Hans Zeiger's Scientific Ignorance

Good ol' Hans Zeiger's illogic appears to know no bounds at all. One wonders if he writes papers for his professors at Hillsdale that are as rife with irrational statements as those he writes for the Worldnutdaily. His latest column makes the ridiculous argument that because scientists have said false things in the past, we must dismiss any claims of science he doesn't like. After being informed by a biologist that his claims about "manliness" in a previous column were scientifically ignorant, he responds:

I am aware of the science, and I am also aware that science cannot explain everything. Science cannot explain purpose in life, and it cannot explain purpose in manhood or womanhood. If we are to locate dignity at all in this fallen world, we must take in the claims of science always with a grain of salt.

Evolutionary biology was the foundation for a theory of race that subordinated blacks to whites; there was much "proof" behind the theory until the common proofs of common humanity prevailed. Evolutionist Thomas Huxley had the "facts" when he asserted that "no rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average Negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the average white man." Henry Osborne, professor of biology and zoology at Columbia University a century ago, said, "The standard of intelligence of the average adult Negro is similar to that of the 11-year-old youth of the species Homo sapiens."

Think about how absurd this argument is: Two scientists a century ago believed dumb things; therefore, science should be taken "always with a grain of salt." But of course, Zeiger would never say such a thing about religion, where the track record of false statements is far longer and far more insidious. And unlike science, religion has no means of correcting itself. On the subject of race, in particular, this distinction is sharp and undeniable.

Neiher Huxley nor Osborne had "the facts" when they spoke on that subject. But Zeiger doesn't bother to mention that "the facts" in regard to our common humanity came from scientific study itself. That's part of the power of science, that new evidence forces us to reevaluate our biases and our prejudices. If our explanations fail to explain the evidence as it comes in, our explanations must be changed or discarded and new ones constructed. If only religion had such a corrective mechanism, mankind would have been spared much misery.

For crying out loud, we live in a nation where a sizable percentage of people still believe that the earth is a few thousand years old and that the Noah's Ark story is real, all despite mountains (literally) of evidence to the contrary. Such religious views are, in most cases, completely impervious to evidence no matter how overwhelming and clear the evidence is or how miserably their rationalizations fail to explain it away. Such beliefs are tucked safely behind all sorts of protective mechanisms, particularly the notion that one must have faith that they are true no matter what the evidence says because anyone who doubts them is being influenced by Satan (I've been told this directly on many occasions by those who believe such things). It's a perfect force field around those views, rendering them completely immune to all rational evaluation.

Science, on the other hand, holds no such sacrosanct ideas. I know, I know, I can hear the bleatings of the ID crowd already about the "Darwinian priesthood" defending their "faith" in evolution. But that's all nonsense. If the ID crowd actually came up with a way to test their ideas and had the evidence to support them, scientists would be more than happy to change their minds. Many a scientific theory has succeeded solely because of the evidence after being initially ridiculed by the establishment.

The difference, of course, is that the scientists who initiated and established ideas like big bang cosmology and continental drift did not whine and complain about "persecution", launch PR campaigns demanding equal time for their ideas or engage in political lobbying to get their claims into science classrooms long before they had even been stated coherently, much less proven. They just got to work, refining their ideas, gathering data, and proposing ways to test their hypotheses. And when that work paid off, those ideas that were previously rejected very quickly became the dominant explanations in those fields.

And that is precisely why Zeiger's absurd rantings about scientific mistakes from a century ago are both ignorant and illogical. It is the very fact that science is capable of correcting past mistakes that provides the basis for trusting the process of science to get past previous biases when the evidence demands it.

The rest of Zeiger's column is equally ridiculous. I particularly enjoyed this silly paragraph:

Like the scientists of yesterday who said that a human being was not a human being, the scientists today tell us that a woman is not a woman, and a man is not a man. There is no common manhood or common womanhood, the experts tell us. There are lesbians, "gays," bisexuals, transgenders, pansexuals, intersexuals, transsexuals, genderqueers, fetishists and heterosexuals.

Zeiger is about as confused as it is possible for one lone person to be. He is confusing gender with sexual orientation or preference. There are, of course, all of those variations he lists among human beings, and there always have been. With the exception of intersexuals (by which I presume he means those born with both male and female genitalia), all of that list describes sexual orientations. A man who is gay is still a man, and a woman who is a lesbian is still a woman.

The best proof the scientists give for such a diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities is that animals may behave like animals. That assumes, of course, that we, too, are mere animals.

What if we have souls? The scientists will never prove that we do, so they must assume that we do not. And that is a suicidal assumption. When a man accepts the notion that he may be an animal instead of a man, or a woman instead of a man, he is emasculated. He surrenders his soul to gain the whole confusion.

Wow. Hans, my friend, the one here who has surrendered to confusion is you. How does this "soul" notion cover intersexuals? They do exist, you know. A not-miniscule percentage of human beings are, in fact, born with both male and female genitals. Pray tell, is their "soul" male or female? How do they fall into your neat and tidy little dichotomy; on which side of the fence do they call? And why do you suppose God created them? To confuse us, to confuse them, or perhaps to confuse you?

