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The Big Picture

'Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons.' -- Vizzini from "The Princess Bride"

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Irony Meters and "Magical Thinking"

I think that the proof of the concept of infinity can be found in the level of irony contained in the beliefs and writings of fundamantalist Christians. That well of irony is truly infinitely deep. Just read this article at RaptureReady.com entitled "Magical Thinking."

The second paragraph sets up the irony of infinite proportions:

After many years of contemplation, I've come to realize that magical thinking is one of the most common causes of erroneous beliefs. The term, "magical thinking," is the ability to draw conclusions that are based on a person's desire for what reality should be, not necessarily upon what reality actually is. People simply believe things that have no connection to logical thinking.
Any freethinker who reads this immediately recognizes it as being a bedrock principle of rationality. But this was not written by a person moving past myth and fairy tales, but a diehard fundamentalist Christian, defending his narrow faith.

I could write this very paragraph and follow it up with the supernatural and mythological tales found in the New Testament about a man dying and coming back to life, magically turning water into wine, walking on water, or multiplying loaves of bread and fishes. Those things all defy logic and any common experiences we all have witnessed. Yet, to this person, those things are not magical and are perfectly logical if given the preconception that God exists and can do anything because He is all powerful and all knowing. Clearly those preconceptions are the perfect example of a "person's desire for what reality should be, not necessarily upon what reality actually is." No one has experienced these things, and so believing in them is clearly a desire for what reality should be. The author so desires God to be real, that he makes God to be real. I guess this proves that 'Man' really is the creator of 'God'. And that God is real because God is the product of creation of the natural human mind.

What I was referring to in the previous paragraph is bias. Let's see what the author has to say on that subject:

Overcoming Bias
One of the biggest obstacles to truth is bias. There is good kind of bias; then, there is a type that involves having a preference to one particular point of view, or ideological perspective, that is not supported by fact.
If that doesn't send your irony meter into overload then I cannot imagine anything which will. Even those of you who own the super-heavy-duty "fail high" irony meters will need to go buy new meters on that one. The fact that the author does not even bother to mention that his views might be biased, or that he might suffer from this very "magical thinking" does not seem to matter one bit to the author. He takes his views as a "for granted" and a priori.

Then without a hint of irony, he goes into this comment:

True-Believer Syndrome
The term, "true believer syndrome," is largely credited as being coined by M. Lamar Keene in his 1976 book, The Psychic Mafia, referring to an irrational belief in paranormal events, even after direct confession or evidence that the events were fraudulently staged. Keene became interested in this phenomenon after he worked to expose fraudulent psychics, faith healers, and miracle workers.


He would show people that the person claiming to have supernatural powers was a scam artist, and they would refuse to listen to him. "The true-believer syndrome is the greatest thing phony mediums have going for them" because "no amount of logic can shatter a faith consciously based on a lie," said Keene.


True-believer syndrome proves that the wrong type of magical thinking can lead to self-deception.

No suggestion at all that this could be applied to the New Testament writers who believed in Jesus' supposed supernatural powers. Nope. Those are taken for granted to be true... er, I mean True.

Now, for those of you who just rushed out to buy a new irony meter, please, turn it off before reading this next passage. That will eliminate the need to go through the trouble of filling out all the warranty information and the long wait to get a replacement when this statement melts your brand new meter...

Critical Thinking
William Graham Sumner offers one of the best summary of critical thinking: "Critical thinking is the examination and test of propositions of any kind which are offered for acceptance, in order to find out whether they correspond to reality or not. The critical faculty is a product of education and training. It is a mental habit and power. It is a prime condition of human welfare that men and women should be trained in it. It is our only guarantee against delusion, deception, superstition, and misapprehension of ourselves and our earthly circumstances."

Critical thinking is what keeps us out of trouble. Whenever we encounter a situation that could be hazardous to our mental, physical or financial well-being, we need to pull out the litmus paper of skepticism.


Ok, so what is the big payoff of all this freethought and rationality? Are these the writings of a newborn freethinker, who has given up all precepts of a magical ghost puppetmaster in the sky?

Nope.

God Does Not Use Magical Thinking
A lot of Christians believe that the Kingdom of God operates on magical thinking. God just makes a wish and things magically happen. The process may appear to be that simple from our vantage point, but that can't be how things work. For every complex cause, there needs to be an intelligent force acting behind it.


God does not have a personal fairy godmother to grant His wishes. When the Almighty desires to perform what we would call a supernatural act, He has to fulfill it himself. When Jesus healed the man of leprosy, the biological composition of the man's infected skin was broken down and rearranged to form healthy skin. When the Lord walked on water, either He was made lighter or the molecular bonds of the water were made stronger.


Magical Thinking's inability to bridge the gap between the natural and supernatural world has provided an opportunity for some people to rationalize many biblical miracles. The parting of the Red Sea is frequently explained as being the result of a wind blowing away the water. Some folks go into pure heresy by claiming that Jesus didn't die on the cross; they say He simply fainted and later recovered.

Faith is not a special power unto itself. It is simply an asterisk that says, "I don't know how God did it." When believers arrive in heaven, the Lord will reveal all mysteries, and there will be no more "magic."


Wow. Just. WOW. Not one shread of proof that this magical God is real, that the aforementioned "bias" plays no role in this god-belief, that these supernatural miracles are real when the "supposed" miracles of all other religions are false is given. Not one shread. Just sheer blind acceptance. And this is somehow not "magical thinking."

I cannot even begin to put into words just how preposterous this is. Just how blinded by bias and "magical thinking" this individual has to be in order to write this and be serious about it.
What reality does this author think we all live in when he believes that snakes and jackasses can talk in human language, that the sun can not only stop, but "move backwards", that the stars can fall to the earth, that the dead can come back to life and walk around, that diseases are the result of demons, that faith and prayer can allow any believer to move mountains, that the future can be foretold (and has been in the bible), and that anyone who believes that a God can only forgive his (flawed) creation via committing a blood sacrifice (suicide) of Himself unto Himself. Yet all the miracles and supernatural occurances associated with all the other "gods" and religions of the world are all false.

I think we all know who is suffering from "magical thinking".

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