In a past post I was exploring some of the hype behind a movie called Behind the Curve, a film that looks at Flat Earthers and I got to wondering why people believe weird things. This question is on many of our minds and Michael Shermer, of course, offered his book called Why People Believe Weird Things, I book I highly recommend!
My next question after the whys is the whats. Specifically what can we do, as people who know or love these people who chose to believe weird things. If anything. Since this is a blog and not a scholarly journal, of course, my writing is just exploratory...
I think that some skeptics often wonder how can I help this person lose their illogic or dogma? In response to this question, I honestly don't think there are any magic words or magical interventions.
My son was on campus last semester when he came upon a group of Right to Lifers speaking to a gathered group of students. John attempted some debate, with some success. But he came home that day with high energy and very motivated to be able to debate believers in a situation like that. So he spend weeks reading and informing himself and figuring out what he would do or say if given the same opportunity.
Last week, on campus again, that opportunity arose.
He stood for nearly an hour in conversation with the Right to Lifers, addressing their claims, bringing in his research, pointing out many of their erroneous bits of information, and generally holding his own with intellect, wit, and confidence. He even pulled out his phone several times to Google claims that were being made, finding factual evidence in response to those erroneous claims being made. As he left the event, he was stopped by several people who told him "I thought I was a Right to Lifer, but I now see that I have some learning to do." And "Thank you for remaining calm." And "Thank you for having the courage to stand up there, pull out your phone, and look for information right in front of the crowd."
And THAT is what we can do.
We can inform ourselves and offer our sincere, patient, and calm-voiced counterpoints. We can openly research the claims. We can offer our evidence quietly and calmly. And we can know that those around us are watching. We can focus less on the primary debater and more on the circle of listeners.
We may never effect change in the people on the podium, but we can and will effect the people who are listening. If the believers who have the solid floor and are never openly debated, the crowd begins to quietly accept their outrageous, poorly-informed point of view. The majority wins again.
Our voices are essential.
In every way, every day, I will stand up there and be openly skeptical. Because, for some, I am the only face of atheism, skepticism, or freethought that they know. I cannot count the number of times someone has said to me "But you are so nice!" and I will reply, YES, I am, I wonder which other of your assumptions are incorrect..? I also have many examples of believers in positions of power in various churches who have said to me, You make sense and you've got me thinking. That's about all I can ask for.
Holding on to illogical beliefs, weird ideas, philosophies that make little or no sense happens for a reason. These people are getting some emotional need met by their belief. What is it? Maybe explore that a bit.
No angry debating.
No name calling.
No shows of supremacy.
Just a welcome port for an honest exploration of ideas.
Let's explore ideas together. What, then, will we find?
Join me in this new way of peacefully representing reason, logic, skepticism. Because I, too, am tired of the bloviating bullshit and buster of nonbelievers.
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