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Bering in Mind

Bering in Mind


A research psychologist's curious look at human behavior
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Signs, signs, everywhere signs: Seeing God in tsunamis and everyday events

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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It’s only a matter of time—in fact, they’ve already started cropping up—before reality-challenged individuals begin pontificating about what God could have possibly been so hot-and-bothered about to trigger last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. (Surely, if we were to ask Westboro Baptist Church members, it must have something to do with the gays.) But from a psychological perspective, what type of mind does it take to see unexpected natural events such as the horrifying scenes still unfolding in Japan as "signs" or "omens" related to human behaviors?

In the summer of 2005, my University of Arkansas colleague Becky Parker and I began the first experimental study to investigate the psychology underlying this strange phenomenon. In this experiment, published the following year in Developmental Psychology, we invited a group of three- to nine-year-old children into our lab and told them they were about to play a fun guessing game. It was a simple game in which each child was tested individually. The child was asked to go to the corner of the room and to cover his or her eyes before coming back and guessing which of two large boxes contained a hidden ball. All the child had to do was place a hand on the box that he or she believed contained the ball. A short time was allowed for the decision to be made but, importantly, during that time the children were allowed to change their mind at any time by moving their hand to the other box. The final answer on each of the four trials was reflected simply by where the child’s hand was when the experimenter said, "Time’s up!" Children who guessed right won a sticker prize.

In reality, the game was a little more complicated than this. There were secretly two balls, one in each box, and we had decided in advance whether the children were going to get it "right" or "wrong" on each of the four guessing trials. At the conclusion of each trial, the child was shown the contents of only one of the boxes. The other box remained closed. For example, for "wrong" guesses, only the unselected box was opened, and the child was told to look inside ("Aw, too bad. The ball was in the other box this time. See?"). Children who had been randomly assigned to the control condition were told that they had been successful on a random two of the four trials. Children assigned to the experimental condition received some additional information before starting the game. These children were told that there was a friendly magic princess in the room, "Princess Alice," who had made herself invisible. We showed them a picture of Princess Alice hanging against the door inside the room (one that looked remarkably like Barbie), and we gave them the following information: "Princess Alice really likes you, and she’s going to help you play this game. She’s going to tell you, somehow, when you pick the wrong box." We repeated this information right before each of the four trials, in case the children had forgotten.

For every child in the study, whether assigned to the standard control condition ("No Princess Alice") or to the experimental condition ("Princess Alice"), we engineered the room such that a spontaneous and unexpected event would occur just as the child placed a hand on one of the boxes. For example, in one case, the picture of Princess Alice came crashing to the floor as soon as the child made a decision, and in another case a table lamp flickered on and off. (We didn’t have to consult with Industrial Light & Magic to rig these surprise events; we just arranged for an undergraduate student to lift a magnet on the other side of the door to make the picture fall, and we hid a remote control for the table lamp surreptitiously in the experimenter’s pocket.) The predictions were clear: if the children in the experimental condition interpreted the picture falling and the light flashing as a sign from Princess Alice that they had chosen the wrong box, they would move their hand to the other box.

What we found was rather surprising, even to us. Only the oldest children, the seven- to nine-year-olds, from the experimental (Princess Alice) condition, moved their hands to the other box in response to the unexpected events. By contrast, their same-aged peers from the control condition failed to move their hands. This finding told us that the explicit concept of a specific supernatural agent—likely acquired from and reinforced by cultural sources—is needed for people to see communicative messages in natural events. In other words, children, at least, don’t automatically infer meaning in natural events without first being primed somehow with the idea of an identifiable supernatural agent such as Princess Alice (or God, one’s dead mother, angels, etc.).

More curious, though, was the fact that the slightly younger children in the study, even those who had been told about Princess Alice, apparently failed to see any communicative message in the light-flashing or picture-falling events. These children kept their hands just where they were. When we asked them later why these things happened, these five- and six-year-olds said that Princess Alice had caused them, but they saw her as simply an eccentric, invisible woman running around the room knocking pictures off the wall and causing the lights to flicker. To them, Princess Alice was like a mischievous poltergeist with attention deficit disorder: she did things because she wanted to, and that’s that. One of these children answered that Princess Alice had knocked the picture off the wall because she thought it looked better on the ground. In other words, they completely failed to see her "behavior" as having any meaningful connection with the decision they had just made on the guessing game; they saw no "signs" there.

The youngest children in the study, the three- and four-year-olds in both conditions, only shrugged their shoulders or gave physical explanations for the events, such as the picture not being sticky enough to stay on the wall or the light being broken. Ironically, these youngest children were actually the most scientific of the bunch, perhaps because they interpreted "invisible" to mean simply "not present in the room" rather than "transparent." Contrary to the common assumption that superstitious beliefs represent a childish mode of sloppy and undeveloped thinking, therefore, the ability to be superstitious actually demands some mental sophistication. At the very least, it’s an acquired cognitive skill.

