You’re An Idiot

“You’re an idiot.” ~ Dr. Gregory House

The human mind, while truly one of the greatest achievements of Natural Selection, is easily deceived.  We, as a species of perceptive animals, tend to see patterns where none exist.  This is known as the Clustering Illusion, or Apophenia.  On the ground level, this simply means that we as individuals will try to extrapolate meaning from our experiences where no greater meaning exists.  If we were capable of perceiving all human experiences instantaneously we would be a lot less susceptible to this error, as we would understand that the variety of human experience allows for a great deal of different occurrences, even some that seem to follow a pattern.

To put it another way, let me present you with “Littlewood’s Law of Miracles”:

You are out and about and barraged by the world for some eight hours a day.  You see and hear things happening at a rate of maybe one per second, amounting to 30,000 or so “events” a day, or a million per month.  The vast majority of events you barely notice, but every so often, from the great stream of happenings, you are treated to a marvel: the pianist at the bar starts playing a song you’d just been thinking of, or you pass the window of a pawnshop and see the heirloom ring that had been stolen from your apartment eighteen months ago.  Yes, life is full of miracles, minor, major, middling C.  It’s called “not being in a persistent vegetative state” and “having a life span longer than a click beetle’s.”

[quoted text taken from The Canon by Natalie Angier; definitely worth a read]

Since we are all self-absorbed beings in the truest sense of the word, instead of thinking of the events of our life as a meaningless series of events that will occasionally offer up it’s fair share of coincidences (both good and bad), we ignore the millions of insignificant events that happen to us yearly in order to focus on the dozen or so seemingly portentous moments.

The other problem with our minds is that once we have accepted an explanation for an occurrence, it is incredibly difficult for us to dislodge that ‘fact’ even once it has been disproved.  An example of this are the so-called Alien Crop Circles.  In England in the 1970s, two pranksters secretly created elaborate patterns in a farm field.  This led to the belief that these patterns were created by aliens.  Soon, many copycat pranksters continued the ruse.  In the 90s, the original pranksters admitted that they had created the patterns, which, you would think, should have killed for good the belief that crop circles are the product of alien visitations.  Sadly, that is not the case.  Even confronted with the fact that the original crop circles were fake, some people continue to believe that crop circles are genuinely the work of aliens (why aliens would be so fascinated with cutting doodles into fields of corn, no one seems to be able to explain).

When taken together, even in the face of scientific proof, logical evidence and just plain common sense, humans are capable of believing the most preposterous loads of shit.  It seems that, despite the truly remarkable power of our minds, in many ways we refuse to leave behind that absolutely asinine beliefs and preconceptions that our earliest ancestors adopted.  It’s pathetic.

I’ll let Dr. House reiterate my point: You’re an idiot.

The world is full of idiots, so take solace in the fact that probably every person you engaged with today is an idiot for some reason or another.  While you may very well be an idiot for a great many reasons (including your admiration of Glenn Beck), here is my Top 10 List of reasons you might… rather, you definitely are an idiot:

1. You believe in psychics/tarot cards/palm readings/ etc (this includes thinking that one of your friends “has a gift. I’m not saying she’s psychic, but it’s spooky…”).  It doesn’t matter how many times they make wrong predictions (or predictions too vague to mean anything), you’ll only focus on the one or two right ones, won’t ya?

2. You believe in Ghosts and spirits (including Angels and Demons).  Why?  Because you heard a noise in the dark when you were 5?  Grow up.

3. You buy lottery tickets regularly.  The odds are not in your favor.  It does not matter how many times you buy a ticket.  Instead, send the money directly to me.  You won’t win anything, but I’ll have a big bottle of Jack Daniels.  And really, I think that’s a win for everyone.

4. You read horoscopes for any purpose other than perverse amusement.  The idea that the stars affect our fate should have evaporated the instant we understood what stars truly are (centuries ago).  But, nope.  People still buy into this horseshit.

