Monday, 29 June 2015

An overview of how YECs deceive themselves

My previous blog post looked at how the ultra-conservative Fox News acts as an echo chamber for conservative science denialists who by watching it exclusively ensure that nothing challenges their right wing view of reality, whether it be related to politics or to science. The parallels with extremist YEC Facebook pages which act as echo chambers for scientifically uninformed fundamentalists seeking to avoid evidence that challenges their worldview are clear and obvious.

While fundamentalist dogma is clearly the underlying motivation for Christadelphian science denialism, the cognitive biases involved in distorting reality so that it does not threaten their fundamentalist view of reality are not found exclusively among Christians, and are not a function of intelligence. Some YECs are highly intelligent people, so it is misleading to perpetuate the stereotype of YECs as unintelligent and credulous. The problem lies not with intelligence, but disorders of thinking and reasoning.

One of the main problems is of course the well-known Dunning-Kruger syndrome, where people whose competence in a particular area is particularly low rate themselves as having an above-average level of competence. The depressingly common example of Christadelphians with zero formal training or experience in a particular technical area blundering into a debate and assuming that two years of misunderstanding a highly technical subject puts them on a par with professional scientists with decades of experience is a classic example of a cognitive bias that plagues Christadelphian science denialists.

Another is what the geophysicist and former YEC Glenn Morton calls "Morton's Demon", an extreme form of cognitive bias where a science denialist selectively acknowledges the existence of only the evidence that supports her worldview, which ignoring the vast bulk of evidence that comprehensively falsifies her YEC. As Morton eloquently puts it:
Thus was born the realization that there is a dangerous demon on the loose. When I was a YEC, I had a demon that did similar things for me that Maxwell's demon did for thermodynamics. Morton's demon was a demon who sat at the gate of my sensory input apparatus and if and when he saw supportive evidence coming in, he opened the gate. But if he saw contradictory data coming in, he closed the gate. In this way, the demon allowed me to believe that I was right and to avoid any nasty contradictory data. Fortunately, I eventually realized that the demon was there and began to open the gate when he wasn't looking. 
However, my conversations have made me aware that each YEC is a victim of my demon. Morton's demon makes it possible for a person to have his own set of private facts which others are not privy to, allowing the YEC to construct a theory which is perfectly supported by the facts which the demon lets through the gate. And since these are the only facts known to the victim, he feels in his heart that he has explained everything. Indeed, the demon makes people feel morally superior and more knowledgeable than others. 
The demon makes its victim feel very comfortable as there is no contradictory data in view. The demon is better than a set of rose colored glasses. The demon's victim does not understand why everyone else doesn't fall down and accept the victim's views. After all, the world is thought to be as the victim sees it and the demon doesn't let through the gate the knowledge that others don't see the same thing. Because of this, the victim assumes that everyone else is biased, or holding those views so that they can keep their job, or, in an even more devious attack by my demon, they think that their opponents are actually demon possessed themselves or sons of Satan. This is a devious demon!
Further reinforcing this cognitive bias is a tendency among many fundamentalist Christadelphians to automatically assume that the majority is always wrong, and to take a perverse pleasure in being a derided, persecuted minority. The fact that smuggling this mindset from theology to science is completely without justification is unfortunately something to which this disorder of reasoning blinds them.

Finally, there is what James Downard calls a tortucan, a thought process which prevents them thinking about things about which they want to remain ignorant, in order to preserve a cherished belief system from challenge. A key mechanism which YECs affected by this cognitive bias use to protect their dogma from challenge is an uncritical acceptance of what other YECs tell them about science, rather than actually check from the relevant authorities. Downard points out:
The behavioral pattern of over-reliance on secondary scholarship (thinking that reading Smith telling them about Jones could substitute for actually reading Jones) turns out to be a common pathology for everybody who holds positions that aren’t true. People read or believe things that other people tell them are so, and then their brains stop. Don’t take the next step of defining standards of evidence and casting the net as wide as possible, to better determine where the truth might lie.
In reality, a combination of all these cognitive biases, are present in YECs, though as mentioned before, the ultimate motivation is their fundamentalist distortion of what the creation narratives actually state, coupled with a false reading of the Pauline narrative. It is ironic that many in our community who appeal to Jeremiah 17v9:
The human mind is more deceitful than anything else.It is incurably bad. Who can understand it?
to justify a rather Augustinian view of human nature forget that it also implies that human reasoning is also deeply flawed, meaning that their defences of special creationism are just as likely to be flawed. Consistency in reasoning would go a long way towards liberating YECs from the prison of their fundamentalism.