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Skepticisms, beliefs and knowledge

  1. May 4, 2008 #1


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    I have been thinking for quite some time about why people believe what they believe and why persons hold a disbelief in science and its explanations.

    To make myself clearer I have seen, heard of and spoken to persons that simply do not believe in a certain thing (be it religious beliefs or otherwise) yet they do not understand the fundamental concept of what they do not believe.

    For instance I read of a woman that did not believe that a certain rock was millions of years old because she believes that the earth was created 6,000 years ago. Although this is her true belief, I ask why is it hard to understand that certain elements decay in such a manner in which a scientist can deduce its approximate age?

    Simply because there was no effort to understand why scientists make this claim. The rock is the said age for the same reason why when you release a ball it drops, because it is simply a fact! In my point of view there is simply no "belief" or skepticisms about science. What is fact is fact and cannot be made false.

    As for the explanations behind them (ie theories) may or may not be the reason why (may not hold true) but the natural occurrences may not be denied.

    My intention in this thread is not to attack any religious belief in any way but only on the subject of learning about something before denying plausibility. So I would prefer to keep discussion off of the example thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 4, 2008 #2
    Interesting point you raise. The is an abundance of literature about this. Try for instance Karl Popper.

    But what is a fact? Be very careful. Reasonable assumptions are easily confused with facts, but they are still assumptions, subject to fallacies. Take that rock for instance, so a laboratory could date it, measuring the ratio of several elements and isotopes of some uranium radioactive sequence and could come up with say 10,0 million years. Then another laboratory may use the 40K/40Ar method and could come up with say 9,5 million years. Now where is the fact? The problem is that we have to make basic assumptions, that the element and isotope ratios in that rock represent the age, assuming that no other process changed those ratios. Many assumptions like that may be less accurate or even false, yet even after proven to be wrong they linger on for decades.

    An example of that is the famous Gotenburg geomagnetic flip, found in a sediment core at an age of around 12,000 years ago. Apparently the earth's magnetic north and south pole had flipped for a short period. The problem however was that it could not be reproduced anywhere else. Now it seems that this particular sediment core may have broken off during the drilling or handling and was joined together again the wrong way around. That would effectively reverse its geomagnetic orientation. However, over 30 years after date, I still saw the Gotenburg flip appearing occasionaly in presentations and lectures.

    Therefore one has to be sceptical at all times. That's the core business of science.
    Last edited: May 4, 2008
  4. May 4, 2008 #3


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    Hmm yes, very true. However those technicalities come with human err, although say the err in predictability was ~500,000 years, this is just saying that our current technology lacks the capacity to be 100% correct-which clouds the meaning of fact in that sense- but there is no denying the decay. There is no curb around the fact that these processes do happen.
  5. May 4, 2008 #4

    Ivan Seeking

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    I'm confused: Is this about attitude, education, or faith?
  6. May 4, 2008 #5


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    Its about people learning about things before they call it a fallacy or simply disbelieve it. Similar to why do people say a certain food is disgusting before they are willing to even taste it!
  7. May 4, 2008 #6
    I think part of it that some people are just 'raised' headstrong---they'll do anything, ignore anything, or deny the possibility of anything--NOT to be even possibly wrong to any extent.....

    take a look at Bush and the WMD's--and how he 're-routed' it to be that Saddam was a 'bad man,...... a very, verrrry baaaad man'


    --or the harikari 'honor' suicides
    Last edited: May 4, 2008
  8. May 4, 2008 #7
    That WMD was typical groupthink as worked out by Irving janis.

    Another element that comes to mind is cognitive dissonance.
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