Posted by: Dan | May 31, 2007

Resistence to Science, or Blind to Science?

One discussion going around the science blogs in the past few days has been regarding a review by Bloom and Weisberg in Science on The Childhood Origins of Adult Resistence to Science (PDF). The conclusion is reflective of the article as a whole:

Given the role of trust in social learning, it is particularly worrying that national surveys reflect a general decline in the extent to which people trust scientists. To end on a practical note, then, one way to combat resistance to science is to persuade children and adults that the institute of science is, for the most part, worthy of trust.

This is a strange thing, and one that I’ve encountered from time to time – but it never ceases to amaze me that the majority of Americans find human sources of information, such as the Bible, to be a more reliable and substantial source on natural history than the natural world itself. They are persuaded that there is some sort of conspiracy on the part of scientists to block interpretations of nature that are friendly to theology. It has to be something more than merely feeling comfortable believing their mythology to be real; or more than mere trust in authority. (Incidentally, I’m reading Scott Atran’s In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, which I think has the best argument for how such religious fervor came to be)

Janet has another related viewpoint, however:

I suppose what it comes down to, as I see it, is helping kids to see physical reality as an authoritative source of beliefs, too. As well, being able to ask good questions about the human sources of information — being able to evaluate them critically regardless of how smoothly what they’re saying fits with how we’re already inclined to see the world — strikes me as a potentially useful life skill.

Indeed. To me, however, it comes down to more an issue of behavioral conditioning – not a mere distrust of science, nor mere credulity to religion. It’s more of a blindness to science, and tunnel-visioning of individuals from early childhood, to unquestioningly construct their reality to suit a belief system that by all accounts is counterfactual. This can be due to two things: (1) first, that religion is an institutionalized form of brainwashing, or (2) that it is part of the human congnitive makeup to institutionalize belief. I actually am starting to think that it is more the latter, but I find that a depressing aspect of human frailty (that we’re predisposed to faith over reason).

So, maybe David Hume was right, in his 1739 Treatise of Human Nature:

Reason is… the slave of the passions.

Or maybe I’ll have more hope for the human race tomorrow…

  • Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg (18 May 2007) “Childhood Origins of Adult Resistance to Science,” Science, vol. 316, 996-997.
  • Other discussions stemming from Bloom and Weisberg’s article

Oh, and you can go to A Blog Around the Clock for a more extensive discussion on Bloom and Weisberg’s paper.


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