What does my underwear have to do with changing your beliefs?

“My view is that if your philosophy is not unsettled daily then you are blind to all the universe has to offer.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

A few weeks ago I was in Austin, Texas hanging with a couple people and we were talking about underwear. Specifically ExOfficio boxer-briefs, which are popular amongst the traveler crowd because they dry fast, feel good, and are anti-bacterial.

“How do you know they’re anti-bacterial?” asked Lindsay.

“Uhh, wow. I like to say I question things, but I have absolutely no proof of this, except what the company’s website says. Thank you.”

Maybe they are anti-bacterial, but the Aegis® Microbe Shield used in the product sounds very pseudoscience-y. Quote from the Aegis website:

The active ingredient in the AEGIS Microbe Shield products forms a colorless, odorless, positively charged polymer that molecularly bonds to the treated surface. You could think of it as a layer of electrically charged swords. When a microorganism comes in contact with the treated surface, the C-18 molecular sword punctures the cell membrane and the electrical charge shocks the cell. Since nothing is transferred to the now dead cell, the antimicrobial doesn’t lose strength and the sword is ready for the next cell to contact it.

If you read that and thought, “uhh, that sounds like bullshit,” then congratulations for having your critical thinking cap on!

Does this mean that it doesn’t work? No, not at all. But it does mean we need a little more evidence than it’s a “positively charged polymer that molecularly bonds to the treated surface.”

Now, I still like ExOfficio underwear. They do feel great and dry quickly so they’re perfect if you’re traveling light. But I’m no longer in the anti-bacterial camp until I can see some proof. Because I was open to questioning my beliefs my mind has been changed until further notice.

And therein lies the key.

You can’t change someone’s mind unless they’re open to having their mind changed.

If someone claims to definitely know something that can’t be currently known you’re not often going to convince them otherwise. Especially if they’ve spent a lifetime, lots of personal free time, and lots of money being indoctrinated. (See: religion.)

I’ve tested a lot of different strategies when trying to influence people over the years.

For example, I’ve tried to get people to “see the light” as far as a plant-based (or mostly plant-based) diet in the following ways:

1. appealing to their compassion: “Watch this factory farm video, look at how horribly the animals you eat are treated. Why do you support that?”

2. being an asshole: “You pretend to love animals and yet you support the rape and torture of animals every night for dinner. How does that make sense?”

3. using facts: “Eating mostly plants is proven to be healthier than your current diet.” (Assuming that diet is mostly meat and junk food, of course.) Source (one of many)

4. using pseudoscience: “Eating a plant-based diet is no-doubt the best diet ever and can cure and reverse disease!” (Note: can be true, but not to the degree that it’s usually touted. Plants ain’t curing cancer at this point in time, my fellow dudes & dudettes.)

I’d like to apologize for the times I used approach #4 because it can be dangerous and I am anti-pseudoscience. I don’t want to be associated with or a promoter of the likes of Oprah, Dr Oz, Jenny McCarthy, et al., so I know I need to be more careful about allowing pseudoscience into my life.

All of these approaches worked although certain approaches turned people off completely. (Mostly being an asshole.)

Maybe the most important thing I’ve learned is that different approaches work for different people and there isn’t any one right way. Which is why I used multiple approaches.

(Recently, I’ve been testing satire as a method of influence. See this and this.)

I’ve influenced enough people to at least try veg meals that I can say this has been a successful endeavor. I know most people won’t go all-out veg*n and that’s cool. But I also know that some people just need a little nudge or support or “aha!” and they will go all-out veg*n. And that’s cool too.

I’m finding the same approaches work when it comes to religion, but to a different degree. It’s far more difficult to get someone to think rationally about something that’s so irrational. (You can state that it’s rational, but just because you state it’s rational doesn’t make it so.)

Before you get your panties in an uproar, note that I don’t care if you believe something silly. But it’d be great if you embraced the “magic” of reality and simply showed some proof for your claims.

As the saying goes, “If you can hate the sin, but not the sinner then I can hate the belief, but not the believer.”

Atheism is, at its base, the lack of a claim. Unless, “show me the evidence,” counts as a claim. (It doesn’t, though you might have been brainwashed to think it does.)

It’s not too much to ask to back up your ideas, is it?

Any idea worth a damn should be able to stand up to at least the most basic questioning.

If somebody said they had a stock market strategy that offers 50% returns per year you’d ask for proof before handing over your life savings, wouldn’t you?

If somebody told you they had the cure for cancer you’d want to see some empirical evidence, no?

