Tag Archives: facts

Opinions as Facts

This is one of those things that drives me nuts and in this particular case, it’s part of a long, ongoing discussion about rights, especially from a libertarian perspective, but it could be about lots of different subjects because it happens all the time.  In this instance, what set it off is someone who claimed that “natural rights”, that bizarre libertarian bugaboo, came from “universal social ideas”, meaning everyone thinks a particular way, therefore it’s true.

I trust I don’t have to point out that this is a logical fallacy to anyone, right?

But I pointed out that there are no “universal social ideas”.  Absolutely no social view is universal, in that it has been held by all people in all places at all times.  None.  The idea of the right to life is one example.  Well, depending on who you ask, some people just have no right to life at all.  If you asked people 200 years ago in America, most would say that blacks had no right to life.  According to a lot of Germans in Nazi Germany, the Jews had no right to life.  Heck, I’m sure you can find plenty of people in the Bible Belt who would tell you that gays have no right to life.  This is just not a universally held belief by any stretch of the imagination.

Ah, but my opponent said, anyone who doesn’t believe in the right to life, those people must have something wrong with them and they should all be locked up.  Uh… that’s his opinion and all, but what he’s really doing is just declaring that anyone who disagrees with him automatically doesn’t count, therefore he wins.

Do I have to describe how absurd this is?

Yeah, I think it’s about time to bow out and let the delusional revel in their delusions.  It isn’t like any amount of rational discussion is going to change their minds.  They think their opinions are facts and nothing anyone says, no amount of evidence presented, is ever going to change their minds.

I Don’t Care What You Believe

Seek_Truth_by_BeautifullyEvilIn any debate with a theist, there is a never-ending problem, they are only too happy to tell you what they believe, what they have faith in, but they are very hesitant, if not completely incapable of telling you why they believe the things they believe and why you ought to do so as well.  I’m not going to argue that some people have faith, certainly that’s true for a large portion of the population, but whether or not that faith is well-founded is another question entirely and one that we need to address.

What I find most disturbing is the unfortunate reality that some people just don’t care if what they believe is true or not.  So long as it makes them feel good, so long as it gives them hope, nothing else matters.  They will argue with you that caring about the reality of a belief is not only not important, but entirely irrelevant if it gives them confidence and allows them to live a happy life, yet I would argue that nothing could be further from the truth.  Comfort, based on a nonsensical belief, is faith placed in a lie and as such, doesn’t actually demonstrably improve one’s life.

And that’s the issue. We’ve seen all of the bad things that these false beliefs can do, it just takes a look through the Religious Horror Show to see story after story of awful things caused by and done in the name of religion.  All the time in the world spent on one’s knees, hoping and wishing and dreaming and praying, it doesn’t bring any demonstrable positive results to one’s life.  It doesn’t get you a job.  It doesn’t put a roof over your head. It doesn’t make you any smarter and it certainly doesn’t make you more rational.  It just wastes your time, talking to yourself, while your life passes you by.

I’ve used a tagline for many years now, “There is nothing demonstrably true that religion can provide the world that cannot be achieved more rationally through entirely secular means.”  I’ve yet to find anyone who can demonstrate a fault in that statement.  At best, and most pathetically, I’ve had people claim they just don’t care about truth, they just want to flood their brains with those feel-good chemicals that I’ve talked about in the past and revel in the emotion without worrying about the reality of it all.  There is nothing worthwhile that religious belief gives us that we can’t get just as well or better without religion.  Religion is just a bandage that gets slapped over problems that stops us from finding real answers and demonstrable solutions that actually help people.  In fact, the “good” that comes from religion is like the “good” that comes from a battered wife staying with her abusive husband.  “But he loves me!”  Sure he does.  But while she’s getting the feeling of being loved, she’s still getting the shit beat out of her and she’s rationalizing her way around the abuse for the emotions she’s desperately seeking. The same is true of religion.  Sure, it might make people feel good to think that Jesus loves them, but the reality is that there’s an insidious mind poison seeping into their brains all the time they’re internally hugging their imaginary friend.  It’s killing their ability to think rationally and critically about their beliefs and it’s opening them to even more absurd woo beliefs that studies have clearly shown, the religiously-addled are more likely to embrace.

