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Why We Don't Believe in Science - Comments

Sample's Avatar Comment 1 by Sample

This data isn’t shocking; we already know that most undergrads lack a basic understanding of science.

Throw out the entire article except for these casually written words. That's as good or a better answer than any given.

Mike

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 10:52:48 UTC | #946303

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 2 by Alan4discussion

@OP - A new study in Cognition, led by Andrew Shtulman at Occidental College, helps explain the stubbornness of our ignorance. As Shtulman notes, people are not blank slates, eager to assimilate the latest experiments into their world view. Rather, we come equipped with all sorts of naïve intuitions about the world, many of which are untrue. For instance, people naturally believe that heat is a kind of substance, and that the sun revolves around the earth. And then there’s the irony of evolution: our views about our own development don’t seem to be evolving.

No we don't! Babies and infants and infants pick up all sorts of casually absorbed information from those around them.

This means that science education is not simply a matter of learning new theories. Rather, it also requires that students unlearn their instincts, shedding false beliefs the way a snake sheds its old skin.

There is a consistent misuse of the biological/psychological term " instincts" in this passage.

These misunderstood concepts may be simplistic observations, intuitive guesses, or nonsensical memes, copied in early childhood from ignorant role-models, but they are not "instincts" or "natural beliefs"!

The author clearly has no idea about this subject matter!

instinct
An inherited tendency of an organism to behave in a certain way, usually in reaction to its environment and for the purpose of fulfilling a specific need. The development and performance of instinctive behavior does not depend upon the specific details of an individual's learning experiences. Instead, instinctive behavior develops in the same way for all individuals of the same species or of the same sex of a species. For example, birds will build the form of nest typical of their species although they may never have seen such a nest being built before. - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/instinct

Until we understand why some people believe in science we will never understand why most people don’t.

The answer is in this text! If they are relying on "belief" rather than understanding of science, it is very easy to know why!
As for "most people don't", that is specific to the background of asserted ignorance in some cultures, but this author is just rambling around in his own ignorance!

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 11:21:28 UTC | #946306

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 3 by Mr DArcy

And no doubt the meaning of "year" is the amount of time between Christmases?

Never mind, I'm sure these kids are good at using their smart phones and facebook.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 11:35:58 UTC | #946307

Bigtimedwarfer's Avatar Comment 4 by Bigtimedwarfer

Comment 2 by Alan4discussion :

Until we understand why some people believe in science we will never understand why most people don’t.

The answer is in this text! If they are relying on "belief" rather than understanding of science, it is very easy to know why! As for "most people don't", that is specific to the background of asserted ignorance in some cultures, but this author is just rambling around in his own ignorance!

Indeed. Whichever meme is planted first grows very deep roots indeed. The more pertinent question that the author almost but doesn't quite ask is:

Why are some able to suppress their earlier faith based beliefs in favour of evidence based ones whilst others cling to them?

My guess would be education and peer pressure, even in as developed a nation as the USA and even amongst undergraduates.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 11:54:14 UTC | #946310

eivind's Avatar Comment 5 by eivind

I don't think that explanation is very good.

It is logical and inituitive to believe that the moon and the sun circles earth for the straightforward reason that that is what they appear to be doing if you observe them. They both rise in the east, then travel across the sky to set in the west.

There's no similar inituitive reason to believe that "God created humans in our present form sometime in the last 10000 years".

Let's take it apart, starting with the timeframe. What is "inituitive" about "the last 10000" as opposed to "the last 1000" or "the last million" ? I would argue nothing whatsoever, thus the -only- reason to believe in precisely this timeframe, is religious indoctrination.

If anything, I'd say intuition tells you that the parent of a human has always been a human, thus we've been more or less like we are forever. That's even correct, with the caveat that the parent is only generally nearly the same as the child, thus over enough generations significant differences accumulate. But that's a detail in comparison.

Furthermore, belief in creationism varies wildly by country. Why do 80 - 90% of scandinavians agree that "Human beings evolved from earlier animals by natural selection" while only 15% of Americans believe this, if the reason is "intuition".

Are americans having genetically different "intuition" or is the much simpler explanation that they believe differently because they have been taught differently ? I would say it's pretty obvious that the latter is the case.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 12:00:33 UTC | #946311

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 6 by Jos Gibbons

What makes the human mind so resistant to certain kinds of facts, even when these facts are buttressed by vast amounts of evidence?

