The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate

A Weblog Series published on An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution

Author: Marlowe C. Embree

Edited by: Steve Martin

Document Version: 1.1 Last Updated: April 7, 2009

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The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate

Table of Contents
I. Overview of the Author and Series ..................................................................................................................3 II. The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate: Introduction............................................................................4 III. The Origins Debate through the Lens of Piagetian Theory .............................................................................5 IV. Ingroup-outgroup Bias in the Origins Debate: Part One .................................................................................7 V. Ingroup-outgroup Bias in the Origins Debate: Part Two.................................................................................8 VI. Personality Diversity and Cognitive Modes in the Origins Debate: Part One.................................................9 VII. Personality Diversity and Cognitive Modes in the Origins Debate: Part Two..............................................11 VIII. The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate: Conclusion ...........................................................................12


The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate

I. Overview of the Author and Series
Marlowe C. Embree teaches psychology at the University of Wisconsin Colleges. 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. Between September 14, 2008 and October 5, 2008, he published a seven-part series on "The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate" on the weblog An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution. Articles in the series included: 1. The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate: Introduction published on September 14, 2008. 2. The Origins Debate through the Lens of Piagetian Theory published on September 16, 2008. 3. Ingroup-outgroup Bias in the Origins Debate: Part One published on September 21, 2008. 4. Ingroup-outgroup Bias in the Origins Debate: Part Two published on September 24, 2008. 5. Personality Diversity and Cognitive Modes in the Origins Debate: Part One published on September 28, 2008. 6. Personality Diversity and Cognitive Modes in the Origins Debate: Part Two published on October 1, 2008. 7. The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate: Conclusion published on October 5, 2008.


The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate

II. The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate: Introduction
Historically, the field of psychology has seemed as threatening to many Christians as the field of biology. This is due, in no small measure, to the influence of early watershed figures like Sigmund Freud and John Watson, who made no secret of their atheism and failed to separate their personal views on religion from their professional theorizing and research. As an unfortunate result, despite the attempts of individuals like William James and Gordon Allport to bridge the gap, roughly the first half of the history of academic psychology was characterized by the perception that psychology and religion were at odds, providing conflicting or even diametrically opposed views of the human condition. Positive Interaction Between Psychology and Religion Contemporary psychology views religion very differently. Interest in the psychology of religion is very much on the rise, and the emerging consensus within that subfield is that religion is a force for good, not for evil, in the world - though obviously religion, like any other human activity or institution, can be subverted and used for destructive ends. There can be little doubt that, in most situations, religious faith and mental health are positively, not negatively, correlated. Similarly, faith appears to facilitate physical health (including recovery from illness), social cohesion, and even tolerance for diversity. Contrary to the stereotype that a committed faith means bigotry, one writer has coined an opposite motto - “The more orthodox, the more tolerant” - to summarize what emerging research actually indicates. Psychology and the Origins Debate As a result, psychology may be able to offer considerable insights into how individuals and groups address and respond to the “origins debate”. The focus of the discipline of psychology is not to seek a resolution of that debate, of course, although modern psychology is forging increasingly powerful and important links to mainstream biology and the importance of evolutionary psychology is on the upswing. Rather, psychology’s contribution lies in helping us understand why and how people continue to disagree about matters of this kind. Despite an overwhelming consensus about the question among the mainstream scientific community, the origins debate rages unabated within the wider culture, with few signs of any significant resolution. Perhaps

the reason lies, not in the nature of the evidence as such, but rather in the nature of human psychology particularly, the social psychology of how conflicts of this sort are generated and managed. Students of socalled “intractable conflict” note that there are certain kinds of conflicts that can seem almost irresolvable by ordinary means, disputes that take on a seemingly permanent life of their own. Series Overview Over the next few weeks I will be posting a series of articles that will examine the origins debate through three different “psychological lenses”. My hope is that this will shed light on the conflict and offer constructive suggestions about how it might be possible to work toward the beginnings of a resolution. For the record, I am an evangelical Christian who has a Ph.D. in social psychology from a secular institution and who is comfortable with the conclusions and theories of mainstream science. I attended a college whose official motto was pro scientia et religione - and believe it is entirely possible to affirm both without reservation. This first article in the series will consider the question of how attitudes and beliefs are formed in the normal process of intellectual growth, as seen through the lens of Jean Piaget’s classic formulation of cognitive development. The next two articles will ponder the formation of biases and prejudices, with a view to understanding psychological forces that generate stereotypic understandings of social groups. The following two articles will examine the potential role of differing thinking styles and related personality factors on the question of why some people become evolutionists and others become creationists, or why some people change their minds about such matters while others do not. I will then wrap up the series with a modern-day parable. Since most of the readers of this series may not have a strong background in psychology, I’ll do my best to avoid academic jargon. Yet, expect an introduction to a few multisyllabic, potentially larynx-choking technical terms like schemata, assimilation, accommodation, normative influence, cognitive modes, hemispheric lateralization, and such like. They’ll come your way in manageable doses, and will help you to stretch your vocabulary, which is good for everyone (research indicates that a good vocabulary helps prevent the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in later life). Feedback Welcomed Since the spirit of this Web resource is to generate dialogue, I’m ending each of these articles with some


