The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘Liberal Creationism,’ Revisited

Posted on | January 29, 2022 | Comments Off on ‘Liberal Creationism,’ Revisited

William Saletan marks his 25-year anniversary at Slate-dot-com with a column discussing what he’s learned, about himself and the online audience, during his quarter-century at the original Internet magazine. Among other things, he laments the rise of Twitter warfare and the way centrifugal forces seem to be driving both Left and Right toward tribalism, with no possibility of moderation or compromise or even rational discussion. These are conditions not conducive to the kind of elitist neoliberal punditry that is Saletan’s specialty. During the same 25 years that Saletan has been at Slate (originally a property of Microsoft, since purchased by the former owners of the Washington Post), I’ve gone from working for the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune to spending more than 10 years at The Washington Times to being an independent blogger and American Spectator correspondent (while also recently being employed in a day job I never talk about). While I’ve been swimming along with the surging current of populism — I was populist before populism was cool — Saletan has attempted to resist the tide and, consequently, has become nearly irrelevant. Elitist neoliberalism matters a lot to the elite, but it doesn’t swing much weight with the masses, and if anybody’s sitting around breathlessly awaiting William Saletan’s next column, I can’t imagine why. This doesn’t make Saletan a villain, and I have no desire to celebrate his unfortunate situation, but I am dumbfounded by this paragraph in Saletan’s farewell column at Slate:

My worst mistake was in 2007, when I wrote about race and IQ. To this day, the subject makes me feel almost physically ill. In addition to a basic scientific error — you can’t use data about the heritability of traits within a population to draw inferences between populations — I was spectacularly obtuse to the social context in which I was writing. I thought statistical averages within groups should make no difference in how individuals are perceived. And it would be lovely if we lived in that world. But we don’t.

Saletan thereby repudiates and apologizes (again) for his 2007 column, “Liberal Creationism,” which was one of the most important and controversial things he ever wrote — and thus does the neoliberal surrender to the mob. In so doing, however, he draws attention to the heresy he has recanted, giving the rest of us an opportunity to examine his arguments and interrogate his reasons for abandoning them.

What prompted Saletan’s column was a newsworthy event:

Last month [i.e., October 2007], James Watson, the legendary biologist, was condemned and forced into retirement after claiming that African intelligence wasn’t “the same as ours.” “Racist, vicious and unsupported by science,” said the Federation of American Scientists. “Utterly unsupported by scientific evidence,” declared the U.S. government’s supervisor of genetic research. The New York Times told readers that when Watson implied “that black Africans are less intelligent than whites, he hadn’t a scientific leg to stand on.”

These denunciations of Watson’s claims were contrary to the facts. That is to say, Watson’s claim was not “unsupported by scientific evidence,” even if there was (and is) controversy about what the evidence means, both within the narrow confines of anthropology and in the larger context of societal and political issues. The real point, as explained by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in their monumental 1994 book The Bell Curve, can be summarized in three words — average group differences.

Insofar as human beings can be categorized as members of groups, there will be measurable differences between such groups — otherwise the categories are meaningless — so that when studying these groups from a behavioral or sociological perspective, what matters is the difference between group averages. This is a point Herrnstein and Murray emphasized sufficiently in their book for any honest and intelligent reader to grasp, but alas the Left is not populated by such people, so that The Bell Curve was greeted by an insane hysteria. Herrnstein (whose scientific credentials were impeccable) had died of cancer by the time the book was published, so that Murray (an economist by training) was left alone to defend their argument against malicious accusations that their intention was to justify some sort of latter-day Nazi eugenics program.

Those of us old enough to recall this mid-1990s controversy should understand it as a prelude to today’s “cancel culture” issues. The malicious slander directed at Murray (and posthumously also toward Herrnstein) was not intended to enlighten the public about the issues involved; rather, this was a journalistic lynch mob engaged in character assassination as part of an effort to suppress the facts and prevent any debate over what The Bell Curve might suggest in terms of public policy.

We can disagree as to why average group differences exist, or what sort of policies could be implemented in dealing with such differences, but what we cannot do — if we wish to be intellectually responsible — is to engage in a make-believe game where we pretend that these differences don’t exist, and then try to sustain our make-believe game by screaming “RAAAAACIST!” at anyone who raises the issue.

And this, really, was the point of Saletan’s 2007 column, i.e., that liberals were playing the part of fundamentalist True Believers, attempting to prohibit discussion of what they regarded as heresy:

Tests do show an IQ deficit, not just for Africans relative to Europeans, but for Europeans relative to Asians. Economic and cultural theories have failed to explain most of the pattern, and there’s strong preliminary evidence that part of it is genetic. It’s time to prepare for the possibility that equality of intelligence, in the sense of racial averages on tests, will turn out not to be true.
If this suggestion makes you angry — if you find the idea of genetic racial advantages outrageous, socially corrosive, and unthinkable — you’re not the first to feel that way. Many Christians are going through a similar struggle over evolution. Their faith in human dignity rests on a literal belief in Genesis. To them, evolution isn’t just another fact; it’s a threat to their whole value system. As William Jennings Bryan put it during the Scopes trial, evolution meant elevating “supposedly superior intellects,” “eliminating the weak,” “paralyzing the hope of reform,” jeopardizing “the doctrine of brotherhood,” and undermining “the sympathetic activities of a civilized society.”
The same values — equality, hope, and brotherhood — are under scientific threat today. But this time, the threat is racial genetics, and the people struggling with it are liberals.

