A few weeks ago, Thomas Sowell wrote an article in which he implied that thinking—serious thinking—is an activity whose time has come and gone.
If ever we needed proof of this, the Reverend Elizabeth Mollard supplies us with it in spades.
On May 12th, The Lancaster New Era edition of The Intelligencer Journal published a letter by Mollard that expressed her displeasure with the paper’s columnist, Paul Gottfried. Interestingly enough, it is Gottfried’s critique of none other than Sowell himself—“Thomas Sowell’s Genetic Fallacies”—that has Mollard and a number of Christian clerics who co-signed her rebuttal up in arms.
According to Mollard, Gottfried defends the position that interracial disparities “in education and income….must be due to…genetic makeup.”
This is simply wrong.
Gottfried is clear that his objection to Sowell is that the latter “seems to be denying entirely the effects of genetic inheritance.” That is, he is not interested in offering an account of inter-group disparities, but in challenging Sowell’s insinuation that genetics play no role in explaining human accomplishment. Gottfried is modest, for he only asks that Sowell supply some support for the radically counterintuitive proposition all that we are stems solely from our choices.
Indeed, not only is this a reasonable request in its own right, but it is particularly reasonable given that Sowell, a black man who has a history of studying race and IQ going back some 40 years, has himself insisted in the past that genetics do in fact figure to some extent in accounting for group performance.
Next, Mollard likens Gottfried’s views to those of Hitler.
This would be offensive to any person with an IQ above four if it wasn’t so patently absurd.
A person born without legs, regardless of how diligently he tries, will never be as good of a basketball player as is Michael Jordan. An individual with mental retardation will never become an astrophysicist. Obviously, in conceding this we in no way purport to pronounce upon “the worth” or dignity, the “superiority” or “inferiority,” of the individuals involved—irrespective of whether the individuals in question are members of different racial groups.
If it is unfair for us to liken ourselves to segregationists and Hitler for taking stock of the genetic determinism in cases of this sort, it is that much more unfair to draw these comparisons with Gottfried who, after all, only expressed incredulity over the notion that genetics are of zero consequence in accounting for human performance.
Gottfried is a Jew whose family fled Nazi persecution in its native Austria—but not before Hitler murdered some of his relatives. This makes Mollard’s charge of “Holocaust denial” against him that much more egregious.
While she never explicitly accuses him of such, this is exactly what she is driving at when she writes that Gottfried’s position on Hitler’s motivation is “in clear contradiction to the research of reputable historians who have documented many examples of Hitler’s medical experiments and murder of those, particularly Jews, that he believed were physically inferior.”
In reality, Gottfried never denied—and, given his family history, never could deny—that Hitler did just the sorts of things that Mollard and “reputable historians” claim he did. What he denies is that Hitler’s slaughter of Jews was motivated by a belief in their intellectual inferiority. He writes that “the Nazis never advocated the expulsion or destruction of the Jews as ‘racially inferior.’” Rather, “Hitler and others in his group thought Jews were quite clever but working maliciously against the Aryan race.”
From assault to genocide to war, just a second’s reflection on any number of acts of violence immediately reveals that, not infrequently, a belief in the innate superiority of oneself or one’s group is a non-factor. Did the Allied Powers believe that they were innately superior to the Axis Powers? Must the elderly woman believe in the genetic inferiority of the burglar who she shoots and kills? Must rival gangsters subscribe to some doctrine or other of innate or genetic inferiority before they can shoot each other down?
Finally, Mollard says that her and her colleagues “reject this type of belief”—the belief that genetics might have something to do with accomplishment—because they think that it lends “credence” to “hatred.”
As a Christian, it is hatred that I reject, not some belief that might be used to justify or fuel it. Presumably, Mollard and company reject hatred also. It is on hatred, then, that they should focus, for hatred can and does take flight from any number of ideas—including ideas that have achieved the status of facts.
For instance, some members of just those minority groups on whose behalf Mollard advocates hate whites on the basis of the belief that they have suffered historical indignities because of the majority’s belief that they are inferior. Are Mollard and her colleagues willing to renounce this belief?
Mollard and the co-signers of her letter have argued here in bad faith. In the spirit of their Master, they should do the Christian thing and ask Paul Gottfried for forgiveness.