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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Why argue with a creationist?

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 creationists 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.



http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/2008/09/nyhan.html

25 comments:

  1. Does does this only apply to conservatives and not liberals?

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  2. Interesting read, thanks for posting this Ben!

    I'll have to dig up the paper if it gets past review.

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  3. I read this earlier today, good article.

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  4. I'm sure it applies across the board. But you never know when there might be another Dan Barker or Hector Avalos out there.

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  5. Kaitlyn-

    Their paper suggests because conservatives may have more rigid views than liberals, that they might be especially prone to the backfire effect.

    I would imagine that this would also apply to those with particularly rigid, fundamentalist views on theology.

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  6. I've been trying to put together a post on this for a while, but I can never get a concise argument down it seems. I had this thought, not because of an argument with a creationist, but instead a vaccine denier. A woman I work with (who I respect a lot even though she's a anti-science fundy*), mad a statement to me that they were not vaccinating their daughter because "it's just to make $ for the drug companies" and that people who get vaccines still get sick so they must not work.

    I ended up citing a popular news article that was real recent (this was a couple of weeks ago) that said that of the number of cases of Measles last year alone since 11 of this year's cases had at least one dose of the vaccine but they still got sick, so therefore the vaccine didn't work well enough to subject her kid to the risk of autism, mercury and bad reaction.

    I know I'm not going to change her mind and I know that she respects her husband (fundy seminary student) more than me as a source of information. I also have a good working relationship with this woman, so I didn't push it further, but I did headdesk after she walked away.

    What do you do when you encounter people like that? do you just give them up as a lost cause?

    * I seem to attract them as friends. I had a good friend (that I considered dating) in high school who told me that she didn't use Tampons (only pads if it wasn't obvious) because "God only intended for one thing to go in there."

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  7. It is not everyone of course. I was a moderate christian until recently. It was listening to actual experts on the bible and a lot of examining of myself that made me question things. So I needed the refuters to change.

    That being said I was not a fundi and more moderate in my beliefs to begin with. I realize now I was a secular humanist that believed in a christian god or the humanist side of the christian god. Ignoring anything that made god look bad.

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  8. "God only intended for one thing to go in there."

    Tampons are Satan's little cotton fingers.

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  9. Yeah!

    Thanks maragon for changing your photo back to you!

    You saved this blog from unimaginable horrors!

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  10. I've had the sneaking suspicion that these kinds of people are more liable to buy into conspiracy theories. And if you couch an argument in vaguely conspiratorial terms, they're more likely buy into it.

    For some reason, Christianity has been portraying itself and its values as under increasing attack from society, libruls, atheism and a host of other evil anti-Christian influences. This has been going on (afaicr) since the Clinton administration.

    These people believe they're beseiged by forces that want to destroy America and christian values. It underlies their increasing hysteria, and absolute refusal to listen to anyone that appears to be confrontational, even in a casual way.

    It motivates the resurgence to influence elections, the education system, international politics, the legal system, the media.

    I swear - if you can erode away at this retarded "zomg this is war!" sensibility, you might be able to actually engage them in conversation. Lacking that, you're talking to a brick wall.

    It doesn't surprise me to find a demographic willfully ignoring evidence contrary to their opinions.

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  11. I know it's pretty useless, but it's fun to argue on Ray's blog though. With all the atheists around it's like a feeding frenzy. The 4 hour lag kills conversation though.

    I think humor works well when third parties are present, but you have to be careful not to go to far and just look like an ass.

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  12. Agreed, though for both the political and the theist arenas, the idea is to reach those who are not decided and might be able to think a bit instead of being blind by their faith. So, we argue with the wrong person, so that the one who is listening gets it.

    G.E.

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  13. Ben Fraank wrote:
    Thanks maragon for changing your photo back to you!

    You saved this blog from unimaginable horrors!


    You don't know how accurate you are. I was prep'ing a link to one of Terrys blogs, on account of it being the absolute most depressing thing I've read all year. It totally ruined my day, and it would have ruined everyone here's day too.

    Maragon, don't ever leave us again! Wait, change that. Don't ever leave us with him again!

    *Shudder*

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  14. So I guess you argue so the middle of the road people can hear better ideas... I would be a liberal Christian now if it wasn't for reading discussions on the internet...
    I know it's pretty useless, but it's fun to argue on Ray's blog though. With all the atheists around it's like a feeding frenzy. The 4 hour lag kills conversation though.
    He doesn't want conversation. I don't think he really reads the comments either. I mean he has staff and money, I doubt he's hunched over his computer....
    [Actually maybe I'm wrong 'cos he's pretty quick to say to call an ex-christians "false converts"]

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  15. Also guys, did you see John 1:16 over at Ray's? At least he got educated (I suspect he was already educated). He said he found the theory of evolution to be sound, that he has used the quote mined stuff before because he did not know they were such things, but that he verified, and lo and behold, it was true. But that he believes the bible anyway. Well, that is quite an honest statement, and quite the good thing to happen, even if he still denies that Ray is a willful liar. At least ray will have a harder time lying to this particular guy anymore. I guess he gives Ray the benefit of the doubt because he used those same arguments before because he believed them to come from honest sources.

    Anyway, this guy is just what we can see, imagine what we cannot see happening among the onlookers.

    G.E.

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  16. he believes the bible anyway. Well, that is quite an honest statementYep, I'd noticed that one as well. I plan on watching his arguments over the next few weeks...

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  17. I did see that GE. I meant to commend his for his honesty and integrity, but I got caught up in arguing with Sye the retard.

    Did anyone bother to applaud John for his honesty?

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  18. Maragon wrote:
    "I did see that GE. I meant to commend his for his honesty and integrity, but I got caught up in arguing with Sye the retard.

    Did anyone bother to applaud John for his honesty?"


    I sort of tried (I'm not great with compliments), but someone else (I can't remember who) did a much better job than me, telling John that he really made their day.

    I know this for a fact: I distinctly remember the comment: it was right after mine, and I wished I'd posted it.

    AND NOW ITS NOT THERE.

    What the hell? Seriously, where did it go? Did Atheist Central have a crash or something? Why was I not informed?!

    I'm pretty sure I didn't hallucenate it. But what happened, though? Can anyone get up an older copy of the page? The comment was right next to mine on September 16, 2008 5:52 PM, on this page. I'm sure of it.

    I'm having a panic attack... gimme a sec.

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  19. Correction: this page (that link leads to "add new comment")

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  20. Quasar,

    Yep, the congrats comment is here, while John's is here.

    G.E.

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  21. Maragon,

    Do not argue with Sye the retard. It is not healthy. Besides, his is just a god of the gaps argument (you cannot account for logic, thus god), mixed with ultimate cause (you go all the way, get artificially stuck, then god is the only solution), but with an enormous twist.

    G.E.

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  22. Get education wrote
    Yep, the congrats comment is here, while John's is here.

    What the hell? Why couldn't I see that a second ago?

    I am so confused right now. I put it down to sleep deprivation.

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  23. Hey GE,

    I've argued with the guy previously, which is why I'm pushing him to account for his statements now.

    Don't worry, I don't waste too much time on him anymore - I already know that he's crazy.

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  24. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  25. Hey Maragon,

    Yep, I have argued with the guy too. In the end it became depressing. He is unreachable to true intelligence. Well, the guy is happy thinking he "got us all," so, he is happy within all his levels of self delusion. So, I am not sad for his lost intelligence, but because he exemplifies big problems with our human condition.

    Anyway, let us not talk about it now.

    Have a fantastic day,

    G.E.

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