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Thursday, 24 December 2009

Polkinghorne Quotes #12: A Dangerous and Satisfying Truth

This is the 12th post in a series on the writings of John Polkinghorne.

The “Two Books” is a common metaphor in the science / faith discussion. We study both scripture (God’s Word) and the book of nature (God’s works). Since God is the author of both books, both can lead us to truth. Sometimes the truths we encounter are so counterintuitive that many exclaim “That’s impossible!” (eg. scientific truths like quantum mechanics or common descent; biblical truths like the resurrection). But even though these truths seem to contradict common sense (are virtually nonsense), on close examination, their veracity is demonstrated by the evidence.

Although all truth is God’s truth, not all truth is equally significant. As Polkinghorne notes, both of God’s books contain truth, but they differ greatly in the potential to impact our lives:

There is one important difference, however, between scientific belief and religious belief. The latter is much more demanding and more dangerous. I believe passionately in quantum theory, but that belief doesn’t threaten to change my life in any significant way. I cannot believe in God, however, without knowing that I must be obedient to his will for me as it becomes known to me. God is not there just to satisfy my intellectual curiosity; he is there to be honoured and respected and loved as my Creator and Saviour. Beware! Let me utter a theological health warning or, rather, promise: “Reading the Bible can change your life”

Searching for Truth, page 16
The truth in scripture can change our lives because it introduces us to the Author of creation, the purpose of creation, and the purpose for our lives. The book of nature, no matter how awe inspiring and wondrous, can never do that. We should never confuse the book for the author (a mistake that has been made repeatedly since the dawn of human consciousness).

As we prepare to celebrate the time when the Author inserted himself into the book of nature (in an altogether unexpected fashion!), let us give thanks for both his books. And we should also remember that no matter how satisfying it is to gain knowledge from these two books, knowing the Author and being known by him (1 Cor 13:12) is even better.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Evolution and Creation: The disconnect between how students process data and what they believe

This is a guest post by Marlowe C. Embree. Marlowe teaches psychology at the University of Wisconsin Colleges and published the 7-part series The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate last fall. He is currently conducting some original research on whether personality differences affect a person’s conclusions regarding creation and evolution, and how likely they are to change their views. This post is the last in a 3-part series where Marlowe shares some of the findings of his research.

In my previous two posts, I presented information about student views of origins and their relationship to personality type differences. In this last post, I will address some concerns related to the nature and source of knowledge.

A) Epistemology and Metaphysics

Philosophers use the terms “epistemology” and “metaphysics” (or “ontology”) to make the distinction I have in mind. Epistemology is the study of how truth can be known, what its sources and justification (or warrant) might be, and how we distinguish truth from opinion. The underlying conclusions about what is true is the domain of metaphysics or ontology. Different persons have different ideas about what is ultimately or noncontingently real, for instance: materialists believe that only matter is real (and thus presumably, in some sense or another, eternal), while theists believe that matter exists only because of the logically prior existence of God.

B) Relationship between how students process data and what they believe

For students, the data from this survey show that links between epistemology and metaphysics were modest at best. Correlations between items of the two different types were no higher than 0.2. Though it would seem logical to presume that epistemological views of such items as the existence of extrascientific sources of truth, the religious neutrality of the scientific method, the capacity for human certainty, and the like would be correlated with worldview stances like CR, TE, and SE, this did not largely prove to be the case. Nor did personality type differences correlate significantly with epistemological items on the attitude survey.

It appears that, for most students, their conclusions about reality are not grounded in a well thought out theory of knowledge. What students believe about God, about evolution, and about the relationship between science and religion does not appear, for the most part, to be a product of independent thinking. A few remarks about this observation follow.

First, this conclusion seems true for all worldview groups. The stereotype that only certain individuals (those whose conclusions one disputes!) are subject to this problem appears well refuted. Students across the worldview spectrum appeared equally subject to this kind of epistemological disconnect.