The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate

questions that I hope will serve as a springboard for discussion. I invite regular contributors and Web lurkers to respond to these questions or to generate additional questions of their own. I’ll make a serious attempt to reply in a timely manner. My philosophy of education is well summed up in the pop culture phrase, “we may not have it all together, but together we have it all” - as a member of a community of equals, I’m eager to learn from you and to pool our resources to explore these issues further. Questions for Discussion 1. Do you agree with my perception that many Christians find psychology as threatening as biology? Why or why not? If so, why do you think this is so? 2. Contemporary psychology is increasingly wedded to the materialist (epiphenomenalist) idea that consciousness can be fully explained in material terms – that we are “just computers made of meat”. This is (or at least seems) incompatible with traditional Christian assertions (though not necessarily with the idea of the physical resurrection). Any thoughts about this? I look forward eagerly to your responses, trusting that you will be charitable! As the stereotypic sheriff once told a group of would-be voters at election time, “If you like me, I want you to go to the voting booth tomorrow and put a big X in front of my name. If you don’t like me, use a small x.”

like “mini-theories” or “mini-paradigms”, and can include so-called “metanarratives” or “superstories” that provide a comprehensive explanation of all of reality. As such, religious (and secular) views of the nature of ultimate, metaphysical reality are types of schemata. What differentiates adults from children, to Piaget, is the development of increasingly sophisticated, increasingly nuanced, increasingly fruitful, and increasingly effective schemata. There is a detailed set of age-based predictions (a so-called stage theory) that outlines how Piaget believes all of us develop our schemata as we move from infancy to adulthood, though this isn’t our primary concern here. Interestingly, the Apostle Paul hinted at a similar idea when he wrote, “When I was a child, I thought like a child, but when I became a man, I gave up childish ways”. Schemata are internal and mental abstractions, but they are developed to enable us to deal effectively with concrete events of an external and phenomenal nature. This interplay between schemata (our pre-existing understandings or conceptualizations of reality) and the data of concrete experience is the way in which, according to Piaget, our schemata grow and mature. Assimilation Two different processes describe how schemata and experience interact. In the first of these, assimilation, pre-existing schemata are “imposed” upon the data of experience. In simple terms, we see what we expect to see, paying attention to relevant information (that which confirms or supports an existing schema) and discount (or fail even to notice) irrelevant or disconfirming evidence (particularly that which calls a prior schema into question). While an overemphasis on assimilation can lead to closed-mindedness or rigidity of thought, as well as prejudice and bias, in more moderate doses it plays a very important role in intellectual development. Without assimilation, our ideas would be subject to change without notice at any time and would manifest no stability - in theological terms, we would be subject to “every wind of doctrine”. Without assimilation, we could not make use of the schemata we have, and indeed might well experience total disorientation. In the famous words of William James, the world might seem to us, as James hypothesized it did to an infant, “a bloomin’, buzzin’ confusion”. Without schemata (and the process of assimilation that underlies and supports it), we could not think or reason at all.

III. The Origins Debate through the Lens of Piagetian Theory
To understand how people form and maintain a point of view on the origins debate, it may help to step back and ponder how they form and maintain positions on anything. This can help distinguish content issues (what do you think?) from process issues (how do you think?) to avoid problems that emerge when the two levels are confused – as in the famous instance of the schizophrenic who ate the restaurant menu and then complained that it was not, as advertised, “tasty and nutritious”. Piaget’s famous theory of intellectual development, outlined below, is an important and classic take on this set of issues. Schemata and Intellectual Development To a Piagetian theorist, intellectual growth and development come through the refinement of so-called schemata. A schema is a way of thinking about or understanding the world, a “lens” or “window” through which one views reality. Thus, schemata are


