Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You don't REALLY believe THAT, do you?

  Stephen Pinker:  

"It might be in that America one of the two political parties seems to defiantly oppose the world science view. But I suspect that isn't the best way of understanding it, because they still look for oil using the assumptions about the age of the Earth that we all believe in; when they get sick they go to a doctor and they worry about the evolution of drug resistance just as we do. They're not Amish, they don't return to the land. So in a sense they have already bought into the scientific world, but there are just a few highly symbolic issues that define your moral and political identity that they stake out a position on, and I think that is very different from scientific ignorance. In fact, one study done by a former graduate student at my department at Harvard showed that people who endorse the theory of evolution don't understand it any better than those that deny it. We shouldn't confuse the moralisation of a small number of hot-button issues with hostility with the scientific world view in general."

There are those things that we say we believe, there are those things that we think we believe, and there are those things that we believe in believing in.  And then there is what we really believe.  When it comes down to one's real life, you don't really believe in Young Earth Creationism, most likely, no matter what you say you believe.


Warren Falk said...

I really like Stephen Pinker, but he's just wrong here. It's unfortunate and I wish he were right, but he's not.

Witness the antivaccination crowd, the climate change denial crowd, and on and on, the growing popularity of homeopathy and other "alternative" medicines. I'm probably missing some others.

American kids no longer want to be scientists, they idolize and want to be sports stars, rock stars, or famous actors. Science is for dorks.

Mik said...

(Responding to Warren): First, it's important to note that, for instance, the climate change denial crowd are decidedly not the same crowd as the anti-vaccine people. All of these groups have the same proclivities as the Young Earth Creationists (and, as he notes, many "believers" in evolution): they accept scientific consensus in the great majority of things, and then reject it in some corner.

If you ask an anti-vaccine activist, or a climate denier, or an alt med person, most of them will say (and honestly) that they are pro-science. And while many of these people have little grasp of the scientific method, that is also true of (for instance) many environmentalists worried about climate change. Moreover, if you read some of what I will call the "better" blogs denying the human role in climate change (such as Steve McIntyre's Climate Audit), you will see that they use very painstaking, detailed discussion of actual scientific evidence for their position.

The fact, in other words, that there are amazingly large numbers of people who reject the dominant views on scientific subjects does not mean that there is a mass movement overall against science. There is a world of difference between being in favor of science and understanding it, and also between understanding science and agreeing with scientific consensus on every single subject.