Second, the conclusion refers only to students in my research sample and cannot meaningfully be generalized beyond the sample. Since my students are at a freshman-sophomore level, the problem is likely a cognitive-developmental one. Researchers into the development of student epistemology (e.g., Belenky et al.) suggest a five-stage model of the development of independent thinking; many of my students have confirmed to me, in informal discussions, that they perceive themselves to be at an early stage of this developmental model. This isn’t a criticism of them; it’s natural for students who are just making the transition from high school to college to be at this point.

C) Conclusions and Next Steps

Overall, this study provides modest support for the notion that personality differences significantly mediate student beliefs about the origins debate and I believe further research is warranted. In future work, I hope to explore in more depth relationships among neurology, micro- and macrocultural differences, cognitive styles, personality, and views of origins.

Future studies might examine longitudinal impacts of higher education on changing attitudes about origins as mediated by type differences. There is some indication that there are discipline-specific impacts (for instance, students of biology may end up with different views than students of psychology), though rigorous empirical examination of this question in the light of type theory has not yet been completed. Self-selection biases represent an obvious confound, since students cannot be randomly assigned to different courses and since type likely plays a major role in determining student course selection. A content analysis of qualitative information, based on student narratives about their changing (or constant) views about origins throughout their college career, could prove quite interesting.

Given the ethics governing my research, I can’t directly ask interested readers to help me collect more data at this time, but would value opportunities to dialogue about this as a future possibility. You can also review a summary of my research on my college website

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Personality Types mapped to Positions on Origins: Student Survey Results

This is a guest post by Marlowe C. Embree. Marlowe teaches psychology at the University of Wisconsin Colleges and published the 7-part series The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate last fall. He is currently conducting some original research on whether personality differences affect a person’s conclusions regarding creation and evolution, and how likely they are to change their views. This post is the second in a 3-part series where Marlowe shares some of the findings of his research.

In my first post, I presented some introductory data relating to the prevalence among college students of four different views of origins (creationism, theistic evolution, secular evolution, and “other”). In this post, I will address the question of personality type and its possible influence on which view a given student might choose to adopt.

In reviewing the material below, a few significant points should be clearly understood. My research should not be construed as an attempt to dismiss the validity of any of the views of origins on the grounds that they are in some way a mere artifact of personality. Psychological research can never, within its own proper universe of discourse, pass judgment on the validity of a person’s ideas; what it can do is elucidate reasons why different people have a tendency to gravitate to different views. Social psychologists speak of the Verstehen-Erklären distinction to distinguish between an attempt to understand something “from the inside” (sympathetically or emically) and an attempt to explain away something “from the outside” (critically or etically). Philosophically and personally, my sympathies are with the former. Those who seek to use my work to disparage or discredit the worldview perspectives of others have completely missed the spirit of my research.

A) Personality Diversity and Cognitive Styles

Many different factors likely influence the viewpoint an individual comes to hold on the origins debate, including but not limited to cultural socialization, religious or nonreligious self-identification, and level and type of education, just to name a few. One potential influence that, to date, has not been extensively explored has to do with personality differences and the possible link between these differences and variations in information processing and cognitive styles. My research examines potential relationships between personality diversity, as viewed from a Jungian perspective and operationalized by means of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and student views of the origins debate.

a. Background on the Jungian Model
Jung proposed that four irreducible functions underlie all mental activity. In the standard Myers-Briggs terminology, they are known as Sensing (S), iNtuition (N), Thinking (T), and Feeling (F).

Both Sensing and iNtuition are means of gathering information about the world without otherwise analyzing or prioritizing it. As such, they are opposing forms of Perceiving (P). Sensing involves a here-and-now, observant focus on present realities as they present themselves to the five senses; hence, individuals who emphasize Sensing as their means of information-gathering tend to become practical, detail-minded, concrete, and application-oriented. In contrast, iNtuition involves a broad-brush, conceptual or imaginative focus on future possibilities as they arise from the unconscious mind or by means of a “sixth sense”; hence, individuals who prefer iNtuition are likely to become creative, big-picture, abstract, and theory-oriented.