5. You believe in alien abductions.  Seriously?  You believe this?  Let me guess, you were abducted, right?  Oh, no, maybe it was your uncle?  Tell you what, the next time the aliens come by, ask them to leave the probe up your ass, that way you’ll have proof and that throbbing pleasure you love so much.

6. You believe in lucky charms (not the cereal), omens, good or bad luck or any other superstitious nonsense like black cats and lucky rabbit’s feet.  It amazes me in this day and age that there could be anyone that still believed any of this old world shit held any weight… but you’re out there.

7. You believe in Serendipity.  It’s called coincidence, dumbass.  Read a book on statistics and probability and stop wasting our time, John Cusack.

8.  You think a snowstorm disproves Global Warming/Climate Change.  Putting aside whether or not man-caused Climate Change is real (it is), are you really saying that you think the argument that over the past 30 years the temperatures has steadily raised is disproved because in winter it snowed a lot?  Do you understand that Climate is a global phenomenon and that if the planet increases an average of 1° many species will be adversely affected?  Once again, you’re falling into the trap of believing that your personal experience represents all of existence.  We, being homo sapiens, may not notice immediate change, especially as a global climate can indeed fluctuate and because winter isn’t suddenly just going to stop happening.  If man-made Global Warming is a erroneous belief or a lie (it’s not), it will not be a blizzard that proves it wrong.  If you’re more convinced by a week of snow then decades of data, you should go ahead and invest in all those lottery tickets.  This weeks your week, I can feel it.

9. You think the moon landing was a hoax or you think 9/11 was an inside job or you think the government is hiding aliens or any other number of conspiracy theories.  The mind’s tendency to see patterns in random events is also being used here when people try to see ulterior motives in large events.  You can give explanations for why you believe these conspiracies to be valid, and some of your explanations may even sound reasonable, but the more important question is always going to be, What’s the Point?  I don’t mean, why would we fake a moon landing (to stay ahead of the Russians) or blow up the twin towers (an excuse to go to war), as reasons are easy to come up with.  I mean, if we have a government (or world power) that’s capable of perpetuating these hoaxes and lies, why are they so lousy at doing everything else.

We faked the moon landing to defeat the Russians and once we did we overthrew them… 20 years later, after their own errors and poor political decisions undermined their power.
We killed our own people and blew up the World Trade Center so we could attack Iraq… and ended up in an unpopular, unsuccessful war that has done very little practical good for us as a country (we didn’t even get free oil out of the deal).  Who really benefited from us going into Iraq, and of those few who did benefit, how many of those people could have been in a position to arrange the 9/11 attacks?
And aliens?  I can’t even begin to imagine what hiding aliens from the world would possibly accomplish or prevent.  It’s just stupid.

And finally, you’re an idiot if

10. You believe in God.

Yeah, that one is obviously meant to bait people.  But let’s look at it in the terms of the aforementioned mind delusions.  Those of you who believe in the omniscient, personal God very well dismiss belief in psychics or aliens (or Santa Claus or Big Foot), yet your evidence for God is the same as any other credulous, superstitious nitwit.  Your personal experience is a series of events and emotional footnotes that your mind has weaved together to create a narrative, a narrative you hold onto in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

The ‘miracles’ you have experienced are chance happenings that have taken on greater weight exactly because you wish to equate them with a divine order.  Yet, what are these miracles?  A family member recovering from a severe illness?  Happens all the time, though not as often in parts of the world where medical science isn’t as advanced as it is here.  I wonder why God performs less miracles in Africa.

Maybe the miracle was that you were a drunk, drugged out loser and one day a person came into your life and rescued you from your own vices and brought you to church where you ‘experienced’ Christ’s love.  Sound familiar?  Well, every Christian has heard a version of that story if it’s not their own.  But how is that a miracle?  Or rather, how is that any more of a miracle than the guy who successfully passes A.A. or the girl who one day wakes up and changes her life around on pure will?  And why is God so selective with his miracles that while you or your loved one kicked the habit another guy is choking to death on his own vomit this very minute?  It’s not a miracle that some people overcome obstacles and others don’t, it’s just odds (and evolution).

