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When Evidence Isn’t Enough

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Posted on Feb 26, 2012
Youtube / TEDxTalks

In the face of ever-increasing contradictory evidence, millions of Americans believe God created humans as they exist today and that Earth is just thousands of years old. Why?

Salman Hameed, assistant professor of integrated science and humanities at Hampshire College, says people often cling to improbable explanations of their experiences and the world around them because abandoning them means losing their sense of themselves and the relationships, comfort and other benefits that come with belonging to a community.

How best to advance the causes of knowledge and reason then? By showing believers what they stand to gain, he says. —ARK

 

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By balkas, February 27, 2012 at 6:22 pm Link to this comment

religions are mere ideologies.

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grochef's avatar

By grochef, February 27, 2012 at 5:41 pm Link to this comment

As I see it, there are two main reasons for religion: 

1. To explain the unexplainable.  Since the day man
first invented God, man has been learning more.  As
more is learned and explained, the need to have a
god, to explain away the unexplainable continues to
shrink.  While man will likely never have all the
answers, the need to have God as the reason for the
unexplained will be very slight, indeed.

2. To acquire immortality.  Man is terrified of the
prospect of being dead forever.  In his book, “The
Atheist Manifesto”, Michel Onfray eloquently makes
this point very clearly.  As with all things
religious, there is no verifiable, reproducible way
to prove that there is an afterlife, but there are
plenty of examples of how dead people remain.

Belief in the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, Santa Claus
and god are all equally absurd.  The recent battle
between Judaism and the church of Mormon is a
ludicrous journey deep into absurdity.  Apparently,
in order to save souls and increase the number of
followers, the Mormon church has taken it upon
themselves to posthumously baptize the victims of the
holocaust.  This has angered rabbis to no end. 
Mormons have replied by stating, quite emphatically,
that those souls who do not wish to be Mormon will
not accept the baptism.  Ah, religion.

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By ElkoJohn, February 27, 2012 at 5:33 pm Link to this comment

Elementary my dear Watson:

The survival instinct means the humans don’t want to die;
most religions offer them a life after death.

All you have to do is believe the magic words,
click your ruby slippers three times,
and wha-lah, it’s all taken care of.

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James M. Martin's avatar

By James M. Martin, February 27, 2012 at 5:02 pm Link to this comment

With believers willing to listen, I find that you can get them thinking by pointing out that they had no consciousness prior to being born, and they will not have consciousness after death.  This is a certainty, not the speculation of an afterlife which may or may not be there for them.  If they say they are certain “because the Bible says there is a Heaven,” ask them if Dorothy actually visited a place called Oz.  You read that in a book, too.

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, February 27, 2012 at 4:57 pm Link to this comment

Long before that comment on people “clinging to their guns an religion” was made Karl Marx noticed the same thing. Especially mistreated workers who instead of fighting the power used it to succor them during the trials of living under such conditions. Karl Marx & Engles wanted people to make their lives better an use their religion for something else. To fight the power, take over then they can have a better life.

I would tell Salman Hameed that U.F.O. means unidentified flying object—not alien space ship. An being unidentified doesn’t mean we have an idea what it may or may not be.

However he is right about how our mind can fool us even today. Study the mind you find similarities all over the world. Only the cultural names change for the same phenomena.

There has been some correlation between “alien abductions” an the stories of cryptic “Satanic” experiences. The morphology is very similar.

Many of our problems have been created by our lack of caring or seeing the outcomes of what we do. From digging out sequestered CO2 an burning it. And what happened when it did? Humans have the dangerous capacity to ignore outcomes from actions an even not care what they do is actually hurting themselves an others. We can act against Nature. Like we can lie an also create elaborate fantasies. It is a two edged sword for us.

christian96 we evolved from the same ancestors as apes not monkeys. We are more closely related to a chimpanzee than gorilla or orangutan.(But even simple science is beyond you isn’t it?)

We have trashed our world. The oceans are nearly dead. We have over 7 billion people in just 12 years an the next billion will come even faster in a geometric rate. Our intelligence coupled with the more primitive parts of our brains (a true evolutionary trait, not one of creation by a so-called superior being) play upon our neocortex to use our manipulative members to create or destroy things or convert them to what we want. An sell it to others who had no idea the wanted it! Pollution, coveting others fresh water, minerals, land an such are also still active. We are our own worse enemy since no other species hunts us to live. If we did we wouldn’t have half the problems we have now. But only disease an starvation an war can kill those too many people. To Nature it matters not who you are I am just that there is less of us. We could do it ourselves an gently but we haven’t so that leaves the hard way. Nature’s way.

It is in our hands how we end up as.

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By Grochef, February 27, 2012 at 3:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As I see it, there are two main reasons for religion:  1. To explain the unexplainable. 
Since the day man first invented God, man has been learning more.  As more is learned, The need for the God explanation continues to shrink.  While man will likely never have all the
answers, the need to have God as the reason for the unexplained will be very slight, indeed.
2. To acquire immortality.  Man is terrified of the prospect of being dead forever.  In his book, “The Atheist Manifesto”, Michel Onfray eloquently makes this point very clearly.  As
with all things religious, there is no verifiable, reproducible way to prove that there is an afterlife, but there are plenty of examples of how dead people remain.
 
