Paradigm Works Like A Force Field

Categories: Religion, Science
Comments: 2 Comments
Published on: 2014.04.24


“a. a framework containing the basic assumptions, ways of thinking, and methodology that are commonly accepted by members of a scientific community.

b. such a cognitive framework shared by members of any discipline or group: the company’s business paradigm.”

Basically, a paradigm is a worldview, how a person or group perceives the world around them. Everyone has one. Some people never experience a paradigm shift (“a radical change in underlying beliefs or theory”), other than the normal one that often occurs during adolescence.

(Copyright © 2013 by Wil C. Fry.)

In the ongoing arguments* between science and religion, the biggest roadblock to either side is that everyone on the other side is in a different paradigm.

(* I use “arguments” instead of “debate”, because debate — at least to me — implies some kind of agreed-upon foundation for the discussion, at least a lowest-common-denominator foundation of understanding and values upon with the discussion can build.)

A person raised as a Christian, who continues to be a Christian into adulthood, has at some point made a decision (whether consciously or otherwise) to base their understanding of “life, the universe, and everything” upon something other than observable phenomena and quantifiable evidence. Usually it’s one of the following, or a combination thereof: the Bible, the teachings of their church, a specific leader such as their pastor or the Pope, or the instructions of a specific mentor figure.

Once that decision is made, implicitly or explicitly, it acts as a force field to any idea coming from outside their paradigm.

Many non-religious persons, including several that I count (and have counted) among my friends, do not understand that this force field exists or how it works. They act and speak as if enough evidence or the correct words of reason should be enough to break the Christian free of her incorrect ideology.

It works the other way too, something that religious persons have a hard time grasping. It frustrates them in their efforts to proselytize new members when the phrases that seem so common and effective in their circles have no effect whatsoever on the non-believers with whom they converse.

And it’s rare to find a person — at least, a grounded, thinking person — who has fully existed in both paradigms, who has at different times fully embraced both worldviews. If you do find one who claims it (“I was an atheist, but God found me!” or “I was a Christian but became convinced otherwise by science!”), often a little digging will show that they were never fully invested in the previous state.

Some examples of the “force field” idea were evident in February’s “debate” between Bill Nye and Ken Ham (Fox News story), and in the after-debate commentary. People who already agreed with Ham determined that he “won” the debate. People who already agreed with Nye said it was obvious that he “won”.

“The Bible is the word of God,” Ham said. “I admit that’s where I start from.” This is his force field. One of the most quoted snippets from the debate, at least on the religious side, was Ham’s: “…there is a book…” which was part of his response to Nye’s statement that scientists are “continuing to find out” where atoms come from. Ham claimed the Bible “tells where atoms come from” (it does not).

Perhaps where my claim of a force field was most evident was in the question (transcript): “What if anything would ever change your mind?”

(Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry.)

Ham went first, and said in part: “…And so as far as the word of God is concerned, no, no one’s ever gonna convince me that the word of God is not true…”

When the question was turned to Nye, the “Science Guy” said (in part):

“We would just need one piece of evidence. We would need the fossil that swam from one layer to another. We would need evidence that the universe is not expanding. We would need evidence that the stars appear to be far away but they’re not. We would need evidence that rock layers can somehow form in just 4000 years instead of the extraordinary amount. We would need evidence that somehow you can reset atomic clocks and keep neutrons from becoming protons. Bring on any of those things and you would change me immediately…”

Unlike many people, at least Ham recognizes his paradigm — his force field — and announces it. At least he can explain it. Nye’s answer implies that he doesn’t have such a barrier to new or different ideas, and maybe he doesn’t. But many people on his side of the debate do have such a barrier — even if it’s simply a barrier that prevents them from understanding that the believer has such a force field.

(And oh, yes, it was very difficult to find sources for these quotes that weren’t completely on one side or the other. Using Google to search for transcripts and quotes from the Nye-Ham debate, most results announced by the page’s title and sometimes even in the URL which side they agreed with.)

Note that my recent entry, The Problem With ‘Faith vs. Evidence’ touches on this idea as well. I said in that entry that scientific “evidence” isn’t exactly evidence to the average person, because we haven’t seen it, studied, touched it. In most cases, it’s unavailable to us for actual study. Each person has a choice whether to (1) accept on faith claims about that evidence or (2) accept on faith that the Bible’s creation story is more valid.

  1. I disagree with the contention that science must be taken on faith just as religion must. The reasons are simple: the telescope, the microscope, the slide rule, the thermometer, the sextant, and on and on. If you won’t take the word of science, you can use these things to find out yourself.

    There are no such devices for observing the tenets of religion.

    Also, “Ham on Nye, Hold the Mayo” might be a good alternate title for this entry.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      As usual, your titles are better than mine. :-) Headlines were never my strong suit…

      “I disagree with the contention that science must be taken on faith just as religion must. The reasons are simple: the telescope…[etc.]”

      I did speak briefly in a previous post about some of this evidence being observable by the average person, especially the stuff that happens in space. Having a telescope and knowing a bit of math can open some amazing mental doors.

      Perhaps I should have been more specific. I was thinking more of the fossils, carbon-dating, ice cores from Antarctica, and so on. Much of what’s used to date the Earth’s origins isn’t available to the average person, even by using the (excellent) tools you mentioned. And of course no one person has access to the bulk of data compiled over the decades of discovery.

      But I also wanted to temper that with the entry you’re reading now. The “Force Field” is the problem. Those who’ve decided to disbelieve scientific evidence have erected a nearly impenetrable shield. As Ham said, even if the evidence was right in front of him, he would not choose to stop believing the Bible.

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