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Trend analysis, cont.

January 11, 2014

Gaussian

My writing here mostly uses the harm principle/individual rights/tolerance frameworks. Since there’s no hard evidence creationist beliefs cause actual harm, we should default to respecting the right of individuals to live their lives as they best see fit. Tolerance is a virtue. I use these frameworks not only because I believe these arguments, but because it’s one I think most of my readers can identify with.

Here’s another lens that might be helpful. Imagine we produce data showing that in the aggregate belief in creationism correlates with (just to pick one) poor mathematical reasoning. How should we respond to this evidence? How should it affect what we think of individual creationists? What about the language used when discussing them as a group?

Consider the debates surrounding gender and science ability or race and crime. When it comes to these issues, liberal Americans (i.e. my social circle) relentlessly insist that individuals can’t be judged by group averages. We often ruthlessly question the data itself. We look at historical context. We recognize the pernicious impact of sloppy language and crude generalizations, and we angrily denounce them. We caution against basing laws or policy on these data.

And you know what? That’s how we should respond! I’m very happy we do so. If we value consistency, shouldn’t we at least try to adopt the same approach with respect to creationists? Why don’t we?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Victor permalink
    January 11, 2014 7:58 am

    Good question. I’d love to see your blog as a dialogue between you and evolutionISTS who disagree with you, among others.

  2. Daniel permalink
    January 15, 2014 10:36 pm

    I guess I am confused about your statement, “insist that individuals can’t be judged by group averages.” I think many Americans, not just liberal (whatever definition of liberal you are applying), believe that statement. Yet our society (government, nonprofits, etc) targets groups for action by those “group averages” whether they be poverty, employment, or nutrition programs. The debate (is there a real debate?) about gender in science is a prime example. There are strong females in science but as a group women are underrepresented. Should we as a society not encourage a greater gender equality in science because there are strong females? Maybe I am missing the point of this post.

    • January 18, 2014 7:37 am

      Thanks! Good comment. Let me try clarify. There are two scales at work here, whether gender in science, poverty, or creationists. There are aggregate data, where certain trends and tendencies are evident. On that scale, society does of course target groups. I for one am not convinced the existence of creationists is that much of a problem to be solved (especially since there’s no real evidence of harm), but whatever.

      But there is also the individual scale…and that’s what my post was getting at. Many people in my (our!) social circles *don’t* follow that moral precept when it comes to creationists, and evangelical Christians more generally. As I’ve stated ad nauseum, you can be a creationist and still become a world-class pediatric neurosurgeon! Why don’t we acknowledge that and highlight that, like we do examples of successful female scientists?

      What I see is that we treat creationists like they are a delta function. Instead we should recognize that creationist does not in and of itself equal stupid or irrational.

      One concrete change of acknowledging that creationists are a Gaussian and not delta function (like women in science, etc.) could be the language we use. We can be more hesitant of crude generalizations and recognize their perverse impact on individuals who don’t align with the mean of the distribution. I was trying to get us to apply to creationists the same rules we do elsewhere.

      Thanks again!

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