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This is one a couple of posts about Creationism, written originally on May 1st, 2005.

Creationism Is Just One Symptom Of Conservative Pathology

I am not an “evolutionist”. I am not a “Darwinist”. I am a biologist. Thus, by definition, I am an evolutionary biologist. Although my research is in physiology and behavior, I would never be able to make any sense of my data (or even know what questions to ask in the first place) without evolutionary thinking.

As I am also interested in history and philosophy of biology, I consider myself a Darwinian. But not a “Darwinist” or “evolutionist” – those two words are Creationists’ constructs. They arise from the basic misunderstanding of evolution. Being religious believers they cannot fathom that people can operate outside of the realm of belief, thus they assume that evolution is a belief, akin to and in competition with their belief.

I do not believe in evolution. It is not something you believe in or not: it is something you understand or not. I judge the evidence. If I think it is fishy I will delay my judgement until more data comes in. If the evidence looks good, I will tentatively and temporarily accept it as correct until more data come in. Evolutionary biology is sitting on such large mountains of strong evidence collected over the past 150 years that it appears impossible that over the next 150 years we will be able to collect an equivalent amount of data challenging it in order to question the validity of evolutionary theory. It is one of the strongest supported theory in all of science. For all practical purposes, evolution (as in “common descent”) is a fact, an d natural selection is the strongest of several mechanisms by which evolution operates. There is nothing controversial about this.

Some people, I believe, are incapable of understanding evolution. The way they were raised (strict/abusive parenting that is hugely widespread in the USA, especially in the South – click on that link and the links within for more, much more) arrests their intellectual, moral and emotional development in such a way that they are incapable of understanding complex systems in which the nature of interactions between small and simple individual parts results in apparent order and functioning of a system as a whole with no need for any single part to be in control. The refusal to accept evolution is, thus, not due to their stupidity, wickedness, or economic interest, but is the result of them being victims of the way they were raised. They are incapable of understanding evolution, even if they had the guts to try, which they don’t due to the emotional scars of their upbringing.

Those two terms (“evolutionist” and “Darwinist”) have lately also been used on purpose, as code-words for their own audience. They understand that using these terms implies (and turns on a frame of mind in the listeners) that evolution is a religious belief. It is similar to the way I think of myself as a member of the Democratic Party, but Republicans prefer to use the Luntzism “Democrat Party”. It’s all about framing the debate.

As a biologist, reading Creationist rants fills me with a mix of amusement, anger, and disgust. I have mixed feelings about responding to such rants.

Ignoring it, as it is a farce, seems the most reasonable course of action. Why waste time on someone else’s misguidedness or stupidity?

Putting it up for all the world to see, in hope that people will immediately recognize the invalidity of Creationist so-called arguments, may be dangerous – many people are not mentally, emotionally and educationally prepared to see it for what it is.

Confronting and dissecting the same old tired “arguments” is boring – it has been done a million times before. Just go to Talk Origins for a well-organized compendium of rebuttals of all the talking points that Creationists of all stripes, including Intelligent Design Creationists (IDC), have put out over the past 150 years or so.

Some people are devoting their careers to fighting against this nonsense and are really good at it, so why should I, a run-of-the-mill scientist get involved personally? I did not get involved personally for the past dozen or so years. Why do I feel I should start now?

It is because of the political dimension of it. Modern American Creationists are not just a small but vocal group of marginalized wackos one can just laugh at. They constitute one of the important prongs of the multi-pronged strategy of the Conservative/Regressive movement to gut the Enlightment and bring about the Second Dark Ages.

Just like the forces of anti-modernism divvy up their responsibilities as the IDC crowd, pro-Iraq-war crowd, NRA crowd, anti-choice crowd, racist crowd, tax-cutting crowd, libertarian crowd, Horowitz crowd, homophobic crowd, etc., are delegated to speak to somewhat different audiences in hope of recruiting as broad a swath of population as possible for their cause, so we also have to divvy up our responsibilities and each one of us needs to use one’s own skills and expertise in countering the a ssault of one appropriate prong.

In other words, we have to have people trained in defeating the rhetoric of Creationists, other people trained in defeating the rhetoric of the Superpatriots, yet other people trained in defeating the rhetoric of the anti-choice crowd, etc. But although we need to have an approriate division of labor, it is of utmost importance to always keep in mind that all those groups are not independent, but just different weapons in the arsenal of a large (and quite unified, for now) movement to turn back the clock at least a few centuries (two millenia is the ultimate goal) on social policies, and at least about 125 years back (to the Robber Baron era) on economic policies.

