About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Acceptance of science is made difficult by innate psychological biases

Critical thinking is hard stuff, as anyone who has taken a course in it will readily testify. Formal logic is counterintuitive, and it requires effort to master it. Most modern science is also counterintuitive and difficult, which is why 42% of Americans believe that evolution never happened.

An article by Paul Bloom and Deena Weisberg in Science (18 May 2007) is crucially relevant to anybody interested in skepticism or science education. There is now empirical evidence explaining why so many otherwise intelligent people can go on their whole lives rejecting fundamental notions of modern science, from evolution to Newtonian mechanics (yes, it turns out that, intuitively, we adopt Aristotelian physics, for example believing that a ball coming out of a curve tube will keep going along a curved trajectory – it doesn't, it goes straight).

According to Bloom and Weisberg, one main source of resistance of adults to novel scientific findings is that as children they were not blank slates ready to absorb scientific notions: our brain comes with a series of built-in “assumptions” about the world, presumably to help us navigate it without the need for formal education. For example, several experiments have demonstrated that even very young children know that objects will fall down if not sustained (an intuitive theory of gravity), and they already have a concept of causality (as Kant first suggested, when he said that certain “categories,” such as space, time and causality, are naturally imposed by the human mind before any experience comes to shape us).

One of the consequences of this built-in view of the world is that children often extrapolate from it to derive wrong conclusions about the physical universe: for example, they derive a flat-earth “theory” from their Aristotelian physics, and it takes scientific education to dissuade them of that notion.

Even more interestingly, children are born with a tendency to see agency everywhere, including in inanimate objects: everything has a purpose, it is “for” something, a phenomenon psychologists call “promiscuous teleology.” It isn't difficult to see how this readily accounts for both the widespread tendency to believe in the supernatural (remember that the first religious beliefs where of a pantheistic type, where all of nature was infused with purpose and agency), as well as the widespread acceptance of a dualistic theory of mind, where somehow the mind (and, therefore, the “soul”) is independent of the physical brain and can survive the latter's demise.

A second reason for the difficulty in accepting counterintuitive scientific notions is that children (and, later, adults) believe in certain kinds of authorities and are sensitive to the cultural context within which ideas are presented. So, few people today doubt that the earth is round because there is no societal controversy about the fact (though probably few people would be able to point out exactly how we do know that the earth is not flat – short of direct observation from an artificial satellite). Evolution, on the other hand, is controversial not only because it is counterintuitive, but because authority figures that are important early on in our childhood (parents, preachers) are so often vehemently opposed to it. Moreover, the very idea of evolution is cast in terms of “belief”: think of the difference between people saying that they believe – or not – in evolution, while nobody “believes” in the round earth theory, because it's an incontrovertible, societally endorsed, fact.

The upshot of all this is that science educators and skeptics have an uphill battle to fight: they have to somehow overcome both innate psychological biases and cultural entrenchment. It's a tough and largely thankless job, but all the more important when major policy decisions affecting our welfare depend on it, from global warming to stem cell research. As a recently published cartoon suggested in jest, if you don't accept evolution perhaps you should have the coherence of not asking your doctor for the latest vaccine. After all, the vaccine is the product of our understanding that viruses evolve, just in the same way that you are able to fly across the planet because it is, in fact, not flat...


  1. "According to Bloom and Weisberg, one main source of resistance of adults to novel scientific findings is that as children they were not blank slates ready to absorb scientific notions: our brain comes with a series of built-in “assumptions” about the world,..."

    This reminds of the general direction of Pascal Boyer's argument in his book Religion Explained. Have you read it? I was about a third of the way through it when the book was tragically soaked and rendered unreadable. But that is a different story. Got to get a new copy.

  2. Aureola Nominee, FCDMay 22, 2007 11:05 AM

    Massimo, is there a reason why the previous post, the one about Freud et al., is closed to comments?

    Just curious.

  3. The "fundamental notions of (real) modern science" rest on mathematics and so you're never going to win that "ignorant" 42 % if Darwinism is founded on nothing more than wimsical ideas of long ages and mythical creatures that DON'T EVEN show up in the fossil record.

    WE TOTALLY HAVE THE RIGHT to expect more of science. Why don't you, Massimo?

    Darwinism is also inexcusably wrong on blended inheritance. To accept this notion would be akin to accepting a myth. There may be in the world desperate people who would propose to synthesize the work of Mendel and Darwin. But as I said, they are desperate individuals. The two ball parks of ideas, on some very fundamental levels do not even "blend". And therefore who is it that really has the psychological bias???

    The following is what Darwin actually thought and did not know about inheritance:

    "Theories of mathematics, statistics and physics as applied to biology were foreign to Charles Darwin who, in his Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868), [i] adopted and adapted the old theory of "pangenesis", first put forward by Hippocrates (460-377 BC). According to this theory, minute particles from every part of the body entered the seminal fluid of both parents, and by fusion gave rise to a new individual with both parents' traits. Mendel's theories involved discrete factors amenable to combinatory mathematics. These theories were foreign to Darwin who explained forms of sexual and asexual reproduction ("parthenogenesis") by the blending of continuous elements. We now know that Mendel was aware of Darwin's theory of pangenesis, and that he disagreed with it (as did Darwin's close friends, T.H. Huxley and John Lubbock). (mendelmuseum.org)


  4. FCD,

    thanks for noticing the problem with the Freud/Russell post. I was wondering why nobody was commenting. It's open now...

