Religious backlash against Science

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Mojo

Religious backlash against Science

Post by Mojo »

The general issue of a religious backlash against science is worrisome. In the " Looking for evidence" topic I wrote:
My own personal theory (maybe others have written books with the same theory) is that it's a backlash against that sector of the scientific community who claim to know everything worth knowing about human nature by doing genetic research and cognitive science.
In the "Attachment therapy vs Attachment parenting" topic D.R.B. provided a link to Professor Simon Blackburn's critique of Steven Pinker's The Blank Slake. Simon Blackburn discussed cognitive psychology's doctrine of the 'modular mind', which he referred to as "the Swiss army knife picture of the mind." Along the same lines, the BBC News website has an article reporting the findings of Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, a leading autism researcher, in which he says scientists score higher in autism spectrum traits.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4661402.stm
"He believes the genes which make some analytical may also impair their social and communication skills. ... ...they also tend to be less interested in the social side of life..."
I also came across a PDF document from the John Templeton Foundation: The Science and Religion Dialogue: Why It Matters.
"Watson wrote an influential child-rearing manual recommending the parents establish rigid feeding schedules for their children and give them a minimum of attention and love. So these kinds of views from psychologists, which dehumanize human beings, resulted in children being denied the affection, which is crucial to their growing up in a happy way and developing as full human beings. So this is old hat you say, there aren't many behaviorists left nowadays so why does that matter? On the contrary. Present day neuroscience is in exactly the same danger or resulting in exactly the same kind of approach to human beings."
The Templeton Foundation offers an annual prize for spiritual discoveries:

http://www.templetonprize.org/purpose.html
"Just as knowledge in science, medicine, cosmology and other disciplines has grown exponentially during the past century, the Templeton Prize honors and encourages the many entrepreneurs trying various ways for discoveries and breakthroughs to expand human perceptions of divinity and to help in the acceleration of divine creativity. ... ...this award is intended to encourage the concept that resources and manpower are needed to accelerate progress in spiritual discoveries, which can help humans to learn more than a hundredfold more about divinity."
I think scientists who put forward mechanistic explanations of human behavior have a lot to answer for when it comes to the resurgence of religious fundamentalism.

* Mojo *

Shelley

Post by Shelley »

Mojo, although your criticism of scientists who offer "mechanistic explanations of human behavior" is valid and certainly worthy of discussion in its own right, I'm having trouble seeing the connection between this issue and religious fundamentalism. I'm just not sure about the "cause and effect" aspect of this. I don't hear the fundamentalists talking about it -- or any religious people for that matter.

I have my own complaints about cognitive psychology and the medical model for mental illness. I've been hurt in the "therapy machine," and I have strong feelings about it. Sounds like you may too. But I can't blame it for religious fundamentalism.

Shelley

Mojo

Post by Mojo »

My hypothesis may not be correct. The connection as I see it, is that the campaign to teach Intelligent Design in schools is a rejection of evolutionary explanations for every aspect of human nature. Ultra-Darwinism goes hand-in-hand with (as yet unproven) theories about "genes for" vaguely defined psychiatric or behavioral problems, and even mood 'disorders' like depression.

There's no shortage of 'experts' and opinion leaders with PhDs or MDs who say that bad behavior is caused by "bad genes." It is understandable to me that both religious and non-religious people alike might consider an upbringing based on well established moral principles a better remedy for bad behavior than genetic engineering. As a non-religious person, I would advocate parenting classes as part of the highschool curriculum. But I can understand that members of a faith which already enshrines strong moral principles might hope that teaching the faith would spread moral values more widely throughout society.

I linked to Google's cached version of a speech about The Science and Religion Dialogue by Owen Gingerich. He is Research Professor of Astronomy and History of Science at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He said present day neuroscience is in danger of dehumanizing human beings.

It's no doubt true that there are many factors contributing to the upsurge in religious fundamentalism, but when it come to teaching Intelligent Design in schools, I see that as a rejection of Darwinian explanations for human nature -- because they leave cultural factors out of the picture.

If you have another explanation for the campaign to oust Darwin's Theory of Evolution from classrooms I would be interested to hear it.

I would also like to identify other factors that account for the rise in religious fundamentalism. Another one that occurred to me is that, as nation states become bit part players in an all-consuming global economy, individuals look for alternative allegiances to provide a sense of belonging and unity of purpose. Religious faiths are ready and waiting. And they have a longer unbroken history than any single nation. Can scientists point to neural circuits that underlie the desire for a sense of belonging and unity of purpose -- beyond simple family ties, that is. If they find a gene for it will that be enough to put an end to feelings of alienation in urban agglomerations? These problems don't belong in the province of science. The only way to create a kinder, more compassionate environment for humans to live in is through polital action to change the way society is organized.

