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Beliefs Are So Much More Comforting Than Facts

October 24th, 2010

The past week has provided classic instances of ignorance in the conservative mindset, resonating on familiar themes. It has to do with believing what one wants and simply remaining ignorant of the facts, while maintaining a sense of confidence that one has the facts straight and those who have actually studied and live up to certain standards are just plain wrong–a classic “faith vs. facts” scenario. Glenn Beck steps up to the plate:

How many people believe in evolution in this country? I’d like to see. I mean, I don’t know why it’s unreasonable to say this. I’m not God so I don’t know how God creates. I don’t think we came from monkeys. I think that’s ridiculous. I haven’t seen a half-monkey, half-person yet. Did evolution just stop? Did we all of sudden — there’s no other species that’s developing into half-human? It’s like global warming.

What he does here is what most creationists and global climate change deniers do: bases his views on faith, without even caring what the facts may say. It’s not that he’s looked at evolution, understands what’s involved, and rejects the idea–his statement shows that he doesn’t even understand what evolution is. He’s not interested. He believes what’s comfortable for him, not what any rational analysis says. And as a result, crap like this issues forth when he speaks. Really–take a look as his questions. “Did evolution just stop?” “There’s no other species that’s developing into half-human?” These questions don’t even make sense.

A recent survey found that atheists are among the most educated when it comes to religion, and answered more questions about religion correctly than most of those who believe. The reason was precisely the opposite of what we see in Beck: these people do not reject religion because it does not fit with their pre-existing worldview–for many atheists, religion was their pre-existing worldview. Many atheists became so not because they were raised that way, but because they were raised to be religious, but started questioning, which led to studying, which led to their conversion. Whether it’s what one agrees with or not, one can respect denial when it is studied and honest–but not when it is ignorant and disinterested in fact.

Beck helpfully brings up climate change and places it within the same context. Deniers typically do not rail against it because they’ve studied it or even know what it is–it’s just something they don’t like. So you get people who are essentially, as Colbert so artfully put it, “Peekaboo-ologists,” who think that global climate trends can be judged by looking out their window. As Colbert also put it, trusting their guts instead of the facts, the essence of truthiness.

In both cases–evolution and climate change–“evidence” of disproof of the theories are blindly accepted by deniers, even after the “evidence” is inevitably disproved. That’s why the hacked email ‘scandal’ concerning climate change was like candy to these people, as if a few scattered references by a few scientists over the span of a decade taken out of context somehow demonstrated that an entire field of science was based on deception, or that heavy snowfall one year was obviously proof that global warming is not taking place, despite the fact that a warming trend actually predicts exactly such an outcome.

With evolution, this is all old hat. Creationists generally don’t bother to educate themselves about the nature of evolutionary theory; they simply believe in the Bible and don’t care what else there might be. I have mentioned the daughter of a fundamentalist preacher I once worked with who believed that she had disproven evolution personally as a high school student. She heard a single lecture in her science class about radioactive dating, and noted that scientists estimated the age of an object before carrying out the tests. She then assumed that the purpose of the estimate was to use it in the final calculation of the object’s age (the actual purpose is to determine which test should be applied), thus coloring the results and making them invalid. As is the pattern with such people, she did not then try to verify her conclusion, she simply accepted it as verification of her beliefs and used it to convince others that science was wrong.

I did not try to correct her, as it was clear that it would not have made any difference. To these people, this is not really a matter of debate or discussion; they simply believe what they believe, and facts and evidence are these insubstantial things fluttering about which others seem to use to communicate. They don’t study them, they don’t even try to understand them, they just grasp whatever bits sounds right to them and proffer them forth because they know that they can’t just say to outsiders, “I know the truth and the facts don’t matter.” So as a result, they come off sounding like fools to those who look at things from a more fact-based perspective.

Which brings us to Christine O’Donnell, who made a gaffe this week during a debate. When her opponent said that creationism should not be taught in schools, O’Donnell faced him and asked, “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” The audience–they were debating at a law school–loudly gasped and laughed at the question, as it was so clearly ridiculous. When Coons later explained the First Amendment’s establishment clause, O’Donnell asked, “The First Amendment does?” Again later, O’Donnell pressed the point:

“So let me just clarify. You’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?”

