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Fear of Death Makes People Into Believers (of Science) 434

sciencehabit writes "Nothing, some say, turns an atheist into a believer like the fear of death. 'There are no atheists in foxholes,' the saying goes. But a new study suggests that people in stressful situations don't always turn to a higher power. Sometimes, they turn to science. Both athletes preparing for a big race and students asked to write about their own death showed a 15% stronger belief in science than those under less stressful situations (abstract). 'In stressful situations people are likely to turn to whatever worldviews and beliefs are most meaningful to them,' says study co-author, Anna-Kaisa Newheiser, a psychologist at Yale University. And many people find the scientific worldview more compatible with their own."
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Fear of Death Makes People Into Believers (of Science)

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  • Belief in science? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @06:45PM (#43941623)

    WTF? The base of science is doubting everything - if you can't falsify a hypothesis, that hypothesis is outside the area of science.

    Is this some insidious way to push towards the position that science and religion are both a matter of belief?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 07, 2013 @06:49PM (#43941651)

    "Science" (not science) is the new religion.

    All you need to do is SAY something is science and people will blindly follow.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 07, 2013 @06:49PM (#43941653)

    I usually phrase it more diplomatically, but often people assume atheism is some sort of conscious cop-out to avoid all the hard morality that supposedly stems from religion. If the opening for discussion presents itself, I always soft-sell atheism on a negative note. Atheism offers shit for consolation on the issue of death. Friends, loved ones, family, parents, children, all of them are just gonna die and turn to dirt. That is a real shit sandwich atheism gives you right there, and there's a lot more where that came from. In this way I can steer the conversation in the direction of "People aren't atheists because they prefer not having to deal with religion, but just because they think it's the truth."

    Frankly if I thought the idea of a sky-fairy running a magical kingdom keeping us all immortal forever was even remotely plausible, I'd convert yesterday. But, frankly, it ISN'T even remotely plausible, which is why I'm an atheist. Clearly some of the people in this article made the jump. Good for them. They get some consolation in their time of grief. Being right is overrated.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @06:49PM (#43941655)

    and everything will suddenly make sense

    That sounds like the experience of a recently inflicted paranoid schizophrenic.

  • Re:Science works (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @06:57PM (#43941711)
    That's not true either. I could honestly believe there was an intelligent being who created our current universe and simultaneously believe in the process of science. Believing in one does not generally require disbelieving in the other. There are some specific religions that are antithetical to science in their details, but that is a different issue.
  • Re:Science works (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @06:58PM (#43941717)

    To believe in science (and to disbelieve in religion),

    Despite the common misconception, these are not mutually exclusive beliefs.

    Science is great up to a point; it can tell us what happened and how it happened.

    Science can tells us how it might have happened, but cannot tell us for a fact that it did happen that way.

  • foxholes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @07:01PM (#43941741)

    There are no atheists in foxholes,' the saying goes.

    And it's a fucking stupid thing to say: The mere fact that they're in a foxhole shows that they're putting their faith in boring old non-supernatural dirt to save them, not in their god(s).

  • Who fears death? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 07, 2013 @07:08PM (#43941815)
    You know, I always wondered when I watched one of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies why they had Davy Jones (the wet one, not the Monkey) ask, "Do you fear death?". I mean, why the heck would I fear death? That just isn't something I would worry about. Now, I greatly fear suffering, paralysis, and things like that. Enough that I don't want to engage in dangerous things like base jumping. Not because I fear ceasing to exist. Because I fear I would still exist, but be paralyzed or in great pain for the rest of my life.

    Death? Nothing to fear there.
  • by roca ( 43122 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @07:09PM (#43941821) Homepage

    The abstract and the commentary imply the canard that faith in science and faith in religion must be at odds. This isn't the case in theory or practice. There is no philosophical incompatibility in believing that science and God both work, or even that God works through science. And in practice, most religious believers exhibit plenty of faith that science works and are comfortable with it.

  • Re:Science works (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bentcd ( 690786 ) <> on Friday June 07, 2013 @07:19PM (#43941925) Homepage

    To believe in science (and to disbelieve in religion),

    Science isn't something you believe in, it's something you use. If I use a hammer to nail a picture up on the wall, does this mean I believe in hammer or does it just mean I used a hammer to achieve some desired result?

    A scientific result is something you may choose to believe or not believe, depending on the level of confidence you have in the team behind it and the rigour of their methods. To believe in a scientific result on the other hand sounds to me more of a fanatical position than a rational one.

  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @07:31PM (#43942013)

    If I insisted that there were three invisible planets orbiting the sun between Jupiter and Saturn, most people would think I was a crackpot.

