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Sunday
Jul022017

What can the Cognitive Science of Religion learn from the Science of Science Communication--and vice versa (lecture summary & slides)

These are the basic points that I recall making at the recent New Perspectives on Science & Religion conference in Manchester, England. Slides here.

1.  What CSR can learn from SSC.  The Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR) uses dual process theory to understand religious convictions.  Religious beliefs, according do CSR,  reflect “natural” reasoning, which is rapid, intuitive, and affect-laden. Scientific beliefs, in contrast, reflect “unnatural” reasoning, which is conscious, deliberate, and analytical (Seybold 2017).  Because “natural” reasoning is easier than “unnatural,” we should expect to see pervasive conflicts between religious convictions and scientific insights, such as human evolution.

CSR’s natural-unnatural framework is (as many CRS scholars recognize) a conception of the distinction between “System 1” and “System 2” information processing featured in cognitive science generally (Stanovich & West 2000). The Science of Science Communication (SSC) has developed concepts and methods that help identify how these forms of reasoning figure in public conflicts over science (Kahan 2015b). Incorporating these concepts and methods into CSR can enhance its power to explain public rejection of scientific insights that transgress religious convictions.

Two mechanisms are particularly relevant. One is expressive rationality, which refers to the use of reasoning to form identity-congruent rather than truth-congruent beliefs. The other is motivated system 2 reasoning (MS2R), which investigates the role that System 2 information processing plays in factual beliefs that signify one’s identity (Kahan 2016, 2017b).

Both of these mechanisms figure in beliefs about human evolution.  CRS scholars have attributed religious disbelief of human evolution to overreliance on System 1 heuristic-reasoning (e.g., Gervais 2015).  But in fact, much like ideological skepticism about climate change, religiously grounded resistance to evidence of human evolution increases as the capacity and disposition to use conscious, effortful System 2 reasoning increases (Kahan 2017a; cf Kahan & Stanovich 2016).  

This is what SSC tells us to expect to see insofar as positions on human evolution symbolize competing cultural styles. It is an example of how incorporating expressive rationality and MS2R into CSR would enhance CSR’s power to explain the distinctive effects of religion on information processing.

2.  What SSC can learn from CSR.  The relationship between SSC and CSR, however, is not a one-way street.  Just as SSC is in a position to enrich CSR, so CSR is in a position to advance the agenda of SSC. 

The primary contribution CSR can contribute to SSC, I believe, consists of myriad  distinctive real-world examples of information-processing strategies that variously resist and accommodate the tension between truth-seeking and identity-expressive goals.

An example is the phenomenon of cognitive dualism.  As illustrated by Hameed’s “Pakistani Dr.” paradox, this dynamic refers to the harboring of opposing role-specific factual perceptions (Everhart & Hameed).  

“I believe in it [human evolution] at work, but disbelieve in it at home,” says the Dr.

No academic, the Dr. nevertheless has a more nuanced and sophisticated view of “beliefs” than do many decision scientists.  He appropriately recognizes “beliefs” not as registers of assent or non-assent to abstract propositions but rather as action-enabling, affective states, the rationality and consistency of which must be judged relative to the goals of the actor.

Because beliefs so understood necessarily exist within clusters of action-enabling intentional states (emotions, moral judgments, desires, etc.), it is a mistake to apply to them a criterion of identity that conceives of them as free-standing states of assent or non-assent to general claims about  how the world works.  Rather, they can be judged for their rationality and consistency only in relation to the actions they enable: if those actions are suited to the Dr.’s goals and are consistent with one another, then there is no psychological contradiction in the cognitive dualistic stance the Dr. adopts toward them.

I am convinced that the Pakistani Dr. has numerous counterparts in the field of risk perception. These include U.S. farmers who (like the Dr.) disbelieve in climate change in order to be members of a cultural community but who believe in it in order to be successful farmers.

The Dr.’s counterparts also include citizens in SE Florida who, despite being polarized on the reality of human-caused climate change, are of one mind about the collective mission to preserve their way of life from the dangers that human-caused climate changes poses to it.

We will not understand these complex and consequential phenomena without an account of cognitive dualism.   And the likely most profitable place to look for such accounts is in CSR.

3.  Normative/prescriptive upshot. Finally, the points of contact between CSR and SSC can help inform moral and prescriptive assessments.