God, like the alien crop circles, is the result of people trying to explain inexplicable phenomenon and then holding onto that explanation even once the true reasons are understood.  God was once the answer for every thing from the rising sun to lightning strikes to illnesses.  All of these ‘mysteries’ have long been answered as we understand nature to a greater degree.  The basic aspects of the natural world once explained by the concept of God have long ago been given over to natural processes, yet the idea of God remains persistently in our human consciousness.  If our species knew back in the beginning what we know now, the concept of God never would have existed.  Alas.

Belief in God can just as easily be belief in anything.  The mystical force and influence you ascribe to the deity of your choice could just as easily be the handiwork of any number of X-Files villains.

There is a famous atheist quote: When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” ~ Stephen F. Roberts

Apply that to this discussion.  When you understand why you dismiss aliens, ghosts, psychics, your great uncle’s earthquake predicting twitchy knee, you’ll understand why I dismiss belief in God.

4 thoughts on “You’re An Idiot

  1. It’s been a few months since I visited your blog…took a while to catch up on what you’ve written (you write well, my brother). You wrote in a previous post that the primary reason you were convinced God did not exist is that you never heard Him speak to you, or felt he was in any way real to you. I wanted to write some thoughts on that (this isn’t going to be a debate type post, and there are no guarantees that my thoughts will all flow).

    In response to your earlier post…the day we were in the hostel in NY city praying for that homeless man…I felt God there. In your account, you felt nothing. And you knew then that God was not real. And I knew then, that God was real. And you believe now, that our/my prayer did not make a difference in that man’s life. And…and I’m not so sure it didn’t.

    I agree with your comments that many see patterns where there are none. No one is exempt from this. And I myself may be an idiot, seeing patterns where there are none.

    But when we prayed for that man, we expressed solidarity with him. And yes, I believe God was there. Expressing solidarity with that man…just like he has done throughout history for the poor, for those without shelter, for those with terrible circumstances, for those with just plain bad luck.

    Anyhow…we both have very different stories. After sincerely seeking God, you didn’t feel his presence, and now you don’t believe he’s real. In fact, you believe that if God was real, there’s no way he’d show himself to others and not do the same for you…this for you is the best proof that other people’s ‘experience’ of God is a delusion, just gullible folks seeing shapes in the clouds that aren’t there.

    My story is similar, but inverse: after *not* seeking God, I felt His presence, and then had to believe He was real…it wasn’t really optional for me…it would be like denying gravity or evolution or global warming. The evidence was against me. I thought for a while that everyone would experience God the same way. As the scriptures say,

    “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

    Turns out, they didn’t…not the same way. I used to wonder about that, I thought everyone was destined for an earth-shattering spiritual experience. But I guess that’s not the case. I had no reason to be concerned, though. It turned out that ‘experiencing God’ the way I did wasn’t necessary. Most of my best Christian friends have never experienced God in any way representing proof he’s real, yet they’re devoted to Him and living the way of Christ. I mean, that’s faith, and that’s admirable. For me, I had to rely on experience to seal the deal.

    Random story: I remember one night at a poetry slam at the Jazz Haus 8 years ago, you and I went outside on the back porch of the bar during a break…and you told me (this was your pre-deconversion days) you had never really felt God, and you really wanted to. I guess I didn’t know where you were coming from, otherwise I would have given you different advice (I think I told you to fast for 7 days or something…:) No, seriously, I don’t remember if I gave any advice. But if I did, it was probably terrible. I mean, I was 20 years old. I think we all focused too much on experiential stuff back then. I’m not telling that story to make a point…just telling you I remember that.

