Why do people distrust science? It’s religion, stupid!

Well, yes, my title is a bit clickbaity, as of course there are several reasons why people distrust science. But according to a new post at Aeon by Dutch psychologist Bastiaan T Rutjens, shown below (click on screenshot), an article based on a scholarly paper by him and two colleagues that I haven’t yet read in detail (reference at bottom, free pdf), the main reason is religion.

Of course that’s not something people want to hear. As Rutiens notes, “religiosity has so far been curiously under-researched as a precursor to science skepticism, perhaps because political ideology commanded so much attention)”

So politics has been indicted more strongly; in fact, it’s almost a mantra of science educators (and liberals) that science denialism or skepticism comes from the Right. (I hasten to add that one study of acceptance of evolution in Alabama showed that religiosity was the most important factor in determining whether students accepted evolution; see reference and link to Rissler et al. below.)

At any rate, read either the article below or the paper on which it’s based.

The paper from Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (if you can’t download it with the free and legal Unpaywall App, after clicking on the screenshot below, ask me for it),

The initial problem with the academic study is its small sample: 105 North Americans, all employees of Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk” program (MTurk). Of course one would think these folks might be less religious than the average American (or North American), but nevertheless it’s a small sample, and hardly random. They do note in the article, though, that “a large-scale cross-national study of science skepticism in Europe and beyond will follow.”

Rutjens et al. investigated four predictors of science skepticism and acceptance: political ideology, religiosity, morality, and knowledge about science. It turns out that for acceptance of most scientific propositions, religion and politics were the most important factors (hierarchical regression analysis was used to parse out each factor independent of the others), but their conclusion was based on a general acceptance of science, not the three areas they asked about (GMOs, vaccinations, and global warming).  Here’s how they judged acceptance of science, using three areas that didn’t include evolution or cosmology:

We provided participants with statements about climate change (eg, ‘Human CO2 emissions cause climate change’), genetic modification (eg, ‘GM of foods is a safe and reliable technology’), and vaccination (eg, ‘I believe that vaccines have negative side effects that outweigh the benefits of vaccination for children’). Participants could indicate to what extent they agreed or disagreed with these statements. We also measured participants’ general faith in science, and included a task in which they could indicate how much federal money should be spent on science, compared with various other domains. We assessed the impact of political ideology, religiosity, moral concerns and science knowledge (measured with a science literacy test, consisting of true or false items such as ‘All radioactivity is made by humans’, and ‘The centre of the Earth is very hot’) on participants’ responses to these various measures.

And the results (direct quotes from the paper):

  • “Political ideology did not play a meaningful role when it came to most of our measures. The only form of science skepticism that was consistently more pronounced among the politically conservative respondents in our studies was, not surprisingly, climate-change skepticism.”
  • “Skepticism about genetic modification was not related to political ideology or religious beliefs, though it did correlate with science knowledge: the worse people did on the scientific literacy test, the more skeptical they were about the safety of genetically modified food. Vaccine skepticism also had no relation to political ideology, but it was strongest among religious participants, with a particular relation to moral concerns about the naturalness of vaccination.”

So climate-change skepticism, but not the other two areas, was related to political ideology. No surprise there. GMO skepticism was related to neither politics or religion, but was correlated with science knowledge: those who knew more about science were less skeptical of GMOs. That doesn’t surprise me, either. Vaccine skepticism was related to religion, which is the one area I might have guessed would be related to the degree of one’s faith, which I think is related to religion. In fact, I think that some of the relationship between religion and science skepticism comes not from religion directly, but from the fact that religion activates a “faith” organ: a willingness to believe what you find congenial regardless of the evidence.

At any rate, given the above, how can the authors declare that religion was so important? Because they also measured “general faith” in science, and so found the following:

  • Moving beyond domain-specific skepticism, what did we observe about a general trust in science, and the willingness to support science more broadly? The results were quite clear: trust in science was by far the lowest among the religious. In particular, religious orthodoxy was a strong negative predictor of faith in science and the orthodox participants were also the least positive about investing federal money in science. But notice here again political ideology did not contribute any meaningful variance over and beyond religiosity.