I will not bother myself to explain on scientific grounds what it means to be a man; for one thing, I am not a scientist, and for another thing, I doubt that I understand manliness beyond elementary grounds. After all, there are few standing untouched by the enervating fogs of our age, and I would not claim to be a lone man in an age without men. I have been blessed to know some of the few; I am still pressing toward the mark. Manliness is a study. It is learned through initiation, through example, through the school of failure. My recognition of the problem in our age is a consequence of my recognition that all is not well in my own soul, that only an earnest striving for higher grounds under the tutelage of the Almighty can arrest the sin that corrupts the heart. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. If we are men in the end, it is because we have resisted the comfortable spa of apathy to take the bold personal effort to leave it and enter a battlefield.

The battlefield is spiritual. Also, it is as physical as war in Iraq, or what will probably be war in North Korea.

If we spend our time wondering whether there is a scientific basis for manliness, we will be disappointed that others have settled for more active considerations, when we find ourselves nuked to smithereens by Kim Jong-il.

Wow. Just wow. That's so stupid it's not even worth pointing out why. Just stunning.

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That last couple of paragraphs are such nonsense I can't even think where you would start. What a complete fool!

So... manliness is going to war? The war in Iraq proves.... what???

And we'll be even more manly if we attack North Korea?

You know, reading some of these people sometimes makes me want to take a bath, but this is the first one that made me want to get a sex change operation.

That has to be the most ignorant piece of drivel I have ever read. I checked his blog and all of the comments to his Manliness piece are Viagra spam posts. LOL!

So many folks like this regard the soul as entering the body at conception (hence the difficulty with ES cells and abortion). Now this gentleman comes along and claims that the soul also has to convey some sort of gender to it inhabited body. Yet, the fetus has both sets of pre-genitalia/pre-reproductive organs long after implantation. So, after the soul invests the body and before the body takes on an actual gender, is the soul ambiguous? Is it in limbo? Just hanging out waiting?

By Scott Reese (not verified) on 13 Oct 2006 #permalink

Wow. Hans, my friend, the one here who has surrendered to confusion is you. How does this "soul" notion cover intersexuals? They do exist, you know. A not-miniscule percentage of human beings are, in fact, born with both male and female genitals.

Ed, I think the corrected term is "the intersexed," not Zeiger's "intersexuals," but would we be surprised he got that wrong too? And the intersexed may not just be born with some genetalia from both genders, they may actually be genetically in between genders as well - there was a Discovery Channel documentary on the subject that included a child born with 50% of the cells having XY chromosones and 50% just X chromosones - what gender is that child again?

But what is also interesting about the intersexed is that, if left alone and not forced into on gender or the other when children, when they mature they very often favor one gender or the other, and that gender may not totally agree with their physical characteristics. Yet it is pretty clear that, in their development either the male or the female hormones have had a stronger effect and tended them toward male or female gender expression.

And the same is basically true for all adults, which Zeiger does not address. There are certainly differences, in the aggregate, between men and women, but that tells you nothing about an individual man or woman, in terms of their gender expression, way of dealing with the world, talents and skills, etc. One of the hallmarks of the "pro-family" movement is an inability to grasp the concept that every man does not exhibit the same level of masculinity, and the same goes for women. After all, we are all half-man/half-woman at the core.

I also thought it was funny that Zeiger seems to be agreeing with a basic tenet of the feminist movement:

Manliness is a study. It is learned through initiation, through example, through the school of failure.

In other words, it is a social construct, and not an in-born trait.

Evolutionary biology was the foundation for a theory of race that subordinated blacks to whites...

And as we all know, whites treated blacks as equals, all over the world, in all their daily actions, before Darwin came along and invented slavery and imperialism...right?

The mere fact that slavery was abolished in the US -- and serfdom abolished in Russia -- AFTER Darwin published his infamous book, pretty well blows this idiot's thesis to hell.

Strange that this had never occurred to me before, but I think I see where all this wingnuttery comes from: They're all Platonists. As such, everything and everybody need to fit into a category, and no deviance from the category is permitted.

What else explains this odd infatuation with "manliness"? It is because there is one perfect male ideal that we are supposed to strive after.

When you combine this with the Levitical impulse to regard anything which deviates from its class as "abomination," you get the entire Christianist agenda.

So they cannot understand speciation, because a species is a category, and one category cannot slowly slide into another over time. The whole thing is rather charming, in a 4th Century kind of way.

I've encountered Zeiger's line of thinking here many times, and I just don't get it. Setting aside for a moment the possibility of a "gay gene" (and the less-discussed, "hetero gene"), I think folks like Hans are obsessed with sexuality being a package deal.

So, in Hans-land, sexuality is ordered up from a divine menu. Value meal #1 is male, and it comes with attraction to women, a penis, and enjoyment of sports. Value meal #2 (natch) is female, which gets you attraction to men, a vagina, and an unhealthy obsession with shoes. Therefore, anyone who claims otherwise either got a partially wrong order (intersexuals, perhaps) or doesn't realize they got the right order (homosexuals, etc.). It's rubbish, but that's the idea, I think.