As a biologist, it seems appropriate that I should be recruited to counter the rhetoric of Creationists. But I am so sick and tired of them, I see this more as a sacred duty than as something I would relish doing. I do not have the enthusiasm to do this myself as much as I like to watch how some other people destroy the old silly arguments over and over again. Perhaps my job, as a blogger, is to keep reminding people that all these groups should not be approached in isolation, but as parts of a bigger whole. Perhaps I should write a post like this one a couple of times a month….

One of the indicators of the intertwined nature of all these groups is some of the rhetoric. For instance, Creationists do not just vaguely attack evolution because they perceieve it as factually wrong. What they imply is that evolution is morally wrong. Do a quick search of blogs, e.g., on Technorati, for “evolution”, “Hitler” and “Stalin”. You will be amazed to see how many Wingnut weirdos truly believe the nonsense that “Darwinism” (whatever that is) leads to atheism (bad logic), which leads to immorality (worse logic), which leads to Nazism and Stalinism (unbelievably bad logic). It is the most ridiculous argument ever, yet these people fervently believe such nonsense. Did they get it in churches? From FoxNews? From radio talk-shows? And why do they feel such a great NEED to believe such nonsense and will not listen when presented with simple and effective counter-arguments? Is it due to their parenting-induced femiphobia? Did Daddy just beat them, or did he also sexually abused them when they were kids?

This faulty chain of reasoning is not limited just to Creationist rhetoric. It can be easily found all over the Right Wing, no matter what particular issue is discussed. They have developed, both through natural inclination and through the work of conservative “think”-tanks (e.g., Heritage, American Enterprise) and people like Frank Luntz, a whole host of strawmen that they beat to death without even any basic understanding that they have no idea what they are talking about, but they are saying it loudly so it must be right.

See, for instance, this recent blog post:

Do liberals have some sort of underlying psychological condition that causes them to be liberals? I know this sounds like a “trolling” statement, but I think it be ars examining. There’s more going on than mere political discourse. There’s a lot more.

Of course one’s ideology stems from one’s psychological condition which arises through emotional, moral and intellectual development during childhood and which is strongly affected by environmental conditions during that sensitive period. Of course there is more going on than mere political discourse. It is all emotion. But, there has been quite a lot of research on this, and, as it turns out, it is conservatives who are afflicted with psychological pathologies.

Paranoia – How many ways have we heard, from liberals, that George W. Bush and the Republican Party are out to get them? If you listen to the liberals, the GOP is out to destroy the environment, starve children, take away jobs, poison the air, poison the water, take away retirement benefits, control the media, and a LOT of other stuff that is demonstrably untrue. The generic statement from liberals is that “they” are out to get “us.”

Even paranoids have real enemies. I know there is a lot of conspiracy theorizing on the Left. I do not think that BushCo are smart enough to pull off something like actually ordering the 911 attack. Stolen votes are real but not at the extent as some think, and a better candidate than Kerry could have won despite the monkey-wrenches Repubs were putting into the wheels of the elections. But, you do not have to “listen to the liberals”. Instead, just read the speeches by Republicans of all stripes, and read the actual texts of legislation they are trying to push, to see for yourself that GOP is out to destroy the environment, starve children, take away jobs, poison the air, poison the water, take away retirement benefits, control the media, and a LOT of other stuff that is demonstrably TRUE! They are not “out” to do it. They have been doing it since the Gingrich revolution, and now they are just doing it faster and more openly (actually brazenly).

Inability to understand the concept of right and wrong – This is an important one. I can’t say how many times I’ve heard liberals say that right and wrong are relative concepts, and that we shouldn’t be making moral judgements. Meanwhile, psychiatrists are having people committed or put on medication if they can’t understand the concepts of right and wrong.

Here, again, is the conservative emotional need for black and white solutions. Sorry, the world does not work that way. I know that ambiguity makes you uncomfortable, but grit your teeth and you’ll survive. And invoking relativism is such a red herring .

Misunderstanding basic concepts – They refer to the President’s plan to allow for a tiny percentage of a person’s Social Security tax payments to go into personal accounts as “privatization.” They refer to taxes as investments. When a majority of the voting population supports something they disagree with, they call it extreme. When a tiny percentage supports something they like, they call it mainstream. They speak of communist Cuba as if it were Paradise, and call Wal-Mart an enemy.