If somebody claimed to be able to dunk a basketball on a 5 meter (~16 foot) rim, you’d want to see it with your own two eyes before you believed it, am I right?

My question to you is, why isn’t the truth that important when it comes to your belief system?

A note on comments: You’ll notice that not a single defender-of-the-faith provided any evidence or so much as answered questions about their “knowing” of god. This is typical. And a problem. If you want to defend your ideas please do. But as I stated above those ideas should be able to stand up to at least the most basic line of questioning.

34 Responses to What does my underwear have to do with changing your beliefs?

  1. Note: I accidentally posted this before I was ready to post it. I had scheduled it and wanted to come back to it to edit. Oh well, a moment in history of this blog.

  2. In my experience, truth is very important to religious people, they just think there are more subtly encompassing truths than we can readily see and prove. And they are right about that, even if they are wrong about their particular beliefs.

    There are too many decisions in life to require proof for everything, and too little proof available. There are a lot of unknowns, so some kind of framework is useful, particularly morally. That framework is your religion, even if you don’t formalize it externally for the world to see and judge you on. It is what you rely upon even if you cannot objectively prove it to someone else.

    As a semantic aside, I think “show me the evidence” more reflects agnosticism, meaning that existence cannot be proven. Atheism is the stronger claim that God or gods or anything “supernatural” does not exist.

    • This makes absolutely no sense: ” truth is very important to religious people, they just think there are more subtly encompassing truths than we can readily see and prove. And they are right about that”

      Your definition of religion is quite off. A framework is not a religion.

      re: semantics. Ask any atheist and they will tell you, “show me the proof and I will change my mind.” The truth is, had nobody made any false claims about false gods at any point in history this wouldn’t even be a discussion and “atheism” or “agnosticism” or “god” wouldn’t be words. Atheism is not a great word, and it’s not even my preferred word, but it’s what I use because it’s at least somewhat (mis)understood.

      • What specifically makes no sense to you? The fragment you quote of me simply says that truth can be difficult to discern, much less prove.

        There are degrees of belief besides “proven” and “unproven”, and life constantly forces us to prioritize and make decisions about things for which we have insufficient evidence, and we end up creating guiding principles as a result which cannot be proven.

        Your preferred definition of religion may be different from mine, but mine does fit the essential “devotion” and “unprovability” aspects of religion precisely, as well as the etymology of “religion”, and human nature.

        Both atheists and agnostics change their mind with sufficient proof. Heck, even theists have changed their minds with sufficient proof. The key difference is that Atheists assume a closed knowledge system — i.e. “because I see no proof, it does not exist.” Agnostics avoid drawing a conclusion either way — i.e. “because I see no proof, it doesn’t really matter.”

    • Agnosticism is stupid. Saying: “It’s impossible to say if God exists” is as bad as saying “God doesn’t exist”. It’s to say: “I don’t know… I mean, the idea of supernatural being being somewhere out there, watching us, guiding us and stuff, *without no proof* sounds kinda stupid. On the other hand, I don’t want you all my religious friends shouting at me and telling me, that your mom was cured by your god, so let’s just say ‘it’s impossible’ and get on with it. There are more fun things to do in life.”

      To be an athiest isn’t to say: “God does not exist, period! And now fuck off”. No, that’s religion. Athieism is: “there is no proof that God exists, so I can’t believe in him. Show me a proof and I will change my mind”. Of course, that’s not what believing is about. To believe is to *know* without proof. Wow, doesn’t that sound stupid?

      Furthermore, when talking about proof, I am not looking for something like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZeWPScnolo

      • I could guess where that video of Tim Minchin was headed! It is a good principle of free democratic debate to assume that the opposite party is well intentioned and has grounds that make sense at least to them for what they believe. Ie respect each other even if you can’t understand where they’re coming from. An attitude sadly lacking from Mr Minchin’s approach, calling the mother of a stranger a bitch and God something worse. He obviously feels so strongly about his atheism that anyone so foolish as to believe in God is beneath contempt. It certainly makes Jesus’ teaching on how to get along with each other all the more relevant in this day and age :-)

        • Yes, one of my favorite of Jesus’ teachings is Matthew 10:34-37

          34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. (Karol’s note: Friendly!)

          35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

          36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. (Karol’s note: Really? As an “infidel” I think our family should be anything but a foe.)

          37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Karol’s note: Nice teaching! Love a myth more than your mother and father you worthless deviant.)

          • Jesus didn’t literally send a sword, and despite his use of the active voice, he also didn’t directly set households against one another.

