| Science Asks: Why Are Angry Atheists Annoying?|
December 12, 2016 / Briggs / 71 Comments
The Temple of Reason (the guillotines are just offstage).
What’s more annoying than an atheist who harangues passersby about “rationality”? Easy answer: a scientist who announces a discovery about human behavior that was known by everybody since Adam.
Our tip comes from New York magazine, in its “ Finally, a Psychological Explanation for Why Angry Athiests [sic] Are So Annoying“.
For some (loud, argumentative) people, science isn’t just a collective endeavor to understand the world. It’s a moral system: To be unscientific is to be unethical, and they’ll be happy to tell you all about at the next housewarming party.They’re talking about the peer-reviewed paper “ Moralized Rationality: Relying on Logic and Evidence in the Formation and Evaluation of Belief Can Be Seen as a Moral Issue” by Tomas Stôhl, Maarten P. Zaal, and Linda J. Skitka in PLOS One.
As that brand of atheistic evangelism exhibits, rationality taken to an extreme itself turns into ideology.
The authors invent the term “moralized rationality” (MR) to describe those folks who prate on about their deep love of “evidence” and such forth. Incidentally, for moralized rationalizers, only that which can be observed counts as evidence, which of course leaves out all mathematics, logic, metaphysics, and, worst of all, the rules of rational argument; a most irrational position.
As is usual, the authors gathered some folks on the Internet and asked them a series of questions to which they assigned arbitrary numbers, submitted those numbers to classical statistics routines, and discovered wee p-values.
[Participants] were presented with a hypothetical scenario: a doctor (Richard) was presented with a devoutly Christian patient (Mary) with diffuse symptoms. In both narratives, Richard told Mary to pray for her health. In one version the doctor did so in order to harness a placebo effect; in the other, he did so because he thought that God answers prayers. The higher people scored on MR, the more upset they said they were about the prayer prescription and the more they wanted Richard punished. We did not need an “experiment” to tell us that angry atheists are angry at people who recommend prayer. Interestingly, the observational effects of prayer have been striking throughout history. When confronted by this evidence (which they agree is evidence) moralized rationalizers typically extend alternate hypotheses which might explain the observations. That any cause beside God might exist is then used to dismiss the idea God answered the prayers. Yet since for any set of contingent observations endless theories of what might have caused the observations exist, this procedure used by moralized rationalizers can be used to dismiss any causal claim. And that isn’t very rational.
There is nothing in this paper that is interesting. Here’s the opening two sentences.
Human history is replete with examples of new scientific ideas and observations creating tension with normative beliefs of the day. Despite being backed up by strong evidence, defenders of heliocentrism, the theory of evolution by natural selection, as well as the current scientific consensus that human activity causes global warming have all faced ferocious resistance against their ideas. To which we can say, the myths of scientism are strong in these authors. Here’s the beginning of the paper’s end:
[S]ome people view it as a moral virtue to rely on reason and evidence when forming and evaluating beliefs…Moralized rationality is not only related to the rejection of traditional beliefs that are not backed up by logic and evidence, but also leads to intolerance of those who endorse such beliefs… Somehow it slipped the attention of the authors that some theists view it as a moral virtue to rely on reason and evidence when forming and evaluating beliefs. Or did the authors want to imply that “reason and evidence” only lead to atheism? That’s not a very rational position to take.
Lastly, “Because moralized rationality centers on the appropriate processes of evaluating beliefs, rather than on their specific contents, it may also be a safeguard against motivated reasoning biases.”
Farmers could fertilize their fields with that one—although what would sprout up wouldn’t be edible.
Contrary to what the authors say, atheists who feel obliged to proselytize (“solemn nonsense” and “grave sin” says Pope Francis) are more like a cartoon (with a varying punchline) you might have seen. One gentleman is standing at the leftmost of a line of urinals; the others are empty. Entering stage right is another fellow. He eschews all empty slots except for the one next to our hero. The new fellow arrives, pauses for a blank panel, then says, “I’m an atheist.”
(I’ve also seen “I’m a vegan” and “Bernie Sanders supporter.”)