While the percentages aren't very time-dependent in the US, they vary enormously between nations. We can't attribute all evolution denial to "human nature". The distribution of religion is key.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 13:00:25 UTC | #946323

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 7 by Nunbeliever

To eivind:

It is logical and inituitive to believe that the moon and the sun circles earth for the straightforward reason that that is what they appear to be doing if you observe them. They both rise in the east, then travel across the sky to set in the west.

I can't help to retell the old story about Elizabeth Anscombe saying to Wittgenstein, that she can “understand why people thought that the sun revolves around the earth.” Ludwig asks, “why?” Anscombe says, “Well, it looks that way.” Wittgenstein responds, “and how would it look if the earth revolved around the sun?”

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 13:14:10 UTC | #946325

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 8 by Neodarwinian

If you don’t want to think about the ice cream in the freezer, or need to focus on some tedious task, your D.L.P.F.C. is probably hard at work.

Even those not going into science need a grounding in science to teach them mature thinking habits.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 14:56:48 UTC | #946338

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 9 by Schrodinger's Cat

What gets me is that even at the height of religious belief...I never had any problem believing in evolution.

I think the real issue is that one gets those people who fear that any concession to science is the start of the slippery slope to questioning and doubt. Well of course...it is ! And these people are not stupid and know that......so they simply block out anything and everything that might get them on that slippery slope.

It's really like a kid just sticking his fingers in his ears and going ' Nanananana.....I'm not listening'.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 15:13:57 UTC | #946341

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 10 by Alan4discussion

Comment 7 by Nunbeliever

I can't help to retell the old story about Elizabeth Anscombe saying to Wittgenstein, that she can “understand why people thought that the sun revolves around the earth.” Ludwig asks, “why?” Anscombe says, “Well, it looks that way.” Wittgenstein responds, “and how would it look if the earth revolved around the sun?”

Ah! but to understand Earth orbiting the Sun, requires multi-tasked CLEAR THINKING! - about orbit and rotation SIMULTANEOUSLY!! Astronomers would also include the effects of the axis - or even suggest an eliptical orbit!!!! - Too hard for fundamentalists!

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 15:18:10 UTC | #946344

JoseLuis's Avatar Comment 11 by JoseLuis

The article itself shows why science education has been such a failure: because of the naturalistic approach to the human mind. In the end, according to this, it's all because we are naturally stupid. It goes so far as to saying that the sun revolving around the earth is a "natural belief". It isn't, it is an ideology, a succesful cultural explanation that may rely on prima facie inferences, but still mediated culturally.

When scientist begin to acknowledge that the failure of science education is the failure of a cultural project, we'll be taking steps forward instead of backward. It won't work "naturally", people have to make it work.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 15:20:11 UTC | #946345

justinesaracen's Avatar Comment 12 by justinesaracen

Na, it just means that the average American is f**king stupid.

(I'm an American, so I get to say that.)

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 15:25:28 UTC | #946346

Jumped Up Chimpanzee's Avatar Comment 13 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee

forty-six per cent of adults said they believed that “God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years".

This is a misleading quote and I wonder how much people are being led towards giving specific answers in these polls.

Obviously 46% did not to answer in their own words in exactly the same way (i.e. they would not have all specified "10,000 years" given a free choice). I assume they were given 2 options, something like:

Which of these statements do you think is most accurate in describing human origins?:

A) God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years

or

B) Humans evolved from other species with no guidance from God.

I suspect that if you were to conduct a poll that asked people to explain human origins and timescales of human history in their own words with no prompting you would get a very diverse set of answers, and a lot more "don't knows".

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 15:29:36 UTC | #946349

stellier68's Avatar Comment 14 by stellier68

I can only imagine how good every lobbyists in Washington must feel after reading such an enlightening study.

" Hey guys, look at the wonders the Religious Lobby achieved from years of hard work"

It makes me wonder why there are still any American to believe that cigarettes aren't the best thing for your health...

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 15:44:42 UTC | #946351

Sharpur's Avatar Comment 15 by Sharpur

Comment 10 by Alan4discussion :

Comment 7 by Nunbeliever

I can't help to retell the old story about Elizabeth Anscombe saying to Wittgenstein, that she can “understand why people thought that the sun revolves around the earth.” Ludwig asks, “why?” Anscombe says, “Well, it looks that way.” Wittgenstein responds, “and how would it look if the earth revolved around the sun?”

Ah! but to understand Earth orbiting the Sun, requires multi-tasked CLEAR THINKING! - about orbit and rotation SIMULTANEOUSLY!! Astronomers would also include the effects of the axis - or even suggest an eliptical orbit!!!! - Too hard for fundamentalists!

