Sometimes the story’s NOT the thing!

Following the daft church sign posted previously, I thought I’d stick with religion after reading this today at Michael Fridman’s blog. Seriously, sometimes humanity makes me want to drown things…

People Believe a LOT of Nonsense on Evolution, Creationism, Religion

I’m not talking about creationists, that goes without saying. I’m talking about the fact that a very high percentage of arguments by people who claim that evolution and religion are compatible are in fact nonsense. Via Jerry Coyne, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that made me lose my faith in humanity just a little more. In terms of both the article and the comments. It’s a microcosm of the kind of muddle-headed thinking that often comes up when evolution and religion are discussed together. Here we go:

The article is about a theory advanced by Dan McAdams (a professor of psych specialising in narrative psychology) about public acceptance of evolution is so low in the US. According to McAdams, humans make sense of their lives through narratives. We constructing them about ourselves and also respond to them when others advance them. Evolution may be a wonderful and elegant explanation, but it’s a bad narrative. No purpose, no quest, no protagonists/antagonists. “You can’t really feel anything for this character—natural selection,” McAdams says. Sounds like a great parody on the Onion but he’s serious! And according to this analysis, evolution will always be an uphill battle.

The biblical story of creation, in contrast, couldn’t be richer. Talk about drama! Characters who want things, surprising reversals, heroes, villains, nudity. There’s a reason it outsells On the Origin of Species, and it may be why scientists haven’t had more success at moving the needle of public opinion.

Without denigrating the field of narrative psychology, this is beyond ridiculous. Thankfully the whole article was succinctly demolished in the third comment so I don’t even have to do anything:

Surely the obvious comment is that the US is anomalous among developed (and relatively highly educated) countries in its high level of skepticism about evolution. This argues strongly against explanations grounded in universal human psychology, but supports religious explanations, since the US is also highly anomalous in its level of adherence to Biblical religions.

Of course the other obvious point is that plenty of other scientific theories are just as unnarrative without people having a problem accepting them. Again, a stray commenter’s few sentences are right on target.

Poppycock. Does gravity require a narrative? Do magnets require character development? Do people inquire about agency and plot development before taking medicine? The need for myths and legends may be powerful – but if it excludes the acceptance of science, it’s the culprit not the solution.

It goes on and Michael does a good job of covering the whole topic. It’s interesting stuff from the point of view of storytelling and so on, even if it is vexing. Read it all here.

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6 thoughts on “Sometimes the story’s NOT the thing!

  1. Since I’m here haranguing you anyway on your other post, I’d like to offset that by loudly agreeing with your frustration on this post. AGREEING LOUDLY!

  2. Thanks! I now think our ISPs should give you a “welcome to the internet” pack with a headband to soften the thump of foreheads against desks as these quotes show…

  3. It seems to be an explanation which, to paraphrase someone else (Feynman?) is simple, beautiful, and wrong.

    Or at least, not necessarily right.

    I can only imagine it being a contributing factor if science education in the US is as bad as legislators seems determined to make it.

  4. The Polytheist Creation Story shows how evolution–competitive change as each creature establishes itself in a different niche–fits perfectly with creationism.

    Pagans have no problem finding stories to tell about evolution, nor any other aspect of science. If the evangelicals can’t find stories to tell in the slow dance of continents and transformation of species into new selves, that only shows their lack of imagination. 😛

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