Don’t Believe In Evolution? Try Thinking Harder

Jul 1, 2015

by Tania Lombrozo

The theory of evolution by natural selection is among the best established in science, yet also among the most controversial for subsets of the American public.

For decades we’ve known that beliefs about evolution are well-predicted by demographic factors, such as religious upbringing and political affiliation. There’s also enormous variation in the acceptance of evolution across different countries, all of which suggests an important role for cultural input in driving beliefs about evolution. A child raised by Buddhists in California is much more likely to accept evolution than one raised by evangelical Protestants in Kansas.

But in the last 20 years or so, research in psychology and the cognitive science of religion has increasingly focused on another factor that contributes to evolutionary disbelief: the very cognitive mechanisms underlying human cognition.

Researchers have argued that a variety of basic human tendencies conspire to make natural selection especially aversive and difficult to understand, and to make creationism a compelling alternative. For instance, people tend to prefer explanations that offer certainty and a sense of purpose when it comes to their lives and the design of the natural world and they have an easier time wrapping their heads around theories that involve biological categories with clear boundaries — all of which are challenged by natural selection.


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38 comments on “Don’t Believe In Evolution? Try Thinking Harder

  • ” Gervais found an association between cognitive style and beliefs about evolution. Gervais used a common task to measure the extent to which people engage in a more intuitive cognitive style, which involves going with immediate, intuitive judgments, versus a more analytic cognitive style, which involves more explicit deliberation, and which can often override an intuitive response. ”

    I had a ” conversation ” with a person today ( in the line at the bank of all places ) that fit the intuitive style of cognition. I said something that had nothing to do with religious belief but he managed to insert his belief into the conversation. He committed so many logical fallacies in just a few sentences of this conversation that I burst out laughing, it was just that childishly funny. I could see the hurt on his face as I had laughed at his fallaciously held beliefs, but considering what problems those beliefs bring to the world I was quick to recovery from any empathetic feelings for this person.

    His ” explanations ” of things certainly were certain! One could easily tell that he had never analyzed any of the beliefs he held, but he held them absolutely.

    He used me ( my person ) as evidence for his god and when I told him that was fallacious thinking and that I was the product of evolution by natural selection. He catholicism came out then and I was informed in so many words that ” god chose humans for himself. ” The usual theist evolutionary dodge. I guess you could call his explanation creationism 2.0!



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  • The striking beauty of the girl in the photograph distracts from noticing her typical chimp-like posture. (A chimp would probably have the left as well as the right leg drawn up to the chest because of skeletal curvature in the leg bone.)

    I suspect that intellectual resistance to evolution may also lie in the deeply embedded anthropocentric conviction that we are essentially spiritual creatures. Most humans have much less trouble trouble accepting evolution if it is applied only to animals. Held captive by intractable intuitions of spiritual exceptionalism, many cannot entertain that evolution applies to us Homo sapiens like any other mere animal… which is exactly what we are.



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  • Creationists work very hard to create straw men of evolution. To combat, I think we need a series of animated cartoons on evolution aimed at the 2nd grade level. I see creationist eyes gloss over whenever anyone tries to explain evolution. Words will not work.



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  • Once you understand why the recurrent laryngeal nerve, vas deferens, prostate gland and other seemingly anomolous parts of our anatomy are as they are, it becomes easier to understand evolution; if I can do it anyone can!

    Theodosius Dobzhansky summed it up perfectly.

    I have a sneaking feeling that many of the brethren are just bloody minded; they know full well that evolution’s true, but for obvious reasons can’t bring themselves to admit it.

    As far as I’m concerned they’re at liberty to believe what ever they bloody well like; but they must stop pestering children.



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  • 6
    Lorenzo says:

    I have a problem processing the (alleged) fact that evolution by menans of natural selection is somehow less intuitive than a hidden maker of everything.
    This is likely to depend from my personal history, since I’ve been exposed and utterly fascinated by biology, anatomy and physiology even before I could read and write, but really… The body’s plasticity is amazing, the animals you can see don’t clone themselves and you don’t need any sort of analysis to see humanity as a collection of hairless, bipedal chimps and gorillas -sometmes not even that hairless. And so forh. I mean: the fact that life changes and is entangled is out there, it’s obvious and easy. Someone who can craft life out of mud, arbitrarily affect lives (in the most heinous ways) and judge you after death is not out there: to me, that requires an effort to be postulated and then believed in. Same goes for running spirits that you can’t see, even if I can conceive that they are easier than an almighty deity.

