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Filosofie en de waan van de dag

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Voorkant Shermer 'Why people believe weird things' Michael SHERMER
Why people believe weird things - Pseudoscience, superstition, and other confusions of our time - Revised and expanded edition
New York: Henry Holt & Cie / A.W. H. Freeman / Owl Book, 2002
ISBN: 08 0507 0893

[De eerste editie was van 1997. In deze editie is de inleiding aangevuld met een klein extra stukje en is er een extra hoofdstuk toegevoegd op het eind. Tot op dat punt is de paginering gelijk gehouden.]

[Een boek in de lijn van het skepticisme van Carl Sagan, de Skeptics Society, en het tijdschrift Skeptic. Shermer is daar als persoon ook een belangrijk onderdeel van. Het boek is wel erg gebaseerd op de Amerikaanse samenleving. De vaak op het christendom gebaseerde idioterie van sektes en bewegingen in de VS - zoals die van het creationisme - is voor een Europeaan niet altijd herkenbaar. Als het om de Verenigde Staten gaat lijkt net zo veel skepsis op zijn plaats als rondom opvattingen van het Vaticaan of in Afghanistan.]

Waarom skepsis en streven naar rationaliteit? Shermer geeft vanaf het begin vele voorbeelden. Ayn Rand's objectivisme is bijvoorbeeld een Amerikaanse filosofische stroming die zegt rationaliteit te willen, maar uiteindelijk in absolute dogma's vervalt. Hetzelfde geldt voor de Church of Scientology, de Branch Davidians, het Pioneer Fund en zijn ontkenners van de Holocaust, creationisme, geloof in UFO's, ontvoeringen door 'aliens', geloof in ESP. Het zijn allemaal irrationele cults en bewegingen uit de VS. Ook de New Age Movement komt daar vandaan. Shermer gaat in zijn boek na hoe 'belief systems' van dat soort ontstaan.

[Twee citaten uit het begin geven precies weer hoe ik er zelf over denk. Het eerste is van Sagan:]

"It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of sceptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish useful ideas from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me, no ideas have any validity at all."(vi)
Carl Sagan, The Burden of Skepticism, Pasadena lecture, 1987

[Het andere staat in het voorwoord:]

"Only two possible escapes can save us from the organized mayhem of our dark potentialities — the side that has given us crusades, witch hunts, enslavements, and holocausts. Moral decency provides one necessary ingredient, but not nearly enough. The second foundation must come from the rational side of our mentality. For, unless we rigorously use human reason both to discover and acknowledge nature's factuality, and to follow the logical implications for efficacious human action that such knowledge entails, we will lose out to the frightening forces of irrationality, romanticism, uncompromising 'true' belief, and the apparent resulting inevitability of mob action. Reason is not only a large part of our essence; reason is also our potential salvation from the vicious and precipitous mass action that rule by emotionalism always seems to entail. Skepticism is the agent of reason against organized irrationalism — and is therefore one of the keys to human social and civic decency."(x)
Stephen Jay Gould Foreword - The positive power of skepticism

(37) Part 1 - Science and skepticism

UIteraard moet Shermer duidelijk maken wat hij onder skepticus / skeptisch / skepticisme verstaat:

"What I mean by a skeptic is one who questions the validity of a particular claim by calling for evidence to prove or disprove it. In other words, skeptics are from Missouri — the 'show me' state. When we hear a fantastic claim, we say, 'That's nice, prove it.'"(17)

"Skepticism is a vital part of science, which I define as a set of methods designed to describe and interpret observed or inferred phenomena, past or present, and aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation. In other words, science is a specific way of analyzing information with the goal of testing claims."(18)

Je ziet in onze samenleving [nou, toch vooral ook in de VS] allerlei irrationele stromingen en bewegingen. De cijfers over waar Amerikanen allemaal kritiekloos in geloven zijn alarmerend. Shermer geeft daar allerlei tabellen en statistieken bij.

