25th June 2008

“You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep-seated need to believe.”

Carl Sagan1934 – 1996

7 Responses to “25th June 2008”

  1. Bornagain A. Theist Says:

    I don’t really understand the “deep-seated need to believe”. I don’t deny it, but I just don’t understand it relative to the era(s) of our lifetimes. I began to believe as a youngster because my parents and peers (theirs, at least) taught me that it was “right”. I floated in and out of that for a half century before seriously questioning my position. As soon as I took a close look at my so-called ‘belief’, I gave it up for the sake of logic and have never looked back.

    But I never had what I would think of as a “need” to believe. I can easily understand how mankind during its far more primitive – and far earlier – stages would have a “need”, if you will, to believe because there was no science to speak of to explain various phenomenon which must have been most mysterious, indeed. So, in the spirit of explaining the mysterious with the mysterious, manking invented gods. I’ve got that.

    I would like to know, however, if Carl is implying that there are genetic codes that have evolved in mankind which thrust him toward belief. That’s a difficult idea for me to process, having been from one end of the spectrum to the other.

  2. Chris Says:

    You raise a good question, BAT. I think I like the reason posited by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins hypothesizes that the continued success of the religious meme is helped along by one of our species’ strategies of surviving neoteny, namely a predisposition to believe without question things that are told to us by our elders when we are very young. Dawkins suggests that this trait may have been selected for because those that displayed it were more likely to avoid danger. An unfortunate side effect is that we also believe things that are unrelated to survival, like the idea that god impregnates virgins with himself so that he can sacrifice himself to himself to expunge the sin of a couple of people that didn’t exist.

    Oh, and women are dirty but it’s not clear why.

    I can agree with Carl that “need” seems to be the right word but there is something infantile about it to me like the kid who believes in Santa a little too long. I think the need may explain so of the behavior of the most zealous. They may not be trying to convince others so much as themselves. We’ve all engaged in self deception and I believe that no matter how hard we try, there is always some corner of our mind that knows the truth. It must just gall them so.

  3. Hypatia Says:

    I don’t really understand the “deep-seated need to believe”

    I think people have been brought up to have this dependency. I don’t think it’s inherent.

    Rather like growing up with people who always tell you you’re a failure. In the end that’s how you feel.

  4. John Sutton Says:

    I think Dawkins is right when he says we have “a predisposition to believe without question things that are told to us by our elders when we are very young.”

    The non-rationalists have used this for centuries by indoctrinating children with their self serving supernatural garbage in church schools and Sunday schools. It works very well and, in the UK, they are still at it with renewed vigour.

    For this reason it is important that Secular Rationalists become more proactive in their fight to save another generation who are about to have their world-view irretrievably corrupted with medieval fairy tales.

  5. Terence Meaden Says:

    Let’s modify and extend Carl Sagan slightly:
    “You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep-seated need to [believe and] accept from childhood what their parents, friends and community elders believe and do. It is a conditioning process, unrelated to rational analysis.”

    So the minds of believers are forever closed—comforted by the security of conformity—which helps to ensure that they do not stray, for risk of becoming social outcasts.

  6. Critic Says:

    I read the quote below about/from Eric Hoffer today on Tom Dickson’s blog regarding the persistence of moon hoaxers (those that believe that NASA faked the moon landings) that is, coincidentally, insightful and relevant to todays AQOTD and discussion. (Here’s the link to the full entry from which the following excerpt was snatched http://web.mac.com/tomadickson/dkzn/moon_hoaxer.html ).

    “Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman-author whose first book, the true believer, has remained in print ever since its debut in 1951, and whose body of writing earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, says this, among other things, about true believers:

    “There is apparently some connection between dissatisfaction with oneself and a proneness to credulity. The urge to escape our real self is also an urge to escape the rational and the obvious. The refusal to see ourselves as we are develops a distaste for facts and cold logic. There is no hope for the frustrated in the actual and the possible. Salvation can come to them only from the miraculous, which seeps through a crack in the iron wall of inexorable reality. They ask to be deceived….””

    I am not qualified to determine whether this is a pathology or not…..but I do have my suspicions.

  7. Chris Says:

    TM – I like the modification and the point you make about the social pressure to believe. I think that many more are skeptical than let on but stay quiet because they know they would be rejected by their community which is actually funny/sad considering the unconditional love their faith is supposed to impart on practitioners. In practice, very cynical. If there are souls, religion cannot help but diminish them.