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“Professor Dave” and the Art of Projection

Photo: A gift for Professor Dave, via YouTube (screenshot).

We have all heard about the psychological mechanism of projection, whereby someone who harbors insecurities about aspects of their personality or character will often accuse others of exhibiting their own perceived failures. For example, a person insecure about their own intellectual abilities might develop a penchant for accusing others of being stupid or ill-informed. Projection, it turns out, is the perfect lens through which to focus the criticisms of ID leveled by its strongly atheistic opponents.

One of the common accusations made against ID revolves around ID’s perceived religious foundations. Since ID is just pseudoscience, the criticism goes, it must really be an attempt to push a religious agenda under the banner of science. ID opponents are viewed as engaging in a religious crusade to proselytize unsuspecting students in science classrooms. 

Been There, Done That

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with ID literature will recognize how grossly distorted this characterization is. But it is a powerful distortion and one I used to fall prey to myself. I distinctly remember in the late 1990s when a woman in the church I was attending tried to introduce me to Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box. Thinking that this woman was a bit of a religious zealot, I simply dismissed her book recommendation, assuming it would be scientifically worthless. Imagine my shock when more than 15 years later, I decided to actually read the book and discovered just how misinformed I was about ID arguments. ID is a scientifically substantive theory that can stand on its own on the basis of empirical evidence. And it is this scientifically substantive foundation that sends its opponents into a tizzy, leading to the art of projection.

If there is anyone pushing an ideological agenda in the guise of science it is Richard Dawkins. Knowing that he cannot really dispel ID on the basis of evidence, and insecure about the evidentiary basis of his own beloved atheistic Darwinism, Dawkins is forced to project his own insecurities onto his perceived opponents by accusing them of being the ones with an ideological axe to grind. The more Dawkins rails at the supposed religious zealotry of ID proponents, however, the more he reveals the depths of his own anti-religious zealotry. Similar kinds of projection occur in the work of other high-profile atheistic evolutionists like Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Jerry Coyne.

Which brings me to “Professor Dave” Farina. Nowhere has this dynamic of psychological projection been on greater display than in the recent “debate” held at Rice University between Farina and Dr. James Tour about the state of origin-of-life research. Of course, calling this a debate would be like calling a stick-figure drawing the Mona Lisa. Dr. Tour, to be sure, came to debate the issues. Farina most certainly did not. 

Outrageous Personal Attacks 

Even after Tour, the host, treated his guest, Farina, with respect, even presenting him with a gift at the start of the debate, Farina launched into outrageous personal attacks, repeatedly accusing Tour of being a liar, a fraud, and totally ignorant of the basics of organic chemistry. At one point, his ridicule became so profound that he accused the audience of being “f***ing stupid” for taking Tour’s work seriously. While Tour continually tried to focus the debate on the complexities of theories of abiogenesis, Farina remained rude, smug, self-assured, and outrageously condescending to the eminent scientist standing nearby. In short, Farina’s performance was a classic case of projection, a case of projection on steroids.

Tour may be deeply religious, but his criticisms of abiogenesis are fundamentally grounded in empirical science. The difficulties of conceiving how life could have emerged from non-life without some level of intelligent direction are so serious, however, that they obviously threaten Farina’s militantly atheistic worldview. Unwilling to admit this, he instead projects his own insecurities onto Tour. When he makes the outrageous accusation that a scientist of Tour’s stature is ignorant of the basics of organic chemistry, Farina reveals how insecure his own knowledge of organic chemistry really is. And when Farina accuses Tour of being a fraud, all he does is highlight his own status (or lack of it) in trying to pass himself off as an expert on abiogenesis.

Tough to Watch, but Worth It

The Tour-Farina “debate” was tough to watch, and many times I considered turning it off. But like someone at the scene of an accident, I could not turn away, and so I subjected myself to the entire two hours. But I am glad I did. For if I ever get asked to write a chapter on projection for a psychology textbook, Dave Farina’s outrageously disrespectful performance will be exhibit A.