Friday, January 27, 2006

At What Point Does Stereotyping Become Bigotry?

Let's take look at the concept of bigotry. One kind of bigotry is prejudice based on over generalizing or stereotyping. Consider the statement "All x are y." For "x" substitute a minority or other people group. For "y" substitute a common stereotype. For example, "all men are chauvinist pigs." I encourage you to think of an example or two of this that you find particularly offensive.

I think most reasonable observers would call such statements bigoted and/or racist. Why? Because they irrationally stereotype a whole people group and ignore important facts, such as that many of "x" are not "y." What is the origin of statements like that? One possibility is that the bigot is aware of one person of group "x" who is "y," then another, then another, and believes that this is enough data to draw the bigoted conclusion. The logical flaw is in not seeing or being open to important distinctions among people group "x": some are "y"; some are not. Of course, the bigot's likely response is that he does not care about such distinctions or thinks they are unimportant.

Now let's look at Judge John Jones' opinion in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. A big element in his decision was that intelligent design is essentially the same thing as creation science, and that proponents of the former are the same as proponents of the later, and are just pretending to be different. He repeatedly notes similarities, some of which are quite accurate. However, when it comes to differences, he quickly dismisses them with little analysis. He simply ignores many distinctions that are made by proponents of intelligent design. I found many of his comments simplistic and demeaning to the parties discussed and was left with one overriding impression: he does not understand the leading proponents of intelligent design, and apparently, despite a month long trial, made little effort to do so. He seems to have chosen to view the leading proponents of intelligent design through a distorted lens shaped by the members of the local school board.

I found that much of his logic relied on simplistic stereotyping of the proponents of intelligent design and blatant misrepresentation of their positions. He makes matters worse by suggesting that the proponents of intelligent design are dishonest or disingenuous for asserting that there are important differences between them and the proponents of creation science. He also creates confusion by using the term "creationism" both broadly and narrowly, without noting the different meanings in their original context.

Many commentators have acknowledged the important differences between intelligent design and creation science, and the important differences between their proponents. Even ardent supporters of macroevolutionary theory have noted important and obvious differences.

Jones' opinion, however, reads like a narrow-minded work of advocacy, not an expression of thoughtful judgment reflecting an understanding of all the parties. One prominent Darwin Only blogger noted that the opinion could not have been better if he had written it himself. Hmmmm.

Does this stereotyping rise to the level of bigotry? I will leave it to my readers to answer that. Bigotry is a strong word, but the question needs to be raised. I personally found many parts of his opinion offensive in how they stereotype people who hold many of the same positions that I do and with whom I identify closely.

The decision is now part of the common law of his federal district in one area within Pennsylvania. Other district court judges across the country are not bound to follow the decision as controlling precedent, but can choose to follow it if they find the reasoning persuasive. I doubt that other judges and justices of good faith will be swayed by the logic of the decision. It will only extend to other districts if there are other judges who are fooled by such ignorance and simplistic analysis.

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An earlier post on a similar theme is here, with a link to a post along the same lines.