Thanks goodness there are enough educated folks in the world who know that Zeiger is one prize short of a happy meal.

Ahem.

The following question should be on the American history final in every high school: The theories used to justify black slavery prior to the Civil War include:

  • A) The black race was descended from the cursed son of Noah.
  • B) Slaves came from heathen races that should be grateful for their forced Christianization.
  • C) The Bible clearly sanctions slavery.
  • D) States should be free to determine matters such as slavery.
  • E) Darwin's theory of evolution.
  • F) A and B.
  • G) All except D.

Evolutionary biology was the foundation for a theory of race that subordinated blacks to whites...

Not to beat this one point to death, but.. well, I want to beat it to death. Zeiger's historical ignorance is as stunning as his scientific and sociological ignorance. The theory of scientific racism was already old when Gobineau wrote its definitive work An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races six years before Darwin.

Darwin did not write to defend contemporary concepts of racism. The fact that some racists chose to use his work to bolster their crackpot theories doesn't make hime any more responsible for their conclusions than Henry Ford was responsible for Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree (Clyde Barrow liked Fords and always preferred to steal one when he needed a getaway car).

Strange that this had never occurred to me before, but I think I see where all this wingnuttery comes from: They're all Platonists. As such, everything and everybody need to fit into a category, and no deviance from the category is permitted.

I think I've had that thought about individual comments, though now that you mention it, this does seem to be pretty widespread. When seeing arguments against evolution I'm often struck by how some arguements seem based on things fitting into categories that we see now.

I think this is also part of the root of such black and white thinking like "you're either with us or against us" and similar lack of nuance.

Russell, you mean "All Except E"?

Darwin did not write to defend contemporary concepts of racism. The fact that some racists chose to use his work to bolster their crackpot theories doesn't make hime any more responsible for their conclusions than Henry Ford was responsible for Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree (Clyde Barrow liked Fords and always preferred to steal one when he needed a getaway car).

Though, ironically, Henry Ford is responsible for a certain degree of the racist thinking in America that followed him...

I find this obsession conservatives seem to have with manliness fascinating. They must all be deeply insecure in theirs if they keep thinking about it and find threats everywhere. What does 'pansexual' mean? Does it even mean anything?

With regard to his comment on blacks being subordinate to whites, he has demonstrated historical ignorance as well as scientific ignorance. Subordination of blacks is more a response to Bacon's Rebellion than a result of any scientific theories. I don't think anyone bothered with a scientific theory for race until the eighteenth century, after slavery was well established in the Western hemisphere and way before Darwin was even born. Darwin never collected any human skulls to measure either.

Men like him discredit the gender. What a load of drivel. I was going to write about it, too, but I realized that it's not worth the calories spent.

Many cultures subordinated one race to another in the name of culture, religion, economics, long before evolution came along.

Here's my question to every single anti-evolutionist that claims that evolution is racist or supports racism - Do you believe that racist ideologies are a mis-application or a proper application of evolution?
If you answer the former, please help scientists educate the public that it is a mis-application.
If you answer the latter, please help scientists by educating yourself about evolutionary theory before you open your mouth. or type on a keyboard.

"What does 'pansexual' mean? "

Someone who has sex with a chimpanzee.

By grasshopper (not verified) on 13 Oct 2006 #permalink

Ed, you used to give out an "Idiot of the Month" award (since renamed to one of your idiot commenters). Maybe you should revive that, and nominate Hans Ziegler for October.

BTW, I did not bother reading past Ziegler's first paragraph. It was ridiculous as heck.

"Nothing is more intimate than sexuality, and no greater
humiliation can be experienced than failure over what one perceives to be one's sexual role. Such failures are often the bases of domestic violence; and when these failures are linked with the social roles of masculinity and femininity, they can lead to public violence. Terrorist acts, then, can be forms of symbolic empowerment for men whose traditional sexual roles--their very manhood--is perceived to be at stake."

=snip=

"But there is another answer to the question of why radical religious groups are so homophobic: a loss of control. As Kerry Noble said, homosexuals have been scapegoats for a perceived systemic problem in society. When men have perceived their roles as diminished in a socioeconomic system that denies a sense of agency to individuals, either by being incompetent or overly competent-a faceless mechanical bureaucracy-this challenge has led to a defense of traditional roles. Because men have so frequently held the reins of public order as their gendered responsibility in society in the past, they have felt particularly vulnerable when the public world has fallen apart or has seemed beyond control. In this case, they have seen active women and gays not just as competition, but as symptoms of a world gone awry."

Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, Third Edition, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003

Science is no match against fear in the heart of men who feel castrated by market forces. And anyway. Isn't it easier to scapegoat (insert group here, preferably one that induces the most sexualized rage) rather than to question the aristocrats who've rigged the markets? Witch hunting worked fairly well in the past to keep the uppity peasants down when they began questioning King and Church.