Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Why do evangelicals refuse to accept rational aguments?

According to a new study by Brendan Nyhan, a Ph.D. candidate in Duke’s political science department, and co-author Jason Reifler of Georgia State University, their experiments show that with the presidential candidates trading accusations on television and in the press, journalists’ attempts to correct misinformation is unlikely to sway public perceptions.

Nyhan said-

“What we found is that corrections are ineffective for the group most likely to have the misperception. Even worse, we found that those people may actually end up believing in the misperception more strongly after hearing a correction.”

“In the paper, we suggest motivated reasoning as an explanation for these results. People often counter-argue information that contradicts their predispositions. That may be what is happening here.”

Nyhan and Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation -- the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse. A similar "backfire effect" also influenced conservatives told about Bush administration assertions that tax cuts increase federal revenue. One group was offered a refutation by prominent economists that included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35 percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it; 67 percent of those provided with both assertion and refutation believed that tax cuts increase revenue.

Their paper, which is undergoing review, suggests that Republicans might be especially prone to the backfire effect because conservatives may have more rigid views than liberals: Upon hearing a refutation, conservatives might "argue back" against the refutation in their minds, thereby strengthening their belief in the misinformation. Nyhan and Reifler did not see the same "backfire effect" when liberals were given misinformation and a refutation about the Bush administration's stance on stem cell research.

I consider this to be the case as well with creationists and religious zealots. It would explain why followers of preachers like Ken Ham and Ray Comfort, and their followers seem to be immune to the feeble lance of reason.

But if these extremists are utterly immune to the truth -- and indeed, the truth only makes them dig deeper into their fantasy world of religion, what is a rational person to do?

When arguing with in front of on-the-fence thinkers, remember that you're not trying to convince the creationist to actually buy into silly notions like facts and reason. You're highlighting the differences between science and faith for the outside observer. If the other guy insists on religious views that belong only in Disney World's Fantasyland, other folks will realize what's happening.

But if there is no third party, do yourself a favor and save your breath. As the study demonstrates, you're only making matters worse.


Laura said...

I saw your comment over on Pharyngula and had to come read the article. I agree with you. I've got a rather religious family and an extremely religious brother who LOVES to debate his views on these things. I never take him up on the challenge because I can see before it gets started that there is no arguing with someone who already thinks they have all the answers. So we keep it civil and don't debate for the sake of peace. In the rest of the world there's volumes written by creationists for creationists ( for example) that are loaded with canned answers for any and all logic. Why bother? You're right, debating it only serves to strengthen their resolve, the actually enjoy it and see it as a martyrdom opportunity, which they love. I'm not feeding the monster.

Jared said...

Perhaps someone should look into why this is. While it is possible the "arguing back" is possible, it could also be a myriad of other things such as they are picking out quotes in it which support their position. Making any strong conclusions on this would be no worse than what the conservatives do when presented with misinformation, only in this case, it would be the liberals grasping from cognitive bias.

Benjamin Franklin said...


Is that grasping, or gasping?


Moses said...

More. More. More. Four posts is not enough.

normdoering said...

Jared wrote:
"Perhaps someone should look into why this is. While it is possible the "arguing back" is possible, it could also be a myriad of other things such as they are picking out quotes in it which support their position."

I agree. This one needs to be replicated with different example arguments. the Bush administration's prewar claims and the 2004 Duelfer report might be special cases.

And how twisted does ones reasoning have to be? As bad as Ray Comfort's?

In spite of this psychological barrier it does seem that Bush's approval rating has gone down. What really changes people's minds.

John said...

I'm a Christian, and I'm not a Creationist. I fully understand your frustration with irrational Christians, as I share the same sentiments. I do, however, hope your rationality does indeed surpass that of the Creationist's, in that you are able to see beyond your own biases. If nutty fundamentalists don't have all the answers, do you?