Once information is gathered, it can be evaluated or assessed using either of two so-called Judging (J) functions, either Thinking or Feeling. Thinking involves an impersonal, objective analysis with a focus on causes and effects, leading to an orientation among those who prefer Thinking that is calm, consistent, logical, and efficient. Feeling, on the other hand, involves a personal, subjective assessment focused on personal and collective values, producing among those who prefer Feeling a style that is sensitive, individualizing, empathic, and harmony-seeking. However, it should be carefully noted that Thinking does not mean intellect (there are no correlations between T-F and IQ, for instance) and Feeling does not have emotion (both Ts and Fs have emotions, but manage them differently).

Each of these functions can be expressed either in an outward-looking, Extraverted fashion or an inward-looking, Introverted manner, and one of these two modes dominates the entire personality. Finally, a person can either be drawn to closure and structure (a so-called Judging type) or to openness and flexibility (a so-called Perceiving type) in the conduct of their outer lives. Thus, the four possible preferences (E or I, S or N, T or F, J or P) together yield 16 possible psychological types (e.g., INFP). The relative prevalence of the sixteen psychological types in my research sample is presented in Table 3. Isabel Briggs Myers and others have confirmed that liberal arts students tend to be disproportionately NF, so this type distribution is not surprising.

b. Current Consensus of relationship between Personality Types and Religion
The existing type literature strongly suggests a consistent relationship between Feeling and religion (formal citations are not provided in this overview, but are readily available upon request). Most religious leaders and most self-identified religious persons have a higher probability of a Feeling preference than the general population, whereas secularists tend to prefer Thinking. The Sensing-iNtuition preference appears to relate to the conservative-liberal disparity within religious circles, with Sensing types more likely to adhere to conservative forms of religion and iNtutive types more likely to identify with liberal forms. Thus, the main hypotheses of this study refer to the four so-called functional combinations (Sensing-Thinking, Sensing-Feeling, iNtution-Thinking, and iNtuition-Feeling). It would be expected that creationists would be disproportionately SF, theistic evolutionists disproportionately NF (and perhaps NT), and secular evolutionists disproportionately ST (and perhaps NT).

B) Relationship between Personality Type and Attitudes to Origins: Initial Results

The Thinking-Feeling and Judging-Perceiving dimensions yielded statistically significant differences among the four worldview groups (see Table 4).

CR and TE respondents were statistically higher in Feeling, and SE and OT respondents higher in Thinking, suggesting that theists vs. nontheists utilize strikingly different ways of turning inputs (data) into conclusions. This may suggest an underlying genetic propensity to view the world in either personal or impersonal ways.

CR and SE respondents, though opposite in many respects, were statistically higher in Judging, while TE and OT respondents were higher in Perceiving. This makes sense given that Judgers seek closure and certainty (whether theistic or atheistic certainty) that might preclude seeing any value in their opponents’ positions, while Perceivers seek openness and flexibility (which might include a desire to find value in both sides of a debate or a tendency to presume that no simple answers can be correct).

By a Self-Selection Ratio (SSR) criterion (a common comparative statistic utilized in typological research), each worldview was characteristically adopted by different types (see Table 5). Creationists are most likely to be ISFJ or ESFJ, among the most traditional and group-minded of the types. Secular evolutionists are most likely to be INTJ or ENTJ, among the most iconoclastic and individualistic of the types. Theistic evolutionists are most likely to be ISFP or INFP, among the most tender-minded and harmony-seeking of the types. Thus, individuals’ core motives may shape their worldview preferences in interesting ways.

C) Next Post

This research may suggest that some (by no means all!) cultural disputes about origins may reflect “arguments about the shape of the table”, in which each disputant defaults to his or her dominant cognitive posture (as determined by her/his personality type). This may encourage a greater willingness to find value in the ideas of others with whom one disagrees, and may suggest a way to disagree more respectfully. Indeed, one goal of my research is to demonstrate that what appear to be disputes about specific issues are often meta-disputes in disguise, in which each party is really defending his or her own characteristic mental process. If the real issue is one of process (how one thinks), apparent disputes about content (what one thinks) will be permanently unresolvable. My last post will address questions about the relationships between mental process and mental content among students.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Personality Types and Student Views of the Origins Debate: Part 1 – Background and Results of the Origins Views Survey

This is a guest post by Marlowe C. Embree. Marlowe teaches psychology at the University of Wisconsin Colleges and published the 7-part series The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate last fall. He is currently conducting some original research on whether personality differences affect a person’s conclusions regarding creation and evolution, and how likely they are to change their views. This post is the first in a 3-part series where Marlowe shares some of the findings of his research.

