The End of Faith Through Critical Thinking

Here’s the Pew polling numbers on God belief:

Picture 3

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And here’s University of Chicago geneticist Jerry Coyne’s tart take on what the numbers tell us:

[P]racticing science erodes one’s religious belief.

Sounds right to me. Critical thinking on weekdays and faith on weekends isn’t a psychologically stable arrangement. Exposure to critical thinking, and the practice of it, is dangerous to faith.


1l split

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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10 Responses to The End of Faith Through Critical Thinking

  1. To believe religion requires a kind of voluntary stupidity. Educating yourself, first by reading the holy text, then by studying it, then by studying science… this is the path to atheism. Great post.

  2. proximity1 says:

    It appears from the Pew poll data that those scientists who either believe in God OR believe in “a universal spirit or higher power” comprise 51% (+/- sample margin of error)–which for me amounts to a distinction without a difference. What’s a “universal spirit” or a “higher power” (higher than an unenchanted natural world?) if not something supernatural? And, to the extent that a scientist believes in supernatural spirit or “higher” power, then he or she has departed to that extent from a scientific view. Of course, scientists can be and, I believe, often are, like non-scientists, irrational, inconsistent, confused and incoherent in the collection of beliefs held at one and the same time. They can also hold these inconsistencies without being aware of them or without acknowledging them to themselves or to others.

    These data suggest to me what I’ve already had cause to suspect: that the state of science education (in the U.S. in particular) and of criticial reasoning abilities are none too good and that this is the case not only among the (U.S.) lay public (the non-scientific-expert-public,) but among the scientific professions as well. Moreover, the stated percentage of the scientific faithful is probably under-reported as we have good reason to suspect that not every religiously-faithful scientist is comfortable admiting, even anonymously, that he or she believes in God or in a universal spirit or some “higher power”.

    But what’s startling (or ought to be) is that a scientist’s faith, unlike that of the general lay person, can’t be put down to a simple ignorance of science or the scientists’ (supposed) ignorance of a religious faith’s lack of reasonable grounds. When 51% of (U.S.) scientists profess a belief in either God or some other universal spirit or higher power–which they don’t want to call “God”–that’s an indictment of the state of science education and of the standards of critical reasoning in practice. And the malign consequences of this are all around us.

    At 51%, critical reasoning isn’t even holding its own against fairy-tale magic thinking–among scientists–real scientists!

  3. proximity1 says:

    here’s a excerpt from Jerry Coyne’s article found in the journal Evoultion: International Journal of Organic Evolution, (available free from the publisher, Wiley) “Science, Religion and Society: The Problem of Evolution in America,” (link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1558-5646.2012.01664.x/full )

    ” WHY DO AMERICANS HATE EVOLUTION?

    The resistance of Americans to evolution, and our mediocre understanding of science in general (California Academy of Sciences 2009), are often laid partly at the door of scientists themselves: we are accused of cloistering ourselves in the laboratory rather than reaching out to the public (see, for example, Mooney and Kirshenbaum 2009). But there has been plenty of outreach. Now, more than at any time in my life, I see Americans awash in popular science—evolution in particular. Bookstores teem with volumes by Stephen Gould, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Edward O. Wilson, and Jared Diamond; evolutionary psychology is all the rage; natural history museums have become user friendly; there are dozens of blogs about evolution; and entire television channels are devoted to science and nature. Science education for laypeople is not hard to come by, and we have more popular commentary on evolution than ever before. Yet our record of accepting evolution is still abysmal. Why?

    The answer seems pretty clear: religion. (I define it as “those systems of belief that accept and worship the existence of supernatural beings whose actions affect the universe”.) Religion is an answer that many people do not want to hear, but there is much evidence that America’s resistance to evolution is truly a byproduct of America’s extreme religiosity. (I use “religiosity” in the first sense given by the Oxford English Dictionary, as “religiousness; religious feeling or belief”.) Evolution, of course, contravenes many common religious beliefs—not just those dealing with Biblical literalism, but those dealing with morality, meaning, and human significance.

    It is well known that the United States is one of the most religious First World nations. Paul’s (2009) data from 15 such countries, for example, showed that America harbored the highest proportion of people who say they believe in God with absolute certainty—63%—with the next closest nation being Ireland (50%), while 10 countries were below 20%. These data underestimate our religiosity, of course, because they neglect people who are not absolutely certain about God. A recent Gallup Poll (2011b), for instance, showed that when Americans were asked, “Do you believe in God?”, 92% answered “yes.”

    I find this a curious way of reasoning. Notice the emphasized part, above, in bold-face.

    Americans are not much given to accepting the science of biological evolution in nature.

    Why? Because, we’re told, they’re so attached to religious beliefs instead of the science of biological evolution.

    Excuse me, but isn’t the question “Why, in the face of science, do Americans remain so stubbornly attached to their contrary religious beliefs?” ? Or, put another way, why do so many of those who are well acquainted with evolutionary science reject it in favor of their religious beliefs? The answer, (in so many words) “Because they’re stubbornly attached to their religious beliefs” isn’t satisfactory since what we want to understand is why they remain so attached to their religious beliefs despite being presented with the case for evolution?— with, I’d say, the fact of biological evolution.