  5. Cal,

    please update your notions before making a fool of yourself: the modern theory of evolution has eliminated "blended inheritance" for more than a century...

    You insist in using Darwin's words as if they were god's own, but that's the difference between science and religion: the first one actually makes progress.

  6. Cal

    wimsical ideas of long ages

    Based on radiometric dating. What's whimsical about that?

    mythical creatures that DON'T EVEN show up in the fossil record.

    Like archeopteryx, tiktaaluk, whales with legs, etc.?

    WE TOTALLY HAVE THE RIGHT to expect more of science.

    We don't have the right to expect anything. We know what we know, and don't know what we don't know. Science is difficult.

    Darwinism is also inexcusably wrong on blended inheritance.

    Not Darwinism, just Darwin himself. And he was not inexcusably wrong, just wrong (about insensible variation). You are about 80 years behind the times in your discussion.

  7. M: "As a recently published cartoon suggested in jest, if you don't accept evolution perhaps you should have the coherence of not asking your doctor for the latest vaccine. After all, the vaccine is the product of our understanding that viruses evolve.."

    That comment may come back to haunt you in the future, M. The manner of virus evolution is such that in the use of this less than sincere tone, you prove my point better than your own.

    For one, no matter what changes might happen to occur, the virus still is just that, "a virus".

    So, uh, big deal.

    Then, what is the nature of the actual change (s) that we happen to see? Is the change in the individual receiving the vaccine, the virus itself, or both? Easily, the answer is both, of course.

    However, it rarely seems to occur to the average observer that while we gain a small level of immunity to x, y, or z ... we may simultaneously lose our ability to ward off even worse ailments. For instance, brain tumors and drug resistant infections now are oftentimes treated with viruses. Gee, why on earth would such a thing work if viruses did not have "a reason" for existence on this earth? And I am even thinking that what is used is one or more viruses that we have even been vaccinated against. (smallpox or chickenpox possibly?)
    So the problem with our own presumed comprehension of what we think of as evolution, is that the facts which we do not understand (information loss, etc) are just the things that will turn out to be by far the most deadly.

    In some cases, we might very well be vaccinating ourselves into oblivion.

    Can you totally deny that there may be a problem with some vaccines?


  8. please update your notions before making a fool of yourself: the modern theory of evolution has eliminated "blended inheritance" for more than a century..."

    No way, dude.

    Update yours.

    Explain Darwin's evolution modernly & comprehensively with no use whatsoever or Mendel's.

    It can't be done, of course. The two just do not go together, as Mendel's work was only and entirely restricted to studies of species to be contained within their kinds.

    In the meantime, feel free to find a quote by Mendel which may contradict the specificity of kinds or particular species. And that is why I don't believe in the synthesis of the two sets of ideas on good grounds.

    One just does not complement or lend credibility to the other.


  9. Cal,

    please stop, the size of the whole you are digging yourself into is taking astronomical proportions.

    "Explain Darwin's evolution modernly & comprehensively with no use whatsoever or Mendel's. It can't be done, of course. The two just do not go together."

    Not only it can be done, it has been done. It's called the Modern Synthesis. Read all about in (Julian) Huxley's work by the same title, published in 1942. Or perhaps you prefer an up to date version? Then read Futuyma's "Evolutionary Biology," the latest edition is from last year.

  10. Massimo

    The way the inheritance really works, as explained by Mendel (and their were no mistakes in his general theory as there were in Darwin's) do not give way to the progression of simple to complex organisms as Darwin suggested would be found. The concepts will not jell even if one tries to find a rationalization /synthesis for the existence of the two. They just do not in any way say the same thing!

    Take into consideration, as unimaginable as it may seem, if Darwin's ideas happened to flow from the mind of a creation oriented person, there would be no way on earth that you would have the generosity that you've exhibited towards his level of errors. Anyone else asserting anything having to do with biology would be thoroughly roasted for the level of absurdity that you are choosing to overlook here.

    It is singularly in Greek mythology (which firstly) asserted that half man half animal /beast might be a real possibility. Darwin supports this in general terms. Mendel, otoh, doesn't even hint at support for such a stretch of the imagination.


  11. It's an undeniable fact that all recent work in evolutionary biology depends on Mendelian Genetics. Modern Evolutionary Synthesis ensured this would be the case.

    Cal, your attacking a strawman.

  12. If it's allowed, I'd like to comment on the original post. :-)

    The reason people have problems understanding Newtonian physics is that what we actually see in the world appears to conflict with Newtonian physics. It requires a moderately sophisticated understanding of the world to see how it really is Newtonian.

    Similalarly, you are unlikely to die because you falsly attribute agancy to a volcano, but you will have real problems if you fail to attribute agency to that bear that just reared its head over the rock in front of you.

  13. I believe the same argument about the difficulties inherent in education (and especially science education) was advanced by Steven Pinker in his book, The Blank Slate. It's been out for 5 years. Hasn't anyone bothered to read it?

    P.S. Cal ...get hip and get help.

  14. Cal,

    Do you even realize the damage you are doing to parody? How are reasonably intelligent people like myself supposed to caricature creationists at cocktail parties when you are already making the most comically anacronistic, illogical, and illinformed statements on the subject? If you won't stop ranting because you're obviously wrong, then at least stop out of sympathy for me and my comedic aspirations.

    -- Chris

  15. Has anyone else considered the very real possibility that "cal" is simply putting you on?

    What is the possibility that he/she would hold the exact opposite view of whatever every current post might be?

