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Next Time I Need a Therapist, I’m Staying Away from Jeremy P. Shapiro

Jeremy P. Shapiro

It’s well known that in seeking psychotherapy you take a risk. You are putting yourself, at your most vulnerable, into the hands of someone who maybe went into the business because he’s a sympathetic listener and insightful student of human nature. Or maybe because he has issues of his own, that he might be blind to but is unconsciously working out through interactions with patients.

Jeremy P. Shapiro is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychological Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. Till today I’d never heard of him before. He is plugging a self-published book on Kindle, Psychotherapeutic Diagrams, and takes to the Internet journal Raw Story to render a psychological evaluation of me and other “science deniers.” In “This is the one major ‘thinking error’ at the root of science denial,” he finds a “striking parallel” with “mental health disturbances.” (Raw Story is a junk site festooned with junk ads that my computer browser warns me about for using “significant energy.” Beware.)

Update: For whatever it’s worth, I think Shapiro’s article originally appeared at another web publication, The Conversation, but then was picked up and reproduced by Raw Story, the San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere.

For remarkable blindness to his own “thinking errors,” Dr. Shapiro gets a prize. He writes: 

This widespread rejection of scientific findings presents a perplexing puzzle to those us who value an evidence-based approach to knowledge and policy. 

Yet many science deniers do cite empirical evidence. The problem is that they do so in invalid, misleading ways. Psychological research illuminates these ways. 

No shades of gray 

As a psychotherapist, I see a striking parallel between a type of thinking involved in many mental health disturbances and the reasoning behind science denial. As I explain in my book “Psychotherapeutic Diagrams,” dichotomous thinking, also called black-and-white and all-or-none thinking, is a factor in depression, anxiety, aggression and, especially, borderline personality disorder. 

In this type of cognition, a spectrum of possibilities is divided into two parts, with a blurring of distinctions within those categories. Shades of gray are missed; everything is considered either black or white. Dichotomous thinking is not always or inevitably wrong, but it is a poor tool for understanding complicated realities because these usually involve spectrums of possibilities, not binaries.

I’m a case in point for him. He notes, but interestingly does not link to, an article I co-wrote in light of a 2016 Royal Society conference. The conference featured much telling discussion of traditional neo-Darwinism’s failures to adequately explain the evidence of life. Shapiro:

This same type of thinking can be seen among creationists. They seem to misinterpret any limitation or flux in evolutionary theory to mean that the validity of this body of research is fundamentally in doubt. For example, the biologist James Shapiro (no relation) discovered a cellular mechanism of genomic change that Darwin did not know about. Shapiro views his research as adding to evolutionary theory, not upending it. Nonetheless, his discovery and others like it, refracted through the lens of dichotomous thinking, result in articles with titles like, “Scientists Confirm: Darwinism Is Broken” by Paul Nelson and David Klinghoffer of the Discovery Institute, which promotes the theory of “intelligent design.” Shapiro insists that his research provides no support for intelligent design, but proponents of this pseudoscience repeatedly cite his work as if it does. 

The first point is a flat-out falsehood, and so is the last. I’m not a “creationist,” and ID proponents have made clear over and over that James Shapiro of the University of Chicago rejects ID, even as his work highlights fundamental problems with Darwinism that are relevant to the design debate.

But get this. Jeremy Shapiro, like many others, creates a false, black-or-white dichotomy between science supporters and “science deniers.” This allows him to dismiss the “deniers” without addressing our arguments. Yet his “insight” into us is that it’s in our thinking that “a spectrum of possibilities is divided into two parts, with a blurring of distinctions within those categories. Shades of gray are missed; everything is considered either black or white.”

He cites an article at Evolution News where James Shapiro responded to William Dembski’s characterization of him. Dembski had said Shapiro (James, not Jeremy) is continually “dancing in the DMZ between Darwin and design.” James Shapiro wrote here:

My response: What is wrong with “dancing in the DMZ” between intelligent design (as articulated by Michael Behe and others) and neo-Darwinism? Are these two positions the only alternatives? I doubt it. That is why my 1997 article in Boston Review on evolution debates was called “A Third Way.” What Dembski calls the “DMZ” (i.e. a zone free of futile conflict) is the place where the real evolutionary science is taking place.

Of course there is a “Third Way” between intelligent design and Darwinian theory, as we have noted here many times. James Shapiro was simply disputing with Dembski about how that position should be described and understood. Intelligent design is itself a “Third Way” that is neither creationism nor Darwinian evolutionism. Instead, it is a non-Darwinian theory of evolution that recognizes evidence of intelligence and creativity operating behind the many changes in life over the past several billion years. It follows the intellectual path sketched by Alfred Russel Wallace, who with Darwin co-discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection but opened his perspective later, to Darwin’s dismay. Yet Jeremy Shapiro refuses to understand any of this complexity, these “shades of gray.” He denies reality by slapping on me a phony label, “creationist,” as have other sloppy critics.

Well, who cares? Certainly, the Department of Psychological Sciences at Case Western University is broken if Shapiro doesn’t get a dressing down from his colleagues. But who is Jeremy P. Shapiro, after all, that it really matters what he thinks?

To turn the tables, I’m discussing this here because he is himself a case in point. Unlike Shapiro, I don’t pretend to offer a glib psychological assessment of a stranger, linking him with a range of mental illnesses on the basis of a single article he wrote. But there is a marked tendency on the part of Darwinists and other defenders of privileged scientific orthodoxies to lash out at skeptics with false choices between “science” and “science denial.”

It is highly manipulative and dishonest. The use of the labels “science denier” and “creationist” to tar open-minded thinkers is utterly pernicious. I’m following a case at the moment, unrelated to Shapiro, where another professor and ID critic at a well-known university has been publicly, falsely characterizing ID proponents by name as “Young Earth Creationists.” He wants proof, before he’ll amend his writing, that an individual has affirmed an ancient earth. Based on gossip alone, you are guilty of being a “creationist” until proven innocent.

All this matters because it’s one way that the orthodox belief on evolution is enforced on doubters, though smears and mind games. Ask yourself: If the evidence for Darwinism is so strong, why do they resort, again and again and again, to these tactics? 

Image source: Wikimedia Commons.