Evolution vs. Belief – The Differences of Theories and Esoterics

So today I saw one of my favorite Simpsons intro’s ever. I had seen it before but just recently came across it again. Here’s the clip for those who are curious.

After watching it, I thought I’d cover some things with Evolution. Like religion, it can get controversial – if you’re religious. Evolution is often times called the theory that destroyed religion, but I don’t really see it that way. Only 12.7% of the world is Non-religious, which makes up only 800 million people. But if you look at the statistics of people that believe in evolution, it’s about 4/10 people, or 40% (which I find to be pretty gross to be honest).

Many scientists actually believe in a higher power, which is not too well known. However, why do only a rough 40% of people believe in Evolution? Well, I think the problem might be a mix of things. Let’s start breaking it down.

  1. 1. The Terms. I think a big problem is the confusion of terms with Evolution as well as other scientific theories. You never hear anyone saying anything that sounds remotely like “The evidence for evolution suggests the theory is correct.” Instead what you get is all kind of people, scientists, average people, and religious dogma’s alike using the word ‘believe’ with scientific theories. I did it up above, even I have the problem! I think people get very confused with Science in that you have to believe the theory. It’s never a question of evidence, but a question of personal opinion, which laughs in the face of science! Science takes facts and forms hypotheses out of facts, you don’t believe in Science – you trust in science because it creates the most valid view of the world around us.
  2. 2. Confusion of the meaning of a theory. I hear often of people saying that science never proves anything, it only disproves. I think what people miss when they say this is that that is the whole point! I had this discussion in the past with a good friend of mine, that science never sets out to prove itself right, rather it’s quite the opposite. All the greatest theories have set out to prove themselves wrong. A lot of people have trouble understanding this concept. Why would someone ever want to prove themselves wrong? The truth is that by doing so you get a lot more answers about how the world works – because you’re looking for the truth, not for what you’d like to be the truth. Theories are not the truth, they are simply the best answer to explain certain phenomena, and scientists welcome competing theories that can prove those standard theories wrong. Evolution, the Big Bang, Quantum Theory, Relativity: They await the day that a better theory is set forth to explain them.
  3. 3. Personal Dogma. A lot of Evolution’s issue is that it laughs in the face of personal wishes or perceptions of how the world is. This correlates with No. 2, some people just hate to be wrong. People are raised certain ways, shaped certain ways through their environment, to become certain people with certain beliefs. To try to change that takes a major amount of willpower on the person; it is up to them to change it. For religious believers, evolution seems to disagree with a lot of the dogma they were raised believing, and it takes a strong character to change or mold their beliefs around evolution.

This is just a few of the issues I see. I’m sure if I kept at it I could come up with hundreds. I realize that people are different and have different sets of beliefs, but I don’t see the theory of Evolution as a system of belief, rather it is simply a theory to explain the world, one that works far better than any other theory. Evolution does have holes, but it’s nothing that the theories of evolution couldn’t explain later, after we’ve acquired more information. It might not correlate well with your personal beliefs, but a belief is something esoteric, opinionated, and incorporeal. You can’t prove a belief. You can’t put beliefs to the test. If I showed you all the ways in which a belief was wrong, you still have every right to believe what you had believed in the first place. I think that people constantly, without meaning to, believe things that aren’t measurable – and that is their right – but it is still silly from my perspective to believe in something that disagrees with what we know to be the most true.

I was wondering what might have caused a person to have such strange beliefs, not necessarily religious but any esoteric thought; Astrology, witchcraft, numerology, etc. All of these things I find fascinating and fun, but at the same time I don’t believe a word of what they tell me. If I read a horoscope I might laugh, but I never take it seriously. There’s too much P.T. Barnum with them. Still, there are a large proportion of people that believe in these things, and it took an interesting talk by Michael Shermer at TED for me to realize what exactly could cause these strange ideas and beliefs.

The big thing he explains is that human beings as a means of survival developed a way to understand the world. Our ability to see patterns, was a way to explain away the world surrounding us, and thus led us to better adaptability. As Shermer points out, if you were an ancient hominid and saw a rusting in the grass, it would be better for you to assume that a predator was there than the wind, as one could likely kill you. This is a sensing of patterns. You saw a pattern (rustling of the grass), and to make sense of it you explained it away. Those that explained the phenomenon by assuming it was a predator lived, those that thought it was the wind died.

We still use patterns today, and probably will for the rest of human existence. Pattern sensing is what mathematicians use to solve complex problems, it’s what helps stock market brokers to play the market, and it’s what helps us navigate the road when driving. A side-effect of pattern sensing however, is the ability to sense patterns that aren’t there, or that are meaningless.

