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Dualism is totally awesome

August 23, 2014

Dan Kahan provides four ways people can disbelieve something even if they “know” otherwise. As in “I don’t believe in climate change even though I know what the science says.” Or “I can use evolutionary science just fine even though I don’t believe it.” My favorite (does it even make sense to have a favorite here?) is dualism:

Everhart & Hameed (2013) describe the Muslim medical doctor who when asked states that he “rejects Darwinian evolution”: “Man was made by Allah—he did not descend from monkeys!” Nevertheless, the Dr. can readily identify applications of evolutionary science in his own specialty (say, oncology).  He also is familiar with and genuinely excited by medical science innovations, such as stem-cell therapies, that presuppose and build on the insights of evolutionary science.

With prodding, he might see that he is both “rejecting” and “accepting” a single set of propositions about the natural history of human beings.  But the identity of the propositions in this sense does not correspond to any identity of propositions within the inventory of beliefs, assessments, and attitudes that he makes use of in his everyday life.

Within that inventory, the “theory of evolution” he “rejects” and the “theory of evolution” he “accepts” are distinct mental objects (Hameed 2014).  He accesses them as appropriate to enabling him to inhabit the respective identities to which they relate (D’Andrade 1981).

Integral to the “theory of evolution” he “rejects” is a secular cultural meaning that denigrates his religious identity. His “rejection” of that object expresses—in his own consciousness, and in the perception of others—who he is as a Muslim.

The “theory of evolution” he “accepts” is an element of the expert understandings he uses as a professional. It is also a symbol of the special mastery of his craft, a power that entitles those who practice it to esteem.  “Accepting” that object enables him to be a doctor.

The “accepted” and “rejected” theories of evolution are understandings he accesses “at home” and “at work,” respectively.

But the context-specificity of his engagement with these understandings is not compartmentalization: there is no antagonism between the two distinct mental objects; no experience of dissonance in holding the sets of beliefs and appraisals that correspond to them; no need effortfully to cordon these sets off from one another. They are “entirely different things!,” (he explains with exasperation to the still puzzled interviewer).

It’s actually unusual for the two mental objects to come within sight of one another. “Home” and “work” are distinct locations, not only physically but socially: negotiating them demands knowledge of, and facility with, sets of facts, appraisals, and the like suited to the activities distinctive of each.

But if the distinct mental objects that are both called “theories of evolution” are summoned to appear at once, as they might be during the interview with the researcher, there is no drama or crisis of any sort. “What in the world is the problem,” the Dr. wonders, as the seemlingly obtuse interviewer continues to press him for an explanation.

What is the problem indeed. I’m almost getting sick of asking…is there any evidence that rejecting evolution is harmful?* If people can dualize, compartmentalize and partitionize no problem, then who cares whether they believe in evolution?

*Okay I lied. I’m not getting sick of asking that question. I’m going to keep asking it. Forever.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. skywaters2 permalink
    August 23, 2014 4:58 pm

    Except that is not dualism.

  2. Victor permalink
    September 9, 2014 1:43 pm

    Yes, interesting. I would agree that this is not dualism.

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