October 27th, 2002 Go back to 'Origins of Gullibility'

It's been a while, but I guess people are still reading this - at least, Nathan did - and wrote:

First of all I would like to congratulate you on a brilliant hypothesis. All to often you see the most ridicules hoaxes in the world and yet there are always some idiots out there that believe in it. You always have to figure its based on some foolishness on their part. But now here's a way to explain exactly whats happening and I have to applaud you for it. Its short, simple, and it makes perfect sense.

Now for the real reason of my letter. I read some of the responses you got from other readers and I was interested in how you responded to the letter written by a Don. You mentioned an experiment with children being cut off from society and thus from all forms of belief, and that they would either develope a belief system of their own or they. Well, there was in fact an experiment like that. I don't know the exact date of it but it essentially went like this. A group of orphan children, all very very young, were isolated in a room with everything they needed to survive, and were fed by a nurse. But they were not permitted any social contact, not even by the nurse. They lived for a few years, and then they all died. I think this might help support your view. Good luck.

Thanx for the egoboo - though I wouldn't go as far as "brilliant" even if I was in a particularly self-congratulatory mood. It's at best a good working hypothesis, which might lead to something more rigorous.

But about getting "support" from this supposed "test", couple of things...

First of all, far from "in fact" this sounds really Urban Legendish. Mind, I wouldn't put it past somebody to want to try this experiment - and there were certainly less ethical things done for "science" - but even if it did happen, it doesn't really provide any useful information.

What, for instance, did the children die of? My hypothesis only suggests that children raised without religious beliefs or the social elements that promote belief in stuff without evidence would be far more likely to commit suicide and far less likely to breed. And there's considerable difference between "raised without religion" and "cut off from all human contact/knowledge/social interaction."

So, unless they "lived for a few years, and then they all died" of suicide, I don't see how it would relate to my idea at all - and even then it would be, at best, difficult to filter out effects from the general total lack of social interaction.. From what it sounds like - and, again, I want to point out it sounds more like a U.L. than anything else - the children basically died of neglect.

Far be it from me to put off one of my few fans - but I'm not sure you really understand my idea here.

(BTW, anyone know something of this "test" - or the legend of this test - drop me an email)

August 24th, 2001Go back to 'Origins of Gullibility'

This person also read it...but I don't think he liked it - Chris, who wrote:

i must say reading your webpage gave me a brain ache!

I think you think too much.

it was funny in a twisted sort of way and I guess you are better off than a rap singer in your philosophy. All I can say about evidence for the existence of God (notice the capital letter) is "duh, man didnt make all this! "

have you ever prayed? Gone to church?

try it sometime.

there is great relief in belief.

good luck on your quest for the meaning of life, I think you are missing it!

"Think too much" may not be the ideal comment to make to try and convince someone of your POV - as generally it seems to be said by people who don't want to think about your point at all. And all I can say "about evidence for the existence of God" is you have to prove the universe was made first before you start fishing around for a maker - and no one's done that.

Quite frankly, "there is great relief in belief" is pretty much my suggestion for why it evolved in the first place! Thank you for providing more evidence for my point: Mind you, that doesn't prove what's believed in exists, though.

Yes, I've gone to Church, and Prayed - and stopped doing so because "I think too much" - and that's not conducive to belief. Obviously, the converse of that is that not thinking at all makes for great believers...

And I'm not really questing for a "meaning of life" - because I don't really think there is one.

January 23rd, 2001Go back to 'Origins of Gullibility'

Hey! Someone else likes my hypothesis! - Tim North, who writes:


Congratulations on your gullibility hypothesis. I found it to be both plausible and simple. (Always a desirable combination.) Your suggestion that insanity may be closely linked to a genetically advantageous trait (i.e. gullibility) is insightful and probably open to experimental verification.

I do a short weekly slot on radio here in Perth (Western Australia), and I'll be sure to mention your article in the near future.

On an unrelated note, and speaking now as a web designer, my only criticism of the site is the large-lime-green-on-black color scheme. Ouch! :-)

Wow! I've been mentioned on the radio now - cool! And on that "unrelated note" - I happen to like glow-in-the-dark-lime-green...a lot. And it shows up so well against black! <grin>

April 5th, 2000Go back to 'Origins of Gullibility'

Hmmm, apparently, people only read my "rant" once a year. Anywho, Jordon writes:

Dear David,

I think you're right about the fine line between socially useful gullibility and insanity. It's been my observation that sincere Christians are more functional (competent at solving normally encountered life problems) than the majority of people, for example. Clearly their delusion is assisting them here.

