Personal Experience Doesn’t Count; Wanting Truth Is Not The Same As Finding Truth

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I mentioned briefly back in January that Liberty University was going on an expedition to find Noah’s Ark. Well, it turns out they found it! Look! Here’s some wood:

Believe them now?

You shouldn’t, even though all of a sudden Christians were buying into carbon dating. In fact, as if you needed it, PZ reported today that the researchers were duped. Imagine my surprise.

I want to take this moment to meditate for a moment on the concept of religious thinking. So often, religion is defended by personal experience. People have heard God speak to them (or through them?). People have felt God protect them in a car accident. People give God credit for winning the big game or race or whatever. None of these stories have anything to do with God. They’re about people wanting to believe in God.

Religious thinking is inherently biased. It puts the answer out before the evidence and then only looks for the answer it wants to see. So, of course, it sees that answer EVERYWHERE. We are familiar with the concept of pareidolia, seeing religious imagery in mundane things, like Jesus in a toasted cheese sandwich or Noah’s Ark in a mountain range. People flock to these images because they want them to be true. They worship these items. They pay stupid-loads of money on eBay to obtain these items. They waste hours, dollars, and brain cells fawning over discoveries that they see as evidence for their beliefs.

But think about it. Beliefs, by definition, are unsubstantiated. Beliefs are beliefs specifically because they are not facts. If they could be proven, they wouldn’t even be interesting anymore. I don’t believe the sky is blue; I understand it. I don’t believe the Earth revolves around the Sun; I understand it. I don’t believe in evolution; I understand it. I don’t believe, because I don’t “have faith.” So here are people who hold these beliefs (for which they have no reason to hold) squandering their lives looking for reason to substantiate the unsubstantiatable! It’s the ultimate dupe—and look how religious organizations profit from it!

People believe God can speak to them, so he does. They believe God sends signs, so they see them. They believe in religious ecstasy, so they experience it. The mind is a powerful thing, and so is the placebo effect. Take a look at this poor girl giving the benediction at Texas’s Midwestern State University’s commencement (hat-tip PZ, again):

Her mind has so been twisted by what she has been taught to believe that it takes over her physical health. She trembled, convulsed, spoke in tongues a bit, and then fainted! But this does not speak at all to the power of God, only to the dangers of submitting to belief.

Testimony is not evidence. Personal experience is not evidence. Optical illusion is not evidence. These all work against critical thinking. They all work against scientific literacy. We really should not tolerate it.

Our universities should be working against this kind of irrational thinking. We should be outright criticizing religious beliefs and we should be discouraging students from buying into such nonsense. We are so quick to humor the myth, the fantasy, the urban legend—without recognizing the harm they are all having on our capacity to think.

So let me say it here: No, God didn’t talk to you; you just thought to yourself. No, God didn’t protect you in the car crash; you just happened to have an accident without getting hurt (and I’m glad you’re okay). No, God didn’t help you win the big game; your skills and teamwork served you well on the field. No, there is no Jesus in your anything; your brain just tries to make meaning of patterns that resemble faces. No, God is not making you shake or speak in tongues or pass out; you just need to eat something and get some psychological help.

And if you have used any of these experiences to make life-changing decisions, that is both laughable and pitiable.

I do not care how significant these experiences have been for you personally; I will not respect you for these beliefs. I will not silently humor these beliefs. These beliefs hurt you, they hurt me, and they hurt our society. They are absolute bollocks, and we should have no tolerance or respect for them.

We’re alone in this universe and that’s cool. It just means we have to work harder to take care of each other. One of my ways of helping is to discourage you from living your life around delusions.

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There are 1 Comments to "Personal Experience Doesn’t Count; Wanting Truth Is Not The Same As Finding Truth"

  • Buffy says:

    I’ve seen that girl before.   It’s amazing the altered states people can induce in the throes of religious lunacy.    But as my wife says, they take all their repressed sexual energy (there’s a reason religion tells you sex is dirty, and that you should never ever engage in it) and channel it into their religion.  Stuff like that girl’s demonstration are the result.    Of course if she were ranting about aliens or being possessed by Cleopatra they’d lock her up and medicate her.   Since she’s ranting about being possessed by a “holy spirit” and this socially acceptable Jesus zombie she’s praised by millions as a martyr for her faith.

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