Being one of the only atheists in existence to actually spend time examining theistic arguments instead of just posting Christopher Hitchens memes, I’ve been reading Edward Feser‘s The Last Superstitution: A Refutation of the New Atheism, a book I firmly recommend to anyone interested in either Thomas Aquinas’s metaphysics or seeing Richard Dawkins get some much deserved intellectual ridicule. One of the concepts addressed is the New Atheist tendency to fixate on facile and easily dismantled arguments since the philosophical nuance required for attacking the more esoteric and complex variety eludes their feeble understanding.
The “God of the Gaps” is one such example, and ironically enough, it originated from theists who used it to criticize creationists for assuming that science would discover the “intelligent design” behind some as of yet unexplained phenomena or “gap” in empirical knowledge, finally proving that William Paley’s “Watchmaker” really did craft all the gears and cogs underpinning the natural machinery of the universe. Obviously both Paley’s premise and the idea that God is the explanation for gaps in scientific knowledge have had more holes blasted in them than a West Virginia stop-sign. (Astute observers will note that Paley and the Intelligent Design crowd stupidly agreed to fight their battle on the terms of materialist empiricism, which is pretty much like a quadruple amputee attempting to settle disputes with gorillas via an arm-wrestling contest.) The idea that “God did it.” fills in all the gaps in the explanations of science is such a thoroughly stupid and obvious Argument From Ignorance that only the most superstitious religious zealots would ever resort to such foolishness, or, as we know them, “modern liberals.”
Apparently in this world there is an inequality of outcomes and you can actually see a pattern of “lower achievement” or “undesirable behavior” among humans along group lines of sex and ethnic/racial background. (Bonus TRS points for accusing the folks making those observations of being sexist, racist bigots and holding everyone to a euro-centric white idealized standard of success.) For some inexplicable reason all humans crawling around on this dirtball don’t conform to a neat, statistically even pattern of achievement that reflects their racial/sexual identities in even proportions. The assumption here is that on average all human beings are profoundly equal, and any “science” objecting to this is definitely racism promoted by Nazi eugenics advocates. This is a lot like saying that God is a foregone conclusion and we must examine data from this perspective, but assuming your premise never hurt anyone, right? So how do we explain the outcomes since biology is a priori ruled out?
Enter “stereotype threat.” Essentially the theory goes, members of one group stereotype members of another group along certain lines, causing them to develop internal complexes about themselves which then result in negative performance outcomes, or conforming to the stereotype itself. This is a pretty flexible concept, and you can apply it to everything from black student test scores to why people become or stay obese. Naturally, there are lots of criticisms of the methodology and findings of stereotype threat, such as that it only appears under specific artificially generated testing conditions, that it fails to explain much of the difference in outcomes, and that the findings are not easily replicated, but this has stopped no one from running with this ball and trying to slam dunk it through the Equality Goal. While it might look somewhat like pure speculation that can only be conjured into existence by carefully tweaking your “primes” to get the desired effect, ain’t nobody got time for skepticism.
All the gaps in achievement can now be filled in by stereotype threat. It can provide a sort of “Prime Mover” for any deplorable social phenomena currently lacking a politically correct explanation. If someone asks you how you can be sure that “Stereotypes did it,” just dare them to prove that stereotypes DIDN’T DO IT, and then rebuke that vile racist for questioning the existence of the Equality God in the first damn place. (Extra bonus points for wrapping it up with an appeal to the null hypothesis.) Stereotype threat is like a Universal Theorem of Oppression, reducing the explanation of any deviation from bourgeois white liberal standards of achievement to being the result of an Evil Bigoted Watchmaker, hidden in the gaps, who inserted invisible cogs of racism and microscopic gears of sexism into everything in existence. Like a secular miracle, this principle just so happens to evenly and thoroughly paint over any of the cracks in our current explanations, lest someone grab their Racist Science Detail Brush and start sketching out a nasty hypothesis.
You can change the zealot, but you can’t change the fallacious reasoning.