An example of pattern seeking behavior in the sky. What do you see?

It’s both a strength and a curse, and the scientific method has aided us in drawing a line between what patterns are real and which are false. There are many unexplainable phenomena still left in the world and many things to still be figured out.

I want to leave you with two quotes by Albert Einstein that is relevant to this post.

“Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”

All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike-and yet it is the most precious thing we have”

…to be continued.

The God Helmet – Jesus Christ at the Flick of a Switch!

Last week I brought you a post on Richard P. Feynman, this week we’re jumping straight into a more controversial topic: Religion. So everyone grab your crosses and throw on your Tallit’s, because this is going to be a fun one.

Religion is one of the most complicated of human experiences to begin to question (and the most likely to give you a tax exemption). You start to run into all sorts of problems that only philosophers, poets, and Max von Sydow in The Exorcist seem equipped to answer.

Father Dyer – First Missionary on Mars

It has been only a few years since science has progressed to the point where it can start answering the deeper questions that arise in Religion, such as “What causes a religious experience?”, “Can religious experience be manipulated in the laboratory?”, or “Is there a God at all?” While Stephen Hawking in his new book, The Grand Design, seems to be the only one willing to tackle the last question, one other scientist in particular has searched for the answer to the other two. His name is Dr. Michael A. Persinger, founder of a new field of neurology called neurotheology and inventor of a device that seems to initiate these spiritual experiences without the mass amount of devotion and donations respectively. The only organization that can claim this ability comes from Scientology, which we all know to be nothing more than Science Fiction at best.

Persinger, who has at one time attempted to explain away little green men and UFO’s through geophysical perturbations (not completely unheard of I suppose), invented a device in the 1980’s aimed at roughing the feathers of scientists and theologians alike about questions of God and the power of the human mind. And what was his idea? Shoot complex magnetic fields into an individual’s temporal lobes, inducing a religious experience (and costing Canadian Healthcare hundreds of dollars in cancer treatment). The result of his experiments produced this contraption…

…The God Helmet!
Of course this helmet doesn’t only produce religious experience. The helmet produces effects ranging anywhere from out-of-body experience, to the perceived presence (the feeling that someone is in the room with you, even though you’re alone), to God talking to you directly. It has caused people to believe in spiritual and esoteric beings, as well as completely denounce them. So you could say this is the most spiritually-scientific neutral device ever created. It’s like the Switzerland of spiritual devices!
Where there’s God or claim of one, you’re sure to find two things: fanatics and Richard Dawkins (not to confuse the two). Dawkins is the top evolutionary biologist in his field, but more than that he’s one of the major proponents of the Atheist movement, and often times called “The Most Atheist Man on the Planet”. Dawkins was invited in to test out the helmet, claiming that if he became a devout believer due to the helmet, his wife had threatened to leave him. Here is the clip of the spiritually numb Dawkins tackling Persinger’s God Helmet.

As you can see, Dawkins is immune to the charms of this device. While he did claim to have felt… fuzzy …He reported nothing stranger than a feeling he might experience when really tired. So here, we see already that Persinger’s experiment failed. However, stranger is the instance where Michael Shermer attempted the same feat. Shermer is editor to Skeptic magazine, and one of the more popular skeptics there are. Here is a clip of Shermer’s encounters with this strange device.

Shermer, as you could see, did encounter an out-of-body and sensed presence experience.

Since Persinger invented the device he has tested it on numerous people from many different backgrounds. The tests have more than often shown an effect on the wearer of some kind of paranormal experience. To explain away the results of the kind that Dawkins added, Persinger had his subjects take a psychological exam of sorts to find out how temporally sensitive a person might be. More often than not, those with high temporal lobe sensitivity felt effects (Dawkins had an embarrassingly low sensitivity, although I’m sure he’d be quite proud of it).

Many evolutionary biologists have tried to explain the reason for religion in human evolution, and Persinger’s experiments have revived those efforts. Some theories contend that paranormal experience and religious experience was our early efforts to explain the world around us, far before we had the vocal chords to sound out the letter “Y”.

Whatever the reason for religious experience, it’s there. Some people like it, some don’t, some live by it, and some kill for it. It’s unlikely that religious and paranormal experience will ever be rid of; but we might someday have answers into why they occur and their importance on the human species. Persinger is certainly sending us a message that not everyone is afraid to research such controversial topics – and challenge them directly.

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