A student at the University of Saskatchewan sent an email to the Saskatoon Freethinkers looking for people to interview for a project he’s doing titled “The Importance of Logic and Critical Thinking and the Nature of Irrationality in Humans.” I wrote back to let him know I’d be interested in setting up a date for that. If this works out, he’ll take notes for his project and I’ll take notes to bring back here. Win win.
There’s a church I walk by on the way to my closest library that tends to have pithy and clever write-ups on their lawn sign. I had no camera on hand yesterday but thanks to a pen, paper and the Church Sign Maker, I can reproduce them for you.
Do people suddenly feel compelled to park in the lot and take in a service because the sign was amusing? Has anyone ever experienced being converted thanks to a lawn sign, or would it actually take some work on the part of a pastor and congregation to make it stick?
During my walk on Saturday, I was deep into my music when a random woman came up to me, asked me a question I can’t remember because I didn’t really hear it and then pressed a small piece of paper of paper into my hand. I looked down and discovered this:
All I recall thinking was, “This is the stupidest way to witness to an atheist,” and then tucked the paper into my purse. I had half a mind to turn around, track her down and point out the pointlessness and sheer laziness of her method but in the end I kept walking. How will handing out something that’s been photocopied a thousand times change hearts and minds?
The Saskatoon Freethinkers had a member and former Mormon talk to us about his life growing up in that religion and how he discovered the way out of it. Dustin’s story was very fascinating and the more he talked about the weirdness that is Mormonism to an outsider, the more I was grateful I grew up without much indoctrination. Certainly nothing that stuck, anyway. Back on topic now, someone asked him about his missionary days in Arkansas and Tennessee and how many converts he created. In the two years he wandered around doing that, he figures six or so took him seriously enough to join up at the time but of that number only one lasted a year. Nobody asked how he discovered that, but he said the Church of Latter Day Saints is very concerned about the low conversion success rate and it’s been a problem for a long time so they must have some method of tracking that information. All they can do is encourage their missionaries to do their best and pray for the best.
Look back the image of the handout I was given. It asks, “Do you need freedom from…” and then lists 12 issues around it that affect most everyone at some point in their lives. Who doesn’t worry or feel fear once in a while? Who doesn’t get depressed or confused? Who hasn’t experienced lust or rejection lately? What gets me about that whole list is how it appears to treat all those things as problems, a set of feelings and behaviours that all require curing by the injection of Jesus into one’s heart.
Someone else asked Dustin about targeting and if Mormons pick on certain groups they know will be more receiving of Joseph Smith’s message. IE, are they poor, or uneducated or immigrants? He said it’s never anything that obvious in terms of a group goal or ambition but if they can be said to have one, it’s families. They want to convert Mom, Dad, and all the little kiddies thus eliminating the risk of a close loved one being able to pull the new convert out easily. If the whole family has invested its time and money into the new faith, one might find more reasons to stay in. (Dustin’s own family back in Lethbridge AB still remain with LDS but have been very supportive of his decision to leave and he’s grateful for it. Other ex-Mormons he knows can’t claim the same.)
Dustin’s advice to everyone was a suggestion to improve critical thinking. Hear what’s said but be able to ask good questions that will force the Mormon (or generic Christian, for that matter) to reexamine his or her own spiel and see it in a different way. Attack the circular reasoning, the belief that a “feeling I’m right” is proof of actual rightness. Challenge the beliefs and present solid arguments for why beliefs are flawed. And hopefully that person will turn out to be someone open minded enough and capable of learning from the experience.
Chris DiCarlo’s in town to promote his new book: How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to asking the Right Questions.
If you are in the city and can be at Rusty MacDonald Library (225 Primrose Drive) at 6pm this evening (pack a sandwich if have to), stop in and be both educated and entertained.
A really good pain in the ass is someone who is empowered with the ability to spot faulty reasoning and, by asking the right sorts of questions, hold people accountable not only for what they believe but how they behave.
This book revolves around asking and answering five very important questions. They are so important, they are called the Big Five:
1. What can I know?
2. Why am I here?
3. What am I?
4. How should I behave?
5. What is to come of me?
I look forward to hearing the answers.
Well, almost. This NPR article was a good find; some evangelicals are starting to realize that the truths being uncovered by geneticists and other areas of science are making it harder and harder to maintain the fiction that the whole of the earth got populated thanks to two people some celestial being molded together out of clay and a rib 6000 years ago.
conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account. Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: “That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.”
Venema says there is no way we can be traced back to a single couple. He says with the mapping of the human genome, it’s clear that modern humans emerged from other primates as a large population — long before the Genesis time frame of a few thousand years ago. And given the genetic variation of people today, he says scientists can’t get that population size below 10,000 people at any time in our evolutionary history.
