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Why do people feel bad about exposing false beliefs?
Posted: 31 March 2007 03:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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I agree with George that you cannot really say that skeptics as a group are hapier than other people.

Again, I don’t find this to be a meaningful question.

What are the beliefs of the “believers”? How do those beliefs impact their lives?

Historically, and even today, faiths such as Catholicism are well known for the guilt and unhappiness that they impose upon their believers.

Look at the Puritans of the colonial period. Not exactly an example of a happy healthy society.

Are you going to tell me that Orthodox Jews are a group are happier than non-religious people? I doubt it.

Many of these faiths are similar to drug addictions, both mainstream ones and New Age ones. Things start out okay, but since they have no skeptical grounding, everything is based on social pressures and if someone believes what the leader is saying, etc., they provide no individual basis for judgment, and these people and groups go off the deep end. This isn’t just some rare occasion, this happens all the time and millions of people are caught in faiths that make them unhappy right now, like abusive relationships.

I don’t find these generalizations to be useful.

“Who is happier, us or them?” I just find that a foolish question. Look at the Middle East. I challenge anyone to tell me that happiness would not be increased in the Middle East with an advance of secular humanism and skepticism.

I challenge anyone to tell me that Ibn Warraq isn’t happier than many believing Muslims.

I think that Robert Ingersoll’s statement does and would apply to many:

When I became convinced that the Universe is natural -
that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into
my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the
sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. For the first time,
I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all
worlds. And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with
thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the
thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain.
And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and
hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.
- Why I am an Agnostic, 1890

What I am troubled by is the level of apologetics for religion that I find in the non-religious community. This seems to be a trend in academics at the moment, with publications such as “Darwin’s God” (that actually totally went against concepts on religion put forward by Darwin).

I think that religious apologetics is a form of self defeatism and an excuse to do nothing. I think that a lot of people want to believe that religion “is good” because then they don’t have to do anything about it.

Happiness isn’t something so easy to categorize and happiness, as I said before, isn’t the end all and be all of everything anyway.

Cats are happy when they are killing small animals. There are biological factors to happiness, and as we know there is biological diversity, thus different individuals will have different factors that make them happy. There are people who simply enjoy fighting. There isn’t any one thing that makes all people or beings happy. Cultural influences from birth can also affect this, and this is where by biggest concern is.

The things that make someone who grew up in an African tribe happy are going to be different than someone who grew up in New York city happy.

We know about this from many studies, but also examples such as the European colonization of the Americas, where many Native people’s became extremely unhappy and depressed and killed themselves and waged all out war even at benign attempts at European integration.

The way of life that made Europeans happy simply did not make Natives happy, they had totally different expectations and had developed different standards and conditions in which they thrived.

Nevertheless, if you took a Native baby and raised it from birth in a European family, or visa versa, those individuals were perfectly capable of being happy.

This is my issue with religion and it goes back to the Vegetarian comment.

So much of this has to do with the development stages of a person’s life, and how people are raised and brought up from birth.

I don’t think we know the specifics yet, but people form some sort of framework in their minds about how the world works. This framework appears to be used to make judgments and build expectations.

It is this framework, I believe, that is at the root of the matter. It seems that people become uncomfortable when the fundamentals of this framework are challenged. What the mechanism is for that I do not know, but it seems to be that when there is conflict between this internalized mental model and other information, this causes an internal emotional conflict.

For most religious people, this model includes what we classify as “supernatural” elements. These models tend to include expectations such as the belief that by wishing for something that can cause it to come true, that by praying to a god for something that can cause it to come true, that certain things can or cannot happen according to ones beliefs, that certain seemingly materially determined events can be changed due to thoughts and desires, that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, etc.

A perfect example of this was discussed on NPR about a woman in Africa whose whole family died of AIDS, and she has AIDS too. She and her husband were Christian preachers, and they believed that people got AIDS because they were non-Christian or that they were sinners, so they thought that they could not get AIDS, because it was a sinners disease.

Her husband died, and she didn’t know why. Then all four of their children died, and she didn’t know why. Then she began to die and finally a doctor forced her to get tested for AIDS, which she felt embarrassed to do and thought it impossible, but she did and she had it, then she realized that her whole family died of AIDS. Now, in this case, her beliefs led directly to the deaths of her family. Not only that, but she told her church that she had AIDS, and they turned against her, because the stigma is so great. Other African Christians tell her that she is a horrible person, etc. and that she must have sinned greatly for her family to die of AIDS.

The same beliefs that supposedly comfort these people also lead to these scenarios. You can’t separate them from one another.

This is all a matter of cause and effect modeling on the part of the brain in order for it to try and predict the outcome of future events. We are not hard wired with a de facto model of the universe that operates on all of the laws of nature. We do not know how the world operates and learning how it operates is a matter of education, experience, etc. This mental model is not hard wired, it is imprinted through social and experiential processes.