The authors conclude this, which I agree with in general:

Additionally, these results suggest that science skepticism cannot simply be remedied by increasing people’s knowledge about science. The impact of scientific literacy on science skepticism, trust in science, and willingness to support science was minor, save for the case of genetic modification. Some people are reluctant to accept particular scientific findings, for various reasons. When the aim is to combat skepticism and increase trust in science, a good starting point is to acknowledge that science skepticism comes in many forms.

I’d disagree with the general statement that science skepticism can’t be remedied by science education. It’s true, for instance, that teaching people about evolution, as I did in my book WEIT, can’t make most Americans accept purely naturalistic evolution (only about 20% do). But it can change some minds. I have emails to this effect, and of course Richard Dawkins has many more testimonies on his “Converts Corner” (see here; there are 159 pages!) about how his evolution books “converted” people not just to Darwinism, but deconverted them from religion.

But if we want a world free from creationism, the only way to do that is to make religion disappear. Yes, there will still be a few creationists, not only because religion won’t disappear completely, but because evolution has several implications that people find unsavory. Still, if I could choose between facilitating the acceptance of evolution by having people either a.) read and understand Why Evolution is True, or b.) have their religion mysteriously vanish, I’m sure the most efficacious tactic would be b.)

These authors, if you accept their results—and I await a much larger study instead of the meager 105 subjects assayed here—imply that a more general acceptance of science will also come with the death of religion. I’m not sure why that might be, though I’ve offered one theory: the buttressing of faith through religious belief, a faith that rejects propositions that are palpably true.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, we don’t really need science courses to remediate science denialism—we need critical thinking courses.” And that may be true, though I have little experience with them and big doubts about how they’d proceed. Nevertheless, if this study is replicated, we’ll have even more ammunition against religion—as if we needed any! Few people want to be seen as anti-science, and if we have stronger evidence that religion fosters that attitude, we’ll have a powerful weapon against those who constantly point out the “good” things that religion does.


Rutjens, B. T., R. M. Sutton, and R. van der Lee. 2017. Not All Skepticism Is Equal: Exploring the Ideological Antecedents of Science Acceptance and Rejection. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 44:384-405.

Rissler, L. J., S. I. Duncan, and N. M. Caruso. 2014. The relative importance of religion and education on university students’ views of evolution in the Deep South and state science standards across the United StatesEvolution: Education and Outreach, 7:24



  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 29, 2018 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I look forward to their bigger study.

    Another fact about scientific literacy : genius-savants aside, it is hard. You have to work at it. It is frequently counter intuitive.

    People also have to work hard for religion, but I think the distinction is that you have to work hard at religion to keep it, to feel like you’re really talking to god.

  2. Posted May 29, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Logic and Probability & Statistics should be required courses. They aren’t even so in college.

    • Posted May 29, 2018 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Statistics, definitely.

      I’m not downplaying the importance of calculus in some industries but most people will never use it. On the other hand we are bombarded with statistics day after day and the ability to assess them accurately could transform society overnight. (Which unfortunately is why the sample size and narrow range of respondents makes this a study I’d be wary of citing if I was arguing for the need for statistics.)

      • Posted May 29, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        Precisely. Calculus is of no value in most people’s lives, whereas misunderstanding of probability so often leads to poor decisions, while sloppy statistics are so often used to mislead.

        • Posted May 29, 2018 at 11:36 am | Permalink

          ^This. Very much this.

    • Posted May 29, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      I agree but the kind of statistics that would make sense to teach to everyone is NOT what is taught in a college stats class. (I imagine anyway, not having been in one for decades.) Instead, what is needed is to expose the various modes of fallacious thinking that are blown up by statistical ideas. This is really just part of critical thinking, in my opinion.

      A similar treatment of calculus would help too. Just expose people to a few simple ideas that also happen to be taught in grade school calculus. The mean value theorem, for example. We don’t even have to mention “theorem” if that’s too scary.

