Untested Belief

I’ve been fooled by illusions
And, in my confusion,
Seen things that are simply not there.
My memory distorted,
I’ve sometimes reported
False “facts”, as I now am aware

When the truth is revealed
Of how far I’m afield
I am shocked to discover my error
But the evidence shows
So that everyone knows
And I’ll reach a conclusion that’s fairer

If I’m liable to make
Such a blatant mistake
When there’s evidence there for pursuing
I could never deny
There’s a likelihood, I
Have some other beliefs worth reviewing

My point, to be brief—
Unexamined belief,
No matter how firmly invested
Could be right, could be wrong
But remains, all along
Nothing more, and no less, than untested.

So, yeah, I watched the Discovery show “Curiosity” last night, and the brief discussion following the show, and I wanted to throw a shoe through the television. Fortunately, cuttlefish don’t wear shoes, so the tv was spared. Sean M. Carroll did a great job (even though he says his great concluding remarks were left on the cutting room floor), and I applaud him. As always, though, I really wish there had been another scientist there, representing experimental psychology.

As is often the case, the god that the theologians believed in was “transcendent” and untestable. Carroll, quite correctly, kept trying to get at whether this god ever intervened–ever mucked around with the observable universe–but they did not fall for it (although one claimed that the universe simply would not exist without god). And without a claim of effect, physics has nothing about god to test.

But. I’d like to have seen someone there able to explore not the physics of the universe, but the psychology of belief (and no, not Shermer). The theologians (and some clips of physicists) obviously held their beliefs in god strongly; what do they know of how we come to believe? (I am using “belief” very broadly here, including evidence-based and faith-based beliefs)

We believe things, as physicists often do, because the data point to them. But humans are not perfect perceivers; we sometimes believe things that the evidence actually opposes, because we misperceive the evidence (N-rays are a fun example). If, when there is actual evidence to be had, we still sometimes get it wrong, why on earth should we be more accurate in the absence of evidence? The foundation for the theologians’ belief is the flimsiest house of cards imaginable, yet they pretend an authority and “invite Hawking to the table”. Sorry, no, that’s the kiddie table.


  1. elronxenu says

    The comments over at Cosmic Variance are facepalm-worthy. People are quoting the bible as if that proves their case. A striking array of god-botherer logic is on display, including “you can’t prove God doesn’t exist”, “human biology is irrefutable proof for God”, “You can’t explain X so it must have been God” and “Hawking says there was no time before the Big Bang, and my bible says God is beyond time, so science proves my belief!”

    So many comments call him Hawkins in apparent confusion with Richard Dawkins. They can’t be bothered to get his name right; how can I expect them to do the study necessary for a 21st century understanding of cosmology?

  2. Psych-Oh says

    I had the same reaction to the discussion following “Curiosity”. At one point I actually turned the TV off (only to turn it back on again).

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