The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate

Accommodation As long as the data of experience (or other indirect forms of data, such as those drawn from the experience of others whom we have reason to trust) confirms our existing schemata, there is no reason to alter our schemata or to move out of “assimilation mode”. Sooner or later, however, all of us encounter anomalous information that cannot easily be assimilated to an existing schema. (Think of a person who believes, for whatever reason, that red-haired people are evil, but who then meets an altogether admirable and saintly redhead.) While anomalies in small numbers can be explained away with relative ease (maybe she is a skilled hypocrite, or maybe she has simply dyed her hair red and thus isn’t a “real” redhead), if the number and gravity of anomalies mount, the discrepancy between schemata and experience increase to the point that there is increasing pressure to come to terms with the storehouse of anomalous data. When the pressure to do this becomes intolerable, a person shifts - often with surprising suddenness - to the opposite process of accommodation. This represents an adjustment in (if not a wholesale abandonment of) an existing schema to bring it in alignment with anomalous information. If sufficiently radical (in situations where one overarching schema is abandoned in favor of a dramatically different or incommensurable one), this change may take on the outward features of a sudden “conversion”. “Conversion” While, as an evangelical, I believe that true conversion in the Scriptural sense of the term - call this big-C Conversion -- is not humanly explicable and requires a supernatural referent, there is little doubt that dramatic viewpoint shifts of various kinds, which we might call little-c conversions, have an obvious Piagetian explanation. Thus, there are political “conversions”, conversions to atheism or agnosticism, and the like. Some gay rights activists talk about “gay conversions” as a metaphor for the radical self-redefinition that may precede or accompany “coming out”. In essence these are all schematic or paradigm shifts of a dramatic and sudden nature; they are typically preceded by a long period of hidden struggle as the two Piagetian processes battle for supremacy. Even true religious conversion partakes of these processes, though from a supernaturalist perspective they are not fully or reductionistically explained by them. Since intellectual development (the ongoing enhancement of our schemata) depends on a delicate balance between assimilation (mental stability) and

accommodation (mental flexibility), Piaget’s theory predicts that people faced with distressing anomalies will initially resist a change to their schemata (since maintaining relative stability in our thinking is essential both to good mental health and to our ability to maneuver in a complex world), but will then -- after a “delay” or “gap” during which the balance between assimilation and accommodation is on a knife-edge -will suddenly, sometimes even catastrophically, shift perspectives and alter one’s prior schemata. This alternation between “stubborn adherence” to a new schema and “radical abandonment” to the challenge of a new schema is characteristic of all mental development, Piagetians believe. Implications for the Origins Debate The battle between creationist and evolutionary models of biological (including human) origins can be seen through the lens of this Piagetian framework. (Hence, of course, Piaget’s model is itself a schema - or, as he might have suggested had he thought of it, a “metaschema” or “super-schema” that explains the development of all other schemata.) The theory itself is neutral about the direction of probable attitude change, but given the fact that the creationist framework is more likely to play the role of the pre-existing schema for believers, as well as the current overall state of the empirical data base (though ID theorists might disagree!), the “evolutionary conversion” is probably the more likely of the two. (I have no direct data to support this contention and would welcome replies from anyone who might have such data: given that movement in both directions probably does occur, how frequent is either type of change?) It can be argued that the theological schemata of faith (belief in an eternally sovereign and personal God, in the universality and intractability of human sin, in the unique redemption offered by Christ, in the necessity of individual salvation, and in a “high” view of Scripture) can be kept logically distinct from the scientific schemata that involve proximal and mechanistic questions of secondary causation as related to biological origins. In short, believing (as I do) in the God of the Bible does not, in itself, necessitate either belief or disbelief in evolution, though atheists presumably have no choice but to accept the evolutionary paradigm: the EC position need not be a “way station” on the road to skepticism, nihilism, and irreligion. As a result, updating one’s schemata with respect to the biology of origins may have no inevitable impact on one’s theology of origins - a topic to be explored in a subsequent article.


The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate

Questions for Discussion 1. For those among the readership who have changed their minds about biological origins over the years, do you see evidence in your own intellectual narrative that Piaget’s concepts can explain your experience? Were your changes in belief or attitude initially fostered by awkward, anomalous information that you could not easily explain? Did you initially resist the implications of that information? Did you experience a sudden shift in viewpoint at some later time, perhaps showing the “straw that broke the camel’s back” effect in your own life? 2. Do you experience or perceive this process to be irreversible, for yourself or for others you have observed? Piaget might argue that it is rare (if not impossible) for a person to move backwards in this process of intellectual development, since schemata always become more comprehensive and complex (never less so). Is there anyone among the readership who “veered and tacked” back and forth between creationist and evolutionist postures? 3. Do you agree with me that biological (scientific) schemata can be kept distinct from theological schemata, in that beliefs in one realm do not directly or necessarily dictate one’s views in the other realm? “Distinct” does not mean “entirely separate”, of course. How, in your view or your experience, do the two sets of schemata best inform or influence one another?