I am currently doing research that explores the correlation between personality type differences and student views of the “origins debate”. The influence of personality types in this discussion has not been adequately explored, and my initial findings suggest some interesting relationships. In this post, I will provide a background to the origins debate in the dialogue between religion and science and comment on the results of the first part of my survey that explores student views on origins. In a second post later this week I will provide a background on personality diversity and cognitive styles, and summarize the results of the second part of my research which matches student views on origins to personality types. In a third post I will comment on what the survey shows regarding how students determine “truth”, and what they believe.

A) The Origins Debate and the Relationship between Religion and Science

A century and a half after the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, Americans outside the professional scientific community remain deeply divided about the “origins debate”. The majority of recent national surveys converge on the general finding that about 40-50% of Americans adopt a creationist view, roughly 40% adhere to a theistic evolutionist or evolutionary creationist view, and the remaining 10-20% affirm a secular evolutionary view. Underlying this debate is a larger dispute about the best way to conceptualize the relationship between religion and science, which has been sharpened in recent years by the writings of the so-called “new atheists”.

The rise of evolutionary psychology as a new discipline has led to aggressive attempts to explain (or, in the minds of some critics, “explain away”) religion in terms of an evolutionary artifact (technically, a so-called spandrel) related to the modularization of cognitive processes, by way of the development of a so-called “hyperactive agency detection device” in the brain. Some recent research on the relationship between religious experience and brain activity, such as Persinger’s work with his self-styled “God helmet”, have received much attention in the popular media, though they have been criticized on both conceptual and methodological grounds by others in the neuropsychology community (e.g., Mario Beauregard).

As a result of the meta-level differences that exist among those who ponder questions of how science and religion might be related, those who seek to inform themselves about these issues in order to resolve the origins debate for themselves are confronted with a plethora of mutually contradictory perspectives and may well be at a loss to know how to resolve the contradictions. It would not be surprising if many Americans, including college undergraduates, remain confused if not conflicted about these issues.

B) Student Survey on Origins

For the first part of my research, I administered a 50-item questionnaire measuring attitudes about biological origins and related matters to 429 UW Colleges students. Based on responses to the origins attitude survey, students’ level of belief in God and their degree of acceptance of mainstream science (organic evolution) were measured separately, to yield (by way of a median split method) a fourfold classification scheme: belief in God but not in evolution (creationism or CR); belief in both God and evolution (theistic evolution or TE); belief in evolution but not in God (secular evolution or SE); and, perhaps somewhat incongruously, belief in neither (other or OT).

Among students surveyed, 56% were creationists, 13% were theistic evolutionists, 16% were secular evolutionists, and 15% were “other”. The table below describes these results.

These results show that 69% of the students believe in God, somewhat below the 80% figure within the general American adult population. However, only around 29% accept evolution, which is well below the 60% figure for the general American population. It is difficult to say why these results are discrepant; it may be due to the general conservativism of the rural Midwest, or due to the manner in which I defined acceptance vs. rejection of evolution (using a more attitudinally sensitive methodology than is typically used in national opinion surveys). Utilization of my survey methodology in a wider geographic setting could prove interesting. The Baylor University survey of religious attitudes by region confirms an earlier finding by sociologist of religion Mark Silk that there are strong regional differences (for instance, religious conservativism is higher in the Midwest and South and lower in the East and West).

C) Is Theistic Evolution A Unique Position?

