Monday, August 8, 2016

When feelings count more than facts

or why it is so hard to win an argument against conservatives




Rather telling article on why it is pointless to argue with Trumpkins or any conservatives for that matter.  Newt Gingrich adroitly pointed out, it is perception that matters, not facts.  The report notes that persons only want "facts" that reinforce their beliefs, and trying to argue the contrary serves no purpose other than to reinforce their beliefs, as they dig their heels in even more.  Worth knowing the next time you get into an argument with someone on facebook.

Bill Nye learned this the hard way when he tried to refute Ken Ham's position on Creationism.  Not only did Nye lose the debate, but Ham got so much public and private funding in the wake of that faux debate that he was able to build his dream of a full-size replica of Noah's Ark to add to his Creationist Museum in Kentucky.  The Ark has cost over $100 million and will be open soon for all too see.  It comes with a hefty price tag however.  The so-called "Ark Encounter" will cost a family of four $136.

If scientists have failed to convince Creationists of the fallacy of their beliefs despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, how on earth can one expect to change another's political beliefs?  It seems a person has to go through some personal trauma or epiphany to see the errors in his ways.  Like most "dumb" animals we only learn from experience.  The human race for the most part has a difficult time conceptualizing things other than God.  This helps explain why there are so many climate-change deniers.  Unless you live next to a melting glacier or a fast encroaching shoreline, global warming is too distant to admit being real.

Part of the problem is that Creationists work from a very simple premise that is hard to refute -- God created the earth.  The explanation is concise and easy to swallow if you don't think very hard about it.  Science requires much more effort to digest and make sense of things.  Most persons simply won't make that effort.  Fundamentalists prefer the comfort of the Bible to science classes, which I suppose is why they are so keen to have the Bible made the main teaching text not just of Sunday School, but the school system as a whole.

However, when confronted by some of the more glaring contradictions in the Bible, these "scholars" will go out of their way to prove the verses in question.  There are "Biblical Archaeologists" who travel the world to find evidence that a flood took place roughly 4000 years ago.  According to Biblical paleontologists this helps explain dinosaurs, as these were pre-flood creatures who roamed the earth but for whatever reason God chose not to save.  Obviously, Ken Ham has a soft spot for these extinct creatures, as he has included them in his Creationist Museum.  It seems bones, unlike carbon dating, is hard to discount.

This is also why Newt Gingrich blithely refutes FBI crime statistics, preferring instead to play off people's feelings that the crime rate is worse in America since Obama came to Washington.   One would be tempted to call it a cognitive disorder, but Newt is a smart man.  He knows exactly what he is doing.  By playing on emotions, he strikes to the core of many Americans' beliefs, knowing that we are essentially slaves to our preconceived notions, and that reason is easily trumped in this case.

Getting back to Noah, the exact location where the ark came to rest has been questioned within the religious community.  For centuries it was believed to be Mt. Ararat.  Ronald Hendel, in the link above, argues that we should be looking in Iraq, not Turkey.  He has expanded his search to include other religious sources, notably Mesopotamian creation myths like the Epic of Gilgamesh, as apparently there was more than one flood.  Hendel also pays deference to marine biologists who have discounted a massive Black Sea flood that had long supported the Mt. Ararat theory.  Like a good "scientist" he is willing to look elsewhere, so there is a thought process at work here that one can exploit, even if Hendel is unwilling to give up his core belief that the ark actually existed.

This does give us a ray of hope in that religious conservatives are not so close-minded that we can't communicate with them.  The only difficulty is that we have to communicate with them on their level.  We have to at least pretend to accept their core beliefs and then offer some "what ifs" to get them thinking along possible different lines of thought.  Maybe then they will discover some fallacy in their thinking, albeit if only to look for new locations.

A closer reading of the Bible will help us in constructing such arguments, as Maimonides did long ago.  Everyone can respect Maimonides, a Hebrew scholar who warned us in the 12th century not to read the Bible too explicitly, but rather absorb lessons from it.  One lesson is to "beware of false prophets."  Trump doesn't hide the fact he is a "ravening wolf."  He extols it as a virtue, which feeds into the current prosperity theology that dominates evangelical television. but any good Christian knows the verse about the camel and the eye of the needle.

Of course, you will need more than the Book of Matthew to go on.  Most Fundamentalists are Old Testament Christians, so I wouldn't spend too much time in the New Testament.  They are the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" sort of persons, which you will find in Exodus.  Of course, Jesus reinterpreted this passage in Matthew, telling us that we should have sympathy for our (political) enemies and go the extra mile in trying to understand them.  Easier said than done, but it is important to at least know where they are coming from, even if they don't hold to much that was actually said in the Bible.

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