Jan 16, 2015

If You Realy Believe it, Is it a Lie? Or, Why a Healthy Dose of Skepticism is Necessary.

 The Flyin' Spaghetti Monster...
I've often wondered why people believe extraordinary claims without a shred of evidence, especially when they reserve no doubt and dismiss any reasonable skepticism. I think it's conditioning, a cultural chain, and a deep need to believe what makes them feel good. Affirming unexamined beliefs adds to the mountain of bad arguments and self-deception.  

We see this everywhere, in politics too. Fox News viewers don't go to this venue to be informed; I mean, truly informed. They're looking for more ammunition and supporting arguments of their preconceived notions. By the way, this audience is the least informed in the US. The PBS and NPR audience is the most informed on the other hand. Liberals tend to be more open-minded and open to revision. Of course, everyone has practiced confirmation bias--whereas you accept or remember only the items that support a particular view, dismissing contradictory evidence. Yet, the degree to which someone does this matters a lot.

An extraordinary claim is personhood survival after death. Not only that, but there's a heaven and hell, and that even you can reunite with lost pets. Oh, and that this new realm is of a particular God, religion, etc. Now, there are countless books written on the subject, ..documenting the trip to heaven and back, because, heck, those who had a NDE (near death experience) can't be wrong! Interestingly, none of those people have come back to say that God or heaven was of a different religion than theirs!  

Such claims are extraordinary, so where's the proof? How can I, a skeptic, know that this actually happens and it's not the brain hallucinating? I think it matters whether the evidence can pass the threshold of reason and scientific scrutiny, especially when now we do have lots of research that shows there are physiological conditions that can make the brain produce a NDE. Leaving the body, going towards the light, seeing and hearing stuff, etc, have all been reproduced under certain physical conditions without a NDE. If you're interested in more of this, check out this podcast of a debate "Death is Not Final" from the Intelligence Squared series. Dr. Steve Novella (from the Skeptics Guide to the Universe) nails it.

Just recently, the boy, Alex Malarkey, who claimed he died and went to heaven, where he had conversations with God and Satan, and whose "experience" was written a most popular book among believers, admitted that he lied! Just like that. Now, do you think those gullible believers would change their minds or become more skeptical? My guess is, no! We've seen that frauds like Peer Popoff, Jim Baker, Benny Hinn, who have been thoroughly discredited (big media coverage, court convictions, etc), only to re-appear peddling their old schemes and raking in the cash. All in the name of the Lord of course...

Malarkey's story made millions of dollars to some by selling to the gullible while there are indications that his handlers knew the story was a lie. The crux of the matter is, again, this extraordinary claim was offered & sold as a fact, as an argument for Xtians who want and expect to go to a Xtian heaven. No proof, no healthy skepticism, because if you want to believe something it's your right and your reality! Like George Constanza said on Seinfeld, "Jerry, if you believe it, it's not a lie."