To some extent, this study suggests that, as students view the world, TE is an intermediate or compromise position between CR and SE. On a majority of the origins inventory items, TE respondents endorsed the items at a level in between the responses of CR and SE individuals (suggesting that a primary motive for these students is to split the difference between CR and SE or to mediate in some way between them). However, on some items, TEs respond uniquely. TEs were the most likely of the three groups to agree that “science can neither confirm nor deny the existence of God”, that “both those who believe in God and those who do not may be rational persons”, that “both evolution and intelligent design should be taught in the public schools”, and that “God used evolutionary processes to create life”. TEs were less likely than the other two groups to agree that “there is an inherent conflict between science and religion” and that “if evolutionary theory is true, it is fatal to all forms of religious belief”. To this extent, TE represents a unique point of view that is a “third way” all its own, rather than a mere compromise between creationism and secular evolution.

D) Conclusion

The results of this first survey on student views on origins were used to map these views to personality types. In my next post, I will summarize my findings on this relationship by connecting the results of this survey with these students Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I will also include a summary of Carl Jung’s taxonomy of personality for those who are unfamiliar with it.

Copyright © 2009 - Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. - All rights reserved

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Personality Types and Student Views of the Origins Debate: Series Introduction

Last fall, Marlowe Embree published a series on The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate. In that series he mentioned that he was conducting some original research on whether personality differences affect a person’s conclusions regarding creation and evolution, and how likely they are to change their views. I’m pleased to welcome Marlowe back to "An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution". In a new three-part series to be published over next couple of weeks, he will provide a brief review of some of his research results. The subjects of this research were students at the college where he teaches, somewhat serendipitous given that our last series provided perspectives on the science / faith dialogue from various post-secondary students.

Psychology is often treated by Christians with even more suspicion than biology, with the interface between psychology and religion being the “worst of the lot”. So I suspect that this discussion about the affect of personality factors on views of origins could be somewhat contentious. After all some people (from all sides of the debate!) may maintain that (correct) conclusions on human origins are a matter of examining the evidence (whether scientific, theological, or biblical), and that these conclusions are not influenced by an individual’s personality. Others who share my evangelical faith will probably point out that this faith is provided to us by the grace of God through the leading of his Holy Spirit, and that an individual’s personality type does not influence our, or God’s, decisions. I would even wholeheartedly agree with the first clause in both these statements, but not necessarily with the conclusion that personality plays no role in these matters. (At a minimum, I’d like to hear more of what Marlowe and others are discovering in this area).

I believe that this discussion is both worthwhile and helpful for the evangelical community; after all, if we are to peacefully settle this ongoing debate about origins (and unfortunately, notwithstanding the efforts of many evangelicals, it is still a debate and not a dialogue), shouldn’t we try to understand how and why people make decisions and form their beliefs?

Enjoy the series.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Speaking the Truth (about science) in Love - and Focus on the Family’s Truth Project

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:14-16)
Christian Unity
I really appreciate Ephesians chapter 4 where Paul admonishes believers to be unified in Christ, to be at peace with one another, and to treat each other with gentleness, love, and respect. We need to recognize both our individual gifts (eg. 1 Cor 12) and our individual frailties so that we can work to our common goal. This attitude will not only help us grow closer to Christ, but will also help us attract others to the family of God.

But being unified in love does not imply an anything-goes acceptance. Part of being family is helping each other mature in the faith, and this includes “speaking the truth in love”. Our faith is in Jesus Christ who is the “way, the truth, and the life”; articulating this truth and defending this truth (1 Pet 3:15-17) is part of our calling. Sometimes we need to discuss with, ask questions of, and even confront, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Truth is important.

Truth in Science
So what about truth in science? For many years the majority of evangelicals have loudly and vigorously opposed the theory of evolution, even though the evidence for common descent is now almost scientifically incontestable. So it is probably time for those of us that have travelled this journey of faith / science reconciliation to speak the truth in love. As Mark Noll notes, the methods of evangelical engagement with science have become “intellectually, biblically, theologically, apologetically, and spiritually” damaging.

Discussing the issues of Origins in the Church
As we discussed here almost two years ago, there are times to confront, times to dialogue, and times to remain silent on the topic of origins. However, as I admitted then (as still admit now) determining when to confront, when to dialogue and when to remain silent is notoriously difficult.