Still, the real puzzle to our findings was to be found in the reactions of the five- and six-year-olds from the Princess Alice condition. Clearly they possessed the same understanding of invisibility as did the older children, because they also believed Princess Alice caused these spooky things to happen in the lab. Yet although we reminded these children repeatedly that Princess Alice would tell them, somehow, if they chose the wrong box, they failed to put two and two together. So what is the critical change between the ages of about six and seven that allows older children to perceive natural events as being communicative messages about their own behaviors (in this case, their choice of box) rather than simply the capricious, arbitrary actions of some invisible or otherwise supernatural entity?

The answer probably lies in the maturation of children’s theory-of-mind abilities in this critical period of brain development. Research by University of Salzburg psychologist Josef Perner, for instance, has revealed that it’s not until about the age of seven that children are first able to reason about "multiple orders" of mental states. This is the type of everyday, grown-up social cognition whereby theory of mind becomes effortlessly layered in complex, soap opera–style interactions with other people. Not only do we reason about what’s going on inside someone else’s head, but we also reason about what other people are reasoning is happening inside still other people’s heads! For example, in the everyday (nonsupernatural) social domain, one would need this kind of mature theory of mind to reason in the following manner:

"Jakob thinks that Adrienne doesn’t know I stole the jewels."

Whereas a basic ("first-order") theory of mind allows even a young preschooler to understand the first propositional clause in this statement, "Jakob thinks that . . . ," it takes a somewhat more mature ("second-order") theory of mind to fully comprehend the entire social scenario: "Jakob thinks that [Adrienne doesn’t know] . . ."

Most people can’t go much beyond four orders of mental-state reasoning (consider the Machiavellian complexities of, say, Leo Tolstoy’s novels), but studies show that the absolute maximum in adults hovers around seven orders of mental state. The important thing to note is that, owing to their still-developing theory-of-mind skills, children younger than seven years of age have great difficulty reasoning about multiple orders of mental states. Knowing this then helps us understand the surprising results from the Princess Alice experiment. To pass the test (move their hand) in response to the picture falling or the light flashing, the children essentially had to be reasoning in the following manner:

"Princess Alice knows that [I don’t know] where the ball is hidden."

To interpret the events as communicative messages, as being about their choice on the guessing game, demands a sort of third-person perspective of the self’s actions: "What must this other entity, who is watching my behavior, think is happening inside my head?" The Princess Alice findings are important because they tell us that, before the age of seven, children’s minds aren’t quite cognitively ripe enough to allow them to be superstitious thinkers. The inner lives of slightly older children, by contrast, are drenched in symbolic meaning. One second-grader was even convinced that the bell in the nearby university clock tower was Princess Alice "talking" to him.

Princess Alice may not have the je ne sais quoi of Mother Mary or the fiery charisma of the Abrahamic God we’re all familiar with, but she’s arguably a sort of empirically constructed god-by-proxy in her own right. The point is, the same basic cognitive processes—namely, a mature theory of mind—are also involved in the believer’s sense of receiving divine guidance from these other members of the more popular holy family. When people ask God to give them a sign, they’re often at a standstill, a fork in the road, paralyzed in a critical moment of existential ambivalence. In such cases, our ears are pricked, our eyes widened, our thoughts ruminating on a particular problem—often "only God knows" what’s on our minds and the extent to which we’re struggling to make a decision. It’s not questions like whether we should choose a different box, but rather decisions such as these: Should I stay with this person or leave him? Should I risk everything, start all over in a new city, or stay here where I’m stifled and bored? Should I have another baby? Should I continue receiving harsh treatment for my disease, or should I just pack it in and call it a life? Just like the location of the hidden ball inside one of those two boxes, we’re convinced that there’s a right and a wrong answer to such important life questions. And for most of us, it’s God, not Princess Alice, who holds the privileged answers.

God doesn’t tell us the answers directly, of course. There’s no nod to the left, no telling elbow poke in our side or "psst" in our ear. Rather, many envision God, and other entities like Him, as encrypting strategic information in an almost infinite array of natural events: the prognostic stopping of a clock at a certain hour and time; the sudden shrieking of a hawk; an embarrassing blemish on our nose appearing on the eve of an important interview; a choice parking spot opening up at a crowded mall just as we pull around; an interesting stranger sitting next to us on a plane. The possibilities are endless. When the emotional climate is just right, there’s hardly a shape or form that "evidence" cannot assume. Our minds make meaning by disambiguating the meaningless.

This sign-reading tendency has a distinct and clear relationship with morality. When it comes to unexpected heartache and tragedy, our appetite for unraveling the meaning of these ambiguous "messages" can become ravenous. Misfortunes appear cryptic, symbolic; they seem clearly to be about our behaviors. Our minds restlessly gather up bits of the past as if they were important clues to what just happened. And no stone goes unturned. Nothing is too mundane or trivial; anything to settle our peripatetic thoughts from arriving at the unthinkable truth that there is no answer because there is no riddle, that life is life and that is that.

Image credit: Barbara Aulicino, in American Scientist

 

(Author’s note: Some of the foregoing material is excerpted, with edits, from my new book, The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny and the Meaning of Life.)





