Friday, December 14, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: A Zipper-Lipped Life

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Evolutionary biologist Colin Wright, who believes sex-associated personality differences are at least partly genetic, is deeply unhappy anyone would dare to challenge his worldview, set limits on his contribution to the public discourse, and disrupt his ongoing pursuit of intellectual fulfillment.

Who is doing such a thing, you ask? Why, it’s not the “moral majority” or the Christian Right; Wright dismisses Creationists as irrelevant. No, it’s the social justice Left.

Tom: It turns out the current state of evolutionary psychology has finally collided with the “blank slate” ideology of progressives, IC, and the sparks are making both sides unhappy. How unfortunate for “science”!

Blinded With “Science!”

Immanuel Can: I’m glad you put that word science in quotation marks, indicating the doubtfulness of the coinage. It’s apparent that there’s a lot of phony science going on from both sides of this debate.

Tom: An appeal to “Science!” these days is more often than not a fig leaf for the prevailing narrative dipped in a veneer of sneering prejudice, rather than anything factual or substantive. Mr. Wright is proud of the career he has chosen and looks down his nose at “Biblical Creationism gussied up in scientific-sounding prose”. We do not even merit debating, according to Wright. Any “controversy” about origins is, in his words, “so-called”. He would like creationists to pipe down and go away.

Ironically, the Left would like him to do the same … he’s afraid he will soon be leading what he calls a “zipper-lipped life”.

IC: Yes, and they’re using the same technique he’s using. It’s the old, “Well, everybody knows …” It doesn’t matter whether you mean “everybody who rates being called a scientist in my books” or “everybody who makes the grade as a postmodern compassionate leftist”. The game is the old tar-and-dismiss strategy. Both are just ways of avoiding facing uncomfortable facts and silencing questions.

Channeling Some Old Friends

Wright himself is not pure in his motives, but rather owns his inspiration from “outspoken public intellectuals like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Stephen Fry, and the late Christopher Hitchens”, who all, according to him, “led by example and followed reason wherever it took them.”

Tom: Yes, I found that hilarious.

IC: Well, what can one say? Hitchens was a pure rhetorician, a stylist. Fry’s still an actor and comic: he has a literary degree. Harris and Dawkins have some actual scientific credentials, but are both far more famous for their polemics against faith than they are for anything else they ever did in their respective fields. Now, how far these individuals have “led by example” or “followed reason” is quite a matter of debate. But it is very revealing that Wright has been basting himself in the jeremiads of the New Atheists, among whom smug dismissal is manifestly the stock-in-trade. So we can’t be too surprised to hear it coming from him.

Tom: Well, the great thing about being a “public intellectual” these days is that it requires neither credentials nor arguments. Being a journalist or an actor will do just fine. I saw on Twitter this morning that Stefan Molyneux challenged Bret Weinstein with statistics about worldwide scientific advancement between 800 B.C. and 1950 A.D. Weinstein, whose current visibility is due solely to his charter membership in the New York Times’ approved opposition, the so-called Intellectual Dark Web, pulled exactly the same lame stunt we see the Left use endlessly: “Not interested in debating it. His position is nuts. He might well advance his agenda, and I want no part of that.”

He simply no-platformed Molyneux. Argument over.

Nietzsche Couldn’t Teach Ya

IC: Yes, he gets that from Nietzsche. It’s the belief that arguments are not related to objective facts but to “agendas”, meaning power-moves that are produced cynically and in the interest of some group that wants to seize control. And since all views are just power moves, and none can be called more true than any other (because no facts or reasoning count), therefore all you can do to prevent somebody else’s power move is to deny them any chance to speak at all. That’s actually how the postmodern Left thinks — if it can be called “thinking” at all.

Tom: So then, smug dismissal is what passes for debate today. Molyneux is not a scientist, but he’s intelligent, he’s read the literature and he’s arguing something similar to what Colin Wright is arguing: that documented race-associated personality and cognitive differences are at least in part due to our genes. They are not merely a product of societal conditioning. We are not all blank slates who all start life on exactly the same footing. There is more and more laboratory and statistical evidence for these things every day.

This is what the Left does not want to hear and will not even discuss. Blank slate-ism is critical to its ongoing program to remake the West in its own ideological image. Any idea why that might be?

