Sunday, May 30, 2010

Michael Shermer: Why people believe in "INVISIBLE" agents

Michael Shermer, writing in Scientific American, "Why People Believe Invisible Agents Control the World," posits two human tendencies to explain why people believe in what he calls "invisible agents" (souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens, intelligent designers, etc.): 1) patternicity & 2)agenticity.

1)Patternicity: the human tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise. Examples: the "face" on Mars, the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich, etc.

Within this first aspect, Shermer points out that even though the recognition of predictive patterns in the real world (weather, animal migrations, cycles of edible vegetation) was critical to the survival of Paleolithic hominids, the problem is that humans did not evolve a "baloney-detection device" to discriminate between true and false patterns.

As a result, two types of errors can occur from the tendency toward patternicity: false positive (believing a pattern is real when it is not) and false negative (not believing a pattern is real when it is).

2)Agenticity: the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents.

Shermer theorizes that because humans possess a developed cortex and a "theory of mind" (awareness of mental states, ie: desires, intentions etc in ourselves and others), they infer "agency" behind the patterns (ie: the invisible agents).

He further asserts that patternicity and agenticity, together, form the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritualisms along with their respective "invisible agents" (intelligent designers, etc).

Full article:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Follow up to my "Invisible Alien" speech

The day following my public comments to Tampa city council members on February 4, 2010 (speech copied in previous post), the St. Petersburg Times picked up on my “invisible alien” as “God” theme ...

John Kieffer, president of Atheists of Florida, said since council members didn't seem to understand the points he made two weeks ago, he would try to put it in "more simple and generic terms."

"Believe it or not, there are people who believe in invisible aliens," he said. "Believers usually talk to these aliens mentally and silently, but sometimes in a standing ritual."

People who don't believe in the aliens and decline to rise, he said, stand out like a "ketchup stain on a white shirt."

"When you do the invisible alien standing ritual at your meetings, I don't know what to do. You see, I'm not a believer in invisible aliens," he said. "What should I do? Lie to fit in, or be the hated ketchup stain?"

Though I’m sure that many on the council and in the audience were offended, as one of the council members alluded to later, my intention was to describe their invocation ritual and its component concepts using descriptive or constative terms rather than those that refer to a socially legitimated subjective reality (normative).

When one uses normative terms such as “God,” “prayer” and “invocation,” even while asserting against such beliefs and practices, one inadvertently reinforces the “taken for granted” facticity of a given social world. Hence, the unintended consequence of using normative terms is that they inherently lend credibility to the very concepts one is arguing against.

By using descriptive words, the subject is no longer presented in the wrappings of social legitimation but is instead described substantively and taxonomically. By doing so, that which is taken for granted by the social world is identified and categorized as a notion that would be otherwise rejected outright.

In my comments, I substitute the normative term “God,” with a description that cannot be refuted: according to any Christian, the God character of Abrahamic mythology cannot be directly seen or detected in any way, therefore “invisible;” further, such character is posited as transcending the natural world, so, it is also an “alien.” The concept of “God,” then, is in every sense an “invisible alien;” moreover, according to Christian doctrine, so too is the Jesus character, as well as the Satan character.

There we have three characters that can irrefutably be described as “invisible aliens.” If Christians believe in those then it can be asserted that Christians believe in “invisible aliens.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My Invisible Alien Speech to Tampa City Council

This is a 3 minute speech that I delivered at the Tampa City Council on February 4, 2010 in objection to the council's practice of beginning their meetings with a prayer (listed as "Invocation" on the meeting agenda). Four other members of Atheists of Florida spoke as well.


John Kieffer, President of Atheists of Florida
I have been a Tampa resident since 1977

Believe it or not … there are people who believe in INVISIBLE ALIENS, these we’ll call INVISIBLE ALIEN BELIEVERS. The BELIEVERS call their INVISIBLE ALIENS by different names depending on the language and tradition.

These BELIEVERS tell me that these INVISIBLE ALIENS take a personal interest in the affairs of human beings, that they monitor and influence people’s thoughts … and that they can even make earthquakes happen.

BELIEVERS usually talk to the ALIENS mentally and silently … but at other times out-loud in a STANDING RITUAL, along with other BELIEVERS.

And when the BELIEVERS find out that you don’t believe in INVISIBLE ALIENS, uh-oh, they can get very, very upset … even hate you.

Moreover, they especially do not want you to speak about NON-INVISIBLE ALIEN things in the part of government meetings reserved only for INVISIBLE ALIEN communication. This is known as the STANDING RITUAL called “invocation.”

In fact, once upon a time, in a land known as Tampa, when one of those hated NON-BELIEVERS wanted to say that rationality and reason were good ways to make a better, safer, more loving world during the STANDING RITUAL, three of the land’s six council members cried NONSENSE! HERESY! The three got off of their thrones and stomped out refusing to do the STANDING RITUAL with the others.

I was there, I saw it happen.

So now, when you do the INVISIBLE ALIEN STANDING RITUAL at your meeting, I don’t know what to do.

You see, I am NOT a BELIEVER in INVISIBLE ALIENS and you give me only two choices: to LIE … or be TRUTHFUL.

Choice 1) I lie.

That means I do the STANDING RITUAL like everyone else and pretend to believe in INVISIBLE ALIENS … I do this so that I blend in and not be identified as one of those hated NON-BELIEVERS.

Or 2) I am truthful …

Truthful to you, myself and others: I sit through the STANDING RITUAL causing me to be identified as a NON-BELIEVER. By sitting through the STANDING RITUAL, I’m like a ketchup stain on your white shirt, noticeable and hated.

So I ask you, what should I do?

Be dishonest to give my issues that I bring to you a fair chance; or be honest and take the chance that my issues will be negatively influenced.

Which is it that you want me to do?

Lie to blend in? Or be truthful … and be like that hated ketchup stain?

And may I remind that for the BELIEVERS, an INVISIBLE ALIEN will be recording your answer to that.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Religion is a brain-based human experience

Journal of Neuropsychiatry: "The Neural Substrates of Religious Experience"

What are reported as religious-numinous interpretations (ie: profound religious experiences or delusions) are hypothesized in this study as neural functions within the limbic system of the brain.

New money stamp ...

Recently, I created a stamp to promote this idea on our currency. Click on image to see larger pic.