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The Problem of Gullibility

By Wertbag ~ 

Humans are bad at determining reality. We have limited senses, limited views and imperfect minds. Our memory, even short term, can be horribly wrong, while long term we struggle to remember even important details of events. The Mandela effect is an example of how groups of people can all be convinced that something was different historically to how we can show it to be. Some Mandela effect proponents will even refuse to believe that they are wrong, instead claiming that the universe has changed around them. We see thousands of people being defrauded by scam artists, falling into cults or believing crazy ideas like reptile overlords or a flat earth. It almost doesn't matter what crazy idea is floated; it seems thousands will accept it as true.

We have people like Ron Hubbard starting Scientology, Joseph Smith starting Mormonism or Sai Baba convincing millions that he had supernatural powers. While outsiders can look at these people and the religions they formed and be surprised anyone accepts such clearly made-up stories, we also have to admit that millions of people are absolutely convinced these things are true. Then in reverse fail to apply the same skepticism to our own beliefs.

Some of our inability to apply skepticism to our own worldview are phycological effects such as confirmation bias (that we instinctively think things that agree with us are more likely than those that disagree), sunk cost (if we've invested time, money or resources into an idea, we will fight against anything that may show that it was a waste), cognitive dissonance (holding two contradictory ideas at the same time by never comparing your beliefs to each other) or Dunning-Kruger (the instinct that we are better than we really are and failure to recognize our own limitations).

In the case of religion, proponents will invariably believe that all other religions are wrong. They have to be for the selected religion to be true. But then within that religion they will in turn believe that their particular sect or denomination is the correct one and will rally against the ones who have corrupted their message or been led astray. This has happened in Islam, with Sunni and Shiite Muslims disagreeing, it has happened between the numerous schools of Hinduism, and it has happened between the various groups of Christians. The Christian will point to the Mormon's as heretics, the Mormons will point to the JWs as lost, while the JW's point at the Scientologists and laugh. Everyone is right, and everyone is sure everyone else is wrong.

Now consider that in the light of human gullibility. If we as a species are terrible at telling what is real from what is fantasy, and with imperfect brains and terrible memories, then why should we be looking at any of these man-made stories and putting faith in them? We know charismatic preachers from any cult, religion or any con artist can convince the general population to follow their view. Are we arrogant enough to think we are special and such things will only affect others and never us? Is the Dunning-Kruger effect applied to our own cognition of reality?

The scientific method was designed to take the human out of the conclusion, or at least to highlight the bias so that others can peer review and repeat your tests. The data is tested, the tests are, wherever possible, done blind with controls. The tests are repeated, and the results are shown to be falsifiable. It is this recognition of our own shortcomings that allows us to work to plug those gaps. It is this humble understanding that makes this appeal to so many people.

For those who have left religion, whether that be ex-Muslim, ex-Christian or whatever, there is the humbling experience of realizing your worldview is wrong. It is admitting that you held belief for poor reasons, whether that was how you were raised, confirmation bias to what you were taught or simply no self-reflection on what and why. In many cases you will hear people who have changed worldviews be a lot humbler with their claims, happy to say, "I don't know" or "I can't be sure", as they recognize the errors that being absolutely convinced of something without good evidence can lead to. The deconstruction of religion involves a lot of self-reflection, consideration of what evidence a view has and why the same levels of skepticism aren't being applied equally to all claims.

Originally posted in the Reasons for Disbelief thread on Ex-Christian.Net