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  1. 1. jcvillarreal 11:38 am 03/15/2011

    Trying to determine if Neanderthals, for example, are human, we look for clues that indicate they believe in life after death. So, just like in the article superstition is seen as a higher state of mind, credence in an afterlife and the god that naturally comes with the idea are so much a higher state of mind that they define humanity.
    In another artilce here I read that a good explanation for belief in afterlife is that we are incapable of imagining ourselves or those close to us just ending.
    I believe that there is no soul independent of our body and there is no supernatural being that would make superstitions hold.
    This brings me to a problem. Are we defined as humans and as possessing higher reasoning by two mistakes?
    Odd as it may seem, my beliefs stand strong.

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  2. 2. Telrunya 12:21 pm 03/15/2011

    Normally when I see an article (especially by this writer) with such a vitriolic rhetorical title and introduction, such as equating Westboro Baptist Church with being mainstream Christianity which it is far from, I would be tempted to not bother reading the rest of the article as it almost always comes out the same. Short shrift the science in order to bash belief in God. Occasionally I am pleasently surprised however and this is why I disreguard my impulse to ignore anything in print by Mr Bering. I found this article to be well written for the most part and informitive. Kudos and well done Sir.

    As a believer myself, I dont see God in disasters. The earth and most notibly the pacific rim is geologically unstable. The Gulf coast of the US is subject to hurricanes. Natural disasters happen. Man made disasters happen. And God does not strike down US servicemen because of gays or the government’s stance on the homosexuality issues of the day. Any serious student of God’s word will tell you God’s involvement in our lives is much more personal and much more complex. God isn’t going to give you the winning lotto numbers, or tell you that you are his tool of vengence. It doesn’t work that way. Earthly material status means nothing. It’s how we live our lives and treat others that God cares about.

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  3. 3. robert schmidt 12:53 pm 03/15/2011

    @SkepticalKen, "Are you saying that if two people view the same evidence and come to different conclusions, one is entirely rational and the other is entirely not rational?" First, as Dr. Strangelove indicated, logic is not science. Science employs logic but the scientific method is itself not logic. So in regards to logic there should only be one logical conclusion even if that conclusion allows for more than one possible outcome. Just as in math a variable may have many values. Second; in science it is possible for evidence to be inconclusive. As I stated earlier, one’s confidence is based on the evidence so it is possible to draw multiple conclusions each with its own probability of being correct. For example if I toss a coin I have a 50/50 confidence of heads or tails. That is all the evidence supports. Also, there is a difference between theory and hypothesis. A hypothesis is a conjecture based on existing evidence. A hypothesis must be testable, otherwise it is not a hypothesis. There can be many different hypotheses based on the same evidence, because there is insufficient evidence to draw a conclusion. A theory is a conclusion based on the evidence. A theory must be the only logical conclusion based on the evidence. If more than one conclusion can logically be made, then it isn’t a theory. The scientific process is; form a hypothesis, perform experiments, collect evidence, from that develop a theory. It is possible for a theory to be correct one day but wrong or insufficient the next when new evidence is presented. But that does not mean the first theory was wrong. The confusion here is the difference between the actual state of the universe and what we know about the universe. Obviously, we can only act on what we know.

    As has been stated many times already, the onus of proof is on those that assert the existence of. So far those that have asserted the existence of god have not even formulated a valid hypothesis, let alone theory and so the only logical conclusion is that there is nothing to substantiate the god concept. That is why I said that this article is not an attempt to disprove god, because god is not even a hypothesis that can be disproved. As such, it is reasonable to proceed as though god does not exist. So a study of the psychology of "theory-of-mind" without concidering the idea that god is real, is reasonable. It is not reasonable to proceed as though god does exist. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

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  4. 4. robert schmidt 1:27 pm 03/15/2011

    @Telrunya, "It’s how we live our lives and treat others that God cares about." please prove that statement. This is a science site not a church so assertions require proof. If you are unable to backup your commandments then please save it for the god box.

    "Any serious student of God’s word" please see logical fallacy "no true Scotsman". You’ll also see why we are bored of irrational religious B.S.

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  5. 5. leuken 1:51 pm 03/15/2011

    I will pray for you.

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  6. 6. zeepsponsbakkes 2:37 pm 03/15/2011

    that’s probably the best both sides could describe each other ^^

    i also just think "god" is just a wrong word for something that can not be communicated about without misunderstandings. It’s just like the thing ;-) for me at least… you make up your own mind and leave me out of it ^^

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  7. 7. robert schmidt 2:39 pm 03/15/2011

    @leuken, "I will pray for you." If your god didn’t care enough to spare the lives of thousands of Japanese, I don’t think he is going to do much for one atheist. Why don’t you go do some charity work instead and make yourself useful rather than foolish.

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  8. 8. zeepsponsbakkes 2:39 pm 03/15/2011

    lol
    i will too for them, or maybe i won’t. you’ll never know ^^

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  9. 9. DiscomBob 3:16 pm 03/15/2011

    @SkepticalKen (apparently an oxymoron)Now we get down to it- "What you don’t understand is that knowing how a watch works doesn’t mean the watchmaker does not exist." So apparently you believe someone had to make the universe. Who then made the watchmaker? (I know, I know- it’s turtles, all the way down.) If your premise is that something as intricate as the universe had to have a maker, wouldn’t the maker have to be at least as intricate?

