Nearly half of Americans are sure that life began no more than 10,000 years ago [Diethelm]. This would have humans and dinosaurs co-existing, make carbon-dating a fraud and outright dismiss any evidence of evolution.
Creationists are not alone. About one-fifth of Americans believe vaccines can cause autism, even after the discovery that the study data used to make the connection was faked [Gross, CNN]. A 2010 Gallop poll found that half of the U.S. population thinks human actions have nothing to do with climate change, despite the countless studies linking the effect to CO2 emissions [Rettig].
Don’t forget these, either: Smoking does not cause cancer; sex positions can help you conceive your gender of choice; raw milk can’t really do any harm.
The thinking might be rational in people who don’t buy science at all — no germs leading to illness, no evolution or genetic code, no “heat-retention” nonsense. But in those who do believe in the principles of science, in the scientific method and in most of its conclusions, how does this happen?
Psychologists call it “belief perseverance,” and it’s a widely studied phenomenon. All of us fall prey to it to some extent, but some people are more prone to it than others.
What exactly is at work here? To put it very simply, the human mind will go to great lengths to keep the peace.
Now That’s Perseverance
At the Flat Earth Society Web site, an open membership list reveals a group about 500 strong, all of whom apparently believe the society’s core theory: “Earth is a flat disk centered at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars only a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth”
On Dec. 22, 1954, some of those cult members felt pretty foolish. But, to the shock of psychologist Leon Festinger, who had been studying the cult, others went the opposite way: They believed even more strongly than they had before the prophecy failed. In fact, to these true believers, the prophecy had not failed at all. They, the cult members, had managed to stop the flood with the power of their faith [Mooney]. That there was no flood was proof that they were right to believe.
In 1957, Festinger coined the term cognitive dissonance to describe what he had seen.
Also See: the Flat Earth Society
- Are there secret messages in da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’? (illuminutti.com)
- Fill Thy Vat of Knowledge! (stressingoutcollege.wordpress.com)