Here, as a Bible-believing Christian, I must defend Bryan and object to Saletan’s implication that Darwinism is a scientific fact and that Genesis is false. Of course, there are (((other))) reasons why Saletan ought to defend Genesis — as a matter of self-interest, I certainly would, if I were him — but what I find really objectionable among Darwin’s fan club is their apparent certainty that our entire universe is one gigantic accident, a random coincidence without transcendent meaning or purpose.

Did I ever mention that I am a traditionalist? My ancestors thought of themselves as pilgrims sojourning in this vale of tears on their way to the Promised Land, and this sense of a missionary purpose to life, which was instilled in me in the pews and classrooms of the Lithia Springs First Baptist Church, has never really left me. Sinful backslider though I am, nevertheless I have never doubted that God has some larger purpose for my life, even if that purpose is a mystery I shall never understand.

We must keep the faith, dear brothers and sisters, even while we endure hardship and doubt, harassed by scoffers and forced to witness the evils of a world lost in sin. Among the rewards for this stewardship is the courage to withstand the attacks of the wicked. Satan is a liar, and his earthly minions habitually traffic in slander, of which I have sometimes been a target. In moments of crisis, when my survival was threatened, I declared, “Never doubt that God answers prayer.” Having fools for enemies is among the greatest blessings I have enjoyed.

Readers will excuse this seeming digression into theological matters, because it only seems irrelevant to William Saletan and his repudiation of his “Liberal Creationism” column. Truth is not to be discovered by plebiscite; facts are not a matter of majority rule. If you have the truth on your side, you ought to be courageous in defending it, even if — and perhaps especially if — it seems everybody is telling you you’re wrong.

The truth may be controversial, but it’s still the truth. This is what we learn from the Book of Job — afflicted by evil, and surrounded by “friends” who told him to curse God and die, Job kept the faith.

When Saletan wrote “Liberal Creationism,” he must have known this would be controversial, so why didn’t he resolve himself to defend the truth at all hazards, to acquit himself with courage in the battle?

One imagines he was afraid of losing his career as a journalist.

To which the proper answer is, “So what?”

In August 1987, I was driving a forklift in a warehouse on Fulton Industrial Boulevard. The warehouse was not air conditioned, the pay was low, and there was certainly no prestige to my labor. I’d walked out of my last newspaper job vowing that I was through with that infernal business, but sweating in that warehouse made me reconsider my vow. That evening, I called my old editor, Chris Barker, and asked him if he knew of any job openings in the newspaper racket. Chris said he’d check around, and called back later to tell me there was an opening for a sports editor at a paper in Calhoun, Georgia.

“Fine,” I said. “Just tell me, where the hell is Calhoun, Georgia?”

Within a week, I was living there, and a couple months later, I walked into the office and met the woman who became my wife, and by summer of 1989, we were married with a little baby daughter. The point of that story is: If all else fails, I could always go back to driving a forklift.

Perhaps that thought never occurred to William Saletan, so that when his liberal friends started screaming “RAAAAACIST!” at him because of his 2007 column, this represented in his mind an existential threat.

Whether or not Saletan’s job at Slate was in jeopardy, a liberal pundit’s career opportunities might be severely limited by the accusation of racism, and so Saletan followed up with a series of articles backing down from what he’d written in “Liberal Creationism” and now, nearly 15 years later, he feels compelled to renounce that column as his “worst mistake.”

Well, let me tell you something, Bill: I’d go back to driving a forklift before I’d belly-crawl in front of a mob like that. Your cowardice only incited the mob to further aggression, with the consequence that we are now surrounded by mobs who think they can bully people into silence.

Now let me offer you the best refutation possible of the slanderous accusation that it is “racist” to discuss average group differences: If you are smart enough to read and understand The Bell Curve, obviously you are a person of superior intelligence, no matter what your ethnic heritage.

It so happens that I, as a white Southerner, belong to a below-average group — Yankees, on average, are actually smarter. Well, what does that mean for me as an individual? “Stupid is as stupid does,” to quote the great Alabama philosopher Forrest Gump, and if I do not wish to be regarded as inferior, it behooves me to take care how I conduct myself.

Grant that at times I may have said or done stupid things that would lend aid and comfort to my enemies, giving credence to their dismissal of me as a stereotypical dumb hillbilly, but on the whole, I think no honest critic would describe me as ignorant, and thereby I refute the slander of my enemies and uphold the dignity of my people. It would seem to me that others ought to emulate this example if they are likewise members of groups whose average might give rise to accusations of inferiority.

Try not to be a stereotype, is what I’m saying here. Say, for example, if you’re a pointy-headed intellectual, learn how to park your bicycle.

If you get that joke, don’t let on. They’ll ban you forever.

Patience is a virtue. We must learn to endure life in a world where truth is trodden under foot by peddlers of lies, and where those who ought to be courageous in defense of truth instead surrender to the mob. My ancestors were not wrong in thinking of themselves as sojourners in the vale of tears, and knowing what dreadful hardships they endured gives me courage to maintain my dignity amid whatever minor difficulties might afflict my own circumstances. You have not yet seen me bowing before any mobs, the way the gutless Saletan has done, and I don’t anticipate you’ll see this in the future because, unlike Saletan, I know: I could always go back to driving a forklift. Deo vindice.



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