Yet, without an attempt to understand another’s viewpoint “from the inside”, and without unconditional respect for the other’s humanity and fundamental dignity, little intellectual or social progress can be anticipated. Visser t’Hoeft had it right, in my view, when he wrote, “The essence of dialogue is not that we relativize our convictions, but that we agree to accept one another as persons.” Yet the social psychology of how we perceive those who differ from us very easily gets in the way of that essential attitude. In this article (and part 2 to be published later this week) we will examine the processes that lead to prejudice and discrimination. Ingroups and outgroups: The Basics Social psychologists have, for decades, utilized terms like “ingroup-outgroup bias” to explore the ways in which we perceive and respond to people who are either similar to or different from us. In one classic study college students were shown two abstract paintings and asked which they preferred. Most students had only a slight preference and probably did not have much, if any, emotional investment in this question. Yet, when divided into groups on the supposed basis of this preference, they showed biases against those who had chosen the other painting and preferential treatment toward those who had chosen the same painting as they had. If such minimalist influences can shape behaviors and attitudes so dramatically, imagine the potential impact of discovering that someone is -- like or unlike you -- a “creationist” or an “evolutionist”, especially if these are matters of great importance to you! Group membership can drive the formation of prejudicial attitudes in two different ways. First, we can understandably come to believe that those in groups to which we belong are valid sources of insight and information. Because we know and trust those who we see as similar to ourselves, we invest their views with a greater degree of certainty, validity, and objectivity than they perhaps deserve. This includes their views of those who belong to other groups. Conversely, we tend to be skeptical of information presented to us by those who differ from ourselves. (Every semester at the university, I face some students - usually a minority - who are deeply skeptical of anything I say because, after all, I am a teacher - and all teachers are suspect.) Second, all social groups have informal social rules and norms, which are often more powerful than formally written and enforced rules. These informal expectations reflect “the way we do things” (from this it is only a small step to “the way everyone ought to do

IV. Ingroup-outgroup Bias in the Origins Debate: Part One
Many social analysts would agree that we live in an increasingly polarized culture. Signs of social fragmentation are not difficult to observe, such as the much-vaunted phenomenon of “Red vs. Blue America”. William Strauss and Neil Howe have borrowed the term “cultural unraveling” to summarize their view of this increasingly disentangled, tribalistic cultural trajectory (a pattern that, incidentally, they believe recurs every eight decades or so, right before the emergence of a significant crisis experience that reunites the culture - stay tuned over the next decade to discover whether they were right). In examining the origins debate, the contributions of social psychologists who have extensively studied the origins of prejudice and stereotyping should not be neglected. Most readers would probably agree that “creationists” and “evolutionists” rarely seem to understand (let alone value and respect) each other.


The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate

things”) and, because these are often unarticulated and unexamined, are all the more powerful (fish don’t know they are wet). Thus, we become prejudiced because we trust those who are like us (so-called “informational influence”) and also because we want to fit in with those who are like us (“normative influence”). Perceptual effects Perhaps most frighteningly, our ability to be accurate in perceiving others - never mind conceptualizing about or acting upon our perceptions - depends heavily on these group membership factors. The classic terms “leveling and sharpening” have often been used to characterize these tendencies. We are aware of the diversity among groups to which we belong, and readily recognize the individuality and uniqueness of those who are fellow members of an ingroup. But, when looking at those who are different from us (members of an outgroup), we can easily lump them all together without intending consciously to do so. We have a strong tendency to see these people as “all alike” and to be relatively blind to distinctions between them that would be obvious to those inside that group. Even if we do not take the further step of emphasizing the negative ways in which outgroup members are alike, these tendencies can strongly shape our attitudes. Research on eyewitness testimony has repeatedly shown that witnesses to a crime (or other event) who belong to a distinctly different social group than the suspect (or other target person) are much less reliable in remembering and reporting that individual’s appearance and behavior than are members of the same social group. In the most extreme instance, outgroup members can go completely unnoticed except for times when they violate the rules or confirm prejudicial expectations. (As the Hallmark card jokingly puts it, “One of the great things about turning 50 is that you can go to the mall and be invisible to anyone under 25.” I’ve had more than one teenager actually try to walk through me and then express astonished surprise that there actually was a human being there at all.) Questions for Discussion This week’s questions have a bit of an inevitably moralistic - perhaps even preachy - tone. As Don Adams used to annoyingly repeat, sorry about that. Yet, I’m holding my own feet to the fire as much as I am anyone else’s. One of the things I most appreciate about the pastor of my church is that, whenever he asks similar application questions in a sermon, he always ends with, “What about you? What about me?” 1. To what extent would you say that you can enter