    The best response to "cal" is no response.


  16. Lurker, Cal is a known looney on this site.

  17. Lurker

    I would just as soon ignore Cal most of the time. But sometimes she gets all too sweeping in regards to extreme (often silly) positions, e.g., the "whimsical idea" remark she made earlier in reference to timescale, and her defence of Flood geology on another post. Not to mention the all-time classic gem (to the effect that) you only have to believe evidence "if you want to" (again on another post). In these circumstances, I think it is probably worth the trouble to place a check on this kind of remark. Sometimes she seems to tone it down a little in response.

    Hmm. feels like I'm talking behind her back right in front of her. Weird.

  18. to whomever,

    There are by all means definitely much better and or more articulate "counter balances" to be found.

    So if that is your wish, that is how it will be.


  19. -There are by all means definitely much better and or more articulate "counter balances" to be found-

    Yes Cal, you are right and I think you are able to understand the basic rules of a rational argumentation, here some of Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit:

    Warning signs that suggest deception. Based on the book by Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World. The following are suggested as tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments:

    Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts.

    Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.

    Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no "authorities").

    Spin more than one hypothesis - don't simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.

    Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours.

    Quantify, wherever possible.

    If there is a chain of argument every link in the chain must work.

    Occam's razor - if there are two hypotheses that explain the data equally well choose the simpler.

    Ask whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown to be false by some unambiguous test). In other words, it is testable? Can others duplicate the experiment and get the same result?

    Additional issues are:

    Conduct control experiments - especially "double blind" experiments where the person taking measurements is not aware of the test and control subjects.

    Check for confounding factors - separate the variables.

    Common fallacies of logic and rhetoric

    Ad hominem - attacking the arguer and not the argument.

    Argument from "authority".

    Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an "unfavorable" decision).

    Appeal to ignorance (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).

    Special pleading (typically referring to god's will).

    Begging the question (assuming an answer in the way the question is phrased).

    Observational selection (counting the hits and forgetting the misses).

    Statistics of small numbers (such as drawing conclusions from inadequate sample sizes).

    Misunderstanding the nature of statistics (President Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence!)

    Inconsistency (e.g. military expenditures based on worst case scenarios but scientific projections on environmental dangers thriftily ignored because they are not "proved").

    Non sequitur - "it does not follow" - the logic falls down.

    Post hoc, ergo propter hoc - "it happened after so it was caused by" - confusion of cause and effect.

    Meaningless question ("what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?).

    Excluded middle - considering only the two extremes in a range of possibilities (making the "other side" look worse than it really is).

    Short-term v. long-term - a subset of excluded middle ("why pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?").

    Slippery slope - a subset of excluded middle - unwarranted extrapolation of the effects (give an inch and they will take a mile).

    Confusion of correlation and causation.

    Caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack.

    Suppressed evidence or half-truths.

    Weasel words - for example, use of euphemisms for war such as "police action" to get around limitations on Presidential powers. "An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public"

    (excerpted from The Planetary Society Australian Volunteer Coordinators Prepared by Michael Paine )

    If you reflect about it (not all points, I think you respect some of those), then you will find out for what reason you are (very often) receiving a negative response or worst "any response"

  20. I think if you look just a little more closely at Cal's incoherent ramblings you will find that the core of her "beliefs" are directly excerpted from the Gospel according to the Discover Institute-ICR

  21. In a hurry, so I skimmed the comments quickly, so if someone has already mentioned this, my apologies:

    What Massimo talks about in the post reminded my of Pascal Boyer's anthropological examination of the origins of religious thought in Religion Explained in which he too came to the conclusion that critical thinking is difficult because it is not intuitive and is instead a developmental skill. Boyer argues that "religious" thought is parasitic on the way our brains naturally draw inferences about the way the world works and on also on the way our minds are structured for social intercourse.

    I think I just butchered Boyer's point, so I'd better just link to an article from SI where he outlines his thesis

    Why is Religion Natural?"

  22. Ah, the beauty of the faceless internet, where people aren't ashamed of repeatedly making fools of themselves -- in spite, or maybe because, of others showing where they are wrong.

    Anyway, I'm still one third of the way in "The Blank Slate", it seems to address some of the issues from the original post, as someone remarked earlier.

    [sarcasm]Now let's all go to the Church of Darwin, read from chapter 5 of the Holy Book (OTOSetc.) and bang our heads on the wall ignoring the past 150 years of developments, yay![/sarcasm]


  23. Knock, Knock, CAL.

    Can you hear anything from inside your plastic bubble?

  24. "In a hurry, so I skimmed the comments quickly, so if someone has already mentioned this, my apologies:"

    Yeah, Hume's Ghost, I mentioned
    Boyer's book! But thats alright, because you give alot more details of the argument than I did. I don't think you have butchered it at all. But then again, I had problems finishing it, see the 1st comment :)

  25. "her "beliefs" are directly excerpted from the Gospel according to the Discover Institute-ICR "

    Actually Dennis, you ought to give the Discovery Inst. more credit than that. I don't think they endorse Young Earth Creationism, which Cal seems to suggest she believes (see quote below). I think she is more in tune with Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis!

    "if Darwinism is founded on nothing more than wimsical ideas of long ages and mythical creatures that DON'T EVEN show up in the fossil record."

  26. Oops, sorry Sheldon. You are right about the general direction of Boyer's argument. He argues that we have mental modules that are pre-wired to draw certain types of inferences.

