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News & Politics News & Politics

Facts Against Faith

Posted by on Apr. 21, 2014 at 2:55 PM
  • 9 Replies
HUBBLE HERITAGE TEAM - AFP - GETTY IMAGES3 HOURS AGOSCIENCE NEWS
'Facts Against Faith': Scientists Slam Big Bang Doubters
Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they express bigger doubts as concepts that scientists consider to be truths get further from our own experiences and the present time, an Associated Press-GfK poll found.
Americans have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 billion years ago.
Rather than quizzing scientific knowledge, the survey asked people to rate their confidence in several statements about science and medicine.
On some, there's broad acceptance. Just 4 percent doubt that smoking causes cancer, 6 percent question whether mental illness is a medical condition that affects the brain and 8 percent are skeptical there's a genetic code inside our cells. More — 15 percent — have doubts about the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccines.
About 4 in 10 say they are not too confident or outright disbelieve that the earth is warming, mostly a result of man-made heat-trapping gases, that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old or that life on Earth evolved through a process of natural selection, though most were at least somewhat confident in each of those concepts. But a narrow majority — 51 percent — questions the Big Bang theory.
Those results depress and upset some of America's top scientists, including several Nobel Prize winners, who vouched for the science in the statements tested, calling them settled scientific facts.
"Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts," said 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine winner Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley.
The poll highlights "the iron triangle of science, religion and politics," said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
And scientists know they've got the shakiest leg in the triangle.
To the public "most often values and beliefs trump science" when they conflict, said Alan Leshner, chief executive of the world's largest scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
"Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts."
Political values were closely tied to views on science in the poll, with Democrats more apt than Republicans to express confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change.
Religious values are similarly important.
Confidence in evolution, the Big Bang, the age of the Earth and climate change decline sharply as faith in a supreme being rises, according to the poll. Likewise, those who regularly attend religious services or are evangelical Christians express much greater doubts about scientific concepts they may see as contradictory to their faith.
"When you are putting up facts against faith, facts can't argue against faith," said 2012 Nobel Prize winning biochemistry professor Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University. "It makes sense now that science would have made no headway because faith is untestable."
But evolution, the age of the Earth and the Big Bang are all compatible with God, except to Bible literalists, said Francisco Ayala, a former priest and professor of biology, philosophy and logic at the University of California, Irvine. And Darrel Falk, a biology professor at Point Loma Nazarene University and an evangelical Christian, agreed, adding: "The story of the cosmos and the Big Bang of creation is not inconsistent with the message of Genesis 1, and there is much profound biblical scholarship to demonstrate this."
Beyond religious belief, views on science may be tied to what we see with our own eyes. The closer an issue is to our bodies and the less complicated, the easier it is for people to believe, said John Staudenmaier, a Jesuit priest and historian of technology at the University of Detroit Mercy.
Marsha Brooks, a 59-year-old nanny who lives in Washington, D.C., said she's certain smoking causes cancer because she saw her mother, aunts and uncles, all smokers, die of cancer. But when it comes to the universe beginning with a Big Bang or the Earth being about 4.5 billion years old, she has doubts. She explained: "It could be a lack of knowledge. It seems so far" away.
Jorge Delarosa, a 39-year-old architect from Bridgewater, N.J., pointed to a warm 2012 without a winter and said, "I feel the change. There must be a reason." But when it came to Earth's beginnings 4.5 billion years ago, he has doubts simply because "I wasn't there."
Experience and faith aren't the only things affecting people's views on science. Duke University's Lefkowitz sees "the force of concerted campaigns to discredit scientific fact" as a more striking factor, citing significant interest groups — political, business and religious — campaigning against scientific truths on vaccines, climate change and evolution.
Yale's Leiserowitz agreed but noted sometimes science wins out even against well-financed and loud opposition, as with smoking.
Widespread belief that smoking causes cancer "has come about because of very public, very focused public health campaigns," AAAS's Leshner said. A former acting director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Leshner said he was encouraged by the public's acceptance that mental illness is a brain disease, something few believed 25 years ago, before just such a campaign.
That gives Leiserowitz hope for a greater public acceptance of climate change. But he fears it may be too late to do anything about it.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK's probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.
— Seth Borenstein and Jennifer Agiesta, The Associated Press
First published April 21, 2014 at 9:17 a.m.