Hameed’s work (2013, 2015) suggests that cognitive dualism on evolution is socially contingent.  It can flourish in a natural—indeed, unremarkable—fashion in societies in which competing positions on evolution have not become entangled with social identity. But where such entanglement has occurred (often as a result of the strategic behavior or conflict entrepreneurs), cognitive dualism is less viable; in that situation, individuals will perceive that they are being put to a choice between knowing what science knows and being the kind of person whose identity is defined by holding a particular position on the fact in question (e.g., human evolution).

They are highly likely in that situation to pick the identity-defining position and forgo engagement with the position that is supported by scientific evidence (Kahan 2015b).

This is a highly undesirable outcome. It is productive of needless group conflict; and it obliterates the division between the private domain, in which free and reasoning individuals should be allowed to form their own conception of the good life, and the public domain, in which they are legitimately obliged to be guided by  the best scientific evidence when inhabiting a role (e.g., a medical Dr.) that can be successfully occupied only with the benefit of such insight.

At least one objective of SSC should be to identify practices and norms that preempt this conflation. Because it is rich with conflicts of this sort, CSR can help SSC to sharpen and refine this function (Kahan 2015b)

References

Everhart, D. & Hameed, S. Muslims and evolution: a study of Pakistani physicians in the United States. Evo Edu Outreach 6, 1-8 (2013).

Gervais, W.M. Override the controversy: Analytic thinking predicts endorsement of evolution. Cognition 142, 312-321 (2015).

Hameed, S. Making sense of Islamic creationism in Europe. Public Understanding of Science 24, 388-399 (2015).

Kahan, D.M. ‘Ordinary science intelligence’: a science-comprehension measure for study of risk and science communication, with notes on evolution and climate change. J Risk Res 20, 995-1016 (2017a).

Kahan, D.M. Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem. Advances in Political Psychology 36, 1-43 (2015a).

Kahan, D.M. The expressive rationality of inaccurate perceptions. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 40 (2017b).

Kahan, D.M. The Politically Motivated Reasoning Paradigm, Part 2: Unanswered Questions. in Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2016).

Kahan, D.M. What is the "science of science communication"? J. Sci. Comm, 14, 1-12 (2015b).

Kahan D.M. & Stanovich K.. Rationality and Belief in Evolution, CCP/APPC Working paper (2017).

Seybold, K.S. Questions in the Psychology of Religion (Cascade Books, 2017).

Stanovich, K.E. & West, R.F. Individual differences in reasoning: Implications for the rationality debate? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 23, 645-665 (2000).

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Reader Comments (16)

"Religious beliefs, according do CSR, reflect “natural” reasoning, which is rapid, intuitive, and affect-laden. Scientific beliefs, in contrast, reflect “unnatural” reasoning, which is conscious, deliberate, and analytical (Seybold 2017)."

Have these guys ever read any theology?!
http://dhspriory.org/thomas/summa/FP.html#TOC02

"No decision scientist, the Dr. nevertheless has a more nuanced and sophisticated view of “beliefs” than do many decision scientists. He appropriately recognizes “beliefs” not as registers of assent or non-assent to abstract propositions but rather as action-enabling, affective states, the rationality and consistency of which must be judged relative to the goals of the actor."

"All models are wrong, but some are useful."

A physicist will use Newtonian rigid-body dynamics as a set of "true" statements about the way the world works, but when discussing impacting bodies at extremely high speeds, will switch smoothly to using elasticity theory, knowing that rigid body dynamics will give the wrong answers (is "untrue"). How can a physicist have a set of beliefs they consider both true and false, depending on the circumstances?

Have you considered analysing the situation in these terms?

"These include U.S. farmers who (like the Dr.) disbelieve in evolution in order to be members of a cultural community but who believe in it in order to be successful farmers."

[- Rolls eyes -]

Evolution too?!

July 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Observation of behaviors and attitudes in the religious domain, including the social conflict of creationism versus evolution, are indeed highly useful to inform us regarding the entanglement of science and culture more generally.

https://curryja.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/who-is-who-aux-file.docx

>>'I am convinced that the Pakistani Dr. has numerous counterparts in the field of risk perception. These include U.S. farmers...'

I presume 'evolution' is a typo and you mean climate change. 'Convinced', presumably means via very strong evidence. A couple of years back on the Agitation at Annenburg thread, you said regarding the Kentucky farmers data: "But I would not expect anyone to treat the evidence I have adverted to as reason to adjust their priors if they have different ones from mine. If I have am able to attain evidence of that sort, I will make it known (and make known in *what direction* I think priors shoudl be adjusted..."