    Back to that guy at the NY city hostel in 2003 (and then I’ll hit the sack). It’s possible that while we both held our hands out to pray for the man, the whole thing was meaningless. I mean, who knows for sure. But as for me personally, here’s what I think: When we prayed for the man, God was doing what he has always done, and what he continues to do, and what he will do for long after we die and cease to argue whether he is real or not.

    “Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?

    The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the creator of the ends of the earth.
    He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.

    He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.

    Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;

    but those who hope in the LORD
    will renew their strength.

    They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.”

    Isaiah 40: 28-31

    Oh…once last thing: I think it’s probably unfair of you to call folks idiots who believe God is real…folks like me. You might want to consider softening that language.

    Goodnight, bro.

  2. It’s not me calling you an idiot, it’s House. I’m just passing the message along.

    Of course, the larger point of this post is we all believe irrational things, which makes us all idiots. I listed 10 things because it was succinct and reader friendly (sort of), but I could have gone on. Just this week, I’ve had a string of shitty events happen to me and I’ve found myself thinking (irrationally, idiotically), Is it something I’ve done? We all do it, we all seek patterns, and when we don’t acknowledge that we are individual, insignificant (but not unimportant) facets of a constantly moving universe, we are acting idiotically (but humanly.. it’s our nature).

    There is no debating the ‘I felt God’ response. The religious side must always, eventually, fall back to that stance. In the light of “God’s” inconsistencies (some biker dude in NYC got prayed for, hallelujah, meanwhile another one just got stabbed to death), the lack of signs, the lack of interventions… it’s all the stuff that you certainly have theological answers for… and all the stuff that becomes irrelevant when you drop the bombshell, “I felt God”.

    All I ask is, what does that ‘feeling’ feel like? How is different than the man who felt the presence of Allah and became a Prophet? How is it different than the widow who feels the presence of her dead husband? How is it different than Fred Phelps who feels God supporting his hatred?

    I suppose your only two possible answers is, “I don’t know it just is different;” or “It’s not different, but I know mine is real.”

    Emotions and feelings are great, they are powerful, they produce beauty and horrors… but they are inconsequential in the larger scope of truth. Or put it another way, any individual’s feelings and emotions are no more valid than anyone else’s. Which is to say, my non-feeling of God negates your feeling of God, which puts us back at null (and null being nothing, null means no god).

    I do appreciate you reading, and I actually don’t intend for you to try to debate this. As you were representing where you came from, I’m representing the thought process that brought me to where I am now. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t feel God that led me to disbelieve in it, it was that after having no feeling of it, I realized that feelings were subjective (and easily swayed/manipulated), thus irrelevant in my search for answers.

    I enjoy feelings, I am moved by them, I am even uplifted by them at times. But I do not trust them.

  3. The Scientific Method consists of observation and repeatable experimentation. Creation, by definition, was not observable by anyone within the bounds of this universe. And it is beyond our power to repeat the experiment. Therefore, the whole debate about origins is a philosophical, not scientific, debate. A basic philosophical axiom is that if your foundational assumptions are wrong, then the conclusions drawn from those assumptions are also wrong. Let’s examine the unprovable, foundational assumptions about each philosophy: Evolution states that in the beginning there was nothing, that became something, got itself organized, gave itself life, and then made itself better. Christianity states that in the beginning there was God, who created the world and everything in it in perfect harmony. Then Adam and Eve rebelled, and sin and death entered the world. But, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16 If you bbelieve in evolution based on faith, because the beginning is not verifiable. I believe in the God of the Bible based on faith, because the beginning is not verifiable. Which belief system requires the greater faith? I only know of One who there at the beginning. I choose to believe His first hand, written account, instead of placing my faith in the assumptions made by those who were not there at the beginning.

  4. Well, you insurance spammers come by my site some, and while I find your attempts to sell shit on my site obnoxious, at least this piece of spam was an attempt to engage the topic, so I’ll respond.

    (I’d just encourage no one who might come across this site to follow the link to Insurance.)

    I love the irony of your types saying it takes more faith to believe in observable phenomenon than it does to believe in an unseeable, unknowable, unverifiable all-powerful being that by definition demands you can only experience him through faith.

