You may have heard of the tragedy of Jesse Kilgore, the college
sophomore who commited suicide after, as
WingNut Daily reported,
reading The God Delusion and having a crisis of faith.
Now, just when you thought the Disco Tute couldn’t sink any lower,
they’ve produced a
of their Intelligent Design the Future podcast about this
(the “melo” part is literal: the whole ten-minute episode is
underscored with soft minor-key acoustic guitar and piano music, so
that it sounds like a cross between a eulogy and a soap opera). It
presents the same story that the WND article does: that Kilgore was a
good Christian kid who went off to a secular college, where a
professor either assigned, or challenged him to read The God
Delusion. After Kilgore went out to the woods and committed
suicide, his father found the book under his son’s bed, with a
bookmark on the last page.
The narrative is that Jesse Kilgore killed himself because he read
Dawkins’s book and lost both his faith and his will to live. Yes, it’s
as bad as I make it sound. If you thought the WND article was sleazy,
this is worse.
Now, I don’t know why Jesse Kilgore decided to end his life. No one
life can be summarized in an article and a ten-minute show. I’m sure
there was a lot more to him than we’ve seen. For all I know, he got a
girl pregnant and couldn’t live with that. He didn’t leave a suicide
note, so we’ll probably never know for sure. All we have is
speculation, mostly by grieving friends and relatives.
With that out of the way, the ID the Future show is a treasure trove
of wingnut tropes: we’ve got Good Kid vs. Bad College; Brainwashing
Professor; Reading Opposing Ideas Will Poison You; and many more. For
a group that keeps insisting that they’re not creationists, they seem
to have borrowed an awful lot of ideas from
There’s the assertion that Jesse felt alone because he was one of the
only Christians on campus. The school that he was attending,
SUNY Jefferson Community College,
is in northern New York state (unless, of course, both WND and IDtF
got it wrong, which is not something that can be excluded). I can’t
imagine any college campus in North America where most of the
population isn’t Christian.
Then there’s the notion that the nameless biology professor was using
his authority to tell students what to believe. From what little I’ve
seen of religious homeschooling techniques, I suspect that this is
projection: these people teach their kids that “these are the facts,
and they’re true because I said so”, and can’t imagine teachers
leading students to conclusions by showing them the evidence. And in
my experience, the latter is far more common on college campuses than
PZ Myers put it best (paraphrased from memory): “We don’t teach
students that the sky is blue. We teach them how to go outside and
look up. And yeah, if they come from an environment where they were
told that the sky is green, that’s likely to cause problems.”
And, of course, there’s the elephant in the room: Jesse killed himself
after reading The God Delusion, therefore he did so
because of it. Classic
post hoc ergo propter hoc.
The subtext, of course, is that learning is dangerous. So don’t go
getting any ideas about going to college and exposing yourself to
In fact, this theme is repeated several times: Jesse is said to have
been a fervent debater and defender of The Faith; he went to a secular
school because he wanted to challenge himself; everyone was sure he
could withstand anything secular academia could throw at him.
Throughout the piece, foreign ideas are talked about in the same terms
one would describe a disease.
Well, I’m sorry, but if your ideas can’t survive contact with reality,
they’re not worth holding on to. I’d say the lying taint-pustules at
the DI should be ashamed of themselves for promulgating such crap, if
I thought they could feel shame.
Me? Pissed? Oh, just a tad.
Ed Brayton’s post
at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)
(Update, Dec. 19, 18:49: Oh, lookee! I beat that hack, O’Leary, to this story.)