Religion is not scientific. Neither are superstitions, astrology or homeopathy.

They are bullshit.

Immaterial.

Non-existent.

So why do people still cling to them?

Being human, a.k.a. “the thinking animal”, people would surely abandon false beliefs when presented with more rational alternatives, right?

But they don’t.

It’s much harder to be a skeptic than to be a believer. Believing is effortless. Doubting chips away at the mental budget.

It’s tiring. It’s tiring to question everything. It’s tiring to be an iconoclast.

Faith is not like that. It’s very pleasant. Things just make sense.

The scientific community has been disproving religious knowledge for a long time. The world is not 6000 years old, but 5 billion years old. Living things were not just introduced to the world as they are, but have been evolving from single-celled organisms all along.

But the Catholic church remains. Millions of Christians still defend creationism and try to replace facts with fiction. They are so desperate for faith that they are willing to forego their senses.

It is often said that people need to believe in something bigger than them. That explains God, but it doesn’t explain superstitions, astrology and so on. There is a bigger picture.

People believe the things that help them. They believe in what serves their purpose, even if they are not aware that they have one. They believe in what feels good, even if it is a lie.

This is where the scientific mindset may fall short. A scientist might focus on a belief, and ask “Is this right?”, or “How could I refute this?”. And they are very good at that.

But they often forget to ask “Why do people believe in this?” and “What happens when people believe in this?”.

If they were to ask these, they would see that not everybody can (or should) handle the truth. People have been constructing and living their lives according to lies for as long as language has existed.

A lot of those lies died out with those who carried it. But some of them survived to this day and still remain strong. That’s because they helped those who carried it to survive. They represent the most recent stage in ideational evolution.

They are eupseudias1—good lies. They aren’t good in the ethical sense. They are good according to the people who favor and keep believing in them, because they feel right. If a eupseudia didn’t feel right, it would eventually die out, because human beings are not capable of sustaining cognitive dissonance for a long time.

How can a lie feel right? It could do in many ways:

Familiarity: People are born into it and grow with it—it just feels familiar. Children take what is given by their parents at face value. If the lie increases prosperity and the chance of survival, people have less of an incentive to question it. Example: religion.

Explanatoriness: People don’t like uncertainty. They want to predict things in advance to increase their wellbeing. Or when a bad thing happens, they want to prevent it from happening again. To be able to do that, they first need to understand what caused it and how it happened. If they can’t do that, they fall back to less satisfactory alternatives—lies which give them the illusion of an explanation, because the uncertainty feels unbearable. Example: astrology.

Pleasantness: People can believe in a lie just because it gives them good vibes. If the lie introduces positivity to an otherwise negative life, people will choose to keep it. Examples: mysticism, homeopathy.

Preventativeness: If a lie prevents people from acting in harmful ways, it can propagate throughout the society without the majority of the people not being aware of its purpose. Example: superstitions.

How do you kill a eupseudia? You could do as what you would do with any other meme: explain it. If you could understand and explain truthfully to people why and how exactly they believe in a lie, they would not be able to unsee it. This is different than refuting the lie.

But explaining alone is not enough to kill it. If the eupseudia serves a purpose, then you would effectively be handicapping people. People don’t want that.

That’s also why science cannot eradicate religion. Doubt cannot replace faith, because people want and need something to believe in. Faith can only be replaced by other faith—a better one.

So a eupseudia can only be replaced by an idea that serves the same purpose in a better way. This could be another lie—for instance New Age is on its way to becoming a de facto religion in the Western world.

Or in rarer cases, a eupseudia can be replaced by an evalethia2: a good truth. It is rare, because the truth about fundamental matters is unpleasant: a lot of things are uncertain, we still don’t know enough about the universe, and we appear to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But once you accept all that, it can be very freeing. Don’t take my word for it—certain Buddhist thought is built on evalethias.

However, true freedom is not good for survival. We depend on each other to survive and to compete with other groups. The truth will set you free—but it can also kill you.

That is why eupseudias will always exist. It may not be obvious during times of prosperity, but the truth is a luxury which societies cannot always afford. When shit truly hits the fan, people are presented with a choice: lie, or die.

  1. From ευ-: good and ψευδος: lie. 

  2. From ευ-: good and αληθεια: truth.