    I’m tempted, then, to suspect that the correlation the article talks about is, so to speak, upside down: culture (christian sects and the like) sells somethig as more intuitive and then tries to repress that minimum of pattern recognition requred to pick up the foundations of the theory of evolution by means of natural selection -turning the faithful’s brain competely off is a christian specialty, it’s their leidmotiv throughout their entire history: some have even codified the sanctity of ignorance.



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  • 7
    Lorenzo says:

    I think you are on to something when you say that out tendency of overestimating ourselves in a multitude of ways gets in the way of acceptance of evolution by means of natural selection.



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  • I don’t buy it. Humans do not use cognition much to arrive at belief . They take on beliefs of their surrounding culture . Once indoctrinated they change hardly at all by rational argument only to exposure to a different culture. Rationally the”truth” should trump everything but humans are far more influenced by cultural norms than truth . Perhaps because of an evolved imperative to fit in socially.



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  • Yes that was my thinking,

    Cognition requires energy, willingness to change and go against the prevailing culture, which most of all I suspect makes this difficult. Our evolution ironically makes it difficult to believe in evolution. From a pure survival point of view banding together is probably slightly more important than us all standing alone. However some of us have to be prepared to stand alone, what I suppose we need to do is to make thinking and rationality the social norm. You should be ashamed to be thought of as irrational. Until this is the cultural normal we won’t advance very quickly.



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  • I suppose I am lucky – My parents were not religious – so I had no religion forced into my young mind (Even though schools did their best!) – Then at eleven – I was introduced to biology and was invited to read the source document (Origin of Species) by the teacher….It made sense then and as my mind matured it made more and more sense. When I witnessed (Sic) a Jehovah’s Witness talk on how the devil had created evolution I realised that the ignoramus spouting utter garbage had no-idea of what the facts were, and these clearly showed how Evolution was indeed “The only game in Town”. Religious people are knobs – end of!!



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  • 11
    Pinball1970 says:

    Stafford posted “Once you understand why the recurrent laryngeal nerve, vas deferens, prostate gland and other seemingly anomalous parts of our anatomy are as they are, it becomes easier to understand evolution; if I can do it anyone can!”

    Understanding is not the issue unfortunately Stafford.

    There are many counter intuitive concepts in science that are not challenged by the religious, simply because they do not impact on their Korans or Bible.

    Physicist Professor, John Butterworth summed it up following a discussion with religious leaders regarding the discovery of the Higgs boson and possible implications on their various doctrines.

    “I haven’t come across a religion teaching a dogmatic denial of the existence of a scalar field with non-zero vacuum expectation value.”

    The fact is evolution and cosmology disproves the bible, I really cannot see that any other way.

    No Adam, no sin of Adam therefore no need of a redeemer to remove the sin so no dead jesus required.

    And Bats are not birds.



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  • Clinging to religion when all the evidence — historic and scientific — is that it is a fiction is illogical and farcical but reflecting something going on in that (otherwise senslible) person’s mind. I think it is fear. At just the time that Islamism is showing how perverse religious belief is, and how people can be so easily led into dispicable and dehumanising acts, Americans shout louder that it is important to believe a different version of the same bronze age myth. I think it is fear: of not being ‘special’ (not just an animal), of being just part of a mass (of ‘the rest’ that some creator does not much care for: all the monotheistic faiths claim to be the ‘chosen’ ones), not being entitled to ‘stop spot’.
    The problem won’t be solved by head-on arguement or presenting facts to a closed mind. It is a childish, emotional impulse. If it is open to anything it is education by example — getting on with life without showing fear — and lampooning the god notion wherever it is introduced to conversation.
    So Reckless Monkey’s conclusion is probably right.



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  • It may be that you and hardy are assuming a more specific meaning of the word “cognition” than the OP intended. You seem to be working with a narrower meaning, deliberative analysis. But cognition includes all the other processes of the mind, for example even mere perception.

