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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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  • Science works (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrEricSir ( 398214 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @06:38PM (#43941555) Homepage

    There's nothing to "believe" in when it comes to science (it works either way) but if the fear of death makes people interested, that's great.

    After all, science has brought us not only longer lives, but more fulfilling, healthier lives with less suffering. If you're worried about death it's just sensible to turn to science.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 07, 2013 @06:41PM (#43941595)

    I do this when I fly. I hate turbulence. As a professional scientist, when the plane starts bouncing, I think of 777 stress tests--how wings are flexed 30 feet at the end before they break, and how turbulence is jiggling us up and down on the 10ft level, when we're going forward hundreds of feet every second. There's a 747 cross-section/cutout in the British Transportation Museum that shows no metal stress after 30 years of service. Thinking of hard core science and its successes almost always calms me down.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 07, 2013 @07:17PM (#43941903)

    So there is this process we use to help make predictions. Its called "science". It helps us form predictions that correlate with reality. Some people "believe" in it, I just use it. When I need to hammer in a nail, I use a tool: a hammer. When I need to make a prediction which I would like to correlate with reality, I use a tool: science.

    Science is a tool: it helps you do specific kinds of things. It is useful.

    This reminds me of my "creationism is useless" argument. Evolution helps you make predictions which correlate with reality. Its part of the science tool, and its very useful. Creationism does not help you make predictions that correlate with reality. Thus, its not useful in the scientific respect. Even if its true, its not science, so it should be taught in the department that covers that kind of thing (history) it you teach it at all. On the other side, evolution, even if incorrect, is useful science, and thus belongs in science classes.

    We didn't stop teaching Newtonian mechanics because relative proved it wrong. They still make useful predictions that correlate with reality. Its still science, and we should still teach it, even-though we know its wrong.

    Why does no one make that point? Maybe because they don't know what science is? (It would really suck to not to have science in my toolbox!)

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

    by snakeplissken ( 559127 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @07:59PM (#43942237)

    Which is why the belief that the universe started with a big bang, for example, is faith-based.

    only in the same sense that the belief that the universe existed before last tuesday is faith based :)


  • by The1stImmortal ( 1990110 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @08:25PM (#43942421)
    I'm feeding a troll I'm sure - but I'm in a weird mood. So stuff it.

    I love the circular reasoning in "The bible is the proven word of God. You really don't need any more proof than that." - so it's proven by the fact that it is proven. Hm. Rightio then.

    Then there's a no-true-scotsman fallacy of if you've read it and don't believe it, then you've not really read it. Hm. Rightio then.

    I'd love to understand why Bible believers think that, for non-believers, the Bible in particular is special?
    Seriously - for someone who already doesn't believe in god(s), what would make them believe the Bible over the Torah, the Qur'an, the I Ching, the Guru Granth Sahib, the Principia Discordia or "There and Back Again" as a text of divine inspiration?

    Finally - I have read the Bible several times. Fascinating read really (till you get to all the post-gospel stuff near the end to the new testament - I really don't care about early christians' "How are you doing over there then?" letters for example...)
    But enlightenment did not come. Instead, the more I read the Bible the more I find it's just a curious collection of old folk tales and legends (old testament) combined with a dogma assembled by committee (new testament).
    And Christians rarely live their lives strictly according to scripture btw. The average christian violates an awful lot of it whilst handwaving huge chunks as being "irrelevant" in the modern church (!). Which is fine if you accept that you're not living strictly according to the book. But don't pretend you are.

    Finally - frankly, if it were written today the Bible would have a very rough time with censors. It's seriously lurid in parts. Incest, rape, slavery (both labour-based and sexual), extremely graphic violence, inciting racial hatreds... Much of which is presented as a good thing! It would probably be banned these days. I certainly will consider carefully when my son will be ready to understand the adult themes in the Bible for sure. I don't want to give him nightmares.
  • Re:Science works (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> on Friday June 07, 2013 @09:08PM (#43942759) Journal

    Ahh, such simple minded thinking.

    In science, there is no believing. Science is not about belief and faith. Science is not a religion. Science is facts, evidence, and logical deductions. The Big Bang is a theory that fits the facts we have. Is it right or wrong? Likely it is more subtle than that, and is correct as far as it goes, but is not anywhere close to a complete explanation. It certainly has difficult problems. There is no faith involved in that.

    As to the idea that our observations may not be reliable, that what we see, hear, and measure may not reflect reality, and pretending otherwise is just acting on faith, this is an old problem in philosophy. How do we know anything we sense is real? We don't know. Is it faith to act as if what we sense is real? No! We accept that what we sense is reality, not out of faith, but because it doesn't make sense to follow any other line of reasoning. Imperfect though our understanding of reality is, and perhaps must be, we can still work with it, and we have. We would never have been able to make integrated circuits, radios, and all the other marvels of modern techonolgy if we didn't have some understanding of apparent reality.

    What if we go with a hypothesis that we aren't sensing reality, that there is a deeper reality that we can't sense? Assuming it exists, what could the nature of this deeper reality be? If it is a supernatural reality, then that ends the scientific inquiry right there. Science is only about the natural, not the supernatural. Soon as the supernatural is invoked, it's all chaos. Anything at all might be true of a supernatural reality.

    If you claim there is a deeper reality and it is natural, but that it cannot be observed, that makes things difficult, but hardly insurmountable. How can we know it even exists, if there is no way to observe it? Without any way to sense it, perform experiments on it, or extrapolate its effects to things we can observe, we can only speculate wildly. First, anyone making such a claim ought to have some sort of rationale for it. We do speculate, with ideas like that our universe is only a part of a multiverse, or that our reality is actually not 4 dimensions, but 10 or 26, with the extra dimensions being so small that we can't perceive them. This is not reaching for faith, this is simply speculation. Even if we can't sort this out now, we may be able to in the future.

  • Re:Observation: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @09:47PM (#43943013) Homepage

    Sodium Pentothal. No inhabitions, no fear. Stress becomes water off a ducks back.

  • by Slashdot Parent ( 995749 ) on Saturday June 08, 2013 @12:59AM (#43944017)

    When my wife was fighting cancer, it got to the point that we were told by her doctors that she would die of it. Not an unreasonable conclusion, as she had a very aggressive cancer, and we had tried all of the standard treatments.

    Faced with that situation, we found that we placed more faith both in science and religion, simultaneously. We went all over the country to see the best experts in her particular cancer, and we also accepted prayers from all religions, all denominations. Obviously we focused the lion's share of our energies on her treatment (science), but we did not neglect the spiritual.

    A funny thing happened. We traveled to see a one expert, a delightful old fellow who happened to be of our same religion. He took a particular interest in her case, and wound up unearthing a many-decades-old study that showed success in treating women in a similar position to my wife. Ultimately, it did wind up working for my wife, and she survived.

    So, in summary, we threw our faith at anything we could find, science and religion. Was there some intervention that placed the idea in this doctor's head to search such old studies? Well, how the hell should I know? All I know is that she alive in the next room instead of dead in a cemetery, so I'm happy. I wouldn't change a thing.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle