Is There Academic Bias In the Sciences?

I readily admit that I am not trained in any of the technical sciences, nor in math. Therefore I rarely comment on these fields, and usually then only to quote an expert who has published in the field. I hold that Christians would do ourselves better if we were to not comment in fields that we know little about. Likewise, atheist scientists would help themselves much more if they stopped commenting on fields where they know so little, such as religion and philosophy.

My career has been in human learning, perception, and studying the way people do the things they do. The concepts in these fields are ones that I am knowledgeable and can readily comment.

When people approach a problem with a mental paradigm, typically their research reinforces what they have already concluded to be the case. Anomalous data is ignored, but not because they consciously choose to bias their research, but because their minds do not perceive the data that goes against their views. They literally do not see the conflicting patterns. Why does it take so long for old scientific views to be disproved and replaced? There are several reasons, one of which is that humans do not perceive data that does not fit their worldview.

Another factor influencing human behavior is how much emotional attachment a person has to the views they hold. If a view of religion is held by a loved one, we tend to be attracted to that view. If a view of religion is held by someone whom has hurt us, we tend to be repelled by that view. Emotional attachments are strong, despite our best attempts otherwise.

I was at a major university, waiting in a lobby to meet with a committee that was to consider one of our Ratio Christi Christian apologetics clubs. In the same lobby was a physics professor who was scheduled to speak to the same committee, only he was speaking to the committee against our club. Since I am not a public figure, this man knew nothing of me, and only knew of our organization what he could glean from our website. I shook his hand and told him my name. In less than five seconds, this man began a quite lengthy emotional diatribe against me and the organization I was standing for. He barely stopped to breathe, keeping going on and on about how wrong we were. He was quite emotional. I attempted dialog, but made no progress, for he was not listening to anything I was saying. My few attempts at polite conversation merely increased his agitation. What was the root of his concern? The entire thing stemmed from a single sentence on our website that rejects theistic evolution.

Now this person is a recognized faculty member at a major university. His field of study is technical and difficult. He must be an intelligent person or he would not hold the position he does. Yet his judgement was so clouded that he did not even stop to ask me what conclusions I held, what my intentions were, to what degree I had thought through my positions, or anything else.

This one professor is arguably an example of a much larger problem. Our friends in the technical sciences, at least the atheist ones who are antagonistic towards Christianity, hold themselves out to be the bastions of cold logic and hard reason. Yet in truth they are nothing of the sort. Often they are as blind and biased as the random person we meet at the bus stop. Examples are not hard to find:

  • Atheist Richard Dawkins, who stood at a podium on the mall in Washington, DC and declared that the universe clear to the bottom has no evil and no good, then a few minutes later in the same speech called religion evil.
  • Georgia Institute of Technology climate scientist Judith Curry resigned her academic position because all the research funding and career paths were all going in one direction. In a practical sense, she was not allowed to do research that went against the grain.
  • The numerous graduate students and faculty members who feel they must hide their faith to keep their jobs. A friend of mine approached a Christian who was on staff at Rice University and invited them to his home for dinner with some fellow Christians. The staff member was afraid to come for fear that if the school found out he was Christian, he would lose his job.
  • The repeated use of ad hominem terms for people with which they disagree. For example, the term “creationist” is regularly used against Intelligent Design researchers, as if that term trumped the mathematical and technical challenges in their publications.

For more on this type of bias, see the works of sociologist George Yancey, such as his book Hostile Environment: Understanding and Responding to Anti-Christian Bias. Bias is amplified when we mix in subjects with moral implications such as whether or not God exists.

I am sure those in the technical sciences have little patience with those that they disagree. I also have little patience when obviously biased scientists extend beyond their areas of expertise and make poor statements about theology and philosophy. The academics have a responsibility to deal with issues with calm and respect. When they do not have both, they are betrayed by their bias.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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