Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A New Mandate for Evolution

President Obama recently called for more understanding and dialog in our heated public debates. We are to try to understand the other person's perspective, even if we strongly disagree. Count me in. Unfortunately I suspect not everyone feels the same. Consider, for instance, clinical psychologist Seth Kalichman. John Moore reviewed Kalichman's new book, Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy, in which Kalichman brands various folks as "denialists." As Moore describes, Kalichman describes these folks as "deranged and disgruntled university professors who turn to pseudoscience as a platform to gain attention." That's strong stuff.

I agree that some people are way out on a limb in their convictions. But deranged? Too many pundits rely on personal attack, ad hominems, strawmen, stereotypes and marginalization. Such attacks make for a simplistic world of good guys and bad guys. The world probably is that simple sometimes, but often it is not. While Kalichman's main concern in the book is AIDS, it appears Kalichman's watchful eye has others in view as well:

These attitudes are not unique to HIV. Denialism, notes Kalichman, is "partly an outgrowth of a more general anti-science and anti-medicine movement". Groups that support intelligent design, doubt global warming, claim that vaccines cause autism, argue that cigarettes are safe, believe that the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 were an intelligence-agency plot or deny the Holocaust all use similar tactics.

I doubt Kalichman's list stops here. Look around. Who else hides this insidious mental illness? Certainly anyone who questions that evolution is a fact must be one of those wicked denialists. What a powerful mandate and protection for evolution. There are many religious demands for evolution, but here we have something equally powerful. Take your choice: accept evolution or be defined as deranged.