Source: NBC.com.
by on Apr. 21, 2014 at 2:55 PM
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Replies (1-9):
Clairwil
by Gold Member on Apr. 22, 2014 at 2:23 AM


Quoting Peanutx3:

8 percent are skeptical there's a genetic code inside our cells. 

What???

Clairwil
by Gold Member on Apr. 22, 2014 at 2:28 AM


Quoting Peanutx3:

those who regularly attend religious services or are evangelical Christians express much greater doubts about scientific concepts they may see as contradictory to their faith. "When you are putting up facts against faith, facts can't argue against faith," said 2012 Nobel Prize winning biochemistry professor Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University. "It makes sense now that science would have made no headway because faith is untestable."

Conversely, the more years of science education someone has had, the less likely they are to be that sort of Christian.


(source)

In a recent issue of RNCSE, Larry Witham reported on research he and historian Edward Larson carried out to investigate the religious beliefs of scientists.They had surveyed a sample of 1000 individuals listed inAmerican Men and Women of Science, (AM&WS), using questions originally asked by the Gallup organization in a series of polls of American religious views.The report, entitled "Many scientists see God's hand in evolution", concluded that although scientists were quite different from other Americans in their views of "extreme" positions— such as young earth creationism and atheism—they were very similar to other Americans in the "middle" or "theistic evolution" position. 

In the table below, the full wording of Gallup's question 1 is, "Humans were created pretty much in their present form about 10 000 years ago." The difference between scientists and other Americans is striking. Scientists also respond quite differently to the third question, "Man evolved over millions of years from less developed forms. God had no part in this process." But scientists' responses to Gallup's "theistic evolution" question—"Man evolved over millions of years from less developed forms of life, but God guided the process, including the creation of Man"—directly mirrors that of the general public. The "middle ground" is apparently equally attractive to scientists as it is to the general public. 

GALLUP EVOLUTION QUESTIONS

QuestionScientistsPublic
1. Special Creation, 10 000 years5%46%
2. Evolution, God Guided40%40%
3. Evolution, God had no part55%9%

Larson and Witham also asked the AM&WS sample a second set of questions, repeating a survey performed in 1914 by sociologist James H Leuba. Leuba had found that, in contrast to the high levels of religious belief in the general American public, scientists exhibited low levels of belief in God. He predicted that over time, more and more scientists would give up their belief in God, as scientific knowledge replaced what he considered to be superstition. Larson and Witham found to the contrary that disbelief among scientists remained stable: 58% in 1914 and 60% in 1976 (Larson and Witham 1997). 

Leuba had taken a subsample of more prominent or "greater" scientists in the AM&WS sample and reported that they exhibited a higher rate of disbelief (70%) compared to less prominent AM&WS scientists. Recently, Larson and Witham asked Leuba's questions of members of the National Academy of Sciences, since AM&WS no longer lists "greater" scientists. They claimed to find that NAS scientists had higher levels of disbelief and agnosticism, reporting "near universal rejection of the transcendent by NAS natural scientists" (Larson and Witham 1998). 

Are you confused? How can scientists be so like other Americans in one survey and so different in another? We can find part of the explanation in the considerable differences between the questions asked by Gallup and those asked by Leuba. 

The wording of questions in any survey can influence the results. Gallup's questions are quite straightforward, well designed to reveal people's attitudes towards evolution. For reasons that will become important later in this article, a question that requests an opinion on only one issue is superior to one which queries attitudes about two or more. 

First, let's look at Leuba's questions, which are, to be charitable, ambiguous. The "personal belief" question attempts to ascertain belief not just in some sort of God, but a very specific kind of personal God.
1. I believe in a God in intellectual and effective communication with humankind, i.e., a God to whom one might pray in expectation of receiving an answer. By "answer", I mean more than the subjective psychological effects of prayer.
1. I believe in a [personal] God...
AM&WSNAS
19141998
27.77.0

Indeed, the percentage of "yes" answers in 1998 is strikingly lower than that in 1914. Does this mean that fewer scientists believe in God? Not necessarily. Consider how specific this question is. To answer "yes" to this question, one would have to believe that God is not only in communication with humankind, which many religious people do believe, but that God is in both intellectual and effective communication. What is the meaning of "intellectual" communication? "Effective" communication? Someone who believed that God communicated with humankind but not "intellectually" (whatever that means) would have to answer "no." Is "effective" used in the modern sense of the word meaning "something that works well", or in the more archaic (1914) use of the term meaning "to bring about"? Do scientists reading this question today interpret it in the same way as those in 1914? 

