Beliefs Kill People

Guns Don’t Kill People, Beliefs Kill People

BY MICHAEL SHERMER

f80c8e709e50ffa7c7697affd18fedb8If by fiat I had to draw one core generalization from a quarter century spent studying the psychology of beliefs, it is that almost everyone thinks that their beliefs are right, both ontologically and ethically. For the most part, people think that their beliefs are true, moral, or both. No one joins a cult—they join a group that they believe is going to help them and/or society. No one thinks they’re practicing pseudoscience—they believe they’ve discovered a new truth that mainstream science has yet to recognize. And very few believe their actions are immoral—at the time they had perfectly rational and moral reasons for acting as they did.

You do not have to give people reasons to be violent, because they already have plenty of reasons. All you have to do is take away their reasons to restrain themselves.

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On This Weary, Unbright Cinder

cosmosAs we are pattern-seeking, story-telling primates, to most of us the pattern of life and the universe indicates design. For countless millennia we have taken these patterns and constructed stories about how life and the cosmos were designed specifically for us from above. For the past few centuries, however, science has presented us with a viable alternative in which the design comes from below through the direction of built-in self-organizing principles of emergence and complexity. Perhaps this natural process, like the other natural forces which we are all comfortable accepting as non-threatening to religion, was God’s way of creating life. Maybe God is the laws of nature—or even nature itself—but this is a theological supposition, not a scientific one.

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Why Darwin Matters

evolutionI found one book that deals rather well with the perceived struggle between Christian fundamentalist religion and the science of Evolution. The book is Why Darwin Matters by Michael Shermer. Shermer started as a creationist, was educated in the sciences, and is a strong advocate of not only the undeniability of the theory of Evolution but also for the way natural selection is perhaps a better supporter for religious or spiritual interpretations of life on this planet than revelation and faith.

As Shermer writes: Evolution Makes For Good Theology. His discussion of the evolution of morality is especially convincing and in no way negates religion but rather shows that religion has a firm purpose in our lives .. a purpose that developed naturally along with the other cultural developments that defined the early humans. And Shermer makes his case convincingly using logic, reason and clear evidence, never requiring magic or miracles.

As a corollary to this, Shermer also shows how elements in the history of the evolving species we call man can provide an insight into man’s propensity for violence and brutality, lying and cheating, and still allow for sharing and altruism, loving and nurturing.

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I See Dead People

Michael Shermer and Pat Linse published a concise outline in a recent Skeptic titled, Why People See Ghosts (and Gods, Angels, Demons, and Why They Float, Fly, and Travel Out of Their Bodies). You really have to read it so here is the link.

13 Ghosts 500 years ago demons haunted our world, and incubi and succubi tormented their victims as they lay asleep in their beds. 200 years ago spirits of the departed made bedside visits. More recently green and grey aliens began to molest people in their sleep. What is going on here? Are these mysterious visitors in our world or in our minds? They are in our minds. All experience is mediated by the brain, which consists of about a hundred billion neurons with a thousand trillion synaptic connections between them. No wonder the brain is capable of such sublime ideas as evolution and big bang cosmology. But it also means that under a variety of conditions the brain is apable of generating extraordinary experiences that are not real.

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