      • nicky
        Posted May 29, 2018 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I tend to agree with that. It should be thought how one can use statistics and graphs to obfuscate and lie. Things like intervals shown, double ‘y’ axes, 2 or 3 dimensional shapes in graphs, “Afghanistan First”, etc, etc. There are many more, but these are just a few blatant ones.

        • Posted May 29, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

          Funny you should mention that. I recently referred to “lying with statistics” in a WEIT comment and got flames back from someone. There are some good pages online that list many common ways of misleading via bad charts, graphs, and stats.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted May 29, 2018 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

            Having axes that are truncated, or using one metric or another- and pointing it out – is one thing,and it is a good thing to point out.

            Claiming someone is doing “some sort of lying with statistics” is a bogus claim that the most illiterate spectator can be expected to make.

            As I said on that thread, I am done – with that thread.

            • Posted May 29, 2018 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

              I think you may be putting too fine a shine on it. News organizations (on all sides) frequently misrepresent data by doing exactly what you say they do. How is that not “lying with statistics” if they do it intentionally?

              Sometimes (most times?) it’s because journalists can’t be bothered to learn anything about what they are reporting on, so unwittingly misrepresent data and therefore that’s not, technically speaking, lying.

              But sometimes the intent is clear – obfuscation, misdirection and muddling statistical data in order to mislead. A lie, in other words.

              It may be that you and Paul are talking past each other?

            • Posted May 29, 2018 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

              As I said over and over again, I am NOT saying that Steven Pinker was lying with statistics. I simply said that this would be the only valid way that a reviewer could counter his thesis, something that reviews I have read do not do with any proof. I am not such a reviewer but I would be interested in reading a review that accuses him lying with statistics if one exists.

              • mirandaga
                Posted May 29, 2018 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

                A recent study has shown that 78% of all statistics are made up.

              • Posted May 30, 2018 at 5:07 am | Permalink

                I thought it was 96?

            • Diane G
              Posted June 2, 2018 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

              When I was in college our stat instructor had us read the rather (then) famous book, “How to Lie with Statistics.” It’s a concept probably as old as stats are.

              I think mikeyc is right about you and paultopping talking past each other.

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted June 3, 2018 at 3:19 am | Permalink

                I see no counter argument to my point that “some sort of lying with statistics” is a bogus claim that the most illiterate spectator can be expected to make.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted June 4, 2018 at 11:22 am | Permalink

                I have a handy stats book called “Statistics without Tears”. I love the title but it is a handy little reference for non stats people like me who sometimes have to do stats stuff.

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted June 4, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

                That’s great

        • Posted May 29, 2018 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

          USA Today were masters at completely bolloxing graphs & charts.

      • Posted May 29, 2018 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        That’s the ticket. In a similar vein, I always thought that, instead of teaching the full Latin or Greek with grammar and all, just a course in Latin & Greek root words would be immensely valuable.

        • Posted May 29, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I agree. In fact, I used to have a little Latin phrase book next to my bed for such things. Now I Google such things on my phone.

          • Posted May 29, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

            I do this for word definitions all the time rather than grab my hardback dictionary, but didn’t know to look for Latin precursors of words. Is there a particular site?

            • Posted May 29, 2018 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

              Actually, I realized after I had written that comment that Latin phrases that I looked up are a bit different than Latin and Greek roots of words. I suspect the latter are a lot harder to search for. On the other hand, online dictionaries do give etymology for their definitions though they are a bit terse.

        • Mark R.
          Posted May 29, 2018 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          I took an etymology course at the University of Washington that taught just that: Greek and Latin root words/prefixes/suffices etc. It was immensely valuable.

          • Mark R.
            Posted May 29, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

            suffixes! dammit! suffixes!

          • Posted May 29, 2018 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

            And spiders, right?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 29, 2018 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

        Absolutely agree that statistics and probability are grossly misused. (I recall, from decades ago, “90% of heroin users started with marijuana”. [Yeah, and they also started with coffee and milk shakes, so what? The supposed implication was that 90% of those who took a puff on a joint would end up hopeless drug addicts.]

