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The Quicksands of Belief

The Need for Skepticism


Janet Winn Boehm

The Quicksands of Belief: The Need for Skepticism draws on history, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and the cognitive sciences in an accessible, non-academic style in order to argue that humans don’t question enough. Instead, uncritically accepting the often absurd beliefs swirling around them, too many lack the skepticism needed to avoid global disaster. The claim of this book is that humans need to question everything they think they know.
The way the human brain works is impressive and has taken Homo sapiens a long way. However, it is also the source of our failure to doubt. Janet B. Winn explores consciousness first, then the sense of self and how it affects thought. Subsequent chapters deal with beliefs – about reality, politics, religion, pseudo-science – and attempts made to explain human behavior by the social sciences. This concept includes a consideration of the failure to grasp the meaning of evolution, the evolution of language, and how language distorts understanding, along with the role culture plays in these distortions. The remarkable human brain has made an extraordinary creativity possible, yet this ability is used to find ever-more powerful ways to destroy the planet and its inhabitants. Winn argues that this sequence follows primarily from absolutist thinking. In spite of the fact that we cannot know what is true with any certainty, we try to impose our certainties on each other, leading to the lies and chaos of the political world, to the destruction of the environment, and to war.
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7 Evolving: The Human and His Chimp Cousins


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Evolving: The Human and His Chimp Cousins

Humans have wondered where they came from and probably every human culture includes its own myths as answers to that question. For so long, science had no ability to provide sounder answers. Finally, one curiosity-driven man with a solid background in science of his time, the 1800’s, declared, “We evolved from other forms of life.” At this point, the myths could have been put aside.

Two hundred years later, many people still refuse to accept the basic findings of Charles Darwin. Some insist that humans just like us walked the earth with the dinosaurs, that those dinosaurs were used to help build the pyramids, and some American educators as well as some Christian Fundamentalists in government, want our children to learn this as fact. Political struggle over the origins of life has been an American phenomenon for a century, while Europeans see this fuss as ridiculous. Here, educators have allowed the notion of “Creation Science” to challenge Darwin. What these people apparently can’t bear is the thought that apes lived on this planet before humans and that humans gradually evolved from them. Science textbooks and high school teaching are being damaged by this.

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