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Religion, science denial, and our evolutionary roots!

By Brian Morris - posted Tuesday, 24 October 2017


There is an evolutionary flaw we all share. It can drive some to become obsessively religious, and others to embrace conspiracy theories. And it leads traditionalists to resist any change to a more humane society.

Examples are numerous, but top-of-mind is Australia's inability to legalise Marriage Equality and Voluntary Assisted Dying. Victoria is on the brink, but it's taken over 30 attempts in all states to even get this close.

What is it that makes the devoutly religious - or inflexibly conservative - so adamant that their minority views must be imposed upon the majority? Why is science denial by climate sceptics and anti-Vaxxers so prevalent? And where do conspiracy theorists and pseudoscience devotees get their 'alternative facts?'. The inconvenient truth is that all humans are prone to self-deception. But some more than others!

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Humankind is a highly irrational species!

Everyone has a predisposition to pick up and latch onto thoughts and ideas that have no basis in fact. Due to a range of evolutionary flaws we can easily be trapped into embracing any number of unfounded beliefs.

We marvel at the complexity of our brain – but we know that it lets us down. Constantly! At the most basic level we are confused by the simplest things. We're tricked by optical illusions, by a conjurer's sleight of hand, and by mysterious sounds that wake us at night! We're not good at separating fact from fiction.

Without science, our awareness of the 'natural world' is pathetically limited. We hear only a microscopic bandwidth as audible sound - just 20 kilohertz - virtually nothing! And we're able to see only a thin slither of the electromagnetic spectrum- detecting just 0.0035 percent of its entire range as visible light.

Humans are effectively blind to our material environment. Only through advances in science have we begun to understand our world and the universe - to discover the full electromagnetic scale; to "see" with X-rays and magnetic imaging; to explore the universe with radio telescopes; and to determine the elements and composition of distant planets using thermal and spectrographic analysis.

Knowledge in all fields of human endeavour have only become possible by adopting the 'scientific method' - rather than our irrational interpretations of what seems true. We can now take any hypothesis, test for its fallibility, submit it to the rigours of peer review, and gain 'critical' acceptance from the international scientific community. Only by that process can we establish 'evidence' and the veracity of certain 'facts'.

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But we fail to employ 'critical thinking' at a personal level.

In our daily lives our cognition can betray us - we tend not to think critically, or even to use our basic powers of reason. We often form opinions that can become cemented as our own personal facts.

At that point, all our cognitive biases refuse to allow our beliefs to be challenged. We create a reality that ignores new evidence and defies logic. It becomes easy to construct our own "fake news", or embrace some trendy pseudoscience that seems real! Very much like Donald Trump's "alternative facts."

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About the Author

Brian Morris is the director of Plain Reason.

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