"If we are living in the Age of Science, then why do so many pseudo-scientific and nonscientific beliefs abound? Religions, myths, superstitions, mysticisms, cults, New Age ideas, and nonsense of all sorts have penetrated every nook and cranny of both popular and high culture."(26)

"Other popular ideas of our time that have little to no scientific support include dowsing, the Bermuda Triangle, poltergeists, biorhythms, creationism, levitation, psychokinesis, astrology, ghosts, psychic detectives, UFOs, remote viewing, Kirlian auras, emotions in plants, life after death, monsters, graphology, crypto-zoology, clairvoyance, mediums, pyramid power, faith healing, Big Foot, psychic prospecting, haunted houses, perpetual motion machines, antigravity locations, and, amusingly, astrological birth control. Belief in these phenomena is not limited to a quirky handful on the lunatic fringe. It is more pervasive than most of us like to think, and this is curious considering how far science has come since the Middle Ages. Shouldn't we know by now that ghosts cannot exist unless the laws of science are faulty or incomplete?"(27)

Waarin wijkt wetenschap / wetenschappelijke toetsing af van de benadering in dat soort pseudo-wetenschappelijke en niet-wetenschappelijke overtuigingen? Over het zelf-kritische en zelf-corrigerende en voorlopige karakter van wetenschap zegt Shermer:

"One of the knottier problems for historians and philosophers of science over the past three decades has been resolving the tension between the view of science as a progressive, culturally independent, objective quest for Truth and the view of science as a nonprogressive, socially constructed, subjective creation of knowledge. Philosophers of science label these two approaches internalist and externalist, respectively."(29)

"Scientific progress is the cumulative growth of a system of knowledge over time, in which useful features are retained and nonuseful features are abandoned, based on the rejection or confirmation of testable knowledge. By this definition, science (and technology by extension) are the only cultural traditions that are progressive, not in any moralistic or hierarchical way but in an actual and definable manner. Whether it is deified or defied, science is progressive in this cumulative sense. This is what sets science apart from all other traditions, especially pseudoscience."(31)

Wetenschap heeft niet zo veel te maken met zekerheden. Wetenschappelijke kennis is voorlopig. Wat we wetenschappelijk waarnemen wordt ook gekleurd door de theorieën over de werkelijkheid die we er op na houden of door het instrumentarium waarover we beschikken. Ondanks alle onzekerheid is er echter duidelijk sprake van wetenschappelijke vooruitgang.

"Though I have defined science as progressive, I admit it is not possible to know whether the knowledge uncovered by the scientific method is absolutely certain because we have no place outside — no Archimedean point — from which to view Reality. There is no question but that science is heavily influenced by the culture in which it is embedded, and that scientists may all share a common bias that leads them to think a certain way about nature. But this does not take anything away from the progressive feature of science, in the cumulative sense."(41)

"The theory in part constructs the reality. Reality exists independent of I the observer, of course, but our perceptions of reality are influenced by the J theories framing our examination of it. Thus, philosophers call science theory laden."(46)

"In other words, the act of studying an event can change it. Social scientists often encounter this phenomenon. Anthropologists know that when they study a tribe, the behavior of the members may be altered by the fact they are being observed by an outsider. Subjects in a psychology experiment may alter their behavior if they know what experimental hypotheses are being tested. This is why; psychologists use blind and double-blind controls. Lack of such controls is often found in tests of paranormal powers and is one of the classic ways that thinking goes wrong in the pseudosciences. Science tries to minimize and acknowledge the effects of the observation on the behavior of the observed; pseudoscience does not."(47)

"The equipment used in an experiment often determines the results.(...) Obviously, galaxies and intelligence exist, but how we measure and understand them is highly influenced by our equipment."(47-48)

Wetenschap is dus zelf-kritisch. Pseudo-wetenschap is dat niet. Anecdotes, analogieën, metaforen en geruchten maken nog geen wetenschap, een wetenschappelijk taaltje maakt nog geen wetenschap, allerlei brutale claims maken nog geen wetenschap. Bovendien wordt in pseudowetenschap vaak gegrepen naar vaag taalgebruik en naar drogredeneringen.

"The moral is that the more extraordinary the claim, the more extraordinarily well-tested the evidence must be."(49)

(63) Part 2 - Pseudoscience and superstition

In dit deel allerlei voorbeelden van zaken waaraan mensen geloof hechten, ook al gaan die zaken volkomen in tegen elke vorm van logica of empirisch bewijs.

Hf.4 gaat over Edgar Cayce's Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.), een Amerikaanse organisatie die zich bezig houdt met paranormale zaken zoals ESP.

"As James Randi says, believers in the paranormal are like 'unsinkable rubber ducks'."(72)

Hf.5 gaat over bijnadood-ervaringen en onsterfelijkheid.