        Even worse is quoting what an alleged percentage of people believe as some sort of proof. Along with such advertising flim-flam as ‘99% pure’. (Raw sewage – the stuff flowing in your sewers – is 99% ‘pure’ water. It’s the other 1% makes it inadvisable to drink).

        So I think a short course in school of elementary applied statistics, logic and probability would be invaluable. The correlation – causation fallacy would be a prime target. Also a basic grounding in numbers and units. A milligram is NOT the same as a microgram (or a part per million or a percentage) if you’re measuring impurities or active ingredients.

        And a bit of elementary probability. In particular, the odds of an outcome of a series of events change as the events unfold – like tossing six heads in a row. (An appreciation of the odds might also seriously undermine the gambling industry, which would IMO be a darn good thing).


        • Posted May 30, 2018 at 12:43 am | Permalink

          Yes, but don’t call the class statistics, math, or anything scary. Your mention of “correlation is not causation” is perfect. Here’s another one: “There are no poisons, only poisonous doses”. I’m sure there are lots more that are pretty easy to explain and understand. I imagine it would be a fun class both to teach and to be a student.

        • Posted May 30, 2018 at 12:47 am | Permalink

          Just the idea that an event’s probability doesn’t depend on recent performance. (I know there are requirements here but it is too late for me to figure them out.) Flipping a fair coin and getting heads six times in a row doesn’t change the odds on the next flip.

  3. darrelle
    Posted May 29, 2018 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    It seems very likely to me that religion is a very significant cause of distrust of science. I think there are several reasons for this.

    1) Most major religions make factual claims about the world and some of these factual claims are critical to the religion. Meaning, if they aren’t true then the religion is meaningless. People are raised with these beliefs and with the point of view that their religion is the most important aspect of their world view.

    2) Religions instill basic modes of thinking that are contrary to science. Modes of thinking that were the norm for most of human history and that are perhaps “natural” to humans in some sense. The same modes of thinking are prevalent in all forms of woo not, not just religions. But religions are based on these ancient modes of thinking. They store them, protect them, spread them and maintain them in our societies. And coupled with the conviction that religion is the most important aspect of their world view these modes of thinking are strongly validated. A common example is judging the accuracy of facts or fact based claims based on moral views rather than the quality of the evidence.

    3) Religions have a vested interest in maintaining adherents, power and wealth which invariably leads them to direct confrontation with science. As science progresses religious claims are steadily shown to be bunk. This causes religions to moderate but it also causes them to propagandize against science. It really comes down to a direct fight over authority. Who are you going to believe? The Pope or the consensus of the last 150 plus years of modern science?

    • nicky
      Posted May 29, 2018 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      The consensus of the last 150 years of science, of course. Even most catholics -at least the ones I know- don’t take the Pope seriously anymore.

      • darrelle
        Posted May 29, 2018 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        You’re not religious are you? In any case, that’s good to hear, but not the norm going by easily available statistics. Certainly not the case in my personal experience either. Just like the Pope the average Catholic is OK with science right up to the point that it becomes obvious to them that it contradicts a religious belief of their’s that they do indeed believe.

        If it helps let’s make it more general. Replace Pope with Catholic clergy. The first question I’d ask any Catholic that doesn’t take the Pope seriously anymore is “Why the fuck are you still a Catholic then?” Yeah, sure. Cultural inertia. Tradition. The point is they are still perpetuating the RCC and religious bunk in general.

        • Posted May 29, 2018 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

          They may be perpetuating the bunk but a very large number of their followers are not living all the bunk. Specifically, in regards to marriage, divorce, contraception, abortion, etc. A great many Catholics participate on holidays or Sundays only and live as they wish the rest of the time.

          • GBJames
            Posted May 29, 2018 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

            But, while living as they wish, they continue to support an awful institution. That support is responsible for a great many injustices, to say nothing of its exercise of political influence.