    But, I am not sure I buy it either, though I think they are definitely on to something interesting. I think their 3rd hypothesis is by far the most probable. There are plenty of believers, including modern day accomplished scientists, that are very capable of deliberative analytical thinking. Right up to the point where they run into their prior commitment to their religious beliefs. Then, seemingly unnoticed by themselves, their analyses become riddled with errors you’d expect only from people with no experience, let alone formal training, in critical thinking skills.



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  • You’re right Pinball, but wilfulness isn’t one of the deadly sins, so the religious can indulge it to their heart’s content.

    I submit that huge numbers of the brethren know religions are human constructs, but they just can’t bring themselves to admit it.

    I mean, come on, they can’t all be as daft as they seem to be!



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  • Human beings are the only animal that can tell stories and love to tell stories. For tens of millennia we told stories, mostly about ourselves, about our relationships and about our adventures based on intuitions of an abiding spiritual nature moving through a world animated, pervaded with spirits. Even when we told stories about other animals or gods we anthropomorphized them into fables and creation myths.

    Before recent discoveries by Darwin and other pioneers in the physical and life sciences, although we acquired a general sense of how the body worked, we had little knowledge of the biological “details” that would nail us down as an exclusively physical being evolved from the first micro-organisms and collectively related to all species through billions of years of variant development under natural selection.

    Until supernatural belief started to undergo significant erosion in the mid-nineteenth century, skilled story-tellers and poets were thought to be special persons inspired by God if not actual oracles and prophets. When art and literature became secularized, various movements tried to form an aesthetic religion built on the concept of art-for-arts-sake. Today novelists, playwrights and more recently screenwriters for film, TV and digital media still strive to inspire or terrify us with the triumphs, tragedies and follies of the human spirit.

    We prefer the primordial intuition that we are spiritual beings, searching for a soul mate, fighting inner demons, beguiled with the passions of lust, greed, love and hate. Our world is a morality play where the story (sometimes the epic) of Good and Evil locked in metaphysical combat plays out.

    If science and evolution have a weakness, or more precisely, if the scientific frame of mind has a weakness, it’s that they tell a story that clashes with the stories we traditionally, intuitive, almost instinctively love to tell about ourselves. Who among us. imagining himself or herself the hero in the drama of life, prefers the scientific story that dwindles the human animal down to a lump of cells and tissue, proteins and enzymes, animated by DNA?



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  • Like many commenters above, I think that those truly dumbfounding reactions coming from ”otherwise normally sane” adult people as soon as we demonstrate that their holy books are just a collection of factual errors… are purely psychological blockings.

    Of course, there is this (unspoken) desire to ‘stick with the herd’, and the fear to be seen as the black sheep if they start ‘going down the slippery slope’… But ultimately, it all comes back to this ever-running mental tie-up.

    We keep wondering how come a ”normal”, grown up person could indulge in such silly and blatantly irrational way of reacting…..

    But we’re supposed to be rationalists, aren’t we ?

    Then… if on one hand we observe such phenomenon to be strongly rooted in each and every ‘hard’ believer’s mind, but, on the other hand, we think that society would make a giant step forward if we could blow away these psycho/logical blockings, then we should consider addressing the phenomenon in a rationalistic way…..

    What actually happens in the head of otherwise keen —not to say brilliant— persons, when, at a certain point in the conversation, they stump just like a racing horse stumbles in front of an obstacle ? How, if they are true to themselves, do they explain such mental process ??

    I’m a practical guy. So….. in order to clear the mystery (or, at least, try), could the RDF Foundation start, as one of its breakthrough actions, a thorough public campaign by opening a permanent space on this site, then invite adulthood-deconverted members or visitors to come over and fully recollect what formerly happened in their head when it came up to such discrepancies ?

    Maybe that would lead to a tremendous leap in the comprehension of the phenomenon, bringing out a brand new tool for approaching honest-but-mislead believers in the future ?



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  • 18
    Pinball1970 says:

    Stafford posted, “I mean, come on, they can’t all be as daft as they seem to be!”

    I think you are right in some sense but there is a lot more to it than intelligence.

    First there is there shackle of religion they inherited as children that was embedded, ingrained, reinforced or brain washed into them.

    Then there could be the issue of a lifelong devotional rather than critical approach to their religion, this was certainly true in Christian schools/churches in 70s and 80s.

    Kids are taught what is in the bible, mainly NT, what Jesus said and did demonstrating he was divine rose from the dead etc, not a historical perspective, contradictions, forgeries or later accretions to the texts.

    Then there is ignorance of the scientific concepts and evidence regarding evolution.

    Evolution was not taught well in any of the schools I went to and they were not particularly bad schools.

    Evolution was almost and an addendum to, not a “corner stone” of, the biology curriculum.

    So…..place that scenario on a moderately intelligent child and then let them contemplate the fact our closest cousins are chimpanzees.

    How would that fit in their world view?

    Imagine the same scenario with a slightly worse school or teaching creationism as science in one of the classes? Creationism does not have to be taught in science or religion class, it is damaging because it is coming from a position of authority.



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  • Anyone who doesn’t believe a complex organism like a human can have evolved from a single cell needs to look at human reproduction.
    Likewise, objections such as “half a heart” etc. fall away when you consider that a single fertilised egg doesn’t have a heart whereas a baby or an adult human does; somewhere, step by step and cell by cell, a living organism “acquired” a heart.
    The fact that an embryo lives in a protected environment and is fed nutrients does not detract from the fact that it needs to stay alive/viable in its particular environment at every step along the way from single cell to baby.

    Another way of looking at it is that a single-celled ancestral organism doesn’t evolve (directly) into something more complex like a human.
    What happens is the ancestral organism evolves into a single-celled organism that (in the right circumstances) can grow into something more complex (that then through reproduction creates more single-celled organisms).
    The “instruction set” that the single-celled organism carries becomes ever more complex, but the single-celled organism stays single-celled. The later iterations just have this habit of growing, not evolving, into multi-celled complex organisms.



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  • Like many commenters above, I think that those truly dumbfounding reactions coming from ”otherwise normally sane” adult people as soon as we demonstrate that their holy books are just a collection of factual errors… are purely psychological blockings.

    Many years ago I was involved in flight instruction. I was amazed at how many fully grown (often very mature adults) would argue with you about points of fact that had life and death consequences for them. I was quite young at the time and naively believed that if I gave good reasons people should be motivated to be convinced by a qualified instructor. I wasn’t very experienced but I’ve seen some of these same people having stand up shouting matches with our Chief Flying instructor with over 30 years of experience (Of course he didn’t put up with these tantrums for long – mate, I’m the one who’ll end up sued if you bloodly well mame or kill yourself so if you can’t listen kindly F-Off!). Ego often got in the way, as did cherished beliefs about their innate (untrained) abilities as pilots – there seemed to be a fantasy that they would be a natural pilot (very few are-I certainly wasn’t), as an instructor you then had to soften the blow to their egos about not being able to instantly operate a complicated machine in 3 dimensions. It no longer surprises me that people can engage in wishful thinking. I’m sure over confidence is needed in evolution to boldly leap into the unknown, but it’ll kill quite a few along the way, evolution doesn’t give a damn about the losers though. Igor Sikorsky (developer of modern helicopters) used to say all aero engineers should test fly their own machines that way bad engineers eliminated themselves.



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  • 21
    Lorenzo says:

    This is all very true, but I think it’s already at an higher level of knowledge than what’s required. We should never forget that the theory bit of the theory of evolution by means of natural selection is the “by means of natural selection”, not the evolution part. It’s like talking about the theory of the spheroidal Earth by menas of gravitational collapse and accretion: the Earth is roundish, it’s a fact and one that’s not even that hard at noticing -in fact, brilliant proofs that the Earth is round appeared very soon after humans discovered how to play with their brains with a modicum of method -and, of course, I’m talking about the logos in preclassical Greece. Possibly even before that. Similarly, living beings you can see don’t clone themselves, they change from generation to generation: you see that in the wild and you see that as clear as Sun as soon as you start hearding sheep.

    The basic ingredients to come up with the concept that yeah, life changes and yeah, complex forms should come after simple ones are obvious, are simple and are evident to the naked eye (and mind) of a shepherd. The clever bits of the whole mechanism behind the inconceivable variety of life on Earth aren’t obvious and require thinking, experimenting and more robust methods to be asserted. But, still, I really have troubles to see how a hidden maker could be more “intuitive” than life that creates itself and builds itself -indeed, we had to wait for Pasteur to get rid of the “spontaneous generation” theory!- if all the other options are not ruthlessly repressed by the prevailing culture.



