Speaking of the sociology of belief, as ENV did just below, mathematician Jason Rosenhouse apparently includes a revelation in his new book Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line. By “creationists” he means intelligent design-advocates, who are of course not creationists, as well as actual creationists. PZ Myers has been reading the book (I haven’t received my copy yet) and reports that Rosenhouse reports that we are “all so damned nice.”
Jason regularly goes to creationist conferences. I often drop in on the small local stuff — creationists ranting in midwestern churches — but Jason goes to the big events, the major conferences with swarms of concentrated inanity babbling at large audiences who have made a special trip just to bathe in theistic lies. It’s a different environment; he just shows up, listens and takes notes, politely asks questions to make them struggle a bit, and then leaves…to write up the full story in his blog and now this book.
This isn’t the book where the scientist dismantles in detail every bogus argument the creationists throw at us. Instead, it’s a personal account of the audiences and speakers at this event, and there’s something that comes through loud and clear, that I’ve also experienced: they’re all so damned nice. They haven’t got a leg to stand on with the nonsense they’re talking about, but they try to make up for it with friendliness and manners and all these other psycho-social arts of persuasion. They don’t compensate for being wrong, but you can see how they manage to win over so many people who don’t know better.
I would not claim the term to describe myself, but as a generalization for many in the broad community of Darwin doubters, yes, “nice” is probably not far wrong. There’s a strong sentiment that favors gentle manners. One way I know this to be true is that when we have erred and strayed across the line at ENV, criticizing personalities instead of ideas, we hear about it from our own informal community. They’re not pleased.
Meanwhile, if you’ve spent any time touring online venues where Darwin defenders gather and abuse “creationists,” there’s one word that no one would apply to those Internet denizens as a generalization — to the chiefs or the Indians among them — and that is “nice.” The tone in such places is typically not just nasty but vile. Nor is it simply because the Internet allows anonymity. I’m talking about people who write under their own names, with identifying institutional affiliations.
Could anyone deny the contrast? Honestly now. As PZ says, being nice doesn’t “compensate for being wrong” — that is, if you really are wrong. But differences in culture are worth reflecting on. It reminds me of the observations of sociologist Arthur C. Brooks, in his books Gross National Happiness and Who Really Cares, that conservatives and religious folks are on average signficantly happier and more philanthropic than liberals and secularists.
Does any of this count as evidence for the truth of conservatism or religion, or for intelligent design? No. But it is interesting. The argument over Darwinian evolution is an argument, among other things, about the human self-image. To quote our Darwin-doubting friend the Dalai Lama, “We humans have a dangerous tendency to turn the visions we construct of ourselves into self-fulfilling prophecies.”
Would you rather live in a culture where people thought they were “a little lower than the angels” or a step above animals, if that? If the ruling vision is bestial, it makes sense to act like beasts.