            The context is Jesus is preparing his apostles to go from town to town in order to heal the sick and teach about salvation and the forgiveness of sins.

            He’s saying that some people will accept them and some won’t and to move on if they won’t. He’s saying that some members of families will believe and others won’t and that will cause division within families.

            Of course, no Christian believes that Jesus wanted to divide households against each other — what he wants is for everyone to believe, everyone to be healed, everyone to be saved. But it’s simply a fact that division would happen and Jesus was preparing his apostles to deal with it.

            • Who are you to put words in his mouth? He said what he said. If you want to misinterpret that’s your prerogative.

              (Though it’s difficult for someone who seems to have never existed to say anything, we’ll suspend disbelief for a second and state he did say what he said.)

              Again, the point is, you’ve made your decisions based on lack of evidence, and that’s a problem. You are not open to change, and that’s a problem.

              I’m happy to listen to any argument, but you’ve made no new points that haven’t been stated tiredly time and time again. And again. It’s not worth the time to discuss with someone who is not open to discussion.

              And I understand it. I do. We don’t want to feel stupid. We don’t like being wrong. Society (Western especially) makes it so easy to continue being wrong.

              It’s like being in a bad relationship. You know you need to leave, but it’s so easy to just stay. The longer you stay the more difficult it is to leave.

              You’ve spent years of your life and likely thousands of dollars giving money to an organization and you don’t want to believe you’ve been misled. Wasted Sundays. Kneeling and praying when you could have been doing myriad other productive things. You’ve committed fully.

              But remember, it’s OK to be wrong. We won’t judge you for it.

              • I’m not putting words in his mouth. Read the rest of the book and see if Jesus literally brought a sword and literally set members of families against each other. You misinterpret because you are ignorant of the language, the culture, and the context you are reading about.

                Bear in mind that I did not appeal to scripture, you did. And you’ve illustrated exactly why I try not discuss scripture with atheists, because they are deeply invested in their own misinterpretation of it, as though it were a letter written specifically to them just today and they are the true arbiter of its meaning.

                You’re right that I do make a lot of decisions while lacking evidence. You do, too, if you were honest about it. Ah, but that might bring you too close to having a religion and we can’t have that.

                Of course I have been open to discussion. That is why I have been discussing this here with you. But given your passive aggressiveness and how you are projecting onto me your false and insulting perceptions, I agree that it is not worth our time to continue on this subject.

                • “You’re right that I do make a lot of decisions while lacking evidence. You do, too, if you were honest about it.” And I’m happy to change my mind with evidence. People change my mind about things on a regular basis. I’m happy to admit when I’m wrong or being stupid. You’re grasping for something that’s just not there.

                  “but that might bring you too close to having a religion and we can’t have that” I’m sure you can point out the silliness in this statement so I don’t have to.

              • Karol, I wasn’t going to send any replies for a while because I have some work to do but your comment above demands a response! Kevin interpreted Jesus’ words with reference to context and the whole of Jesus’ expressed intentions (which we have recorded thoroughly by 4 different writers in the gospels – a better attested historical record than most, if not all, other events of that era.) This reference to context is a sensible way to interpret anybody’s words. Yet you accuse him of putting words in his mouth, as if your isolated interpretation is better. It would be an interesting exercise to cherry pick some of your own more hyperbolic statements. But it wouldn’t be a fair representation of you. (I mean, as you have recently noted yourself, people sometimes misinterpret you even without separating your words from their context!) You also suggest that Jesus didn’t exist. Really? Not Son of God maybe, but not existing at all? You are starting to paint yourself as someone with a very fixed view indeed! So remember, ‘it’s OK to be wrong. We won’t judge you for that.’ Sorry to be annoying :-)

                • I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. I’m not just suggesting that Jesus didn’t exist. I’m stating he did not exist and you’ve given no evidence to the contrary. Don’t pretend you know something when you don’t. There is no evidence of the fact that he existed, besides the Bible. Hardly a valid resource, considering it’s creation. (Pun!)

                  Regarding misinterpretation: if I’m misinterpreted I’m able to set the record straight (if I so choose). If Jesus (or any other mythical or dead figure, for that matter) is misinterpreted, we can only take the words at face value. Sans interpretation, which saves us from misinterpretation.

