Christianity Johnson on 19 Sep 2008 03:10 am
Have you ever wondered where religion comes from? This article discusses one possible explanation:
According to the article:
Wolpert argues that our wide range of beliefs, some of which are clearly false, grew out of a uniquely human trait. Alone in the animal world, humans understand cause and effect, and that, he says, led ultimately to the invention of tools, the rapid rise of sophisticated technology, and of course, beliefs. Even the earliest humans understood that many events that shaped their lives resulted from specific causes. Therefore, there must be a cause behind every event.
Searching for that cause, Wolpert says, led to the rise of religion because surely there must be some purpose behind all this, some ultimate cause at work in the universe.
The article leaves one thing unresolved. It is fairly easy to understand why children believe in impossible things. But what about adults? It is obvious, for example, that the belief in a prayer-answering, Bible-writing “God” is ridiculous (see GodIsImaginary.com for details). Yet Christians cling to their beliefs with tenacity, in the face of all kinds of evidence proving their beliefs to be nonsense. Why does this happen?
This article offers an explanation:
According to the article:
Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration’s prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation — the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration’s claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.
A similar “backfire effect” also influenced conservatives told about Bush administration assertions that tax cuts increase federal revenue. One group was offered a refutation by prominent economists that included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35 percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it; 67 percent of those provided with both assertion and refutation believed that tax cuts increase revenue.
In a paper approaching publication, Nyhan, a PhD student at Duke University, and Reifler, at Georgia State University, suggest that Republicans might be especially prone to the backfire effect because conservatives may have more rigid views than liberals: Upon hearing a refutation, conservatives might “argue back” against the refutation in their minds, thereby strengthening their belief in the misinformation. Nyhan and Reifler did not see the same “backfire effect” when liberals were given misinformation and a refutation about the Bush administration’s stance on stem cell research.
What this article suggests is that many conservatives cannot think or reason clearly. They cannot filter fact from fiction. In fact, they appear to prefer fiction. And the “overlap” between conservatives and Christians is high. This would imply that many Christians cling to their beliefs, despite all the evidence that their beliefs are ridiculous, because their brains are not working correctly.
In light of these discoveries, a controversial but appropriate question would be this: should people who cannot filter fact from fiction be allowed to serve in positions of responsibility in our society? Isn’t this a form of mental illness that we are seeing in this study? This section is particularly damning:
“Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration’s claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.”
In other words, when given facts, many conservatives refuse to accept them and go with the fiction instead. It certainly sounds like a form of mental illness.