Links and Comments: Academia, Creationists, Christians and Trump, Plait on the GOP, Evil, Victims

From Slate, more on the theme of Why Are There So Few Conservatives in Academia?

There are three big reasons that conservatives are hard to find in university faculties: intellectual consistency, anti-science trends by conservatives, and social pressure.

On the second point:

Another issue is that Republicans have been increasingly anti-science, hounding federal funding agencies looking for “fraud” and “waste” and pursuing witch hunts against climate scientists. That deeply offends intellectuals both at a philosophical level and at a practical level, since we depend on state and federal funding.


Also in Slate, Why Christian Creationists Hate Evolution but Muslim Creationists Don’t Care.

Because it’s not about the science, is my gloss; it’s about the need to reinforce tribal identity, even if that means (in the case of Christians more so than Muslims) the flat-out denial of science — that is, the acknowledgement and understanding of the apparent evidence of the real world.

What is it that drives Christian creationists to keep publicly contesting evolution and to react so cruelly to people who don’t believe? Recent research suggests that this fight is about identity.

“Our identities are formed by what we do and who we distinguish ourselves from,” said Jeffrey Guhin, a sociologist and professor at UCLA who has studied creationists. Guhin thinks that a determining factor in whether a creationist will actively promote his belief stems from how emotionally connected his belief in creationism is to his identity.

Vocal creationism is part of how some Christian creationists reinforce their sense of self and create a social hierarchy that allows them to make sense of the world, he posits.

The difference involves how the two groups, evangelical Christians and Muslims, define themselves in terms of boundaries.

Boundaries are how societies define their differences with outside groups. Their inverse are practices, which are the similarities between members of the group. “For evangelicals the key boundary and key practice was reading the Bible literally,” said Guhin, and creationism is a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. This is why opposition to evolution is important to Christian creationists. It’s how they police who is in and who is out.

In the Muslim schools, there were different important practices and boundaries, including prayer and gender roles. “The key practice for the Muslims was prayer, what they do, Salah, five times a day,” Guhin said. “The key demarcation from the outside world was gender performance, like how we interact with people of the opposite sex.”


Christian Crackpot Phil Robertson Blames Murder Rate on Gays.


Salon: Trump, torture and religion: Why the Christian Right has flocked to the GOP nominee by Heather Digby Parton.

I have long wondered why serious Christians would support a man who openly endorses torture, war crimes and cruel and unusual punishment. It seems counter-intuitive since the most famous torture victim in world history is Jesus Christ. But a Washington Post/ABC poll from 2014 showed American evangelical Christians are more supportive of torture than those who are not religious. …

But then certain Christian Right leaders have demonstrated a violent streak that may explain their willingness to jump on board the torture train. Take James Dobson himself who was known for many years as an expert on child rearing. His book “The Strong Willed Child” featured a chilling story of animal cruelty.

Because the key feature of fundamentalists is authoritarianism, the certainty of knowing good from evil and the willingness to impose that distinction on others.


And my favorite astronomer, Phil Plait: The GOP’s Denial of Science Primed Them for the Illogic of Trump.

This circles back to why there aren’t so many conservatives in academia; they are not interested in reality so much as dogma. Plait:

An interesting if infuriating article in New Republic very clearly lays out how the GOP has spent decades paving the road for Trump by attacking the science that goes against their prejudicial ideology. I strongly urge you to read it, but one section jumped out at me in particular:

There’s another factor at work here: The anti-intellectualism that has been a mainstay of the conservative movement for decades also makes its members easy marks. After all, if you are taught to believe that the reigning scientific consensuses on evolution and climate change are lies, then you will lack the elementary logical skills that will set your alarm bells ringing when you hear a flim-flam artist like Trump. The Republican “war on science” is also a war on the intellectual habits needed to detect lies.

Yes, precisely. This is exactly what I have been saying for years now. When we erode away at people’s ability to reason their way through a situation, then unreason will rule. And not just abut scientific topics, but any topics. We see nonsense passed off as fact all the time by politicians, including attacks by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, on theNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, claims by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that there’s been a pause in global warming, the GOP attacks on Planned Parenthood, and more. People will still believe what these politicians say, long, long after the claims have been shown to be completely false.


On to perhaps more sophisticated philosophical issues, though the common theme is that conservatives tend to respond to these with simplistic, black and white thinking, despite evidence that these are mental biases that do not correspond with the evidence of reality.

New York Times op ed: How Should We Respond to ‘Evil’?, by Steven Paulikas.

My off-hand reaction to the question, before even reading the essay:

The obvious observation is that “evil” depends on your point of view. The “radical Islamists” consider the loose, liberal West evil, not *merely* because it violates rules from their holy book – no one ever goes to violence because of something from their holy book that does not appeal, in some deep instinctive sense, to what they emotionally perceive to be a violation of the proper way reality should run. Anti-abortionists are not swayed by biological evidence of the vast gap in developmental complexity between embryos and children; they are driven by tribal motivations to expand and reproduce at all costs [certainly a useful evolutionary adaptation!], and the simplicity of a binary definition of the beginning of human ‘life’. Racists are not swayed by evidence of common humanity; they are driven by instinctive resistance to different, potentially threatening, tribes. Gun rights advocates are not swayed by evidence that fewer available firearms results in a society with fewer accidental and impulsive killings and murders; they are driven by some combination of paranoid fear of the unknown and the ‘other’, and the need to enforce authoritarian order; if not that, then why are they not as passionate about all the *other* rights in the Bill of Rights? (Like the ACLU is.)

But to the essay: it involves a conversation between Stephen Colbert and Bill O’Reilly, where the latter blithely identifies evil with people he doesn’t like. Paulikas’ thesis — he’s an Episcopal priest and rector at a church in Brooklyn — is:

Recent history and philosophy have taught that violence is the surest outcome of blithely ascribing the quality of evil to another. At best, this process may supplant the thing we brand evil for a time, but the notion that evil can be “destroyed” is an ethical version of a fool’s errand. We have an opportunity now to reassess the politics of evil and to consider responses to it that would mitigate rather than amplify human suffering.


An earlier NYT Sunday Review essay, by Laura Niemi and Liane Young: Who Blames the Victim?.

Conservatives and authoritarians tend to blame the victims; this fits in very well with the psychology outlined in Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind.

Yet this is not just a matter of differing opinions or points of view. There is plenty of evidence about individual cases that show that people down on their luck, or victims of crimes, and entirely victims of circumstances. The tendency to blame them for their problems (aside from being un-Christian), is an *error*, one that David McRaney describes as the “fundamental attribution error” — that people’s behavior is a reflection of their personality, rather than their circumstances — and one explored in the recent book by Robert H. Frank, Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy (which I blogged about here).

The essay confirms these earlier studies:

In a recent series of studies, we found that the critical factor lies in a particular set of moral values. Our findings, published on Thursday in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, show that the more strongly you privilege loyalty, obedience and purity — as opposed to values such as care and fairness — the more likely you are to blame the victim.

Where the two sets of personality traits match Haidt’s characterizations of conservatives vs. liberals.

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