Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
Science Denial, White Supremacy, and Two Escapes | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Picture of a black diorama showing the curvature of a flat earth with the sun revolving around the earth.
“Flat Earth | Conspiracy Theory VOL.1” by Daniel Beintner is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

I keep saying it. The denial of mainstream science, white supremacy, and the evangelical attachment to right-wing politics were all well-entrenched in American culture long before 2016. But it was the election of Donald Trump that has attracted so many smart journalists and scholars to these topics, and now there is just so much to read on these and related issues. Below are three articles on science denial and white nationalism . . . and remarkably enough, all three pieces contain elements of hope.

Lee McIntyre, “Flat Earthers, and the Rise of Science Denial in America,” Newsweek

Drawing from his new book, The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science From Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience, McIntyre argues that in this “post-truth” era, in which science deniers simply reject factual evidence, those of us who are interested in combating climate change denial need to “stop talking about proof, certainty, and logic.” Instead, we need to emphasize that what makes science, science, is the notion “that scientists care about evidence and are willing to change their views based on new evidence.” Most interesting here is McIntyre’s description of his efforts to apply this approach in discussions with attendees at the 2018 Flat Earth International conference in Denver, in which he pressed the question, “what would it take to convince you that you were wrong?” Bottom line? Face-to-face conversations are our only hope.

Sarah Olson, “My Parents Raised Me to Be a Science Denier, So I Educated Myself,” Leaps

In this fascinating piece Olson, who is currently an Oregon State undergraduate, and who blogs at readmorescience.com, describes her evangelical upbringing in which her parents homeschooled her in intelligent design, young Earth creationism, and a general skepticism of mainstream science. Upon entering public school she “became acutely aware of my ignorant upbringing,” but it was not until she left home and entered community college that she discovered her passion for biology and science writing. Interestingly, her parents have over time become more open to mainstream science, giving her “hope that people in deeply skeptical communities are not entirely out of reach.” Echoing McIntyre, Olson argues that “science communicators need to shift their focus from convincing to discussing,” as “people will only change their minds when it is the right time for them to do so.”

Rosie Gray, “A Former Alt-Right Member’s Message: Get Out While You Still Can,” BuzzFeed.News

Here is one of Katie McHugh’s infamous tweets: “British settlers built the USA. ‘Slaves’ built the country much as cows ‘built’ McDonald’s.” With her profile of McHugh – briefly an alt-Right media star – Rosie Gray provides us with a disturbingly compelling peek into the inner workings of white nationalism, a movement animated by, as the author points out, “the loneliness of the disaffected.” McHugh’s own loneliness was exacerbated by the level of her extremism, which even alienated some alt-Right compatriots. Now she says she has changed – giving some credit to her reading of St. Augustine – and she has a message for other white nationalists: “You have to own up to what you did and then forcefully reject this and explain to people and tell your story and say, ‘Get out while you can.’”