Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Jason Rosenhouse defends Chris Mooney

Jason Rosenhouse read Chris Mooney's article on 7 Reasons Why It's Easier for Humans to Believe in God Than Evolution and liked it. Mooney was arguing that it's easier to believe in god(s) than in evolution because our evolutionary history selected for traits that predisposed us to think more like IDiots than like scientists.

I disagreed [Why don't people accept evolution? ]. Here's what I wrote last week ....
I don't believe that we evolved to favor religion over science any more than I believe we evolved to favor slavery, male superiority, castes, homophobia, and a host of other things that have disappeared or are about to disappear. Religion, especially the extreme versions, is soon going to disappear as well. I don't believe that those seven things are innate, hard-wired, ways of thinking. They are mostly learned behaviors. There's no reason to suspect than we can't teach our children different, and better, ways of thinking. There's no evidence that I know of that convinces me that essentialism, teleological thinking, dualism, and inability to understand vast time scales are more "natural" than other ways of thinking.
I pointed out that millions of people in Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, etc. don't seem to have a hard time accepting evolution and millions of non-believers don't fall for the god delusion. If Chris Mooney is correct then this evolved way of thinking seems to be remarkable easy to overcome. Maybe it doesn't exist?

Jerry Coyne had the same qualms as I did [Chris Mooney downplays religion as a cause of creationism]. Jerry emphasized the obvious—it's religious brainwashing that leads to stupid ways of thinking and rejection of evolution. You have to be taught that there's a magical being in the sky who doesn't want you to accept science. It's not the default position.

Jason Rosenhouse doesn't like this form of reasoning. He prefers to think that there's something in our genes that makes us believe in god(s). Here's what he said on his blog [Mooney on the Psychology of Evolution Denial] ...
Well, if Mooney is wrong about the science that’s one thing. My experience teaching mathematics suggests to me that careful, logical thinking is not something that comes naturally to most people, and the sheer ubiquity of religion in the world suggests that there is some underlying psychological basis for it. So I’m not sure why Larry regards Mooney’s hypothesis as obviously false.
Jason, you teach in Virginia, if I remember correctly. It's not surprising to me that your students are unable to think logically.

Seriously, you don't know whether Americans have a genetic, psychological, basis for resisting science or whether their cultural upbringing is to blame. Your main argument is that the god delusion is pervasive so that must indicate a genetic predisposition to believing in mythical beings. That could be true but my point was whether there's any evidence of that when we look outside of the USA. Just because certain beliefs are ubiquitous (or nearly ubiquitous) does not mean they have a genetic basis.

If that were true then you have to argue that there was a genetic basis for accepting the subjugation of women because that was widely believed in the past (and is still practiced in some societies). Similarly for many other things.

Jason continues ...
The bigger problem, however, is that what Larry is railing against here is so far removed from anything Mooney is suggesting that it amounts to simple caricature. Mooney was talking about psychological dispositions, not hard-wired, unchangeable traits. We have a tendency to find sugary and fatty foods appealing, and that tendency probably has an evolutionary origin. But that doesn’t mean we cannot be educated to reject that tendency. The point is that education is necessary, and that was the basic point Mooney was making about our psychological dispositions. Religion comes naturally, he is arguing, but science has to be taught.
I used the term "hard-wired" to emphasize that the traits were in our genes and not something cultural. You and Mooney claim that belief in god(s) comes naturally as part of our hardware and not our software.

I do not believe that genetic predispositions are "unchangeable." That would be silly. But what's equally silly, in my opinion, is to argue that certain beliefs have a genetic basis but it's very easy to overcome the hard-wiring. What's the point of such an argument if it's so easy?

I'm not saying children are born with an understanding of evolution and gravity. Of course science has to be taught. What I'm saying is that we are born with functioning brains and those brains are just as capable of thinking logically as thinking irrationally. You have to be taught that there's a magical being out there who wants you to worship her and you have to be taught that if humans don't behave they could be wiped out in another deluge. My children didn't grow up in a religious household and I didn't have to make a big effort to unteach them to think like IDiots.

Do you and Chris really think that the children in Denmark and China have to be specifically taught that gods don't exist? I don't.

Jason isn't quite finished ....
Larry tells us that religion is primarily about learned behavior. I’m sure that’s true, but why are so many people being taught religious modes of thought in the first place? And why do so many people find those modes of thought appealing? If I understand Mooney’s point, he would say that the specifics of religious belief and practice are learned and differ from culture to culture, but a general tendency to find something like religion to be appealing is innate.
In answer to your first question, people are being taught religious modes of thought for a variety of reasons but mostly because that's what their parents and grandparents did. The answer to your second question is that these modes of thought seem appealing because they don't know any better—it's how they are supposed to behave in the culture they live in.