sympathetically into the world of the “other” (those who hold sharply differing views about matters you hold dear, perhaps including your perspective on the origins debate)? Setting aside the question of whether you think they are right or even whether you think their views are defensible, can you borrow a leaf from the counselor’s notebook and use “active listening” methods to be accurate in summarizing their views in a way the others would accept and affirm, using terms and mental frameworks acceptable to them? (It’s harder than it sounds!) 2. Mortimer Adler once famously wrote, “Comprehension should always precede criticism.” Yet, it’s easy to confuse a stereotypic understanding of another’s views, as seen from the safety of an outsider’s vantage point, with a thoroughgoing and honestly compassionate insider’s understanding. David Thompson calls this being a “moral tourist” - flitting (with some unknown mixture of curiosity and condescension) across the surface of another’s world without engaging it seriously as an equal, “one heart to another”. Where would you say you are on this continuum? 3. Given that Evolutionary Creationists (EC) have experienced a mental paradigm shift – whether (no pun intended) evolutionary or revolutionary in character – why doesn’t this group do a better job of serving as a bridge between the other, more polemic groups in this social debate? It would seem that ECs are uniquely qualified as mediators and “translators”, but it also doesn’t seem to be happening. Why not, in your view?

V. Ingroup-outgroup Bias in the Origins Debate: Part Two
In the previous article, the basics of the social psychology of ingroups and outgroups was covered. In this follow-up, we’ll be taking a more in-depth look at some of the reasons why social groups sometimes fail to understand or empathize with one another. Ingroup Bias and Outgroup Bias: Two Separate Phenomena The work of contemporary social psychologists like Brewer and Stephan suggest important cautions about how we view these effects. They remind us that ingroup bias and outgroup bias are two separate phenomena, not mere flip sides of the same coin. While these two processes often operate in tandem, they do not always do so: it is possible to identify strongly with a certain group, to draw meaning from my membership in that group and to see it as a central element of my self-definition, without disparaging


The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate

those in other groups and without believing that all others should be “just like me” at the risk of secondclass citizenship or dehumanized status. In some cases, I can affirm who I am while simultaneously affirming the value of those who are unlike me (“everybody’s beautiful in their own way”). In their research, they examine the questions, “Under what conditions will ingroup preference lead to negative attitudes about those who are different?” Polarization Factors At least three factors may be responsible for the tendency to polarize the social world (like me = good, unlike me = bad) or to view outgroup members prejudicially or unfavorably. These factors are described as 1) realistic threat 2) symbolic threat and 3) ingroup anxiety. Factors two and three seem pertinent to the origins debate, while the first is likely less relevant. Realistic threat describes a social interaction where the outgroup is competing with me and my group for scarce resources. While this element may underlie many geopolitical conflicts (it is a likely cause of many wars), it seems rather tangential in importance to the origins debate (unless one views academic respectability and cultural influence as “scarce resources” of this type). Polarization Factors Relevant to the Origins Debate Both symbolic threat and intergroup anxiety seem pertinent to the origins discussion. First, the outgroup can be a source of symbolic threat in that the very existence of their different ways and ideas challenge the validity and legitimacy of my own. One common response to symbolic threat is an attempt to delegitimize opposing ideas (through caricature or thinly veiled sarcasm, for instance) or to drive them underground in some fashion; this seems to closely describe the actual conduct of the origins debate on both sides of the divide. Second, intergroup anxiety stems from the fear that I will be unable to handle direct contact or interaction with outgroup members: that I will not be able to “hold my own” (intellectually, emotionally, or otherwise), that my inadequacies will be publicly revealed, and so forth. This too seems relevant to the contemporary origins debate, as neither side seems readily willing to acknowledge gaps, flaws, or problems in their ideas. (Indeed, one wonders how many social conflicts would go away if we would all just memorize the phrase, “There is much I don’t know, and I have a great deal to learn from you”?) Finally, these researchers intriguingly find that ingroup members who are most likely to show these effects are

