I know in discussions with some atheists that they hold to an idea that once the superstition of religion is wiped out that humans will base their thinking and decision making solely on reason and factual ideas. I always think this idea itself is not reasonable or based in any kind of scientific rationalism. Listen to people talk politics, religion or even about technology and it doesn’t take too long to realize people do not always rely on facts or reason to establish their opinions. The bumper sticker says, “Don’t Believe Everything You Think”, but many do anyways.
My thought is people will be people and so their beliefs and behaviors will continue in the future along the lines of well established human behavior. We won’t always make decisions based purely in logic or in facts: emotions, intuitions, beliefs and insights will continue to add creativity to human decision making.
Jason Daley in the 8 July 2011 issue of DISCOVER magazine writes about how humans assess risk: “What You Don’t Know Can Kill You.”
But in the category of “people will be people” he reports that in a 2007 Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School, when 1850 participants were asked, 81% admitted to knowing nothing or very little about naonotechnology. Despite that ignorance, 89% had an opinion on whether the risks of nanothechnology outweighed their benefits. The project concluded, “Because people with different values are predisposed to draw different factual conclusions from the same information, it cannot be assumed that simply supplying accurate information will allow members of the public to reach a consensus on the nanotechnology risks, much less a consensus that promotes their common welfare.”
We see the same thing happening with discussions about climate change, pollution, genetically modified foods and a whole list of other scientific topics. It isn’t just religious belief that clouds human thinking. Politics can do the same, and so can other completely secular or human values. People will be people. ( see my blog Cultural Cognition: Why Talk Show Hosts Will Always Have an Audience). So when atheists imagine that a world free of “faithists” will allow humans to make decisions with Vulcan-like emotionless rationality they are not relying on scientific observation nor on pure reason to arrive at their set of beliefs.
In the same Daley article, he lists the odds of dying of various causes, allowing us to contrast the odds with our fears.
Afraid of a shark killing you? (1 in 3,943,110)
Afraid of being killed by an earthquake? (1 in 148, 756)
Afraid of being killed in an airplane accident? (1 in 7,032)
Afraid of dying from drowning? (1 in 1,123)
Afraid of dying in an auto accident? (1 in 303)
Falling (1 in 171)
Heart Disease kills 1 in 6
Cancer kills 1 in 7.
So, how rational are your fears?