Holding JT’s Feet To The Fire

Posted in Atheism, Blogosphere, Science on  | 4 minutes | 3 Comments →

Today’s post is a reprint of a comment I left on a thread at JT Eberhard’s blog. You can find the source article here.

JT, I would like to hold your feet to the fire. I concur with Jayman’s analysis. It’s fairly obvious to me that you *ARE* simply reading what you want to hear into the article. On what evidence do I make my claim? Well, to begin, you’ve framed the issue entirely in the context of religious tension, and completely omitted Gauchat’s salient points about other contributing factors which might also explain the data:

As for why self-identified conservatives were much less likely to trust science in 2010 than they were in the mid-1970s, Gauchat offered several possibilities. One is the conservative movement itself.

“Over the last several decades, there’s been an effort among those who define themselves as conservatives to clearly identify what it means to be a conservative,” Gauchat said. “For whatever reason, this appears to involve opposing science and universities and what is perceived as the ‘liberal culture.’ So, self-identified conservatives seem to lump these groups together and rally around the notion that what makes ‘us’ conservatives is that we don’t agree with ‘them.’”

Another possibility, according to Gauchat, is the changing role of science in the United States. “In the past, the scientific community was viewed as concerned primarily with macro structural matters such as winning the space race,” Gauchat said. “Today, conservatives perceive the scientific community as more focused on regulatory matters such as stopping industry from producing too much carbon dioxide. Conservatives often oppose government regulation, and they increasingly perceive science as on the side of regulation, especially as scientific evidence is used more frequently in the work of government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and in public debates over issues such as climate change.”

Hear that? Gauchat—presumably more than just another angry atheist with an anti-religious axe to grind—suggests several possibilities to explain the data. So why do you focus myopically on religious tension? Unless of course you’re just another angry atheist with an anti-religious axe to grind?

I can think of other contributing possible factors that Gauchat addresses only peripherally: cognitive dissonance related to the science behind global warming, and the influence of idiotic social pundits like Limbaugh, Beck, Coulter, et al. who almost invariably shoulder some of the burden here. It makes sense that those with the most toys (conservatives, generally speaking) might subconsciously feel guilty about their contribution to world pollution and/or global warming, and, spurned by said pundits on the one side and insecure church teachings on the other, that this might cause them to turn a deaf ear to science altogether. After all, the best way to avoid cognitive dissonance is to deny that which produces it. But I digress.

Here’s the point: as one with a stated public commitment to “fighting religion tooth and claw,” what measures did you take to prevent or offset cognitive failures such as confirmation bias? Remember, according to the very “fiction-gutting machinery” you claim a rational person ought not eschew, your brain didn’t evolve to be an optimal truth-finding mechanism. The fact that you glossed right over Gauchat’s supporting possibilities strongly suggests that you simply read the article, took the points you needed to support another anti-religious screed, and ran with it. Hell, you didn’t even grapple with Jayman’s points. You simply hand-waved them away. Yet, as he explained, each of the beliefs you criticize was extant long before 1974, which only adds support to the theory that trends larger than religious tension might be producing the results.



  1. joseph


    Yes, it reads more as a polemic than anything else.

  2. Matt


    It was nice to see Marshall admit that he needed to do more reading. Good on him! I understand that it’s hard when you’re arguing (I mean discussing) important things like whether God exists or not to admit that, though you are not convince, you need to do some more thinking. I hope that I can bring myself to do such things whenever I get into any online arguments.

  3. While JT’s analysis might be polemic, I don’t see how any of the alternatives offered by Gauchat purport to explain what JT has highlighted:

    In addition to examining how the relationship between political ideology and trust in science changed over almost 40 years, Gauchat also explored how other social and demographic characteristics—including frequency of church attendance—related to trust in science over that same period. Gauchat found that, while trust in science declined between 1974 and 2010 among those who frequently attended church, there was no statistically significant group-specific change in trust in science over that period among any of the other social or demographic factors he examined, including gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

    JT wasn’t attempting to show why conservatives distrust science more than moderates or liberals. Gauchat’s explanations are to meant to describe this data: conservatives might distrust science more because they feel it is encroaching on government regulation or that they don’t identify with elitist universities, etc.

    It seems obvious to me that JT was trying to describe what I quoted above: that church attendance was the only statistically significant group-specific change. I’m not sure the other explanations hold water in trying to give purported reasons for that specific change.

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