    What I found interesting about Boyer's argument was the portion on how primitive societies tend to view social misfortune in terms of social interaction ... i.e. as the product of someone's (witch or voodoo or the evil eye) ill-will being directed at the victim of misfortune. I found that intersting because I think it provides an anthropological explanation for Richard Hofstadter's thesis in the paranoid style.

    I'm going to quote a comment I made elsewhere on the same subject:

    After a long section where Boyer explains the development of moral systems he concludes "[t]o some extent religious concepts are parastic upon moral intuitions" and goes on to explain that people attribute powers to gods "because [they] are frequently mentioned as the originators of misfortune. That is, you first hear about particular cases of illness and accidents and you then infer that they must have whatever powers it takes to do such things" which can trigger a feedback loop where greater powers are attributed to attest for greater misfortune.

    Now when I see that my mind immediately thinks of Richard Hofstadter's essay on the paranoid style in which national social misfortune is attributed to an "other" that has near magical ability to affect the course of history:

    "Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way. He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery he has produced. The paranoid's interpretation of history is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone's will."

    That's very similar to the way Boyer describes religious belief developing from an intuitive way that our minds see misfortune in terms of social morality; what's more, Boyer also talks about the way that witchcraft and similar magics are viewed across cultures as a product of someone's social ill-will being directed at someone else in the group.

    Perhaps what Hofstadter noticed is what happens to that belief-system when the magical element is removed and replaced with something more appropriate to the post-industrial age that is more plausible (yet still paranoid):

    " Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing); he has a special technique for seduction (the Catholic confessional)."

  27. can anyone assertain that a baby that has not already seen an object fall in its life, assumes that it will fall?

    maybe these assumptions are just learnt very fast and early

    i dont believe there are any skyhooks to be found.

  28. Anonymous,

    yes, there are good experiments showing that very young babies have expectations about the behavior of physical objects. For example, they are surprised when a ball rolls off a table but doesn't fall down. It seems to be innate.

    "i dont believe there are any skyhooks to be found."

    Neither do I, but these aren't skyhooks, on the contrary.

  29. massimo,

    I don’t know much about babies so please excuse my ignorance if I am mistaken.

    How would it be possible to test a new born baby (which is necessary for innateness) about expectations of physical objects when it cannot express itself?

    Maybe the innate skill is an ability to observe very basic physical laws very early on.

    something about the innate make me think -skyhooks in this case.

    jon formally known as anonymous

  30. Jon,

    no need to apologize. This sort of experiments is done with very young (few month-old) babies, who presumably have had little or no chance to build a physical theory of the world from experience.

    Typically, the experiment consists in exposing the baby to a normal physical phenomenon (the ball rolls on a table, then falls off the edge) and track the baby's reaction. When the ball does not fall down, one can easily record the surprise in the baby's face, which is taken as evidence that the event has violated the baby's expectations of what should happen.

    As for skyhooks: innate here simply means that there might be a genetically-based instinct, which would presumably be the result of natural selection (after all, it seems advantageous to be born with reasonable expectations about the behavior of physical objects). Hence, no magic is involved, it's self-bootstraping all the way down, as Daniel Dennett would say.

  31. M,
    In data collaction like this, it may be a little bit of a stretch to assume genetically based instinct from natural selection involved in hardwiring of the brain to achieve the surprise of the baby at a falling ball. Since we do not know the exact workings of the human brain at these stages, I could also say this surprise came from the brain hardwiring itself from birth. Every time the baby had to lift its hand and felt the resistance of gravity or every time the baby had to turn its head to feed, the resistance of gravity was noted by the brain, thus leading to the baby's eventual surprise at a falling ball. If I am not mistaken, these tests are done around 2 to 3 months of age where the infant has perhaps a huge log of incidents dealing with gravity to note. Perhaps even much more time than that since programming perhaps starts long before birth (not exactly something atheist think much of, I know).
    Although I like the natural selection cause better. The idea that Evolution keeps us from believing in Evolution. Its beautiful.
    Here is an article on the oppossing views if anyones interested.


  32. "Occam's razor - if there are two hypotheses that explain the data equally well choose the simpler."


    I can see no reason to find it "simpler" to say that there could be no force or entity whatsoever behind the inner workings & origins of the universe. personally I find that a much more complex, obviously harder to get to the bottom of, explanation. And thus, evolution nearly always appeals to the more complex of any two possible explanations. And intentionally so. We surely would not want to suggest something like "God did it".

    And what makes it even more complex is that Evolution works mainly for the flattery of the "individual mind". That is, "I am a great thinker because I believe "X".

    And that is that absolute meaning of "circular reasoning", of course.


  33. Cal,

    An extraordinary claim like to believe in a "... force or entity whatsoever behind the inner workings & origins of the universe..." require an extraordinary evidence Cal. To get this point there is an elegant and pretty clear argumentation from the author of this blog here!

    I am more skeptic and I think the "entity hypothesis" is no one, indeed this can't be falsifiable, since no observation could be made which might contradict it, and to said that the complex things that exhibit nature and that science can´t explain is an evidence of the entity is a complete circular nonsense.

    I think there is a difference between simple and easy. Intelligent designer movement had been choosing the easy way Cal.

  34. Aureola Nominee, FCDJune 01, 2007 12:33 PM

    Please note Cal's mindset: she believes that the WHOLE UNIVERSE was set up by a superduper oriental despot to produce us (or, more specifically, her); yet at the same time, without skipping a beat, accuses "Evolution" (one never knows, with cal, whether she means the fact that organisms evolve or the explanation of the mechanism by which they evolve) of "working" for the flattery of the "individual mind".

