Religion and SpiritualityScienceSkepticism

Make The Tent Bigger!

First off I want to apologize for not posting as often as I’d like. I have been very busy with fall soccer, calculus, anatomy and physiology, etc. But soccer is almost over and once again, making the playoffs unfortunately seems unlikely. So that will give me more time. Anyway on to the post…

I am currently working on a project involving Francis Collins for my anatomy and physiology class (which I should be doing now, but sadly I am procrastinating). As a part of this project we had to create a fictional interview with a scientist, as well as a potato dressed as our scientist, a 10 page paper, and an oral presentation 😕 . There are enough interviews on the Internet involving Collins so I was able to use his own quotes for the answers to my questions. One of the questions I adapted was:

Cassie: What would you say to someone who will not accept evolution because it contradicts his or her most cherished beliefs?

Dr. Collins: “I would say that I understand that and I’m sympathetic with how jarring that realization can be. I would say that the stance that some believers take, which is simply to reject evolution, is also to reject the information that God has given us, the ability to understand. I believe God did intend, in giving us intelligence, to give us the opportunity to investigate and appreciate the wonders of His creation. He is not threatened by our scientific adventures.”

The more I read about this man, the more I think, why aren’t we teaming up with this dude in support of scientific literacy? Yes, Collins is a devout Christian, but he does not deny evolution! The more I understand about how the piece of meat between my ears works, the more I think that some people are just hardwired to believe. I mean here is a man who has an extensive knowledge of science and the world around us, but he still believes in that little 2000-year-old book. He is not alone. We really need to ask ourselves which is more important, total agreement with a person’s worldview or gaining support for the interests of science? Too many people relate atheism with science (or is it just my area? Doubt it.) For the sake of scientific advancement and literacy shouldn’t we team up with religious people who promote science?

Okay, maybe I’m stretching myself here. After all, the guy attempted to debate one of my heroes, Richard Dawkins, and basically got crushed… but…

Michael Shermer says:

“I like the big-tent and let’s-be-tolerant approach. If we’re close enough on the same page about many things, I think it’s more useful to cut people some slack, rather than going after them on some smaller points.” I couldn’t agree more, what do you think?

Oh yeah, like a good little geek, I now have a twitter account!

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  1. October 13, 2008 at 9:47 pm —

    I agree.

    I feel like the skeptic community is occasionally a little more hostile to the theistic evolutionists than they ought to be. I have a theistic evolutionist friend who has a blog, and sometimes I feel sorry for him. He’s sort of in the cross-fires. Both Atheists and creationists seem displeased with them.

    However, I also think we need to not shy away from speaking our minds and I will do so right now.

    There has got to be some serious cognitive disconnect with these people.

    What I think we need to be careful of is that these people are far more brilliant than you or I, and yet they only choose to use this brilliance when they want to.

    You can have an A student in an astronomy class believe in astrology. Why? They may understand the scientific method but the thought never crosses their mind to apply it to their beliefs, or they simply choose not to.

    I think of skepticism (no, British Firefox! I refuse to spell skepticism with an extra C!) as a form of applied science, and a challenge that faces skepticism a lot is getting people to understand that you can apply the scientific method to your deep beliefs… including religion.

  2. w_nightshade
    October 14, 2008 at 8:21 am —

    I am with Shermer on this one. Inclusion is much more palatable than exclusion (the tactic preferred by fundies everywhere). Steven Novella has written/said that his first move when confronting a believer is to find common ground.

    “What do YOU think is fantastical hooey? Bigfoot? Hollow Earth? Lizard men running the show? ZOMG me too LOL!!!!1!”

    Putting someone on the defensive is the best way to get them to stop listening.

    Also, I once read something Lewis Carroll wrote about letter writing. he said to never start a letter with an apology about replying late. Your correspondent will be glad to get your letter at all, so don’t waste time apologising. Good advice, IMHO.

  3. FFFearlesss
    October 14, 2008 at 11:17 am —

    I agree with w_nightshade that as soon as somebody feels they’re being attacked and goes on the defensive, it’s a natural human instinct to simply fight to prove you’re right, rather than sit down and actually have a discussion that might change minds.