those who feel marginalized by their own group or who may feel as if they don’t quite fit even within their own circles. Such people may be most eager to demonstrate to themselves and others that “I really am one of you”. I can’t help wondering, by extension, if evolutionary creationists (though often seeing themselves as a bridge between the extremists) might sometimes fall prey to these tendencies. It can be wearing to have to try to prove to mainstream evolutionists our scientific credentials, while also defending our theological credentials to our coreligionists! Questions for discussion 1. What are your existing prejudices with respect to the origins debate? It’s easy to find extreme examples of prejudicial statements by extremists on both sides of this debate, and to give oneself a clean bill of health on the grounds that “I’m not like that”. But, for most of us, prejudice comes in milder forms - so-called “implicit prejudice” that lurks in the subconscious mind. It’s hard to ferret these out, of course, yet essential to try. Are you holding to your remaining prejudices in the same way that an alcoholic justifies his drinking - “I can stop any time I want to”? 2. What steps might be helpful to reduce your own prejudice quotient? For some, biting your tongue before you speak, or gluing your fingers together before you email, might be a useful beginning. For others, meaningful (non-combative) dialogue with someone with whom you disagree might be a good start. Those of you who disagree violently with me are free to pick me as a dialogue partner. Post away!

VI. Personality Diversity and Cognitive Modes in the Origins Debate: Part One
The fact that we differ from one another is such an obvious one that it hardly needs to be stated, yet much of academic psychology until recent decades has somewhat ignored that reality. The terms often used in scholarly discourse are “nomothetic” versus “idiographic” psychology. Nomothetic theorists focus on the similarities between persons (what we have in common, what makes us all alike) and, in the extreme, can mistakenly view human beings as entirely equivalent, so that understanding one of us generates a full understanding of any of us. Idiographic theorists, in contrast, focus on the differences between persons (what differentiates us, what makes us each unique)


The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate

and, in the extreme, can mistakenly view each of us as so irreducibly unique as to render any general understanding of human psychology impossible. As in most life situations, the truth likely lies somewhere in between. However, my personal bias is in favor of idiographic psychology. My favorite book on the subject is one whose title says it all (which conveniently absolves you of the responsibility of reading it): I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just Not You. The failure to identify and work within one’s own personal uniqueness is, from a counseling standpoint, a major challenge; as Lily Tomlin once self-mockingly put it, “I always wanted to be somebody, but now I see that I should have been more specific.” In this article, and one to follow later this week, I will be examining the role of personality differences, as well as the related issue of diversity in how we think and process information (so-called “cognitive modes”), in influencing how we perceive questions relating to creation and evolution. I am currently in the early stages of conducting research directly addressing this question. While the canons of research ethics prohibit me from directly divulging the results of these early pilot studies, I will at a few points hide my light under a bushel in the hope that astute readers will be able to find the bushel and kick it to one side, thus revealing the illumination underneath. Models of Personality Diversity: The Pioneering Work of William James About a century ago, the early psychologist William James wrote and published his now-classic work The Varieties of Religious Experience, still considered among the “must-read” classic works on that topic. As part of that work, James introduced and elucidated the distinction between “tough-minded” and “tenderminded” individuals. The former, as the name implies, were no-nonsense types with their feet firmly planted on the ground, people who were most interested in hard-headed practical realities and not given to introspection, internal analysis, or self-doubt. By temperament, they were realists and empiricists who believed in the world presented to them through their five senses and in the role of impersonal, objective logic. By contrast, the latter inhabited a world in which compassion, connection to others (including, perhaps, an unseen and nonhuman world), hidden meanings, transcendent purposes, and the like took center stage. These individuals were prone to believe that “the unexamined life is not worth living” but, in their tendency to question themselves and to be harsh selfcritics, may have been more prone to self-doubt, guilt, and personal recriminations. In his book, James

explored possible connections between this personality characteristic and two contrasting forms of religion that he styled “once-born” versus “twice-born” religious experiences. Models of Personality Diversity: Other Important Additions Possibly influenced (at least indirectly) by James’ work, many subsequent personality theorists have developed this same theme. The great-grandfather of them all, Carl Jung, developed his famous theory of psychological types on the basis of the idea that people differ in three important ways: in their focus on the outer world of action and interaction versus the inner world of reflection and introspection (extraversion vs. introversion), in their emphasis on practical concrete realities or on imaginative abstract possibilities (sensing vs. intuition), and in their use of either impersonal logic or personal values to make important decisions (feeling vs. thinking). (Devotees of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator will know that later theorists added a fourth dimension to yield the famous sixteen psychological type designators.) Heather Cattell wrote extensively about these same notions using a different vocabulary and methodology, but also agreed that these fundamental differences largely reflected James’ original notion. Still more recently, McCrae and Costa developed and promoted their now influential Big Five model of personality diversity, again signifying that most if not all of these dimensions have at least implicit links to James’ formulation. Can Personality Profiles Predict Views on the Origins Debate? My research is focusing in part on the question of whether students’ personality profiles can statistically predict either their existing views on the origins debate (dividing students, by means of an original questionnaire, into creationist, theistic evolutionist, and secular evolutionist groups) and/or the likelihood that their views will change as the result of exposure to a secular education, either in general or specifically in terms of course content relating to evolutionary science. My original hypothesis was that secular evolutionists would be more “tough-minded” (prone to adopt a more reductionistic view of reality, in that only what can be scientifically established is real), while other groups would be more “tender-minded” (prone to view reality in less reductionistic terms that allowed for the possibility of nonempirical realities and nonscientific ways of knowing). Over time, students with different personality profiles might tend to diverge from one another in predictable ways even if they started their college experience with similar attitudes and beliefs about the origins debate.