    I would very much like to know what is the weather like on the planet where she types this crap.

  35. Of all the rules to follow on Icaro's list, a few of you are breaking one

    Ad hominem - attacking the arguer and not the argument.

    Although I realize you are attacking the argument, adding the arguer should be refrained from.

    As far as Occam's Razor. I have always had a problem with it. What defines simple is left at personal discretion. I work on some fairly complex equipment at work and often I am humbled by problems that seem to defy logic and when the answer is found, many times it is the more complex theory that ends up winning out. Often times what starts out to appear as a more complex (even rediculous) theory, ends up appearing more simple, once it is identified as the root cause. I realize this is just my personal experience and don't have data to back it up. Not sure how one could really go about proving Occam's Razor works as a tool.
    But when it come to cause of current nature, I am sure many arguements could be made why both sides could be perceived as simpler.

    To me the problem with this whole essay is that it is scientist using there time to figure out why Theist (even though they may be smart), can be so dumb. It starts out assuming that we are wrong, and just aims to figure out why we could make such a dumb choice in what we believe. And this is somehow supposed to win us over to your truth of evolution. Its not more proof for evolution. It's nothing more than wasted time. Do you think if someone does not believe in evolution, and you tell them that the root cause for their theistic beliefs is evolution, they are going to change their mind.
    Massimo cites reasons like embryoniic Stem cell research as a reason why you need to convince the other 42% of us that evolution is true. There is no Law against embryonic stem cell research. It can be conducted by anyone who wishes. And for many years it has been with nothing to show for it. Athough adult stems cells and cord blood stem cells are making breakthroughs all the time, for some reason we need to put tax dollars into embryonic stem cell research that in well over a decade has shown no progress. And don't think that just because tax dollars are not being spent on it is why it hasn't shown any true promise, because there was plenty of private funding for it, its just declining because it has not produced any results. Convincing the other 42% of theists to believe in evolution will not fix this. The other 42% just views an essay like this as foolish. Shouldn't scientist spend their time with more value added science. After all isn't 58% a majority.

  36. Aureola Nominee, FCDJune 01, 2007 9:12 PM

    jim fisher:

    Although I realize you are attacking the argument, adding the arguer should be refrained from.

    The moment the attack deals with the argument, it is not an ad hominem. Of course, if it is shown that an "argument" was based on strawmen, misrepresentations, multiple logical fallacies and contradictory claims, this surely does tell us something about the arguer; for instance, that he or she is not honestly interested in debating.

  37. Icaro: "I think there is a difference between simple and easy. Intelligent designer movement had been choosing the easy way Cal."

    So it might seem. Evolution as a force is intended as a substitute for God. Abeit not a very intelligent one. Just one that allows us to have our own way.

    And how "easy" is that?

    Few things to know on the matter of what other easy ideas mankind accepts and embraces..

    Evolution and its Role
    by Dave Hunt
    "Far from being a scientific theory of recent origin, evolution was an established religious belief at the heart of occultism and mysticism thousands of years before the Greeks gave it "scientific" status. And the central core of the ancient mystical theory of evolution is the lie of the serpent to Eve in the Garden, the belief that we are evolving ever upward to godhood. Sounding like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Masonic authority W. L. Wilmhurst in his book The Meaning of Masonry declares:

    This—the evolution of man into superman—was always the purpose of the ancient mysteries [occultisms]…. Man, who has sprung from the earth and developed through the lower kingdoms of nature, to his present rational state, has yet to complete his evolution by becoming a god-like being and unifying his conscience with the Omniscient.7

    New Age leader Robert Muller, for many years Assistant Secretary-General of the United nations, expresses much the same: "I believe that humanity…has a tremendous destiny to fulfill and that a major transformation is about to take place in our evolution." 8 Muller states clearly: "Decide to open yourself…to the potential of the human race, to the infinity of your inner self, and you will become the universe…at long last your real, divine, stupendous self." 9

    Evolving Upward to Godhood

    The goal of evolution, as portrayed for thousands of years before Darwin, has always been to journey through endless reincarnations until union with the Universal Mind, or All, has once again been achieved. Barbara Brown of UCLA Medical Center declares that we are "evolving to a higher level of mind…[called] supermind."10 At Esalen, the New Age center in the Big Sur area south of San Francisco where the Human Potential movement began, Michael Murphy and George Leonard offered a seminar on "The Evolution of Consciousness," which suggested that "a transformation of human consciousness as momentous as the emergence of civilization is underway." Darwin also recognized the spiritual implications of his theory. In The Descent of Man he wrote: "Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen…to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hopes for the still higher destiny in the distant future."

    Whether Darwin fully realized it or not, the mystical goal of the theory of evolution he championed had always been to become "God." In The Atman Project, Ken Wilbur lays it out clearly: "If men and women have ultimately come up from amoebas, then they are ultimately on their way towards God."

    In Up from Eden Wilbur identifies this belief in man’s ascension to godhood as the heart of what has been "known as the ‘perennial philosophy’…the esoteric core of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taosim, Sufism…." As Jon Klimo in his book Channeling summarizes it, the "truth of truths" of the channeled material is "that we are God" and only need to "realize" it. So the serpent’s lie to Eve continues to dominate the ambitions of modern man, and evolution is his hope that the lie will one day be realized.

