Ah, Human Reasoning

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?

7 thoughts on “Ah, Human Reasoning

  1. Most atheists I know, particularly those who identify more with the skeptics movement, are acutely aware of this. We generally don’t aspire to “Vulcan-like emotionless rationality”; we think that its possible to cultivate a more reasonable culture even if we can’t (or even shouldn’t) create a purely reasonable one.

    Maybe this analogy will work: Christianity (most prevalent brands at least) holds that sin will never by entirely eradicated from human life. Nonetheless, most self-identified christians I meet don’t tell me that as a result they find it reasonable to leave sin alone. If “people will be people” isn’t a reason for religious people to give up their efforts, I don’t see why it should be a reason for secularists to do so.

    1. Fr. Ted

      I think you are right.

      My point was more that simply taking religious beliefs out of culture is not going to change human behavior. One could say humans seem wired for certain a-rational thinking. Studies have shown humans are wired for optimism for example.

      Should note also that in Christian history during the Patristic period, Christian writers on a regular basis appealed to reason and rationality as the basis for the superiority of Christianity to paganism.

      Ancient Christianity was much more interested in reason and rational thinking than is modern biblical literalism.

  2. Marc Trolinger

    Having survived a heart attack and lived with cardiovascular disease for six years I cleary am on borrowed time, and I do not mind it. As a believer in the Gospel, I look forward to the first and second resurrection because I know I will be with the Lord, and will be blessed with eternal life.

    Theses atheist that think the people of faith are the problem, need to do a reality check. More people have been murdered by the atheistic ideologies of communism, nazism, and secular imperialism in the last 100 years, than have died in all of the religious persecutions and wars in recorded history.

    1. Fr. Ted

      “…I cleary am on borrowed time…” We all are in this situation. Usually we are not consciously cognizant of that fact. One of the key tenets of monasticism was to make yourself constantly aware of that fact. It is this awareness that changes one’s motivations and priorities in life.

      1. Marc Trolinger

        Thank you Fr. Ted for your observation. The point is that those of us who have come to an understanding of the nature of mortality, are no less aware than those who are called into a monastic vocation. The difference is that for most of us outside monasticism, the understanding does not come until we are well along in years, and praise God for this gift.

  3. Hmmm… everything I learnt about nanotechnology I learnt from the movie “Fantastic Voyage” when I was 11 years old. In my humble opinion, it would seem as if that little movie has influenced more than just, well, my opinion. ;D

  4. Pingback: Environmental Clues, Shaping Behavior and Free Will (1) | Fr. Ted's Blog

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