[SFRA-L] "Teaching the controversy"
ryantatenichols at gmail.com
Tue Oct 25 22:18:09 EDT 2011
After following the debate thus far about the SF conference at Oral Roberts,
creationism/evolution and 'teaching the controversy', allow me to weigh in
with a few follow-ups:
Perhaps the following is an appropriate way to bridge somewhat the opinions
of Joan and Rich. Teach the controversy. Just don't do it in a science
class. Do it in a history of science, history or philosophy of science
The biggest hurdle in changing the minds of people who endorse Intelligent
Design Theory, Creationism and other non-evolutionary accounts of life
typically goes unrecognized by proponents of evolutionary theory, even by
prominent, best-selling proponents like Richard Dawkins. Evolution has
itself selected for psychological modules that inhibit belief in evolution.
Strange, you might think, but true, as those who have done research in the
cognitive science of religion will be quick to point out. Research by E.
Margaret Evans and D. Kelemen shows that children have a bias to explain
events and states of affairs in nature by appeal to purpose and agency. J.
Barrett and others have identified a module, called the 'hyper-active agency
detection device', that produces belief in non-human agency under a variety
of conditions; Barrett and others argue that this was an adaptation in the
biological sense of the term. (False positives? Of course. But when an
ancestral humans hear bumps in the night, would it be best that they return
to sleep or fear that some agent is on the attack and react accordingly?) D.
Johnson and others have shown pretty convincingly that human bands acquire
fitness advantages in ubiquitous between-group competition by being
religious as opposed to being non-religious. Welcome to the world of
'Supernatural Punishment Theory,' an incredibly fascinating
interdisciplinary pursuit. On top of her early results, Kelemen has now done
a fascinating experiment that strongly suggests that atheist
scientists--atheist sciences with Ph.D.'s in the hard sciences no less--she
wasn't making it easy on herself--will show a bias towards teleological
explanations for natural states of affairs when those people are placed in
The upshot is that atheism presents a number of cognitive struggles and
subjects people to increased cognitive loads. In contrast the ingredients
for teleological thinking and the transmission of 'minimally
counterintuitive ideas' is not only natural but is argued to be or to have
been adaptive. Engaging in deductive or inductive argument with creationists
or anti-Darwinists is probably not going to convert believers. The
underlying methodological presupposition behind 'teaching the controversy'
is that doing so will change minds. Doubt it. I speak from my own limited
experience thus far teaching philosophy and philosophy of religion. But I
would suspect there are data about this from education science.
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