When I look at leading American politicians like Michele Bachmann and others of her ilk, I do not believe that their way of thinking represents the natural, default, mode of thinking that evolution has selected for. Do you? I think they've been brainwashed into thinking that way. It's not natural.

Like I said earlier, there may be an "innate" (e.g. hard-wired) tendency to believe silly things but, if so, it is remarkably easy to subvert. There are generations of European children who are growing up in the complete absence of religion and I don't think they are suffering from angst because what they are doing is "unnatural."

Jason raises two other issues. The first is ...
I get very annoyed when defenders of evolution pretend that virtually all Christians accept evolution and suggest that it is only a handful of extremists who believe otherwise. That is flatly untrue, and it trivializes very difficult issues.
That's an accommodationist position and you won't find me making such a case in defense of compatibility. However, I wonder if this isn't another case of American myopia?

There are a heck of a lot of Christians in South America, Africa, and Europe and I believe that most of them don't have much of a problem with evolution.

The second issue is ...
But I also don’t like it when my fellow atheists say bluntly that science and religion are incompatible, as though that’s a statement of fact and not opinion.
I have been arguing for years that science and religion are incompatible but I've always pointed out that there are differences of opinion. I find Jason's statement particularly annoying because it's usually the other side that ignores the controversy.

I'd be happy if the compatibilists would mention from time to time that they are only expressing a personal opinion and not a fact. For example, here's some of the testimony of John Haught at the Kiztmiller v Dover trial in 2005 [John Haught in Kitzmiller v Dover].
Q. Does this make science at odds with religion?

A. By no means. Science and religion, as I've written in all of my books, are dealing with two completely different or distinct realms. They can be related, science and religion, but, first of all, they have to be distinguished. The medieval philosopher said, we distinguish in order to relate. And when we have a failure to distinguish science from religion, then confusion will follow.

So science deals with questions relating to natural causes, to efficient and material causes, if you want to use Aristotelian language. Religion and theology deal with questions about ultimate meaning and ultimate purpose. To put it very simply, science deals with causes, religion deals with meanings. Science asks "how" questions, religion asks "why" questions.

And it's because they're doing different things that they cannot logically stand in a competitive relationship with each other any more than, say, a baseball game or a baseball player or a good move in baseball can conflict with a good move in chess. They're different games, if you want to use that analogy, playing by different rules.
Jason does this upset you because Haught "forgot" to mention that this was just his opinion?

And what about this statement from the American National Academies?
Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.
Jason, did you chastise them for not saying that it was just an opinion?

I resent the fact that Jason Rosenhouse singles out atheists and incompatibilists for not mentioning the controversy and for not saying that there are different opinions about the compatibility of science and religion. It's the other side that's guilty of this, big time.

Note: Jason has in the past defended the idea that science and religion don't get along and he criticized acommodationists for blasting atheists but not theists [Moran, Myers, Brayton and Hayes].


37 comments :

  1. I don't believe that we evolved to favor religion over science any more than I believe we evolved to favor slavery, male superiority, castes, homophobia, and a host of other things that have disappeared or are about to disappear.

    Um ... male superiority has or is about to disappear? Have you followed the MRA flap within the atheistic community (you know, the people who have supposedly chosen science over irrationality) that PZ has been documenting?

    One problem of your analysis that I see is that you seem to be assuming that it is a dualistic choice between religion and science ... that you either favor religion or science There is plenty of woo left in non-religious societies. "Losing religion" often is just "squeezing the balloon" into other, not that far away, directions, instead of into science and/or atheism. Not for nothing do a lot of people describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious." You've got a long way to go to demonstrate that any evolved way of thinking is "remarkable easy to overcome."

    And, if you are going to disparage parents and grandparents for teaching their kids and grandkids what their parents and grandparents taught them, you are going to have to demonstrate that that behavior isn't, at least to some extent, genetically based.

    Of course, it is not as simple as you and/or Mooney (purportedly, depending on which side you are on) have portrayed it.

    Is it really a surprise to you Larry that religious belief, atheism and acceptance of science (which is not the same thing as "atheism") involves a complex dance between our evolved cognitive abilities, our socialization and many, many other possible influences? To ignore some (at least relatively science-based) explanations based upon the scant "evidence" you have presented here is not very ... well, scientific.

