Just Wacky Enough

As always, the news is full of religious people doing silly things. Some predict the end of the world, then say they got their sums wrong when it doesn't happen when it should. Others report imaginary crimes to police and get the media in a silly frenzy. Around and around we go.

Why do people believe such nonsense, when things go right off the silly-scale? Why are people so hard to turn when their beliefs go so stupidly wrong that everyone is laughing at them. For that matter, why do people believe your run of the mill religious statements when they are obviously wrong? If you look at it as a pattern, then something pops out. As a general observation, the larger the leap of faith a person makes, the more they'll stick to that belief in the face of contradictory evidence. I suspect this is a quirk of human nature, a quirk exploited by religion. It explains a lot.

Religions have evolved to include a certain amount of internal inconsistency. People that choose to believe need to make a leap of faith and this leap is directly related to the amount of base inconsistency. For example, some religious people make really large leaps, maybe that when they kill themselves they will go to the UFO in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. Others believe in the literal truth of a bible that contradicts itself in the opening paragraphs by giving two different stories of genesis. Why? Because, the leap of faith required to believe in anything is directly related to the staying power of that belief. Make a small leap and contradictory evidence will change your mind. Make a big leap and no amount of fact will sway you. It's a quirk.

Sensible religions don't exist. Why? Because, those people that are inclined to leaps of faith will leap farther. Those disinclined will be swayed by fact to more sensible things, like reality. Thus, religions that last must have some internal inconsistencies that their adherents must work to rationalise. This effort keeps their faith when confronted with contradictory evidence. Those inclined to wild leaps wind up in wild religions, average to average religions, in a standard bell-curve fashion.

What does this mean? Not much, other than arguing that people should give up their faith because it has obvious flaws will not work. The flaws exist specifically to thwart the very argument against them. On the other hand, using science to catagorise and explain a person's choice might have some useful effect. Going "ah, you're right here on the bell-curve... see the MRI, this part of your brain is over-developed... good thing it isn't any bigger or you would have joined that suicide cult making the rounds last year." Tell people they're wrong and you'll get a fight. Help explain why they believe exactly what they belief and you might get a conversation out of it. Human nature is what it is.


Jaakko Fagerlund said...

Religious people just are dumb as bell. I mean, I understand that a child has imaginary friends, but grown up adults?

Jaakko Fagerlund said...
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