaining Dylann Roof’s Inspiration, the Media Ignore Ties to Evolutionary Racism. That’s right – author David Klinghoffer is trying to exploit the horrible tragedy in South Carolina in order to score imaginary points against evolution. For quick background, Roof (allegedly) is a horrible young white supremacist racist who thought he needed to go into a black church in South Carolina and start shooting people.

First Klinghoffer makes a serious attempt to fry irony meters across the internet by writing:

Guilt by association is a nasty business. It’s often very selective, too. It leaves things out that don’t fit the desired narrative.

Then the follow up:

When I read these articles, I noted that the official spokesman for Holt’s group is a person called Jared Taylor, best known for leading another, slightly more polished white nationalist web publication, American Renaissance. These organizations have their different emphases and preoccupations. While the Council of Conservative Citizens is obsessed by “black-on-white” crime, American Renaissance has as one of its specialties science-flavored, notably evolutionary, justifications for racism. In the media coverage I’ve seen, the latter fact has gone unmentioned.

So even though Roof’s manifesto does not mention evolution or evolutionary arguments, the spokesperson for the white supremacist group to which Roof belongs also heads a separate group that justifies their racism with evolutionary arguments. Therefore…

This is part of the anti-evolution narrative that evolutionary theory somehow inspired racism, which is utter nonsense. Racism predates evolutionary theory. Racism is also quite at home among creationists. There is absolutely nothing in evolutionary theory that carries with it a value judgement that supports racism. That some modern racists use evolutionary arguments to support their beliefs is completely irrelevant. I’m sure that Christians would not want to be tagged with every belief for which the Bible has been offered up as justification – which includes racism.

Klinghoffer’s absurd article does offer a teaching moment. First, it nicely exposes the despicable intellectual dishonesty of the Disco-Tute, and Evolution News and Views as a propaganda rag. At least they do conveniently marginalize themselves with such nonsense.

There is also a deeper lesson here, in my opinion. This is an extreme case of a phenomenon that I believe is widespread – shoehorning a cause-and-effect explanation into a situation in order to support a preferred narrative. This happens whenever a major tragedy occurs; people seek for an explanation within their existing narratives. This becomes an exercise in confirmation bias and motivated reasoning, and then further supports the narrative.

If you have spent any time discussing politics with friends, you have likely experienced this. Conservatives can always find a way to blame liberals for anything, and vice versa. Whatever social issue is most important to you, that is the lens through which you will view events, and the explanation that fits the issues you care about will pop out.

In reality most events are the result of a complex network of interacting variables. When a shooter killed many children in an elementary school in Sandy Hook, many commentators focused on one factor as “the” cause. It was either lax gun laws, or not enough security in schools, or lack of recognition and treatment for mental illness, or poor parenting. Perhaps Klinghoffer thinks it was due to teaching evolution in schools.

As is usually the case, it is far easier to see this behavior in others than in ourselves. It is important, therefore, to make a conscious effort to step back and try to think of such events and the result of the complex interacting forces that it probably is, rather than quickly settle into your preferred narrative. We also have to let the evidence for each individual case speak for itself, rather than use individual incidents as automatically representative of the larger issues we care about (even if those issues are perfectly legitimate).

In the case of Roof, the evidence that is available so far strongly points to the conclusion that he was a white supremacist racist, filled with the usual beliefs and hatred fostered by such groups. He has pretty much stated that was the motivation for his actions, and his previous writings are also pretty clear. Other factors about Roof may have interacted with his racism, but they are likely incidental to his actions. He may have been an avid gamer, for example, but that does not mean gaming caused his violence.

In other words, we have to resist the temptation to assume that any correlation is a causation, especially when it fits our preferred narrative. We have to be skeptical and ask, what does the evidence actually indicate?

A critical thinker should do, in short, what Klinghoffer at the Disco-Tute failed to do. Be skeptical.

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