The Course of Reason

Meanwhile, in the skeptic movement…

June 7, 2011

The Illini Secular Student Alliance's Franklin Kramer learns about Rosicrucianists.

This article originally appeared on the ISSA blog.

Sometimes we in the atheist movement focus so much on all the ridiculous ideas of religion that we forget about all the other crazy things people believe. Shermer discussed it a decent amount in his talk he gave here (which unfortunately we won't be able to put up a video for, but his TED talk was very similar), but it's easy to forget it's out there and how prevalent it is.

A while ago I was at a small get-together and I met a girl whose mother is a "Rosicrucianist," a term I had not previously heard of. For those who are on the same page I was (and too lazy to click on the page I linked to), the Rosicrucionists are a secret society based on the teachings of Christian Rosenkreuz, and apparently have secret knowledge about the end of the world and how it should be run if it were to come. They also affirm the claim that the Georgia Guidestones (pictured on the left) come from Rosenkreuz as well. The three of us (the girl, my friend and I) talked for probably a couple hours, and the amount of ridiculous was steadily increasing as the conversation progressed. At one point I think the girl claimed that the moon is hollow and created by aliens (the Annunaki, obviously), and that even the people who have gone to the moon have noticed strange lights and objects! All this said with 100% sincerity, as if it were not only true but the most obvious thing in the world.

Last night I finally got around to searching the interwebs for more information on all these "theories" (I use the word "theory" in the least scientific sense possible), and came across the blog of Michael Sheiser, who is a "scholar of biblical and ancient Near Eastern languages, cultures, and religions." It only took a short while to realize that this guy knows his stuff, and his website debunking Zecharia Sitchin, (Sitchin is an author that makes many of the claims that the girl I referenced earlier did), is a great example of his knowledge of the field and standards for evidence.

I then found his blog page where he does similar debunking, and came across a post about ancient elongated skulls, debunking the claim that they are proof of alien intervention. The post itself is pretty straightfoward – but the comments are ridiculous. Do yourself a favor and read through them, and it will give you a lot of insight into the minds of the sort of people who accept these conspiracy theories.

What I find most fascinating with these people is that they readily claim that organized religion is ridiculous yet use the same strategies as the religious to support their claims. A couple of my favorites (all quotes are taken verbatim, and MSH refers to Michael Sheiser):

I would like to know how you MSH are so convinced that all of Sitchin’s work is nonsense. Aren’t you open to possibility or closed to any idea that humans and earth have been visited before. You must know that notables such as F Crick who discovered DNA structure, Einstein somewhat, Carl Sagan when stoned, and many other reputable scientists “believe” in panspermia. The idea that in Assyrian the word for Jupiter can only be Nibiru is a bit short sighted. Why is that dictionary true and the only interpretation? When it was written, scholars did not believe America was visited by Vikings. Nobody thought hybrid creatures could be made in the 1950s outside of sci-fi fans. The history of science changed over time and perception changes. if the scholars who created these dictionaries knew about more modern abilities and the plethora of stars and planets in ourt galaxy alone, they may have thought differently. until you come up with a Sumerian text that says “no aliens ever came and gave us ideas, and that zigarrut (sp?) was only a weather balloon stand,” then you must allow for possibility and stop creating fame by bashing those who raise questions.

To summarize: The world of science/academia has been wrong in the past, so any claims we make may indeed be wrong. Therefore we have to entertain all possibilities, regardless of how ridiculous they are.

Here we also see the classic problem with burden of proof. "You can't say I'm wrong until you prove that we weren't visited by aliens thousands of years ago." Sound a bit familiar? Who cares if I can't prove you wrong? Until you provide any sort of decent evidence that you are correct I have no reason to entertain them.

Next quote:

I see that you are trying to educate the public about your findings. I am always wary of people who seem overly interested in debunking others’ ideas. I keep an open mind and I think that is really the way to go when it comes to living one’s life. The tone of your website seems close-minded and fearful. When people’s ideas and beliefs are challanged people react in different ways; some look at new ideas with wonder and curiosity, others get angry and do whatever they can to debunk these new ideas. You fit into this second category. Still, a very interesting site. Gave me another perspective to plug into my reality!

Summary: Skeptics are just scared and angry, which is why they are so "closed minded" about these sorts of things. If you are truly open to all ideas you will see that this makes a lot of sense!

The fact of the matter is that the X-Files have it right – people want to believe. We have some sort of natural disposition to do so. We find it exciting. One of my personal favorite quotes:

As you start to understand the truth, try not to beat yourself up too much, as it is quite likely you will feel like an idiot, I know I did. As the truth starts to unfold to you, you will wonder how you could have believed anything else, but there is no deny the truth. it is a humbling experience and without doubt, a humble man is able to accept the truth easier. lets face it, it is very unnerving, when you first begin to realise that, hell, there could be some truth in this, and that just maybe, we have been genetically engineered by et’s. maybe we aren’t that unique and whilst we (humans) have a few redeeming qualities, we are really just not as special as we like to believe..

Summary: It's hard to get past being so closed-minded and wanting "evidence" to accept claims. But once you do, anything is possible, and it's really humbling!

Even if religion were to be completely removed from our society, we'd still have this kind of thinking going on, all the time. Religion isn't the root of the problem: Poor critical thinking skills, combined with an innate desire to believe the paranormal and that something exists bigger than ourselves, is. The latter is something that we won't be able to get rid of, but luckily by minimizing the former we can help alleviate it.

And props to Michael for doing such a good job representing the skeptics and countering bad ideas – keep up the good work!

 

About the Author: Franklin Kramer

Franklin Kramer's photo
Franklin Kramer is a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana Chamapign in the field of Library and Information Science with an undergraduate degree in Advertising. He has been involved with the Illini Secular Student Alliance three years and is currently the President of the organization.

Comments:

#1 tobi lawson (Guest) on Monday June 27, 2011 at 10:04am

You guys are nice and tolerant to these people. Maybe its something about the scientific spirit. I'm just a relatively educated layperson and i find myself absolutely unable, and i have to say, unwilling to accomodate these ridiculous ideas. All religions and their variants, are rooted in fear and profound ignorance.

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