OTOH, their delusion does handicap them in dealing with some rarely-encountered hypotheticals. Some of which can be socially important (how much danger does human pollution pose to the environment? You can argue about it but many sincere Christians answer "none" on religious grounds ...). But of course, evolution (biological or cultural) works on probabilities.

And extreme forms of the delusion can be directly lethal. For example, the Branch Davidians who died at Waco. Or the kids who signed on to the Children's Crusade. Or lethal to others, as in the case of the victims of the knights who signed on to the real crusade.

I don't know if there's a solution to gullibility, given that it may be the solution to an even more serious problem. Maybe we need the stories we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better.

Sometimes, we even make them come true.

I honestly don't think there's a "solution" to gullibility - at least, not one that allows a species to survive.

Go back to 'Origins of Gullibility'

Been getting some responses to my article (Rant? Diatribe?) "The Origin of Gullibility, Religion, And Other Insanities: A Working Hypothesis" and here's where I'll be listing them (and my replies):

Don says (in response to my request for alternate "gullibility" terms):

In Denial




or make up a new word, if using gullibility really bothers you because of the connotation. "Gulluming" has a nice ring to it.

then later wrote (in a longer email):

Is your hypothesis really an hypothesis at all?

In the loosest sense of the word, I am sure that it is, but in order for it to be considered "good" by the institution which you so admire, science, it must be testable. Furthermore, since your hypothesis is not testable, it cannot meet the strict definition of "hypothesis" put forward by the scientific method.

Your "hypothesis" in this sense is equivalent to a belief; in fact, you use the words "I believe" several times.

Citing data to support your claim without such a constructed test is also unscientific. The purpose of data in science is only really meaningful when it is involved in a ceteris paribus experiment, i.e. an experiment with a control and variable. Otherwise, the potential for a fallacious self-fulfilling prophecy is much greater. Take, for example, people who say they believe in God, and then proceed to name all of their "good" experiences in their lives as data to support their claim.

Now, considering that your hypothesis is a belief, possibly in a loose sense of the word, but a belief nonetheless, why do you point out the inanity of beliefs within your hypothesis?

Much like the guy who wrote that he doesn't believe in "linguistification," you are deconstructing yourself.

Moreover, and much much more importantly, you have attempted to use science to make religion and spirituality irrelevant. Meanwhile, your basis for doing so is somewhat rational and based loosely on some evidence, yet is still a belief.

Why do you suppose that you have chosen this belief as opposed to any spiritual belief (system)? And why do you think that you want to explain away spirituality?

"...it must be testable" Well, actually, in retrospect, it is testable. After all, it makes predictions:

You could even make up an experiment to test it, to wit, raise a group of children completely cut off from all human society. Such a group will either a) develop some sort of "belief" system, or, b) have much higher suicide rates than a similar group with beliefs.

'course, just how moral doing such a test (or practical, for that matter) would be is open to debate...big time.

You might be able to see a similar effect from standard population studies: Groups with stronger beliefs should have lower suicide/depression rates than those with weaker. Separating out all the other factors that affect suicide rates, though, would be a bitch...as would be defining a quantifiable "stronger" and "weaker" with respect to beliefs.

"...why do you point out the inanity of beliefs within your hypothesis?" I'm not sure I did. What I'm trying to do here is explain how and why people believe.

"Why do you suppose that you have chosen this belief as opposed to any spiritual belief (system)? And why do you think that you want to explain away spirituality?" Because? <grin>

Actually, it's because I'm trying to approach the whole totality of human reactions from a totally rational, physically-based standpoint. The reasons for this are complex and deeply buried in my psyche, but, basically, I see no reason (based on the evidence so far) to postulate a god, soul, or "spirituality" as of yet, and thus am "forced" to try to explain what I see of humans (including myself) without using such postulates.

Thus, I'm not so much "explain[ing] away spirituality" as trying to create a world-view without resorting to it in the first place.Go back to 'Origins of Gullibility'