The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics
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A friend of mine, who is a pediatrician and a pastor at a local church, posted this article today on his Facebook wall with the comment, “Great reminder about pedophiles.” The quotation below comes from that article:
I considered church people easy to fool… they have a trust that comes from being Christians. They tend to be better folks all around and seem to want to believe in the good that exists in people. I think they want to believe in people. And because of that, you can easily convince, with or without convincing words.
These words were spoken by a convicted child molester, according to the article, which was quoting clinical psychologist Anna Salter, and author of the book Predators, Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders.
SASHA contributing writers Seth Kurtenbach and Brandon Christen have both written about gullibility on this blog before, but I think it’s worth talking about more. In his book The Believing Brain, Michael Shermer talks about our natural tendency to be obedient. There are strong evolutionary fitness advantages to this historically: If your dog wants to run & play in the street, listening to you call him back over could easily save his or her life. Dogs simply don’t understand how dangerous cars can be as well as we humans do, and it’s in their best interest to obey us when it comes to hanging out in the streets we have built.
Similarly, if as a tot, you decide you’re curious about what’s over the edge of that cliff, there’s an obvious fitness advantage to listening to your parents when they yell “No!” while they come running to stop you. Going the other way, there’s a strong fitness advantage to eating vegetables, even if you dislike the taste, and you should listen to your parents when they tell you to do it.
But, parents are not right about everything. Specifically, if your parents tell you that there’s a magical man in the sky who watches everything you do, and who will reward you for doing good or punish you for doing bad — even when your parents aren’t looking — you can, and should, question this. I’m talking, of course, about Santa Claus 😉
Is religious belief rooted in gullibility? Can religious belief be explained simply as a lack of skepticism, if we are naturally selected to believe, and it is easy to hijack that sense of obedience? As someone once put it, “Religion was invented when the first conman met the first fool” (Mark Twain, attributed). And if you’ve never seen the movie The Invention of Lying, you should!
Your thoughts appreciated.
Until next time!
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Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.
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