The clause about answering prayers is also problematic.There are schools of theology that hold that God is personal in the sense of watching over and caring for humankind, but nonetheless, does not answer prayers. We do not know whether members of the general public would respond similarly or differently than scientists do to this definition of God: we do know that there is a wide variety of definitions of God. 

Not only have there been changes in theology since 1914, which may be reflected in different Americans' definitions of God, but there have been improvements in survey research techniques. Experienced pollsters simply do not ask paragraph- long questions anymore because they know that they elicit contingent (and therefore difficult to interpret) answers! 

Most educated, late 20th century Americans are "test wise" and know that the more components to a question, the more likely it is that the question is "wrong". I doubt that this was the case in 1914, when citizens 'were exposed to far fewer surveys than they are today. I surmise that modern survey-wise scientists would be more likely to answer "no" to a multi-component question like Leuba's number 1 than "yes". 

What about Leuba's second question? 

2. I do not believe in a God 
as defined above.
AM&WSNAS
19141998
52.772.2

How might this question be interpreted? There is more than one way—which means it's not a good question.You might answer "true" if you did not believe in God at all, which is how Leuba, and apparently Witham and Larson, interpret the question; they describe these answers as demonstrating "personal disbelief." But you might answer "true" if you believed in a different kind of God than Leuba defined! A "yes" on question 2 would include both non-believers and those who believe in a less personal God than that of question 1. 

Leuba's third question also allows for multiple interpretations. 

3. I have no definite belief
regarding this question.
AM&WSNAS
19141998
20.920.8

Well, there has been no change in the number of "yes" answers over time, but what does the question mean? To me, a "yes" means "I don't think much about religion in general" rather than meaning, as Leuba, Larson and Witham conclude, "I have 'doubt or agnosticism'." Nonbelievers might very likely answer this question "false", because they do have definite views on this question! Most of the atheists and agnostics that I know have quite definite views about belief in God! Just as with the other Leuba questions, a "yes" answer reflects more than one possible opinion. Positive answers to this question include those who do not believe, as well as those who are not especially interested in the topic. 

What one might conclude from the 1998 Larson and Witham study of NAS scientists is that belief in Leuba's definition of a personal God has decreased over time among scientists. The main problem, however, is that Leuba's questions are not well designed for investigating the religious views of scientists (or anyone else). 

The Gallup questions, which deal with views of God's role in evolution, rather than general belief or disbelief in God, are far less ambiguous. When these questions were used (Larson and Witham 1997), the answers showed that a large proportion (40%) of prominent scientists believe in a God that is sufficiently personal or interactive with humankind that human evolution is guided or planned. 

The title of the recent Larson and Witham article in Nature, "Leading scientists still reject God" is premature without reliable data upon which to base it. 

References

Larson EJ, Witham L. Scientists are still keeping the faith [Commentary]. Nature 1997 Apr 3; 386:435-6.

Larson EJ, Witham L. Leading scientists still reject God. Nature 1998 Jul; 394:313.

Witham L. Many scientists see God's hand in evolution. RNCSE 17(6):33.
romalove
by SenseandSensibility on Apr. 22, 2014 at 6:12 AM
Fascinating. Thanks to both of you for sharing. You are explaining the brick wall I come up against often, which is if I argue for science with a religious believer, anything I say is interpreted as bashing their religion or denying their God, and there is a refusal to debate on the scientific merits. If the science does not mesh with religious belief the science must be wrong.
Donna6503
by Silver Member on Apr. 22, 2014 at 6:58 AM
While, I'm a firm believer in the Big Bang, I can understand why people don't believe in the theory.

If you breakdown the big-bang on its' oversimplified form. You basically get; "Once upon a time, there was nothing, no space, no time, no matter, just plain old nothing (actually no 'plain' and no 'old' because this 'nothing' hadn't yet created the universe) and out of this nothing came a big explosion and out of that explosion came everything. The first thing out, was the rules of the universe, these "rules" are needed to set everything in place. Then the "stuff" came about filling the place up, so that new stuff could be made to make other new stuff. Yet, we need the rules for "guidance" for the universe.

For example, the rule that says nothing is faster than the speed of light needs to be in place before the light and reach that place.

Still, these normative rules are needed to organize everything, yet these rules came about by happenstance, all of which came about from this so-call nothing decided to take a "fart."

