Science outreach: A conversation

From the Freethinkers Blog Con:

With PZ Myzer and Aron Ra.

12 thoughts on “Science outreach: A conversation

  1. Great panel, and you got to stick in a bunch of the stuff you’ve been writing about this week.

    Take care of that cough, John. Hope you feel better.

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  2. I particularly liked the fully on empirical investigation and understanding point in regard to belief.

    I sort of expect not to see the perspective I hold discussed in these debates. Nice to see someone flying the flag here.

    Not in a position to asses the high cost concept fully. One thing that does interest me and I know is certainly the case.

    Relationship between high cost signals and conflict. Dispute maintains such things, dramatically, the historically frozen term is rather apt here.

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  3. “a few anti-philosophy comments!”

    I would like more of this format. As you take in far more than what is just said at speed and without effort (as long as you get more than a head shot).

    The parrot seemed pretty relaxed and open minded throughout I thought.

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  4. I think an interesting question is do high cost signals reduce full on open warfare and reduce cost? i.e. ensure that society can continue to be and absorb the cost.

    May be an argument that ritual displays in which participation is limited to high status group members engaging in waving a range of expensive and extravagant, flags, jacks and pendants may not be quite as silly as it looks from the outside.

    These debates as P.Z notes have no relevance in terms of science but they still may be of significance.

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  5. John, I’ve listened carefully to your whole conversation with PZ Myers [not “Myzer”] and AronRa [real name L. Aron Nelson; there’s no space between the two parts of his pseudonym]. I have a few comments to offer.

    (1) A couple of times the charge of “magical thinking” was leveled at those who disagree with you.

    At 4:43 on the video, AronRa said, “. . . they would rather believe what they do than know what is really true, and they’re clinging desperately to the power of ‘pretend,’ where — make believe, if you believe hard enough, you can make it be true, or if you can’t make it be true, at least you can convince yourself that it is true and that’s just as good, where the illusion has more value than the facts. . . .”

    And at 43:53, you said, “And the third approach, of course, is the ‘wishful thinking’ approach — magical thinking — the idea that the world has to be the way I want it to be. And that too is a generic issue. And I don’t think science outreach can overcome any of these things once they have developed.”

    I would just note that the evolutionary (secular, physicalist, naturalist, materialist, nontheist) view of origins readily attracts that sort of accusation itself. You folks believe in something arising by itself from (essentially) nothing; ordered complexity developing by itself from an original chaotic event (an explosion); metabolizing-and-self-reproducing cellular life arising from non-life through unguided chemical reactions; and the upward complexifying diversification of the biosphere through negative, destructive processes like mutation (degradation of information) and natural selection (early elimination of some within a population). Such beliefs are not scientifically demonstrable; they are “wishful thinking,” “make believe.”

    (2) You suggested that people should be encouraged to accept “science” as an empirical methodology that employs what we can actually see and experience.

    At 35:31, you said, “But we have, I think, a deeper heuristic, a deeper rule for acquiring beliefs, and that is, believe your own eyes.”

    And at 37:18, you said, “What you have to do is rather than give them confidence in the particular methods, what you’ve got to do is give them confidence in the broad method, that science is a reliable way of finding out things about the world. And the only way to do that is not to teach them facts, not to teach them specifics, but to show them that it works through their own experience. So when they encounter somebody who has done the same thing at a much more technical level, they will have confidence in what those people do. Otherwise, this is worldview versus worldview.”

    But as was made quite clear during the Ham/Nye debate, creationists have no argument with the data of true empirical (observational, operational) science. That kind of science is generally reliable, as you say. Our greater concern is with (what we see as) speculative historical reconstructions of the distant past, formulated within a naturalist, anti-biblical philosophical framework.

    (3) You continue to emphasize that “silly” beliefs are to be explained in connection with group membership.

    At 16:34, you said, “People believe what their community believes in order to feel more deeply embedded in their community, and the reason that I think they do this is because it’s what evolutionary biologists call a costly signal. If you believe something that’s really silly, then the only people with whom you can easily communicate are those who also believe really silly stuff. And consequently — it has a cost and the cost is your isolation from broader society — but it also has a benefit, and that means that you are signaling in an honest fashion, in a hard-to-fake way, your membership of the community, which means that when times get hard, you know, when you become unemployed or when a member of your family is sick, you can count on reciprocal altruism from that community.”

    Even though you linked this explanation to “silly” beliefs, you later seemed to acknowledge that, actually, all populations operate in the way you had suggested “silly” believers do.

    At 45:57, you said: “The strategy then is to say, ‘Well, I’m being challenged in my core values and core beliefs. How do I react?’ And the answer is: Don’t think about it. Avoid the facts. . . . But as an honest creationist, you would say, ‘Well, it’s all too much for me. But I know what I know, and I know that my core beliefs are true.’ [Laughter from AronRa.] And, just as a general point, I’ve even seen this happen amongst the scientific community. Right? People will hold on to ideas well beyond any reasonable point or threshold. And I think that it’s not so much a function of the silly crap believing community as it is a function of a certain proportion of any population. Some people are going to be early adopters and critical thinkers; other people are going to be conservative and more willing to outsource the cognitive work to their particular authorities. So facts can be ignored, as it were; they can be evaded.”

    So: If all populations act this way, then you haven’t really shown that creationists are “sillier” than anyone else. But even worse: If you’re saying that even scientists can hold wrong beliefs because of their membership in their “community,” then why should creationists have confidence in any particular individual scientist or any collection of scientists, especially about things that we can’t directly observe or experience? Instead of trusting mere finite, mortal men who apparently form or maintain their beliefs in such ways, why shouldn’t we just hold onto the revelation of an all-knowing God who was there at the beginning? Haven’t you shot your own line of argumentation in the foot?

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