Some quotes as a reminder of what David Kaiser, M.D., said in his article "Against Biologic Psychiatry."
Biologic psychiatry as it exists today is a dogma that urgently needs to be unmasked. One of the surest signs that dogmatists are at work here is that they rarely question or attempt to problemitize their basic assumptions. In fact, they seem blissfully unaware that there is a problem here. They act in seeming unawareness that they are caught up in larger historical and cultural forces that underwrite their entire "scientific" edifice.

These forces include the medicalization of all public discourse on how to live our lives, a growing cultural denial of psychic pain as inherent in living as human beings, the well-known American mixture of ahistoricism and belief in limitless scientific progress, and the growing power of the pharmaceutical and managed care industries. These self-proclaimed visionaries, oblivious to all of this, boast of real scientific progress over what they consider to be the dogma of psychoanalysis, which had up until recently reigned as psychiatry's premier paradigm.
Regarding the central assumptions of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, he says:
What is left completely out, of course, are any notions that our psychic ills are a reflection of cultural pathology.
* Mojo *

Shelley

Post by Shelley »

Thanks for your thoughts, Mojo. You've given me some interesting ideas to think about.

I'd like to offer up another possible factor in the rise of religious fundamentalism, as well as attacks on evolutionary theory. Perhaps it's too basic and obvious to say it, but I suspect that fear is at the heart of the matter. I think our basic fears of death and of the unknown are primarily responsible for the development of religion in the first place. On top of that, we have to live with with the modern fear of annihilation of the planet. Religion tells people that they will continue on in some form no matter what happens. That lie is a huge comfort.

Evolution involves change. Change frightens people. Scares me. I'd feel less scared if I knew everything and nothing ever changed, but it just isn't so. People who struggle with evolution get stuck on the idea that we can't be related to other primates. "I'm not a monkey," they say. "I'm a special being made just this way by God for a reason. That has not and will not change. Everthing makes sense to the designer, even if I'm not able to understand everything myself right now. Someday, in heaven, I'll understand."

I think learning to tolerate fear really helps to clear thinking processes.

Shelley

Mojo

Post by Mojo »

Thanks for your feedback. What I'd really like to achieve by discussing this topic is to pinpoint cultural factors that uniquely account for the present resurgence of religion.
Shelley wrote:I think our basic fears of death and of the unknown are primarily responsible for the development of religion in the first place. On top of that, we have to live with with the modern fear of annihilation of the planet.
Fear of death and of the unknown are the timeless explanations for religion, which would be equally true in any era. The modern fear of annihilation of the planet has a parallel in the past -- during the time religion was on the decline. The Cold War. From the time of Stalin until Mikhail Gorbachev introduced glasnost + perestroika there was a nuclear arms race. The outbreak of nuclear war hung by a thread during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the 1960s and 70s there were huge "Ban the Bomb" rallies.

At the same time church congregations were dwindling. Some churches introduced guitars and religious pop songs to replace hymns. They thought if they were "hip" and "with-it" they could draw young people back into the churches. There was the Singing Nun, who had a minor hit record. Some of the minor christian faiths couldn't raise enough money to keep their empty churches open. The buildings were sold off and put to other uses.

If there are other cultural factors besides increasing urbanization and spurious genetic 'explations' (i.e. blame shifting) for every type of psychological distress, I would like to consider them and evaluate them.

Regarding "Evolution involves change."

That we evolved from apes has been known by religious people for more than 100 years. Darwinian evolution doesn't happen fast enough to be noticeable in one lifetime. So scientists who say that the trebling of the teenage suicide rate in 20 years, or the 800% increase in cases of autism during the past 15 years, or the obesety epidemic are all due to genetic factors, are EXTREMELY inferior in their ability to understand how genetic evolution occurs. Highschool students know better than that. What I would suggest to these lame-brained genetic fundamentalists is that they get together with some of their former classmates and find a good attorney. Then they can mount class action lawsuits against the colleges and universities that did such an appallingly bad job of teaching them genetics.

* Mojo *

D.R.B.

Post by D.R.B. »

I think the backlash may not just be against genetic whitewash. A long time ago I asked if anyone had read The 21st Century Brain by Steven Rose. I still have a saved copy of the review. You might be interested to read it.

http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/sci ... 70,00.html
A mechanical view of brain function says a chemical imbalance at nerve junctions causes the blues. Simple as that. So plug the gap with another chemical like Prozac.