Has stronger evidence appeared in the interim?

As noted back then, to propose 'knowing disbelief' for these farmers also requires an explanation for 'unknowing belief' (cousin Jacob). Attempting such an explantion shows that both propositions are very likely false.

http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2015/1/7/so-you-want-to-meet-the-pakistani-dr-just-pay-a-visit-to-the.html?currentPage=2#comments

While there is strong evidence that knowing disbelief exists (e.g. for your Pakistani Dr), and notwithstanding this is undesirable for experts, one would not expect it to exist outside a tiny fringe of folks who are indeed the topic experts, rather than as a mass effect. I guess at 1.6% of the north American working population (World bank) farmers may just scrape above 'tiny' if it was most of them, though their domain expertise is peripheral at best. But anyhow, unless stronger evidence has appeared your assumption is at best provisional, as you implied per the quote above. Or did I miss any follow-on evidence for this group?

'knowing disbelief' is not anyhow required to explain what you see in the public for either the CC or creationism domains. Vanilla belief and the identity defense associated with same, seems perfectly sufficient

July 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

Dan -

==( Have these guys ever read any theology?! )==

That was certainly my reaction as well. I might think that talmudic scholars might be among those who would disagree that their religious beliefs aren't deliberate, onscious, and analytical - out that their debates about Talmudic law are merely intuitive.

My sense is that your differentiation is simplistic , and very much unrealistically binary when we look at what plays out in the real world. It would ruin in the other direction, also, of course. The notion of scientific beliefs existing in the real world in some kind of isolation from intuition, for example, seems likewise unrealistic to me.

I know you're uninterested in helping me to instant better how you differentiate "science communication" from other types of communication, but I would think that your ideas here would be significantly substantiated with some kind of fMRI research to show some concrete evidence of these different brands on reasoning and communication. Perhaps if you could show that the good doctor uses different parts of his brain when he thinks about evolution at work compared to when he thinks about it at his mosque?

July 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

FWIW -

I thought that Jonathan's link from downstairs helped me to see these issues from a more enlarged framework:

. In Experiments 1 and 2 we demonstrate the “offensive” function of unfalsifiability: that it allows religious adherents to hold their beliefs with more conviction and political partisans to polarize and criticize their opponents more extremely. Next we demonstrate unfalsifiability’s “defensive” function: When facts threaten their worldviews, religious participants frame specific reasons for their beliefs in more unfalsifiable terms (Experiment 3) and political partisans construe political issues as more unfalsifiable (“moral opinion”) instead of falsifiable (“a matter of facts”; Experiment 4). We conclude by discussing how in a world where beliefs and ideas are becoming more easily testable by data, unfalsifiability might be an attractive aspect to include in one’s belief systems, and how unfalsifiability may contribute to polarization, intractability, and the marginalization of science in public discourse. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

The notion of mixing in a greater reliance on "unfalsifiability" seems to me to be an important piece of understanding where religious beliefs might differ from scientific beliefs, as opposed to some grand scheme of differing brands of reasoning. And of course, the extent to which someone relies on "unfalsifiability" to bolster their beliefs can vary across domain, from issue to issue, and it "unfalisifiability can be, and often is, very much present when people are arguing about (and formulating) scientific beliefs.

July 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

"...some kind of fMRI research to show some concrete evidence of these different brands on reasoning and communication."

I read recently (DOI:10.1007/s10943-017-0433-x) about the task-positive network vs. the default mode network, both identifiable in fMRI scans. I think these are seen as being closest to system 2 vs. system 1 respectively - although the indication is that they are not sequential (system 1 firing, then system 2 stepping in to error correct), but instead are mutually exclusive.

As for the talmudic scholars example - I think this illustrates that we need to differentiate between lay belief vs. expert belief, even in religion. I agree that religion can be debated at high system 2 levels among experts. But, I think Dan is almost always referring to lay belief of religion or science.

July 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

"As for the talmudic scholars example - I think this illustrates that we need to differentiate between lay belief vs. expert belief, even in religion. I agree that religion can be debated at high system 2 levels among experts. But, I think Dan is almost always referring to lay belief of religion or science."

The same goes for beliefs about science, of course. 'Joe Public' beliefs about complicated scientific topics like climate change are more likely to be " rapid, intuitive, and affect-laden" than "conscious, deliberate, and analytical", too.

