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A lack of faith is NOT a function of intelligence

edited January 2006 in Everything Else
Somebody believing in something outside of the realm of popular science doesn't make them stupid. I can't remember who it was that said...

"I feel for all faiths the warm sympathy of one who has come to learn
that even the trust in reason is a precarious faith, and that we are
all fragments of darkness groping for the sun."

but I would agree with him rather than considering anybody believing in anything that cannot be scientifically proven (as far as anything CAN be scientifically proven) as foolish.

Just because something falls outside accepted science, that doesn't mean it doesn't warrant scientific investigation, and if the scientific study fails to return proof then "abscence of evidence is not evidence of abscence". There have been may scientific investigations into things like "auras" and some have had interesting results (forgive me but I'm yet to find the study that I thought was interesting).


  • Well, I'm curious as to why you've posted this. Did we say something recently on the show? We've tended to shy away from arguments of religion, so the only things I can think of in recent memory are intelligent design, "indigo" children, and chiropractic.

    "Somebody believing in something outside of the realm of science doesn't make them stupid."

    Now, that depends a lot on the specific belief in question. Extraordinary claims, after all, require extraordinary evidence.

    To me, believing in a higher power, or in the possibility of other worlds beyond this one, or the like, aren't stupid. While there is no real evidence for, there is no definite evidence against either, and I myself have some odd notions about the world.

    My beef is with specific beliefs in supernatural things that can be shown to have a secular or natural origin. While you may disagree, I find them laughable when taken in any literal sense.

    My beef is with people who take an unproven belief and live their lives as though it were a proven fact instead of constantly questioning that belief.

    My beef is with people who take a belief and use it as an excuse to meddle in the affairs of others: people who start/fight holy wars, people who are against gay marriage, proponents of "intelligent design," and so forth.

    Now, I don't consider anyone who has a belief that can't be immediately proven to be stupid. What I consider stupid, however, is anyone who has a belief that they do not question. It's fine to believe in something, but to do less than question that belief every single day is intellectually dishonest.

    Athiesm isn't a sign of intelligence: questioning ones beliefs is. Nor is athiesm a religion: calling it such is like calling your lack of a stamp collection a hobby. Nor is athiesm a faith: it is a default state of believing nothing, from which one can expand his beliefs based on evidence and contemplation.

    Now, again, I ask why you bring this up. While I have no issue with going into my beliefs in great, excruciating detail, I'd like to know what spawned this. ;^)
  • RymRym
    edited January 2006
    Ahh, you've edited your post with the answer to my first question ;^)

    "Just because something falls outside accepted science"

    NOTHING falls outside of science. Science is the study of the world around us and how it works. Anything that we observe, we study.

    "There have been may scientific investigations into things like "auras" and some have had interesting results."

    No there haven't. I'm well-versed in this issue for various reasons, and I can safely tell you that there has NEVER been a repeatable experiment that even came close to in any way hinting at the idea of an "aura." The complete body of so-called "aura seers," when tested, have not been even self-consistent, let alone objectively consistent.

    If you can actually provide a study to the contrary, you belong in the newspapers as this generation's Einstein.

    Not only is there ZERO evidence of "auras," but there are not one but three perfectly valid, natural, verifiable explanations for these claims.

    1. Light diffraction due to radiant body heat. In certain lighting conditions, the body heat of a person will create a thin envelope of warm air around their skin, with a larger body of such around their head and neck. Light passing through this envelope will be diffracted, giving the appearance of an "aura."

    2. Eye afterimages. The human eye and brain are together an incredibly complex system, but this system has its flaws. Viewing any fixed object over time will result in temporary retinal "burn-in" in the pigments of the eye. Slight movements in the eyes after this has occurred create a coloured blurring around the edges of an observed object.

    3. Self-delusion. Like it or not, people like to believe that they are special, and will assign themselves in some cases unverifiable powers or abilities that they believe set them apart from others. There are great bodies of psychological literature on this phenomenon.

    I welcome you to provide any verifiable study that shows the existence of an aura.

