Trying to Bridge the Unbridgeable Gap

Who needs sleep when you can watch the Armoured Skeptic in action?  I highly recommend the “Nut at the Museum” video for a couple of reasons.  First, it gives a brief introduction to the “Evolving Planet” exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.   The exhibit, even with the bad camera work and creationist commentary looks amazing.   I also have to recommend it for the fascinating look it provides into the psychology of belief.

Let me say, before you go off and watch the video, that while I enjoyed the presentation very much, I do disagree with Sir Skepticon somewhat in his approach, and I am going to ask for more empathy for Megan Fox, the creator of the original video.  So, this would be a good time to watch the video if you have not already.

Welcome back.

I find this video fascinating for the look at the psychology of someone with deeply held beliefs when confronted with material that challenges those beliefs.  I do not think that Ms Fox is lacking in intelligence as Sir Skepticon sometimes intimates, she is simply doing what human beings do, she is filtering the world through her theory (schema, worldview, there are lots of alternative words for this).  Her worldview is quite strong and her brain is really working overtime to sort everything out.  This leads to what seems to people with a scientific viewpoint as contradictions, but are probably not perceived as such by Ms Fox.

One seeming contradiction that occurs again and again is her insistence that on finding a “missing link” or transitional plant or animal.  As Sir Skepticon points out, the exhibit is full of them, in fact she spends a fair amount of time in front of a tetrapod, a sort of four legged fish, a transitional animal if there ever was one, but all she can talk about is the wonders of the human foot.  She also breezes by, without comment, a replica of the Lucy bones, again a pretty clear transitional form.  At the same time, she talks about things that have “always been” this or that, even though she is completely surrounded by extinct life forms.

And then there are a number of times that she flips back and forth between “show me the evidence” and her out of hand dismissal of the evidence right in front of her.  She says a number of times about events hundreds of millions of years ago, “Was anyone there?  Show me the videotape!”  But surely she requires no videotape evidence for what she does believe happened.

The biggest indication that what we have is a clash of worldviews is her insistence that “this is all a fairy tale,” and her often expressed anger at those who would make up and spread such a story.   In her mind (and she pretty much expresses it this way) Darwin woke up one morning and said to himself, “What story can I make up that will contradict the bible and lead people astray from the truth.   And why would someone do such a thing?  She didn’t actually say, but I would presume she would say the devil made him do it.

So, to put words in her mouth, her worldview is something like, the devil “dictated” a false creation account to Darwin.  “Scientists” then do all kinds of contortions to fit the data to Darwin’s misguided book.  And then the museum spends millions of dollars to mislead her children away from the “truth.”  No wonder she is visibly angry.  It is perfectly easy to see where her worldview comes from.  God “dictated” the bible, which is the truth, and her “science” books show how the world fits that truth.  She is not stupid, or even deluded (in a sense).  She is just fitting the pattern of data to fit her existing theory.  We all do it.

In essence, no amount of data will change her mind.  No matter what data you show her, she will filter it though her worldview and the results stay the same.  On an individual level scientists have certainly been known to do this, shaving or ignoring data to fit their existing pet theory.

So how can we possibly bridge this gap?  The first thing we have to do is modify our assumptions of the person.  Ms Fox is not dishonest, stupid or deluded, until we have other evidence we should assume that she came to her worldview in an honest and sincere way.  In the same way, I would ask her to assume that people on the science  also have come to their worldview in an honest, sincere way.  If we can start there, maybe we can get to the next step.

The next step is to see what the differences between the worldviews really is.  For Ms Fox the differences seem to be about good and evil, god versus the devil.  For the skeptic, it is about materialism as opposed to supernaturalism.  Naturally Ms Fox sees the skeptic as evil and the skeptic sees her as stupid.  Both are wrong, of course.  It is more a case of inductive vs deductive reasoning, at least to begin with.

If we could get to that point (which may be impossible for some people) we might be able to get  to the next step.  The real difference (as I see it) is the relative value of data and theory.  A scientist should throw out a theory when it doesn’t fit the data.  Data is more important than theory.  Ms Fox gives absolute priority to her theory, and data comes in second.  If we could get to this point we might actually be able to have a discussion, which does happen all the time.

Now in the end we may still be at loggerheads, as she does not want to give up her biblical theory and I do not want to give up the conclusions I feel the data has lead me to.  But at least we can disagree respectfully at this point, leaving the door open to finding agreement later on this or other issues.

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