"One of the things cognitive science teaches us is that when people define their very identity by a worldview, or a narrative, or a mode of thought, they are unlikely to change – for the simple reason that it is physically part
of their brain, and so many other aspects of their brain structure would also have to change;
that change is highly unlikely."
~ George Lakoff, from his book The Political Mind, p. 59
"A man with a conviction is hard to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts for figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point".
~ Leon Fistinger. Stanford University (stated while studying UFO devotees)
One of the 1960’s youth rebellion slogans is the famous phrase attributed to Jack Weinberg in 1964, “We have a saying in the movement that we don’t trust anyone over 30”. An important, but frustrating, observation I have learned in discussing and debating origins with people over the past 40 years is that if the person is in midlife or older there appears to be no amount of sound, robust evidence that will move them from erroneous beliefs. Certain beliefs can be elevated to sacred values in importance so that they become merged with a person’s identity and no amount of evidence will change them. Any discussion of why their beliefs are erroneous feels like a dangerous assault to their very core values and they often argue to absurd lengths that the evidence against their belief can’t be correct. Too much of their lives have been built around some core beliefs and changing them would undermine their very identity, challenging their life’s purpose and meaning.
Rationalizations to preserve beliefs can become ever more sophisticated, fantastical and nonsensical. I asked a pastor once in Beaverton, Oregon (N.L.) how impossible it was that 42 children could be mauled by two female bears per 2 Kings 2:23-25. He explained that the children would not be able to run away effectively because the Hebrew word for children could mean young adults and these children were actually seminary students mocking Elisha and indirectly God, thus deserving death by mauling, and also not in good enough physical shape to effectively run away - because they were really de-conditioned students. They all just stood there waiting their turns? What about the non literalist believer? There is so much of the Bible that would need metaphor or hyperbole salve applied that how would scriptures not just dissolve into a fog of interesting poetry, mythology and literature?
According to creationist apologists, the ERVs I’ve discussed are now retroviruses but were changed somehow from their original functions and locations after the “Fall”. Never mind that the Fall is just mythology, the reason the ERVs (mostly LTRs), are found in the same locations between chimps and humans according to them is because of common design - they originally did another function - not because of retroviruses randomly inserting like we can see now. The fact that some scientists resurrected a mutated non-functioning group of related ERVs into a single active ancestral proviral retrovirus, and it produced infective retroviruses as predicted and not some original “other function”, is dismissed. Shared ERVs between humans and the other great apes, especially chimps, rises to the level of proof for evolution - macroevolution. The creationist objections utterly fail.
It doesn’t matter that when looking at whales and whale fossils the overwhelming evidence points decidedly that they evolved from a small terrestrial ancestor. Nature does not care if we can’t imagine how it happened in about 10 million years and involved numerous amazing adaptations. Like a pilot flying in a storm, trust your instruments over your “gut” and feelings when they don’t match those tried and true instruments. Your instrument package is science. Evolution is true. And it has consequences for world views.
Many just have too much to lose to question a life that is based on a false or mortally wounded world view. And this is understandable. All of us are more fragile than we care to think.
"No evidence is powerful enough to force acceptance of a conclusion
that is emotionally distasteful.”
~ Theodosius Dobzhansky
This phenomena of rejecting reality most often applies to religious beliefs but any sacred beliefs such as flat earth views, astrology, homeopathy, UFO alien claims, anti-vaccination, a belief in a political leader come to save the country despite being a despot (followers acting like a cult), and many more will be defended no matter how irrational the defense becomes. Note that in order to hold a flat earth view, one has to believe the moon landing never took place, that NASA, the Russians, Chinese and other countries are faking the space photographs and videos, and that hundreds of thousands of engineers and others working in space exploration all have physics wrong - and are keeping quiet and not seeking out news publications to reveal the “truth” about the so called fake space announcements. In the case of many versions of creationism, all of science and especially the biological sciences have science wrong but a spunky, fringe group of nearly always religiously motivated creationists have “the truth”. There must be a historical Adam to found humankind for the Abrahamic religions because a religion demands it. No Fall? Then no original sin for orthodox Christianity and no need for Jesus. The world we see then is exactly the way it should be if evolution were true. Even William Lane Craig and Joshua Swamidass have finally found rationalizations to have their Adam cake and taste the truth of human evolution too. Creationists especially need your monetary support to turn back those godless, materialistic scientists, many of whom are theists! Give now before it’s too late.
Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds. New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason
All the Biblical contradictions, errors, contaminations, and narratives that paint Yahweh as an immoral innocent child killer are just somehow explained away to their satisfaction, dismissed with explanations of its a mystery, or we will find out why these seemingly difficult passages have good explanations when in heaven and meet the Great Designer. Yahweh is not derived from a Canaanite pantheon of gods despite what the best religious scholars at the top universities around the world have documented? Of course, real Christians reject Islamic and Mormon claims. Many Protestants think Catholics are not true Christians and vice versa. All religions can’t be true, but all can be false.
www.holytaco.com not functioning. No copyright infringement intended. Flowchart from 2009.
