Monday, August 04, 2008


Playing the CD

In Scientists Confront Creationism: Intelligent Design and Beyond, the article by J. Michael Plavcan, "The Invisible Bible: The Logic of Creation Science," discusses the psychological theory of "cognitive dissonance." Since the term is so often misused, a review is in order. Cognitive dissonance is "a term that refers to the phenomenon whereby disconfirmation of a strongly held conviction actually reinforces belief and leads to increased proselytizing activity."

The theory was put forth and tested by Leon Festinger and others (1964) in an elegant study of a modern space-alien cult that predicted the end of the world at a specific time and date, Briefly, the theory holds that when people hold a belief in which they have made a substantial public and personal commitment, and when that belief is disconfirmed, their adherence to the belief will actually be strengthened, and they will vigorously proselytize it in order to reduce the "dissonance" between the belief and the disconfirmation. The disconfinning evidence is explained away with some sort of internal rationalization, and group reinforcement is used to uphold the behavior.
To strictly meet the model, the belief by the adherent must be to something that produces a clear and absolutely falsifiable prediction. Furthermore, the adherent must do more than just express belief but must form a greater commitment, such as giving away all one's possessions, severing ties with family and quitting one's job in anticipation of the end of the world. Most religionists in general and most creationists don't fit in this category, though many might have some less pronounced traits in common with true suffers.

But, then again, so might we all.

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