                  • You seem to have set up an irrational argument for yourself about Jesus’ existence that hangs entirely on your own preference to disbelieve. You have an enquiring mind, have you never made a serious enquiry into the provenance of the gospels? Have you never read of the people like yourself who set out to refute it once and for all only to be bowled over by the evidence? What I mean is, we have detailed and varied accounts of his life and ministry. These were compiled into the canon of scripture by the early church based on their reliability (the authorship could be traced, and is also affirmed by modern scholarship), and in turn other false accounts (such as the so called gospel of Barnabas) have been discredited by similar processes of analysis. Yet because of your personal distaste for the bible and for what these accounts say you reject them outright. That’s fine, I mean I can totally understand you being unwilling to believe in miracles etc, but it would be better to just say that, than to pretend you are taking a rational approach to the detailed evidence for Jesus ‘ existence that had been handed down to us. However if you’d prefer me to play along with the game of rejecting the most detailed sources, you could dissuade yourself from rejecting the existence of Jesus by referring to Cornelius Tacitus, 1st century historian, Lucian Samosata, second C satirist. (So you’ll like him!), Flavius Josephus first century Jewish historian, Seutonius and more if you want me to continue. You would not expect great historical essays on him from the ruling powers because from their point of view he was just a slightly troublesome nobody who they killed. However we do have the sources mentioned, and increasing mentions of course over the coming years about the followers of Christ, whose numbers grew in the face of persecution unto death, as a result of the conviction of the eyewitness followers of Jesus. Almost all his close circle of friends died defending their belief. Seems unlikely he didn’t exist.

                    • a) You didn’t answer any of my previous questions. (Because – I’m assuming – you don’t have any answers.)
                      b) This particular comment pretends to include evidence (sources) without actually including evidence. You’ve mentioned names. What are the sources?

                      I did do the work for you and looked up Cornelius Tacitus to see if your first “source” had merit. Tacitus was born CE 56. When did Jesus supposedly die? You’re digging yourself into a hole and this is tiresome.

        • You are right, I wouldn’t use this video in a discussion with a believer, because although I find it hillarious, it’s certainly only going to offend people that don’t agree with this point of view (or most people that don’t agree) . I’m sorry.

          (Although I do belive that satire should hurt. And those who are ridiculed by it shouldn’t get offended. It’s extremely hard to not be, though.)

          Still, I think it summed up my point well — this kind of evidence isn’t really an evidence. It’s simply a thing that happened, which has million of possible causes that don’t need even one god to be reasonable.

          • On the other hand Minchin’s level of satire can snap some people out of their daze. There isn’t just one way to influence someone and humor like this can be effective as much as anything else.

            aside: I hadn’t ever heard of Tim Minchin before. His piano playing is amazing! Thanks for the link.

  3. Great post! Beliefs are often the last thing people change, even after ex-offico underwear :-)

    I think the definition of atheism and agnosticism are different. The first is a belief that god does not exist. The second is a belief that you don’t know if god does or does not exist.

    Some atheist are evangelical in their belief. Richard Dawkins comes to mind. They are not interested in looking at any evidence that might contradict their world view. Others are open to looking at evidence.

    PS The Work of Byron Katie is great for questioning your own beliefs. It is a free PDF from her website. Recommended if you haven’t seen before and want to shift old beliefs that are no longer useful.

    • Out of curiosity: why do you think that Dawkins is an evangelical athiest, ie. not interested in any evidence that might contradict his point of view?

      • From reading about his interactions during debates.

        From the wikipedia article on him: “scientists Martin Rees and Peter Higgs have criticised Dawkins’s confrontational stance towards religion as unhelpful, with Higgs going as far as to label him a fundamentalist”

        • Best to go straight to the source: http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/1071-how-dare-you-call-me-a-fundamentalist

          You’re as much a fundamentalist as those you criticise.

          Richard Dawkins: No, please, do not mistake passion, which can change its mind, for fundamentalism, which never will. Passion for passion, an evangelical Christian and I may be evenly matched. But we are not equally fundamentalist. The true scientist, however passionately he may “believe”, in evolution for example, knows exactly what would change his mind: evidence! The fundamentalist knows that nothing will.”

          • Dawkins, like most of us if we are honest, reserves the right to choose which evidence he considers to be valid . Ie which evidence fits his existing scientific-materialist worldview. He is therefore as fundamentalist as anyone. The world to him only exists within his existing sphere of understanding . Personally I am compelled to believe what I believe by the gospel accounts of Jesus life, compelled by my own experience of the presence of God and specific episodes of guidance, compelled by the pertinence of the teachings of Jesus to the way life and society actually seems to me to work best . But, to take just the gospels as an example, no amount of evidence as to their historical veracity will be accepted as valid evidence by someone who has already decided they are unwilling to believe the events and teachings they contain. So again, let’s be honest, all of us to a greater or lesser degree, choose and interpret the evidence according to our existing prejudice.