    If I insisted that there was an invisible being that spoke the whole universe into being, plus a lot of other invisible stuff like Heaven and souls, most people would think I knew what I was talking about.

    Go figure...

  • by drrilll ( 2593537 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @07:33PM (#43942033)
    Seriously. I believe I have heard every single argument from either side about a thousand times, and that was just this morning. Agree to disagree already. Maybe find another hobby that isn't a complete waste of time. If I did happen to have an interest in someone's belief one way or the other, I would ask about it.
  • Re:Science works (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @07:52PM (#43942179) Homepage

    And my mom chose to believe what she felt God was telling her instead of what the doctor was telling her.

    Thousands of other people die doing exactly the same. Were they not good enough to be saved? Sometimes people get lucky, and for some reason some people just can't accept this and have to invent some driving force behind the supposed miracle to literally sing their praises to, and mumble at in a cold building once a week.

    In numerous cases, her intuition was right and he was wrong.

    Sorry, but when it comes to medical treatments, your mom does not count as "numerous cases." She is one case of many, and quite likely an outlier. How many other people have disregarded their doctor's advice, used their own intuition, and subsequently died horrible painful deaths? You wouldn't be here telling us the story if that had happened (as it sadly has to so many people).

    Statistically speaking, you're an idiot if you play the lottery. Any mathematician will tell you not to do it. Yet somewhere out there, at least one person usually wins, and for that one person, it's a wonderful bit of luck that wouldn't have happened if they'd listen to the statisticians. But it's random chance.

    Here's another one. If a thousand people around the world toss a coin ten times, statistically speaking it's likely that one of them will get ten heads. If that person came here and wrote a post like yours, proclaiming it a miracle and praise be to the FSM, can you see why we'd be right to dismiss it? If so, why shouldn't we dismiss your anecdote as evidence of nothing but random chance?

    And he changed his treatment methods after her success even though it didn't make logical sense, because it had the best results.

    If that's really true, I don't want him having anything to do with the treatment of me or my family members.

    (Incidentally, that's HOW he became the world's foremost expert on her condition.)

    Incidentally, that's why we have bullshit like homeopathy. It "worked" once or twice, by coincidence, and people seized on it with both hands and won't be disabused of the ridiculous notion despite all the subsequent scientifically gained evidence that it's rubbish.

  • Re:Science works (Score:4, Insightful)

    by The1stImmortal ( 1990110 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @08:02PM (#43942275)

    I don't think that's strictly true.

    To believe in science (and to disbelieve in religion), one needs to believe that the elements needed to create the big bang came into existence of their own accord and that the laws of physics decided to invent themselves.

    Science is great up to a point; it can tell us what happened and how it happened. But when you go back far enough, it does requires the belief that everything which set off the chain of events somehow came into being without an intelligent creator.

    I don't believe in scientific results. I believe in science as a process (in the same way that I can say I believe in Democracy as a process [for better or for worse!])

    I would hope many scientists would hold a similar view, but I cannot speak for them.

    In terms of cosmology - science attempts to unravel the chain of causality that resulted in the world we see today. To do this, it is assumed the universe works today much like it always has (and tries to determine the edge conditions that define that). It is also assumed that there is a point beyond which causality can no longer be followed (or that it loops back on itself or whatever. That there is a beginning, anyway - that' it's not just "turtles all the way down"). Now admittedly they're big assumptions but they seem to hold up so far, and without those assumtions the questions become meaningless in the first place.

    So what happens then is that you work backwards, until a point is found for which there are multiple possible explanations. Then evidence is gathered based on experimentation and observation about which of the options seems most likely. As part of this process new options might get introduced.

    What you end up with is the most likely set of explanations for the way the universe came to be the way it is, based on what we know today and what we can observe today.

    It's not a presented as fact, but rather what is termed a "theory" for science, based on probability. Note that in this case the word "Theory" avoids presenting something as absolute fact whilst providing the implication of a comprehensive and somewhat tested framework, and still leaving the door open for testing and even disproving. It doesn't mean "Guess".

    As for "believing" that " the elements needed to create the big bang came into existence of their own accord and that the laws of physics decided to invent themselves." - this isn't a belief per se, but part of the assumption that the chain of causality ends somewhere. If something "caused" the big bang (er - other than the big bang itself), then by definition the big bang wasn't the start of the universe, but we have to go back further. So if you assume it started somewhere then you have to assume that "before" that was unknowable, as it cannot be traced back.