But experiments by Rose showed that psychotherapy - treating the mind - could also restore the neurochemical balance to normal. More troublesome still for reductionist thinking, he found that people working under stress, such as a group of nurses, had the same neurochemical profile as the depressed while feeling perfectly cheerful. Thus there was no simple chain of cause and effect linking events on the cellular and the psychological level.

This complexity moves Rose to dismiss much of the current wide-eyed enthusiasm for mood controllers, cognitive enhancers, memory boosters and other promised forms of "mental ... Viagra". Repeatedly he calls it selling snake oil. We just don't understand the brain well enough to fix it in reliable ways, let alone crank up its performance. So the brain is too complex to control. Yet Rose is then faced with the uncomfortable paradox that crude measures often do in fact work.
Oh Brave New World!

ian

Post by ian »

Dennis pointed out that there are many examples of societies without scientific knowledge who nevertheless enjoy good psychological health and an admirable moral code. It strikes me that the notion that modern society can't maintain psychological health and good conduct without the intervention of highly educated 'experts' is a totally crippling mindset in itself. I wonder how many of these so-called 'experts' are secretly members of Alcoholics Anonymous or Prozac consumers themselves.

ian copeland

Shelley

Post by Shelley »

I'm still struggling to see much connection between religious fundamentalism and science. As I think about it, in parts of the world where science education is better than in the US, there is less religious fundamentalism, so maybe education is a factor here.

I think the media is also a contributing factor. It's "sweeps month" here in the US again, one of 2 months a year when television advertising rates are set based on the numbers of viewers of TV shows. As the local news shows compete for viewers, they drop any pretense of reporting news, and offer stories that pander to fears (from terrorists to hidden germs on water fountains) or to the desire for comfort in the face of fears (faith healers and fancy new weather radar equipment).

Mojo

Post by Mojo »

Shelley wrote:I'm still struggling to see much connection between religious fundamentalism and science.
Here is a creationist review of Daniel Dennett's book, Darwin's Dangerous Idea:

http://www.answersingenesis.org/creatio ... 2/acid.asp

I am sympatheic to author's view -- up to a point. Genetic explanations can't do away with cultural influences, so I think it's necessary for scientists to acknowledge that the human mind evolved to embrace cultural influences. Did you know that Daniel Dennett is a computer geek and the owner of a robot dog? See Daniel Dennett's Home Page.

Like you, I think the media is also a contributing factor. See this article on the Guardian newspaper website.

To Ian:

The psychologist John B. Watson, founder of Behaviorism, was a heavy drinker who died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1958. I've got a link to a university website that says so if you want it, but if you're into reading biographies you can no doubt find many more examples yourself.

To DRB:

Thanks for the link. As this is an issue I feel strongly about I've been busy doing background research. It's worth noting that the NIH's "Decade of the Brain" was an initiative launched not by the scientific community but by the government. Congressman Silvio Conte introduced the bill and the project was launched by George Bush, senior (see http://www.loc.gov/loc/brain/proclaim.html) -- himself a major stakeholder in Eli Lilly & Co., the global pharmaceutical corporation that developed Prozac. The project legitimized the idea that predetermined biochemical balances inside our heads are more important for psychological health than our interpretation of what's happening the world outside.

Scientists who are politically naive can easily be wooed into applauding any venture that gives them more funding and social status -- even if the downside is a new set of questionable orthodoxies. The hegemony of Freudian psychoanalysis lasted for 80 years. Most of the candidates for psychoanalytic training were medical doctors. What does that say about their ability to spot circular reasoning?

There's a neuroscience website called "Brain Connection." It doesn't question the orthodoxy that brains are more important than 'culture' in making us who we are. But it does include an article by Bret Peterson, Ph.D., which questions whether one decade of brain research is enough: Century of the Brain.
Peterson wrote:"As one learns more about neuroscience and those who study it, there is almost a sense of Greek tragedy -- an element of hubris is always lurking about. What bravado to study something so complex and so ... well ... incomprehensible! What chutzpah to talk confidently about what we know in spite of the vastness of our ignorance! In recent years, a seemingly overt expression of this attitude has surfaced in outrageous book titles. Have the authors of "How the Mind Works" or "Consciousness Explained" totally lost touch with reality? I prefer to think that these titles are tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken too seriously. Substantial works that would merit such titles are probably beyond the reach of our lifetimes..."
Aldous Huxley was the grandson of Darwin's friend and supporter, biologist Thomas Huxley, F.R.S. Aldous Huxley's brother, Sir Julian Huxley, F.R.S., was Professor of Zoology at King's College, London, and the first Director General of UNESCO. Aldous Huxley's cousin, Andrew Huxley, F.R.S., won the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology. Huxley's novel "Brave New World" described a worldwide social system that relied on cloning and mood altering medication (Soma pills) to maintain the status quo. I don't believe he would have written such a novel if he didn't believe it could actually come true. The difference is that Huxley's Soma worked reliably and didn't have unwanted side effects.