    Evolution plays a key role in the occult. Theodore Roszak pointed out that mysticism is "the parent stock from which the theory of biological evolution springs." 11 Anthropologist Michael Harner reminds us that "millennia before Charles Darwin, people in shamanic cultures were convinced that humans and animals were related." 12 Evolution, as the core belief of Hinduism and witchcraft, is at least as old as the theories of reincarnation and karma, in which it is a key element.

    Evolution, Reincarnation, and Witchcraft

    Of course, evolution must be an essential part of the belief in reincarnation and karma. There is no point in coming back in an endless cycle of death and rebirth unless progress is being made upward. That progress is allegedly accomplished through evolution, not only of the body but of the soul.

    Since reincarnation is a belief basic to witchcraft, it is not surprising that it is amoral. If a husband beats his wife, the cause-and-effect law of karma will cause him to be reincarnated in his next life as a wife who is beaten by her husband. That husband (who will have been prepared by his karma to be a wife-beater) must in turn come back in his next life as a wife beaten by her husband; a murderer must in turn become the victim of murder, and so forth endlessly.

    The perpetrator of each crime must become the victim of the same crime, which necessitates another perpetrator, who in turn must become a subsequent victim at the hands of yet another, ad infinitum. Rather than solving the problem of evil, karma and reincarnation perpetuate it.

    Apropos to our subject of the occult, evolution opens the door to belief in a mysterious "Force" pervading the universe, a Force which evolutionists believe brought life into existence and has directed its astonishing development over billions of years. It is a Force, too, which presumably has even greater heights of evolutionary development in store for mankind. Clearly this force is a substitute for God.

    Evolution is a religion without any support in fact. C. S. Lewis wrote: "If minds were wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind…."13 That simple logic destroys Darwinism. If man is the chance product of impersonal evolutionary forces, then so are his thoughts—including the theory of evolution.


    7. W. L. Wilmhurst, The Meaning of Masonry (Bell Publishing, 1980), pp. 47, 94, as cited in Alan Morrison, The Serpent and the Cross (K&M Books, 1994), p. 230.

    8. Robert Muller, ed., The Desire to Be Human: A Global Reconnaissance of Human Perspectives in an Age of Transformation (Miranana, 1983), p. 17.

    9. Robert Muller, "Decide to Be," in Link-Up, 1986, p. 2.

    10. Barbara Brown, Supermind (Harper & Row, 1980), pp. 6-7, 19.

    11. Theodore Roszak, Unfinished Animal (Harper & Row, 1980), pp. 74-75.

    12. Michael J. Harner, The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Healing and Power (Harper & Row, 1980), p. 57.

    13. Dave Hunt and T. A. McMahon, The New Spirituality (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1988), p. 155.



  38. Oh, boy, what a load of dingo kidneys... What kind of idiot believes those things? I don't even want to see the kind that WRITES them...

    the mystical goal of the theory of evolution he championed had always been to become "God."

    That's stupid, since there is not god to begin with, and it would be stupid even if there was. Or Easter Bunnies. Or Santa Clauses. Sorry to break it on you.


  39. Aureola Nominee, FCDJune 02, 2007 9:53 AM

    Oh, man, "Evolution is an ancient religious belief"!

    Here, jim, since you appeal to that most powerful of tools, the mighty "Cut & Paste", try reading these:

    ("Evolution is a religion")

    ("The goal of evolutionists is to make God unnecessary")

    Now, consider yourself warned: these claims have been encountered before, thoroughly refuted, and thrown in the dustbin of apologetics. Stop using them, or admit that your silly "arguments" do tell us something about the intellectual honesty, or lack thereof, of the arguer.

  40. Aureola Nominee, FCDJune 02, 2007 9:55 AM

    Correction: my latest post was addressing cal, not jim. My apologies to jim for mistaking cal for him.

  41. Thanks for your correction. I am curious which you believe makes me a theist now? The logic of this essay or is it still just comfort.

  42. Aureola Nominee, FCDJune 05, 2007 4:54 PM


    First, this is a case of apples and oranges. Theism and rejection of science do NOT go hand in hand, as is easily shown by checking theistic attitudes outside the US, so your question appears to me to be meaningless.

    Second, even in those people where both traits are present (i.e., theists who do reject science), it seems quite likely that each trait has its own cause; no need to choose only one.

    Third, let me note that rejecting science is easy (in fact, it takes no effort at all!), and as such much more comfortable than doing the hard work of studying and understanding science.

  43. Cal,

    There are two important caveats in your interpretation of Evolution:

    "...Evolution as a force..."
    1) Evolution is not a force think in evolution as change... dependent of
    2) natural selection (ns), it is not a force at all (like forces in physics, this way of thinking of ns is an illness from them), better is a physical discriminate processes with which individual organism interact (this definition about ns from a Massimo's lecture ).

    Cal, my goal here is not sounding arrogant, but if you want expel that sort of "argumentation" you should read the other "side" for make the contrast. The better advice was mentioned before: read Futuyma's "Evolutionary Biology,"

    About, how easy is that creationist people had been choosing a way to argue?

    It doesn´t exist a better response from Aureola Nominee, FCD that resume what I think of your way of try to understand Evolution:

    "...let me note that rejecting science is easy (in fact, it takes no effort at all!), and as such much more comfortable than doing the hard work of studying and understanding science."