            • That’s a very convenient way of looking at it, isn’t it? It’s also false.

              There is no “choosing which evidence is valid.” Either there is evidence or there is no evidence. One is true. One is not. It’s quite a black & white issue, but you’ve convinced yourself otherwise.

              1 + 1 is always 2, right? If I were to say it was 3 or 23 million that would not make it anything other than 2.

              This is the issue with education and teaching children myths as fact.

              Which is my biggest issue with all of this and my impetus for writing about it publicly. Telling children there is a god (or gods) without a sliver of empirical proof instead of allowing them to explore teaches them a very closed, anti-curiosity, anti-knowledge world view. “It’s this way son, and don’t let anybody tell you any differently.” “Why Pop?” “Because I said so. Also this book some random dudes wrote thousands of years ago says it’s true.” Dangerous and sad.

              But in the interest of curiosity:
              – What is it in the gospels that is believable and why?
              – Where / how have you felt the presence of a god?
              – What were the specific episodes of guidance? How do you know it was a god speaking to (guiding) you?
              – What is it about the thousands of other gods that other people believe (or have believed) just as strongly as you that makes you disregard them?

          • I’ve known fundamentalists who have changed their mind based upon evidence. I even know an atheist who became a fundamentalist. Fundamentalism doesn’t mean “impossible to change”.

            • We can debate the meaning of the words we use as much as we want to, but it would be pointless.
              In the quoted context “fundamentalist” meant exactly what Alastair meant by saying: “Dawkins, like most of us if we are honest, reserves the right to choose which evidence he considers to be valid . Ie which evidence fits his existing scientific-materialist worldview.”

    • The terms Atheism and Agnosticism are often misunderstood , they aren’t mutually exclusive.

      Atheism = Belief
      Agnosticism = Knowledge

      An ‘Agnostic Atheist’ is someone who doesn’t believe in god but they don’t claim to know no god exists.

      Likewise an ‘Agnostic Theist’ is someone who believes in god but they don’t claim to know god exists.

      If we are being intellectually honest these are the only two views one can have.

      • You’re right. Except your completely wrong.

        I mean, there’s this old about a flying saucer. I say that it does exist and it’s currently orbiting the Earth but it’s so tiny you can’t see it.
        I hear you saying: “bullshit”. You’re right, that is bullshit. When someone says something exists it’s their job to prove it.

        The same thing goes for faith. It’s an intellectually weak stance to say “I can’t prove it doesn’t exist, so I’ll say it’s impossible to tell wheather it does”. If there is no proof, why would you believe it?

        This is where I can’t understand agnosticism. A believer knows. A believer believes she was given presented the evidence. An atheist does know too — that there is no proof, ergo it doesn’t exist. An agnostic is neither. Agnostic is a turtle crawling into a shell saying “I like my friends believers and I like the churches — they are so soothing” or “it’s seems ridiculous, but I’d rather settle for some of the stability that faith does, so I won’t ‘decide'”. What’s there to decide? You either believe there’s a flying saucer, or you don’t. You can’t be a little bit pregnant.

          • :)

            I don’t think I have anything against the definitions, right now. But I’m tired and sleepy and I might be wrong.

            In my “rant” I was referencing this particular sentence: “If we are being intellectually honest these are the only two views one can have.”

  4. On the other hand, one might say that Nietzsche declaring the God being dead has caused an effusion of narcissism. (Of course, it’s just that Nietzsche got it right, not caused it, and I just want to be a smart ass.)

    Religion was important, because it gave people the appeal of stability. Now, when religion is not important, we have shifted to believing that the stability will be given to us by our self-belief. And I’m not talking about grandiosity. Narcissism isn’t grandiosity. Narcissism is the need for integrity-at-all-price and believeing that being hypocrite is the worst thing that can happen. (Although it’s absurd to require people to not be hypocritical.)

    Curious ’bout your opinion.

    • I’m not familiar enough with Nietzsche (it’s been a few years) to intelligently respond to this.

      Though I agree and disagree with this: “Religion was important, because it gave people the appeal of stability. Now, when religion is not important, we have shifted to believing that the stability will be given to us by our self-belief.”

      It’s true religion may have given people stability. But it doesn’t seem to be true that that has shifted very much. People still use religion as stability. I know many people who would be otherwise non-religious if not for the ready-made community that religion provides, for example.