Fully understanding that the Earth orbits the Sun does require a bit of thought as you say, but the crux of Wittgenstein's remark is that the observation Anscombe is making is of the Earth orbiting the Sun (combined with the Earth's rotation). It is her interpretation of what she observes that is wrong. (Though, admittedly, she would need to make observations of other astronomical phenomena to have a reasonable chance of figuring this out.)

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 15:48:32 UTC | #946352

Quine's Avatar Comment 16 by Quine

... or that pressure produces heat,

Oops, compression produces heat, not pressure itself.

It was interesting to hear that the "oops" center of our brains has been located.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 15:50:15 UTC | #946353

raindrops's Avatar Comment 17 by raindrops

In the first paragraph he misuses the phrase "begs the question" and that bothers me.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 16:11:20 UTC | #946359

raindrops's Avatar Comment 18 by raindrops

I think this Jonah Lehrer guy is probably a lightweight.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 16:17:22 UTC | #946360

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 19 by Alan4discussion

Comment 18 by raindrops

I think this Jonah Lehrer guy is probably a lightweight.

Perhaps it runs in the family! What sort of parents call a kid Jonah ? - still - if the cap fits ... ....

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 16:55:17 UTC | #946364

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 20 by Peter Grant

But it turned out that something interesting was happening inside their brains that allowed them to hold this belief. When they saw the scientifically correct video, blood flow increased to a part of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, or D.L.P.F.C. The D.L.P.F.C. is located just behind the forehead and is one of the last brain areas to develop in young adults. It plays a crucial role in suppressing so-called unwanted representations, getting rid of those thoughts that aren’t helpful or useful. If you don’t want to think about the ice cream in the freezer, or need to focus on some tedious task, your D.L.P.F.C. is probably hard at work.

Now I want a brain scan, because I suspect that my dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is seriously underdeveloped as I have never had any patience for tedious tasks. Yet I still am an atheist who tries to think scientifically about things. Perhaps I have managed to reverse engineer my intuitions somehow? Only a brain scan will tell for sure. Does anyone know how much they cost?

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 17:34:29 UTC | #946374

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 21 by Red Dog

I knew I wasn't going to like this article just from the title. This is a common device in modern US journalism. Never ending articles on why "we" do or don't like this or that. And almost inevitably I find myself saying "who's we sucker?"

I agree with Alan4Discussion and others, the reasoning here is weak. There is nothing at all intuitive about saying the earth is 6K years old and the author seems to be reading an awful lot into a few second (or msecond?) delay.

This is the last time I'll promote the book, but I think a much better explanation is in Robert Trivers book The Folly of Fools about human self deception. Many humans are intellectually lazy. They seek out information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs and discount information that contradicts them. They also are less likely to be receptive to ideas that would put them outside the shared beliefs of their friends and family.

Of course for us misanthropes that's not an issue.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 18:25:35 UTC | #946386

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 22 by Nunbeliever

To Alan4discussion

Ah! but to understand Earth orbiting the Sun, requires multi-tasked CLEAR THINKING! - about orbit and rotation SIMULTANEOUSLY!!

Haha, well you have a point there.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 18:50:16 UTC | #946391

Anthony P. Norse's Avatar Comment 23 by Anthony P. Norse

While patternicity (I enjoyed Shermer's last book) might lie at the root of this problem, I wonder if education might share part of the blame? High School science, for example, seems more intent on nudging students past the finish line (via standardized tests) than helping them to think critically. When one questions everything (a la Einstein), and thinks critically, the "truth" becomes suddenly attainable.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 20:48:56 UTC | #946416

Nordic11's Avatar Comment 24 by Nordic11

The reason 46% of American adults believe in a young earth and instantaneous creation of humans has less to do with their lack of science education and more to do with their insufficient theological education. The majority of evangelical churches in America teach that Genesis 1 should be interpreted strictly literally even though the structure, format and literal inconsistencies of the passage have led Biblical scholars since Augustine to view the passage as poetry or allegory. When you are taught that the Word of God says the earth was created in 4000 BC (instead of being told that this view is only one interpretive choice) then the science does not matter. When I sit down with Christian friends who are committed to a young earth interpretation and explain the theological and scientific reasons for adhering to current scientific theories, many (but certainly not all) are more than ready to reevaluate their view.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 20:58:58 UTC | #946420