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  • alf1200
    Jul 2, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    “Evolution isn’t controversial for scientific reasons, but it is controversial, in part, for psychological reasons.”

    It’s not even controversial because of lack of access to information, as it was in the past.

    We have microscopes, telescopes, space probes, underwater photography, wildlife photography, and TV and internet communications.

    Some of these are wilfully contaminated with pseudo-science, but the evidence of diversity and change in organisms, is illustrated in photographs, fossils and videos, as never before.

    If some ID muppet wants to argue about the complexity of eyes, or fish walking on fins, there are readily available pictures and articles to study, showing an abundance of these features in modern and fossil organisms!



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  • Rk. Mk…. — Your story confirms all these preconceived ideas (inherent ?) in human nature. People utter unbelievably mad assertions with such aplomb, that we are sometimes left voiceless. If there one place to illustrate this, just have a quick look into ”Answers in genesis”… It’s really terrifying to see how this bunch of neanderthal blockheads can assert incredible fallacies, and then proudly brag around, persuaded that they crushed everyone else who disagree with them.

    For these dumb pranksters, there’s nothing we can do to change their internal software : they built around themselves what Wilhelm Reich called ”a characterial armour”. It would just be a waste of time to try to argue rationally with those retarded. On the contrary, we should fight their morbid influence by thwarting them all the time. I think the best way is to ridicule them and their ideas. Never argue (see the ‘Deepak Chopra’ or ‘Ken Ham’ examples…).

    But what I addressed in my post was the psychological state of mind of the average composed and laid-back believers, who don’t see their faith as a fortress against any external threat.

    For them, it would be interesting to learn how they come to block at a certain point in any faith-vs-reason debate. I really mean ”how”… not ”why” (as it’s certainly too easy to understand ”why”, of course).



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  • x-bone
    Jul 3, 2015 at 8:45 am

    It would just be a waste of time to try to argue rationally with those retarded. On the contrary, we should fight their morbid influence by thwarting them all the time. I think the best way is to ridicule them and their ideas.

    Arguing with them individual to individual, will make no difference to their views. If anything they will defend them more fiercely.

    It is important to remember the difference between arguing with them individually, and arguing in front of an audience.

    It is also important to recognise the general level of understanding at which the audience is capable of recognising the reasoning and the evidence.

    This is where ridicule is effective, when the audience recognises the ignorance and incompetence, which is being presented to them by posers, as “authoritative expert knowledge”!

    ID-iots love to misuse scientific terms to drag challengers into complex explanations of scientific definitions, which will sail by and bore an audience, leaving them to guess who to believe as the discussion is side-tracked and bogs down in pedantic semantics.



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  • Arguing with them individual to individual, will make no difference to their views. If anything they will defend them more fiercely.
    It is important to remember the difference between arguing with them individually, and arguing in front of an audience.
    It is also important to recognise the general level of understanding at which the audience is capable of recognising the reasoning and the evidence.
    This is where ridicule is effective, when the audience recognises the ignorance and incompetence, which is being presented to them by posers, as “authoritative expert knowledge”!

    I’m parroting Alan4’s comment because it is the best thing that has been said on the thread. Atheists must pursue rational persuasion of audiences not the improbable lone convert. Debates in university forums (for example) between a man of Richard Dawkins’ science credentials, intellectual power and command of the English language opposed by whatever theological “expert” or zealot appears on the other side, has much more impact on social consciousness thereby nourishing the atheistic -agnostic consensus growing within secular society.

    A word about ridicule. Dr. Dawkins approves ridicule which is clever and articulated against false or nonsensical propositions taken in the argument. Ham fisted ad hominem epithets like “retarderd, ignorant, stupid, idiot” fired off gratuitously are jarring and counter-productive. Rational civil debate exposes bad arguments. Insulting the people who make them will inevitably be a by product of the process but personal insult per se should never become the purpose.



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  • I agree with everything you say Pinball; I was too harsh.

    I should know better, because my closest friend at school suffered at the hands of his father – literally – who had himself been inflicted by the absurd notions of the Plymouth Brethren.

    But his brother suffered more than my friend, he was a brilliant lab’ assistant, and should have clearly become a scientist; he produced TVs from cathode ray tubes, which he had to hide, because if his father found them he’d smash them.