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  10. 10. SkepticalKen 4:44 pm 03/15/2011

    @DiscomBob – SkepticalKen (apparently an oxymoron) No, just a moron, i.e. a person who believes in God, or so I’ve heard.
    Who made the watchmaker indeed? Every answer begs a question. If the big bang really happened (for the record, I believe it did, or something quite like it, or a series of big bangs), what force compressed all that stuff in to that tiny little point in the first place? Gravity? Didn’t dark energy exist yet? Or does dark energy expand and contract? We can’t build a machine powerful enough to compress 5 pounds of sand into a space that small; how many tons of matter make up the universe?
    Now I don’t suggest that God is the only logically possible answer, but science has no answer at all! All we KNOW is the answer deals with forces and/or circumstances beyond our knowledge.
    Science will still be searching for answers in a million years, if humanity survives that long. We’ll travel a few light years this way or that and discover that many of the measurements we are so sure of now are crazy wrong. We’ll encounter new forces, new particles, and many other things that will boggle our brains.
    My premise here has never been to "prove" that God exists. It has always been that God’s existence can not be proved nor disproved. Based on that, any science that deals with the concept of God is invariably gonzo science. A study involving "a sort of empirically constructed god-by-proxy in her own right" is no exception, and borders on the "spaghetti-monster" tripe often used to try to point out the "folly" of faith.
    This is just silly, really. I say you can’t prove God does not exist, just as I can’t prove that He does. You say you’re not trying to disprove God, and yet can’t resist goading me for proof I already said can’t be had. This author’s lead paragraph clearly states an intention to explain why religious whackos (yes, I call them whackos, too) think earthquakes are some punishment from God. The study described attempts to derive this explanation from an "empirically constructed god-by-proxy" foisted on children.
    If you can’t see how some people would take that as a thinly disguised attack on people of faith, you are blind. I think you do see it, and revel in it as a chance to unleash your own undisguised attacks.

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  11. 11. SkepticalKen 4:55 pm 03/15/2011

    @robert schmidt – "If more than one conclusion can logically be made, then it isn’t a theory. The scientific process is; form a hypothesis, perform experiments, collect evidence, from that develop a theory."
    So the big bang is not a theory, since experts disagree on several aspects of it, and barely a hypothesis, since it can not be tested directly, but only by computer model. Is that right?

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  12. 12. DiscomBob 5:21 pm 03/15/2011

    I’m not goading you for a proof of god, I’m goading you for having an unsupportable position. (an equivalent statement: I’m not goading you for a proof of the tooth fairy, I’m goading you for asserting that the tooth fairy exists.)

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  13. 13. SkepticalKen 6:51 pm 03/15/2011

    @DiscomBob – "(an equivalent statement: I’m not goading you for a proof of the tooth fairy, I’m goading you for asserting that the tooth fairy exists.)"
    This tripe again? "I think your idea is silly, so when I spout off another idea which even you will think of as silly, you will have absolute proof that your idea is silly." Is this what you call logic?
    Again you ask for support for a position I have not taken. My position has always been twofold. First, that lack of proof of existence does not prove nonexistence, it proves the impossibility of scientific validation. Second, belief in things science can’t prove is not wrong, bad nor stupid, it is just not scientific, and to study such belief as though it is a mental disorder degrades science into some kind of anti-god pseudo religion.

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  14. 14. SkepticalKen 7:00 pm 03/15/2011

    @robert schmidt –
    Earlier when you described the framework required for a rational discussion, you left one thing out. Both sides must agree on all the givens. For you it is a given that it is appropriate for science to assume that God does not exist, for me it is a given that it is appropriate for science to ignore God, which would require assuming neither way regarding the existence of God…or anything, really.
    I submit that we are both rational men, fully capable of having rational discussions, just not with each other.

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  15. 15. DiscomBob 7:23 pm 03/15/2011

    Hey doofus, you’re the one who keeps asserting a belief in god on a science site. Talk about tripe…

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  16. 16. SkepticalKen 8:29 pm 03/15/2011

    You, then, are apparently the one who can’t read. I asserted no such thing. I professed one, which is what one does with such belief, but I asserted that it was not germane to my point, nor to science. Enjoy your dogma, you fundamentalist.

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  17. 17. robert schmidt 8:30 pm 03/15/2011

    @SkepticalKen, "So the big bang is not a theory, since experts disagree on several aspects of it, and barely a hypothesis, since it can not be tested directly, but only by computer model. Is that right?" no, that is wrong! Nothing I said indicated that a theory must be supported by "direct tests". I said, perform experiments and collect evidence. There is tremendous evidence to support the big bang theory such as; the microwave background radiation and the red-shift of stars. More can be found here http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/astronomy/bigbang.html. The big bang theory is consistent with the evidence. There is no better theory currently available. I am not aware of any dissention concerning the fundamental big bang theory. But what does that have to do with god or the subject of this article? Are you getting desperate or what?

