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Intellectual Bias and “Belief Without Proof”

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

Every year, the Edge Foundation posts an annual question to over 120 “intellectual” contributors. This year’s question was: “What do you believe is true, even though you cannot prove it?” (see Edge Foundation, 2005). The mandate listed on the Web site of the Edge Foundation states that the Foundation want to promote inquiry into, and discussion of, intellectual, philosophical, artistic, and literary issues, as well as to work for the intellectual and social achievement of society. The Foundation is striving to arrive at the “edge” of the world’s knowledge by seeking out the most complex and sophisticated minds, placing them in the same “room,” and allowing them to ask each other the questions that they are already asking themselves.

And so the “game” is on. The responses given by staunch evolutionists Richard Dawkins and Lynn Margulis could hardly qualify as surprising. Dawkins replied: “I believe that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.” No big surprise there. In a similar vein Margulis (one of Carl Sagan’s three former wives) observed: “I feel that I know something that will turn out to be correct and eventually proved to be true beyond doubt. What? That our ability to perceive signals in the environment evolved directly from our bacterial ancestors.” Given that both of these individuals are active proponents of Darwinian theory, it came as no shock to read their answers.

However, as I was reading through the rest of the responses, it struck me that our young people have little to no chance of receiving a secular education without being biased by the anti-religion and pro-evolution academic community. Consider a small sampling of some of the other responses offered to the Edge Foundation’s question:

Stephen Petranek—Editor-in-Chief, Discover magazine

“I believe that life is common throughout the Universe and that we will find another Earth-like planet within a decade.”

Michael Shermer—Publisher, Skeptic magazine; Columnist, Scientific American; Author

Shermer believes there are three “unprovable” tenets: “(1) There is no God, intelligent designer, or anything resembling the divinity as proffered by the world’s religions…. (2) The universe is ultimately determined, but we have free will…. (3) Morality is the natural outcome of evolutionary and historical forces, not divine command.”

Jonathan Haidt—Psychologist

“I believe, but cannot prove, that religious experience and practice is generated and structured largely by a few emotions that evolved for other reasons, particularly awe, moral elevation, disgust, and attachment-related emotions.”

Scott Atran—Anthropologist; Author

“There is no God that has existence apart from people’s thoughts of God. There is certainly no Being that can simply suspend the (nomological) laws of the Universe in order to satisfy our personal or collective yearnings and whims.”

Ian McEwan—Novelist; Author

“What I believe but cannot prove is that no part of my consciousness will survive my death. I exclude the fact that I will linger, fadingly, in the thoughts of others, or that aspects of my consciousness will survive in writing, or in the positioning of a planted tree or a dent in my old car.”

Nicholas Humphrey—Psychologist; Author

“I believe that human consciousness is a conjuring trick, designed to fool us into thinking we are in the presence of an inexplicable mystery. Who is the conjuror and why is s/he doing it? The conjuror is natural selection, and the purpose has been to bolster human self-confidence and self-importance.”

Robert Sapolsky—Neuroscientist; Author

“So mine would be a fairly simple, straightforward case of an unjustifiable belief, namely that there is no god(s) or such a thing as a soul (whatever the religiously inclined of the right persuasion mean by that word).”

These individuals are supposed to be the “intellectual elite” in their respective fields. In many instance, they are the ones responsible for writing textbooks, publishing magazines, and molding the minds of students. To say that there is an anti-God bias in the intellectual community is a mild understatement! Yet, sadly, it is from such biased minds that many of our children receive their own intellectual training—thereby leaving the impression that the evidence for evolution, and against God, is much stronger than it really is. Students should be made aware that classrooms and the media are actively promoting many of these beliefs. But let us also be quick to remind students that such views of naturalistic godlessness represent beliefs that even the “intellectually elite” recognize as unprovable assumptions—something they “believe is true, even though they cannot prove it.”


Edge Foundation, Inc. (2005), “What do You Believe is True Even Though You Cannot Prove It?,”[On-line], URL:

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