    As for indigo children, this belief is not only absurd, but dangerous. Children with learning disorders or other mental difficulties require support and treatment. Parents who write-off their child's troubles by calling him "special" or assigning to him mystic traits are doing him no favours.

    edit: typos fixed
    Post edited by Rym on
  • There are two forms of belief in science, just as there are in religion.

    One is the belief in and acceptance of the experiments (or miracles) that you have observed.

    The other is the willingness to believe in theories (or the possibility of miracles) that you have not observed.

    Any religious person that believes in miracles he has seen but is not willing to believe in the possibility of future miracles is, by definition, a Doubting Thomas, and does not practice what you would call good faith.

    I think good faith is essential to any serious scientist. You have to be willing to believe that hyperdrive is possible, that giant robots can be built, and that cancer can be cured. Our society (and economy) depends on the presumption of innovation. A scientist that dismisses all theories he does not already know are true cannot ever advance the field of science.

    Of course, all scientists must decide which theories to pursue, since there are more possibilities than there are scientists to research them. They must make their decision based on the perceived value of the discovery, weighted against the estimated cost and difficulty of achieving it.
  • Oh gods yes, a science discussion; now I have an area in which to waste taxpayer money. :p

    First, to Rym: Actually, a great number of things fall outside the realm of science; that is, notions and ideas that cannot be directly observed fall utterly outside the realm of science. It is important to note, though, that science can't say ANYTHING about these notions, because there's no way to observe it. The best answer science can give about something like, say, a god, is to say, "We don't know, because we can't observe it." Atheism is not the scientific answer; agnosticism is.

    Now, of course, this also means that things like "auras" cannot be scientifically observed and cannot be commented upon, so by default, any scientific study that purports to have any sort of findings in the realm of a spiritual or supernatural matter, that study should be HIGHLY scrutinized, and in every case I've seen so far, dismissed.

    Understand that a lot of studies may seem scientific because they are logical and methodical, but not everything that is logical and methodical is scientific; science is a process, a SPECIFIC application of logic and methodology. Take this paper for example:

    The red rain of Kerala, in a paper trying to explain it as being extraterrestial in nature. The paper seems convicing, but a close examination with a bit of expertise shows it to be flimflam; I can explain why if you'd like, but I'll save that for a specific request.

    Plenty of things fall outside of science, and it's important to realize that there are things that can not be spoken about in a scientific fashion; those things need to be left to pure speculation until such time as science has advanced to be able to study it. It is also entirely possible that science may never be able to observe some things; for example, at no point ever will science be able to speak about gods, because gods by their very definition are beyond any human comprehension. That's what faith is about; the belief in something while having no evidence to support said belief. In a way, science is really about having an absence of faith in some phenomena.

    Kenjura: Don't throw around the word "theory" so much, because the colloquial abuse of the word is generating a lot of trouble. "Evolution is just a theory" gets thrown around so often I could commit some felonies.

    Theories are accepted and taught in science because they have a large backing of experimental observation; they are models that are predictive and can be falsified. I do admit that I personally have not conducted all of the experiments that support, say, atomic theory or evolutionary theory, but they have been performed, the data has been reviewed, and the model constructed from that.

    No good theory is ever based on pure speculation; in fact, no good science is based on pure speculation. I remember, in a show way back, that Scott said a hypothesis is any wild guess, and this is actually not true. A hypothesis is specifically an EDUCATED guess, and most are actually relatively conservative in their claims. Conjectures are wild guesses, and scientists make those in discussions, but never base an experiment upon them (or at least shouldn't - there are plenty of bad scientists out there).

    More to come later; I'm technically supposed to be working right now. :p
  • Heh.. That is why I refer to such things as intelligent design not as theories or hyphotheses, but as suppositions or ideas at best.
  • What provoked me to talk about this was partly a discussion on another forum filled with geeks making bad "no god" arguments and partly some of the impressions I've got from you in the podcast.

    The aura thing was something I read in a Frontiers (anybody remember Frontiers? It was a science magazine) in the 90s.

    Some researchers had got a leaf, cut a chunk out of it and looked at the "something" field of the chunk (cut me some slack for not remembering, I was 12) the field they observed fit the shape and size of the leaf it was cut from. I WILL try and find something related to that research but it will take me time. This was being used by a scientist to suggest a scientific basis for auras.

