Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Creationism and Holocaust Denial

From Salon:

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.


At 6:06 PM, Blogger Orac said...

I've actually made this point before, that creationists use many of the same logical fallacies and techniques of distorting evidence that Holocaust deniers use. The problem is, in my experience, using the Holocaust denier analogy is an emotionally loaded analogy that can actually draw attention away from the logical fallacies being used. Consequently, I think it's better to compare creationists to cranks and be sure to mention more than just Holocaust deniers as examples of cranks that use the same logical fallacies and means of twisting evidence to fit an agenda.

At 4:00 PM, Blogger Bill Ware said...

Jason, you said, "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."

Maybe it's out there, but on the primary evolution blogs I read: Panda's Thumb, pharyngula, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, I haven't seen creationist being characterized as anti-semetic.

It's the methods used which are similar, as you point out so well, while the specific subject is quite different. B

At 9:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jason didn't say creationists were anti-Semetic...

At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe use an analogy like UFO

On Feb. 24, "Peter Jennings Reporting: UFOs — Seeing Is Believing" takes a fresh look at the UFO phenomenon. "As a journalist," says Jennings, "I began this project with a healthy dose of skepticism and as open a mind as possible. After almost 150 interviews with scientists, investigators and with many of those who claim to have witnessed unidentified flying objects, there are important questions that have not been completely answered — and a great deal not fully explained."

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Dream said...

hotels in edinburgh city centreCashmere Pashmina
“Dudders out for tea?”
“At the Polkisses’,” said Aunt Petunia fondly. “He’s got so many lit¬tle friends, he’s so popular …”
Harry repressed a snort with difficulty. The Dursleys really were as¬tonishingly stupid about their son, Dudley; they had swallowed all his dim-witted lies about having tea with a different member of his gang every night of the summer holidays. Harry knew perfectly well that Dudley had not been to tea anywhere; he and his gang spent every evening vandalizing the play park, smoking on street corners, and throwing stones at passing cars and children. Harry had seen them at it during his evening walks around Little Whinging; he had spent most of the holidays wandering the streets, scavenging newspapers from bins along the way.


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