Psychologizing and insinuation

Uncommon Descent screenshotSuppose I were to pick some group of people, Buddhists, for example, or millennials, or Australians, and start writing nasty things about them. Suppose I said that members of this group, not some of them but all of them, were stupid, unethical, ignorant, intellectually and morally depraved, and incapable of either knowing right from wrong or believing in love. Suppose I argued that these traits were not incidental, not demographic trends, but necessary outcomes of membership in the group, in other words that belonging to the group causes them (just in case this isn’t 100% clear, I don’t believe any of these things about any of these groups).

If I wrote all that, do you think it would be fair to say that I was trying to dehumanize members of the group I was writing about? I certainly do. I sincerely hope that you would stop reading anything I wrote, block me on social media, and bring my hate speech to PZ Myers’ attention so that I’d get kicked off of Freethought Blogs.

So I find it ironic that some of the people who are saying those things are also accusing the members of the group they’re saying it about of dehumanizing others.

I have previously reported some of the nasty things members of the Discovery Institute have said about atheists (or materialists, or naturalists, or ‘Darwinists’; most of their writings treat these as synonyms). Denyse O’Leary and David Klinghoffer in particular have said that materialists can’t possibly believe in love, minds, intellectual freedom, or the value of human life; their Discovery Institute colleagues have said the rest of the things I listed in the first paragraph and much more (and I have never seen any dissent from any of them). If you think I’m exaggerating any of this, if you think I’ve taken their words out of context in a way that changes their meaning, please check out “Intelligent design advocates tell me what I believe,” follow the links, and judge for yourself. If you still think so, feel free to call me out in the comments; I have never blocked a commenter for disagreeing with me.

Uncommon Descent screenshot

Some members of the Discovery Institute are telling vicious lies about Darwinists (or materialists/naturalists/atheists). I think the claim that members of those groups are necessarily stupid, ignorant, and depraved constitutes an attempt to dehumanize them. And now some of the same people trying to dehumanize ‘Darwinists’ are claiming that dehumanization is a fundamental aspect of Darwinism.

Denyse O’Leary, who has previously told us that materialists can’t believe the the mind exists, or love, that we mustn’t believe in intellectual freedom, and that we “do not think a human child is ultimately of any more significance than a pillbug egg,” now tells us that racism is absolutely essential to the Darwinian worldview:

In any Darwinian scheme, someone must be the subhuman. If not the current lot (formerly, the “savages,” currently the Neanderthals and/or Homo erectus), who will it be?

No, no one must be the subhuman. This is a vicious lie, and another example of intelligent design advocates telling me what I believe. Subhuman plainly means below human. How many times have I argued that there is no ‘above’ and ‘below’ in evolution?

What there is, in human evolution, is Homo sapiens and our extinct ancestors and relatives. Some of them were certainly non-human, but none of them were subhuman. Were Neanderthals human? Was Homo erectus? Were Homo floresiensisHomo habilisAustralopithecus, Gigantopithecus…? How similar to Homo sapiens do they need to have been to consider them human? Where we draw that line is a matter of definitions, not of fact. Regardless, some are or were human, others non-human, but none are ‘above’ or ‘below’ the others. There are not, and never were, any subhumans.

O’Leary continues:

If they [the subhumans] aren’t found, the Darwinist is looking down the maw of some sort of creationism. It need not be theistic creationism. But it does mean that a momentous event happened with explicable swiftness, like the Big Bang or the origin of language, findings naturalists do not like precisely because of their creationist implications.

No, the absence of subhumans doesn’t imply creationism. No, it doesn’t mean that human origins were inexplicably swift. No, naturalists don’t dislike the Big Bang or the origin of language because these events have “creationist implications.” This is all nonsense.

David Klinghoffer, who recently said something very wise, thought O’Leary’s nonsense was just great:

Evolution News & Views screenshot

It’s great to have insightful colleagues. Denyse O’Leary…points out something I hadn’t quite grasped. Now a lightbulb goes off.