            These folk, to say nothing of sympathetic non-catholics, continue to ooh and aah whenever Pope Francis says something ambiguously nice about otherwise demonized groups (gays… atheists). If I had a dime for every meme on Facebook extolling the wonderful moral influence of the pope…

  4. GBJames
    Posted May 29, 2018 at 10:45 am | Permalink


  5. Posted May 29, 2018 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    The study is interesting, but the three ‘science faith’ questions seem both arbitrarily chosen and arbitrarily limited in number. Acceptance of other factual statements, such as ‘only two sexes exist: male and female’, or ‘a person’s behavior and personality are in large part dictated by their genes’, or ‘general intelligence is readily measured and IQ is a strong predictor of success in a variety of areas’, would likely exhibit an inverse correlation to left political identification.

    When acceptance of two out of three questions were not related to religiosity, it seems specious for the authors to assert:

    “Taken together, our results suggest that—with the exception of climate change and GM food skepticism—religiosity plays a pivotal role in predicting science acceptance and rejection.”

    Skimming the paper, I do no see exactly how the researchers “control[ed] for faith in science and science understanding (i.e., literacy)” — namely, the extent that religiosity or political ideology themselves affect science knowledge.

    • Posted May 29, 2018 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      I’m a bit suspicious of questions like ‘We believe too often in science, and not enough in feelings and faith’ which basically ask the respondent to choose between science and faith. It’s not surprising that this would correlate more with religion than with politics.

      I’d also be interested in the results of evolution was supplemented with questions about evolutionary psychology.

      • Posted May 29, 2018 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        yeah, one of my hypothetical questions related to EP/Sociobiology, and it’d definitely be rejected by a considerable number of lefties — as it demonstrably is.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted May 29, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

          That question is ill-posed, I think, but I’d be very interested to see results on your other two, to see if the numbers are near as high as climate-change denialism is on the Right.

          • Posted May 29, 2018 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

            1) ill-posed in what way?
            2) I made no claim as to relative rates. But we do have entire humanities departments at every university teaching those very falsehoods.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted May 29, 2018 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

              “dictated” — I think “heavily influenced by” would be more accurate. And I think a lot of people who believe in libertarian free will would disagree with it, especially those in the Religious Right who claim to be “born-again.”

              • Posted May 30, 2018 at 10:12 am | Permalink

                I have no problem with a little word-smithing to avoid folks tripping over the colloquial meaning of “dictate”.

                I’m sure those types would disagree with the statement. And they’d be flat out wrong.

                And then I, too, could slap together a social science paper about their beliefs with some dodgy regression analysis and make overreaching grand generalizations in my conclusions.

      • freiner
        Posted May 29, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        What a horribly phrased question! And probably all the more so to a critical thinker. Just looking at the second side of this question — and ignoring the fact that it treats a compound structure as a unit choice: Faith in what? Religion, or science and reason themselves? Feelings in what context? Listening to a piece of music? Experiencing wonder at nature? Falling in love? Do the researchers assume everyone will interpret this question strictly about claims to knowledge?
        Of course this is just what comes to my mind. Maybe I should ask a critical thinker.

  6. Posted May 29, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    “So politics has been indicted more strongly; in fact, it’s almost a mantra of science educators (and liberals) that science denialism or skepticism comes from the Right.”

    Like all religious nonsense, mantras are almost always wrong too. In a broad sense, it is really only climate change denialism and astrology/new age crapola that tracks with political belief (the first overwhelming conservatives, the second overwhelmingly liberals).

    Anti-vaxxers, flat earthers, anti-nuclear power, animals in research, anti-GMO; there is no statistical difference between conservatives and liberals in the U.S.

    You’d think even creationists would be primarily conservatives as it is religion that is the sole driver for that anti-science. But while nearly half of Republicans are creationists, so are more than a third of Democrats.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 29, 2018 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      “… mantras are almost always wrong too.”

      Well, only thing I can say to that is om mani padme hum. 🙂

    • KD33
      Posted May 29, 2018 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

      “Anti-vaxxers, flat earthers, anti-nuclear power, animals in research, anti-GMO; there is no statistical difference between conservatives and liberals in the U.S.”

      What is this claim based on?