Belief in the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, Santa Claus and god are all equally absurd.  The recent battle between Judaism and the church of Mormon is a ludicrous journey deep into
absurdity.  Apparently, in order to save souls and increase its number of followers (who’s keeping score?), the Mormon church has taken it upon themselves to posthumously baptize the victims of the holocaust.   This has angered rabbis to no end.  Mormons have replied by stating, quite emphatically, that those souls who do not wish to be Mormon will not accept the baptism.

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By Big B, February 27, 2012 at 2:31 pm Link to this comment

Mike,

Science has told us how to solve all those problems you mentioned, and more. But these new modern people have had it too good, and are unwilling to sacrifice anymore. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote an epithath for the human race, it read “we probably could have saved ourselves, but we were just too damn lazy (and cheap)”

christian96

Of course it is far more likely that an invisible man living in the corning of the cosmos snapped his mighty fingers one day and everything magically appeared. I am going to have to call “bullshit” on that one. What are we, fucking five?

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By Marian Griffith, February 27, 2012 at 2:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@Mike
—Why should Americans believe in science?—

Because science is not a matter of belief or faith?

Science is a method of examining reality to improve our understanding and our ability to predict what will happen. It is a procedure that is aimed at eliminating false leads and explanations that do not after all explain anything, or everything.
As our ability to observe reality improves so does our ability to theorise the explanation of those observations.

You are confusing the nature of science and faith, as if the two are mutually exclusive. When in reality the two have nothing in common.
You are also confusing technology and science. We are facing many technological problems, some of our own making, but again that has nothing to do with the scientific understanding of those problems.
Science does not ‘cause’ global warming. There is empirical (i.e. observed evidence) that for the past two centuries the average global temperature has been rising and that this increase has picked up slightly the last couple of decades. It was hypothesised that this rising temperature was caused primarily by the increase of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere (mostly CO2) since that amount was the major difference between today and 2 centuries ago. This hypothesis was then tested specifically to see if evidence could be found that contradicted the hypothesis. When no contradicting evidence was found and a lot of supporting evidence (some of it looking back for hundreds of thousands of years for correlation between temperature and CO2 levels in the atmosphere) for the hypothesis was discovered (each leading to new tests) and experiments have been repeated and independently reviewed, then the hypothesis was elevated to the level of theory, which is about as certain as scientists will accept their understanding of reality gets.
But all this only explains -why- the average global temperature is rising. Doing something about it is not the realm of science. That is technology, or politics.

But refusing to believe in science because you do not like the results? That is like refusing to belief that you will fall if you step over the edge of a cliff because you do not want to accept that you can not float. Science is about observations of reality and our best ability to describe and understand those observations. You can not choose to disbelief reality. Or I guess you can if you insist, but that is a recognised psychological condition that would get you admitted to an institution (if the USA still had a functioning mental healthcare system that is).

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By gerard, February 27, 2012 at 11:08 am Link to this comment

Christian96: It is possible to enjoy the benefits of both science and religious faith.  One does not exclude the other. It is impossible to explain in words, but I wish you could have seen my father at the Grand Canyon. Talk about religious experiences!
As a trained geologist, he was stricken with religious awe as he contemplated its magnitude, the ages of time it represents, the powers of water and wind, even the glorious artistic majesty of stone. For him (and many others) religion and science celebrated a holy matrimony then and there.

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By gerard, February 27, 2012 at 10:50 am Link to this comment

Note to Chris Hedges:  I would like very much to see a column here from you on the issue I stated earlier:  What is the relationship (if any) between deep and widespread insecurities caused by wars, starvation, disease etc., to people’s need to believe in some “fundamentalist” religions? Or, in another view ,does mass insecurity help to cause people to cling to fundamentalist beliefs of all sorts?

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By christian96, February 26, 2012 at 10:07 pm Link to this comment

Some people believe humans evolved from monkies.
Now, that’s really called making a monkey out of
yourself!

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By Mike, February 26, 2012 at 9:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In the past science gave us hope and solved problems.

Today Science brings despair and talks of problems that cannot be solved (energy,
population, food, water, climate change).

Why should Americans believe in science?

Ultimately Americans of the past didn’t necessarily believe or understand science
any more than they do today.  But they understood hope.

Mike

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By gerard, February 26, 2012 at 4:17 pm Link to this comment

Obaviously we are going to have to work more on widening the “community of believers” which means perfecting the methods and tools of communication to close gaps between “them” and “us”—no easy job, and one not much effected by argument or any of the ugly characteristics that go into argument such as scorn, sarcasm, mimicry, etc.
  With global warming closing in on us, we have little time to perfect our methods of “education” on many complicated, strange, even alienating facts.
  The problem is further complicated, of course, by energy corporations who are “making money” out of things as they are, and who have a big percentage of the money that might fund better public education on this crucial issue.
  We had better develop a feasible program soon, plus methods for putting it into action. Personally, I have little faith in anything except Sagan’s faith because I watched my father fight this battle over evolutioin almost 100 years ago.  Obviously, Either there were not enough like him, or they all failed.)
  At this point, one really despairs of being able to hold fundamentalist religions to any type of limit, because the insecurity under which most of us live only increases the power of religions to enthrall.
  No doubt by decreasing insecurities (war, illness, starvation, global warming, injustice) we could help open closed minds and soothe shattered emotions.

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