Fundie Brain Probe

Your brain on fundamentalism

I don’t have time for a real post today, so I thought I’d steal something from elsewhere. I was reading the comments to the Bad Astronomy article on the 50th anniversary of the Explorer 1 satellite. Phil battles purveyors of crackpot ideas all the time, but especially those about space (killer asteroids, moon hoaxers, etc.). A reader named Kate speculated on the similarity in thinking between space crackpots and fundies:

It seems that the groups mentioned above have a hard time understanding that science is a process and not a doctrine, belief or “text”. Science is a tool you use to find out about the world around you and it is an ongoing process.

Why is it so difficult to understand that refinements in technology and the greater knowledge we gather with these refinements will, over time, expand our understanding of the universe and that old theories may, at times, fall by the wayside, but that our understanding of the fundamental processes that define the basis of scientific knowledge are strengthened by this “weeding out” process?

What I found interesting was the reply of a reader named Pat. He believes that these people need a structured world, whether that is imposed by religion or aliens:

It is the only kind of worldview some people understand, particularly those with control issues. They need a firm etiology, and since science can’t provide one they either adopt one or create one. It’s the very fluidity of scientific explanation that makes it unpalatable. It is much more comforting to say “X knows” or “I know” rather than “we don’t know.”

Attributing purpose and cause is a normal human response: it’s how we learn correct social behavior through punishment and reward. Punishment is a dominance behavior, and because of this it is in our behavior to assume a punisher, or dominant individual, for events that are adverse.

Assuming an event is simply chance or accident is a behavior that is not very natural. Ignoring a “warning” from a dominant individual is antisocial. So, assuming an event is random and otherwise simply coincidence is an aberrant, antisocial behavior.

I’ve long maintained that fundies need a simplistic structure to their world, with God acting as father and punisher.

Pat followed up a bit later with this comment:

Okay : ) – I guess not everybody shares my genuine fascination with this phenomenon. I don’t attribute it to a weakness of character or a lack of intelligence. If anything, the reason it is so widespread is because it is a “normal” behavior, like hatred of the outsider, and it might be that the only way to counter it is to understand it in depth and where its source lies.

Education appears to be the only tonic that works to remedy this, so it would seem to be better to go after intolerance of education ahead of focusing on attacking logically weak accepted conventions. Currently, there is perceived nobility in lacking education, and this needs to be crushed rather deliberately. People once educated in critical thinking are much less vulnerable to fallacies of magical thinking.

I would love to attribute it to a weakness of character or a lack of intelligence, but I fear he may be right. This is how we’re wired. We can rise above it, but the normal or default state is to believe in monsters. That’s also why education is so important, and we can’t let it be corrupted by IDers.

5 Responses to “Fundie Brain Probe”

  1. RayCeeYa Says:

    That’s also why education is so important, and we can’t let it be corrupted by IDers.


    The fundies have relied on ignorance and fear for centuries to keep people in line. They want people to be dumb and scared otherwise people might start thinking for themselves.

    The best example I can think of is the protestant reformation. It’s no coincidence that the reformation happened soon (in this case soon meaning a few decades) after the bible went into mass distribution due to Gutenberg’s press. The Roman Catholic Church didn’t want the bible translated into any other language. By keeping it in Latin they maintained a strangle hold on the text thus preventing anyone from forming their own opinions about religion. As soon as the bible went into wider distribution in many of the “vulgar” languages people started questioning the bullshit the Catholic church had been feeding them for centuries.

    Pardon me but I’m going to wax Orwellian for a moment. Control of knowledge is control of thought. Control a person’s thoughts and you control the person.

    All fundamentalist religions use fear to control their followers. Not just the fear of sin but the fear of knowledge. They brainwash people into believing that they might go to hell just because they know something that contradicts their holy dogma. So not only do they prevent their followers form learning about science that contradicts their belief they make them afraid of learning.

    I’ll repeat that again for emphasis. Fundies are afraid of learning.

    They fear knowledge. So they try their damnedest to suppress scientific knowledge. Their minds are closed. Our only hope is to get to them when they’re young and their minds haven’t been sealed off by anti-intellectual dogma.

  2. yoyo Says:

    I agree totally with the sentiment expressed here. Although it is very easy to deride the fundie anti science crowd, it is ultimately unprofitable and I think this is where Hitchens’ sometimes misses his mark. Without a fairly respectful education about science and the nature of belief, we will always be arguing at cross purposes. no pun intended.

  3. ParrotLover77 Says:

    Great post, great comments. It’s probably no coincidence that fundies seem so prominent in the USA considering how poor our public education system ranks in the world. Europe seems to have a lot less fundie types. And then the Middle East is infested with fundies (of the Islamic persuasion), and information is suppressed and the only education is controlled by dogma. Let’s keep the USA from becoming the Christian equivelent of Iran. No slam on Iranian citizens here as they have been unfairly portrayed due to the actions of their government (which, I might add, the USA helped to install). A religious totalitarian state does not allow “free thinkers” to admit that they are, indeed, free thinkers. I sympathize with them.

  4. Flonkbob Says:

    Interesting. I think this is a valid way of looking at things, although I too enjoy thinking of people of faith as simply morons.

    I happen to know from personal experience that it is possible to be mostly rational, mostly intelligent, and still follow the Xian dogma. I did, for many years. I was a deacon in a very fundie church of a very fundie denomination.

    What is not possible is to be rational, intelligent, and HONEST and continue to believe these things. Education is absolutely the key to getting people to let go of bronze age magic and accept the awe-inspiring reality around us. I am greatful every day that my mother encouraged omnivorious reading in her children. It gave me a broad base on which to lay out and examine my Xian beliefs. I fought it for a while, but I couldn’t be dishonest with myself and had to admit that I believed a fraud, and a silly one at that.

    There is a reason that intelligence (or learning, perhaps) and faith are inversely related.

  5. cipher Says:

    He believes that these people need a structured world, whether that is imposed by religion or aliens

    I would love to attribute it to a weakness of character or a lack of intelligence, but I fear he may be right. This is how we’re wired.

    It may actually be a matter of hardwiring. There is evidence now that seems to suggest a physiological basis for ideological orientation, and that conservatives (theological and political) have an affinity for hierarchy, authority and rigidly defined doctrinal structures. Here is an article that describes some of the research: