blame it on dawkins

November 25, 2008

If you’re planning to read books about evolution, the famous archconservative pundit blog World Net Daily has a stark warning for you. It might drive you to suicide just like it did 22 year old college student Jesse Kilgore. Ed Brayton, the co-founder of Panda’s Thumb, tackled the article on his site with his first thoughts.


When we get past the initial reaction to this “cautionary tale,” we can deconstruct the narratives behind it. In the PR world, the narrative is the anecdotal evidence designed to support your big talking point. You tell stories that ultimately culminate in your talking point or vaguely hint at it if you don’t want to be too obvious. The narrative here is that colleges are either populated by militant atheists who pounce on Christians every chance they get or they’re run by even more atheistic professors who are on a mission to indoctrinate students.

In this version, the atheist in charge of the classroom challenged a young man raised to believe in creationism to try and read Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion with fatal results. The story also claims there were only two Christians on the campus with a slight concession that one or two more may be hiding in the shadows:

“Then another friend at the funeral told me the same thing,” Keith Kilgore said. “This guy was his best friend, and about the only other Christian on campus.”

Kilgore attended Jefferson Community College which has some 3,000 students. In a country in which over 80% of the population ascribes to some form of Christianity and only 5% say they’re atheists, statistics say that there should be over 2,400 Christians to 150 atheists. But we’re told by Kilgore’s father and WND that all the demographic data we have is wrong and one college in the middle of rural New York is some sort of atheist nexus.

But oh there’s more. The WND writers go out of their way to state that until Jesse read The God Delusion, everything was just fine. Their evidence for this? He blogged in support of numerous conservative views on abortion, gay marriage and “for family values,” whatever that means. So what we know about Kilgore’s psyche, his relationships with his parents and his parents is only what WND kindly allows us to know. People don’t randomly go off into the forest while reading a fiery screed that attacks their personal beliefs and shoot themselves. Self-preservation is one of the key instincts and while we can override it, it takes a lot for us to do so. If it was that easy to lose all hope in the world and kill oneself, half of all teenagers would be dead.

There’s also another subtext to this tale, one which presents the professor’s invitation to read the book as a hate crime and a double standard on the part of colleges and police:

“Here’s another thing,” he continued. “If my son was a professing homosexual and a professor challenged him to read [a book] ‘Preventing Homosexuality’…

If my son was gay and [the book] made him feel bad, hopeless, and he killed himself, and that came out in the press, there would be an outcry.”

“But because he’s a Christian, I don’t even get a return telephone call,” the father told WND.

Never mind that it’s the job of a good professor to challenge the beliefs of students. And never mind that homosexuality has biological elements and you could never pray the gay away (that widely published medical research is totally ignored by people like Keith Kilgore). Clearly, there was something bothering the young man and he had issues that are not being brought to light because of the intellectual dishonesty and blame-shifting that’s taking place here. To expect a college to start punishing professors for doing their jobs so a family can affirm their personal beliefs, find a scapegoat for their problems and appease the pundits who will use this personal tragedy as a political pawn to advance their questionable agendas is just plain misguided.

The lesson here according to Mr. Kilgore is that Christians should shun public schooling since using creationist comebacks in class doesn’t seem to work on the atheists running them. With laying the blame for his son’s death at the doors of the educational institutions, he’s burying a whole lot of questions about what went wrong and why and helping WND push its mantra that public schools are evil and offer unsavory ideas that all religious people should avoid.

In the end, the WND story leaves a skeptical reader very confused and raises a lot of questions that are supposed to be answered with the blanket accusations leveled against colleges and the study of evolution. Then again, WND is not meant for skeptical readers. It’s editorial policy is to mesh talking points with actual events so much so, it becomes impossible to tell fact from the the writers’ opinions. In journalistic standards, it’s basically like the Weekly World News. If you already accept what they write as truth, you’ll be satisfied at having your beliefs reaffirmed. But if you’re skeptical, they won’t even bother to change your mind. According to them, you’re so far gone and so evil, it’s not worth their time.

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  • N.S. Palmer

    Wait just a darned minute. You mean that … The Weekly World News isn’t TRUE?

    And here I was going to send some plastic surgery money to the parents of the dog-faced boy. I guess that I won’t, now.

    I don’t know how long it will take me to get over my disillusionment about The Weekly World News (though I always knew that WorldnetDaily was just a gag).


    P.S. Doubts about evolution are not restricted to grade-school dropouts. My dissertation advisor at Yale once remarked that the theory of evolution adequately explains “the *survival* of the fittest, but not the *arrival* of the fittest.”

  • Not even a word of compassion for this kid or his family? Your article was pathetic, precisely because it reveals the heartlessness of your side.


  • Greg Fish


    So wait, wait… WorldNetDaily reduces a young man’s personal tragedy into a freak show in their quest to ban ideas with which they disagree, distorting and hiding facts and by pointing that out I’m the heartless one? How does that work? Do you honestly believe the writers of the WND tale cared one bit about the family?

  • Those resistant to change teach into their children all the falsities they believe. This leads to the children building their paradigms on faulty information. Had the child’s paradigms been built with more accurate information, the book wouldn’t have had an affect. I feel like the child’s upbringing is partly to blame. Clearly his mind could at least connect the logic of the book, so his brain didn’t lack the intelligence to understand science and its validity. Of course, many people build bizarre or unhealthy beliefs or paradigm structures despite parental influence. Other than blaming other societal influences or pressures, I can only speculate beyond that.