      • Posted June 9, 2018 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know about the USA, but in my country (Bulgaria), there is little religion but much anti-vax. I see anti-vax views as a reaction to any problem wich child development in societies where people struggle to afford 1.5 children per woman, and so there is a silent premise that all children must be healthy, normal, smart and beautiful.

      • Posted June 9, 2018 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        Also, secular Europeans (often praised at this site) are overwhelmingly anti-GMO, which exposes not only their anti-science and anti-technology attitudes but also their vicious anti-American bigotry.

  7. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 29, 2018 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Critical thinking courses are a staple of the Camp Quest summer camp chain (20 camps geared towards being good places for children of atheists, humanists, and agnostics.)

    Bill Maher, or course, conceded to Mike Huckabee that religion does indeed accomplish good things, but at too high a price!!

    But again, aren’t some religions more prone to anti-science attitudes to others? Those that are veer heavily into pseudo-science and beliefs easily disconfirmed by reproducible testable experiments. All the Abrahamic religions have creationists, and Hindus and Bahai have narratives in competition with science, but there are no Buddhist, Confucianist, or Taoist creationists.

    • Posted May 30, 2018 at 5:18 am | Permalink

      I’d argue Confucianism isn’t technically a religion. It’s just an old man rambling about how he thinks the world should be like. At least, that’s the impression from what I was taught.

    • Posted May 30, 2018 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      Yes, I recall Amanda Metskas gushing about how much it meant to her to lead “Socrates Café”, where she helped the campers wrestle with complicated ethical questions.

      Of course, Metskas’ answer to one complicated ethical question was: ‘sure, why not give your ephebophile boyfriend a paid position with your kids’ camp?’

  8. mirandaga
    Posted May 29, 2018 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    When the study talks about skepticism re science being related to political ideology, it focuses on the political ideology of the skeptic. I think the real problem is the perceived political ideology of the people conducting the science. Most people rightly perceive that “concerned” scientists are by and large liberals (the last time I looked, it was over 60%) and that this political leaning influences what scientists choose to research, what they choose to report, and what they choose to play down. Such an attitude doesn’t necessarily impugn the integrity of the scientists or of their methods and may say nothing about the political ideology of those who hold it. It prevails, I think, simply because it’s true. Once an issue becomes a political football (e.g., climate change or vaccinations), people simply despair of finding objective information about it.

  9. Jiten
    Posted May 29, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Another reason could be that they just don’t understand science, what it is and how it works. Because it’s not only the religious who distrust science. I have non- religious friends who don’t have anything good to say about science! I’ve given up arguing with them.

    • Posted May 29, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      I think s lot of people just don’t think about science much. The lights come on when you click a switch, somebody else fixes your car or computer, your iPhone runs on magic and you can buy pills over the counter that will make your headache go away. Most people just aren’t curious about how anything works because someone else is doing that for them.

      • Posted May 29, 2018 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

        You should see Californians drive in the rain. They don’t think much about how hydro-planing works.

      • Posted June 9, 2018 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        They are right, because they have no chance anyway. Understanding of modern technology cannot be squeezed into a single brain.

  10. Posted May 29, 2018 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    “It’s the religion, Stupid.”

    I’d like that on a tee-shirt.

  11. Posted May 29, 2018 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    The problem with critical thinking courses (and I am certainly in favour of them; I’ve taught one for local CFI, etc.) is what psychologists call “transference”. It is difficult to “use the knowledge elsewhere”. The journal Teaching Philosophy is full of attempts to do this; I know of no good way to do it, though it appears that integrating it across the curriculum may help.

    • freiner
      Posted May 29, 2018 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if the critical thinking “community” is missing something fundamental. An essential part of being a critical thinker may be the desire to be a critical thinker. In a critical thinking class — especially a required 3-unit take this or don’t graduate kind of class — it’s one thing to answer the “evaluate the validity of this argument” type of question, but something else to think to — or, what I’m really after, WANT to — ask that question yourself outside the class. In the context of a CFI class one is probably dealing with people who have that desire already; they really do want to hone their abilities. But in a general educational context (or in this general cultural context) …

      • Posted May 30, 2018 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        The “3 unit take it or else” course is exactly what the “across the curriculum” stuff is supposed to do better with.