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  2. It seems to me that we do gave an innate sense or tendency that has led to religion, but agree with you that this isn't what's driving creationism. The innate thing is a sense of curiosity, shared with many other animals and likely enhanced in us due to our brain power. And in the past this led us to create stories that explained what we saw in the world around us, stories that developed into full blown religions. (Desire for influence also helped drive this development.).

    With the advent of science these earlier stories lost their power as explanatory devices, because we could see we had better explanations available, explanations which fit the facts and became more robust over time. Of course inertia, plus people actively trying to maintain their influence within a power structure, has helped keep anti-science explanations like creationism around. But science necessarily subverts this because our innate sense is not just wanting religion, but a plausible explanation for the wonders we see, and the more you know about the scuetific explanations for these things, the less satisfying the religious ones are.

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  3. I also think that you are making it a bit too easy for yourself here although the disagreement may ultimately be about glass half full/glass half empty rather than the facts of the matter.

    I know from personal experience that even children in atheist households are utterly freaking terrified by the idea of not existing. Fear of death is obviously built into us, it is a fundamental feature of lifeforms that they evolve to avoid death (except perhaps as a sacrifice to save their kin). There is no way that this can be denied. Add to that the human tendency towards wishful thinking and it looks quite plausible that some people will come up with the idea of an afterlife, of souls, or of rebirth even if they have not been indoctrinated, just because they cannot face reality.

    Similarly, a bit of just world fallacy and hyperactive agent detection will automatically lead to belief in some form of proto-gods. Maybe you would not call gods genetically hard-wired but the cognitive failures that lead to them are.

    Note I am not saying I like this conclusion; I would wish for us all to be more rational. Nor do I excuse the religious. But we simply aren't very good at reasoning and need a lot of training to get it right.

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  4. What in the world do logic and mathematics have in common.
    Math is a simple application of concepts using the memory.
    I dob't think there is such a thing as logic in the universe but rather accurate conclusions in relationship to other accurate conclusions. logic being a special case but easily failing to have the truth yet being accurate in its reasoning.

    Why not accept that evolution is wrong possibly and its most likely the most advanced civilization in mankind, not Denmark, China, South America,Sorry Peru) , MOST LIKELY, probability theory, would be opposed to wrong ideas!!
    This insulting , patronizing, upper class snobberyish attitude is hilarious.
    If we defined our opponents like this we would be accused of 'ism's.

    I am a CREATIONIST. I strive to prove folks wrong here and rarely do folks try to prove me wrong.
    Where is the biological scientific evidence for evolution??
    Our Protestant faith created the Anglo American civilization, especially the Puritan/Evangelical slant. Yes you are fighting the true Christians. No small matter.
    We only need North america for a couple of hours and we think we will knock out great gaps in evolution acceptance.
    We are censored everywhere. I am censored like crazy crazy by evolutions on their forums that have low readership. They are afraid of me intellectually. I know it.
    If evolution is wrong then before it fails it will fail to be a theory of science. It will atrophy into a hypothesis and then a unlikely one.
    If evolution is true it will persuade the doubters.
    So you say the doubters have something wrong with them. So there will be no persuasion eh.
    Anyone who thinks Mooney has a point is unintelligent and a historic sour grapes loser in the struggle of ideas in mankind.

    By the way Chess is just a game of memory like video playing. Thats why kids are great at chess if they bother with it. Its a game.

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    1. They are afraid of me intellectually. I know it.

      This is pure comedy.

      You can't even write in coherent English (and English is not even my native language) - why would anyone be intellectually intimidated by you?

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    2. We are censored everywhere. I am censored like crazy crazy by evolutions on their forums that have low readership. They are afraid of me intellectually. I know it.

      Nobody censors you here. Your job as Professor Moran's licensed court jester is secure.

      Delete
    3. By the way Chess is just a game of memory ...

      All these years I've assumed Bobby was just a moron. Is it possible he is the cleverest Poe of them all?

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    4. Robert and many, many millions like him are one of the reasons why so many people become agnostics and unbelievers. As a believer, I'm sad to admit that but I have to :(((

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    5. You're far too modest, LouiseG. You and your kind have done far more than your share to further the cause of unbelief, as well.

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    6. Oh yeah? By what? By exposing that abiogenesis story only exists in the outrages imagination of fairy-tale storytellers? Or that the cambrian evolution story has no logical grounds but one? If that is the case, let it be.

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    7. Nobody censors you here.