    "Self-delusion. Like it or not, people like to believe that they are special, and will assign themselves in some cases unverifiable powers or abilities that they believe set them apart from others."

    Just an aside... that is SO true, I have an old friend who tries to impress me with her powers of "supernatural empathy".
  • I think that we need to make the JREF required reading for all listeners.

    Every week on friday go to and read the latest newsletter. Everybody. Oh, look it's Friday.
  • RymRym
    edited January 2006
    That "leaf experiment" is well-documented and debunked. It was first conducted by an amateur Russian electrician named Semyon Kirlian in the 1930s-40s, and the phenomenon itself is called "Kirlian photography."

    Very basically, it involves placing an object on a photographic plate and subjecting it to an electromagnetic field. In the leaf experiment, he placed a leaf on the plate and generated an "aura" as a result of the leaf's interaction with that electromagnetic field. He did not clean the plate before tearing off a piece of the leaf and repeating the experiment, and moisture from the previous placement produced a similar effect. (Moisture and conductivity are the primary factors in determining the manifestations of this "aura.")

    The mechanism for producing these images is well understood and well documented.

    edit: typos again. I'm freaking awesome today
    Post edited by Rym on
  • When was the experiment debunked? I find it hard to believe it took 50+ years, and the guy in Frontiers stated it as fact.
  • edited January 2006
    Post edited by Apreche on

    There's a much more detailed description of how it works. It's beyond debunked. No scientist has ever replicated the results claimed in that issue of Frontiers, and many have tried. Furthermore, it's trivial to generate a fake image like that even unintentionally. The fields generated are a direct result of the strength of the field and the amount of moisture present in the subject.

    In fact, you can fairly cheaply and easily acquire the same equipment and perform the experiments yourself.
  • From earlier:

    "Actually, a great number of things fall outside the realm of science; that is, notions and ideas that cannot be directly observed fall utterly outside the realm of science."

    I don't believe that anything falls outside of the realm of science. Notions and ideas could one day be observed directly by examining the brain or nervous system. For someone who claims to see auras, it may be possible one day to observe through their own eyes what they're claiming to see.

    I basically believe that there's no limit to what can be learned via scientific investigation, even concerning matters "of the heart." It's entirely possible we'll one day understand the specific and exact mechanism of love, or the chemical interactions in the brain that cause certain thoughts or feelings. Perhaps, if the soul exists, we'll capture one.

    I hold that all things are rational, that all things are natural, and that nothing is beyond comprehension given time, energy, effort, and inquiry.
  • Rym you really have to put a "nuff said" or something after that.. ^_^
  • "He did not clean the plate before tearing off a piece of the leaf and repeating the experiment, and moisture from the previous placement produced a similar effect."

    That's a /hypothesis/...

    I'd hardly say it was "beyond debunked" from the evidence you give, if there was a paper from somebody *showing* that it doesn't work I'd be more impressed.

    "I hold that all things are rational, that all things are natural, and that nothing is beyond comprehension given time, energy, effort, and inquiry."

    That is your belief and is worth as much as the Christian belief in Jesus and the Hare Krishna belief in the integrity of the Veda.
  • "I'd hardly say it was "beyond debunked" from the evidence you give, if there was a paper from somebody *showing* that it doesn't work I'd be more impressed."

    The debunked part comes from the fact that no one has EVER replicated his results under controlled conditions. EVER. An unrepeatable experiment is worthless. Show me even one study that has ever duplicated his claimed results.

    "That is your belief and is worth as much as the Christian belief in Jesus and the Hare Krishna belief in the integrity of the Veda."

    Yes, and I recognize it as such. In the face of evidence, I would drop it in a second. It's mere philosophy on my part.
  • edited January 2006
    Just to add. Too many people do not understand the concept of burden of proof. When you make a claim such as "people have auras" it is up to you to provide evidence. Every claim is by default false and requires proof to be considered true. That's how it works. If things were by default true then I'm an evil space alien Hitler God. That's the truth unless you prove me wrong :)

    If you do an experiment to test a hypothesis and you get results. You do it again, and again and again. In order for your hypothesis to become a theory it has to work every single time. If just one time it doesn't work, then you're wrong. You either messed up the experiment or your hypothesis is flawed. We have repeated the same experiment involving the leaf multiple times. Sure enough if we leave the moisture on the plate we get the results of the remaining "aura". And if we use a new plate, the aura is gone. All we have to do is do it once where the aura does not appear and it's wrong. We've done that, it's wrong. For it to make the step from hypothesis to theory the aura would have had to appear every single time the experiment was properly conducted.