Holding onto false beliefs about the world may be comforting but does have potentially deleterious effects. Faith healing has killed many as has snake handlers. Creationism holds back science and stunts student’s intellectual growth. Fundamentalism will wrongly attack homosexuality and contaminate the young with erroneous ideas about human nature and sexuality. Why is it so often about sex, usually premarital? Controlling women? Stay in a marriage at all costs no matter how damaged or dangerous. The God of the universe laid out rules for praising Him all the time but forgot to tell us about germs and to condemn slavery? Religious beliefs affect how abortion is viewed and if poorly qualified Supreme Court justices are placed in their positions.
“A belief is a lever that, once pulled, moves almost everything else in a person’s life… Your beliefs define your vision of the world; they dictate your behavior; they determine your emotional responses to other human beings… most of the people in this world believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book. We have the misfortune of having many such books on hand, each making an exclusive claim to its infallibility. People tend to organize themselves into factions according to which of these incompatible claims they accept…While all faiths have been touched, here and there, by the spirit of ecumenicalism, the central tenet of every religious tradition is that all others are mere repositories of error or, at best, dangerously incomplete.”
~ Same Harris. The End of Faith. Chapter 1: Reason In Exile
In the movie The Matrix, Morpheus offers two pills to Neo who is in the Matrix, a computer generated immense simulation that appears and feels real but is not. The blue pill will keep him as he is with his beliefs and comfort about his world. The red one will remove him from the Matrix and show him reality. Morpheus tells Neo, “Remember, all I’m offering you is the truth, nothing more.” Neo takes the red pill and eventually is pulled by Morpheus into his ship from the disposal pool the machines have thrown Neo into. Neo, violently pulled from the Matrix, becomes very ill as he learns all the truth. After Neo recovers from the trauma of learning everything he thought was real is not, Morpheus, sitting by his bed, attempts to comfort him:
Neo: “I can’t go back, can I?”
Morpheus: “No, but if you could would you really want to? I feel I owe you an apology. We have a rule. We never free a mind once its reached a certain age. It’s dangerous. The mind has trouble letting go…”
It is indeed very difficult and rare for older persons to significantly change an erroneous world view. People believe all kinds of things that are not true. In many ways we are living in cultures that mimic a Matrix of comforting delusions.
Other Erroneous Beliefs
What about other false beliefs besides religion? Why do they persist also? Because we are a social species and in order to survive in the past, we had to cooperate. Through deep time anything that would pressure a group to stay together with common goals would be selected for and a common set of beliefs does that well. This usually involves religion but we can see other false group beliefs in politics, anti-vaccinations, homeopathy, flat earth, BigFoot, UFOs, etc. that also are central to group adhesion. Note what happens to individuals that reject the group beliefs. They can be attacked, shunned or forced to leave the group. Islamic apostasy and death? When we were hunter gatherers in small tribes this would often be a death sentence. In addition, our brains are wired to take short cuts for survival. We tend to make mistakes that involve applying agency where there is none and pattern recognition errors. For example if our ancestors noted grass moving it was better to assume a lion rather than the wind; a mistake could cost you your life whereas the other mistake would just cost you some unnecessary energy to falsely run away. We tend to undergo false pattern recognition also. That's why people often loose money investing in the stock market and why Jesus is seen in toast and angels on the sides of buildings with water spray damage, etc.
Why it Matters
I posit that all religions were and are human manufactured. As far as we can tell there is no supernatural, and only natural processes produced our universe, solar system, and life on this planet. No one is coming to help us. There are no do-overs in an afterlife. We live in a deterministic universe. Since evolution is true, we are here by contingency and chance, and possibly emergent physical properties. The universe doesn’t care about you, but we can care about this life we have been gifted. Even if you have severe physical or emotional problems, at least you have a chance compared to the 80% of fertilizations that never get that chance. Evolution tells us when, how, from where and what we came from. This informs the why, what philosophers and theologians have been chasing for thousands of years without ultimate success. Science may not know all the answers to the great ultimate questions of life, but it has answered many or most of them in my opinion, without really making that a priority. What makes us human is slowly being revealed through evolutionary psychology, neuroscience and DNA studies. Why we act the way we do in relationships and even investing in the stock market has evolutionary answers. Viewing individuals and societies through an evolutionary lens becomes mandatory. Why we are moral is because mostly of evolution. Do we punish people for bad behavior or really try and rehabilitate them because of free will issues? What does solitary confinement accomplish? How does this reflect on an eternity of torture in hell per some of the Abrahamic religions?