    ‘Insurance’, you are quoting the usual trivial Christian/Creationist responses, speaking soundbites like you were reading from a cue card. So let me address them, the old canards that they are.

    First off, you misrepresent science’s ability. You say that the scientific method consists of observable and repeatable experimentation, and while that is a portion of the truth, science is not bound merely to looking at what it can recreate or see firsthand. As has been expressed by far better known writers than me, science is also a lot like the CSI agents who come on a scene after the fact and piece together the evidence to tell the story. Once all that evidence is assembled (overwhelming evidence in the case of evolution) we form a theory. Then tests can be performed to give us an understanding of how these theories may play out in the future, or give us a better understanding of the mechanics.

    While we cannot repeat the entire existence of the world (and thus the history of evolution), we very well can repeat aspects of evolutionary theory, whether that be by separating groups of insects and short-living organisms to witness new species arise, or by utilizing obvious applications of evolution, such as breeding dogs.

    You also characterize what evolution states completely incorrectly. Evolution does not state that there was nothing and then nothing created life, not does it say that it ‘made itself better’ as if it intentionally evolved towards a higher state. In fact, evolution (Darwanian) is based on the fact that there were basic elements and basic chemicals that evolved to create simple organisms (a phenomenon that has been recreated in labs, proving that basic life can come out of non-life… but not ‘nothing’). Evolution isn’t about making things ‘better.’ It’s not about making anything period. Evolution doesn’t care a whit about anything other than that an organism survives to reproduce. In the sense that it is ‘better’ to continue to live than to die off and leave no offspring, then yes, life gets better, but better at surviving, not better at being a species. Single cell organisms are at the bottom of the evolutionary tree, but as long as they can still successfully reproduce and spread their genes, they don’t have any reason to get ‘better’. However, when random mutations do occur, and they do happen to make a living organism (whether single-celled or multi-cellular like me and you and your cat, Whiskers) better at surviving its environment and thus better at passing on its genes, then that mutation will stick and that mutation after millions or billions of years will result in new species and new organisms.

    Again, these mutations are only ‘better’ in the sense that if there are two members of the same species and one with a particular mutation may reproduce more than the member without the mutation, than it is better for survival. But it is not better in a cosmic sense, like, “Humans are better than lower animals and evolution’s goal is to evolve all animals towards being more human like.” Since there are environments where being human is not as adaptively beneficial as being, for instance, a fish, (in the ocean), humanity can be said to be more ‘highly’ evolved than your average carp, but not ‘better’ (from a evolutionary perspective).

    If you feel I’m repeating myself, it’s only because I doubt the intelligence of anyone who writes the following:
    “I only know of One who there at the beginning. I choose to believe His first hand, written account, instead of placing my faith in the assumptions made by those who were not there at the beginning.”
    Ignoring the grammar, you can’t think that it’s logical to say you ‘believe’ God’s word because he was there. How do you know he was there? Oh, because the Bible says so. Well, how do you know the Bible is true? Oh, because God says so. Oh, well, that’s an airtight argument.

    I get that you (and the many people who would agree with your asinine sentiments) will not be ‘converted’ by my points, but please don’t act like you’re engaging in an intellectual argument if your entire point can be summed up in, “I choose to believe God did it and nothing is going to convince me otherwise.”

    That’s beside the fact that your argument is not really with evolution but with the Big Bang Theory and the idea that all of time, matter and energy came into existence at the same moment after a sudden cosmic event. Anybody with a basic education in evolution understands that it works without an outside force. The concept of the Big Bang is far more complex (and not my area of expertise), but if you want to try to insert God into the equation, that’s where you want to do it. However, you’re going to have a hard time getting from the idea that a being outside of time and space caused the Big Bang and your religious belief in Jesus. It does not logically follow, and it never could.
    “God” is a philosophical hypothesis, but Jesus is just a nice story.

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