[asa] Trust

From: Nucacids <nucacids@wowway.com>
Date: Mon Dec 14 2009 - 19:05:38 EST

Psychologists Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg once wrote about why people resist the counter-intuitive findings of science and concluded their essay with a plea for trust:

 

"The community of scientists has a legitimate claim to trustworthiness that other social institutions, such as religions and political movements, lack. The structure of scientific inquiry involves procedures, such as experiments and open debate, that are strikingly successful at revealing truths about the world. All other things being equal, a rational person is wise to defer to a geologist about the age of the earth rather than to a priest or to a politician.

 

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

 

From: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bloom07/bloom07_index.html

 

The whole trust issue is something I have been writing and warning about for years. It doesn't matter how smart and knowledgeable someone is if they don't have the trust of their target audience. Because without this trust, the average person will simply conclude the speaker is using his/her high intelligence and great knowledge to carefully and selectively "frame" the issue. But sometimes, the problem can be even more basic than this. To show this, let us use Paul Bloom himself as a case study.

 

Since the blogosphere gave Bloom's argument some decent attention when it came out, I googled Bloom and found another essay, "Is God an Accident?" In this article, Bloom sets out to explain "why we are religious." Yet from the start, the trust issue raises its head. According to this article, Bloom is "a rationalist and a self-declared atheist" and "he rejects all notions of spirits, deities, and the afterlife." No problem. Except that why would a religious person be obligated to trust a self-declared atheist to come up with the true explanation for "why we are religious?" What's more, Bloom's colleagues appear to approach the question from the same metaphysical vantage. He says, "Right now, I live in this tiny academic enclave with people who think just like me. But when you look at polls, you'll see that the world is composed of a strong majority of believers."

 

Since he is an atheist, *we already know the general outline of Bloom's explanation before a single experiment is done.* There will be some naturalistic/materialistic explanation for "why we are religious." This is, after all, what all atheists believe, even those who have never done any science. Furthermore, does it really help at this point to appeal to science? No. As countless critics of ID have argued over the years, the rules of science allow only naturalistic/materialistic causes and supernatural causes have no place in science. Thus, when we combine the beliefs of Bloom with the rules of science, we can be even more sure about the outline he will provide. The conclusion is merely in search of its support.

 

It turns out Bloom takes it yet a step further. Not only do psychological (naturalistic) causes generate God-belief (surprise!), the belief itself is an "accident." Bloom makes this clear in several places in his essay:

 

"Is God an Accident?... Enthusiasm is building among scientists for a quite different view that religion emerged not to serve a purpose but by accident.But the universal themes of religion are not learned. They emerge as accidental by-products of our mental systems."

 

Can it be a mere accident that an atheist psychologist just happens to be enthusiastic about the notion that religion is a Darwinian "accident?" I mean, why choose and use the word "accident?" If mountains are the by-products of continental drift, do geologists typically describe mountains as accidents? If rain is the by-product of air temperature and pressure, do meteorologists typically describe rain as an accident? When Bloom writes that "they emerge as accidental by-products of our mental systems," why not simply write, "they emerge as by-products of our mental systems?"

 

If you ask me, the whole "accidental" angle is just raw metaphysics that has found a happy and unchallenged home in Bloom's science. So once again, why would a religious person be obligated to trust an atheist's "religion as accident" explanation for "why we are religious?" In fact, at this very point, something else from Bloom and Weisberg becomes quite relevant:

 

"We should stress that this failure to defer to scientists in these domains does not necessarily reflect stupidity, ignorance, or malice. In fact, some skepticism toward scientific authority is clearly rational. Scientists have personal biases due to ego or ambition""no reasonable person should ever believe all the claims made in a grant proposal. There are also political and moral biases, particularly in social science research dealing with contentious issues such as the long-term effects of being raised by gay parents or the explanation for gender differences in SAT scores. It would be naive to ignore all this, and someone who accepted all "scientific" information would be a patsy. The problem is exaggerated when scientists or scientific organizations try to use their authority to make proclamations about controversial social issues. People who disagree with what scientists have to say about these issues might reasonably infer that it is not safe to defer to them more generally."

 

And this is actually a very good point.

 

-Mike

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Received on Mon Dec 14 19:06:07 2009

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