"In retrospect, I think what was going on had to do with the fact that some people are fantasy-prone, others are open to suggestion and group influence, while still others are good at letting their minds slip into altered states of consciousness. (...) Most skeptics would agree with me that mystical and spiritual experiences are nothing more than the product of fantasy and suggestion, but many would question my third explanation of altered states of consciousness."(74)

Hf.6 gaat over ontvoeringen door 'aliens'. Hf.7 over alle mogelijke vormen van heksenjacht, beschuldigingen zonder grond.

"Most people do not believe in witches anymore, and today no one is burned at the stake, yet the components of the early witch crazes are still alive in their many modern pseudoscientific descendants:
1. Victims tend to be women, the poor, the retarded, and others on the margins of society.
2. Sex or sexual abuse is typically involved.
3. Mere accusation of potential perpetrators makes them guilty.
4. Denial of guilt is regarded as further proof of guilt.
5. Once a claim of victimization becomes well known in a community, other similar claims suddenly appear.
6. The movement hits a critical peak of accusation, when virtually everyone is a potential suspect and almost no one is above suspicion.
7. Then the pendulum swings the other way. As the innocent begin to fight back against their accusers through legal and other means, the accusers sometimes become the accused and skeptics begin to demonstrate the falsity of the accusations.
8. Finally, the movement fades, the public loses interest, and proponents, while never completely disappearing, are shifted to the margins of belief."(99-100)

Belangrijke vraag is daarbij: wie heeft er belang bij zo'n heksenjacht of satancultus?

"Indeed, of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century witch crazes, anthropologist Marvin Harris noted, "The principal result of the witch-hunt system was that the poor came to believe that they were being victimized by witches and devils instead of princes and popes. Did your roof leak, your cow abort, your oats wither, your wine go sour, your head ache, your baby die? It was the work of the witches. Preoccupied with the fantastic activities of these demons, the distraught, alienated, pauperized masses blamed the rampant Devil instead of the corrupt clergy and the rapacious nobility" (1974, p. 205)."(107)

"A frightening parallel to the medieval witch crazes is what has come to be known as the 'recovered memory movement'. Recovered memories are alleged memories of childhood sexual abuse repressed by the victims but recalled decades later through use of special therapeutic techniques, including suggestive questioning, hypnosis, hypnotic age-regression, visualization, sodium amytal ("truth serum") injections, and dream interpretation. What makes this movement a feedback loop is the accelerating rate of information exchange. The therapist usually has the client read books about recovered memories, watch videotapes of talk shows on recovered memories, and participate in group counseling with other women with recovered memories. Absent at the beginning of therapy, memories of childhood sexual abuse are soon created through weeks and months of applying the special therapeutic techniques. Then names are named - father, mother, grandfather, uncle, brother, friends of father, and so on. Next is confrontation with the accused, who inevitably denies the charges, and termination of all relations with the accused. Shattered families are the result (see Hochman 1993)."(108)

Hf. 8 gaat over Ayn Rand, het objectivisme als haar filosofische standpunt en de persoonlijkheidsverheerlijking rondom haar persoon ern werk.

"Ringing through Rand's works is the philosophy of individualism, personal responsibility, the power of reason, and the importance of morality. One should think for oneself and never allow any authority to dictate truth, especially the authority of government, religion, and other such groups. Those who use reason to act in the highest moral fashion, and who never demand favors or handouts, are much more likely to find success and happiness than the irrational and unreasonable.(...) How could such a highly individualistic philosophy become the basis of a cult, an organization that thrives on group thinking, intolerance of dissent, and the power of the leader?"(116)

"The cultic flaw in Rand's philosophy of Objectivism is not its use of reason, emphasis on individuality, view that humans ought to be motivated by rational self-interest, or conviction that capitalism is the ideal system. The fallacy in Objectivism is its belief that absolute knowledge and final Truth are attainable through reason, and therefore that there are absolutes of right and wrong knowledge and of moral and immoral thought and action. For Objectivists, once a principle has been discovered by (the Objectivists' version of) reason to be True, the discussion is at an end. If you disagree with the principle, then your reasoning is flawed. If your reasoning is flawed, it can be corrected, but if you don't correct your reasoning (i.e., learn to accept the principle), you are flawed and do not belong in the group. Excommunication is the final solution for such unreformed heretics."(118)

"Objectivism was (and is) a type of cult - a cult of personality - as are many other, non-religious groups. A cult is characterized by

Veneration of the leader: Glorification of the leader to the point of virtual sainthood or divinity.