Sue Blue's Avatar Comment 25 by Sue Blue

"Believing" that the earth is less than 10,000 years old has nothing to do with intuition. Even as a child in a fundamentalist christian home, I looked around and had a hard time believing that is was NOT billions of years old, like the scientists said. My father was a mining engineer (my mother was the "do it or be damned" christian), and as kids we were exposed to a lot of geology in conversations with Dad and by living where we did - the mountains of Colorado. Geology was laid out before us like a picture book, and I'd have had to be blind AND retarded not to realize the great age of the earth. My mother tried to tell us it was all because of the Flood, but I wasn't buying it. I don't think I was any smarter or less naive than any other kid. I may have had a greater interest in scientific subjects than some, but I don't feel like I had to "overcome" any intuitive beliefs - just get away from the oppressive religious atmosphere so I could feel free to learn what I wanted.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 22:29:33 UTC | #946448

AULhall's Avatar Comment 26 by AULhall

Comment 24 by Nordic11 :

The reason 46% of American adults believe in a young earth and instantaneous creation of humans has less to do with their lack of science education and more to do with their insufficient theological education. The majority of evangelical churches in America teach that Genesis 1 should be interpreted strictly literally even though the structure, format and literal inconsistencies of the passage have led Biblical scholars since Augustine to view the passage as poetry or allegory. When you are taught that the Word of God says the earth was created in 4000 BC (instead of being told that this view is only one interpretive choice) then the science does not matter. When I sit down with Christian friends who are committed to a young earth interpretation and explain the theological and scientific reasons for adhering to current scientific theories, many (but certainly not all) are more than ready to reevaluate their view.

You make a great point. I have witnessed the same levels of intellectual laziness among my peers. It always seems to come back to a lack in critical thinking ability, a skill that certainly is not being adequately cultivated by our educational system.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 22:38:36 UTC | #946451

Sistanis's Avatar Comment 27 by Sistanis

This is an issue I always wondered myself. How can people deny evolution and science when all the evidence is right in front of them. So much that they can even touch and test the evidence themselves and come to the same conclusion.

What really bothers me is the idea of "believing" in Science. It doesn't matter if you believe Science or not, it's fact. You can test it over and over again and it's still the same whether you believe it or not. Not believing in gravity doesn't make it go away. I am in no means a scientist but I thought that was the whole point...to continually test and Prove the theories.

Unlike religion where you can't prove or test anything they claim. I was baptized Roman Catholic and went to church every week until I was 18 (My parents said I could decide for myself when I was 18...I chose atheist.) My brain must work differently because presented with the evidence from science I had no problem rejecting what I was told growing up by religion and embracing science.

It really frightens me sometimes knowing that grown adults, authority figures that make decisions for an entire country can easily reject scientific fact for some crazy idea that some unseen dude in the sky created the earth 10,000 years ago.

I just don't get it.

Fri, 08 Jun 2012 23:26:10 UTC | #946462

Roedy's Avatar Comment 28 by Roedy

I suspect you could get quite different answers, how?

  1. interrogators are all Christian or all atheist. Body language telegraphs the correct answer.

  2. multiple choice with 4/5 answers essentially Christian or essentially scientific.

  3. where you find the people to interrogate. People at home with land lines are a different set than those working in office buildings.

  4. where you interrogate people. Who is with them. If a friend is with them, they will answer to please the friend.

I like to tease such interrogators by saying "I don't know the correct answer to that question", which is suggesting someone who paid for this poll wanted me to answer a particular way.

Next time you get a telephone poll, try to guess how the interrogator personally wants you to answer each question. They are supposed to disguise this, but I don't think it is easy to do.

Sat, 09 Jun 2012 00:05:01 UTC | #946473

Sharpur's Avatar Comment 29 by Sharpur

Comment 17 by raindrops In the first paragraph he misuses the phrase "begs the question" and that bothers me.the question" and that bothers me.

It bothers me too. It's become more common than the correct usage these days, and while I restrain myself from nit-picking (stuff like "Ten items or less" signs in supermarkets) the correct use of this term is important. It's a very common error or tactic of sloppy thinkers.

Sat, 09 Jun 2012 00:13:46 UTC | #946476

Metamag's Avatar Comment 30 by Metamag

USA has always had a strong anti-intellectual culture of all the developed nations.

Just take the movies for example, there is not a single country with such distinct symbolic field around the term "nerd" and how it plays out in various media and even in politics. In fact, it is very rare to even find such a recognizable term in other countries.

Consumerism as life-style and free-market fetish only exacerbated the problem.

Sat, 09 Jun 2012 02:55:51 UTC | #946491