To get down to just two ancestors, Venema says, “You would have to postulate that there’s been this absolutely astronomical mutation rate that has produced all these new variants in an incredibly short period of time. Those types of mutation rates are just not possible. It would mutate us out of existence.”
Others would likely try to say God miraculously made all those mutation rates possible in order to maintain the delusion of a functional biblical timeline, so it’s great to see logic and rationality taking charge here instead. Three cheers for science and minds open enough to accept its findings, even when they run counter to earlier, long-held beliefs. (That said, later down the page he appears to credit God for the evolutionary process as a whole so it’s clear he’s not willing to scrap the notion of a god’s interference completely. Can’t help some people…)
In fundamentalist circles these admissions are less than popular.
“From my viewpoint, a historical Adam and Eve is absolutely central to the truth claims of the Christian faith,” says Fazale Rana, vice president of Reasons To Believe, an evangelical think tank that questions evolution. Rana, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Ohio University, readily admits that small details of Scripture could be wrong.
“But if the parts of Scripture that you are claiming to be false, in effect, are responsible for creating the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, then you’ve got a problem,” Rana says.
One of those problems being cognitive dissonance. Hundreds of years of telling believers that the bible has everything right. Here come all these great minds devoting themselves to scientific inquiry and discovering so many examples where that’s clearly not the case. Yet, believers will turn away from all those the strange and frightening facts because their (outdated) beliefs are old and comfortable friends. They can’t possibly be wrong…
Of course they can.
A religion like Christianity is built on precepts that require believers to assume the world is other than it is in order to work. To trust those errors are not really errors at all.
To have faith. Faith in Genesis.
Faith in the Ark and the flood wiping out all but God’s chosen few.
Faith in a prophecy about a new king of the people. Faith in a story about angel visitations,
a guiding star in the sky and a baby born in a stable who,
wonder of wonders, will grow up to be that
King of heaven and earth and rise from the dead one day, too.
I’m impressed by how that part rhymes. You’d think I planned it…
“When Adam sinned, he sinned for us,” Mohler says. “And it’s that very sinfulness that sets up our understanding of our need for a savior.
Mohler says the Adam and Eve story is not just about a fall from paradise: It goes to the heart of Christianity. He notes that the Apostle Paul (in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15) argued that the whole point of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection was to undo Adam’s original sin.
“Without Adam, the work of Christ makes no sense whatsoever in Paul’s description of the Gospel, which is the classic description of the Gospel we have in the New Testament,” Mohler says.
The fault lies in the need for humans to interpret everything. That must have been of evolutionary benefit at some point, because we’re so damned good at it. We’re really good at misinterpreting things, too. Something else we’re really good at is taking stuff for granted when we think someone else has interpreted everything correctly for us already. Why do people believe Paul was right? There’s nothing wrong with building lessons out of a story you’ve learned, and it’s easy to see why people want to believe he’s right, but that still doesn’t make him factually accurate. He just jumped to that conclusion and whole chunks of the world ultimately followed in his footsteps.
Creation myths exist across cultures. Some of them are very beautiful you’d just love for them to be true for that reason alone. Others sound so ridiculous you have to wonder what kind of dopes ever came up with them. Everyone wondered where things came from and how people came to be. The Judeo-Christian version is just one of hundreds, and easily determined to all be equally false once people finally get around to comparing them to what the reality of our history can really tell us.
Back in the article, some scholars liken this origin rift to the high stake action of the battle between Galileo and the Catholic church. Others are reluctant to make that comparison but admit evolution is a sore point and getting trickier to deny outright. Still, they continue to insist on doing so.
others say Christians can no longer afford to ignore the evidence from the human genome and fossils just to maintain a literal view of Genesis.
“This stuff is unavoidable,” says Dan Harlow at Calvin College. “Evangelicals have to either face up to it or they have to stick their head in the sand. And if they do that, they will lose whatever intellectual currency or respectability they have.”
“If so, that’s simply the price we’ll have to pay,” says Southern Baptist seminary’s Albert Mohler. “The moment you say ‘We have to abandon this theology in order to have the respect of the world,’ you end up with neither biblical orthodoxy nor the respect of the world.”
I don’t see why that would be true. People tend to respect anyone willing to admit he or she was wrong. If there’s a reluctance to take that step and admit the whole premise of the faith is flawed, and was always flawed, people will continue to be taken in by it all. That said, I just know that if every theologian threw up his hands tomorrow and admitted it was all a damn sham and the Pope himself took his fancy hat off to apologize for lying to the masses, there’d still be thousands of people flocking to churches to pray to god, “Say it ain’t so! Give me a sign!” Then they’d convince themselves that every piece of fluff and feather was a sure sign pointing to God’s way being the right way and they’d change nothing.