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  18. 18. robert schmidt 8:50 pm 03/15/2011

    @SkepticalKen, "Both sides must agree on all the givens. For you it is a given that it is appropriate for science to assume that God does not exist, for me it is a given that it is appropriate for science to ignore God, which would require assuming neither way regarding the existence of God…or anything, really." what you want to do is make up the rules to suit your world-view. And that is EXACTLY what I accused religion of, the facts remain fixed, religion just changes everything else to fit those facts. I, on the other had am sticking with the principals of science and logic which should not be surprising to you because THIS IS A SCIENCE SITE! I have stated many times now SCIENCE DOES NOT SAY GOD DOES NOT EXIST! The onus of proof is on YOU! You have failed to do that. Why do you expect YOUR ideas to be treated differently? Furthermore, science does not ignore a subject just because people with fragile egos cannot stand to have their beliefs questioned. Again, if you want to have your beliefs left unchallenged DO NOT EXPRESS THEM ON A SCIENCE SITE! I have added emphasis here because these are things that have been expressed many times by myself and others yet you continue to repeat the same BS. Again, you appear to be completely devoid of rational thought. You are like a broken record! I attribute that to the fact that you can’t seem to think for yourself. You are nothing but a sock puppet for religion.

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  19. 19. Dr. Strangelove 8:51 pm 03/15/2011

    If you don’t believe Dr. Strangelove, I quote Wikipedia:

    "Mathematics is the study of quantity, structure, space, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns, formulate new conjectures, and establish truth by rigorous DEDUCTION from appropriately chosen axioms and definitions."

    "Through the use of abstraction and LOGICAL REASONING, mathematics evolved from counting, calculation, measurement, and the systematic study of the shapes and motions of physical objects."

    "In order to clarify the foundations of mathematics, the fields of MATHEMATICAL LOGIC and set theory were developed." (unquote)

    The foundation of mathematics is mathematical logic. Deduction is done using equations or "statements of equivalence." To gain a deeper understanding of the foundation of mathematics, read the works of Bertrand Russell, Kurt Godel and Alan Turing.

    The knowledge gained through the scientific method is called science. It tells us something about the real world. That distinguishes it from logic and mathematics. It is not a matter of semantics.

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  20. 20. SkepticalKen 9:01 pm 03/15/2011

    @robert schmidt – Your words "A hypothesis must be testable, otherwise it is not a hypothesis." and "The scientific process is; form a hypothesis, perform experiments, collect evidence, from that develop a theory."
    I am familiar with the evidence for the big bang. If you were paying attention to anything I said, you’d know that I find the concept quite sound, despite how absurd it sounds (even Stephen Hawking admits that it sounds as fantastic as any religious story ever told). I just read a story this morning about some new, more accurate measurements of type 1A supernovae which indicate that the universe is expanding faster than previously thought. The article mentioned a couple of points of contention between leading experts, one regarding whether there was just one big bang or several/many similar events, and the other about how and if dark energy is involved.
    This, of course has nothing to do with God, nor this article. I brought it up in an effort to gain insight as to what you consider logic and rational thought. I have what I asked for. Thank you.

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  21. 21. SkepticalKen 9:11 pm 03/15/2011

    Et tu, rs.
    I will thank God that real scientists have imagination, courage and open minds…quite unlike you.
    For the record, most religions wouldn’t have me as a sock puppet, since I don’t fall for their BS dogma either.
    Farewell, you fundamentalist. Bask in your dogma. All who disagree with you are irrational. Same story my son gave me when he was 8.

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  22. 22. robert schmidt 9:25 pm 03/15/2011

    Agreed, I was too focused on the problem you presented; A=B, B=C, C=A. That is not deductive it is a statement of equivalence. For example A, B & C are apples and there is the same number of each. It is not the same as saying A is an apple, B is equal to A, therefore B is an apple. That is logic. But agreed there are many forms of logic and as you posted, math is based on symbolic logic among other forms. My mistake. But I still maintain that your example does not represent circular logic as it does not represent a deduction, i.e. if A therefore B. As circular reasoning is a fallacy I still don’t understand your point. Just because someone can write 1+1=3 does not mean that there is a flaw in math. 1+1=3 would fail the rules and axioms of math and therefore be considered invalid just as circular logic is invalid. If you are trying to say that these formals systems such as logic, math and science deal in symbols and abstractions not reality? If so, agreed. But at the same time they help us make very accurate predictions about reality so again, this just seems to be a semantic game rather than revealing anything about how these systems inform us about reality.

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  23. 23. robert schmidt 9:31 pm 03/15/2011

    @SkepticalKen, "The article mentioned a couple of points of contention between leading experts, one regarding whether there was just one big bang or several/many similar events, and the other about how and if dark energy is involved." those do not challenge the fundamentals of the big bang theory they are details about how it unfolded. The same can be said about evolution. There is debate about whether a Giraffe got its long neck as a result of natural selection or sexual selection. This debate does not destabilize the theory of evolution just details about how the events unfolded. But again, as I said, it is possible for new evidence to present itself tomorrow that will invalidate the big bang theory. That does not mean the big bang theory was not valid. Science can’t retroactively fit theory to future facts.

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  24. 24. goldminor 9:43 pm 03/15/2011

    Very good reply. Some of these people think that you can only be a true scientist, if you are non-religious. To which I would reply, ‘look at history’.

