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07 September 2009

The Null Hypothesis

So I was having a discussion about god, science, logic, etc. with someone, and they said:
I still believe in God is that there is no other option that completely satisfies me for existance anyway. Every other theory is full of holes (as you say my belief is) so I have chosen the one with lesser holes.

And this same person had the gem of:
I also dont allow myself to believe in a scientific "fact" (like evolution/big bang) until that fact can be 100% proven to me

This really gave me pause. Not because it was profound, or in any way right, but rather at how wrong and incomplete these type of statements are...

The first statement gets right back at a blog I had a while back. So the fact that we don't know everything yet, and there are still areas left to learn in, is a reason to just dismiss it outright and substitute it with the god hypothesis? Of course there will be holes in stuff because we still have to figure out a lot of stuff. But is that enough reason to just blithely believe in a god? I guess that there are no holes in the god hypothesis, because the entire hypothesis is entirely empty. It can't have holes in it, because the entire thing is a hole! I suppose ONE giant hole is better than lots of little holes by this logic. I just can't get over how intellectually stifling something like that is!

The second quote... Well, that sort of blatantly poor understanding of even the basics of science makes me wonder exactly what holes this person is talking about in the first quote? Could it be that all the holes they see are just a result of a poor education, and no understanding of the things they criticize? As well as a total fear to admit a lack of knowledge? In looking at this person's profile, I did see they attended a religious school. Which would lead me to think they have received a skewed education on many things to say the least. And even if they had pursued further education on their own, the second quote shows they still have not put away some very basic and fundamental misunderstandings on science...

As I said where this discussion started, teaching people about scientific thought is like teaching a Gobi tribesman about deep sea fishing. The entire concept is totally alien to them. I really feel sorry for people who live such intellectually isolated lives. There is so much out there to go after and learn about, but if you have your invisible sky daddy as the default answer, do you really ever actually learn something?


Ivan3man said...

According to this article, "We are born to believe in God", in The Sunday Times, scientists have suggested that humans have been hardwired by evolution to believe in 'god' or gods.

The idea has emerged from studies of the way children’s brains develop and of the workings of the brain during religious experiences.

Bruce Hood, professor of developmental psychology at Bristol University, states: "Our research shows children have a natural, intuitive way of reasoning that leads them to all kinds of supernatural beliefs about how the world works. As they grow up they overlay these beliefs with more rational approaches, but the tendency to illogical supernatural beliefs remains as religion."

Some researchers say that this innate tendency of humans towards supernatural beliefs explains why many people become religious as adults, despite not having been brought up within any faith. Scientists think that the durability of religion is in part because it helps people to bond -- like sheep feel safe in numbers!

Professor Pascal Boyer, an anthropologist at Washington University and author of Religion Explained, supports Hood’s view that the origins of religion may lie in common childhood experiences. He said: "From childhood, humans form enduring and important social relationships with fictional characters, imaginary friends, deceased relatives, unseen heroes and fantasised mates.

"It is a small step from this to conceptualising spirits, dead ancestors and gods, who are neither visible nor tangible."
Boyer holds out little hope for atheism. "Religious thinking seems to be the path of least resistance for our cognitive systems," he said. "By contrast, disbelief is generally the work of deliberate, effortful work against our natural cognitive dispositions — hardly the easiest ideology to propagate."

So, in other words, people prefer not to think because it requires too much effort and that it's just easier to just say: "GODDIDIT!"

P.S. It appears that Mr. Curtis has buggered off. Do you think it was the link to "15 Evolutionary Gems", or the link to the Digitus Impudicus nebula image that did it, Larian?

Aaron said...

One less fundie to have to deal with...I'm glad you posted this. It has helped me reel in the diatribe I was going to unleash on his stupid ass after reading those very quotes.

Larian LeQuella said...

Oh, and Ivan, you may want to read this response to that article. (Emphasis mine)

Oh, piss off, you tiresome apologists for superstition. Dawkins did not make any such simple-minded argument; The God Delusion really is becoming one of those books beloved by those who haven't read it for their ability to misrepresent it. There may very well be natural biases that incline people to see agency everywhere around them, and to accept the dogmas of the tribe. So what?