So no, I don’t care what you believe.  I don’t care what you want to be true.  I don’t care what makes you feel good and, truth be told, neither should you.  You should actually care what’s true, even if it makes you feel awful, just because it is true.  Your emotional well-being is not paramount.  What makes you feel good isn’t important. Your job, as a supposedly mature, intelligent, rational human being, is to deal with the world as it really is, not to candy coat it in religious goo, brightly colored and scented but ultimately empty.  You ought to be better than that and if you’re not, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

The Bitchspot Report Podcast #53

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In our longest podcast ever, we discover that God wrote the Constitution, Missouri wants to warn parents before their kids learn facts, gay marriage leads inevitably to parents marrying their children and Pat Robertson tells Ken Ham to shut the hell up and we heartily agree with that.  Plus, we take a long, long, long time talking about our problems with liberal politics.  Two men enter, one man leaves.  Don’t miss it.

Why Theists Won’t Budge on Faith

RELIGION the most common mental illnessWe, as atheists, often wonder why theists cling so tightly to their religious beliefs, especially when, in today’s world, there really is no excuse for not knowing any better.  Let’s be honest, we can find out information almost instantly with just a few keystrokes and an Internet connection, the failure of religion, all religion, is well documented online and the fact that there is no evidence for the existence of any gods is blatantly plain.

So we ask ourselves, given all of these facts, why do so many people still believe in this primitive nonsense?  Is it fear?  Is it delusion?  Is it stubbornness?  In many cases, all of those may be the case, but as we’re finding now, it might be something else entirely.  It might be a mental problem.

Lee Ross, Craig Anderson and their colleagues wondered why people often cling to beliefs that they later find out are wrong.  To do this, they planted ideas in the minds of test subjects and then set out to discredit those ideas.  They found that it was amazingly hard to get some people who come to believe a particular thing, even when they are told, flat-out, that the thing is wrong.

Their experiments first produced a belief which seemed reasonable as it was presented, but ultimately was wholly false.  These beliefs were supported either  by supposed expert testimony or by the production of some seemingly valid anecdotal evidence.  Then study participants were asked to explain why they thought the idea was true, to come up with some rationale which convinced them that these were actual facts.  Then researchers told them that everything they had just worked so hard to justify was, in fact, completely wrong.  Even after it was revealed to the subjects that the belief was completely false and invented out of whole cloth for the experiment, approximately 75% of participants continued to accept the belief as true, even if the subjects acknowledged that it was made up.  This is called “belief preservation”, a mental condition under which beliefs can take on a life of their own and persist even when the person holding them has no reason whatsoever to think they are true and every reason to think they are false.

“[B]eliefs can survive potent logical or empirical challenges. They can survive and even be bolstered by evidence that most uncommitted observers would agree logically demands some weakening of such beliefs. They can even survive the total destruction of their original evidential bases.” —Lee Ross and Craig Anderson, (1982), “Shortcomings in the attribution process: On the origins and maintenance of erroneous social assessments”, in Kahneman, Daniel; Slovic, Paul; Tversky, Amos, Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases, Cambridge University Press, pp. 129–152

Another thing researchers learned was that people tend to react most strongly to information received earliest.  This goes both for things they learned early in life as well as thing learned early in a sequence.  If you describe a person as “smart, beautiful, wise, stupid, ugly and ignorant”, most people will still regard the person you are talking about positively, even though the description includes both positive and negative traits.  If you reverse the list and use the negative traits first, the person will be regarded negatively.  It is difficult, even when this trick is revealed, to change a test subject’s mind on the individual under evaluation, there will always be a bias to the positive or negative even if the whole process was invented.

I would wager that a lot of theists likely have this problem, where early childhood indoctrination and a positive outlook on religious beliefs have programmed them for a lifetime to accept these ideas unconditionally.  As much as we still don’t understand how or why this works, it certainly does explain a lot of things, particularly the origins and persistence of religion.  It also explains why religion tries so hard to get it’s claws into kids at a young age.  The Jesuits have a saying, which has been largely borrowed by other religious groups, that says: “Give me the child for his first seven years, and I’ll give you the man.”  Unfortunately, this is true.  Pile your mind-poison into a child early enough and most will have a hard time ever digging their way out of it.

I also find it interesting when I look at the numbers.  They say there’s a 75%/25% split between people who have a hard time rejecting false claims they already believe and those who do not.  That’s really close to the 80%/20% religious/non-religious split we currently have in the United States.  I don’t think it’s that much of a coincidence.

So the next time a theist gets mad because you say they have something wrong with them, you can respond with evidence.  They probably do!  Now, we need to figure out how to fix this cognitive error in their brains so they can join reality like the rest of us unafflicted folk.