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  25. 25. robert schmidt 9:51 pm 03/15/2011

    @SkepticalKen, "I will thank God that real scientists have imagination, courage and open minds…quite unlike you." I realize it serves you to think of me as a close minded, hater. You can feel justified in disagree with everything I said. Whatever. I was raised a Lutheran, confirmed into the church, served as an usher, was a leader in the youth group. I had fun in the church. I gave it up as my understanding of the universe grew and it became apparent that god was a myth. I believed in cryptozoology, designed the website for the International Society of Cryptozoology as one of my first websites. Read every book on the subject, but as evidence mounted against the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot, Mokele Mbembe, etc. I gave it up even though I was very disappointed. I also believed in UFOs, government conspiracies, ghosts, etc. All those things I gave up when there was no evidence to support them. That is what it means to have an open mind. That you will give up your most cherished beliefs when there is no longer evidence to support them. Being open minded is not distorting or ignoring the facts, changing the rules when they don’t suit you, rejecting rational arguments just to keep a dying worldview on life support. That is what it is to be close minded. I don’t care if you "believe" the same things as me or not. I don’t know everything and as Dr. Strangelove just demonstrated, sometimes I don’t even know what I’m talking about. But I do expect that people posting on a science site will abide by the principals of science. To do otherwise is just an attempt at subversion which demonstrates the low moral character of those who have no interest in knowledge only in preaching their agenda. Enough said.

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  26. 26. robert schmidt 9:58 pm 03/15/2011

    @goldminor, the only thing that is required to do science is to follow the scientific method. That is what is great about science, anyone can do it. You can believe you are Napoleon and have an invisible rabbit friend named Harvey but as long as you follow the method your results are just as good as Newton’s or Einstein’s. It doesn’t matter what you believe, it only matters what you can prove.

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  27. 27. Dr. Strangelove 11:12 pm 03/15/2011

    My point is to differentiate science and mathematics. Science gains knowledge through the scientific method. Mathematics establishes truth by rigorous deduction from appropriately chosen axioms and definitions, in short through mathematical logic. Science always deals with the real world and tells us something about the real world. Mathematics deals with logical systems which may or may not correspond to the real world.

    Btw, in mathematical logic, circular reasoning is not invalid. It only means proof of propositions is only valid within the logical system.

    Link to this
  28. 28. taryndactyl 7:46 am 03/16/2011

    I find these arguments disheartening. I am currently a science major and from my understanding the full spectrum of scientific discovery is large enough for all outlooks- theists and atheists to investigate. Obviously, all of you are well educated and have strong support for your claims. What isn’t so inspiring is the fact that you have resorted to personal attacks and discriminatory ideas. Much like, to my dismay, the fact that the article began with an attack on specific babtists- not scientifically founded and quite rude, there was no need for social bias. My genetics proffessor once announced mid lecture that ‘just because you are a scientist, does not mean you can’t be of faith’. We should consider the differences in how the mind is being exercised, the unique perspectives and problem solving capacities between each of the beliefs presented. Imagine how many more possibilities are open for discovery. One more point- the term ‘theory’ now goes as far as to replace ‘fact’ in science. While many theories are mostly regarded as a standard, we cannot disallow the off chance that an apple falls up one day. Theories are speculations open to falsification. Also, a hypothesis is a proposed explaination based on observation, one that has not been adequately supported by existing theory. Point being, there can be as many mistakes in science and unknowns as those found in religion, which itself has many plausabilities.

    Link to this
  29. 29. taryndactyl 7:46 am 03/16/2011

    I find these arguments disheartening. I am currently a science major and from my understanding the full spectrum of scientific discovery is large enough for all outlooks- theists and atheists to investigate. Obviously, all of you are well educated and have strong support for your claims. What isn’t so inspiring is the fact that you have resorted to personal attacks and discriminatory ideas. Much like, to my dismay, the fact that the article began with an attack on specific babtists- not scientifically founded and quite rude, there was no need for social bias. My genetics proffessor once announced mid lecture that ‘just because you are a scientist, does not mean you can’t be of faith’. We should consider the differences in how the mind is being exercised, the unique perspectives and problem solving capacities between each of the beliefs presented. Imagine how many more possibilities are open for discovery. One more point- the term ‘theory’ now goes as far as to replace ‘fact’ in science. While many theories are mostly regarded as a standard, we cannot disallow the off chance that an apple falls up one day. Theories are speculations open to falsification. Also, a hypothesis is a proposed explaination based on observation, one that has not been adequately supported by existing theory. Point being, there can be as many mistakes in science and unknowns as those found in religion, which itself has many plausabilities.

    Link to this
  30. 30. DiscomBob 10:51 am 03/16/2011

    @taryndactyl- "Point being, there can be as many mistakes in science and unknowns as those found in religion, which itself has many plausabilities."

    Examples, please, of these "plausibilities" you speak of. It has been my experience that there is nothing "plausible" about religion.

    Link to this
  31. 31. Juli1111 11:14 am 03/16/2011

    Here is my Theory of THE MIND and GOD.