I am an atheist, and it feels good. I am not a mutant freak who is struggling against either my instincts, radio waves broadcast from CIA satellites, or the sub-etheric pleas of downy-winged angels. I have hardwired bits in my brain, I am sure, and I also have the forces of history and culture shaping the way I think, but that does not mean anything as shallow and simplistic as that I should surrender to my church for the good of my biological impulses.

I was also born with a brain that found object permanence extremely surprising. My parents could play peek-a-boo with me, and it took me a year or so to realize that it was not a massively beneficent act of nature that my mother's face could still exist! Behind her hands! When I wasn't looking! Hooray! Ha ha! This does not imply that thinking, conscious, educated adult human beings should continue to collapse in peals of childish laughter every time they open a door and find that their family doesn't vanish when they aren't in sight.

The weakly formed predispositions of babies are not obstacles to rational thought. Except, maybe, to adults with the brains of babies. The rest of us can grow out of that nonsense.

Larian LeQuella said...

Actually Aaron, the guy that made those original quotes isn't really a fundie. That's what makes it even sadder. he is really a good guy, and in all other things seems smart. It's just that he has some incredibly flawed foundations that need replaced.

JD on the other hand...

Ivan3man said...

RE: Pharyngula's response to that article in The Sunday Times.

Oh dear, this is yet another example of "two peoples separated by a common language"!

Firstly, note that, in my comment above, I wrote the word "god" with a lower-case "g" and enclosed the word within single quotation marks (like this: 'god') to indicate the concept of the term, unlike the journalist(s) who used an upper-case "G" in the title and in the article. This is reason for the misunderstanding -- bad journalism making a dog's dinner of a research paper -- which resulted in PZ Myers being so flippant about the article; however, I now see that he has recently posted a clarification on his viewpoint.

Secondly, the actual scientist states (emphasis mine): "Our research shows children have a natural, intuitive way of reasoning that leads them to all kinds of supernatural beliefs about how the world works. As they grow up, they overlay these beliefs with more rational approaches, but the tendency to illogical supernatural beliefs remains as religion."

The professor did not state that "God" is the automatic default choice of people predisposed to believe, nor that any specific 'genetic memory' of a deity is preplanted.

What I think that the professor is saying is that children are equipped with methods of reasoning that leads them to supernatural beliefs -- e.g., Santa Claus; the Tooth Fairy, and Monsters Under the Bed. Young children often misinterpret shadows in the bedroom at night as those very monsters coming to get them.

Also, what I think that the study suggests is that children are innately susceptible to any variety of supernatural claims that enters their minds, and that their natural instinct is to run from anything that they perceive might threaten them; this may have given them a survival advantage -- a shadow in the forest at night might be a wolf, a bear, or a sabre-toothed tiger. Furthermore, tribal elders reinforced that fear by yelling "run" whenever a threat approached. So, if you ignored the leader of the tribe, you would end up as sabre-toothed tiger lunch, and removed from the gene pool; this resulted in our evolved instinct to obey authority without question. However, some unscrupulous individuals, unfortunately, exploit people's natural instinct to obey authority for their own ends -- e.g., Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany; Pope Urban II ordering the First Crusade; David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian sect; etc.

Therefore, evolution is now eliminating those individuals who blindly obey authority without question and favouring those who are able to think critically. It's the same with hedgehogs: once it was an evolutionary advantage for them to curl up and present a ball of spines to an aggressor to confound an attack, so surviving to pass on their genes; however, on the motorway/freeway/autobahn, that tactic can be a fatal disadvantage because the hedgehog can end up as a trucker's pizza! So, instead, some hedgehogs have been observed to ignore their natural instincts to curl up when danger approaches and to run as fast as their little legs will carry them when crossing the road.

Likewise, people are evolving the same way, but you cannot change pious people into atheists overnight any more than you can take a fish out of water -- a person cannot be reasoned out of a belief that they have reasoned themselves into.

Larian LeQuella said...

Aye, good point. I think the main objection the Professor had was that he's an adult, and has been able to leave behind those childish inclinations to believe in the supernatural, unlike most so called adults.


Didn't know about actual observations on the hedgehogs. That's cool. Learned behaviour over riding instinct.

Ivan3man said...

About the hedgehogs living near main roads, I saw that observation of their modified behaviour on a BBC TV Natural World programme, back in the late '90s. Most amusing!