  44. Although the essay is titled "Why Do Some People Resist Science?". Its main conclusion is that we are hard wired to see design in the world around us. This is supposedly what makes us theists and not able to accept evolution. Although I agree 100% that rejection of science and theism do not go hand and hand, that is what this essay implys. And it implys that we are naturally inclined (along with social influences)to see the world this way. The essay does clearly address theism, not just rejection of science and. So I still ask the origional question

  45. Aureola Nominee, FCDJune 08, 2007 4:13 PM


    "supposedly this is what makes us theists and unable to accept evolution."

    I disagree. As far as I can tell, this is your conclusion, not the author's. "This" is what makes us prone to see design where no design is present, which in turn makes us prone to believe in the supernatural (i.e. agency where no agents are actually present) and resistant to counterintuitive ideas, such as, for instance, evolution.

    However, let's entertain your conclusion for a moment as if it were the author's.

    My reply has already been given:

    Third, let me note that rejecting science is easy (in fact, it takes no effort at all!), and as such much more comfortable than doing the hard work of studying and understanding science.

    In other words, in the other thread we discussed how theism is comfortable (certainly much more comfortable than the alternative); in this thread we discussed how rejecting science that conflicts with our naive opinions of the world is easy (certainly much easier than the alternative).

    So, I read your question as akin to asking whether people choose to close their eyes because they like darkness or because they are scared of light.

    Doing science is hard; heck, even studying science is hard. It is especially hard because it challenges our preconceptions and forces us to overcome some natural biases that were extremely useful when we naked apes were trying to survive in the African Savannah, and this is uncomfortable.

  46. I disagree. As far as I can tell, this is your conclusion, not the author's. "This" is what makes us prone to see design where no design is present, which in turn makes us prone to believe in the supernatural (i.e. agency where no agents are actually present) and resistant to counterintuitive ideas, such as, for instance, evolution.

    Your just trying to play on words to avoid the obvious. The conclusion of the author is that the roots of theism come from natural causes. Which is exactly what your above paragraph states, and has no different meaning from what I stated. The essay concludes that theism is the result of natural observation and then later social factors. So again I ask, do you agree with the author or is it just simple comfort that plays into my (and others)theism?

  47. Aureola Nominee, FCDJune 08, 2007 11:17 PM


    you are the one playing with words, trying to make them say two different things where they really are two different ways of stating the same.

    This essay discusses why some people reject science, and proposes that it is a combination of natural biases (which some of us don't manage to overcome) and social pressure (which some of us choose not to oppose); both of these elements are simple declinations of "seeking comfort" or "avoiding discomfort".

    We have natural reasons for "seeing" things that aren't there; it is easy to "go with the flow" and believe.

    Much harder, less comforting, more difficult, is growing up, i.e. confronting our first impressions, our naive assumptions about the world around us.

    Some people can't bring them to do so at all; they see agency where there is none, design where there is none, purpose where there is none.

    Some people manage to shed some of those naive assumptions, and train themselves to disregard fallacious first impressions and check the evidence instead, but still cling to the final comfort of seeing some agency, albeit hidden; some design, no matter how remote; some purpose, although ineffable.

    Some people go all the way, and to the blissful ignorance of the first and the convenient compartmentalization of the second prefer growing up, pulling their thumbs out of their mouths, and do the best they can without the crutch of imaginary friends.

    Please, stop torturing the text to extract meanings that simply aren't there.

  48. When we debated before "comfort" meant mans unwillingness to believe he may come to an end, the comfort we will never die. Now comfort means means unwillingness to overcome natural bias, the comfort of not having to confront our first impressions and our naive impression of the world around us. Guess thats the benefit of using a word like comfort for explaining why someones belief system may be theistic. You can change the meaning of it to what ever you need.
    Let me say it this way. In our other debate you argued that people are theistic because they do not want to believe they will someday come to an end. That believing we may come to and end is too much for us. This essay implys theistic ideas have far more innocent roots and begin shortly after birth (before one can even contemplate their own demise). Then later in life social influences help to reinforce mans natual inclination to see agency and design. So forgive me when I ask again, but we debated at some length with you insisting it was mans fear of death that made him theistic not natual causes starting at birth. As you would like to imply you were already somehow in tune with what this essay states about causes of mans rejection of evolution. You were not even close.
    I do not agree with either idea. That I believe because of my fear of my end or my inability shed my natual bias. Which do you agree with?

    Please, stop torturing the text to extract meanings that simply aren't there.

    Could you show me where I tortured the text to extract meanings that are not there? I will be sitting in a fetal position sucking my thumb in the mean time

  49. Another question for anyone. Why do scientists write an essay like this? M says it nessesary, as if figuring out why theistic beliefs happen, you'll be able to fix it. Nothing is more absurd. As if I am going to jump on board because you tell me its not my fault that I believe in God, it had natural causes. An essay like this just causes mistrust between the theists and mainstream science. Its not like it offers some evidence for why atheism and evolution are true. The essay just assumes it true and aims to figure out why the rest of us can't see it. I actually believe in God. I mean really! I actually believe atheists are wrong. So to me its no different then scientist trying to figure out why I believe the Holocaust happened. Then writing an essay saying - People who believe in the holocaust saw Jewish kids getting picked on when they were very little. Then as they grew older, they were surrounded be Jewish elders that said such and such.

  50. Aureola Nominee, FCDJune 09, 2007 4:35 PM


    The mechanism of seeking comfort and avoiding discomfort (from confronting one's mortality, one's naive assumptions, one's ultimate loneliness... whatever) is the same.