Inerrancy of the leader: Belief that the leader cannot be wrong.

Omniscience of the leader: Acceptance of the leader's beliefs and pronouncements on all subjects, from the philosophical to the trivial.

Persuasive techniques: Methods, from benign to coercive, used to recruit new followers and reinforce current beliefs.

Hidden agendas: The true nature of the group's beliefs and plans is obscured from or not fully disclosed to potential recruits and the general public.

Deceit: Recruits and followers are not told everything they should know about the leader and the group's inner circle, and particularly disconcerting flaws or potentially embarrassing events or circumstances are covered up.

Financial and/or sexual exploitation: Recruits and followers are persuaded to invest money and other assets in the group, and the leader may develop sexual relations with one or more of the followers.

Absolute truth: Belief that the leader and/or the group has discovered final knowledge on any number of subjects.

Absolute morality: Belief that the leader and/or the group has developed a system of right and wrong thought and action applicable to members and nonmembers alike. Those who strictly follow the moral code become and remain members; those who do not are dismissed or punished."(119-120)

(125) Part 3 - Evolution and creationism

DIt deel begint met een verslag van een discussieavond met Duane T. Gish, creationist, directeur van het Institute for Creation Research, de onderzoekspoot van het Christian Heritage College in San Diego. Shermer legt er uit dat scheppingsmythen niets met wetenschap te maken hebben.

"It would be difficult to find a supposedly scientific belief system more extraordinary than creationism, whose claims deny not only evolutionary biology but most of cosmology, physics, paleontology, archeology, historical geology, zoology, botany, and biogeography, not to mention much of early human history. Of all the claims we have investigated at Skeptic, I have found only one that I could compare to creationism for the ease and certainty with which it asks us to ignore or dismiss so much existing knowledge. That is Holocaust denial. Further, the similarities between the two in their methods of reasoning are startling:

1. Holocaust deniers find errors in the scholarship of historians and then imply that therefore their conclusions are wrong, as if historians never make mistakes. Evolution deniers (a more appropriate title than creationists) find errors in science and imply that all of science is wrong, as if scientists never make mistakes.

2. Holocaust deniers are fond of quoting, usually out of context, leading Nazis, Jews, and Holocaust scholars to make it sound like they are supporting Holocaust deniers' claims. Evolution deniers are fond of quoting leading scientists like Stephen Jay Gould and Ernst Mayr out of context and implying that they are cagily denying the reality of evolution.

3. Holocaust deniers contend that genuine and honest debate between Holocaust scholars means they themselves doubt the Holocaust or cannot get their stories straight. Evolution deniers argue that genuine and honest debate between scientists means even they doubt evolution or cannot get their science straight.

The irony of this analogy is that the Holocaust deniers can at least be partially right (the best estimate of the number of Jews killed at Auschwitz, for example, has changed), whereas the evolution deniers cannot even be partially right - once you allow divine intervention into the scientific process, all assumptions about natural law go out the window, and with them science."(131-132)

Shermer vindt dat er geen oorlog of tegenstelling is tussen geloof en wetenschap. Hij is zelf geen atheïst. Uiteraard vinden de creationisten van wel. In het debat met Gish werd dan ook niets gedaan met wat Shermer allemaal naar voren had gebracht.

"Who won the debate? Who knows? A more important question to address is whether skeptics and scientists should participate in such debates. Deciding how to respond to fringe groups and extraordinary claims is always a tough call. It is our job at Skeptic to investigate claims to discover if they are bogus, but we do not want to dignify them in the process. The principle we use at Skeptic is this: when a fringe group or extraordinary claim has gained widespread public exposure, a proper rebuttal deserves equal public exposure."(136)

Hf.10 pakt 25 argumenten van creationisten aan met 25 tegenargumenten over de evolutie. Hf.11 gaat over de rechtszaken die in de VS gevoerd werden door creationisten die hun theorie in het onderwijs op gelijke voet ('equal time') onderwezen wilden hebben met de evolutietheorie of de evolutietheorie uit het onderwijs wilden verbannen.

