If you desire to hold on to your belief that God created the cosmos on 23 October 4004 BC, as reportedly sleuthed out from Biblical data by the venerable James Ussher in the 17th century AD, then how do you respond when confronted with truckloads of non-trivial astronomical and archeological data that put the age of our planet at roughly four billion and the age of the universe at 13 billion years and change?
Piece of cake. You simply introduce an auxiliary hypothesis which says that God created the cosmos 6,000 years ago but made it look as if it were billions of years old. After all, a God powerful enough to design and create an entire cosmos is certainly powerful enough to give it a retro look that’ll dupe a bunch of nosy folks digging about for trilobites or poring over incoming photons from space for clues about the cosmic timeline.
When asked about God’s rationale for having pulled such a sophomoric prank on the scientific community, you introduce yet another auxiliary hypothesis, namely that God works in ways He doesn’t want us to understand for reasons we’re not supposed to be able to figure out.
Or you could subscribe to a conspiracy theory along the lines of astro-physicists, archeologists, and “evolutionists” having been collectively fudging their own data for centuries in a concerted campaign to spread atheism. Or that Satan keeps falsifying all the data—whatever works for you so you can keep on believing whatever you wish to believe.
What’s neat about resorting to auxiliary hypotheses—unfalsifiable ones in particular—is that by doing so, we can easily avoid having to abandon any of our pet assumptions no matter how far off the ranch those may seem. All we have to do is make adjustments elsewhere in our “web of belief,” so called because the totality of a person’s views are interconnected in a way to ensure ample flexibility when it comes to preserving favored beliefs in areas where conceptual recalibrations are undesirable (due to heavy emotional investment in those areas) via manufacturing new beliefs or modifying existing ones on the web’s fringes where little or no personal preference exists as far as things being one way versus another, and so we’ll happily adjust our web of belief as needed in order to protect our cherished core theses, which can thus be kept relatively static on an intellectual gimbal of sorts.
To varying extents, we are probably all guilty of throwing around dubious hypotheses for the sake of justifying otherwise poorly justifiable views that nevertheless form an integral part of our personal philosophies—i.e., of “who we are”—and of accusing others of employing this very strategy anytime their views stick in our craws too much.
For a long time, numerous pundits and commentators have been ascribing racial motives to those—to wit, members of the tea party and their ideological kin—who vigorously oppose President Obama. After all, Bush used to be a humongous spender as well, so if the same crew who now attacks Obama for running up the deficit like a drunken marine conspicuously omitted to skewer Bush for doing the same, the “only variable” is Mr. Obama’s ethnicity, correct?
That’s bunk, of course, as quite a few other variables are in play, but many people continue to bang that drum anyway. One who bangs it with a straight face, pardon the double pun, is the always endearing Rachel Maddow, who opined thus on Letterman last year:
[W]ith Fox [News] in particular it’s sort of a pattern. They keep running these stories about, for lack of a better phrase, scary black people, about scary black people at the USDA discriminating against white farmers, and scary black people stopping white people from voting, and scary black people getting, like, stealing the election, the whole ACORN scandal. […] Scaring white people is good politics on the conservative side of the spectrum, and it always has been. The idea is that you sort of rile up the white base to be afraid of an ‘other,’ to be afraid of scary immigrants, or of scary black people, somebody’s coming to take what is white people’s rightful property or rights, and you get them riled up so they feel like they have to vote in self-defense, and they vote for conservative candidates because of that fear.
So how to keep on trumpeting the theory articulated by Ms. Maddow about the white conservative base being riled up against “scary black people,” given that the whole ethnophobic white bunch suddenly seems to have waxed all gung-ho over a guy who’s about twice as black—at least as measured on a standard-issue color chart from the paint store in addition to the absence of a white parent in his pedigree—as the scary black man currently at the nation’s helm?
In light of the present Cain-mania on the right, defending that theory presents a bit of a problem—unless one resorts to a nifty auxiliary hypothesis, which didn’t take long to materialize:
Some TV reporter stuck a microphone into a black lady’s face—a functionary of some sort whose name didn’t show on the chyron—and asked her to explain the enormous popularity of leaders like Herman Cain and Rep. Alan West among the allegedly racist wing of the GOP. The lady answered, “You know what we call them [meaning black conservatives, such as Cain and West]? We call them oreos—black on the outside, white on the inside.”
Ah, so in order to hold on to her pet belief that opposition to agreeable black individuals, such as Barack Obama, is race-driven, she simply floated the auxiliary hypothesis that blacks who espouse disagreeable (i.e., conservative) perspectives and who enjoy a sizable following among supposedly racist whites are “white on the inside” and hence presumably not all that black to begin with, phenotypical markers notwithstanding.
Throwing internal traits into the mix adds an interesting new wrinkle to the already tricky feat of ethnicity determination, which shall be the subject of an upcoming discussion. If I’m an administrator tasked with deciding eligibility for affirmative action programs, must I consult an applicant’s political opinions before I declare him or her black enough to warrant admission? Would a pro-life individual of African ancestry who preached capitalism and small government have gotten a pass on picking cotton in 18th century Alabama? When Motown founder Barry Gordy describes the recently deceased soul songstress Teena Marie as “the only thing white about her was her skin,” does this mean Ms. Marie would have been sold into slavery for being “black on the inside”?
As per the aforementioned lady’s oreo hypothesis, apparently so.