If, through propaganda, the ruling elite can make people believe that social problems are ALL due to genetic faults or 'chemical imbalances', they can make the populace politically impotent. Who are the ruling elite? Media moguls, business tycoons, wealthy political families who are themselves tycoons, Big Pharma, etc., etc. True genetic conditions like Huntingdon's Chorea were known about long before Watson & Crick discovered the structure of DNA.

* Mojo *

ian

Post by ian »

The creationist article quoted Dennett as saying Darwinism "eats through virtually every traditional concept" -- mankind's most cherished beliefs about God, value, meaning, purpose, culture, morality -- everything. Hasn't it been proven that meaning and purpose are necessary components for psychological health? I'm an atheist, but hasn't it also been proven that members of religious congregations live longer lives on average. When the owner of a robot dog trivializes meaning, purpose, culture and morality by saying they are mere side effects of mindless replication by selfish genes, is it any wonder that non-geeks are up in arms? Genes specify tissues, and human brain tissues are specified to be ultra-flexible in function.

ian copeland

Shelley

Post by Shelley »

Thanks for the link to the Guardian article on science and the media, Mojo. I enjoyed it. Thanks also for introducing me to Dennett. I poked around a bit at Amazon to check out his books, and not only has he written the one you mention on evolution, but he's also written books on consciousness, free will, and religion as a natural phenomenon (his latest and right on point for this conversation). I'm adding him to my list of authors I'd like to read. Good to see that the creationists are reading him, too.

I love dogs. I've always lived with them. I also think robot dogs are cool.

Ian, the contribution of religious belief or practice to longevity is unknown. Once again, the media has contributed to misconceptions. The meta-analysis of a number of studies on mortality and religion often cited as proof of a relationship between religious practice and longevity has many problems. The authors of the paper discuss some of the limitations of the analysis at
http://www.stnews.org/Commentary-2402.htm

Further commentary by Victor Stenger at
http://www.stnews.org/Commentary-1979.htm

Personally, I disagree that "meaning and purpose are necessary components for psychological health." I feel best when I keep myself clear and honest, and I find that this includes clearing contrived meaning and purpose and living honestly with how that feels.

Interestingly, the feelings are not all negative. Some are, but there's also a surprising feeling of expansiveness that comes with letting go of the need for meaning and purpose.

Mojo

Post by Mojo »

Shelley:

As Daniel Dennett is one of the Big Three names in Ultra-Darwinism I was surprised that his books were news to you. Now I understand why you didn't make the connection between evolutionary psychology and the Intelligent Design backlash. But I'm glad you've found a niche in the nature-nurture debate that appeals to you.

I started this topic to get feedback on the idea that the Intelligent Design campaign is a backlash against genetic fundamentalism. Apart from including the spectre of brain medications in the picture, the discussion hasn't brought out convincing alternative explanations as to why Creationists are lobbying schools to replace Darwinism with Intelligent Design at this point in history.

I can understand why Sam Harris said in an interview that he is not optimistic. There are plenty of religious fundamentalists in positions of power and influence. A full-frontal assault from Ultra-Darwinists is unlikely to lead to speedy capitulation by religious fundamentalists. Christianity has survived for 2000 years despite severe persecution during the first few centuries. The way it looks to me, the Intelligent Design lobby isn't likely to back off unless Evolutionists stop trying to undermine the cultural traditions in which they find solace. There are plenty of people who feel disquiet about the implications of using brain medications as an alternative -- a concern shared by non-religious people.

* Mojo *

Shelley

Post by Shelley »

Mojo, my reading is pretty hit or miss. I'm always glad when someone points me in new directions, so thanks.

There's an article in the latest Skeptical Inquirer by Massimo Pigliucci called "Is Evolutionary Psychology a Pseudoscience?" In short, he concludes that it is, although closer to "History" than to "Astrology." On the subject of science and fundamentalism, Pigliucci has a new article at his website that might appeal to you:
http://www.rationallyspeaking.org/

Just because our little groups here has not been able to offer you convincing alternative explanations for the rise of creationism does not mean that it is a backlash against "genetic fundamentalism," as you call it. I don't discount this as a factor, but at the same time, sitting in the midst of the controversy in Ohio, I don't see that the majority of the creationists around here know enough about applications of evolutionary theory to react against it. It's quite sad really, the levels of insulation and numbness.

