Friday, December 5, 2014

Using the disentanglement principle

Yale Law and Psychology professor Dan Kahan writes:
There is a small segment of highly science-literate citizens who can reliably identify what the prevailing scientific view is on the sources and consequences of climate change. But they are no less polarized than the rest of society on whether human activity is causing global warming! ...

Al Gore is right that that climate debate is “a struggle for the soul of America” — and that is exactly the problem. If we could disentangle the question “what do we know” from the question “whose side are you on,” then democratic engagement with the best evidence would be able to proceed. ...

To their immense credit, science education researchers have used empirical methods to address this challenge. What they’ve discovered is that a student’s “disbelief” in evolution in fact poses no barrier whatsoever to his or her learning of how random mutation and genetic variance combine with natural selection to propel adaptive changes in the forms of living creatures, including humans.

After mastering this material, the students who said they “disbelieved” still say they “disbelieve” in evolution. That’s because what people say in response to the “do you believe in evolution” question doesn’t measure what they know; it measures who they are.

Indeed, the key to enabling disbelievers to learn the modern synthesis, this research shows, is to disentangle those two things — to make it plain to students that the point of the instruction isn’t to make them change their “beliefs but to impart knowledge; isn’t to make them into some other kind of person but to give them evidence along with the power of critical discernment essential to make of it what they will.
What he is saying here is that if you disentangle the science from the politics and religion, then students readily learn and accept the science!

I would have thought this would be obvious, but empirical evidence has turned this into a big revelation.

Apparently teachers of evolution and climate science cannot resist inserting assertions of belief that students do not necessarily accept. Cut that out, and students are not so anti-science after all.

The catch here is that you might train one of those highly science-literate citizens, but he might not accept your policy conclusions.

The current Atlantic magazine has an article on You Can't Educate People Into Believing in Evolution. Why are they so eager to "educate people into believing"? They would do better if they educated people into learning the facts, and letting them believe what they want.
“The psychological need to see purpose, that is really interesting," said Jeffrey Hardin, a professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin, at the Faith Angle Forum in Miami on Tuesday. “Many Christians consider Neo-Darwinian theory to be dysteleological, or lacking in purpose." Hardin is himself an evangelical Christian; he often speaks with church communities about evolution in his work with the BioLogos Foundation. In these conversations, he said, many evangelicals point to statements like that of paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, who wrote in his 1967 book, The Meaning of Evolution, "Man is the result of a purposeless and materialistic process that did not have him in mind. He was not planned." When this is echoed by outspoken atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, Hardin said, "Evangelicals look at it and go, ‘I can’t accept that, and therefore I cannot accept thinking at all about evolutionary biology.'"
Physicist-atheist Steven Weinberg famously said at the end of a book about the Big Bang:
It is very hard to realize that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelming hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.
Maybe if they disentangle the science from the leftist-atheist dogma, then people will at least learn the science. But to many leftist professors, putting political spin on evolutionary science is essential to their worldview.

1 comment:

  1. Roger,
    I very much liked this entry in your blog. I find the fastest way to assess if a science is sound, is to assess if it is used in furthering understanding of something, or if it is used in furthering control over someone. If it is the former, I'm fine with it. If it is the latter, I say pull the plug. We don't need to find new and exciting ways to control people, we already have far too many.