It’s the effect

Thoughts from Steven: The “Bible-Believers Effect”

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I read an interesting article the other day. It is over a year old (yeah, I get behind on a lot of things), appearing in the March/April 2015 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer. Now, I consider myself to be a skeptic. As I see it, a skeptic is simply someone who holds out on accepting a conclusion until it has been sufficiently demonstrated to be true. Take some extraordinary claims, as an example. Some people readily accept reports of UFO’s, Loch Ness monster, and chupacabra. They reason that these things have been observed by multiple witnesses, therefore they must be based on some kind of fact. Such a person is not a skeptic: they do not require a lot of evidence to be convinced of something. A skeptic would look at these same things and note that all of these objects are based largely on anecdotes: individuals made limited, uncontrolled observations of some unusual phenomena. The anecdotal nature of these things opens the possibility that they are the result of regular, ordinary occurrences. The Loch Ness monster sightings may be fabrications, exaggerations, or misidentification of waves or ordinary creatures. By the way, exaggeration does not mean fibbing: people are pretty good at embellishing their own memories, and they can do this without being aware that they have. How many people reminisce about the “good-old-times,” forgetting about all of the hardships they had to endure during those “good times?”

Because a skeptic recognizes that anecdotal evidence can be unreliable, he requires more evidence. An unknown creature can not be established by eyewitness testimony: a body is required to verify what the creature is and how it is similar or dissimilar to other animals. That may sound like a lot of information needed to “prove” the existence of something, but all named species have gone trough that process. Something new has to be established as true while something familiar can be taken for granted because it is already familiar. Basically, I believe that the burden of proof lies with those who make the extraordinary claims. If you want to claim that the chupacabra exists, produce an identifiable carcass (of something other than a dog with mange) that is clearly an unidentified animal.

Despite siding with skeptics on UFO’s, Nessie, and chupacabra, I strongly part ways with them on other issues. Ironically, the article that I referenced in the opening predicts that I would have problems with it. That article was titled “When Don’t the Highly Educated Believe in Evolution? The Bible Believers Effect” by Charles S. Reichardt and Ian A. Saari.

The article reports on census findings that highly educated Bible believers are less likely to accept human evolution than less educated Bible believers. For instance, 31% of Bible believers who have less than a high school education believe in human evolution. In contrast, 10% of Bible believers with a graduate education believe in human evolution. The trend is the opposite for non-Bible believers. Only 56% of non-Bible believers who have less than a high school education believe in human evolution while 79% those non-Bible believers who have a graduate degree believe in human evolution.

Reichardt and Saari these observations as “the Bible-believers effect.” In addition to simply describing it, they also wanted to know why it happened. They discarded several possibilities. Highly educated Bible believers had a better understanding of scientific facts, the scientific method, general reasoning, and a rejection of pseudoscience compared to less educated Bible believers. The highly educated Bible believers have all the marking of well-informed, well-reasoned individuals, they were just very selective about certain topics, namely the theory of evolution. If the opinion of highly educated Bible believers can not be chalked up to sheer ignorance, what is causing them to deny something that (in Reichardt and Saari’s opinion) they should readily accept? They gave three possible answers:

  1. Counterarguments: A highly educated person will be more familiar with the arguments that support their beliefs. A highly educated Bible believers will better understand topics such as irreducible complexity, information, and mutations and know how they relate to the topic of origins. Knowing and understanding these arguments will help them defend their position. As a note, Reichardt and Saari would not accept any of these arguments as valid, their point is simply that a highly educated Bible believer would and would use it to defend their position.
  2. Need for Consistency: A highly educated person wants their worldview to be consistent. While someone who is less educated may not consider the ramifications if God had created the world with the process of evolution, they highly educated would quickly recognize how such a position is impossible. He would be forced to take a position, in his case, in favor of special creation, and make it consistent with itself.
  3. Over Confidence: Smart people often think that they are smart about everything. In truth, there is so much knowledge today that no one can be an expert on everything. Rather, every expert is a specialist in one particular field. Just because someone is highly educated in chemistry does not necessarily mean that they are also highly educated in biology. Reichardt and Saari suggest that these highly educated Bible believers are simply overconfident in their answers and simply ignore conflicting evidence.

