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Sunday, May 02, 2021

Cognitive Creationism

An article in The Journal of Controversial Results compares the new science deniers to the old Biblical creationists

F or some time now, feminists have claimed that when Prince Charming kisses Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty, or whoever the unconscious female person is in the famous fairy tale, he is committing “sexual assault” and therefore part of a “rape culture” and it should be banned.

Even a guy like me, who has about as much empathy as a tree stump, knows that the kiss is symbolic. We tell our children these stories so that later in life they will understand profound truths about life. Without romantic attachment and the complex emotional programming that underlies it, the fairy tale is saying, you will go through your whole life asleep, unaware of the grandeur that is life.

Say it like that to a little kid and they'll look up at you like you've just read them a story about R- and S-processes in a supernova (which are actually a lot more interesting anyway).

There's an entire industry among dissidents trying to explain this phenomenon. What is wrong with these people? Are they simply political wokesters trying to indoctrinate people into their ideology? Or is there something in their nature, tunnel vision perhaps, that sees things that aren't there and makes them stomp on things they don't understand?

Here's another example: Britain is the only country that unabashedly includes the word ‘great’ in its name. In descending order of greatness, Great Britain gave the world Shakespeare, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Piers Morgan, Jack the Ripper, and The Lancet. The Lancet, Britain's oldest medical journal, is now grinding out tediously uninformed polemical pieces with sentences like this:

Propelled into office by popular mobilisations against Trump's racist, sexist, and pro-rich policies, Biden has begun to remediate Trump's damage and renounce four decades of austerity that widened inequality, stoked racial animus, and undermined health.

These opinions are hardly worth rebutting, but the article raises the question: why would the editors think this is worth printing? Its connection with medicine is as tenuous as its connection to the truth. Nature, another British journal, is scarcely better. Who would ever think this article is good scholarship?

For whatever reason, some people seem to enjoy fighting about politics. The rest of us are forced to follow it because political people are so deadly serious about their religion, and it makes them dangerous. But why is it happening?

In an important new journal titled the Journal of Controversial Ideas, Shuichi Tezuka argues[1] that wokesters are exhibiting “Paranoid Egalitarian Meliorism” or PEM, which is the belief that a hypothesis must be rejected if it offends our moral principles. Tezuka (a pseudonym, as are all the authors in this journal) argues that it is a form of cognitive creationism with many similarities to young-Earth creationism, but more dangerous because it has been adopted by academia and thus is making inroads into science. Tezuka writes:

[B]oth have developed epistemologically similar worldviews, which draw certain conclusions ahead of time and then interpret all evidence in light of these assumptions. This reversal of the scientific method leads both young-Earth creationists and cognitive creationists to reject large swaths of otherwise well-established research due to its potential to support conclusions they have chosen a priori to reject. Both views also tend to rely on nonparsimonious ad hoc explanations, which are usually not able to reliably predict any future results.

They give as an example the attacks on the finding, now well accepted in science, that IQ is 70–80% heritable by adulthood. Critics of behavioral genetics reject it because they believe it can be used to justify racial discrimination. Like young-Earth creationists, the critics are thus forced to create ever more non-parsimonious explanations to explain the empirical results because they view the consequences as violating their sacred beliefs. They then fall into what others have called a “purity spiral” in which anything remotely associated with the unwanted fact must also be suppressed and anyone discussing it smeared as a heretic. This is the same social dynamic that produced the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the effects—destroying statues, attacking academics, censoring ideas, and erasing vast swaths of cultural history—are similar.

Tezuka says postmodernism is often used to justify these anti-science beliefs. A basic tenet of po-mo was that there are no such things as brute facts. They viewed science, as Gross and Levitt wrote in Higher Superstition, as “a wholly social product, a mere set of conventions generated by social practice.”

There is much insight in this article, but there are a few points to consider:

  1. While we associate this with Internet cesspools like Twitter, in fact it is nothing new. Those of us who survived junior high school know how young people live in fear that a classmate will invent a false story about them that can destroy their social life. And then there was Usenet, which started out as a way of sharing academic ideas and was destroyed by hate and juvenile name-calling.

  2. Not so long ago—within living memory for many older people—expressing doubt about religious dogma would get you socially ostracized. This may have been one reason the radical atheists took such a harsh view of religion as a dangerous ideology.

  3. Much of the bad science that's out there is actually the result of well understood social pathologies, such as government funding of science, which leads to the idea that government itself is kind and benevolent, and the intense pressure in academia to publish, which leads to a flood of papers that are not only uninteresting, but often scientifically wrong.

Whatever the cause, there's general agreement that our civilization is in trouble. The idea that bad philosophy or Marxism is to blame is plausible, but it creates a chicken-and-egg problem: did the bad philosophy create the bad policies, or was the philosophy invented to justify the bad policies?

Other ideas include what I call the Easy Rider theory, based on an old movie that ends with the two heroes being murdered by low-IQ rural people. Urbanization leads to myths and stereotypes whose purpose is to justify feelings of superiority of urbanites over rural people or left-wingers over right-wingers. Or maybe, as some suggest, our problems are caused by our worthless educational system or even a decline in average IQ. Or maybe it's a convergence of unrelated catastrophes, and the poor scholarship we now find in respectable journals is unrelated to general social pathology.

Whatever is going on, we need answers. It might be fun for the editors to bash Trump, but there's a cost: if a reader disagrees with some other article in their journal, who could blame them for dismissing it as more partisan politics?

1. Tezuka, S. (pseudonym) Cognitive Creationism Compared to Young-Earth Creationism. Journal of Controversial Ideas 2021, 1(1), 3; doi:10.35995/jci01010003.

may 02 2021, 9:14 am

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