John H Williams
(Investigator 108, 2006 May)
Previously I've written about the very human tendency to perceive two completely separate occurrences and assume that they're connected.
The superstitious believe that there are items which are associated with previous and future success, such as 'lucky' charms or numbers. (As a kid, I knew that Sterling Moss's racing cars always carried a number seven, and Moss, having survived a long racing career, might well ascribe it to his choice of number).
It's a harmless
sentimental notion, and
statistically invalid. But many are not well acquainted with the laws
chance, and explain certain happenings as being lucky or unlucky, or if
they're religious, to the work of a supernatural being.
DO ATHEISTS NEVER WIN?
I've given the example of winning sportspeople who:
Regarding the Australian golfer, Aaron Baddeley (Investigator 84, May, 2002). I predicted after his two successive Australian Championship wins in 2000 and 2001, and in 2002 not making the cut, that he'd experience a period of not winning tournaments, despite his declared belief in the intercession of a personal god, but that he'd eventually win again. In the intervening years he hasn't, which might be a severe test of his faith.
assume that Aaron
has doubts, due to the often tenacious power of such beliefs, and the
of cognitive dissonance to help believers excuse, explain and
(On the other hand, he's probably made more money in that
period than I've made in about 38 years of teaching).
MAYBE NEXT TIME?
In its extreme form it may be a case of: 'True, the world didn't end, and no alien craft hove to, but it's likely that there was a 'miscalculation' of date, and it'll happen in the future, and we'll have a new date to look forward to'.
Belief often defeats the real and the rational, and the silliness of beings from space saving just you and your like-minded associates doesn't seem to occur to those contemplating 'Heaven's Gate'. In 2001 I taught two adults who were 'a couple', and who were planning a trip to Coober Pedy to live underground during the cataclysms they expected during the coming alignment of several inner planets.
I told them that
was miniscule, it had happened previously with no ill effects, but to
ahead with their trip for the experience. They gave me the same
and knowing look: another disbeliever not tuned in to what we're smart
enough to 'know'
"YES, HE'S THE ONE WHO KILLED MY WIFE!"
On 3/1/06 there was a brilliant documentary on SBS's Hot Docs series of a real court case. A sixteen year old black American was tried in a Florida court because he'd apparently killed a white female tourist while stealing her hand-bag, witnessed at close range by the woman's (white) husband.
The whole case was a travesty beginning with the 'random' arrest of the boy by detectives who were (to the viewer) obvious thugs and liars. One, a large, black, former grid-iron player had intimidated, threatened and punched the teenager in an attempt to extort a confession.
Amazingly the case was not thrown out in its first days as it would have been in Australia and many other places, mainly on the basis that the boy had been picked up by police a few hours after the murder and brought to the traumatised husband. Asked 'Is he the one?" he'd said, "Yes"!
He was adamant
the killer. But it
was another case of mistaken identity perhaps to do with the shock of
his wife's life snuffed out and the difficulty some white people
in being discriminating about the physiognomy of black faces, as well
the natural desire to catch find the killer. Increasingly we admired
fine skills and persistence of the defending attorney and his
yet they oughtn't have been needed at all!
DO PEOPLE GET WHAT THEY PRAY FOR?
The other victim (clearly, a fine young man) spent about six months in jail, and, unsurprisingly, had wonderful parents who were very religious (we saw moving scenes in jail of his Dad praying with him, as well as similar scenes in their church).
Could the system be so unjust as to find him guilty? No, a happy ending, with some of the detectives being demoted and 'moved on' (instead of being thrown in the slammer for assault and perjury). The real perpetrator (taller, older and with a criminal record) was eventually found via some more clever work by our 'heroic' attorney, and convicted.
conveniently found a suitable 'perpetrator', the pressure to find the
real killer was removed, and, since
the 'detectives' were as lazy as they were corrupt, it obviated the
to do the hard work of collecting evidence and searching for that
DOES GOD LOOK AFTER HIS OWN?
The religious family and friends of the teenager might well believe that his acquittal was the work of their god, when it was (to us) a combination of a transparent police conspiracy and the exemplary efforts of the attorney in making this plain to the jurors.
didn't know what had
transpired in court might well have their belief reinforced, despite it
being clear that 'God looks after his own' is a furphy, mainly due to
CONFIRMATION BIAS AT WORK
That a particular god is providential in 'allowing' success, health, wealth and happiness to believers is based on personal, anecdotal and non-statistical grounds, but the 'connection' between a person's success and a lifetime of belief and prayer is so strong to them that 'it must be so'.
similar levels of success, or that some apparent believers are
or do evil acts, such as the churchmen who have sexually abused their
are dismissed as irrelevant aberrations. Confirmation bias is
difficult to undo!