    So, I should indeed have known better than to make ad hominem comments.



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  • I would have posted that quote if you hadn’t, Alf and Alan. It sums up the situation. To various degrees in people, as David Hume noted, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions,” for many to the extent of denying this very phenomenon. Analysis and “override” can’t take place as long as emotions hold court with a more primal force. And that is the challenge to our species culturally and perhaps neurologically.



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  • People who know nothing about quantum physics do not try to argue with experts in the field. Ditto with relativity. Ditto with just about all technology. So you must possess not just ignorance but staggering arrogance to argue about evolution with experts in biology and zoology. QP and Relativity explain how nature works, so does evolution yet morons who have only ever read one book (repeatedly) have the impertinence to dismiss decades of verified study, experimentation and proofs.



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  • It is also intertwined with things that are deeply ingrained such as belief that we must be different from the animals in a “special” way, other than merely our evolution. e.g. we have a “soul”, the brain is not the mind, love is more than neurons and hormones, et. al. People really are uncomfortable believing we are animals who developed a fantastic brain rather than fantastic smell, vision, leaping, or jaws. I find this “special case” or “special creation” underlying a lot of widespread beliefs that offer sense of superiority or assuage what otherwise might make them feel guilty or insecure.

    I was diagnosed with a neurological disorder that is strongly believed to be auto-immune or the result of inflammatory immune processes damaging the brain. Over a period of about three or four years, I went from high functioning, quick learning, adaptive, resilient, competent person working in high-stress occupation to having panic attacks when someone knocked on the door, difficulty performing tasks that I had done 100 times, difficulty holding things in the cognitive/organizational mental “queue” beyond the specific task I had right in front of me at any given time, diminished resilience to stress, confusion and brain fog, forgetting things, difficulty learning new things, et. al.

    The brain, especially, seems to hold a place of “special origin” or as some “special case” among society (not just in the West, either) where it is viewed as invulnerable to organic disease or dysfunction like any other organ or system in the body due to some magical shield. Sure, many accept brain dysfunction if caused by TBI but do not accept organic disease processes that could affect the brain, unless you somehow have allowed it to affect the brain. e.g. Maybe it’s due to poor character, or you need to toughen up and just deal with things like everyone else. Have you tried trying harder? Focus! i.e. it’s somehow your own fault, your own doing, and you aren’t trying hard enough. These are all the attitudes and “opinions” I’ve experienced from society and even some in my own family who ought to know better because they knew me when I was highly functional.



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  • Yeah you’re right… That’s why I quoted —on one side, the famous debate between Dawkins and Chopra, in which Dawkins ridiculed Chopra instead of going along fighting his insane statements……. to the point he almost covered him with insinuations that would amount as mere insults if it had been uttered outright ! ! That was so funny… And the audience kept laughing and giggling like mad… at the expense of Dumbpack Chopchop.

    — On the other side, I also referred to the catastrophic debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, which almost everyone in the rationalist milieu agreed that it had been a mistake, right from the start, to indulge in this debate on a serious, inch-by-inch dispute basis.

    What you say hereabove about the audience getting lost with very sharp but intricate explanations is exactly what happened with the tirades of ”The Science Guy”. For his part, Ham, ‘The King of Fallacies’, literally bamboozled the poor spindly professor…..

    Quod era demonstrando….



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  • x-bone :

    What you say hereabove about the audience getting lost with very sharp but intricate explanations is exactly what happened with the tirades of ”The Science Guy”. For his part, Ham, ‘The King of Fallacies’, literally bamboozled the poor spindly professor…..

    Well I had exactly the opposite response to that debate, and I watched it through 2 times, plus several revisits to sections. The “poor spindly professor” was never ‘bamboozled’, out foxed, nor out argued. Ham was the one with “this book” and that was all he had. Of course he ignored Nye’s remarks about how that ‘book’ had come to be written in the first place, ie. over many centuries, by different authors and massively ‘edited’ and ‘adapted’ to suit the then current political outlook.

    I thought Nye did well in taking on the absurd views of Ken Ham.



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  • 34
    Cairsley says:

    Melvin: “Who among us. imagining himself or herself the hero in the drama of life, prefers the scientific story that dwindles the human animal down to a lump of cells and tissue, proteins and enzymes, animated by DNA?”