Again, look at the facts. If Bush manages to ram this bill through, say good-bye to your Social Security check: if it exists at all, it will be at least a third smaller than under the current regime. Taxes ARE investments, primarily into people, secondarily into infrastructure without which one cannot do business and conceivably become rich. Try building your own highway, delivering your own mail, educating your own physician just from the profits of your own little company. Majority opinion does not imply it is correct. Majority in this country are horrendously miseducated, misinformed and misguided. Wal-Mart is the most atrocious company ever. I have never heard a Liberal mention Cuba. It is a Wingnut obsession. What Liberals are concerned about is that the USA is quickly turning into a dictatorship not unlike Cuba.

Delusions, Hallucinations, Disordered Thinking, Emotional Unresponsiveness, and so on.

See the link above for the correct list of mental and emotional afflictions of conservatives. Of course, that list is compiled from scientific studies. When science comes up with evidence Wingnuts don’t like…well to hell with science – their emotions know better. More and more they are abandoning science because science is refuting, one by one, the pillars of conservative ideology: notion that children are born bad, that discipline leads to self-discipline, that obedience leads to morality, that religious belief assures morality, that moral people do well in life thus rich people are the superior and more moral than anybody else, that cutting taxes stimulates the economy, that the environment is for us to plunder, etc., etc. All those beliefs are central to conservative ideology and all of them have been shown, through research, to be wrong.

All they have left is base emotion. Don’t think that this guy is an oddity, a mistake, an isolated case (Pam’s blog is a showcase of hundreds of such nutcases). He is a clone. He is one of thousands elected Republicans who feel and think just like him. As a small County Comissioner, he is dumb and clumsy, thus open about his pathology. Someone higher up, like George Bush, has to be much more circumspect, but don’t think even for a moment that he does not feel and think exactly the same way. Sure, some people are crazier than the others (and some Lefties, e.g., the small but violent ALF/ELF/PETA crowd are just as loony), but, as a generalization, everybody who voted for Bush, Badnarik or Nader last year is due for a brain check-up.

When half the country is like this, education, information and Lakoff’s framing can do only so much. Soros, Podesta, ACT, MoveOn and Rockridge are important, but not sufficient. Howard Dean needs to hire some good psychiatrists, too, so they can treat the collective conservative pathology before the average American minds can take in the education, information and modern liberal frames needed for the entrance into, let’s say, late 19th century. We’ll work on 21st century later…

My response to the comment by The News Writer was getting too long, so let me just append it here:

This post was getting to be about book-length already, so I did not bother to include some obvious caveats about breadth of variation etc. Of course, each individual will have a different experience, but generalizations can be made from the statistics. I have touched on those caveats in several posts over time, most recently in this one.

Abusive child-rearing is just an extreme variant of the Strict Parenting. There is a whole spectrum there, of course, with some people apparently normal, yet the almost invisible dynamics of the relationship between the mother and father and both towards the children can have a strong impact. This, the relationship between parenting style and subsequent political ideology, and relationship between conservative political ideology and a range of pathologies, is actually the empirically most strongly supported part of my post – the rest are my musings and attempts to connect the dots.

For instance, there was a commenter a few weeks ago on Pharyngula who said that, though it never happened before, if it came to a situation in which he and his wife could not agree on something, the final decision would be his because he is the man of the house. It became a long thread and he never understood what was wrong with it and that, perhaps, such a situation never arose in the first place BECAUSE of the underlying dynamics, i.e., his wife would rather defer to him than get to the point where he will feel compelled to put his foot down. Otherwise, from the guy’s description, it appeared to be a nice marriage and a nice family. But such subtleties can have a great effect on the kids.

Of course, home is not the only place that raises the child: there are other family members (the crazy Liberal Uncle), school (I wrote about that in several posts in the Education Category on my blog), support-groups, shrinks, church, neighborhood kids, etc.

There may be some genetic component to it, too. Continua of traits in children, like shyness/boldness and fearfulness/fearlessness may be important traits determining an outcome of parenting. Such traits are easily selected for in chickens and quail.

Birth order, according to Frank Sulloway, also will have an effect, perhaps more in a conservative family where the first-born son may have a particular emotional role to play.

So, when I write about half of Americans suffering negative effects of strict parenting, it includes all those caveats, too, and the whole range of possible outcomes, including rebellion.

Comments

  1. #1 Fernando Schuh
    June 28, 2006

    “Religious believers cannot fathom that people can operate outside of the realm of belief, thus they assume that evolution is a belief, akin to and in competition with their belief.

