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Were They Real? The impossibility of a neutral presentation of information

Elder son’s at it again, trying to determine whether certain people and characters are real or not. This time, he’s been set off by a book he brought home from school, called Were They Real?, which gives potted descriptions of various figures, and then asks the reader to say whether they’re fact or fiction.

He loved the process of discovery, and we talked a lot about the people and where the stories come from. He was particularly intrigued by the page on King Arthur, which slightly hedged its bets by saying that although the stories about him aren’t true, they were probably based on a real warrior king from around that time. Read More…

A continuing problem of labels

After all this time, I keep coming back to the question of how to describe myself at the moment. I know who I am and what I believe, but it’s hard to put a name to it that I feel comfortable with.

I am a Christian because that’s both my upbringing and the entire background to where I am.
I’m not a Christian because there’s next to none of it that I still believe in.

Sun RaysI am an atheist because I don’t believe in any form of deity.
I’m not an atheist because it implies a degree of confidence I’m not totally ready for. Read More…

27 percent of Americans think God will decide the Super Bowl – how do the rest think it works?

A survey this week reported that 27% of Americans believe that the result of sporting events like the Super Bowl will be determined by God, which has stirred up a lot of comment on the extraordinary beliefs of the American public.

The survey allowed the responses “Completely agree”, “Mostly agree”, “Mostly disagree” and “Completely disagree”, plus a “Don’t know/Refused” option, but while that makes the true picture a little more complicated than the “Agree/disagree” dichotomy that’s been presented in most reports, I don’t think it loses too much detail to aggregate the figures in this way. This is not only a belief with no evidence offered in support, but it makes no prediction about God’s preference or even His criteria for choosing.


Ravens? Closely associated with Norse mythology. God must favour the Niners

Even though I don’t believe God has anything to do with the course of the Superbowl (you won’t be surprised to hear), the detail of how He allegedly decides isn’t a trivial issue. If you think the outcome of the game will be dependent on God’s preference, but make no claim about how that preference is reached, your belief can’t be disproved and you’re free to engage in ad hoc justification after the event. Read More…

What will you do with your last day?

Mushroom cloudAccording to the Mayans (or rather, certain interpretations of their division of time into ages) apocalypse is coming on Friday, triggering the end of the world, the end times, or something along those lines. Details are sketchy, but it’s not going to be good news. It’s all rubbish, obviously (a statement I can safely make because in the unlikely event that I’m wrong no one will be around to point it out), but some people claim to believe it.

Despite that belief, which 10% of the global population claim to hold, we’re not seeing the sort of activity you’d expect. If you really thought you had days left to live, you’d be making the most of every minute. If you thought civilisation was about to collapse, you’d be stockpiling weapons, ammunition and long-lasting canned food. If even a small fraction of that 10% were acting on their beliefs, the markets would go into meltdown and the news would be full of little else. Read More…

The All-New Jesus Show

Older son’s at an age where he’s realised that some things aren’t real, but he doesn’t know which ones, or how to tell the difference. He’ll be watching TV and ask me if Mister Maker is actually real, and then I’ll have to explain that there’s a real man who really makes things, but he’s not really called Mister Maker, he doesn’t really live in a cardboard box, and no, he doesn’t live in the TV either, which then usually leads to a long discussion about how TVs work.

Iggle Piggle

“This is a toy, it’s a different Iggle Piggle on TV, and he’s not real either, he’s a man in a suit, but the man’s real…”

He can get confused by the strangest things – I once had to explain how I knew the Octonauts aren’t real:

Well, animals don’t talk, and they don’t wear clothes, do they? And they don’t live in huge motorised underwater mobile homes, and polar bears aren’t really the same size as cats and penguins, and there’s definitely no such thing as vegimals, and above all, it’s a cartoon.

Read More…

How can we change delusional beliefs?

That’s a fairly imposing title, isn’t it? I obviously don’t believe in making it easy for myself.

This all stems from my previous thoughts about how tenaciously we cling onto our existing beliefs, and a recent discussion about what that means for how we should go about convincing people to let go of beliefs that are clearly wrong and potentially damaging. This is meant to be about the process, not the beliefs, so to avoid discussion of the rights and wrongs of particular beliefs, let’s say you have a friend who belongs to a group called the Bargles, who believe that black is white, and (because sometimes we decide to let these things go for the sake of friendship) that for some reason it would be dangerous to just leave him to his beliefs. Read More…

The Church of Lance Armstrong

So Lance Armstrong has decided not to contest the charges of doping against him. That’s a result that disappoints me, but not because I think he’s innocent. It’s just that this appears to be a calculated PR move to try to blur the lines, and it would be much more satisfactory if all his dirty laundry was aired in a proper hearing. It will probably still come out eventually, but in such a way that people who want to ignore it will probably be able to.

I don’t particularly want to discuss Armstrong (you’ll probably be relieved to hear), but how people handle it when their beliefs are challenged, especially when they have a significant amount of emotional investment in those beliefs. Read More…

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