    If many Americans remain unconvinced of the validity of biological evolution, despite their being presented a full and clear supporting case, then it seems to me that the problem before us is: why has that case failed to persuade them when, for others, it has proven persuasive?

    • adambnoel says:

      “Excuse me, but isn’t the question “Why, in the face of science, do Americans remain so stubbornly attached to their contrary religious beliefs?” ? Or, put another way, why do so many of those who are well acquainted with evolutionary science reject it in favor of their religious beliefs? The answer, (in so many words) “Because they’re stubbornly attached to their religious beliefs” isn’t satisfactory since what we want to understand is why they remain so attached to their religious beliefs despite being presented with the case for evolution?– with, I’d say, the fact of biological evolution.”

      Ask yourself this… with the message Coyne is arguing (That science and religion are incompatible) what do they gain from accepting scientific evidence for evolution? What is to be gained? Until you can produce a gain from acceptance of evolution there will not be acceptance of evolution.

      And why is it that America in particular is so religious compared to the rest of the world? Where else in world have religions danced in accordance with free market principles? Where else in the world have religions been permitted to promise anything and everything to believers? Once again… what is there to be gained? Miracles, magic and immortality… versus naturalism. Naturalism never stood a chance.

      This also explains why the liberal church has imploded. The liberal church basically says “There’s a god, he loves you and you go heaven. Go you!”. Why would these liberals just not go become atheists since if there is a god he’s going to high five you at the end anyway.

      • proximity1 says:

        well, it would be nice if we could reduce things so neatly–and, before you object that you aren’t doing that, let me reassure you: I recognize that in the constraints that are inherent in this medium, none of us can ever fully expose his case in a single or even in several long composed posts. So, of course, there is assumed to be much, much more to your developed views than you’re able to set out here in a single reply.

        You offer actually a rather good rationale for the stubborness of religious belief against science; there’s a cost-benefit trade and it doesn’t necessarily favor science’s stark and often uncomforting tentative views–provisionally given and accepted “until better contravening evidence” is found. Religious belief offers comfort. And science isn’t and can’t be properly concerned with whether its findings are comfortable to the listening audience.

        There’s also, however, the fact that as science progresses, its findings place religions’ comforts under a heavier psychological burden, too. People abandon their religion for similarly based reasons of comfort or the lack of it. If sheer security and comfort were the predominate factor, I don’t think that science could have become as powerful a means of interpreting reality’s factual aspects. Once upon a time, science won, against powerful odds and against most of the earthly power’s most important political forces’ opposition,–won adherents. Those victories were based on two things which are less obvious about contemporary science–a rigorous practice which eschewed unwarranted claims and opposed offering thin or false hopes, and, two, a circumspection about where and how far science could take its claims to authority and its expectations for the deference of the listening public. Where, before, scientists had to win over an audience which it could not take for granted, today, too often, it seems to me, science errs in taking for granted an audeience which, it appears more and more, it has not succeeded in winning over.

        Too many scientists too often resist taking frank repsonsibility for this state of affairs. They’ve enjoyed the presumption of being right and assumed right for so long that perhaps they’ve lost the habit and the practice of finding their assumed right to authority even mildly challenged. And, their common reactions are neither very flattering nor very hard to find. That has unnecessarily hurt the public’s receptiveness to scientists’ persistent expectations of respect for their authority. In a different thread–the video debate
        presetned in this blog on December 7th (see link: https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/does-science-refute-god-the-intelligence-squared-debate/ ) –there were occasions where I fairly cringed at the implications of certain of the methods employed –usually by Lawrence Krause (and I’m right off the bat a shoo-in as sympathetic to his side’s views) — in defending their case for science @ “Does Science Refute God? The Intelligence Squared Debate” for example.

        If religion offers psychic comforts which are powerful, then perhaps scientists must do more to avoid the appearance of undue arrogance on their parts. I’m not sure they are or have been widely succeeding in that, however.

      • adambnoel says:

        Some interesting points and thanks for the charitable reply!

        “There’s also, however, the fact that as science progresses, its findings place religions’ comforts under a heavier psychological burden, too. People abandon their religion for similarly based reasons of comfort or the lack of it. If sheer security and comfort were the predominate factor, I don’t think that science could have become as powerful a means of interpreting reality’s factual aspects. Once upon a time, science won, against powerful odds and against most of the earthly power’s most important political forces’ opposition,–won adherents.”

        I agree with everything in this paragraph and that factor contributes to the loss of religious belief. For some it is too much to deal with the cognitive dissonance of evangelicalism. It is interesting to think what the response to the power of science was in the United States. Why is it that a different belief system emerged called creation science? Presumably it was these victories (of science) that motivated such a change. I imagine reading into the history of creation science could enlighten the factors leading to its emergence. Creation science is unique to the United States for the era in which it emerged. (Other movements followed afterwards)

        In regards to the latter part of the third and the fourth paragraph, Scientists once earned their authority but now scientists presume they have the same authority and are frustrated when they find it rejected. Is that basically what you mean? If so, I think you are correct. The methods used by atheist debaters (especially new atheists) are often more inflammatory then soothing and, to me at least, provides support for their niche market of readers but to the public makes trust in science decline.