But this is a good start. People should be willing to challenge long held beliefs. People should be brave enough to set those beliefs aside if enough evidence can be collected to refute them.
Which reminds me. Christopher DiCarlo will be in Saskatoon to promote his book, How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass later this month. The focus of the book is to train one’s self to think critically about all sorts of things and if you’re in the area and that sounds like something you’d like to learn, too, all the details are here.
Not to be at all confused with that trainwreck of a film, Expelled!, where Ben Stein was exposed as a creationist freak, Exposed: Ouija, firewalking and other gibberish by Henri Broch focuses on a few well known psychic/junk science examples and provides information on how to get around to the truth behind the trickery.
Some statistical data is provided regarding research on dowsing, clairvoyance and horoscopes and the like and Broch gives readers some suggestions on how to test the legitimacy of that kind of crap on our own. When dowsing, for example, he makes the point that it’s pretty likely that repeated trips around a field are going to result in crossed rods at the same point every time whether there’s really water under that spot or not. No field is completely flat so if you carefully note where the wielder was walking when the rods crossed, you can duplicate the “Wow!” yourself. No real trick there. Also, he gives an example of a test where the wielder is supposed to tell the researchers which underground pipe has water flowing. Done as a double-blind where neither the observers nor the dowser knows for sure, the dowser was incapable of determining where the water was.
Of course, a practiced dowser (or psychic or medium or astrologer) will have some excuses practiced for those (many) moments of failure.
There’s also a good story in it about a telekinesis test where the man being tested claimed he could move a door without the use of his hands and was very specific about how small the room should be that he was sitting in and how warm it was. The researchers agreed to his demands and it turned out that the guy had figured out that by flexing his pectoral and abdominal muscles, the resulting “subatomic acoustic wave” was just strong enough to nudge the door shut. And in the book there is some math with equations and percentages and constants for those keeners who care about that part.
Broch also provides some suggestions on how to recognize circular arguments (“What proves the divinity of Jesus to you?” “The miracles he performs!” “Why and how could Jesus perform miracles?” “Because of his divine nature” — in the book, page 35), the “snowball technique” where everyone refers to someone else’s referral without ever checking if there’s a true source to behind it, and that insane desire to dig deeper and work harder to prove a zany theory even though ample evidence has already uncovered that clearly proves the theory wrong.
He also encourages people to look for the “Little Streams” effect when reading about dubious findings. I’ll quote the definition from page 39:
Its essence is the construction of grand theories on the foundation of little oversights or errors that are absolutely necessary to thir credibility. Just as little streams join to make great rivers, little errors lead to grandiose theories.
He gives an example from Robert Charroux, a fellow who wrote a book in the late ’60s. One of the archeological wonders in the book is a site near Nice in southern France, Falicon’s Pyramid. It looks like many stories surround this place. Charroux’s story was that a second pyramid or room was under it and the Templars had known of it. He quotes Charroux on page 40:
At the bottom of the sinkhole is a second pyramid…with a base of 60 feet and a height of about 30 feet.”
And the “spacious cavern” under there is 90 feet long and 60 feet high. Broch is quick to point out that nothing’s been said about the width of this so-called hidden room, though. Long and tall, all right, but how wide? It’s been measured and the fissure is (or was) only six feet wide. Barely room to lie down, let alone house a pyramid as large as Charroux claimed existed.
The last warning about statistical trickery has to do with research that hides data that doesn’t correspond with hoped for conclusions. Suspicious sampling, claims that all data has been accounted for when clearly it hasn’t, or making shit up because not enough data corresponds to the predetermined conclusion. They make a mockery of the scientific method when they do that kind of “research” and call it successful proof of a hypothesis.
To finish this off my last quote comes from his conclusion, page 139-140:
Sixty years ago, Jean Piaget already had noted that the right to an education is not just the right to go to school, but also the right to find in the school “everything necessary for the development of an active mind,” because the exercise of one’s critical faculties is required for the intellect to attain objectivity. Such intellectual effort, and the corresponding development of the critical faculties, could turn “the day when schoolchildren learn to think in this critical and discerning spirit into the day that nations become more hesitant to act just like schoolchildren.”
It’s worth hoping for.
Extra reading (by writers other than me) for those who want it:
And clearly it’s not just kids that need it. Grown ups who never got it before they grew up could do with a lesson, too…