As a side note about over confidence, while I agree that higher education is very specialized and does not necessarily translate to other fields, the theory of evolution is very far reaching. For example, there is something called chemical evolution which is used to explain the formation of the first living organism. While knowledge of chemistry may not relate to knowledge of biology, the theory of evolution has invaded the realm of chemistry through chemical evolution. Remember that need for consistency? If a chemist rejects chemical evolution, he would be justified in doubting all of evolution.

I can accept Reichardt and Saari’s first two answers. Both of those make sense: I have noticed that creation scientists are often well informed about counterarguments to the theory of evolution and that they are very desirous to have a consistent worldview. I do not think that their over confidence explanation is very convincing. For one thing, it is basically the opposite of the need for consistency: an over confident person ignores inconsistencies. Either the need for consistency is a factor or over confidence is a factor, they can not both be factors in the same person. Perhaps some creation scientists are simply over confident and do not care about consistency, but my observation is that they are a minority.

In addition to the three explanations given above, I would prose a fourth, which relates back to counterarguments and need for consistency:

  1. Loss of Faith: As people gain more knowledge, they will often encounter challenges to their ideas. A college student is more likely to encounter detailed, challenging attacks on creation. The college student has to be more prepared to defend their faith by understanding the counterarguments and having consistent beliefs. Those Bible believers who already accept evolution will see the full implications of that worldview and give up a belief in the Bible and become non-Bible believers. When they leave the ranks of Bible believers, that will leave behind a larger percentage of Bible believers who reject evolution.

My explanation is just speculation, however, there is some evidence to support it. As observed in books such as Already Gone by Ken Ham, Britt Beemer, and Todd Hillard, a number of the young church goes quickly leave the church as they grow up. These people are primed to leave because they have been taught that the Bible contains good, moral stories but says little about science, and even that it is okay to compromise with the Bible. Once they encounter tougher elements of the world, such as college, they have little or no defense against rejecting the Bible altogether.

To go back to the Bible-believers effect, Reichardt and Saari approached the question, why are higher educated Bible believers more likely to believe in creation fro from the wrong worldview. They explained it from the position that evolution is true and that it is an anomaly that the highly educated would reject it. That is why they might identify Bible believers as over confident: “they must be overlooking contradictions because they have a prior adherence to creation.” Instead, the truth is more likely that Bible believers are under attack, in their own churches at times, and that winnows out the weak Bible believers.

An interesting observation about skeptics is that they are often not skeptical of their skepticism. I know, that some like some pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo. “Have you considered being skeptical of skepticism?” However, I think that it is true. Skeptics start from some sort of empirical, material, or actualistic position. They are very good at finding flaws in logic with the Loch Ness monster, UFO’s, and chupacabra. However, they just accept that their observations and their science are the arbiters of truth. In my opinion, they do not spend enough time critiquing their ability to discover the truth on their own. If they did, they might notice the inconsistency of expecting finite beings (humans) to be able to discover universal truths without help from a universal standard (God).

I am a skeptic but I am different from those like Reichardt and Saari. My knowledge is rooted in the Bible. Just like they accept empiricism, materialism, or actualism, I accept the Bible as my starting point. While I can agree with many of the methods, such as putting the burden of proof on extraordinary claims, I seem greater consistency in my foundational thinking. I believe that acceptance of a transcendent God who created the universe and humbled Himself to communicate His plan with man is more consistent than thinking that humans are capable of reaching universal truths by studying a wondrous world that is more intricate than anything they can comprehend. As Paul said in Romans 3:4, let God be true and every man a liar. I will stick by a trustworthy God who created truth.

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