Why Intelligent Humans Believe in Bat-Shit Crazy Ideas

This blog is in response to Penn Gillette’s video at bigthink.com. In that video (suggested watching, obviously) Penn basically wonders how obviously intelligent, well-educated people (Mitt Romney for instance) can believe in such bat-shit crazy ideas as those expounded by the Mormon faith (and any other religion for that matter).
Penn Jillette is obviously a very intelligent guy, so I suspect he knows the answers to his questions and the entire video is an exercise in rhetorical questioning to get people to think. I have my own ideas as to why people believe in patently false, ridiculous ideas, superstitions, gods, dogmas, conspiracies, alternative therapies, psychics, etc. But what I would like to explore in this blog is why “intelligent, well-educated” people would believe such bullshit. The obviousness as to why poorly educated or illiterate or mentally handicapped people believe such nonsense need not really be explored.
I am going to do this in some semblance of order – attempting to list the reasons from most likely to least likely – all my own opinion of course:
NOMA
NOMA is short for “Non-overlapping magisteria” a view coined by American biologist Stephen Jay Gould. This is the view or philosophy that meaningful discourse in the sciences as well as in the religions is best dealt with teaching tools and methods of discourse in those fields. In other words the “spiritual realm” is distinct from the “physical realm” and there is no real conflict in terms of reason and sensibility when discussing supernatural concepts that do not make reasonable or rational sense to a scientist. Personally I find this concept disingenuous because it uses pure reason and thought to arrive at a weak explanation for an irrational belief.
Cherry-picked Beliefs
I speak for myself because I was in this category for many years – raised and indoctrinated as a Catholic. But I never really believed in the transubstantiation nor the virgin birth simply because I ignored them – they were too weird and unbelievable to waste my time on. I ignored these dogmas because it would mean having to seriously question my faith, which I was not interested in doing as the rest of the faith seemed reasonable to me at the time. I suspect that a vast majority of religious folks do the same. Most do not even read their own scriptures.
Desire to associate with one’s own tribe
I have written another blog on Tribalism . I think this behaviour has been with
Homo sapiens since our early days on the savannas and is very difficult to eradicate. It probably is the case that many people continue with their religious beliefs simply as a “community” ideal, rather than really examining the dogma itself.
Political and/or monetary expediency
Many people marry into and convert to faiths solely for “political” relationship expediency. Some immoral types, especially Protestant preachers in America’s bible belt are simply con men (as was Joseph Smith who founded Mormonism) who are only in it for the money or the power. Consider however, those honest preachers who may well doubt some of the scriptural stories and dogmas of their faith – how do they simply quit and still feed their families? Also, consider some of the so-called “scientists” at places like the Discovery Institute (which promotes the false idea of Intelligent Design). It is hard to believe these people really truly believe what they espouse as it goes against proper science. But they too have families to feed and perhaps they are now “in so deep” that they know not how to extract themselves.
Lack of considered thought
A vast majority of developed world adults have busy lives. They are not concerned with the discrepancies between their belief in bat-shit crazy ideas and the real world because they simply do not have the time or the inclination to deeply ponder their belief systems.
Comfort
Religious beliefs, however bat-shit crazy some of then might be, do provide some intelligent people with a sense of comfort and closure in a sometimes very confusing and cruel world.
Brainwashing
I hesitate to add this category as I believe it probably applies to less educated adults. We all grow out of our belief in Santa Claus because we know better and many adults grow out of their religion for the same reason. Some do not because they have been so well and truly brainwashed – I suspect many of these will have been educated throughout their learning years in religious schools.
I hope this gives you all food for thought. Maybe not. In a previous blog of mine I explored the truth versus bullshit question, so if interested in these topics please explore further….

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