    Christians are guilty of putting people on the defensive when they open with “you’re going to go to hell.” Skeptics are guilty of putting Christians on the defensive when they automatically assume they’re morons who wouldn’t know factual data if it was sitting on their face.

    In the end, the important question is, “Do you want to be RIGHT, or do you want to CHANGE MINDS?” Because while you can certainly be right right now, changing minds takes patience and requires a certain degree of meeting people where they are.

  4. October 14, 2008 at 3:43 pm —

    Putting someone on the defensive is the best way to get them to stop listening.

    Well, yes. That’s true. But there are open minded people out there.

    What I’m worried about is that the “don’t put them on the defensive” mentality is the same mentality as “don’t challenge their faith because it’s their faith”.

    It is possible to nicely challenge somebody’s beliefs, and if you challenge them in a not-as-nice way they’re more likely to respond with anger.

    However, there are people who, no matter how painstakingly you’ve tried to be nice to them, will simply blow up the second you start asking difficult questions about their faith. It might be different from your experience, and this is mostly an anecdotal argument I’m making here I suppose, but in my experience dealing with people of faith, no matter how nice I’ve been to them, the conversation almost always ends with “That’s just my faith, and nothing you say can change that!” or with them plugging their ears and singing “lalalalala, I can’t hear you!” (and believe me, the latter has happened more than once).

    The question then becomes are you going to ask your questions, or are you just going to do nothing and let them carry on with their blind faith to whatever ends it takes them?

  5. FFFearlesss
    October 14, 2008 at 3:50 pm —

    Yes, there are certain people who are simply beyond salvation, who will refuse to listen. I think the important thing is to engage in a dialogue for as long as somebody is willing. Meet their counterpoints with counterpoints of your own and avoid dev0lving into insults or sarcastic comments.

    But you’re right, and I’ve found this to be true. A lot of people these days view any QUESTION you might ask that is counter to their way of thinking as an attack. I’ve faced that more than once. They might go along with you on one or two questions but once you keep challenging them, however nicely, they just get exasperated. It’s tough, especially if it’s a friend you’re arguing with.

  6. w_nightshade
    October 14, 2008 at 4:28 pm —

    Invoking Dr. Novella & his SGU cohorts once again (Ms. Watson, I am looking at you), the most productive line of attack is the patient, long-term one. Even asking the question that gets a finger-in-ears treatment frames the question. If you can slowly, carefully, get them to acknowledge the question this can plant a seed. Then you nurture that seed and get it to grow.

    That being said, we are all human, and there are only so many hours in a day. You have to be ready to cut your losses at the “la la la” point, and say “I am making no further progress today.”

  7. Amanda
    October 15, 2008 at 8:04 am —

    Ooh, no dissenting voices yet? I’ll throw my two cents in, then.

    Of course I don’t limit myself to only talking to people whose world views completely match my own. And when it comes to issues that are important to me, I will gladly over look ideological differences that do not relate to the issue.

    For example, if we’re talking about fighting for church state separation, I’ll gladly team up with religious people who want the same results.

    But in the grand scheme of things, people like Francis Collins make room for and lend credibility to believers who are far more extreme.

    If anything, I am more scared by the Francis Collins’ of the world. When somebody so obviously intelligent still puts so much effort into maintaining a glaring cognitive dissonance in their lives, it’s just such a disturbing waste.

  8. FFFearlesss
    October 15, 2008 at 9:35 am —

    I actually think it’s admirable when somebody is willing to travel down a line of thought that seems to so wildly fly in the face of something else they either “know” or believe to be true. So long as they’re not falsely “bending” data to cram fit it into their world and religious view. To be willing to live in the ignorance of never knowing for sure, all the while pursuing truth WHEREVER it leads you takes courage, I think. Actually there was a post somewhat related to this topic over on Female Science Professor awhile back. Granted, it’ s more about the pursuit of science itself and how a good scientist needs to become comfortable with ignorance, but I think it applies even moreso to somebody who believes in science and in religion.

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