        I’m also worried about the impact big science is having on the public’s view of science. Science is becoming increasingly political and due to the ever-changing nature of scientific knowledge political gridlocks that involve science will: A) Prevent science from advancing if an alternate theory is presented. B) Place the blame on scientists if alternate theories are suppressed. C) Result in public distrust in scientists and provide credibility to crackpots.

        In regards to your final paragraph it is for that reason I feel the science versus religion debate is unproductive (but perhaps profitable for writers in that niche market). Ask yourself what made you an atheist? Was it science? Wasn’t it good science? If so, good science is all we’ll need and we need to ensure science remains free from politics.

  4. proximity1 says:

    @ https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/the-end-of-faith-through-critical-thinking/#comment-22753

    re: “Why is it that a different belief system emerged called creation science? Presumably it was these victories (of science) that motivated such a change.”

    I agree. And that issue deserves a thread (or many) all to itself. But there’s more to why and how “creation science” (CS) and “intelligent design” (ID) theories gained such currency. One important factor–maybe the most important of all — is that so much of standard contemporary science concerning genetics and evolution is rife with assumptions which are in whole or in part throw-backs to Aristotelian vitalism and teleology. Often this isn’t even recognized or understood by the scientists who are relying on such assumptions–perhaps because their training and their knowledge of philosophy of science has been poor to non-existent. Aristotle wasn’t a fool. His mistakes are those of a very intelligent person and, if our contemporaries in professional science are familiar with how and why Aristotle got things seriously wrong, they are very likely to fall into the same or similar errors—and, indeed, they have and they are doing just that.

    The so-called Neo-Darwinian “New Synthesis” was a collossal mistaken departure from Darwin’s own more astute understandings of nature. And Darwin didn’t have the ‘advantages’ of breakthroughs in molecular biology –those very breakthroughs were the point of departure for modern mistaken theories about genetic determinism, which is basically everything that CS and ID advocates champion, with the substitution of genes for God’s agency. Scientists ought to recognize that replacing God with genes leaves us no better able to understand molecular biology because, as with God, we and they do not know how or why the genes operate and laboratory work has repeatedly undermined and contradicted common scientific assumptions about gene behavior, forcing theorists into ever stranger contorsions in order to save or ressurect genetically-pre-programmed life processes and their evolutionary aspects. This clumsy plate-spinning has not been lost on those who like CS and ID. They have been asture enough to recognize what scientists have refused to see: in standard genetics, “the Emporer has no clothes.”

    re:

    “I’m also worried about the impact big science is having on the public’s view of science. Science is becoming increasingly political and due to the ever-changing nature of scientific knowledge political gridlocks that involve science will: A) Prevent science from advancing if an alternate theory is presented. B) Place the blame on scientists if alternate theories are suppressed. C) Result in public distrust in scientists and provide credibility to crackpots.”

    And how! I wish that were required-reading in every high school and college course in a natural science–no matter the level, from intro. to most advanced. It’s most needed later, by doctoral candidates and post-doc. researchers–except for the best among these.

    Likewise for this:

    “Ask yourself what made you an atheist? Was it science? Wasn’t it good science? If so, good science is all we’ll need and we need to ensure science remains free from politics.”

    Yes, it was good science, or, more precisely, good philosophy of science, so scoffed at today by many scientists–which I got from the writings many, Bertrand Russell chief among them. Ensuring that science remains free from politics is a battle that is now already lost because science–as it counts most today–is the complete prisoner and creature of corporate power interests, is wholly bought and owned by these. And that is the same as or worse than a political corruption of science practice–such as was typical under the Soviet regimes of the Cold War era.

  5. proximity1 says:

    correction:

    …”and, if our contemporaries in professional science are not familiar with how and why Aristotle got things seriously wrong, they are very likely to fall into the same or similar errors—and, indeed, they have and they are doing just that.” …

  6. Luke says:

    A wise person recognizes that there is much he or she does not know. The origins and meaning of life are pretty obscure. Unfortunately, a great many people believe they have it all figured out and that anyone disagreeing with them is a fool. Many scientists see no inherent contradiction in their belief in God and their scientific pursuits and I agree with them. I fail to see any reason why a religious person cannot be a brilliant biologist or chemist. 99% of science has nothing to do with evolution or creationism.

  7. Staffan says:

    Let’s not forget the old “correlation is not causation”. Critical thinking didn’t necessarily cause scientist to reject religion. Many views and attitudes are highly inheritable so it’s fully possible that the same genes caused both the atheism and the interest in critical thinking.

    There is also the fact that science and religion can be viewed as different realms incapable of contradicting each other. That God if he exists created logic and our ability to perceive and understand the world. I suspect that most of the 51 percent scientist who have a belief see things that way.

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