I really wish science could better explain itself at times.
Sisteract
by Socialist Hippie on Apr. 22, 2014 at 10:53 AM

People might disbelieve what they do not fully comprehend or understand.

Lack of willingness to expend the time and energy needed to learn vs an unwillingness  to accept proven facts.

Sisteract
by Socialist Hippie on Apr. 22, 2014 at 10:55 AM

Yep

Quoting Clairwil:


Quoting Peanutx3: those who regularly attend religious services or are evangelical Christians express much greater doubts about scientific concepts they may see as contradictory to their faith. "When you are putting up facts against faith, facts can't argue against faith," said 2012 Nobel Prize winning biochemistry professor Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University. "It makes sense now that science would have made no headway because faith is untestable."

Conversely, the more years of science education someone has had, the less likely they are to be that sort of Christian.


(source)

In a recent issue of RNCSE, Larry Witham reported on research he and historian Edward Larson carried out to investigate the religious beliefs of scientists.They had surveyed a sample of 1000 individuals listed inAmerican Men and Women of Science, (AM&WS), using questions originally asked by the Gallup organization in a series of polls of American religious views.The report, entitled "Many scientists see God's hand in evolution", concluded that although scientists were quite different from other Americans in their views of "extreme" positions— such as young earth creationism and atheism—they were very similar to other Americans in the "middle" or "theistic evolution" position. In the table below, the full wording of Gallup's question 1 is, "Humans were created pretty much in their present form about 10 000 years ago." The difference between scientists and other Americans is striking. Scientists also respond quite differently to the third question, "Man evolved over millions of years from less developed forms. God had no part in this process." But scientists' responses to Gallup's "theistic evolution" question—"Man evolved over millions of years from less developed forms of life, but God guided the process, including the creation of Man"—directly mirrors that of the general public. The "middle ground" is apparently equally attractive to scientists as it is to the general public. 
GALLUP EVOLUTION QUESTIONS
QuestionScientistsPublic
1. Special Creation, 10 000 years5%46%
2. Evolution, God Guided40%40%
3. Evolution, God had no part55%9%
Larson and Witham also asked the AM&WS sample a second set of questions, repeating a survey performed in 1914 by sociologist James H Leuba. Leuba had found that, in contrast to the high levels of religious belief in the general American public, scientists exhibited low levels of belief in God. He predicted that over time, more and more scientists would give up their belief in God, as scientific knowledge replaced what he considered to be superstition. Larson and Witham found to the contrary that disbelief among scientists remained stable: 58% in 1914 and 60% in 1976 (Larson and Witham 1997). Leuba had taken a subsample of more prominent or "greater" scientists in the AM&WS sample and reported that they exhibited a higher rate of disbelief (70%) compared to less prominent AM&WS scientists. Recently, Larson and Witham asked Leuba's questions of members of the National Academy of Sciences, since AM&WS no longer lists "greater" scientists. They claimed to find that NAS scientists had higher levels of disbelief and agnosticism, reporting "near universal rejection of the transcendent by NAS natural scientists" (Larson and Witham 1998). Are you confused? How can scientists be so like other Americans in one survey and so different in another? We can find part of the explanation in the considerable differences between the questions asked by Gallup and those asked by Leuba. The wording of questions in any survey can influence the results. Gallup's questions are quite straightforward, well designed to reveal people's attitudes towards evolution. For reasons that will become important later in this article, a question that requests an opinion on only one issue is superior to one which queries attitudes about two or more. First, let's look at Leuba's questions, which are, to be charitable, ambiguous. The "personal belief" question attempts to ascertain belief not just in some sort of God, but a very specific kind of personal God.
1. I believe in a God in intellectual and effective communication with humankind, i.e., a God to whom one might pray in expectation of receiving an answer. By "answer", I mean more than the subjective psychological effects of prayer.
1. I believe in a [personal] God...
AM&WSNAS
19141998
27.77.0
Indeed, the percentage of "yes" answers in 1998 is strikingly lower than that in 1914. Does this mean that fewer scientists believe in God? Not necessarily. Consider how specific this question is. To answer "yes" to this question, one would have to believe that God is not only in communication with humankind, which many religious people do believe, but that God is in both intellectual and effective communication. What is the meaning of "intellectual" communication? "Effective" communication? Someone who believed that God communicated with humankind but not "intellectually" (whatever that means) would have to answer "no." Is "effective" used in the modern sense of the word meaning "something that works well", or in the more archaic (1914) use of the term meaning "to bring about"? Do scientists reading this question today interpret it in the same way as those in 1914? The clause about answering prayers is also problematic.There are schools of theology that hold that God is personal in the sense of watching over and caring for humankind, but nonetheless, does not answer prayers. We do not know whether members of the general public would respond similarly or differently than scientists do to this definition of God: we do know that there is a wide variety of definitions of God. Not only have there been changes in theology since 1914, which may be reflected in different Americans' definitions of God, but there have been improvements in survey research techniques. Experienced pollsters simply do not ask paragraph- long questions anymore because they know that they elicit contingent (and therefore difficult to interpret) answers! Most educated, late 20th century Americans are "test wise" and know that the more components to a question, the more likely it is that the question is "wrong". I doubt that this was the case in 1914, when citizens 'were exposed to far fewer surveys than they are today. I surmise that modern survey-wise scientists would be more likely to answer "no" to a multi-component question like Leuba's number 1 than "yes". What about Leuba's second question? 
2. I do not believe in a God as defined above.
AM&WSNAS
19141998
52.772.2
How might this question be interpreted? There is more than one way—which means it's not a good question.You might answer "true" if you did not believe in God at all, which is how Leuba, and apparently Witham and Larson, interpret the question; they describe these answers as demonstrating "personal disbelief." But you might answer "true" if you believed in a different kind of God than Leuba defined! A "yes" on question 2 would include both non-believers and those who believe in a less personal God than that of question 1. Leuba's third question also allows for multiple interpretations. 
3. I have no definite beliefregarding this question.
AM&WSNAS
19141998
20.920.8
Well, there has been no change in the number of "yes" answers over time, but what does the question mean? To me, a "yes" means "I don't think much about religion in general" rather than meaning, as Leuba, Larson and Witham conclude, "I have 'doubt or agnosticism'." Nonbelievers might very likely answer this question "false", because they do have definite views on this question! Most of the atheists and agnostics that I know have quite definite views about belief in God! Just as with the other Leuba questions, a "yes" answer reflects more than one possible opinion. Positive answers to this question include those who do not believe, as well as those who are not especially interested in the topic. What one might conclude from the 1998 Larson and Witham study of NAS scientists is that belief in Leuba's definition of a personal God has decreased over time among scientists. The main problem, however, is that Leuba's questions are not well designed for investigating the religious views of scientists (or anyone else). The Gallup questions, which deal with views of God's role in evolution, rather than general belief or disbelief in God, are far less ambiguous. When these questions were used (Larson and Witham 1997), the answers showed that a large proportion (40%) of prominent scientists believe in a God that is sufficiently personal or interactive with humankind that human evolution is guided or planned. The title of the recent Larson and Witham article in Nature, "Leading scientists still reject God" is premature without reliable data upon which to base it. 