"Thus, let us be clear that refuting creationists' arguments is not an attack on religion. Let us also be clear that creationism is an attack on science - all of science, not just evolutionary biology - so the counterarguments presented in this chapter are a response to the antiscience of creationism and have nothing whatsoever to do with antireligion."(137)

"In general, creationists are Christian fundamentalists who read the Bible literally - when Genesis speaks of the six days of creation, for example, it means six 24-hour days."(156)

[Ik begrijp al die moeite niet die mensen als Shermer doen om niet anti-religieus over te komen. Waarom denkt hij dan dat creationisme bestaat? Kijk eens naar degenen die dat soort flauwekul verkopen, naar de organisaties en instellingen die er achter zitten. Ze hebben allemaal een christelijke achtergrond.]

[Het feit dat er mensen bestaan die geloof en wetenschap uit elkaar weten te houden en niet denken dat de bijbel of een ander heilig boek letterlijk genomen moeten worden, zegt niet dat geloof iets goeds is waarvoor we respect moeten hebben.]

[Religies zijn irrationeel, gebaseerd op emoties, en mensen die er in geloven blijken met gemak irrationele zaken te verdedigen tegen alle wetenschappelijke feiten en rationele argumenten in. Ik vraag me dan ook af of het veel zin heeft de zogenaamde argumenten van evolutionisten te bestrijden met wetenschappelijke tegenargumenten, omdat er toch niet naar wordt geluisterd. We nemen religie nog steeds veel te serieus.]

(173) Part 4 - History and pseudohistory

Dit deel gaat over de 'Holocaust-deniers', mensen dus die ontkennen dat de Nazi's systematisch en gepland zes miljoen Joden hebben vermoord in concentratie- en vernietigingskampen. Omdat in de VS vrijheid van meningsuiting zo'n beetje totaal is, kregen die ontkenners grote invloed in de media. Shermer's positie hier:

"My position regarding the freedom of speech of anyone on any subject is that while the government should never, under any conditions, limit the speech of anyone anytime, private organizations should also have the freedom to restrict the speech of anyone anytime within their own institution. Holocaust deniers should have the freedom to publish their own journals and books, and to try to have their views aired in other publications (e.g., college newspaper advertisements). But colleges, since they own their own newspapers, should have the freedom to restrict the deniers access to their readers.

Should they exercise this freedom? This is a question of strategy. Do you ignore what you know to be a false claim and hope it goes away, or do you stand it up and refute it for all to see? I believe that once a claim is in the public consciousness (as Holocaust denial undeniably is), it should be properly analyzed.

From a broader perspective there are, I believe, reasonable arguments for why we should not cover up, hide, suppress, or, worst of all, use the State to squelch someone else's belief system, no matter how wacky, unfounded, or venomous it may seem. Why?

--They might be completely right, and we would have just squashed the truth.
--They might be partially right, and we do not want to miss a part of the truth.
--They might be completely wrong, but by examining their wrong claims, we will discover and confirm the truth; we will also discover how thinking can go wrong, and thus improve our thinking skills.
--In science, it is not possible to know the absolute truth about anything, so we must always be on the alert for where we have gone wrong and where others have gone right.
--Being tolerant when you are in the majority means you have a greater chance of being tolerated when you are in the minority.

Once a mechanism for censorship of ideas is established, it can then work against you if and when the tables are turned. Let us pretend for a moment that the majority denies evolution and the Holocaust and that creationists and Holocaust deniers are in the positions of power. If a mechanism for censorship exists, then you, the believer in evolution and the Holocaust, may now be censored. The human mind, no matter what ideas it generates, must never be quashed."(185-186)

In Hf.13 beschrijft hij de 'deniers' en hun achtergronden. In Hf.14 veegt hij de vloer aan met hun opvattingen door te laten zien dat de Holocaust precies zo bedoeld en systematisch en massaal was als door historici beschreven. Er is een eindeloze hoeveelheid bewijsmateriaal die dat duidelijk maakt en convergeert naar de huidige wetenschappelijke opvattingen over de Holocaust. Dat bewisjmateriaal wordt nog eens samengevat.