The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate

In the next article, we’ll explore further implications of these differences with a more detailed emphasis on different modes of thinking. Questions for Discussion 1. In your experience, do you agree with me that creationists and evolutionists (particularly reductionistic or secular evolutionists) differ in how they think as much as in what they think? In other words, to what extent is the dispute one about methodology or epistemology (what truth is and how it might best be determined or evaluated)? 2. If this is true, how might the gap best be bridged?

world can be divided into left-hemisphere and righthemisphere types), some would go further beyond the evidence to speculate about personality and motivational differences between these two types of individuals. Some authors call them the “safeguarding self” and the “experimenting self”, for instance. Different Colored Thinking Hats Perhaps influenced by these ideas, consulting psychologist Edward de Bono has postulated six different cognitive modes or ways of using one’s mind, which he believes are learnable skill sets that can be enhanced through targeted practice. He uses the metaphor of putting on different “thinking hats” to characterize the shift between cognitive modes; thus, he talks about detailed observation (White Hat), emotional expression and empathy (Red Hat), creativity and humor (Green Hat), logical critiquing and troubleshooting (Black Hat), and so forth. Linking these ideas to the previous paragraph, it seems likely that left-hemisphere persons specialize more in White and Black Hat thinking, as opposed to the Green and Red Hat emphases of the right-hemisphere thinker. Again, my research on student views of the origins debate is beginning to examine the influence of cognitive mode differences on student views of creation and evolution. (Note: Readers of this series will have the opportunity to examine my research instrument in the concluding article of this series). Somewhat in line with the previous hypothesis, I expect to find that evolutionists (and particularly secular evolutionists) will show more evidence of White and Black Hat thinking (“just the facts, ma’am,” as Jack Webb used to intone each week on Dragnet), while creationists and perhaps also theistic evolutionists to a lesser extent will show more evidence of Green and Red Hat thinking (“there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in your philosophy”). Further Implications If the intractable divide between creationists and evolutionists in the wider world is, in fact, driven in part by fundamentally different ways of thinking and processing information, it is no surprise that opponents routinely talk past one another and fail to understand the meanings and motivations of each other. (It doesn’t take a rocket scientist - which is convenient for me, since I’m not one - to observe, along with Christian psychiatrist Paul Tournier, that most of the origins debate has been yet another example of “dialogues of the deaf”.) A good first step in bridging the divide may be an

VII. Personality Diversity and Cognitive Modes in the Origins Debate: Part Two
In the previous article, the possibility that the origins debate stems in part from personality or cognitive differences was introduced. This article will focus in a more technical way on the possible roots of those differences and their implications. Cognitive Modes The links between personality (who we are and what motivates us) and cognition (how we think and process information) are complex and multifaceted. However, it would be rational to expect a connection between them, since both motivation and cognition are undergirded by one and the same neural apparatus! Much theorizing on the phenomenon of hemispheric lateralization (the fact that our higher brain centers are divided into mirror-image opposite halves or hemispheres, which appear to process information in radically different ways) has led to speculations, some more scientifically grounded than others, about how the personality-cognition linkage might work in practice. Most experts, with varying degrees of skepticism about these notions, probably now agree that the left hemisphere processes information in a more linear, detail-minded, logic-driven manner (asking narrower or more concrete questions, and being more verbally driven), as compared to the more nonlinear, bigpicture, intuitive processing of the right hemisphere (asking broader or more abstract questions, and being more visually driven). Since, to a greater or lesser extent, all of have a more dominant hemisphere (the