From these two observations, evolution is true and religion is not, derive a foundation for truth searching and understanding. It’s uncomfortable for many, but nature is not concerned with our comfort. Especially if you take away our tools. But it yields incredible dividends. Look at what science has discovered about us and our past. Science is performed by fallible humans and of course can mistake or be misused, but it is self correcting and spans all cultures. There is no Christian geology or Islamic chemistry.
I have learned much about reality in my time here so far on this amazing blue dot. What a gift and curse this has been. Changing a world view can have high costs. Searching for truth has its own rewards but it can be a lonely and isolating endeavor if living in a mostly or an all religious society instilled with woo and ideological erroneous beliefs. Once a door of doubt has been opened and stepped through, probably none of us can go back, at least honestly.
"It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion,
however satisfying and reassuring."
~ Carl Sagan
I chose truth over at times comfort, and reality over a world view on the surface that seems rational but that actually can cause harm and retard potential. What I really found are some very smart, courageous people over the ages who sometimes paid for their speaking and writing non-theism with their lives, and presently many who have shared their knowledge we me that I have found. I doubt anything I’ve written is original to me. For those opposed to my opinions I’m sure I sound arrogant or full of hubris. I assure you I’m not overly intelligent and I know so many people who have made the same journey and arrived at the same conclusions about life. Choose the red pill.
“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt,
as far as possible, all things.
~ Rene Descartes
I will give a shout out especially to Ed T. Babinski who’s site contains an encyclopedia of information after his de-conversion from Christianity. He’s so well informed that he has been an invited author for anthologies and has written his own book. What I have written here pales in comparison: https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/. There are many ex-Christians and many web sites where they tell their stories and establish “Ex” organizations such as former JWs, Mormons, Muslims, evangelicals, pastors/priests. I am in awe of what many have sacrificed to take a stand for truth and reality, and paid a tremendous price often losing family, friends, and careers.
Before finishing this Conclusion I would like to share a quote from Sam Harris:
"The moment we admit that our beliefs are attempts to represent states of the world, we see that they must stand in the right relation *to* the world to be valid. It should be clear that if a person believes in God because he has had certain spiritual experiences, or because the Bible makes so much sense, or because he trusts the authority of the church, he is playing the same game of justification that we all play when claiming to know the most ordinary facts. This is probably a conclusion that many religious believers will want to resist; but resistance is not only futile but *incoherent*. There is simply no other logical space for our beliefs about the world to occupy. As long as religious propositions purport to be about the way the world is -- *God can actually hear your prayers, If you take his name in vain bad things will happen to you, etc.* -- they must stand in relation to the world, and to our other beliefs about it. And it is only by being so situated that propositions of this sort can influence our subsequent thinking or behavior. As long as a person maintains that his beliefs represent an actual state of the world (visible or invisible; spiritual or mundane), he must maintain that his beliefs are a *consequence* of the way the world is. This, by definition, leaves him vulnerable to new evidence. Indeed, if there were no conceivable change in the world that could get a person to question his religious beliefs, this would prove that his beliefs were not predicated upon his taking any state of the world into account. He could not claim, therefore, to be *representing* the world at all.” ~ Sam Harris.
In my decades of debating theists and creationists, mostly evangelicals, I often heard that origins don’t count, that evolution is just a minor issue. The only thing that matters is Jesus and the resurrection. Let alone that this claim rests on Biblical stories, and I have outlined why no one can trust the Bible due to all its problems. I assert that origins not only matter but they are crucial because they provide a foundation to build a world view upon. So we had better make sure we get it right.
Several years ago I posted this onto my Facebook page:
Why do I harp so much on evolution? Because where we came from, when, from what, and how we and all life got here informs the "Why". And religion, philosophy, and much of art and literature explores what it means to be human. What it means to be moral. Is there purpose and meaning in life? Evolution not only touches on the proximal questions of life - why do we have a recurrent laryngeal nerve and vestigial ear muscles, why the pattern of fossils in the geological records of earth, or why people behave the way they do - but also many of the ultimate questions of life that philosophers and theologians have been struggling with for thousands of years.
I posit that it is the single most important discovery ever made because it affects so much of our lives and cultures, transcending the individual and particular societies. It also falsifies most religious claims and so is continually attacked by many of them. But to no real effect. Nature really doesn't care what you believe. The Theory of Evolution is as well established as the scientific theories of gravity, cell, germ, and relativity. These can be modified in minor ways but will not be overthrown. And so the theory of evolution is also here to stay and will continue to play a crucial role in understanding our world and ourselves.
In the next section I propose to look at some consequences of these two foundational realities, evolution in the form of macroevolution is true and all religions are false. I will ask as the evangelical Francis Schaeffer asked, “How should we then live?” Only I will answer with the demonstrable knowledge that evolution is true and religion is not.
These consequences affect us all and in perhaps surprising ways.