"Holocaust deniers ignore this convergence of evidence. They pick out what suits their theory and dismiss or avoid the rest. Historians and scientists do this too, but there is a difference. History and science have self-correcting mechanisms whereby one's errors are "revised" by one's colleagues in the true sense of the word. Revision is the modification of a theory based on new evidence or a new interpretation of old evidence. Revision should not be based on political ideology, religious conviction, or other human emotions."(214)

Hf.15 gaat over een andere kwestie: ras en intelligentie, naar aanleiding van The Bell Curve, een boek van Richard Hernnstein en Charles Murray van 1994, vol van vooroordelen over blanke en zwarte mensen.

"The arguments in The Bell Curve are not novel, in our time or any other. In fact, earlier that same year, the prestigious journal Intelligence published an article by another controversial scientist, Philippe Rushton, in which he claimed that not only do blacks and whites differ in intelligence but also in maturation rate (age of first intercourse, age of first pregnancy), personality (aggressiveness, cautiousness, impulsivity, sociability), social organization (marital stability, law abidingness, mental health), and reproductive effort (permissiveness, frequency of sexual intercourse, size of male genitalia)."(242)

"In both The Bell Curve and Rushton's article, the Pioneer Fund is acknowledged. This caught my attention because of its connections to Holocaust denial. The Pioneer Fund was established in 1937 by textile millionaire Wycliffe Preston Draper to fund research that promotes 'race betterment' and that proves blacks are inferior to whites, the repatriation to Africa of blacks, and educational programs for children 'descended predominantly from white persons who settled in the original thirteen states . . . and/or from related stocks' ... (...) The Pioneer Fund also supports the journal Mankind Quarterly. One of the early editors of the journal, Roger Pearson, when he immigrated to the United States in the 1960s worked with Willis Carto, organizer of the Liberty Lobby and founder of the Journal of Historical Review, the leading publication of Holocaust denial. Over the past twenty-three years, Pearson and his organization have received no less than $787,400 from the Pioneer Fund."(243)

Inmiddels is uitgebreid aangetoond (bv. in het boek The History and Geography of Human Genes) dat het begrip 'ras' volkomen zinloos is binnen het kader van wetenschappelijk onderzoek.

(253) Part 5 - Hope springs eternal

Hf.16 over weer andere theorieën waar je je twijfels bij kunt hebben. In hf.17 heeft Shermer het dan eindelijk over de vraag die de titel van zijn boek vormt: waarom geloven mensen al die onzin?

"One person's weird thing might be another's cherished belief. Who's to say? Well, one criteria - the criteria of choice for me and millions of others - is science. What, we ask, is the scientific evidence for a claim? Infomercial megastar Tony Robbins, the self-help guru who got his start in the early 1980s by holding weekend seminars climaxing in a firewalk, queries his audience: "What would happen if you were to discover a way to achieve any goal you desire now?" If you can walk on hot coals, says Robbins, you can accomplish anything. Can Tony Robbins really walk barefoot over hot coals without burning his feet? Sure he can. So can I. So can you. But you and I can do it without meditating, chanting, or paying hundreds of dollars for a seminar because firewalking has nothing to do with mental power. Belief that it does is what I would call a weird thing. Firewalkers, psychics, UFOlogists, alien abductees, cryonicists, immortalists, Objectivists, creationists, Holocaust deniers, extreme Afrocentrists, racial theorists, and cosmologists who believe science proves God - we have met a lot of people who believe a lot of weird things. And I can assure you after two decades of tracking such people and beliefs that I have only scratched the surface in this book."(274)

"What is going on in our culture and thinking that leads to such beliefs? Theories proffered by skeptics and scientists abound: no education, miseducation, lack of critical thinking, rise of religion, decline of religion, displacement of traditional religion by cults, fear of science, the New Age, the Dark Ages revisited, too much television, not enough reading, reading the wrong books, poor parenting, lousy teachers, and plain old ignorance and stupidity. (...) As a culture we seem to have trouble distinguishing science from pseudoscience, history from pseudohistory, and sense from nonsense. But I think the problem lies deeper than this. To get to it we must dig through the layers of culture and society into the individual human mind and heart. There is not a single answer to the question of why people believe weird things, but we can glean some underlying motivations, all linked to one another, from the diverse examples I have discussed in this book"(275)

[Let weer op het journalistieke taalgebruik hier: 'our culture' zou heel goed vooral de Verenigde Staten kunnen zijn, behalve dan misschien waar het gaat om religie.]