    I do not believe in evolution. It is not something you believe in or not: it is something you understand or not. I judge the evidence.”

    Right on the spot. This is it. They simply canīt understand. And theyīre trained day after day to donīt understand… I donīt think itīs a battle you can win on people older than 12 years old.

    And something that bugs me… they donīt know what a scientist is. For them, any scientist is as good as another, it seems to those very average people that all scientists know exactly the same thing, and a biologist is only a “scientist” that decided to tackle biology, but he could also go on with biochemistry, if he feels like it. People seems to believe scientists are like the ones on hollywood movies, know-it-all types. Thatīs why the discovery institute list uses the 500 or so list of “scientists that disagree with evolution”… for the public, only the numbers matter.

    And another issue. The public also really believes the “science was wrong before, so we canīt really trust it” line. They really donīt understand science, or want to. They think that scientific discoveries arise in a stroke of genius, all complete. For them, one fault invalidates it all.

    So, I see a PR problem, from our side. A really big one. Do we need to educate average Joe? We canīt. Heīs beyond help in his stupidity. But we can SAVE his children, I believe. Or hope. By education.

    Oh, and making the cretinists look stupid is still great fun! Because they are even more stupid than we think they are! LOL

  2. #2 Colin Coghill
    June 28, 2006

    The effect that parental style has on a child’s belief system and the ability to understand certain concepts is a fascinating and scary one. I too have read some studies investigating this and and it leads me to wonder how you break a vicious cycle like that while still leaving people the right to raise their own kids their own way.

    The thought that by the time people are old enough to decide for themselves what they are exposed to, they might no longer have the ability to even comprehend some things is one that worries me a bit.

    Excellently written essay. You’ve given me plenty of food for thought, and that’s one of the longest pieces of writing I’ve read where I don’t think I’ve found anything I disagree with.

    - Colin

  3. #3 Colin
    June 28, 2006

    I think that you are too pessimistic in judging the mental capacity of the creationist crowd to understand complex systems like evolution. There is a large difference between the ability to learn and the desire to learn, and creationists obviously have no desire to challenge themselves and learn the science behind evolution.

    Personally, I’ve come to think that for most people evolution/creationism is a moralistic decision. Without the knowledge of evolution and the scientific method, people are left responding to it on a gut emotional level. Thus anyone who reacts negatively is responding that way because the very idea of evolution just feels wrong to them.

    This is why it is so hard to rationally persuade creationist people that evolution is right — for them it is a moral emotional position not a rational one. Even if they argue with seemly rational justifications for their belief in ID/creationism, these justifications only came about as their mind was flailing about seeking reasons to justify why evolution feels so wrong.

  4. #4 Nathanael Nerode
    April 18, 2007

    “Do liberals have some sort of underlying psychological condition that causes them to be liberals?”

    Yes. It’s usually called “empathy”.

    It’s not always enough by itself. “Rationality” helps (since modern ‘conservatism’ doesn’t make sense, at least if your goals are in line with empathy), but is not strictly necessary. Same with “empiricism” (since modern ‘conservatism’ doesn’t work, if your goals are in line with empathy).

  5. #5 FreeDem
    April 19, 2007

    I have been exploring many of the same points on My blog http://freedemocrat.blogspot.com/ Particularly the most recent “Generation Of Monsters”. Dr Altemeyer has reservations about research that shows a link between Child Abuse and Authoritarian thinking, others such as yourself and others do make that link.

    I would be interested in what actual research you know of that does make that link and how determinative it can be shown to be, both on the positive and negative side of the equation.

  6. #6 Xenographer23
    June 3, 2007

    To be a rant about gross oversimplifications, this is in awfully broad strokes.

    All Creationists come from the South? All Southerners are raised in abusive homes? Nobody raised in an abusive home can comprehend complex systems?

    Don’t get me wrong, I feel much the same about Creationism. But I disagree with a lot of the reasoning you’ve used here. It seems to me you see the Democratic party as somehow better than the Republicans, when in truth they’re just two sides of the same coin; the whole political machine is flawed, and science (or a scientist!) should never ally itself with one side or other of that distorted continuum.

    (also, there is such a thing as a left-wing Libertarian, even one that accepts the self-evident truth of Evolution… hail Eris!)

  7. #7 coturnix
    June 3, 2007

    Ah, the stumbleupon crowd coming in, I see. The caveats can be found in the links. And also, as this is an old, post, you should also check the update.

  8. #8 coturnix
    June 3, 2007

    Check the Update and the links within and the lonks within links.

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