Why Do We So Devotedly Insist On Believing In Nonsense? PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

A survey conducted this month by the Russian Center of Public Opinion Research of 1,600 Russians in different regions of that country has revealed that 32% of them believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth, four percent more than in 2007 when a similar survey was conducted. This fact was trumpeted just as President Medvedev called for national Lunar and deep space programs to be implemented, rather highlighting scientific misconceptions among Russians. That same survey also found 55% of Russians believe that radioactivity is a human invention, and 29% believe that humans lived in the era of dinosaurs. What a strange mixture between scientific ambitions and pure superstition! Right?

Well, I suggest that we in the USA should not begin chortling about this news, which we can easily look upon just another example of ignorance abroad. Our religious community right here at home can outdo anything found elsewhere, and we instill superstitious beliefs in our children in so many ways besides direct religious instruction. In fact, the line of demarcation between Biblical/Koran-sourced influences and other origins, is very, very, fuzzy – though we often do not recognize this fact. For example, every week parents across our nation send their kids off to the local Tae Kwon Do center for a few hours of kicking, aerobics, and self-esteem building, right? But I have to ask, just how much of this – if any at all – is just harmless educational fun and exercise, and how much is simply mindless superstition? We tend to regard jiujutsu, kung fu, aikido, tai chi, and a whole string of other “martial arts,” as acceptable pursuits for kids, not aware that they all profess and teach a metaphysical foundation, a genuinely woo-woo basis that has no supporting evidence other than anecdotal, legendary, tales told in hushed tones to very receptive young ears. Ridiculous stories – but *only* stories – of "death touches," impenetrable skin, pyrokinesis, levitation, mind control, literal invisibility, superhuman strength and other supernatural powers provide the fictitious commercial background upon which these business ventures are founded and conducted.

I’ve just received a copy of Dr. Wayne R. Bartz’s new book, *Critical Thinking: The Antidote for Faith*. In the introduction to the book, speaking of the presumed superiority of our species over others, he writes:  

"We alone speak, write, build, create art, compose music, develop technology and construct world-shattering weapons. Clearly no other species does these things. So we must be the most intelligent species, right? But hold on asecond…"

The late British anthropologist Ashley Montague suggests precisely the opposite: because of our exceptional ability to learn, *Homo sapiens* has arguably become the *least * intelligent species on earth. This is because no other species can be taught the nonsense, the foolishness, the idiotic rubbish that human beings so eagerly embrace. You cannot teach dogs, cats, dolphins or flatworms to hate each other on the basis of color, shape, size, or religion. You cannot get them to organize into armed groups and march off to obliterate those they have been taught to despise. You cannot convince them to build temples to their ancestors, worship gods, attend church, or condemn their own sexual urges. In fact, if we humans observed another species doing these things we would be appalled, concluding that they are defective at best, and at worst, evil…

Dr. Bartz – and Dr. Montague – may be rather over-demoting our species here – I suspect they are – but this is a very sobering observation. As will be made very evident in my next book, *A Magician in the Laboratory*, I lay much of the blame for the world’s scientific ignorance on the media, and the rest to a lack of proper education. And so long as we have religious organizations sponsoring places of both higher and lower learning, we will have the specters of deities, gurus, angels/demons, flying horses, talking serpents, ghosts, various versions of Paradise/Hades/Valhalla/Nirvana, and other fantasies vying for attention and acceptance with reason and evidence– in short – Science.

As I organize the contents of this next book of mine, I am deluged with data, news items, inquiries, suggestions, and criticisms from all over the world – welcome but almost stultifying material that requires me to consider tuning off this inflow and getting the book to press. For example, I’ve just been informed that former NYC lawyer Peter Gersten, a fanatical New Age UFO devotée in spite of his education, head of *Citizens Against UFO Secrecy*[CAUS] has announced that he will commit suicide by jumping off some famous rock in Arizona at exactly 11:11p.m. on December 21st, 2012. Set your clocks… Why? Here’s his logic:

"…I believe that some type of cosmic portal will be opening at that time and place, and that an opportunity will present itself. I fully expect that it will either lead to the next level of this cosmic program; freedom from an imprisoning time-loop; a magical Martian-like bubble; or something equally as exotic… In March 2012 I will reach 70 years of age, and nine months later we arrive at the cosmic coordinate. I think it will then be time for me to move on – in one form or another. I’d like to see what else our Cosmic Computer has to offer."

What else? Maybe calculating the amount of energy required to come up with such juvenile nonsense? Or would that burn up the computer? But think, folks, this man Gersten actually spent his professional life appearing in court as an actual lawyer! He has, I’m sure, opted to now fall in with the end-of-the-world 2012 crowd, though he’ll have the advantage of not looking as silly as all the rest of them when the world simply moves on to 11:12 on 12/21/2012 and bills become due, babies are born, teenagers make out in barns, and politicians tell more lies.

And skeptics give another mighty sigh...

I’m preparing to hear Richard Dawkins speak here in Fort Lauderdale at *Farquar College of Arts & Sciences* on the 17th – and perhaps induce him to visit here at the JREF briefly. Life is hectic, but very, very, good...!