Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Where are the movies about the "power of reason"?

"A heartwarming tale about the power of belief"  How many movies have I just described?  Dozens? Hundreds?  How about a movie or TV series featuring some supernatural element, or aliens, or some other mythical element, where the scoffing skeptics are shown to be completely wrong, usually about a third of the way into the movie?  Just as many, I think.   Another popular plot line is of a child living in a fantasy world and those caring people trying to bring the child back to reality are portrayed negatively on a spectrum from simply misguided or not understanding the child,  all the way to downright evil and abusive. 

Have you ever heard a movie described as a tale about the power of reason or the merits of skepticism?  I can't think of a single one, can you?  In fact, most movies I can think of that featured skeptics usually have them being total dicks, and/or having some experience that opens their eyes to the "power" of belief.  I don't recall ever seeing any kind of non-documentary movie or TV show that featured story-lines about believers being disabused of their false perceptions and coming to a more rational understanding of the world, but I can think of many where skeptics become believers of one sort or another. 

Richard Dawkins talks about the attitude of "belief in belief".  People who don't necessarily believe religious or superstitious claims themselves, but nevertheless feel that such a belief is a "good" thing in general.  It's not surprising when you look at our media.  The message is omnipresent, especially in children's entertainment, and even more so at Christmas time when everyone helps perpetuate the Santa Claus myth, even going so far as to have news outlets tracking the progress of Santa's sleigh via radar.

When I ask other parents why they intentionally lie to their children and present false evidence for Santa, I always get a response to do with it being a "magical" part of childhood.  Perhaps, but my kids enjoy it even though they have known from the start that it's just a myth.  Yet this answer, I think, points to why the desire to believe is so prevalent in our society.  It's magical.  Belief gives a sense of wonder, a sense that there is something greater and transcendent out there, and, perhaps most importantly, it gives hope and comfort.  And because of this, many people feel it's a good thing to have beliefs, without even considering the truthfulness or potential consequences of holding falsehoods to be absolutely true.  But why?  Why do we have to persist in thinking that science and rationality - or even just humanity absent supernatural powers - can't give us these things?  If a loved one is suffering from disease, it's medical science  that offers hope.  If there is catastrophe, it's real people taking action using tools made through the use of science that bring relief. In reality, science and reason are what actually accomplish what believing cannot.  Yet, time after time we see depictions of science gone awry, or the limits of science.  Yet, we never see movies showing when belief fails, when hope is proved false, when faith goes unrewarded. 

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