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On analogies

May 27, 2014

A commenter angrily disagrees with my creationist/homophobia post. I recommend you check out his comment. Not only do I stand by what I wrote, but I’m going to expand on it! In retrospect, however, I should have prefaced the post with an overview on how I think about analogies, and this one in particular. I’ll do so now, and in the process start responding to the comment. My full response will be broken up because this would be too long otherwise.

For starters let’s ignore creationists and instead turn to another common analogy: homophobia and racism. Even though the two bigotries are often compared, American racism was and is much more than anti-miscegenation laws. Did redlining occur in gay communities? What about disparities in poverty and incarceration rates? Did the Great Recession affect homosexuals disproportionately as it did black Americans? The 1960’s, when the U.S. government weeded out gay employees as a matter of official policy, seems to be an area where homophobia may have been as bad as some aspects of institutional racism. But how many such examples are there?

And yet, despite the glaring differences, many people find the comparison illuminating. Sure homophobia does not share many of the most corrosive and destructive features of racism. But there is enough overlap that we can use one topic to help us better understand the other. If they were identical then we wouldn’t need an analogy! Analogies should be evaluated along the dimension being compared. That’s it.

When it comes to creationists, I have explicitly said I don’t care much for electoral politics. I haven’t once discussed specific legislation. I have also said that creationism is not science and that it should not be taught in science class. Those macro issues just don’t get me that excited. More than anything else, I care about how we respond to and treat individual people–another point I have made repeatedly. Given how clear I’ve been on these themes, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to respond to this:

Scientists, as a whole, defending the teaching of science and funding for research from creationist interference (e.g. the Wedge document from the DI that set out an explicit plan to redefine science and force research along religious lines) is not the same thing as Christians or anyone else disapproving of gay marriage. The latter group doesn’t just express disapproval. They discriminate. They try to pass laws banning marriage between people who love each other. In countries like Uganda, they make it an offence punishable by life in prison, a merciful step *down* from the death penalty. Nearly eighty countries don’t recognize LGBT people as fully equal *people*. Do you have a list of laws put forth by the Royal Society or the AAAS decrying religion and trying to make its practice illegal, perhaps punishable by imprisonment?

Perhaps at some point I should have clarified that I’m focusing on the U.S. Perhaps I should have said, as I did about electoral politics, that scientists should defend science education as they best see fit. But given all my other writing I didn’t think it was necessary. I sure as hell don’t know what laws in Uganda (!) have to do with my post. Moreover, the fact that AAAS does not decry religion doesn’t invalidate my argument. Most scientists do in fact view creationists as a problem to be solved. We rarely (if ever) acknowledge their complicated humanity. And we actually do disapprove of their lifestyle.

Homophobia, sexual promiscuity, and anti-creationist sentiment can be analyzed both in terms of formalized discrimination and also personal distaste and disapproval of one group by another. I was referring to the latter dimension. In that sense the analogy holds and I stand by it.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Victor permalink
    May 31, 2014 3:56 am

    Wow . . .

  2. June 4, 2014 6:38 pm

    You directly compared scientists critiquing creationists to the treatment of LGBT peoples and the interference of conservatives with women’s reproductive rights and sexual autonomy:

    ‘What did this thought experiment describe: a) How some Christians treat homosexuals; b) How social conservatives respond to people who sleep around; or c) How scientists treat creationists?’

    Putting the pain experienced by the LGBT community or by women on the same level as creationists taking flak from scientists is offensive to everyone concerned. When you said:

    ‘Some Christians feel they must publicly disapprove of gay marriage, just as some scientists do the same with respect to creationists.’

    you drew a direct equivalence between the two. You made it even clearer in your bizarre thought experiment:

    ‘Group 2 finds that lifestyle disgusting. They portray Group 1 as dangerous, and do everything they can to make them feel ashamed of who they are.’

    The ‘disapproval’ you write about is a driving factor in institutionalized and systemic discrimination, racism, and sexism that has caused untold pain and suffering. If you’re claiming that scientists treat creationists who are attempting to interfere in science in that way, as you very much seem to be in the direct quotes above, then you had damn well better provide some evidence of that beyond your say-so. If you have evidence of scientists making public, on the record personal attacks on creationists for being who they are (and not just public policy or scientific debates, but ad hominem attacks on individuals for their choice to be a creationist), then go ahead and list them and I will repudiate them, because that isn’t okay. Even the Four Horsemen don’t do that; Dawkins may rail on about religion and the imposition of religious belief on others, but I’ve never seen him say that creationists are disgusting people with a disgusting lifestyle.

    And *that* is what the laws in Uganda have to do with your post, Praj. The attitudes that Christians express about those ‘disgusting’ ( gay people wanting to get married are what lead to people like Museveni to think that it’s okay to try passing laws leading to their death. Christians and conservatives portray LGBT people as intrinsically dangerous to society and try to pass laws outlawing their very existence; scientists portray creationist attacks on science as dangerous to our ability to understand the world, and try to stop creationists from interfering with how science is taught or practiced. Can you *honestly* not see a difference, or why your attempts at analogy are flawed?

    And finally,

    ‘Most scientists do in fact view creationists as a problem to be solved. We rarely (if ever) acknowledge their complicated humanity. And we actually do disapprove of their lifestyle.’

    would you please defend that statement? I’d like to see you provide some quantitative evidence of this assertion. Show me just one practicing scientist on YouTube stating that creationists are ‘disgusting’ people who are wrong because of who they are. As scientists we act to combat the interference of creationism in the teaching and practice of science, and that’s a problem we try to solve. The only ‘lifestyle’ I disapprove of is when creationists hijack school boards and attempt to degrade the teaching of evolution, or when I get death threats for the simple fact that I’m an evolutionary biologist. I have never thought of creationists themselves as a problem to be solved, I only ask that they keep their faith out of my science.

    You say *we* disapprove of their lifestyle, Praj, but any scientist who treats creationists in the way that Christians ‘disapprove’ of gays or conservatives ‘disapprove’ of women’s sexual autonomy isn’t one of my colleagues.

    • June 4, 2014 7:59 pm

      Thanks again for the thoughtful comment. At airport heading out for 2 weeks. Will try to respond but may not be able to.

      • June 5, 2014 12:36 pm

        Don’t worry about it, Praj, I’ve said what I had to say. I think you’re a decent person, but I feel that what you wrote was hurtful and offensive to many people, and doubling down on it only makes it worse. If you’ve come to understand my point of view then you know who to apologize to (and it isn’t me). If you haven’t, then we really don’t have much else to talk about. Either way, I think I’m done reading your blog, but I wish you luck in your future endeavours.

      • June 25, 2014 7:03 am

        Hi Steven. Sorry for the slow response. As I said I was on vacation and didn’t get back until a couple days ago. I don’t expect a response from you, but here are some thoughts:
        1. Sorry to see you go. I always enjoyed your tough comments.
        2. I appreciate your thoughts on this in particular. It has helped me clarify my thinking and showed me the importance of tightening my language and being specific.
        3. Along those lines, several times you used the word “Christians”. Just curious…do you mean *all* Christians? I have Christians in my family. Do you think they support the laws in Uganda? It’s these types of crass generalizations that I oppose. Imagine if I wrote about “blacks” when it comes to crime. If it’s not okay there (and it’s not), it shouldn’t be okay elsewhere.
        4. Also curious…do you know how many people found what I wrote hurtful? I’ve gotten feedback from others (including other scientists). Not everyone had as negative a reaction. So wondering how universal your particular reaction was. Needless to say, I didn’t intend to hurt anyone.
        5. Thanks again for the comments! Best of luck in your own endeavors.

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