    Fear not, Melvin, for all is not lost. In fact nothing of human experience is lost on account of a scientific understanding of life and world. People still aspire to the heights and climb from the depths in storytelling and all other artforms, even if their experiences of life arise not from an embodied spirit but from immensely complex brain circuitry. The most scientific of people still know what is meant by spiritual endeavors and attainments in life because these are experiences common to us all. Words like ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ have rich cultural lineages that ensure their continuance, suitably redefined, in the language long after belief in immaterial and preternatural entities have faded away. Our minds are just as mindful and speculative and intelligent and creative and imaginative as they ever were; all that has changed is our understanding of how they have arisen. We are not “dwindle[d] … down to a lump of cells and tissue, proteins and enzymes, animated by DNA”; we are all these things arranged in the remarkable way that endows us with an amazing array of organs, limbs, senses, nervous system and a brain that is complex enough to generate rational consciousness and self-awareness. Rest assured, Melvin, that the scientific outlook and the debunking of religion will not bring storytelling to an end, but will only improve our understanding of our experiences and personal aspirations in life. I see every reason to expect that the stories will only get better.



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  • 35
    Crispin says:

    When I was about 7 or 8 and my mum was a teacher, my dad an engineer so I had been told about evolution in simple terms.
    As a kid if I perceived a “threat” from behind me I would get a tingling sensation in my coccyx, I remember I was in my mums crappy little mini metro and there was a bigger car or truck behind us and I got this sensation and it clicked…. its my “tail” that evolution has removed but instinct warning me its gonna get stepped on.
    I don’t get the sensation as an adult but as a kid it was a little like phantom limb syndrome.



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  • “Cognition” is the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. Tania Lombrozo falls short in her description of “beliefs” and understanding with respect to the various theories of evolutionary biology.

    Of course evolutionary concepts are difficult to understand by most people today because natural selection is a stochastic process involving whole populations and species. Yes, she is correct when she says

    Researchers have argued that a variety of basic human tendencies
    conspire to make natural selection especially aversive and difficult
    to understand, and to make creationism a compelling alternative. For
    instance, people tend to prefer explanations that offer certainty and
    a sense of purpose when it comes to their lives and the design of the
    natural world and they have an easier time wrapping their heads around
    theories that involve biological categories with clear boundaries —
    all of which are challenged by natural selection.

    To understand how evolutionary changes in organisms occur, one must be able to use population thinking, not typological thinking, and consider life in terms of gradients and curve distributions, as well as reject dualistic thinking and certainties. The various cultures around the world are what they are because certain charismatic individuals desire to control peoples minds around them and consciously or subconsciously they understand that most people lack the training in stochastic thinking. Thus we now have a hodgepodge collection of religions and social mores based on primitive ways of understanding life and the universe. The result are populations of social groups that are especially endowed with bigotry and extreme bias.

    To add to this, words are often highly ambiguous. “Belief” is one of those terms. All kinds of people use words thinking to others know exactly what they mean. Just think how differently the use of the word “belief” is when used by Richard Dawkins contrasted to the use by evangelical preachers such as Pat Roberson, Billy Graham, or Jimmy Swaggart. So when Tania Lombrozo speaks of “ belief in evolution,” how does anyone know what she is talking about?? Not even Darwin used the term “evolution,” much less considered his theory of natural selection a belief system. As an evolutionary biologist, I accept some of the theories of evolutionary biology that of course includes the concept that organisms change through time and speciation occurs by both microevolution as well as macroevolution as stochastic processes. I simply reject the totally misunderstood phrase “believe in THE theory of evolution.”

    Ernst Mayr in his book “One Long Argument”, 1991 stated that:

    In both scholarly and popular literature one frequently finds
    references to “Darwin’s theory of evolution” as though it was a
    unitary entity. In reality, Darwin’s “theory” of evolution was a whole
    bundle of theories, and it is impossible to discuss Darwin’s
    evolutionary thought constructively if one does not distinguish its
    various components.



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  • I thought harder and it still makes no logical sense that we are able to speak objectively about what we are right now. You can say anything about other species and even about what we came from physiologically but to claim to know anything definitively if we are still influenced by natural selection is just ludicrous contradicting nonsense. Is it really a surprise that people reject a self defeating line of reasoning?



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