The thread of racism in Darwinian thinking isn’t a chance thing, a mere byproduct of Charles Darwin’s personal views as a “man of his time.” You think if Darwinism had emerged not in the dark age of the 19th century but in our own woke era, it would be different? No, it wouldn’t. The racism is inherent, unavoidable. [emphasis added]

I wrote above that Klinghoffer had recently said something very wise. This is not what I meant. Rather, responding to a National Review article that attributes a Christian musician’s loss of faith to a lack of “courage to believe,” Klinghoffer recently wrote,

I’m not impressed by the psychologizing or the insinuation that Sampson’s problem lies in insufficient “moral courage.” Needless to say, you can never know what’s in someone else’s heart, especially a stranger’s…[emphasis added]

I couldn’t agree more. Mr. Klinghoffer and I are on the same page here: I try (and sometimes fail, I’m sure) to focus on what people have said and done and not pretend to know their thoughts or motivations. But for someone I’ve never met (though we’re not quite strangers), Mr. Klinghoffer knows an awful lot about what’s in my heart:

The idea of racial equality, perfectly natural to a design perspective, can be achieved by the Darwinist only by continually and ruthlessly suppressing a built-in tendency. It requires bad faith: fooling himself about his own way of thinking. Like an irremediable birth defect, it’s never going to go away…Darwinism and racism are a match made in… Well, they’re conjoined twins, let’s put it that way.

Apparently you can know what’s in a stranger’s heart if that stranger is a Darwinist. Klinghoffer psychologizes that we are “continually and ruthlessly suppressing a built-in tendency,” and he insinuates that Darwinism and racism are fellow travelers. The courtesy of not pretending to know a stranger’s thoughts and feelings is apparently not extended to non-believers.

O’Leary, the same day, quoted Klinghoffer’s post approvingly and added

Uncommon Descent screenshot

For the record, I’m not—of course—saying that all Darwinians are racist or that no non-Darwinians are racist.

No, no, of course not! You’re just agreeing that racism is “integral to [our] thinking, like an irremediable birth defect.” I feel so much better!

So racism is “inherent, unavoidable” and “integral, like an irremediable birth defect” to Darwinian thinking. Imagine I said something like that about a religious group, or a nationality, or an age group. What would you call it if I said that racism is integral to Buddhist thinking, or millennial thinking, or the thinking of Australians, or, for that matter, of creationists? What would you call it if I piled a charge of inherent racism onto previous claims that members of this group were stupid, unethical, ignorant, intellectually and morally depraved, and incapable of either knowing right from wrong or believing in love?

I know what I’d call it. I’d call it an attempt to dehumanize the group in question. I’d call it bigotry.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Hierarchical thinking requires postulating “sub-” and “super-” groups – and O’Leary & Klinghoffer certainly present themselves as reflexive hierarchists.

    Perhaps that correlates with particular psychological types, and some ideologies seemingly require it. Christianism has lots of it, but also includes some strongly egalitarian modes, so I propose we consider it as irrelevant, or at most secondary, in this context – as with oh so many others.

  2. rjdownard says

    The main variable that applies to the DI on this topic is the same one that applies to antievolutionism generally: their practitioners reflect a “Kulturkampf” struggle to restore traditional truths (theirs). All who do not share their convictions are devoid of virtue & truth, for all Truth comes from their doctrinal font. Such themes have been a staple in young earth creationist apologetics for decades.

    Once you see that common Kulturkampf aspect to both ID & YEC, the DI posts seem less surprising.
    Wesley Smith’s barrage of complaints about euthanasia policies in medicine or whether people have a right to die at all come along with the rants on evolution (which in turn relates to human exceptionalism, rather than whether sauropod vertebrae can vary naturalistically).

    When you recall that the antievolution demographic is almost exclusively politically and religiously infused conservatism, though, the absolutist One Way (Our Way) seen in these DI posts is only to be expected in that mindset. Dressed up in collegiate garb they may be, but their minds have much more in common with Ken Ham’s culture war obsessions than they do with Enlightenment philosophical inquiry.

    Like the late Phillip Johnson, their advocates see themselves as soldiers in a battle for the hearts of minds of people, and they’re looking for converts, not prisoners, and definitely not morally or intellectually viable rivals. Its conceptually easier to draw the lines on what sides there are if there are only two sides, theirs (embodying all that is virtuous) and the other, devoid of all attraction. A pompous cultural imperialism, appropriating all that is worthwhile, is the inevitable result.

  3. reasoningbeing says

    I suspect psychological projection. Could it be that these folks feel a need slander those they do not understand in order to satisfy some narcissistic impulse?

  4. brucegee1962 says

    Sounds as if they’ve seen too many of those “fish…lizard…lemur…chimp…homo erectus…modern man” cartoons, and have become convinced that they represent what Darwinists actually believe.

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