        IMO, I wonder if siloed disciplines in general are a bad idea. I learned more calculus in physics classes than from my math ones!

  12. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 29, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    The bigger mystery here, the one that really get my attention is why do we have those with very low or no concern for religion and those that take hold of it like some form of cancer and cannot escape from it. That religion and science are like oil and water just seems obvious even without the studies that prove it.

    Lets get some studies on siblings growing up in the same house, same parents, same education at least through high school. How does one become very religious while the other has nothing to do with it? You cannot say the environment and different cultures play a part in this result. Figure out why this happens because this one might explain some things we are missing here.

    Don’t tell me this does not happen because myself and my sister are perfect examples of this. She is full of religion while I have never had any interest in it. She also knows nothing about evolution but rejects it quite easily. Extremely ignorant of science while thinking actually she is okay with most of it except that evolution thing.

    • Posted May 29, 2018 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      “Lets get some studies on siblings growing up in the same house, same parents, same education at least through high school. How does one become very religious while the other has nothing to do with it?”

      I and my sibling are examples of this also.
      Both were raised in a fundamentalist Christian household through high school. My freshman year of college, I went away from home to a religious college, then married and had a family. My brother stayed home, went to community college and then worked. One would think I’d be religious and he would not, but it’s just the opposite. After unsuccessfully searching for a more “rational” form of Christianity for a time, my spouse and I came to admit that we were no longer believers. My brother’s trajectory has been the opposite as he has become more religious over time.

      I’m a Democrat. He’s a Republican. There are numerous other areas and issues in which we diverge in the extreme. However, so far, we still love each other, communicate and interact.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted May 29, 2018 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

        I think it is a real puzzle. It sure shoots down any idea that religion is in the DNA. It also indicates that the parent factor may not be as big as we thought. My father had nothing to do with religion, it never came up. Mom attempted to get us kids to go to church, you know that exposure thing. I wanted nothing to do with it but it must have stuck with at least one sister. She later tried out several churches and seemed to go after whatever the latest husband was on. Never any stability. You don’t get married and divorced three times if you are stable.

        • Diane G
          Posted June 2, 2018 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

          Hey, Trump’s five sixths of the way there and he’s a very stable genius!

  13. Brian Curtis
    Posted May 29, 2018 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    This confirms the overall message that the biggest problem isn’t ignorance, it’s -belief-. Until blind faith and/or tribalism is addressed, resistance to knowledge will continue.

  14. Posted May 29, 2018 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Even though I have no use for religion and I’m generally against it, I have doubts about it being the cause of science distrust even though it evidently correlates well with religiosity and/or political leanings. Of course, I haven’t done any studies but my gut feeling is it is part of anti-intellectualism in the US, a distrust of experts. Of course, that begs the question as to what causes anti-intellectualism. (Yes, I know some here don’t like it when I use “begs the question” this way.)

    Distrust of experts is tied to self-image issues. We’re in a society that pushes personal confidence and power to the extreme. In most people that runs headlong into one’s own limitations. Too many people, science represents a huge body of knowledge that they’ve long since given up understanding to any great extent. When one can’t achieve something, it is self-preservation to take a position that one didn’t really need it anyway.

    For the many of you here who are undoubtedly scientists, how many have been at a party and been asked, “So what do you do?” After you tell them, they answer something like, “I’m more a creative type.” Or artist, writer, etc. By the way they say it, you know they consider knowledge of science a mutually exclusive alternative to whatever they think they are good at.

    • mirandaga
      Posted May 29, 2018 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      “How many have been at a party and been asked, ‘So what do you do?’”

      I used to say, when people would ask me this, “I’m a writer.” When they followed up with “Oh–what do you write?” I would say “Poetry,” which was pretty much guaranteed to end the conversation. Now that I’m approaching 80 and they ask me “What do you write,” I say, “Eulogies.” It has the same effect.