    As for the belief that everything is natural, rational and explainable by science. Yes, it is a faith worth no more than that of any religion. However, I submit to you that it is the only completely harmless belief you can have. All contrary systems of belief bring some level of harm to the believer and sometimes others. I propose it is immoral to believe anything else.

    Also, no other system of belief has any amount of supporting evidence whatsoever. None. Sure, they don't have any contradictory evidence either, because by nature there can not be any. The difference is that our belief system actually has some amount of evidence. Not absolute evidence, but evidence nonetheless. No other faith has any valid evidence whatsoever. Some evidence beats no evidence.

    By the way. The correct label for people with our belief system is "Bright".
    Post edited by Apreche on
  • Well, to clarify something, a theory is not just a well-validated hypothesis. A theory is really an explanatory model that results from a wide range of repeated experiments that build different aspects of the theory.

    A well-validated hypothesis is just a valid hypothesis. You continue to test hypotheses in order to validate or falsify existing ones or attempt to establish new conclusions. Generating a theory requires gathering large amounts of data, repeated experimentation of varying nature, a lot of time, a lot of thought, and a lot of scientists.

    Invalidating a hypothesis under a set of conditions also only invalidates the hypothesis in the conditions of the experiment; in general, you conduct an experiment under a variety of conditions in order to establish a pattern for the hypothesis. I can, for example, generate a set of conditions under which DNA polymerase will not replicate DNA; that doesn't mean that all of molecular biology is wrong, or that DNA polymerase doesn't replicate DNA, but just means that under those conditions, DNA pol doesn't replicate DNA.

    Again, remember that good science is VERY, VERY specific. It's a grossly simplified and explicit thought process.
  • edited January 2006
    I think it's important to note that science and religion both meet different needs. (Note that by religion I mean a set of spiritual beliefs and rituals, not worshipping some diety.) Science can explain the mechanics of something - how a certain system works. It can help make predicitions about how something is expected to work. But it's neutral. No value judgments are made about things. That's what religion and philosophy are for. They're the "why" to science's "how." We know the Big Bang triggered the expansion of the universe. Roughly, we know how. But examining the process by which it happened doesn't give it a "why." It doesn't give the universe a reason for existing. Maybe there is no reason - but regardless of if there is or isn't, human beings need reasons for things.

    People have asked questions like "why are we here?" or "what is my purpose in life?" or "how should I conduct myself?" in all cultures across time and space that we know of. Religion is our way of addressing this. It helps people apply value judgments to things, to develop an internal system of morals and ethics, and to explain things that aren't empirical or measurable. Scientific research can tell me exactly how an organism died - it won't tell me what I should feel about it.

    I need science as a tool and methodology to explain how the world around me functions - I need religion to address psychological needs and to comprehend broad, abstract concepts like "existence," and to know what to DO with all the things science has taught me about how stuff works.

    (edit: paragraphs for increased readability)
    Post edited by Johannes Uglyfred II on
  • Spot on.

    I would say, though, that you don't need "religion" so much as you need "philosophy," of which religion is a specific branch. Taoism, for example, addresses the Big Questions in life, but it isn't exactly a formal religion per se. The same goes for Confucianism.
  • I can't find the post for the podcast so I'll say this here.

    There was supposed to be an interesting thing on TV in the UK recently that was about acupuncture. They gave somebody acupuncture in an MRI scanner and found that acupuncture gives very different responses in the brains compared to just sticking pins in people. I didn't see the whole show so I can't say much about the experiment I did but I'll try to find somebody who did.

    On the whole *aura* thing...
    I don't believe in auras myself (having met enough women who claim they can see mine), I was providing it as an example because I didn't know it had been disproved.

