Tag Archives: true Believer

Why We Believe Weird Things and How to Address it. Pt 1.

Last Fall I took an exciting class by Dr. Larry Zimmerman, called Lost Tribes and Ancient Astronauts. It was an absolutely excellent class and a good end to my last semester in college (for a while). I took it mainly so I could better address this blog, and I got good feedback and good ideas on how to expand the scope of the material here. So with that, let’s start with another look at why people believe weird stuff.

Here’s the secret to this question; we all believe some weird stuff. Each and every one of us has some strong belief, unsupported by facts, that we believe about the world, ourselves, or the unexplained. It’s a natural human state. Michael Shermer argues that it’s an evolved trait to keep us alive. Neurologists see it as faults in our brains. Anthropologists see it as a way of creating group cohesion and society. There’s probably a bit of truth to all of those as they can all produce verifiable evidence to support their ideas. Where the belief in weird things becomes an issue is when those holding the beliefs refuse to modify said beliefs in the face of facts and evidence.

So why do people hold onto weird beliefs when all else is stacked against them?

There are a variety of reasons, from the flippant (It’s fun, makes them feel special, provides escapism, allows a rich fantasy life, etc) to the more serious (Mistrust or misunderstanding of science, poor or improper education, willful ignorance, cultural or societal pressure, blatant lies and purposefully misleading information, etc). The more flippant reasons are hard to address because they are personal and individual choices. Often I’ve noticed these are attached to one person or small group of people. Many times the believer is aware they have a weird belief and can weather social pressures to change it because it’s a choice to believe and they’ve accepted it. They respond with humor, or by ignoring the questioner, sometimes they do respond with anger, but not often. Examples are the beliefs that the Cubs will win the World Series in my lifetime, or the Bears will ever go to the Super Bowl again, I believe it can happen…someday.

The second set of reasons, the more serious ones, are easy to address but very hard to correct. These lead more into the identity of an individual, so by questioning the belief you are attacking the individual. This almost always gets a angry or hostile response because no matter how delicately you try to word it, nonacceptance of the believers’ belief is equivocated with nonacceptance of the believer as a person. Again, we’ve all been here, rejection is not a pleasant feeling, especially when its based on something that we hold important to our idea of Self. Challenges to an individual’s religion, political persuasion, belief in the supernatural, or a particular conspiracy almost always result in an angry response. These are often a long lecture on why the individual believes such things, and why you are the one who is wrong for even questioning that in the first place. These individuals I call True Believers, because in my experience there is nothing that will be said that will ever change their mind, often they are happy to be confrontational and make a show of the disagreement.

These two sets of reasons for belief can and often do overlap. It can complicate how to respond, but more and more often a response is needed. Sometimes it’s easy to just shrug and say, Live and Let Live, increasingly it is not. The difficult part is learning to tell the two situations apart, and this often comes down to personal choices.

That said, there are definitely correct ways to respond and wrong ways. When we engage the True Believer, it is tempting to get angry and try to point out their errors with sarcasm and snark. Its irritating to answer the same question over and over, it’s insulting to have your credentials questioned, I get it, I do. There are several replies to comments on my blog where I gave in to that urge. But, as relieving as it was, it’s not the best way to respond.

The reason for this is that I’ve found that no matter how you respond to a True Believer, they will nit-pick your words and twist them in any way possible to fit their needs. The best response here is to simply stay cordial, and when the times comes (you’ll know when you get there), disengage with grace. The worst that is going to come from this is the True Believer will crow about how they’ve beat you with their logic, the best that will come from it is you being nice to someone with an honest question.

This latter part is the most important!

There is so much bad information out there these days, and there are lots of individuals who are out there simply to take advantage of the misinformed by presenting themselves as authorities (*cough cough History Channel cough cough Graham Hancock *). This creates a situation where people with honest questions are trying to find answers and they are turning to people who they think they can trust. Those people are often us, we the “educated”, we the “professionals”, we the “authorities”. When we respond to these questions with arrogance and snark, it turns people away and they turn to other sources of information, often getting sucked down a rabbit hole of bad reasoning and no evidence. So be nice, answer honestly, and if you don’t know, just say so. We don’t know everything.

Is it ever ok to respond with Sarcasm?

Well…yes, and no.

See, I have a very low opinion of the media right now. So if there was ever a time I would say “Go forth and Snark thy Enemies” it would be when dealing with reporters et al. The problem here is that they will repeat what you say and publish it for everyone to see. They will blow it way out of proportion and make you sound like an arrogant jackass. If you’re good with this, then go forth! If you’re not, then hold your tongue and either turn down the interview (best option IMO) or try to give the most innocuous response possible. Keep in mind, whatever brush the media paints you with, they paint us all with, just fyi.

This all said, it is important that we begin to aggressively address misinformation and pseudoscience. The Age of Information is also the Age of Misinformation packaged as actual information. It’s difficult for us as busy professionals to combat the crap that TV and popular books spew at the curious and uninformed. However, it is also the exact reason we need to combat it! So let’s blog, let’s tweet, let’s podcast and You Tube and Tumblr! Let’s get out there and reach out!


If you want to reach out with questions or comments you can email us at ArchyFantasies@gmail.com or @ArchFantasies on twitter.

Between the Nazca Lines: Evidence vs. “I Wanna Believe”

Well, we now know what a Cargo Cult is, and we are now up to date on the recent research into the Nasca Lines. What I haven’t brought you completely up to date on is the actual Ancient Alien Theory explanation of the Nazca lines. The History Channel sums it up pretty succinctly:

Great Images being deliberately misinterpreted by the History Channel.