      • Posted May 29, 2018 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

        Good one! I think I will try that. I am of such an age that it is believable though I have never actually written one.

      • Posted May 29, 2018 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

        At the risk of playing the fool (I’m very good at that…perhaps the only thing I AM good at), are you a writer?

        If so, would you care to cite some of your work? I’d like to read it, especially poetry.

    • Diane G
      Posted June 2, 2018 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

      “So what do you do?” After you tell them, they answer something like, “I’m more a creative type.”

      I hate that. It’s the implied, “…,not an automation like you” that rankles.

      • Posted June 3, 2018 at 12:18 am | Permalink

        Yes, sometimes you get the automaton implication but often they so strongly believe that creativity and critical thinking are qualities that are mutually exclusive, they think they are just stating a fact.

  15. Jon Gallant
    Posted May 29, 2018 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    As others have pointed out, individuals who claim they “have no use for science” are not averse to pressing switches so that the lights go on, the telephone makes a call, and the elevator carries them up to the floor of their dentist’s office. In the latter case, as with automobile repairs, there doesn’t seem to be such a distrust of experts.

    • Posted May 29, 2018 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      They don’t distrust things that they can see, touch, and understand at some level. Thing like elevators and mobile phones do not require any kind of real scientific understanding to use. They are willing to concede that whatever science is behind them must work. This is where things like global climate change, GM foods, and evolution are different. They are hard to verify with one’s own eyes without expending some effort. Of course, global warming IS affecting some people but it depends a lot on where you live. Of course, they do mostly trust modern medicine but that doesn’t visibly depend on evolution.

      • XCellKen
        Posted May 29, 2018 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        They can’t see nor touch Gawd, but that doesn’t stop them from believing

        • Posted May 29, 2018 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

          Are you suggesting they should think of evolution and global climate change as they think of “Gawd” (I like that) and just have faith? Don’t think that’s a good idea.

        • Posted May 30, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          But they *can* (claim to) understand it – god is a person in most theologies, and certainly in most religions proper. Gods and ghosts and such are people, just with a few parameters tweaked, so they don’t seem totally “out there”. (Cf. Pascal Boyer.)

          I am also, for the same sort of reason, pretty sure that we aren’t naïve empiricists by default – we learn to conjecture beyond experience. What *is* interesting is what governs the scope of hypothetical reasoning – which I don’t claim to know, only that something affects it as it takes practice and training to learn to do it in all domains (and hence to do science).

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 29, 2018 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

        I think you’ve made a significant point. I get wild when the ultra-religious – or, come to that, the touchy-feely pomo cultural relativists – use phones, computers and the Internet to denigrate science, completely ignoring the fact that those gadgets are proof that science works.


  16. nicky
    Posted May 29, 2018 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    You pointed out the weakest part of the study, Jerry, a very small and non-random sample, measuring a lot of different things.(an ‘n’ of 105 might give really significant results if only one parameter is measured). Also, the findings about the 3 questions approached (climate change, GMO’s and vaccination) appear not very surprising. In that sense the study shows nothing new or unexpected. I have difficulty to see how the study actually shows that religion is the greatest barrier to accepting science (although we know they are incompatible, cf. FvF).
    However, the larger study might be interesting, and give some ammunition, even if the results would turn out not to be world-shaking.

  17. Posted May 29, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Just a note on statistical terminology: contrary to the Rutjens et al.’s paper, they do not use hierarchical regression analysis. A hierarchical model is one that accounts for grouping variables; e.g. fitting separate regression models with different intercepts across genders (the grouping variable). Rutjens et al.’s perform a traditional multiple regression analysis (no grouping variables). They use a kind of stepwise procedure to get to their final models, but they incorrectly label this as a “hierarchical” procedure.

    I’ve started to see this misusage more in various social science journals, unfortunately.

  18. John
    Posted May 30, 2018 at 2:36 am | Permalink

    I just note that the sample size of 105 refers to the pilot study only. There are 3 additional studies in the paper with sample sizes ranging from 250 to 1400.

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