Creationism and Holocaust Denial
Let's imagine that there was a writer who took as his subject World War II. And let's suppose that because of his ability to amass and cite journals, transcripts, paperwork and all manner of documents, he gained a reputation as a meticulous researcher. Now let's say that the conclusion the writer drew from all of his research was an unshakable conviction that World War II never happened. It was, he insists, a massive fraud, and he declares under oath, “No documents whatever show that World War II had ever happened.”
Now let's allow things to get curiouser and curiouser.
Despite this writer's farcical conclusion, historians of World War II, men who have spent their professional lives studying and documenting the war, still insist on the soundness of his research. It is possible, they say, to draw faulty conclusions from solid fact-finding. They do not bother themselves with the obvious question of how good the quality of any research can be if it can be used to support what is patently false. One historian says he and his colleagues should be able to admit the view of those with whom they may not be “intellectually akin.”
When journalists began writing about the work of this WWII debunker, they refer to it as an alternate interpretation or a controversial point of view. One suggests that the writer has opened a useful dialogue around the question “Who decides what 'happened' in the first place?”
Eventually, a historian, aware of the esteem in which some of his colleagues hold this writer, agrees to put the writer's famed research to an intensive examination. What he finds is a consistent pattern of deliberate misquotation, misinterpretation and outright lies designed to support the writer's conclusions. Anything that hasn't supported those conclusions has been either discarded or altered. This historian concludes that “deceptions ... had remained an integral part of his working methods across the decades.” Even this does not deter other historians from continuing to profess admiration for the WWII debunker. One even writes that the debunker possesses “an all consuming knowledge of a vast body of material.” And another, apparently unaware of how he is defaming his profession, announces that no one “could have withstood [the] kind of scrutiny” that the historian had subjected the debunker to.
If not for the title of this entry, wouldn't you think the author was talking about creationism here?
In reality this is from the beginning of a review of the book History on Trial, by Deborah Lipstadt, about the author's experiences in taking on famed holocaust denier David Irving.
Creationists hate the comparison to holocaust denial, partly for good reason. I think creationists are guilty of many things, but systemic anti-semitism is not one of them.
But the broader point is spot on. Cranks all read from the same playbook. They rely both on the ignorance of the public, coupled with the public's innate sense of fairness, to win sympathy from non-experts. If they are sufficiently well-financed, they eventually atract the attention of media outlets. The media is burdened by a misplaced sense of objectivity, coupled with substantial ignorance of their own in covering the issue. The cranks only need a handful of bona fide experts to say something not overtly negative about their ideas to give them enough credibility to be taken seriously.
And that is exactly, exactly, what proponents of creationism and ID do as well. The reason creationism is so much more dangeorus than holocaust denial is that the former, in one form or another, already has widespread popularity. Holocaust denial, so far, does not.
Like holocaust deniers, creationists of all sorts can only make their case by distorting the work of real scholars, dealing dishonestly with the public, and manipulating the weaknesses of the media. Where they can not make their case effectively is in front of audiences of experts, or in courtrooms. Those are venues in which substance actually matters.
I recommend reading the whole article (you may have to watch an ad), but I will close with one further quote:
For this, Irving brought a libel suit against Lipstadt and her British publishers, Viking Penguin, in British courts, a suit Irving offered to settle for 500 pounds and a promise not to reprint Lipstadt's book. Lipstadt and Viking Penguin declined, even though facing off against Irving in London meant operating under the asinine British libel laws in which the burden of proof is placed on the accused. After a four-month trial adjudicated not by a jury but by Judge Charles Gray (both parties decided the material was too complex for a jury to digest), Gray handed down a decision that, to anyone sentient and breathing, ended the myth of David Irving as a historian. In his judgment, Gray not only said that Irving was an “antisemite” and a “racist” but that his “falsification of the record was deliberate and ... motivated by a desire to present events in a manner consistent with his own ideological beliefs even if that involved distortion and manipulation of historical evidence.”
In any venue where substance matters, cranks lose. It's just too bad that substance seems to be in ill repute these days.