IC: Well, sure. It eliminates the given. There are no longer any restrictions on what one can want, demand or do, because then reality comes to us completely neutral, completely blank. We can write on that whatever we want.

Science Prostrate Before Ideology

Tom: And because this mumbo jumbo is coming from the powerful social justice crowd, even institutional science is quickly caving. Wright points out, not without chagrin, that “the most prestigious scientific journal in the world, Nature, published an editorial claiming that classifying people’s sex ‘on the basis of anatomy or genetics should be abandoned’ and ‘has no basis in science’ and that ‘the research and medical community now sees sex as more complex than male and female.’ ”

That’s an impressive display of virtue signaling by Nature. Be sure it won’t end there.

IC: People think you get the title “scientist” because you are especially rational — you’re only interested in truth, and are not driven by desires for prestige, money, acceptance or career extension anymore. The reality is that it’s very hard — and often expensive, unpopular and career-damaging — to remain dedicated to truth when your social group is singing a different song. Nature is a magazine purporting to speak to the public on science. Its first imperative is to sell, and its second is to retain its status. Truth rates third at best.

The idea that there is no given sexuality, and no right sexuality, is very, very popular right now. Even to doubt it is to be tarred with a dozen pejoratives, like sexist, oppressor, fundamentalist, and even Nazi, of course. Who would want to eat that? So Nature has caved: its first and second imperatives have obliterated its third. What’s really surprising, though, is to find something so blatantly anti-scientific being asserted by a magazine that makes any claim to speaking about science. And it points to the fact that the word “scientific” is sometimes no more than an arbitrarily-fixed label of approval, signifying that a particular position or declaration serves well the current prejudices, regardless of truth. (The word “progress” does similar work at times, of course.)

Hate Facts into the Memory Hole

Tom: The writing is on the wall here, IC, isn’t it: “science” will cave to ideology across the board. Give Wright a few months to get over his huffing and puffing that academia “is no longer a refuge for outspoken, free-thinking intellectuals” and to finish bemoaning his eunuch status in the new regime, and he’ll be singing the same tune as Nature’s editorial staff. Critical pieces like this that make reference to “hate facts” will not be tolerated in six months. They’ll be disappearing into the memory hole (except of course for this archived version). If he keeps it up he’ll be out on his ear. That would be a more dignified end to his career in evolutionary biology, which we all know is a bit of a dead-end anyway.

But for all that, Wright never expresses a moment’s regret at having been part of the scientific establishment that pulled the same no-platforming routine he now so disparages on Biblical Creationists who simply wanted to have their voices heard, or for having approved of it right in this very article. His objection is not to the principle of silencing the other side; it’s to being on the losing end of it.

The Mentality That Shuts Down Truth

IC: Well, right. You have plenty of precedents for the kind of mentality that shuts down truth to serve its own agenda. Wicked King Ahab, who dealt with God’s condemnation of him by just avoiding listening to it: “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord ... but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” Or there are the masses of former followers rejecting Jesus, saying, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” Or the lynch mob dispatching Stephen: “They cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.” And perhaps most sobering of all, because it implies the church itself will not be immune: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching.” It seems it’s a general human impulse to react to hard truth by simply suppressing it.

Tom: It is indeed. I can’t say whether I trust the latest from the evolutionary psychologists. If it’s a branch of science at all, it’s one of the more dubious ones. So I'll reserve judgment about the research Colin Wright seems to trust implicitly.

Water Off a Duck

IC: And we must not ignore that in campaigning for it he’s feathering his own nest by arguing for the importance of his own preferred discipline. There could be a question there. But I also don’t think his knowledge of the opposition is very deep.

Tom: No, not at all.

IC: You can see he thinks that Intelligent Design and Creationism are the same thing; but philosophically, they’re quite distinct, especially in the epistemological basis they require. I wouldn’t expect that mistake of someone who had a real grasp of the controversy.

Tom: If it turns that there are indeed sex-linked or even race-linked genetic personality differences that can be conclusively demonstrated, we Christians have no difficulty with that whatsoever, do we? In any case, it’s not hard-coded personality, or IQ, or natural abilities, or innate predispositions toward habits (good or bad) that make us desirable to God, or reflections of his likeness. Proof of that sort of thing is trouble for a social justice-based worldview. It’s water off a duck for us. We already know all mankind is predisposed to evils of various sorts and in varying degrees. It’s not shocking news.

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