    In this regard - if there was a "creator" - it is/was either one that can interact with/affect the observable universe or not. If it is, then we can push the start of the universe back to be the "start" of the creator. But if not then the issue is meaningless from a scientific standpoint.

  • Re:foxholes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @08:19PM (#43942381)

    I always thought that was a stupid analogy anyway. There are also no unsoiled underpants in foxholes. But very few people think that means we should all go around shitting our pants on a regular basis.

    Living by what your brain spews out under severe overstress doesn't make much sense. It's like using results from your computer that it calculated while you were zapping the motherboard with a Tesla coil.

  • Observation: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @08:51PM (#43942605) Homepage Journal

    'There are no atheists in foxholes,' the saying goes

    This is not a flaw with atheists, or in atheism. This is a problem with foxholes, and any other situation where you become so stressed that you can no longer think clearly.

  • Re:Science works (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @08:56PM (#43942653)

    She lived longer than all his other patients, double over the next highest person.

    Ummm. The fact that she lived longer than other patients just means that she lived longer than other patients. I am sure that some patients lived a lot less than other patients. It had nothing to do with god. It had to do with the fact that people react to diseases and treatments differently. Some people live longer than some people who live longer than some people.

    IMO the common conceit that "God healed/rescued me/Granny", while letting all the others suffer and die, is the very pinnacle of arrogance.

  • Re:Science works (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @08:59PM (#43942683)

    Also, if his Mom had died we'd be reading about it being God's inscrutable will rather than that God healed her.

  • Re:Science works (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ranton ( 36917 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @10:36PM (#43943253)

    Science and religion are not intrinsically opposed to one another, but answer different questions with very little overlap from one to the other.

    I contend that science and religion have 100% overlap in their intended usage. Both science and religion are used to give us the answer to "why?". Nothing more; nothing less.

    When you talk about finding purpose and meaning you are really talking about the human tendency to anthropomorphize just about everything. There is meaning and purpose behind our actions, or at least we have that perception (depending on whether free will exists). That is what incorrectly causes us to project meaning and purpose into all aspects of life. It is a very useful trait, and our very ability to do this is part what separates us from other animals. But it is also a big flaw in our brain's ability to reason properly, along with plenty of other natural biases that adversely affect our ability to make good decisions. Honestly it is a miracle that we are able to think the way we do at all, so it is reasonable that our capacity for thought has many problems.

    Science does currently have an answer to the question of purpose and meaning. It is that our primitive brains made those concepts up. Luckily a well trained mind is sometimes able to identify biases such as these and rule them out during decision making.

  • Re:Science works (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:05PM (#43943397)

    The problem is, even if you can prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we made up the idea of a creator, all that means is that you disproved the notion of a creator *as developed by humans*. The fact that humans invented a creator, does not mean there is no creator.

    A well trained mind would understand the limitations of science. Science works with falsifiable theories. The existence of a creator is not falsifiable. Hence, even the best trained scientific mind would merely state that the notion of a creator is merely not useful as a predictor of natural events. And indeed, while any potential deities refuse to come forward and prove to a huge audience their power, this is true.

    The nice thing is... you don't need to disbelieve to be a good scientist, you just have to accept that the supernatural is not useful in a discussion of natural processes. If God can create miracles, those miracles are, effectively, outside of science and thus useless to study as science. The antagonism between science and religion is the result of people on both sides with the lack of imagination to understand that there is essentially no real argument, and that maybe they should both just relax. If there is a creator, then he/she/it created those processes and so those processes are the actual proof of creation, albeit a proof we will never be able to understand as part of creation. If there is no creator, then everything looks the same, there is just another reason for it. Neither really helps us discover a theory of quantum gravity.

  • Re:Science works (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ranton ( 36917 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @11:35PM (#43943631)

    The problem with using words like belief and faith is that they have ugly connotations. A belief is simply a state in which someone holds a premise to be true. Faith is simply having confidence in something. But unfortunately when most people talk about faith, they mean a belief that is not based on proof. They mean having a level of conviction high enough that no matter what evidence presents itself, they will still hold onto their beliefs. This is primarily why most scientifically minded people reject using the word Faith, even though they still have faith in many things based on most definitions of the word.

    That depends on how you define "religion". True Religion is living the lifestyle necessary to prove your beliefs.

    I am not sure where you got that definition. Every definition of religion I have ever seen relates a system of beliefs with a supernatural and spiritual component. You really need to bastardize the definition of religion to claim that science is a religion. If you are willing to rewrite the definitions of common words then you can probably "win" just about any argument you want to.

    As soon as Science _dictates_ how a person can understand truth it has become a religion.