Die motieven zijn de volgende. Omdat het prettig is, uit behoefte aan troost, omdat er sprake is van onmiddelijke behoeftenbevrediging, vanuit een behoefte aan eenvoud, behoefte aan betekenis.

"According to a 1996 Gallup poll, 96 percent of American adults believe in God, 90 percent in heaven, 79 percent in miracles, and 72 percent in angels (Wall Street Journal, January 30, p. A8). Skeptics, atheists, and militant antireligionists, in their attempts to undermine belief in a higher power, life after death, and divine providence, are butting up against ten thousand years of history and possibly one hundred thousand years of evolution (if religion and belief in God have a biological basis, which some anthropologists believe they do). Throughout all of recorded history, everywhere on the globe, such beliefs and similar percentages are common. Until a suitable secular substitute surfaces, these figures are unlikely to change significantly."()

[Nou, het lijkt me toch sterk dat allerlei Europese landen het soort cijfers halen dat hierboven gegeven wordt voor de VS.]

"Immediate gratification of one's beliefs is made all the easier by simple explanations for an often complex and contingent world. Good and bad things happen to both good and bad people, seemingly at random. Scientific explanations are often complicated and require training and effort to work through. Superstition and belief in fate and the supernatural provide a simpler path through life's complex maze."(277)

"At present, scientific and secular systems of morality and meaning have proved relatively unsatisfying to most people. Without belief in some higher power, people ask, why be moral? What is the basis for ethics? What is the ultimate meaning of life? What's the point of it all?"(277)

Volgt tot slot nog het hoofdstuk 18 (p.279 - 314) dat in deze editie van dit boek werd toegevoegd: Why smart people believe weird things. Het verhaal hier hangt erg op de vaagheid van begrippen als 'weird thing', 'smart' en zo verder. Het uitgangspunt lijkt dat mensen die aan universiteiten werken erg slim zijn omdat ze graden hebben gehaald of boeken hebben geschreven of iets hebben uitgevonden.]

Maar wat is hier 'slim'? Slim waarin? Intelligent op welk vlak? In feite hebben de mensen die Shermer noemt - Dembski, Tipler - net zo'n dogmatisch geloof als zo veel religieuze mensen hebben, alleen gebruiken ze andere middelen - wiskunde, fysica - om zichzelf en anderen te overtuigen van de juistheid van hun geloof.

Onderzoek laat geen duidelijke banden zien tussen IQ, opleiding, sekse, leeftijd, 'locus of control' van de ene kant en geloof in rare dingen aan de andere kant. Onderzoek naar lidmaatschap van sektes en cultgroepen geeft hetzelfde beeld: het is niet echt duidelijk waarom sommigen wel en anderen niet toetreden tot zo'n groep.

"One of the most interesting areas of research on the psychology of belief is in the area of what psychologists call locus of control. People who measure high on external locus of control tend to believe that circumstances are beyond their control and that things just happen to them. People who measure high on internal locus of control tend to believe they are in control of their circumstances and that they make things happen (Rotter 1966). External locus of control leads to greater anxiety about the world, whereas internal locus of control leads one to be more confident in one's judgment, skeptical of authority, and less compliant and conforming to external influences. In relation to beliefs, studies show that skeptics are high in internal locus of control whereas believers are high in external locus of control ... "(294)

"But if the process of joining is common among most humans, why do some people join while others do not? The answer is in the persuasive power of the principles of influence and the choice of what type of group to join. Cult experts and activists Steve Hassan (1990) and Margaret Singer outline a number of psychological influences that shape people's thoughts and behaviors that lead them to join more dangerous groups (and that are quite independent of intelligence): cognitive dissonance; obedience to authority; group compliance and conformity; and especially the manipulation of rewards, punishments, and experiences with the purpose of controlling behavior, information, thought, and emotion (what Hassan 2000 calls the "BITE model"). Social psychologist Robert Cialdini (1984) demonstrates in his enormously persuasive book on influence, that all of us are influenced by a host of social and psychological variables, including physical attractiveness, similarity, repeated contact or exposure, familiarity, diffusion of responsibility, reciprocity, and many others."(296)

"Why do smart people believe weird things? Because, to restate my thesis in light of Bacon's insight, smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons."(297)

Slimme mensen blijken in van alles te geloven wat in dit boek aan de orde kwam. Shermer geeft vele voorbeelden. Tja.

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