Gene Expression

Fairies under the rock….

This article about the halting of land development in Scotland because of “fairies” under a rock is illustrative. When comparing nations in regards to belief in the paranormal we often assume that “modernity” and education have banished magical thinking. I don’t believe it is so, rather, magic is still there, ready to surface when given an opportunity. Many would commend Europeans on their acceptance of evolutionary theory, but it is important to note that surveys of public opinion on the other side of the Atlantic suggest a folk far more demon-haunted imagination than one might suppose (search within the PDF linked above for “astrology”). I have noted before that cognitive anthropologists have long posited that our mental biases are synthesized in a fashion so that we are predisposed to see ghosts, believe in supernatural gods and the existence of an afterlife. The difference with Creationism in the United States is that a strong streak of intellectual populism taking strength from organized evangelical Protestantism has rejected the elite counterintuitional consensus (in this case derived from established science), and has generated a counter-paradigm which strongly appeals to preexistent intuitions. This is why I suspect that the fight against Creationism in the United States is going to be the work of generations, the counter-paradigm is evolved toward being intelligible because of the cards evolution has dealt. In contrast, moving beyond a belief in evolution (i.e., simple acceptance of the legitimacy of scientific specialists) to understanding the process requires mental output, putting evolutionary theory at a psychological disadvantage in a world where time and energy are finite. This may explain the obfuscation I have observed amongst the new Creationists, the more technical they can make the discourse the greater skepticism they can engender in the public until finally they simply accept their intuitions as the default option, which strongly biases them towards Intelligent Design or one of its iterations.1

1 – Humans possibly possess an agency detection mechanism, so any design based theory starts out with an advantage since design intuitively implies agency (The Blind Watchmaker explains why design does not necessitate agency, but most people have neither the time nor inclination to read 400 pages of exposition that will throw cold water on their ‘common sense’).


  1. #1 Matthew Cromer
    January 27, 2006

    You are assuming that the “scientific consensus” is correct, that reductionism holds true, that mind is entirely a property of brains, that ESP does not exist and that evolution occurs solely through random and blind processes.

    What is your epistemology for these beliefs? That your “tribe” (high-IQ western-educated intellectual elite) tends to believe them? That lower-IQ fundamentalist religious people disbelieve them? It’s a nice morality play isn’t it. Smart people walk the “lonely road” of discovering the cold, harsh, winds of reality while the common folk delude themselves with sweet whisperings of religious fantasy.

    Of course, since you already know all the assumptions you hold are true, why bother wasting your time investigating nonsense like ESP? “There goes five minutes of my life” is the way you like to put it. Far better to make a jibe about fairies or flying spaghetti monsters and get back to the “real world” of atoms, blind evolution, and ruthless genetic programs that control everything. Of course that elaborate mental construct of a meaningless universe couldn’t possibly be incorrect, could it. . .

  2. #2 razib
    January 27, 2006

    “There goes five minutes of my life” is the way you like to put it.


    truly, the sample space of all possible plausibilities and absurdities leaves me in awe….

  3. #3 Matthew Cromer
    January 27, 2006

    You might be interested in reading what some “heretics” have come up with lately, such as the man who discovered retrovirii (yes that’s Nobel-caliber work):

    Below is a bunch more science that you should not bother reading as you already know it can’t possibly be real. And after all, reality is not based on observations and experiments, it is based on the consensus models of the people who have tenure:

    Yes, that’s the difference between those who are willing to question what they “know” is true and those who already know all the answers. One group is true scientists, the other is professional dogmatists. Which group do you want to belong to?