    "I propose it is immoral to believe anything else."

    That is SUCH a bullshit claim, and it's a shame you made it because I agree with almost everything else you said. I think that into the future things may be found scientific that are thought to be spiritual now. I also believe that science and religion exist in seperate realms and they should leave each other alone, though that doesn't devalue religion at all.

    Oh, and about Top Gear, have you seen the one where they convert real cars into radio control ones and race them through a really cool track in a canyon?
  • Also I was pissed about having read misinformation about that leaf experiment, but I know why now. I found the book I thought it was in (it was underneath the TV) and it wasn't in there. It turned out to be in another book I have in a similar vein. Guess which decade it's from...
  • edited January 2006
    For everything about acupuncture.

    On the topic of immorality of belief, let me clarify. It's not the belief itself that's immoral. I mean if I believe in some invisible sky-man that doesn't hurt anybody in itself. It's the personal philosophy and logic that follow from that belief which present the opportunity for immorality. Take crusades and jihads for an example. Because they believe in some bullshit they do not think it's immoral to kill people. Because they believe in some afterlife all of a sudden they value that imaginary life more than this one. Only those people who don't believe in bullshit can be trusted to value this life and live it in the best possible way for themselves and others.

    Here are some less hyperbolic examples: If you believe in chiropractic you might hurt somebody's spine. If you believe in homeopathy then you might take fake medicine instead of real medicine and die. If you believe in faeries you might prevent a tree from being cut down that is in the way of a homeless shelter being built. Only by believing in the best scientific knowledge that humans can know will you be able to make the best decisions for making this world a better place for humans to exist.

    And Top Gear. No, I haven't seen that one. I can only watch what I find on Google video. If you find it on there hook me up with a link. I'm totally addicted to that show.
    Post edited by Apreche on
  • edited January 2006
    "Only by believing in the best scientific knowledge that humans can know will you be able to make the best decisions for making this world a better place for humans to exist."

    I'm not sure that I agree with that statement 100%. I do agree that, as far as any thing that a human can perceive can be understood, science can understand it. The scientific method gives us the best possible answers for HOW to go about doing what we need to do to make the best livable conditions for humans that we can.

    However, science is not the only intellectual tool at the disposal of humans, and it can't be used to accomplish every task that one may wish to accomplish. Personal beliefs that are not scientifically grounded can be powerful tools if used properly and not abused. As you said, it doesn't hurt anyone to believe in an invisible sky man, nor would it hurt anyone to believe that a rock has a soul. It does, however, hurt people if you rely on making other people believe exactly what you believe.

    Very technically, I would contend that BELIEVING anything is not immoral at all. I can believe up and down that my way of thinking is the only right one, and that anyone who doesn't think that way should die, and that's OK, so long as you don't go ahead and take any action on that particular aspect of the belief. It's alright to have a negative thought or feeling, so long as one does not act upon it to the detriment of others. There would be no problems with people having different religious beliefs if everyone could simply allow each other to have them without making a big deal about it.

    What I'm saying is that, realistically, it's difficult to damn a philosophy as being immoral unless someone also acts upon said philosophy. While I do realize that most people that adhere to a philosophy use it as a basis for their actions, some people might simply use the philosophy as a thought exercise or some such and not as a basis for action.

    I'm also not saying that intent doesn't matter, or that action matters more than intent, or something like that; I'm only saying that if a malicious intent or bad philosophy never sees execution, then it's not really doing anyone any harm. Of course, if there's any action on the philosophy at all, all bets are off.

    Morality is a tricky subject about which to talk, largely because most people's concepts of morality are deeply intertwined with religion, and extricating one from the other, which is a necessary thing to do, is rather difficult. Most moral issues are decided by the majority mindset of the society in which you live, assuming you don't live in some horrible thought-oppressing country that regulates your behavior, so saying that something is "immoral" as a blanket statement is a bit of a tricky proposition.
    Post edited by TheWhaleShark on
  • "It does, however, hurt people if you rely on making other people believe exactly what you believe."

    Indeed. Anti-abortion christians saying "surely you would want to have a baby if you had sex" listen up.
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