Copernicus Again: Why the Christian brain fights science

Earth_Heart_01_a_brWhy does the Christian community again find itself at war with science, living by candle light so unnecessarily? Much like our demand that the earth was the center of the solar system, we deny global warming. As if either was an affront to our beliefs. We erroneously thought that the earth’s position was some sort of statement about our importance in God’s plan and now we jump to similar conclusions about global warming.

I remember in Seminary, almost 20 years ago, hearing a professor talk about taking care of the planet and I thought she was off her rocker. So I must confess that I was an anti global warming guy, who believed all of the Rightwing hype. As I reflected on my transition, I tried to dig deep into my own experience. It happened so gradually that I don’t recall the pivotal moments, but I do recall some of the emotional and irrational responses I had to the idea of global warming. I do know that once my underlying frameworks began to shift I was able to take in new information and see things differently. This happened over time but fundamentally my shift began when certain assumptions (some of which are listed below) I could no longer adhere to.  My framework shifted when I saw the opposition themselves in a completely different light- they were not the enemy.

Assimilation vs. Accommodation

The reason that many Christians are resistant to science is the same reason that all humans struggle with new information- Assimilation vs. Accommodation. In psychological terms, assimilation is the process of taking new information and fitting it into our existing framework whereas accommodation requires me to change my framework to fit the new information learned. It is a neurological fact that accommodation actually takes more energy. It is physically more difficult to change our current framework than to find a way to make it fit our existing one. This makes most humans pretty bad at changing beliefs and ideologies.

Because our minds are fundamentally lazy (or “economical” to be kinder to ourselves) we develop heuristics by which we make decisions. A heuristic is a short cut based upon principles developed from our existing framework.

  • Authority Heuristic– belief in the opinion of an authority as fact
  • Affect Heuristic– snap judgment based upon a feeling w/o doing any research
  • Rule of Thumb Heuristic– a broad a approach that doesn’t take specific circumstances into account
  • Availability Heuristic– use information from similar past experiences
  • Consistency heuristic– allows them to stay consistent

The Flawed Foundation

The problem with accommodation and heuristics is part of human nature and it takes a great deal of effort and awareness to resist. So the church’s problem isn’t just thatshutterstock196241801---cracked-crumbling-foundati heuristics exist but that the foundation upon which they rest is so flawed. What is the framework that has bound many Christians for centuries? It starts with a proclivity toward Dichotomous Thinking. Dichotomous or Black and White thinking is identified by Cognitive therapists as a cognitive distortion.  It sets up all or nothing scenarios or all good/all bad appraisals that act much like heuristics, circumventing rational thinking. “All Republican agendas are right and all Democratic agendas are wrong.” “Anything that is not capitalism is wrong.”  There is no gray, no room to examine the merits of an idea because it falls into one of the two categories that automatically make it right or wrong. This type of thinking has cemented several foundational beliefs that are the bedrock for all the heuristics thereafter. Two of which are:

  1. Anything secular cannot have truth- bible only!
  2. Secular society and liberal left is darkness and out to destroy Christianity (It’s us vs. them)

Any new information challenges the status quo (Consistency Heuristic), the Availability and Rule of Thumb heuristic tell me that if secular society or the liberal left is behind this it must be bad. This is confirmed by those I view as spiritually knowledgeable (Authority heuristic). As a result, I go no further in my investigation or I engage in Confirmation Bias and seek out only evidence to support my negative position on the subject. In my attempt to confirm my bias I develop fears surrounding this new information because it must be part of an agenda to destroy my Christian beliefs-

  •  This s a conspiracy to destroy hard working Americans.
  • The liberals value trees more than people.
  • Thinking that we can destroy the world defies God’s sovereignty.
  • Taking care of nature means worshiping nature or valuing nature more than humans

I think, taking a step back, we can see that the position isn’t based out of logic, though logic researchers would say that few of our decisions are. These conclusions come from a very faulty framework that anything “other” is the enemy. Any idea or movement outside of “us” is a trap.

The reality is that even if global warming was wrong, taking care of the planet and Stewardship wuotepreventing pollution is a solidly Christian idea. It is selfish to put the burden on future generations, which involves a satisfy-me-now mentality rather than taking a measured long view. Let’s face it, its good stewardship to take care of the planet.

It’s hard to argue those points from a rational platform with all the facts because individuals aren’t holding to their position based upon fact or logic. I think the only way to have a meaningful dialogue about these things is for the initial framework to be challenged. That framework only gets challenged by having meaningful contact with the “other” (in this case conservatives with liberals and getting to know their hearts).

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