Belief, Rationalism, Pseudoscience, and our Bill of Rights

There has been acceptance of the scientific method in modern societies, the hallmark of humanity’s fundamental rationality. Rational peoples come in two flavors. There are the secular folk, who need no further epistemology than that which rational minds can construct. And there are the rational believers, who embrace the rational, yet have the imagination, and the need, to augment rational thought with a metaphysical layer of belief, for added strength.

Yet for millennia, there has also been conflict between belief systems and rational minds. So let’s pause briefly to examine how the rational believers have successfully blended the two. What is the nature of this added strength?

We are attracted to beautiful stories. The added strength of believers derives from the power of mind to construct a narrative to which one can focus one’s concentration. Different religions provide basic narrative templates of beautiful stories. Believers adopt the template of their choice or birthright, and then personalize it to best match their personality.

One’s beautiful story will encapsulate one’s chosen meaning of life, placing one in a compatible metaphysical world. By providing us with such larger context, our narratives can render less potent any cares of our present material life. Such believers can harness the power of imaginative, positive thinking (akin to the placebo effect): if you imagine it can be better, frequently it will be better. Imaginative consciousness additionally can provide spiritually-minded people with a source for the blessings of life, to which we can direct thanks.

Strength further derives from supportive social groups, capable of expanding into large social networks, providing aid to group members when bad things happen. The peace of mind of such backup support leads to less life stress and hence better life outcomes.  Some of the support comes in the form of social group mores, helping people tempted to unproductive behavior to adhere to the path of their better natures.

We are here, though, to report on the so-far unelaborated group, the non-rational believers, cast adrift from the rest of humanity by the Enlightment, and at war with rationalism ever since; call them truthers. Their core being is driven by their anthropocentric need for the absolute certainty of their promissory truths. Their epistemology demands they evangelize their various flavors of truthiness*, and resist all opposing views, as they have done for millennia. They have lost their way and by fiat created reality from their metaphysics.

It is not so surprising that these truthers have a truth challenge. Their certain beliefs continue to be challenged by rational scientific hypotheses. They are further challenged by truthers with alternate beliefs. But that’s another story.

Truthers also face a numbers challenge. Truthers’ dictums, being of metaphysical substance, only have power when human minds embrace them. When they lose these minds, their truthiness weakens. Their numbers challenge is critically important, because humans show a tendency to gravitate to majority views. Once a viewpoint falls below majority acceptance in society, its embrace tends to fall off quickly, particularly absent added attractiveness or relevance or supportive coercion. For instance, in European countries, particularly in the west, such truthiness became a minority view some time ago and is becoming ever more marginalized.

Truthers operating under American laws are clever in one respect though. They have made up their own pseudoscience to enable gaming our system. Their creationist pseudoscience straw man attempts to discredit science (science can offer no certainty), and to substitute its own truthiness. The founding hypothesis of creationist pseudoscience is that life is so complex that no earthly biology could create it out of whole cloth. Thus divine design must have been involved. Rationalists agree with this view so long as the divine design is recognized as evolution.

Truthers are conflicted about science because they must live in a society where science has great power over minds and lives. Since our society provides such headwinds to their truthiness, they cleverly assert that their creationism is also science. But that this is only lip service to science’s authority becomes clear when those evil scientists challenge their dogma. Then they dredge up images of Dr. Frankenstein and other weird popular science tales to rebuff the authenticity of real scientific findings.

Creationist pseudoscience is a pale imitation of the scientific process, one trumped up by people with no fundamental understanding of how science works. They offer a false analogy with science,  its observed ‘facts’ not empirically verifiable, and its hypotheses, such as intelligent design, untestable. While touted as a splendid application of reason, pseudo-scientific ‘proof’ by such defined tautologies is not going to sway rational minds. The truthers must have something more substantive up their sleeve with their faux science.

Easily, we spot the wolf in this picture. Their straw man is only symbolically addressing their truth challenge. It is actually an agent sent for fixing their numbers challenge. When evangelism isn’t providing enough numbers, when the appeal and relevance of ideas seem no longer powerful enough incentives, truthers must fall back on coercion, in its initial stages called indoctrination. Indoctrination requires access to young impressionable minds, minds that are not already under the tyranny of truthers in the home. That necessitates gaining access to public school curricula, which are constitutionally protected from penetration by belief systems.

The pseudoscience-deviants disguise their wolf in science’s clothing to slide past the Constitution and into the school house door. Once inside, they compete for ‘shelf space’ with science. This compromises the real-world education of all students, in an attempt to ensure each generation will provide the requisite number of new truthers. Naughty wolf.

The rational minds will prevail, however. We will simply need to guard the school house door (state and local school boards), to foil the wolf for a generation or two. Even if we do nothing, we win anyway. But it may place another few generations at risk. So why not fight. Then, sooner than later, our descendants will be able to exclaim ‘We’re not in Kansas any more’.

A large number of believers already live in our modern Oz, a land of happy coexistence of faith and science. Their example shows it doesn’t have to be war. And with their current strategy, the truthers are fighting a war that cannot be won.

Yet we should not rest, in the surety that good law and good conscience will bring a tomorrow that will meet our expectations. We must act every day to deter those who work to make it otherwise. The law withers in its effect if good people do not continuously maintain its effectiveness through changing circumstance, and defend it against attack.

“We must not make a scarecrow of the law,
Setting it up to fear the birds of prey,
And let it keep one shape, till custom make it
Their perch and not their terror.”
–villain Angelo, exposing truth during a self-serving argument  — from “Measure for Measure” (2.1.1)

Humans are smart like the crows, and law that is given only lip service becomes the scarecrow that never acts to deter.

The specific protections for separation of church and state are from the First Amendment Establishment Clause together with the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause, with interpretations influenced by relevant original writings of Madison and Jefferson. This support of original writings has yielded expansive interpretations of the Establishment Clause, which should be a good thing.

Yet these rulings did not deter the adding of the phrase “under god” in the Pledge of Allegiance and on our physical currency. And even the current ‘atmosphere’ of strict separation rulings has not produced a Supreme Court ruling on these ‘hot potato’ matters. The most recent attempt obtained a split decision by a Federal Appeals Court, upholding the statute authorizing the god reference version of the Pledge.

Consistency in Establishment Clause rulings continues to elude our national grasp. The truthers still influence our body politic and our judicial system. Our constitutional scarecrow provides ever less deterrence as the crows take up seats on our courts.

One might question why it matters whether the concept of God is associated with our Pledge and our currency? It matters a lot, because it creates a de facto association of our Republic with religion, thus forever weakening arguments of separation. People forget or have not been told that these religious phrases are modern crow contrivances, not the word or deed of our founders. Naughty crow.

* Aside: Truthiness is a word coined by Stephen Colbert in 2005, to characterize what some media outlets evangelize as a generalized worldview demanded of all real truthers. In 2014, a polling test revealed that truthers addicted to the principal truthiness outlet had nearly 50% less measurable comprehension of their world than did long-time listeners to NPR. Even juicier, these truthiness junkies scored lower than people who had not been exposed to news media.

* Aside: Apologies to all crows for the adverse and undeserving metaphorical characterizations above.

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