The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate

explicit recognition of the fact that there are multiple gateways to truth (or at least to the conviction that something is true), and that many of the classic disputes really are, as children of the Vietnam War era are still prone to put it, “arguments about the shape of the table”. Those who are cognitively prone to restrict themselves to direct empirical evidence often fail to understand how anyone can doubt evolutionary science or, more radically, why anyone would need to assert any level of kind of explanation other than the reductionistic and proximal. On the other hand, those whose natural cognitive tendency is to place empirical data in a wider context (or, in more extreme cases, to disparage the role of the merely empirical) can’t easily understand how anyone could be satisfied with an explanatory framework that failed to ask the wider questions of meaning, purpose, and ultimate metaphysical causality. Colin Chapman’s famous work on the six ways of knowing is a good framework for bridging these differences, and I recommend it (particularly its exposition in Christianity on Trial, a work that remains cogent though now rather dated). Questions for Discussion 1. What do you think of De Bono’s idea that factuallogical thinkers (White and Black Hat) may differ dramatically in outlook and motivation from intuitivesubjective thinkers (Green and Red Hat)? Might these differences, in part, underlie the origins debate? Where on this continuum do you think you fall, and why? 2. From an evolutionary standpoint, why might both styles of thinking have persisted throughout human (pre)history? (This is a very speculative question, but I would be interested in readers’ thoughts about it.) Presumably both styles are functional and adaptive in some fashion. How and why?

raise a family. One notes two things about this story. First, it is theoretically possible that the plan would work. Second, without more specific tactics and a good awareness of the intervening landscape, the odds of the couple actually meeting are astonishingly low. The Historical Relationship Between Science and Religion In my view, even at its best the historical relationship between science and religion is something like this. (The parable is based on the short story The Place of Telling I wrote in 1992). Once upon a time, these two ways of knowing were united (there was a unity of knowledge), but for complex reasons, the two went their separate ways, with unfortunate results. In today’s culture, some people believe that one or the other is unnecessary or even detrimental. Others attach such primacy to their preferred approach that (to continue with the analogy) they refuse to leave their state of origin (Florida or Alaska respectively). A Hope for Unity once more In contrast, I have the hope – and, indeed, the currently unsubstantiated faith commitment – that, when all is said and done and, in the words of W. B. Yeats, “all that story’s told”, the two can and will meet without contradiction, and the unity of knowledge will again be restored. As Eliyahu Rips puts it, “I think that finally, when we understand both well enough, religion and science will come together, and we will at last have a unified field theory.” We’re a long way from that as I write; the driver of the science vehicle is somewhere in Georgia, and the religious traveler has just crossed into Canada. As the Amy Grant lyrics my wife and I chose for our wedding put it, “We’re caught in between the now and the not yet.” This creative tension between the way the world is now and the way the world one day will be is, I think, an inevitable part of the Christian experience. It colors everything, including how we think about both science and faith. But one day all things will be united in Christ. Although in context Paul was talking about a different kind of separation, it is perhaps not an inappropriate application to note that one of Christ’s ministries was that of uniting the hopelessly divided: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14). While many people do affirm both science and religion in principle, the historical relationship between them has often been rife with conflict. This series has

VIII. The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate: Conclusion
Like any good narrative psychologist, let me close this series with a parable, or at least the broad outlines of one. An engaged couple was separated geographically through no fault of their own; he ended up in Miami, while she landed in Anchorage. Undaunted, they made plans to rectify the problem. They agreed that on a certain date he would start driving north and west from Miami (within the limits of geography and available roads) and she would begin driving south and east from Anchorage. Each would drive the same number of hours each day, and their plan was to meet in the middle of the country, get married, buy a house, and


The Social Psychology of the Origins Debate

attempted to explore some of the psychologically based reasons for the ongoing conflict: the resistance we all have to changing our established ways of thinking; group polarization processes that make it difficult to regard perspectives of other, “opposing” social groups fairly; and cognitive style differences that may cause different persons to process and evaluate the same information in strikingly incommensurable ways. While these concepts are not a panacea that will resolve the cultural disputes once and for all – if I were able to do that, I would hope for a Nobel Prize or at least immediate tenure – they do represent a “tool kit” that may enable us to respond to those with whom we disagree with a greater degree of understanding, respect, and dignity. If we can’t always agree about conclusions, perhaps we can find ways to agree about process or about motives. Reinhold Neibuhr once famously said, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.” My hope is that this series has been a small contribution towards that end – looking forward to the day when “we shall know, even as we are known.” Thanks again for the privilege of contributing to this series. Take the Survey I invite readers to participate in my online survey on attitudes about origins. The survey contains 85 questions, 55 having to do with issues related directly or indirectly to the origins debate, 30 involving normal personality diversity. I have, of course, some specific research hypotheses that I would be happy to share, along with preliminary research results as they emerge, with those who complete the survey and email me to inform me that they have done so. The survey is anonymous (I will not know whose responses are whose).