Joe Public trusts scientific claims because "97% of scientists say..." and trusts religious claims because "97% of theologians say...". There's no real difference in the logic being used.

July 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV--they do look at theology. Most CSR scholars treat certain aspects of religious faith as System 1 (natural) and others, including understanding of various religious doctrines, as System 2 (unnatural).

July 2, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Andywest-- thanks for catching glitch, which I've now fixed. More anon

July 2, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan,

They are highly likely in that situation to pick the identity-defining position and forgo engagement with the position that is supported by scientific evidence (Kahan 2015b).

This is a highly undesirable outcome. It is productive of needless group conflict; and it obliterates the division between the private domain, in which free and reasoning individuals should be allowed to form their own conception of the good life, and the public domain, in which they are legitimately obliged to be guided by the best scientific evidence when inhabiting a role (e.g., a medical Dr.) that can be successfully occupied only with the benefit of such insight.

At least one objective of SSC should be to identify practices and norms that preempt this conflation.

Although I find it fascinating that individuals such as the Pakistani doctor and the farmers can have different sets of beliefs in their different domains of existence, this seems to me to be a very dangerous phenomenon to utilize with SSC for several reasons. Which domain do they vote in, and is that stable? In general, which domain do they make decisions that are important to others (whether voting, managing a business, taking care of children, etc.) vs. their own identity? Do you want to encourage an individual to favor vaccinations for their own children but vote against vaccination requirements for schools, or vice versa? One could argue that this is better than nothing (being against science both times), but is encouraging such a non-integrative cognitive model for dealing with science vs. identity likely to spill over to other aspects of their personality that were formerly integrative?

July 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

=={ @Andywest-- thanks for catching glitch, which I've now fixed. More anon }==

The funny thing is, that I wouldn't be surprised that many farmers aren't internally inconsistent w/r/t evolution either, not believing it on Sundays but regularly operating from belief based in evolution, albeit not necessarily explicit belief, in their work in breeding animals or plant hybridization.

I fail to understand why y'all seem to think that holding contradictory beliefs is somehow particular notable rather than just pretty much commonplace. Contradictory beliefs is not particularly an obstacle next to the "motivation" to reinforce Identity orientation.

FWIW, I see it (holding contradictory beliefs) all the time in the online climate wars - where I would say in fact that holding beliefs that are violently in opposition is pretty much the norm, even among those online climate combatants that are quite sophisticated scientifically, and quite frequently engaged in "system 2" types of thinking.


MO, while their might be some space between the "means" of the tendency toward holding contradictory beliefs when comparing individuals who on average lean towards either system 1 or system 2 thinking, respective to members of the other "group," members of each group regularly display contradictory beliefs, and there is likely greater differentiation between the members of each group in terms of their tendencies in that regard, than there is generalizable difference across those groups.

July 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Jonathan -

=={ I read recently (DOI:10.1007/s10943-017-0433-x) about the task-positive network vs. the default mode network, both identifiable in fMRI scans. }==

Interesting abstract. More to ponder. Thanks.

July 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Jonathan--

1. On the pairing of domains and alternate action-enabling beliefs, the decision to leave that to private actors (including conflict entrepenurs) along with random influences is as much a *decision* on how to intervene as would be the attempt to preempt undesirable pairings through interventions (assuming one could figure out how to do that).

2. There's no reasaon, either, for us to be normatively indifferent to the pairings.

3. Right now, in the domain of politics,w/ exception of SE Fla, people tend to use the group-identity pairings on issues like climate change. But that is just as plausbily viewed as due to a collective action problem (the tragedy of the science communications commons) as anything else.

4. One can devise normative accounts for interventions that would disentangle cultural-id from people's assessment of decision-relevant science. For one thing, it is likely the majority of the population attaches no value to this pairing & would prefer it be dissolved; the behavior that sustains it, as I said, is a collective action problem, not an aggregation of individual choices measured in a condition in which the choice set is unconstrained.

July 3, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Joshua,

You might like this:
http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2017/07/the-divided-soul-of-liberalism.htm

It has some relevance to this discussion - if one substitutes "ideological" for "religious" suitably.

July 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

Thanks for that link! Yes, I like it a lot.

July 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Jonathan -

BTW - That's a really interesting website. Got some more like that one?

July 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

Another is aldaily.com (only 3 new articles/day, none on Sundays). Also good is theconversation.com.

July 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

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