Why Is the Ingersoll Foundation Necessary?

What motivated establishment of the Ingersoll Foundation? We realize that many of the questions we are raising touch issues and beliefs that are, for many, sensitive, emotionally-charged, deeply held and deeply embedded in many cultures. Our motivation is not, however to judge, criticize or oppose these issues and beliefs. We are motivated by a commitment to reason, an insistence on verifiable evidence as the basis of acceptance of any assertion of fact and by a commitment to the principles of the scientific method as the primary means of evaluating proposed hypotheses. But that same commitment to reason raises concerns about various cultural practices that encourage acceptance of assertions of fact and means of perceiving reality that are inconsistent with reason and that may have neurological, mental health and ethical consequences that we believe warrant scientific study.

The Importance of Reason, Objectivity and Verifiable Evidence Supporting Assertions

One of the most important factors driving establishment of the Foundation was a deep regard by its founders for objectivity, reason and their recognition of the importance of the existence of verifiable evidence as a condition for acceptance of any assertion of fact. There is, however, a widespread acceptance of various beliefs, claims of historical fact and other ideas that do not meet these criteria. The fact that capacity for acceptance of such beliefs, claims and ideas exists raises questions about the source of that capacity, and we consider investigation of the factors that contribute to that capacity to be a worthwhile endeavor, whatever those factors turn our to be.

The Implications of Using "Faith" to Perceive Reality

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "faith" variously as belief and trust in and loyalty to God, belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion and firm belief in something for which there is no proof. These definitions imply acceptance of a means of perceiving reality that is not evidence- or reason-based and is therefore inconsistent with objectivity and reason. Such a means of perceiving reality suggests that faith may entail the suspension or suppression of the rational faculties of our minds that we use when making decisions in other areas of our lives. When purchasing a used automobile, for example, we would of course critically consider its state: Does is run? Are the door handles falling off? Are the tires in good condition? Is its price consistent with its condition? We would not simply talk to the seller over the phone, listen to his glowing description of the vehicle and send him the money for its purchase. We would not make the purchase on the basis of "faith" in a seller of unknown integrity. Why would we not apply the same caution and scrutiny in other matters as well?

Yet that religious belief appears to be a result of just such suppression and suspension. We are not asserting that it does, but that it may seems a reasonable hypothesis worthy of investigation, whether unbiased studies validate that hypothesis or reveal it to be invalid. Why do we posit this hypothesis? In many cases it because children are, on a large scale, exposed to various forms of religious training in institutions such as Sunday Schools, religious instruction or "faith formation" classes, church sermons or masses, madrassas and others. In all likelihood their parents reinforced the things learned in such institutions, quite possibly because they experienced similar training in their own childhoods. And the ideas and beliefs imparted to children week after week, sometimes day after day and year after year, often by adults with the best of intentions and whom they respect -- and the acceptance of "faith" as a valid means of perception -- have the potential to become very firmly established as truth in the structures of their brains responsible for maintaining them.

But those assertions of the truth of historical fact based on religious writings and the validity of other religious beliefs and dogma have no objectively-verifiable evidence to support them. Our concern is that the robust neurological establishment of the truth of those assertions and of the validity of "faith" may have adverse neurological and mental health consequences, both on children exposed to such instruction and on those children as they move into adulthood. We must ask whether there is a suppression of their critical faculties that may allow them to exempt certain assertions from critical scrutiny, and, if such suppression in fact occurs, whether it may also affect their ability to apply necessary critical scrutiny in areas of their lives unrelated to religion. We are not asserting that any such adverse neurological and mental health consequences actually manifest themselves or that acceptance of "faith" has any effects beyond the realm of religious belief. We are simply stating a concern that they may, and that the potential consequences if they they do may be serious enough to warrant objective scientific investigation.

Also, our concern is not with conscious choices by adults to embrace any beliefs of their choice. But children, without training specifically intended to help them consider whether an assertion by a respected (or feared) adult authority figure is reasonable and to let them know that it is acceptable to question any such assertion without fear reprisals, ridicule or bullying, remain vulnerable to acceptance of such vigorously-reinforced assertions. Beyond potential neurological and mental health consequences, we are also concerned with the ethics of exposing children to these influences before they have developed the ability to critically scrutinize assertion of fact, particularly when influential adult authority figures make those assertions and reinforce them with frequent repetition. We consider it important to see studies into the ethics of this exposure conducted, and based on the outcome of such studies, to encourage discussion of appropriate responses that may help to ensure the integrity of children's critical faculties.

 

What Is the Scientific Method and Why Is It Important?

The scientific method, quite simply, is a means of testing a suggested explanation for some set of observations to evaluate its validity objectively -- without bias -- based on evidence. The accepted term for "a suggested explanation for a set of observations" is an hypothesis.

The Foundation and studies it funds will propose various hypotheses related to the questions and concerns we have raised, to be subjected to rigorous testing and scrutiny consistent with the scientific method, as well as the best practices and ethical requirements of the particular knowledge domain performing a particular study. A fundamental requirement for funding of all studies will be an absolute commitment by their investigators to approach their studies with no bias toward any particular outcome and to ensure that all study outcomes will not be influenced by any perceived desire by the Foundation to have any outcome support a particular conclusion. All studies funded by The Foundation will require execution based on objectivity and verifiable evidence and without bias, regardless the conclusions to which they lead.

 

What Are Hypotheses?

Merriam-Webster defines an hypothesis as a tentative assumption made in order to draw out and test its logical or empirical consequences.

Live Science further states that

  • [An] hypothesis must be testable and falsifiable, according to North Carolina State University. Falsifiable means that there must be a possible negative answer to the hypothesis.

  • Research [involved in testing the hypothesis] must involve deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is the process of using true premises to reach a logical true conclusion while inductive reasoning takes the opposite approach.

In very simple terms, an one can consider an hypothesis to be an educated guess subject to objective testing to establish the likelihood of its validity.

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