    It is both philosophical AND scientific.

    It is a YouTube slideshow presentation. Please watch if you are interested. Thanks.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8O2eOZlT-o

    [Just as those who close their eyes cannot SEE (visually); those who close their minds cannot SEE (understand).]

    Link to this
  32. 32. cecilden 5:14 pm 03/16/2011

    The only thing I "know" is that I don’t "KNOW" anything. Everything else is hypotheses, some useful, some not so useful.

    Link to this
  33. 33. kristi276 8:31 pm 03/16/2011

    The believe in the fates and the hand of the "Gods" has been part of human evolution. From the belief in the fates; to Zeus, Gunn, Kali, Ahura Mazda, Quetzalcoati, Hera, and gods to numerous to name, have come and gone through the annals of time. In the past one million years we have come to believe that the Gods move in mysterous ways and one can not understand the hand of fate; because the fates, also, move in ways that us mere mortals can not understand. We say to ourselves that we want to "believe in something greater than our selves", as if we did not believe in this higher power we would see ourselves as gods? Maybe the believe in a "higher power" is part of our psychological evolutin and growth, like a child that learns that it is not the center of the universe and that there are others outside of ourselves. We can apply scientific principle to the study of child psychology in the understanding of the stages of child development, but we do not have such an understanding of human socio-psychological development. Is it really about the existence of a God, there have been many, but the psychological evolution of the human species?

    Link to this
  34. 34. kristi276 8:59 pm 03/16/2011

    There is a lot of debate on the existence of God, but does the debate really hing on a greater fundemental question; that being our mortality? I believe that one of our greatest fears is and that once this life is over, it’s over. What would we say if life is a one shot deal. We want to believe in an afterlife so that life has meaning, where we want to believe that there is more to life that this. What is the meaning of life? We want to believe that there has to be more to my life than this, and that life eternal, immortal, where the can be conquered and we would live forever. If God does not exist that means we can not gain immortality. We are mere mortals and we do not live forever, and all things that are born pass in the immortal sands of time, for time is the only thing that is immortal.

    Link to this
  35. 35. Ed Holden 12:24 pm 03/17/2011

    If you believe God does not exist, you will find the Princess Alice experiment to support your "side"; if you do, you will likewise claim its support. There definitely exists a developed capability in the brain for belief in signs, wonders, the supernatural, etc. For the first person, this is an unfortunate side effect of evolution; for the second, it is the "image of God" described by St. Augustine, a uniquely human capability which can also accomodate false gods and downright nonsense (psychics and other types of frauds).

    I believe in God; I also believe that the universe needs to be understood in terms of cause and effect. The events in and around Japan have no more meaning about God than the change of the seasons does, but a believer sees both of these as the usual way God does things, not the workings of Universal Laws which exist on their own.

    Link to this
  36. 36. DiscomBob 1:31 pm 03/17/2011

    All gods are false gods. This is not a matter of belief, there just plain isn’t any evidence to support the existence of any gods.

    Link to this
  37. 37. Wayne Williamson 8:03 pm 03/17/2011

    I see this happening more and more on this site…the removal of posts….it feels like the proverbial 1984 crap…when someone clicks a report abuse there needs to be a determination as to whether or not it is abuse…the only time I use it is on the spam…buy some shoes or other crap…I want to see the posts that others are referring to…

    Link to this
  38. 38. SkepticalKen 8:00 am 03/18/2011

    Having had time to distance myself from the theist/antitheist debate I got sucked into, I have reconsidered, and the study discussed in this article is actually sound science, however trivial.
    A discussion of the study would have been better if it revolved around the difference between beilieving in a supernatural being which communicates with them (Princess Alice) and a supernatural being which watches them and grades their behavior (Santa Clause), since 5 year olds seem able to buy into the concept of Santa quite easily.
    The connection between the study and this article, however, is tenuous at best, and the author’s lead paragraph and rambling conclusion are nothing but opinionated fluff, hardly worthy of a site where normally one finds interesting science.
    In my opinion, psychology is more often than not rather flimsy science, anyway. Determination of WHY people think the way they do is purely speculative, no matter how vast the array of "evidence".
    Still, after this recent discussion debacle, I wonder if someone should do a study on why certain theists and antitheists (FAR from all, we are a vocal minority) consider themselves such irresistable forces that they (o.k., we) are unable to resist confrontations with what they know from the onset will be immovable objects? Is it ego, the need to be right? Or is it a misguided desire to help those we know don’t want help?

    Link to this
  39. 39. judithku 8:07 am 03/18/2011

    well, another interpretation might be that there actually is some kind of God. Since so many people in recorded history have felt there is.

    Link to this
  40. 40. SkepticalKen 8:21 am 03/18/2011

    @kristi – "for time is the only thing that is immortal"
    …unless you believe in entropy!

    Link to this
  41. 41. DiscomBob 8:46 am 03/18/2011

    It’s just fun to tweak your toes. (That and the fact that I’m RIGHT. MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!)