THE 'PROVIDENTIAL' BANANA
In Richard Dawkins' Climbing Mt Improbable (p237) I read a most interesting example of Genesis-inspired providence, of nature having been 'put there' for human benefit.
A creationist had written Dawkins listing what he believed was an example of providence in the form of the banana:
The genus Musa is a native of SE Asia. Wikipedia says that it originated in the Kuk swamp in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea, around 5000BC to 8000BC. Several species of wild bananas are still found in PNG, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
A long succession of cultivars have led us to the current dominant Cavendish type, one which is vulnerable to the threat of destruction by diseases, due to the fact it lacks genetic diversity.
So, this useful
around before 'creation',
and it was taken to the Middle East, received its name ('banan' is
for finger), scored a mention in the Qu'ran, and joined the multitude
of 'providential' plants and creatures appropriated by H sapiens
MEGAFAUNA ONLY 'PROVIDENTIAL' UNTIL EXTINCT
Those who eat kangaroo meat or who feed it to their pets might think that macropods are providential too, although they may wonder at Noah's family managing to catch and transport a breeding pair and how they made it back 'Down Under'.
The Advertiser's Education Special (31/1/06) has no mention of this, instead offering fossil evidence of 'ancestral' megafauna, three metres tall and weighing 200 kilograms, which became extinct soon after the arrival of the Aborigines. Procoptodon goliah and other giants disappeared, according to Dr Tim Flannery, due to "human hunting pressure".
and palaeontological findings and the Young Earth/Great Flood is
If the former aren't so, why hasn't it been clearly explained why their
findings are wrong?
DID SPINOZA NEVER RIDICULE?
As a skeptic, one would like to follow Spinoza's fine credo: "I have made ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Readers may think that I'm not good at this, and I admit to having a low tolerance for 'arguments' based on the supernatural and the inerrancy of a set of ancient books.
Perhaps the best approach is to use humour to question obvious human inventions such as gods, angels, virgin birth, life after death, limbo, purgatory, heaven and hell. While Rev Andrew Dutney was pontificating on the latter on ABC-891 Radio, a listener from Paradise phoned with these definitions, based on (politically incorrect) national stereotypes:
"THERE IS THE ONE ABOVE WHO KNOWS…"
Mrs Mary Wilson was entertaining some friends at No. 10 Downing Street while her husband, Harold, then Prime Minister, was working upstairs.
The discussion turned to theology, and one of the guests said: " Fortunately, there is the one above who knows all the answers."
Wilson, not realising
the significance of the remark, "Harold will be down in a few moments."
(The World's Greatest Mistakes, Nigel Blundell, Octopus Press, London, 1982)
John H Williams
Baddeley was second in the Chrysler Classic in '04, his best result, winning US$324, 000. He failed to make the cut in about a third of the 58 events he played over the two years, the inverse side to what is clearly a lucrative and successful career, strongly suggesting that this highly talented player receives no supernatural aid, despite the big financial flow!
In the March
Wesley McDonald of Shamokin, Penn, wrote:
The false logic shown here is a good example of confirmation bias: Didn't Mr McDonald probably rave a strong genetic inheritance? Aren't some non-believing seniors just as healthy?
providential view may
surface during an election campaign, and suggest that voters
consider" candidates, "vote with their spiritual eyes open" and call
"righteousness in our nation", as did the Rev Rob Tann of Port Lincoln
in The Advertiser Letters on 8/3/06.
Rob is obviously a supporter of the Family First Party, though he didn't name it, while he named the ALP for "undermining the sanctity of marriage by promoting "alternatives". "Abortion", "sexuality" and "religious presence in schools" were mentioned, typical of the religious right, to which I'm strongly opposed.
The SA electorate gave Rob the answer he wasn't seeking, and Labor had a very big win, while Family First won no seats in the Lower House, and even in the conservative seat of Flinders (which includes Port Lincoln) it did not do well. (The FFP did better in the Upper House, winning about 6% of the votes).
irony is that
many of those energetically
praying for a conservative right agenda didn't have their
answered, while many non-believers did! I am uncomfortable with the
of Christian church groups in the political process, and I hope that
exists in the USA never happens here.