      Well, who keeps turning his comments into incomprehensible nonsense?

      Glen Davidson

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    8. """They are afraid of me intellectually. I know it."""

      This was the most hilarious statement you've ever made, Byers. Please keep the comedy going.


      """Robert and many, many millions like him are one of the reasons why so many people become agnostics and unbelievers. As a believer, I'm sad to admit that but I have to :((("""

      Maybe in the US, but I haven't ever met a single person like Byers here in Europe, let alone "many millions", and we have plenty of atheists here, far more in proportion than the US, so people like him aren't certainly the reason why people turn atheist. But it does help, though. Thanks, Byers.

      Delete
    9. Thats why kids are great at chess if they bother with it. Its a game.

      That's why it so easy to indoctrinate kids with the tenets of religion, it's a game, albeit a very dangerous one.

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    10. Re Pedro Pereria

      Don't blame booby Byers on the USA. He's a Canadian.

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    11. He's a Canadian.

      Please, let's not advertise that! It's embarrassing enough that he comments on my blog. I take comfort in the fact that he thinks of himself as a cultural Yankee and not as a genuine Canadian.

      Delete
    12. Byers considers himself a true Canadian, unlike immigrants who are damn inferior races. But he defines the true Canadian as a subset of the Yankee, which in turn is a subset of the Puritan, as the Puritan is the true Christian.

      Yeah, true Christians since they executed people for heresy, and exiled Ann Hutchinson (for antinomianism) into the wilderness to be horribly killed along with her children by Native Americans, deaths which the Puritans celebrated.

      Larry, Byers is all yours and you can keep him.

      You can also keep "Professor" Ian Juby (who points to dinosaur eggs laid in a row and says this proves Noah's Flood, because clearly the dinosaur was running away from the flood while laying eggs in two parallel rows, and who sits in a rowboat shooting holes in the boat with a gun (that's holes in the boat that he himself is sitting in) and says that proves genetic mutations are all catastrophic, and who wears a Tilly hat everywhere, even on TV, a hat worn by Canadians to prove they are outdoorsy, and is not just ugly, but indestructible, and is designed to float, so that when your wife throws it in the lake because it is so damn ugly, it will float back to you.

      And you can keep the founder of Flood Geology, George M. Price, Seventh Day Adventist, who coined all the key Young Earth arguments, like "they date the fossils from the strata, and the strata from the fossils" and "the geological column does not exist anywhere on Earth" and who believed black people and apes were the result of humans (whites) mating with animals.

      And if you ever watch Potholer54's videos, the English creationists are unfathomably dumb, like the guy QOQQ who says that if Darwinism were true, then all fruit trees (yes he holds a banana saying this) would have evolved poisonous fruit, to keep us from eating them. Dumber than Ray Comfort.

      (And now I do my Stephen Colbert impression.) If we compare the Yank creationists to those from Australia, NZ, England, Turkey, etc. the Americans are still the intellectual elite. Kiwi Ray Comfort and Banana Bender Ken Ham or Turkey's Harun Yahya make Henry Morris and Duane Gish look like Albert frickin Einstein. USA #1!

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    13. Beat poetry time! Yes, Byers, I am now going to "censor" you in the horrible, oppressive way I always have, by copying your comments and making them more widely available. I have also "censored" you by insisting that you should not be banned from any forum where we have crossed paths (which is all of them.)

      "I am censored like crazy crazy"

      by Robert Byers.

      What in the world
      do logic and mathematics have in common.

      Math is a simple application
      of concepts using the memory.
      I dob't think there is such a thing
      as logic in the universe
      but rather accurate conclusions
      in relationship
      to other accurate conclusions...

      Why not accept that
      evolution is wrong possibly...

      This insulting , patronizing, upper class snobberyish attitude is hilarious...

      I am a CREATIONIST.

      I strive to prove folks wrong here
      and rarely do folks
      try to prove me wrong.

      Where is the biological scientific evidence for evolution??

      Our Protestant faith
      created the Anglo American civilization, especially
      the Puritan/Evangelical slant.

      Yes
      you are fighting
      the true Christians.

      No small matter...

      We are censored everywhere.

      I am censored like crazy crazy
      by evolutions on their forums...

      They are afraid of me intellectually.

      I know it.

      ...Anyone who thinks Mooney has a point
      is unintelligent
      and a historic sour grapes loser
      in the struggle of ideas in mankind.