    Link to this
  42. 42. SkepticalKen 9:14 am 03/18/2011

    @DiscomBob – "It’s just fun to tweak your toes."
    I get some sort of sick pleasure out of it, too, although it has nothing to do with your foot fetish! [LOL] Kidding aside, I only partly understand my own motivation for such folly, and it would be an interesting study, though I doubt there is a reasonable way to do it scientifically…seems more in the realm of psychoanalysis.
    The wierd part of all of it for me is that I am in the middle; a clear representation of how wide the divide really is. Christians think I’m evil because I assert that, intellectually speaking, God MIGHT not exist; atheists think I’m intellectually crippled because I assert that God COULD exist. (Moderate athiests reserve that judgement for when I say I BELIEVE God exists.)
    I STILL say that it is more logical and scientific to treat the God question as ambiguous, rather than solved. It’s undeniably more polite, but I suppose that’s not really a requirement for logic or science…or religion.
    Stuck In The Middle,
    Ken

    Link to this
  43. 43. Winclegg 11:27 am 03/20/2011

    Very interesting article.

    What’s even more interesting is that seven years old is the age at which children
    stop believing in Santa Claus.

    Link to this
  44. 44. eanassir 1:43 pm 03/21/2011

    The researcher disregarded an important factor: that is the linking of the disasters to the wrong-doing of people is asserted in the heavenly book including the Glorious Quran; like the aya of the Quran 11: 117
    { }

    The explanation:
    (Nor would your Lord [O Mohammed] destroy the cities unjustly when their people being reformers.)

    In addition to many other ayat of the Quran declaring that whatever befalls man, it is because of his wrong-doing and being ungrateful and disbeliever and idolate and glorifying the Patron saints apart from God Almighty.

    As in the aya 30: 41

    The explanation:
    (Corruption has appeared in the land [like earthquakes, volcanoes ...etc] and sea [like tsunamis and floods,...etc], because of [the work] that the hands of people have earned; so that He may let them taste [the punishment of] some of their deeds; that they may desist [from their wickedness.])

    quran-ayat.co

    Link to this
  45. 45. indeseo 1:28 am 03/22/2011

    OMG!

    NO – really omg!! as in WOW!!

    such an interesting article, and equally interesting, if less productive to watch – some others tie themselves into pretzels, reaching for more levels than they have grasped, and sure that god is right around the next corner, just out of reach, if only if only … etc

    Link to this
  46. 46. indeseo 1:45 am 03/22/2011

    you’ve got yourself something there that’s called a riddle – and a response to it does not necessarily reveal any truth, much as you’d like it to (or not). You have asked an entertaining question, not a thought-provoking one
    In fact, there are so many things wrong in the statements you make, and the question you want to draw out of those supposed facts, that it could be either
    a] quite a long paper in response, or
    b] a few devastating remarks that would make you feel really bad for allowing yourself to be so misled
    - one thing you’re assuming as fact is not a fact at all – the Chinese are rather unique in having no creation myth – ancestor worship is the worthiness of the ancestors, it is not mumbo-jumbo prophecy – taoism/animism is the observation of nature (a precursor to what we would call science), confucianism is a politico-ethical system, and buddhism is a transplanted philosophy – and this is such an incomplete response just to one part of your suppositions that i think you can see how long it would take to untangle the whole mess, i mean mass, that you’ve put forth

    Link to this
  47. 47. terminusest 4:51 pm 04/15/2011

    If you want to confirm or disconfirm the existance of God, all you have to do is die. Until you perform the experiment for yourself there is only belief or disbelief. Science has very little to do with it. If the laws of physics were to change next week, those who believe in God would claim it was God’s doing, those who do not would disagree. As for the rest of the article it seems to me that some thing is being overlooked. Apparently none of the children noticed an actual meaningful pattern right in front of them. When they chose correctly that box was lifted. When they chose incorrectly the other box was lifted. One wonders what would have happened had an adult repeatedly suggested to them that such a connection might exist.

    Link to this
  48. 48. Unksoldr 12:54 pm 04/20/2011

    Seeing ‘God’ in death and destruction, sounds about normal for fools.

    Link to this
  49. 49. amanzed 5:47 pm 05/2/2011

    Depending on how you formulate it, you could argue entropy = time.

    Link to this
  50. 50. HarryRoy 6:30 am 06/13/2011

    Really I enjoyed this article.Thanks.
    http://www.medexpressrx.com/

    Link to this
  51. 51. dandree 5:36 am 11/19/2011

    Yeah, please perform the death experiment @terminusest and let us know how it goes. Oh wait, you will have issues because your body will decay and with it your miniscule brain.

    /dumb

    if one cannot find proof then one should wipe their eyes until proof is found. (also /dumb)

    there is undeniable proof all around you, what you seek is taunting you from every corner. watch, pray, question, then formulate.

    good luck. it is something YOU must find.

    Link to this
  52. 52. dandree 5:50 am 11/19/2011

    Trees. Sunflowers. Microbial life miles below sea level. Clouds. The Sun. The Moon. The Stars. Your ability to make a decision. Gravity.

    Now go back and think about everything in the last paragraph.

    If that’s not proof enough, then tell me why. As for me, I am content in knowing that there is a Creator, and the signs are obvious. I wish more people held them up.

    Link to this
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