Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Danger! Cognitive dissonance alert!

The 19 April '08 issue of New Scientist has an excellent article summarizing and clarifying on many of the key misconceptions on evolution. I for one found it most enlightening, and was tres pleased to find at the end of the article a link to even more material, all happily gathered on one page.

As a secular humanist training to fight in the meme war against superstition and ignorance, I was quite chuffed to see this. I'm really not sure what goes through a fundie's head when they read this sort of thing. It's very difficult indeed to empathize, because I simply can't shut off that much of my brain at once without the use of copious amounts of alcohol.

But I can tell you my perspective on this silliness. I read the article and think, "NO WAY, they can't have written that in the Bible! Hundreds of millions of followers* and they didn't spot something as glaringly obvious as THAT??" And so I check. You can check, too. There's a perfectly adequate King James right there among my Favourite Links section, as "Badly written fiction".

And it turns out that New Scientist speaks true, all that palaver in Genesis really is there in the scriptures. Now, any manufacturer with that kind of inconsistency in their instruction manuals would get sued into the ground. But the Bible is still going strong. Why? Because it's the Word of God. Or God-inspired, depending who you talk to. So what does that say about God, exactly?

There aren't any amazing feats of linguistic gymnastics being pulled off here. The Bible is self-contradictory, simple as that. No qualifying statements, no disclaimers and apparently not much thought into editing, either. So how is it that a book so full of contradictions and outright barbarism garners so many followers? They can't even tell the truth consistently in one chapter, what gives believers the odd impression that they'll deliver on promises in the afterlife? Hell of a feat of marketing, if you ask me.

It's very, very odd indeed that so many would try to derive moral guidance from a book which doesn't even manage basic consistency. My ex-boss could tell you even I could manage that in my reports sometimes, and I wasn't inspired by much more than the desire to go home before midnight. But there are believers, and very fervent ones, too, and they DON'T suffer from cognitive dissonance. And so it is that we get a little more insight into the minds of moderate and fundie:

The moderate possesses a highly compartmentalised mind, with matters of faith kept distinctly apart from normal functions. Faith sits inside the moderate brain like a benign tumour, completely useless, but mostly harmless.

The fundie mind is well and truly tainted, with faith spreading throughout the mind like a cancer, disrupting basic functions of logic wherever it goes. This can have 2 possible outcomes for the afflicted:

i) Unchecked and encouraged, the faith will continue to spread and dominate the afflicted's cognition, eventually leaving the afflicted a mental cripple, cutting off access to the full potential of the human brain. Having worked in an accounting firm and observed staunch fundie Christian auditors in action, I can tell you that it's not a pretty sight. Kumbaya.

ii) If logic and reason remain uncorrupted for long enough, a sufficiently large dose of cognitive dissonance can dislodge the taint and push it back down to moderate levels or, in some cases, obliterate the taint completely, giving us an atheist. Hallelujah!

But alas, it brings me great dismay to report that outcome i) is memetically far more powerful and hence far more likely than ii). This is not only based on my own observations but is made painfully clear every time you read the papers. But hey, stiff upper lip and all that. An atheist's work is never done.

* Despair, despair...

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