“The Nazca Lines

Etched into a high plateau in Peru’s Nazca Desert, a series of ancient designs stretching more than 50 miles has baffled archaeologists for decades. Along with simple lines and geometric shapes, they include drawings of animals, birds and humans, some measuring more than 600 feet across. Because of their colossal size, the figures can only be appreciated from way up in the air—and there is no evidence that the Nazca people, who inhabited the area between 300 B.C. and 800 A.D., invented flying machines. According to ancient alien theorists, the figures were used to guide spaceships as they came in for a landing, and the lines served as runways.”[History 2011]

Never mind the screamingly obvious problems with the description, it does do a good job of summing up what most people think of the Nazca lines, inaccuracies and all.

(Trapezoid Line)

This idea that the lines were used as landing strips seems to come from the presence of the long trapezoidal geoglyphs and the supposed evidence of a leveled mountain top. Von Daniken mentions this in his books, but I haven’t found reference to it, or concern about it, in any of the research. Still, these ideas persist.So, the theory goes that the lines were laid either by man or alien in order to direct and provide a location for space ship landings. Tying this into the Cargo Cult connection; after the Aliens stopped coming to earth with their cargo, we humans began to build a religion around them, attempting to bring our alien saviors back to earth with misinterpreted ritual.

Websites abound on the Internet and even the History Channel, which has produced two seasons of a show called Ancient Aliens, tout belief in and even evidence of aliens. You can find lots of people who are ready to explain the Ancient Alien Theory and tell you all about the evidence supporting it. Not too surprising the Nazca lines fall into this category of evidence.

Even after the modern research mentioned in my last post, these sites still claim that the lines cannot be explained, that scientist still search for an explanation to the cause of the lines, even though this is not true. The reality is that we do have both really good explanations and building methods that require little more than a stick and some string.

(The actual Condor geoglyph)

Well known Skeptic, Joe Nickell, was able to reconstruct the geoglyphs in a remarkably short time using basic, simply reproduced, and most certainly available instruments for the time. Nickell’s, his two cousins, a friend, his 11-year old nephew, and father reproduced the 440 foot long Condor in just over a day and a half (baring time off due to rain) [Nickell1983]. They used merely a knotted rope, stakes, and a T-square they constructed from two pieces of wood. I really recommend the article; it’s a pretty good example of how the Nazca and their ancestors could have produced the geoglyphs without alien help.

(This is the Condor re-produced by Nickell et al. [Nickell1983])

So, now we know how the glyphs were probably made, we have a pretty solid theory onwhy the glyphs were made, we even know a fair bit about the culture of the Nazca (though I haven’t touched on that here). We’ve got the How, the Why, the When, and even the Where. At every point we know humans did this, and not once is an outside force required to accomplish any of it.

Nickell also makes a point about the whole “They can ONLY be seen from the SKY” statement:

“It is frequently asserted that the Nazca drawings are recognizable only from the air. That is not quite true, certainly not of the smaller figures, such as the effigy of a fish, which is only 80 feet long (Reiche 1976). Neither is it true of some drawings — attributed to the Nazcas’ predecessors — that are found on hill slopes (McIntyre 1975; Isbell 1978, 1980). Here, seemingly, is a clue to how the Nazcas could have been confident of the accuracy of their method of enlargement. Once a technique was found to be successful for producing large drawings on slopes, where they could actually be viewed from the ground, the same technique could be expected to consistently yield good results — wherever figures were drawn and whatever their size.” [Nickell1983]

This point was also made by The Nazca-Palpa Project in 2007 [Isla 2007], where they not only dated the geoglyphs and gave sequence order to the deposition, they remarked that the smaller glyphs could be seen from a short distance, like from a slope [Isla 2007].

I would hope at this point that I’ve provided enough evidence to remove aliens from the picture. I can show that the geoglyphs were most probably a cultural tool used to create a sense of community and possibly served ritual purposes dating from about 400 BC till sometime after 600 AD [Isla 2007]. I have shown that they could have been created using nothing more than a sketch, knotted rope, and T-square [Nickell1983], all of which was available in that time period. There is also the well known C-14 dates of the pottery sherds and burials associated with the lines, which help us put the lines into context [Isla 2007, Nickell1983]. There is no need to add aliens to the mix, they are unnecessary. They create a complication that is not needed since everything has a simple, human explanation.

As I say in all my presentations, if you are a True Believer, there isn’t a damn thing I can provide to change your mind. All the evidence in the world will be wasted on you, but if you came to this looking to have a few questions answered, I can help you there.


The History Channel
2011 Evidence of Ancient Aliens? The History Channel website.http://www.history.com/shows/ancient-aliens/articles/evidence-of-ancient-aliens.Accessed Jan 25, 2011.

Nickell, Joe
1983  The Nazca Drawings Revisited: Creation of a Full-Sized Condor. Skeptical Inquirer MagazineVolume 7.3, Spring 1983.http://www.csicop.org/si/show/nazca_drawings_revisited/Accessed Jan 25, 2011.

Isla, Johny
2007 Nazca-Palpa Project: Photogrammetric Reconstruction of the Geoglyphs of Nazca and Palpa. January 2007 http://www.photogrammetry.ethz.ch/research/peru/index.html Accessed Jan 09, 2011.