Coons replied, “The government shall make no establishment of religion.”

O’Donnell: “That’s in the First Amendment?”

Wow. That’s pretty stunning. She doesn’t even know the text of the First Amendment. Now, her people point to something she said while attempting to overtalk Coons, and you have to listen carefully to the exchange to hear that she asks if the phrase “separation of church and state” is in the First Amendment. They claim that this is what she was referring to the whole time. The thing is, she did not repeat it, had to know that Coons didn’t hear it, and in not one but two different exchanges in the debate, it was crystal clear that the subject was the establishment clause, and not the specific phrase “separation of church and state” when O’Donnell asked incredulously if Coons actually believed the First Amendment said such a thing.

But to many people like O’Donnell, it really doesn’t matter if you’re talking about “establishment” or “separation of church and state”; they simply know that the First Amendment doesn’t say anything that prevents us from teaching creationism and having Christian prayer in public schools. The standard argument is either that the First Amendment only prohibits the government from creating some new religion, or that it says that the government cannot interfere with religion. They strictly deny that the establishment clause mandates that the affairs of church and state must remains separate–despite the fact that the two founding fathers most identified with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, Jefferson and Madison, both made it clear that the First Amendment establishment clause was indeed intended to separate matters of church and state.

But like I mentioned above, this doesn’t matter. O’Donnell and others like her know what they know, and they don’t need to be bothered with facts. Even when they profess to be all about facts–O’Donnell represents herself as schooled in this, having a “graduate fellowship from the Claremont Institute in constitutional government” (turns out it was an eight-day course). However, in the debate, O’Donnell could not recall what the 14th or the 16th Amendments were (“fortunately Senators don’t have to memorize the Constitution”). Now, the 16th, maybe not, but the 14th? Really?

Like I said, the facts don’t matter. Just truthiness. It’s maddening, but at least it provides comic relief every once in a while.

  1. Troy
    October 24th, 2010 at 04:30 | #1

    One interesting thing I found is that since humans split off from apes AFTER the new world / old world monkey split, it is not incorrect to say that apes are a form of monkeys and thus we are a form of monkey, a tail-less monkey.


    Speaking of which, I think it was learning that we had tailbones that made it crystal clear to me that common descent made perfect sense.

    Le sigh. It is very dangerous for a country to become a nation of tards. The movie Idiocracy hit all-to-close to home.

    Opposition to our Iraq misadventure was muted by the fact that ~30% of the country intensely believed that our President was fighting a holy war in their religion’s name, almost literally mounting a new crusade against radical islam.


    77% of white evangelicals supported the war in 2003, and they were 23% of the electorate . . . that’s 1 in 6 of the electorate with their minds unplugged.

    Like I’ve said, I think the US’s *economic* problems are more solvable than Japan’s, but I also think our *political* problems are much less workable.

    The Geoffs of this nation are legion and are still coalitioning with the total tard right in a great ball of stupidity. This mid-term election is a critical test of the system and could in fact determine the total trace of the US through the remainder of the 21st century.

  2. Luis
    October 24th, 2010 at 12:38 | #2

    Speaking of which, I think it was learning that we had tailbones that made it crystal clear to me that common descent made perfect sense.

    When you get goose bumps, think of animals ruffing fur or feathers to appear larger to predators or to trap a layer of air for warmth. There’s no function for this in humans, rather it’s a vestigial feature that makes no sense in the context of creationism. Same for Darwin’s tubercle (I have one).

    While ontogeny does not recapitulate phylogeny, it still remains true that fetal development often does manifest a common trait shared with a recent ancestor before receding–e.g., the tail human embryos develop before it recedes into the coccyx. Just as fingers develop in bird embryos, and external legs develop in whale embryos. Echoes of evolution, which a creationist God would have to be revealed as a prankster to explain even in part.

    And, oh yeah, the entire fossil record. That’s kind of hard to avoid, and yet creationists seem to make a sport of it. Like limbo dancers saying, “What pole? I usually dance like this!”

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