Thursday, March 16, 2017

Science and Dogma

Recently a student organization at Middlebury College invited Charles Murray to speak. Murray is considered a controversial speaker because he co-wrote the book The Bell Curve in the 1990s. His most recent work is about the effect that college recruitment has on income inequality. Rather than hear what Murray had to say or just ignore his talk, protestors shut it down and forced him to leave, injuring a professor in the process. The college paper published a letter from a guest contributor signed Nic Valenti '17 that gives some insight into the motivations of the protestors.

Nic begins with this:

I can understand the perceptions that would lead the AEI to invite a controversial speaker such as Charles Murray. Indeed, when I first arrived at Middlebury I was clueless to the systems of power constructed around race, gender, sexuality, class or ability, and found that when I talked about these issues as I understood them — or rather, as I didn't — I was met with blank stares and stigma rather than substantial debate. As a young bigot, I can recall thinking: "I thought at Middlebury I would get to have intellectual discussions, but instead it feels as though my views are being censored." However, as a first-year I had failed to consider a simple, yet powerful component of debate: not all opinions are valid opinions. I had fallen into the trap of false equivalence.

He then talks about a debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, a Young Earth Creationist, on the legitimacy of evolution. Naturally, Nye failed to convince Ham which seems to have infuriated Nic. That serves as a springboard into the controversy about Charles Murray:

And yet Charles Murray's views are even more dangerous than Ham's. Ham disavows a scientific theory; Murray disavows the fundamental equality of all human beings. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center: "In Murray's world, wealth and social power naturally accrue towards a 'cognitive elite' made up of high-IQ individuals (who are overwhelmingly white, male and from well-to-do families), while those on the lower end of the eponymous bell curve form an 'underclass' whose misfortunes stem from their low intelligence. According to Murray, the relative differences between the white and black populations of the United States, as well as those between men and women, have nothing to do with discrimination or historical and structural disadvantages, but rather stem from genetic differences between the groups."
This is an interesting juxtaposition and it shows how misguided Nic is about the world.

First of all, Nye didn't have a chance of convincing Ham. Nye was taking the scientific viewpoint which is that you go where-ever the evidence takes you. Ham was taking a dogmatic viewpoint that the Bible is to be taken as literally as possible and and evidence that says otherwise must be incorrect. I doubt if Nye ever expected to convince Ham. He was playing to the audience of people who might have been swayed by Ham.

So, on to Murray. Murray is not arguing dogma. He is a scientist and he is arguing in favor of an interpretation of the evidence. He uses genetics and statistics to make his case, both hard sciences.

Nic doesn't even bother to quote a dissenting scientist. Instead he quotes from the Southern Poverty Law Center which is not a scientific body by any stretch of the imagination. They are condemning Murray because they don't like the implications of his conclusions.

Nic doesn't realize it but he's in the same position as Ken Ham - he's spouting dogma against a scientist. If you look at Nic's earlier paragraph in this light you can see the parallels between it and a religious tract: "I was a sinner but I've received the word and I've been saved." Nic tells us that he came to college ready to debate issues but was indoctrinated.

This attitude explains the violence against a speaker. Science allows dissenting opinions to be voiced. They are then accepted or rejected on the soundness of their arguments. Dogma rejects all dissent out of hand and harshly suppresses heresy.

In late-17th century the Puritans in New England had a problem. The founders were sure they had been saved. But they weren't sure about their children. Salvation isn't hereditary and there's no visible mark to tell who is among the elect (the ones chosen by God). According to the Puritans. the only way to be sure was to constantly search your own soul and the souls of those around you for sin. That's what college campuses have become these days. The students are constantly searching each other's souls for and deviation from their dogma and engaging in ostentatious virtue signalling to prove that they are among the elect.

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