    No, it becomes a religion when your beliefs have supernatural explanations. That is it.

    I agree that there are ways to discover truth without the use of the scientific method. Early humans learned that plants need water to grow long before we formalized the use of hypothesis, experiments, and theories (although you could contend that we were informally doing that). Science does not claim that the scientific method is the only way to find truth, although it does claim it is the best method we have found so far.

    Technically Science is NOT a system of acquiring truth but about removing ignorance. (A quite successful masculine path as everyone is aware of.

    Um, ignorance means a lack of accurate knowledge. Truth means having accurate knowledge. So saying something is about remove ignorance is the exact same thing as saying something is about gaining truth.

    The other system IS a way of acquiring truth. Since it is the feminine path it is no wonder most men chose to remain ignorant and blindly ignore it.

    No, religion is about holding onto beliefs so you can be confident that you have found the truth. Just believing in something does not get you closer to the truth, it just increased your confidence. Accurate knowledge (truth) is a system of justified true propositions. Religion is about holding onto beliefs based on faith, not going out and discovering justifications for those beliefs.

    That is why _mind_ NOT space is the final frontier. Space is finite. The Mind is infinite.

    This is just silly. I honestly didn't even read this last sentence until after I started responding, and now realize that I probably shouldn't have even bothered.

  • Re:Science works (Score:5, Insightful)

    by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Saturday June 08, 2013 @12:00AM (#43943779)
    Respectfully, I disagree. Religion and science are antithetical in nature. In religion, a thing is believed based on appeal to authority and tradition. In science, a thing is shown to be true (or true as best we can figure) based on demonstrable evidence. There is no room in science for accepting propositions based on appeals to authority or tradition. Nor is there any room in religion for the idea that basic assumptions can be tossed aside just because they conflict with evidence.
  • Re:Science works (Score:4, Insightful)

    by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Saturday June 08, 2013 @12:04AM (#43943801)

    The problem is, even if you can prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we made up the idea of a creator, all that means is that you disproved the notion of a creator *as developed by humans*. The fact that humans invented a creator, does not mean there is no creator.

    No, but it blows away any rationale for believing in a creator, because to believe in a different sort of creator, you must make one up.

  • Re:Observation: (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 08, 2013 @01:16AM (#43944095)

    "no god worth worshiping would allow something like that to go on"

    It's people's choices that put them there... God might allow it, but people still choose to fight. Don't blame God for shit that is caused just because people don't know how to maturely get along with other people. It's only because some have the authority to dictate what other people do that puts unwilling soldiers in foxholes. God might allow it, but humans *cause* it. For God to disallow it would be to interfere with the the freely made choices that created that situation, invalidating the very purpose of giving us free will in the first place.

    If God were to just turn around and stop us every time we make a wrong choice, then what on earth would the point be of giving us a free will?

  • Re:Observation: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Saturday June 08, 2013 @01:40AM (#43944159) Homepage

    It's almost like he *wants* a decent percentage of us to go to Hell, right?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 08, 2013 @02:54AM (#43944347)

    Do humans cause birth defects and disease as well?

    How about you shut the fuck up and go work full-time with the sick and the poor.

    Fuck you and fuck your gods, all of them.

  • Re:Observation: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheSeatOfMyPants ( 2645007 ) on Saturday June 08, 2013 @03:41AM (#43944475) Journal

    Exactly my reaction after staying in hospitals too often as a kid -- religious adults would tell me that I'd survived/recovered because their god was there lovingly protecting me, but by adulthood I could only think that I didn't want to believe in (let alone worship) a deity that allows or causes the kind of horrible things I witnessed/experienced.

  • Re:Observation: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by professionalfurryele ( 877225 ) on Saturday June 08, 2013 @04:53AM (#43944665)

    But not orthogonal to the question of if there are benevolent deities.

  • Re:Science works (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Eivind ( 15695 ) <> on Saturday June 08, 2013 @05:24AM (#43944753) Homepage

    That's true mostly because religion retreats from those areas where science arrives. Because it cannot compete, seeing as science actually *works*.

    Religion used to have opinions on lightning. (Thor, the god of thunder being angry blabla) But that's no longer sustainable now that science has a better explanation, one that makes sense and fits the observations. Science can quantify ligthning, they can predict it, they can shield you from it, they can even harness it.

    The same is true for disease. Draught. Variations in the mechanical properties of iron. (it's brittle because of high carbon-content, not because you failed to sacrifice a hen while melting it...)

    Today, religion is mostly stuck at "why", since there's very few areas left where religions answer to "how" aren't laughable.

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