The anti-evolution movie Expelled has garnered a lot of attention in the aftermath of its release to the nation’s cinemas. I haven’t seen it. The mainstream reviews all point out that it’s a deceptive piece of propaganda. I have no doubt that it is after reading about the various canards it rolls out gleefully.
Of more interest to me is the reactions Expelled promotes in the neighborhoods of the blogosphere where the defense of evolutionary biology has long been a central commitment. This is interesting to me because after making the unexceptional and strong arguments against evolution’s non-scientific competitors and the rotting pseudo-philosophy underpinning those competitors, pro-evolution forces’ approach to persuasion unravel when the subjects are either ones of social psychology or scientific literacy.
Partly this is simply because the logical focus of scientific persuasion is different than the logical focus of generic rhetoric and persuasion. But the reasons so many people adapt so many unscientific stances are researchable. And those reasons defeat the commonsense arguments of the defenders of science, and atheism, not because they are more correct reasons but because they are more believable.
In the province of the mind, what one believes to be true is true or becomes true, within certain limits to be found experientially and experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended. In the mind, there are no limits. (John Lilly, Programming and Meta-programing in the Human Biocomputer; 1972).
Thus people do tend to be ‘experientialists,’ limited to the best belief a person is capable of. The questions which can fruitfully be addressed by the public intellectual cum scientist leverage the problem posed by Lilly. This is a problem of learning rather than it being a problem of persuasive propaganda.
Pragmatically this problem is about whether or not the given current limit, as it were, can be transcended. The least likely population to learn differently is the population most fixated on the believed truth they happen to be, in effect, fused to. This goes for the scientifically-minded too!
The most likely population to learn is the population for whom the believed truth is most fragile and most likely to be changed.
The comments of the science progress blog are much more interesting than Chris Mooney’s review of Expelled. I contributed the following:
“Smart tactics might be optimally supported by an understanding about the cognitive and social psychological features that tend to reinforce the truth claims of belief against other kinds of truth claims.
Probably the most cost effective approaches, accounting for both resource and cognitive costs, will aim to convince those whose beliefs are the most subject to being changed to a ‘better’ (more correct) belief.
This requires much better listening, analysis and targeting. This seems to me to be much more about teaching and teachability than it is about mastery of the ‘science’ of propaganda.“