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Some thoughts on the 'psychology of the mainstream'

A colleague intimately familiar with the debate over evolution offered the following insight, which I thought would be of interest to a number of our readers.

Understanding why someone holds to a particular position -- understanding how holding that position supports the person's goals in life -- is important to figuring out what will be necessary to cause that person to change position. I came across an observation in a different context that I feel also applies to the evolution/origins debate.

The 'different context' is the current Iraq war and the dismissive treatment the mainstream media has afforded to a report of atrocities. An independent free-lancer, Michael Yon, reported a massacre that he documented with photographs and interviews. The killers were al-Qaeda, the victims civilians, and the mainstream press did not follow-up the reports, even though the massacre is horrific and normally would garner coverage. Why not? A mainstream journalist e-mailed "instapundit" to explain that:
"Yon's story doesn't get attention because it is humiliating. It is humiliating because it is obvious that we media ... can't do squat about such determined use of force. Our words, images, arguments and skills can't stop the killing ... [so instead] we focus our emotions and attention on the somewhat-bad domestic things that we can 'fix' ... such as Abu Ghraib, wiretapping, etc. When we 'fix' them, then we get status, applause, power, new jobs, ego, etc."
It seems to me that a similar psychology affects the evolution/origins approach of the mainstream science side. Mainstream scientists are experts in materialistic, naturalistic causes and effects. Living things are, of course, material things, and they comprise a vast proportion of the things that human beings are interested in learning more about. If life is to be attributed to a cause that is outside materialism and naturalism, that is humiliating to scientists, because it means life is something that, to use the words of the quote above, science cannot 'fix' with its available 'words, images, arguments and skills.'

I think it is probably a quite common element of human nature that a person who has developed an expertise or skill is likely to see that expertise or skill as being useful in solving a wider variety of problems than do other people who are looking at how to solve the same problems. Certainly anyone who is in the process of trying to find a new job, or change careers, is strongly predisposed to make arguments as to how that person can bring her or his skills to bear to solve problems in new fields or in new job situations. Indeed, that's how we market ourselves, by convincing potential employers or clients that our existing skills will solve their new problems.

Asking the mainstream science community to declare that new discoveries in molecular biology and DNA render materialism inadequate to explain life is like asking someone to declare that his skills have become outmoded and obsolete, unable to solve the new problems facing us. To ask someone to declare his own obsolescence triggers some pretty strong emotions, and some powerful emotional resistance, and counter-accusations. In the words of the poet Dylan Thomas, they "Do not go gentle into that good night" and they "rage, rage against the dying of the light." Thus, the emotional vehemence exhibited by the mainstream side is what we should expect.