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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 12-Jan-06


Wednesday 11-Jan-06

Jumping on ice

We took our two dogs for a walk recently. Tika is dignified German Shepherd who likes to trot, sniff and say hello to other dogs. Poppy is a working strain Golden Retriever who loves to run and leap in and out of the lake around which we often stroll.

Poppy's normal mad-yahoo leap into the lake as we arrived was rudely interrupted by a layer of ice, the presence of which turned her normal boisterous splash into a confusing crunch as she landed on the ice and then fell through. We weren't worried as the edge of the lake is shallow so we knew she wouldn't be harmed. The ice, however, rather perplexed Poppy, who thereafter would dash up to the edge of the lake and suddenly shy away, as the memory of the uncomfortable crunch-through triggered feelings of danger.

We are constantly predicting what will happen next and, when things do not turn out as expected, we quickly become confused and disoriented. This effect is more pronounced when more strongly held beliefs are dashed. Poppy's entire experience said that water was soft, and to find it hard must have been especially confusing.

When a fundamental belief is dashed, we may wonder what else we held to be true is now not true and hence call into question a whole system of beliefs.

The effect can go beyond the individual to other people and whole societies. When Rutherford split the atom he threw the scientific community, whose other theories were based on an indivisible atom, into turmoil.

And when the ice is broken on spiritual beliefs, the result can be even stronger. Darwin's discoveries challenged fundamental Christian beliefs and it was thirty years before he dared publish his findings. Even today there are many who cling to religious beliefs of divine creation rather than accept that we are descended from dinosaurs.

Many of our beliefs are like thin ice which, when shattered, plunge us into the shocking waters of the unknown. In such terrifying circumstances, rational thought is replaced by emotional and primitive reaction.

When you want to change another person's mind, even (and maybe especially) if you have good evidence to support your argument, consider the effect that this will have on their beliefs. Think about how they will cope with the shock and the stress and hence make sure you are ready to handle objections and other resistance.

Your comments

Do you really think we are descended from dinosaurs?? Presumably this means originally amoeba forms?? That amoeba could possibly provide all the diversity of life forms? Yup, has definite issues with a spectrum of beliefs!

-- Nancy

Dave replies:
Well, we are descended from something, if you accept that Darwinian principle. Perhaps the most intriguing question was how the amoeba or the very first life-form appeared. I think I've read somewhere about how, if you create the right form of primordial soup, then life will spontaneously arise.

I haven't personally observed evolution, but it makes more sense to me than alternative explanations.

Incidentally, as far as I know, no evolutionary theorist believes that we "descended from dinosaurs". We purportedly descended from primates, which evolved from earlier mammals, which we can trace back to the first tetrapods, back to fish, and so on. The fossil record is quite compelling, though it does not tell us anything about the original spark of life.

Speaking of which, the Miller-Urey experiment to which you referred has been somewhat discredited, though it nonetheless continues to make the important point that amino acids can arise spontaneously. Anti-evolutionists overlook this in their fervour to marginalize the concept.

Is the theory of evolution true? I don't know; I wasn't there. But it is (for me) a more useful method of framing the past than specific, unsubstantiated speculation about deities. In my experience, deistic models eventually tumble into "special pleading", and I've come to the conclusion that there's little hope for changing minds once that begins.

-- Timothy Campbell

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