      Delete
    14. "Byers considers himself a true Canadian, unlike immigrants who are damn inferior races. But he defines the true Canadian as a subset of the Yankee, which in turn is a subset of the Puritan, as the Puritan is the true Christian."

      I hope that you are condemning Robert the "Pilipino" way of thinking and not immigrants like Larry and me, who became Canadian citizens? ;)

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    15. After what Robert the "Pilipino " wrote about the war on one of Larry's blogs, I really began to think in different terms of religion vs God. Religions, probably most of them are giving God/Creator/ID a bad wrap. I am ashamed to be a religious person because of those people and religions that are corrupt.

      Delete
    16. By the way Chess is just a game of memory like video playing. Thats why kids are great at chess if they bother with it. Its a game.

      Yes. If you can only remember all of the ~10^30,000 possible games, you'll never lose. You really are staggeringly incompetent at everything you talk about, aren't you? I'm beginning to wonder who turns on your computer for you and how they might be persuaded to stop.

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    17. Pieret has it right. Byers is a Poe and has been laughing at us all this time. Well played sir.

      Delete
    18. Of course Byers is a Poe. He will never confess, but he can't be but a Poe. A poetic Poe at that.

      Delete
  5. By exposing that abiogenesis story only exists in the outrages imagination of fairy-tale storytellers?

    Preposteres!

    You know, competence with the language might improve your knowledge of science.
    Glen Davidson

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    1. Well, all you need is to prove me wrong with some solid evidence.
      Unfortunately, you will not provide such, so we will have to read your unfounded, frivolous comments until Professor Moran will get tired of them and will ban you from here for advertising your own blog, which is probably the main reason why you comment here in the first place.

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    2. DNA evidence.

      Not that you understand evidence, or the need for it, any more than you deal properly with language.

      I can understand that you merely lash out, when all you have against evolution is prejudice.

      Glen Davidson

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    3. "DNA evidence.

      Not that you understand evidence, or the need for it, any more than you deal properly with language.

      I can understand that you merely lash out, when all you have against evolution is prejudice.

      Glen Davidson"

      After your above embarrassing comment, there is no need for me to write anything. Even those who disagree with me know that you have not idea what you are talking about

      For further reading I recommend this blog:

      http://sandwalk.blogspot.ca/2013/10/how-do-idiots-explain-origin-of-life.html

      Ciao!

      Delete
    4. Gee, tell lies, then say it's enough.

      For you, no doubt it is.

      Glen Davidson

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    5. ... until Professor Moran will get tired of them and will ban you from here for advertising your own blog, which is probably the main reason why you comment here in the first place.

      Thanks for pointing this out. He is now banned whenever he inserts a link in his comments.

      Delete
  6. Getting back to the original topic, I do think that religion results from some human traits that have some genetic basis -- learning from parents and others, desire for comfort and reassurance, fear of death, curiosity about how and why things happen. Those are rather vague underpinnings, though, and I think religion is mostly cultural, though.

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    1. There is a difference between religion and spirituality. I'm not sure if you are not confusing the two.

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    2. Really? I'm not so sure. How about atheists who come from religious families, who have no desire to belong to a religion and yet they have a need for some kind of spirituality? How would you explain that?

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    3. I think that a need for what I call the spiritual is basic to humans. We thrive best when we have moments to breathe deeply, get centered, experience awe and wonder, stop and be grateful for the goodness in our lives, think deeply, look beyond ourselves and our immediate needs. We find places or actions that help us do those things. That's what I mean by spirituality.

      We humans also tend to imagine and share processes that provide those spiritual moments; we create rituals. We imagine answers to our questions about how and why the world is the way it is. We imagine reasons that we can be comforted despite the inherent tragedy of life, that we need not fear, even when facing death. Those imaginings and rituals solidify into religion.

      Therefore, I have no need to explain why atheists needing the spiritual; it's a human thing.

      Creating religions fills so many human needs (spiritual, emotional, issues like group cohesion, practical matters like gaining money or power) that humans do this all the time, too.

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    4. @Barbara,

      I might experience most of those things (except "feeling grateful") but I never refer to them as "spiritual." Why would I do that?

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  7. Jason, you teach in Virginia, if I remember correctly. It's not surprising to me that your students are unable to think logically.

    This is a low blow, unworthy of Prof. Moran. Just for his information, some of the best high schools in the entire nation are located in Northern Virginia, particularly in Fairfax Co., Arllington Co. and Falls Church. The folks up here are serious about their kids education.

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    1. Get a life.

      There's a reason for the smiley. Jason and I have known each other for over a decade.

      Delete