GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 285-10
Presentation Time: 10:55 AM


DAVIDSON, Gregg R., Geology & Geological Engineering, University of Mississippi, Carrier 118, University, MS 38677,

Two assumptions are commonly made regarding public acceptance of scientific evidence. First, the strength of the evidence, by its own merit, should be sufficient to convince an educated populace of the veracity of a prevailing theory. Second, if acceptance among scientists is nearly universal, the public, appreciating the nature and rigor of the scientific enterprise, should follow suite. However, the resiliency of science-skepticism in the US, often in the face of overwhelming evidence and consensus among experts, argues against the validity of these assumptions. Work published by Kahan, Jenkins-Smith, and Braman in 2011 offers insights into the problem, finding that people are much more receptive to challenging viewpoints when the advocate is a member of their own group or subculture. The personal worldview or group-identity of an expert can determine how willing an audience is to consider the argument, much more so than the expert’s scientific credentials. For a religious audience, this means that the quality of educational materials and the strength of an argument may be irrelevant if delivered by someone known to be dismissive of their fundamental religious beliefs. The scientific evidence presented is never fully engaged by the target audience. Based on these findings, a case can be made for recognizing the value of religious scientists as liaisons to the religious public. Organizations such as BioLogos, the American Scientific Affiliation, and AAAS’s Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion program, have reported encouraging successes in changing attitudes toward science when an advocate comes from the same faith tradition as the audience. For secular scientists interacting with the religious community, it could prove helpful to have a short list of resources to refer people to (blogs, books, speakers) by religious scientists advocating for the legitimacy of modern science.