References

Larson EJ, Witham L. Scientists are still keeping the faith [Commentary]. Nature 1997 Apr 3; 386:435-6.Larson EJ, Witham L. Leading scientists still reject God. Nature 1998 Jul; 394:313.Witham L. Many scientists see God's hand in evolution. RNCSE 17(6):33.


Peanutx3
by Silver Member on Apr. 22, 2014 at 10:55 AM
I am a firm believer in the possibility of the Big Bang and I believe in a creator. I found this article fascinating and had to share it.
Peanutx3
by Silver Member on Apr. 22, 2014 at 10:57 AM
I don't understand their reluctance to accept the possibility that you can be religious and trust in what science tells us. The two are not incompatible in my opinion.

Quoting romalove: Fascinating. Thanks to both of you for sharing. You are explaining the brick wall I come up against often, which is if I argue for science with a religious believer, anything I say is interpreted as bashing their religion or denying their God, and there is a refusal to debate on the scientific merits. If the science does not mesh with religious belief the science must be wrong.
romalove
by SenseandSensibility on Apr. 22, 2014 at 11:01 AM
1 mom liked this
I agree.

Quoting Peanutx3: I don't understand their reluctance to accept the possibility that you can be religious and trust in what science tells us. The two are not incompatible in my opinion.

Quoting romalove: Fascinating. Thanks to both of you for sharing. You are explaining the brick wall I come up against often, which is if I argue for science with a religious believer, anything I say is interpreted as bashing their religion or denying their God, and there is a refusal to debate on the scientific merits. If the science does not mesh with religious belief the science must be wrong.
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