On a more positive note, we've just convinced the State Board of Education to remove a lesson plan for 8th grade science classes that included "teaching the controversy." (What controversy?) Unfortunately, I don't think we're done with this subject in Ohio yet.

So are you saying that the 2 alternatives you see being offered for "solace" to humans are religion and medication? Gosh, that's a bleak thought.

I just had a discussion with my elderly mother-in-law the other day in which she insisted that people "need" religion to get through life. I pointed out to her that I don't. And I'm not on medication either. I'm making an effort to show myself publicly as a feeling atheist. People need to see that this is possible.

Although, if the alternatives are religion or medication, I'd put everyone on meds. I think there would be far less inhumanity. Even letting everyone get stoned would be preferable to religion. Not an ideal life, but I think we could end wars, genocide, and terrorism that way.

I'm laughing at myself as I remind myself of one of my latest favorite books, "On Bullshit," by Harry G. Frankfurt. Highly recommended!

Mojo

Post by Mojo »

So are you saying that the 2 alternatives you see being offered for "solace" to humans are religion and medication? Gosh, that's a bleak thought.
I can think of a third alternative, but I don't think it's on the horizon in the present political climate. My view is that psychological problems are a reflection of misguided child-rearing methods and/or the consequences of a particular way of organizing society -- urbanization, the labor market, inadequate legal remedies against exploitation, infringement of civil liberties by state, and so on. I believe that political action -- to change the attitudes of parents (as in Sweden) and the social institutions that surround us -- would be a viable way to improve the psychological well-being of the population as a whole. Huxley's novel is a plausible scenario for the medication route. Just think how many kids today are being forcibly medicated as a result of the TeenScreen program.
Pigliucci has a new article at his website that might appeal to you
There are so many articles and essays on Massimo Pigliucci's website that it's unlikely that I'll find time to read through them. I looked for the Evo-Psych article you mentioned on the Skeptical Inquirer website (http://www.csicop.org), but I couldn't find it. However, I did take a quick look at Massimo Pigliucci's blog. I liked his
review of a recent article published in the Evolution and Human Behavior journal. He summed up by saying:
Massimo Pigliucci wrote:Ah, but there lies the beauty of a quasi-scientific discipline such as evolutionary psychology: it takes just a bit of imagination to concoct an alternative explanation that rescues the original hypothesis. Bressler and
Balshine do just that, and I'll leave to the curious reader to go through their paper for some additional amusement. The point is that this sort of post hoc rescue is precisely what makes evolutionary psychology a good, possibly even largely correct, form of narrative about human cognitive evolution. But it ain't no science.
It reminded me that an eminent neuroscientist, out of mischief, concocted an Evo-Psych yarn about "Why do gentlemen prefer blondes?" and got it published in a reputable journal even though he didn't bother to include any statistics. He exposed the prank in a book which was published the following year and became a 'popular science' bestseller.
Shelley wrote:Just because our little groups here has not been able to offer you convincing alternative explanations for the rise of creationism does not mean that it is a backlash against "genetic fundamentalism," as you call it.
Well, I don't know if you've heard of the politically influential Discovery Institute, but Evo-Psych is one of the main targets in their sights. See this press release.

In any event, I hope your lobby group prevails in the struggle with the State Board of Education in Ohio.

* Mojo *

Shelley

Post by Shelley »

Mojo, my apologies. I meant to link you to a specific article at Pigliucci's website, but I see the link was just to the home page. The article I thought you might like is the one called "Fundamentalism and science," first link under "downloadable essays." Sorry, I don't know how to link you to it directly.

The Skeptical Inquirer article is in the print magazine. It might show up online eventually. If you like, I can scan and send to you.

I have a teenaged child. I'm well aware of the numbers of teens who are taking medication (prescribed and unprescribed) for psychological problems. I'm extremely concerned. I also see that most of the kids I know are choosing this path. Sadly, I don't think they see alternatives. But then it's not so far in many ways from the way that I remember my teen years in the 1970s. We didn't have the same drugs, or societal support for drug taking, but we also took what we could get to help cope.

The Ramachandran book looks interest. Thanks. I've read some Antonio Damasio. Sounds similar.

Yes, I'm well aware of Discovery Institute. They've been very vocal here.

Shelley

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