February 14, 2012

Chris Mooney hearts Sam Harris - yikes!

I think Chris Mooney has had some good research on statistical information about psychological differences, on average, between liberal and conservative thought processes, etc. But, I'd agree with both Massimo Pigliucci and even Jerry Coyne that, basically, Mooney is making a couple of mistakes as he goes further down this road.


The first is that he's committing Science Error 101: Conflating statistical and causal correlation.


The second is that he's leaning too hard on the "nature" side of nature vs. nurture, including not noting that, to the degree some of these psychological differences evolved, they did long, long before Aristotle said man was an animal of society, let alone one who formed political parties and alliances.

Lesser critiques are that he's relying on thin reeds of single studies, and that he presents stuff, then won't defend it, claiming he just threw it out there. Another thicker reed is that Mooney may be getting too wrapped up in the agenda of a liberal think tank -- in other words, he's "pulling a Chris Mooney," engaged in the same time of motivated reasoning he's pointed out in other individuals and groups; stay tuned on this one.



But, that's nothing compared to Mooney saying this:
I’ve been in vigorous debates with the “New Atheists” in the past; but frankly, researching The Republican Brain pushed me a lot further towards their camp than I had been before. They’re upset with religion; I’m highly critical of psychological conservatism; and there turn out to be big overlaps between the two. Indeed, conservative religiosity also appears to have a genetic component to it. Liberal religiosity strikes me as also being psychologically liberal, and therefore quite a different beast; but conservative or authoritarian religion reflects much of the rigidity (and denial of reality) of psychological conservatism.

In other words, I’d be surprised if the New Atheists–especially folks like Sam Harris, who have tried to figure out the neuroscience of the religious mind–weren’t in agreement on this one. More soon.
 Good fucking doorknob.


Fiorst, Harris' "research" has largely pushed the envelope of "scientism," as Massimo, for one, and me for another, both well know.


Second, many Gnus don't regularly distinguish between more liberal and more conservative versions of religion. (Example A: P.Z. Myers' twisting poll results to claim atheist were more sexually liberated from guilt than anybody, when Unitarians and Reform Jews actually topped them.)


Third, Gnus in general have never cracked a page of a book on psychology or sociology of religion. Ergo ...


Fourth, re religion and genetic influences, they make the same types of mistakes as Chris appears to be making on Point No. 2 above the pull quote.


Nice company, Chris.

2 comments:

hedera said...

You use the word "Gnus" as though I ought to know what it means, but I don't. Definition?

Gadfly said...

"Gnus" is shorthand for "New Atheists"; IIRC, New Atheists (aka Harris, Myers, Dawkins, et al) semi-voluntarily adopted the twist/wordplay. That said, I know the "Gnus" put the label of "accommodationist" on atheists who wanted to work more with people of faith. In fact, I believe Mooney himself was called an accommodationist by some at one time.