    It is a form of intellectual cowardice. Your attempt to somehow rescue your theism from its roots as a psychological defence mechanism, by the way, is in the same vein.

    And as far as your second post is involved, denial of the facts - be they the biological facts of evolution, the anthropological facts of theism as a defence mechanism or the historical facts of the Holocaust - is one of the traits that a rational approach to life tries to prevent... or to correct, for those who have allowed themselves to take the easy way out.

  51. Writing off other peoples beliefs as intellectual cowardice because it is not the same as yours is taking the easy way out, this is your style, adding insults to arguement as so often clutters your responses.

  52. Aureola Nominee, FCDJune 09, 2007 10:07 PM


    that's what you like to think, of course. However, I did not dismiss those beliefs as intellectual cowardice "because they are not the same as mine"; I gave you (repeatedly) sound reasons why those beliefs are the easy way out, and therefore intellectual cowardice.

    You, on the other hand, have done nothing but trying to play "gotcha" with a fictitious contradiction that you manufactured out of thin air ("Am I a theist because of this or because of that?", ignoring the fact that those two mechanisms were perfectly compatible).

    Now you play the fake martyr card; duly noted, but this, too, is unoriginal and unimpressive. Try to engage the substance of the thread instead; you might be pleasantly surprised by the change of tone.

  53. ignoring the fact that those two mechanisms were perfectly compatible).

    No, they are not compatable. They have two entirely different causes. As far as me addressing the substance of the thread. That is exactly what I am doing. When scientist skip over discussing why they are correct in evolution, and head for finding out why people don't believe in evolution. they have stopped working for their (or any) cause, and only actually make it worse. Which is exactly what you did in our previous debate.
    You claiming that all theists are just too afraid to deal with death is somehow compatable with what this essay states is garbage, but you already know that.

    As far as intellectual cowardice. The most intellectually brave person commenting on this blog is Cal. Even though I do not agree with most of what she says, she keeps commenting although she is constantly ridiculed. Of the two of us, I am the one commenting where almost everyone else has an opposing view. Every time I comment, I know without a doubt I will be challenged, this is how I choose to spend the little internet time I have, It doesn't take any intellectual bravery to comment on a blog were almost everyone has the same view you do. So keep telling yourself that I (and all theist)beleive what we do because we are intellelctual corwards. That IS the easy way out.

  54. Aureola Nominee, FCDJune 10, 2007 10:57 PM


    Yes, I know; you are, after all, the poor persecuted Christian in a world of rabid atheists.

    So you pat yourself on your own shoulder for your bravery, while at the same time pretending that why people reject reality does not really matter.

    I'm sorry: the scientific debate over the fact of evolution, for instance, is over, and has been for decades now. All that remains is the strenuous resistance of those who have ulterior motives for inventing fake controversies.

    You comment here and "courageously" face... what? People calling a spade a spade? People not pretending that Bronze Age bullshit is somehow deserving of respect?

    Meanwhile, all around us and over the Internet, people who share your delusions keep attacking, denigrating, slandering anyone who even dares to point out the the Emperor is naked. In many parts of this planet, and even in some parts of the USA, people have even been physically assaulted for daring to question these collective delusions.

    Don't tell me you are courageous, jim. Remember the other thread? In the US, theists outnumber atheists, agnostics, freethinkers etc. by 5 to 1... and that's in the least theistic State, which is NOT on the East Coast. This is something I have already told you; instead of disregarding data and living in a fantasy world, take a look and check. THAT's courage.

  55. What a fascinating debate ... who cares? Seriously, will the resolution of this debate solve some global issue? Why can't the creationists believe in creationism and the evolutionists believe in evolution and both of you be comforted in your superiority over the other's ignorance? Why is it so important to convince the other that your POV is the correct one? You're all a bunch of smart people so I must be missing something and I love a good ("good" being very loosely defined) debate, so clue me in ... please.

  56. JNM,

    it matters because creationists use their nonsense to curtail science education in public schools. Oh, yes, there is also that little annoying thing about pursuing truth...

  57. Jnm,
    Its not really about convincing anyone that my point of view is correct. That really is impossible for both sides. What originally ticked me off was the idea that all theist are that way because of blanket statement, which in our original debate was "theist just believe because they are afraid of their own end". Imagine making a blanket statement about any group of people other than theist that is so demeaning. Even though I was an agnostic and complete naturalist for most of my life, somehow I am supposed to swallow this is why I believe what I do.
    Then the essay M's post discussed suggests something completely different, and I am just supposed to swallow that even though most of life I was not a theist that somehow my observation of the world as an infant was my origins onto theism.
    Then there is Aureola's idea that the two ideas are completely compatable.
    When I was debating Aureola before and he mentioned the stats proving most people are theists. I starting asking people around me at work about their beliefs. I wanted to take a poll to see if my immediate surroundings matched what he stated. Although they didn't I felt posting such a small sampling wouldn't really mean anything as well as he would just site his original stats, even though they don't include age groups, ethnicity and many other important factors that can influence such stats. Point is, every person I talked to had a completely different take on their own beliefs. And for someone to throw a blanket statement on any group is just ignorant, and is an easy way out.

  58. For the record jnm,

    I do agree with you about letting each other believe what they may. This is one of the reasons I commented. People write essays like this because their intentions are to stop the other side. If we can figure out why people are theist, we can fix the problem. Meanwhile they actually create more resistance to naturalism.
    This is why M took the time to comment. This blog is pretty much all about ending the opposing view.


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