What we are talking about when we talk about people being made uncomfortable by having their beliefs challenged, I believe, is what happens when this framework is contradicted within someone’s mind.

For some reason, that I do no know, there is a defense mechanism built into these frameworks. This must have a biological component, sense it seems to be fairly universal. There seems to be something about how the brain is engineered that causes people to construct these frameworks and then also to be defensive of them.

This defense mechanism, I suspect, is an evolutionary adaptation to prevent people from being too wishy washy and having inconsistent expectations an changing their model every few seconds. It could also have something to do with memory. I don’t know I’m guessing not performing science here.

At any rate, what we are up against, it seems to me, is this defense mechanism that people form around the expectational frameworks that we all built in our minds, which are built in out minds largely through social influences.

Again we now come to biological diversity, and deal with the fact hat due to biological diversity it seems that some people have an easier time forming their own framework built on experience while others seem to soak up socially imprinted frameworks. Likewise, some people tend to have an easier time changing this framework while others do not.

We can’t deal with simple philosophical precepts here, there are material conditions that have to be addressed.

Happiness is a biological function. It is an evolved mechanism.

My view is that people are theoretically capable of being happy with any metal framework. The biggest source of unhappiness comes from the challenging of the frameworks and when the frameworks are in contradiction with external stimuli.

I don’t think that a child raised in the Epicurean view is going to be any more or less happy than one raised with an expectation of a wonderful afterlife.

These frameworks and expectations are like tastes. People in Japan love the taste of fishy food, and people in America love the taste of beefy food.

Japanese people raised in American culture like beefy food, and Americans raised in Japan like fishy food. To ask, what makes people happier, fishy or beefy, is simply a nonsensical question.

With these metal frameworks, however, there are additional considerations.

Does the framework include aspects that are in conflict with reality?

If so, this is a likely source of conflict, and this conflict will cause unhappiness, because of the biological mechanism in the brain that govern thought. The conflict likely causes unhappiness due to evolved mechanisms that are intended to trigger the individual to either change their model or reject the external stimuli.

For example, in the case of a materialist who has formed a model of the world in which all things happen for material causes, if they have an experience that seems to violate those precepts, this discomfort will cause them to reject the first notion of what just took place and seek to fit the observed data into the materialist framework, this will cause them to look for material explanations.

But if we have learned through empirical and logical discovery that a certain framework is more accurate than another one, then I think that there is a obligation, for social and ethical reasons, to advance that framework, even if it does make holders of contradictory frameworks unhappy, because the issue is about future generations.

Of course, every group says this, its also what Christians say, etc., but that’s just the way it is. I don’t buy these equivalency arguments that state that because group X does Y, if you are opposed to X then you can’t also do Y, that’s absurd.

The major discomfort and unhappiness comes in the confrontation itself and the challenging of the worldviews, but that is temporary. We cannot allow future generation to be misled and indoctrinated into false beliefs simply in order to placate the current generation. If it makes certain people unhappy then so be it.

Just as in my OP.

Yeah, the mystical kung-fu guy got his butt kicked, and we all left sorry for him I am sure, not just for his physical condition, but for the breaking of his belief system, but its better in the long run if it puts a stop to the spread of that belief system.

For people who have never believed what he believed, there is no issue, there is no problem, and so by preventing future generation from believing the false beliefs that be believed, you eliminate the potential for future problems and future discomfort.

Likewise, if you take the argument to the other extreme, that false beliefs which make people happy are good or okay and should not be challenged, then there is no argument against spreading any number of lies and misconceptions.

Evidence based truth must be a standard.

The argument that false beliefs which make people happy should be tolerated opens the door to a flood of false beliefs. Why should this standard be applied only and ancient false beliefs?

With the dawning of an age of overwhelming technology, why should we not simply hook people up to virtual reality machines and entertain them constantly, why not stop telling people the truth about nature and tell everyone that in the natural world all the animals love each other and everyone is happy and nothing bad happens in the natural world?

So few people actually interact with nature these days, that for most people nature is what they see on television. Look at the programs on Animal Planet and Discovery. Those programs make my girlfriend unhappy because they show animals eating and killing each other.

Why do that, that makes people unhappy? We could make people more happy if we stopped showing all those programs, and instead had Disney manufacture stages nature films where all the woodland creates get along and love each other.

So why not do that? That would make people more happy correct?

I think we can agree that there is a value to truth that trumps happiness in the first place, and that in the second place, one cannot say that any given belief system makes people more or less happy across the board anyway.

Likewise, what makes people most unhappy is having their beliefs challenged, but this is only a problem if people are initiated into false beliefs. If they are never initiated into false beliefs then their beliefs never need to get challenged in the first place, so this is why we must challenge false beliefs now, to prevent future generation from being initiated into false beliefs.

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