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Saturday, 13 June 2015

Why Christian fundamentalists deny the reality of evolution

Any intellectually honest person who has read even a fraction of the articles on this website summarising the evidence for common descent and large-scale evolutionary change would acknowledge that common descent and large-scale evolutionary change are facts, and can be no more denied than the atomic theory of matter, the germ theory of disease, or the reality that the Earth is not a fixed flat disc around which the universe revolves. Therefore, when any Christadelphian claims that they have looked at the evidence for evolution and claim that is is not convincing, the only possible explanations for this failure to recognise the fact of evolution are:
  • The Christadelphian science denialist has not examined the evidence for evolution, but looked merely at the usual YEC distortions, and deluded himself into thinking that he has examined the evidence
  • The Christadelphian science denialist is simply lying when he claims to have examined the evidence
  • The Christadelphian science denialist has examined the evidence for evolution, but his fundamentalist dogma prevents him from accepting the evidence.

While it is tempting to assume that Christadelphian science denialism is simply a function of poor science education in a community that has been in the grips of a fiercely anti-intellectual, anti-science, pro-pseudoscience mindset for the past half-century (and no doubt that has been responsible for inculcating the astonishing level of science illiteracy you see in many casual comments made by Christadelphians on social media), in this case, a one-size-fits-all approach won't work.

For the first group, simple education is likely to be the best adoption (assuming they are intellectually honest but merely misinformed). Sites such as ECACP of course exist to help disabuse fellow believers of the usual lies about evolution that are routinely taught across the more fundamentalist parts of our community. Tyler Francke, maintainer of the website God of Evolution has an excellent post "The top 10 signs that you don't understand evolution at all" which neatly summarises the usual misunderstandings many poorly informed Christians have about evolution:
1. You think “it hasn’t been observed” is a good argument against it.
2. You think we’ve never found a transitional fossil.

3. You think macroevolution is an inherently different process than microevolution.
4. You think mutations are always negative.
5. You think it has anything to do with the origin of life, let alone the origins of the universe.
6. You use the phrase “it’s only a theory” and think you’ve made some kind of substantive statement.
7. You think acceptance of evolution is the same as religious faith.
8. You think our modern understanding of it rests on a long series of hoaxes perpetuated by scientists.
9. You don’t like Pok√©mon because you think it “promotes” evolution.
10. You think it’s inherently opposed to Christianity or the Bible.
The positive feedback I have received over the years is enough to confirm that for some, simply exposing the intellectually bankrupt attacks on evolution made in our community in print and lecture, and providing a reliable source of information does help rescue Christadelphians from science denialism.

What about those who are being less than honest when they claim they've examined the evidence? As with those who have examined the evidence but reject evolution, the problem is a function both of an adherence to fundamentalist dogma, and the cognitive biases employed to protect that dogma from criticism. Certainly, there is evidence that irrespective of scientific understanding, a belief in fundamentalist dogma actively sabotages critical thinking, preventing them from accepting the fact of evolution. In his recent paper Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem, Dan Kahan made the interesting observation that irrespective of the underlying level of scientific intelligence, those with religious blinkers maintained their evolution denialism. Science education alone is not going to help rescue these people from special creationism. What is needed is an understanding of the cognitive biases used to protect dogma from scrutiny.
Source: Advances in Pol. Psych (2015) 36:1-43  

Science writer Chris Mooney neatly summarises seven of the cognitive biases responsible for evolution denialsm:
  1. Biological Essentialism
  2. Teleological Thinking
  3. Overactive Agency Detection. 
  4. Dualism
  5. Inability to Comprehend Vast Time Scales. 
  6. Group Morality and Tribalism. 
  7. Fear and the Need for Certainty
For a community that is fond of quoting Jeremiah 17v9 about how deceitful the heart is, it is surprising how we don't recognise that the same human mind that is capable of imagining so much moral evil is also susceptible to cognitive bias. Of all people, we should be well aware of this fact, and doing our best to correct such cognitive failings of the human mind with a campaign to inculcate critical thinking skills in our community as early as possible.

Unlike the usual suspects among the New Atheists, Mooney does not think that these cognitive biases:
mean science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. The conflict may run very deep indeed, but nevertheless, some individuals can and do find a way to retain their religious beliefs and also accept evolution—including the aforementioned biology textbook author Kenneth Miller of Brown University, a Catholic.
As I've pointed out many times, our theology is compatible with evolution. We do not believe that the guilt and consequences of Adam's sin were genetically transmitted to the entire human race, so the fact there was never a time when the human population was lower than several thousand people, let alone two people has zero impact on us. Getting this message out when there is a renewed campaign by the fundamentalists in our community to make science denialism normative for all Christadelphians is even more important than ever. Failure to see fundamentalism consigned to the dustbins will see our community dwindle into irrelevancy, and be completely useless as a witness for God in these last days.