On a personal level, I think Bethany offers some good advice in this comment from her post last week. When discussing origins with other Christians, we should take into account whether the setting is appropriate, whether the science / faith issue has pastoral implications for the person involved (ie. We could do more harm than good), and maybe most importantly, whether we have the “relational currency” to challenge our Christian friend.

Focus on the Family’s “Truth” Project and Preaching Untruths in the Church
Focus on the Family is promoting their “Truth Project” to churches and small groups. A quick look at the lesson overview shows that, ironically, the Truth Project doesn’t seem to put much stock in truth when it comes to science (see lesson 5). For example, this lesson states that “Darwinian theory transforms science from the honest investigation of nature into a vehicle for propagating a godless philosophy”. Completely untrue.

Then later it is stated that:
A careful examination of molecular biology and the fossil record demonstrates that evolution is not a "proven fact."
This might be technically defensible depending how badly one defined “evolution” and “proven”, but at the very minimum this is (maybe unintentionally) deceptive; hardly a harbinger for expecting much truth from the actual lessons.

Confronting Anti-evolution in the Church
Given what has been said above, I would like to propose a guideline for when we as ECs should NOT remain silent. When either 1) a Christian organization in which we participate or 2) our local Church officially promote anti-evolutionary views, I believe that we must speak up. In this instance, we must “speak the truth in love” and provide the message that:

a) the scientific evidence for common descent is massive
b) the acceptance of biological evolution is compatible with an evangelical expression of the Christian faith

For us to remain silent in these circumstances would be a disservice to the gospel. It would be unloving to our brothers and sisters who are being told that their faith rests on a specific view of science that is demonstrably false.

Dennis Venema’s response to the Truth Project
Dennis Venema is currently in this exact situation – and is speaking up. As he outlined in this comment last week, the Truth Project is being taught at his church. As a geneticist, he is particularly qualified to point out where scientific falsehoods are being promoted. Dennis offered to provide an official response for his church but was turned down. In lieu of that, he gave a talk to some interested church members in a private home.

I encourage my readers to check out Dennis’s talk entitled "Can an evangelical Christian accept evolution?" (the video is broken into 12 parts). As he indicated, this talk for his fellow church members is based on his "Human Genomics: Vestiges of Eden or Skeletons in the Closet?" lecture (audio and slides) at the ASA conference this summer, but this more intimate discussion is targeted at a non-specialist audience.

I thought Dennis's presentation to his church friends was excellent; I believe it will be particularly helpful for someone new to this dialogue. And it was definitely provided in a spirit of speaking the truth in love. Hopefully this will encourage the rest of us to follow suit.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Ebook and Index for the Student Perspective Series

This completes the series on “Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective” - well, at least the main posts; the conversation in the comments seems to be continuing.

Thanks a lot to Ryan, Emiliano, Eric, Jordan, and Bethany for taking the time to participate (I realize “writing one more essay” can hardly be a huge priority for busy post-grad students), but also for the energy, personal investment, and thoughtful approach to each of your articles. This was definitely not an assignment that any of you “mailed in”. It showed. I know you have provided encouragement to many of us here in the EC wilderness.

As I’ve done for other series published on this blog, this series has been compiled into a Ebook. Anyone can download the free PDF version of it from scribd and redistribute it as they see fit (bearing in mind the Creative Commons license – which in my rudimentary understanding means “you can copy it, but don’t claim it as your own or charge money for it”).

I’ve also included a quick index below with direct links to each of the articles in the series.

1. Introduction (Steve Martin)

2. My journey from opposing evolution to studying it (Ryan Bebej)

3. An evolutionary biology student discovers Christ ... and the toxic anti-evolutionism that often taints the Gospel (Emiliano Carneiro Monteiro)

4. My transition from a conservative creationist to a theistic evolutionist - albeit with some unanswered questions (Eric DeVries)

5. Clarifying concepts in the creation-evolution dialogue (Jordan Mallon)

6. Avoiding the topic of Evolution in Christian academia: Reflections from a theology student (Bethany Sollereder)