Facts vs. Faith — Which Will Win?

I came across this quote in a column written by Charles Blow for the New York Times, but he was quoting Joe Keohane of the Boston Globe, so that is the original provenance:

“Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”

Blow was writing about Donald Trump supporters.  But if this is true with respect to “ploitical partisans,” why would it be any different when it comes to dogmatic religious believers?

This is disappointing, because it suggests that our favored tools, logic and reason, will not avail against belief.  In other words — excuse the awful pun — faith trumps facts.

Of course, we can hope that even if this is true in the short term, in the long run, ideas based on reason will permeate the public consciousness, and for pragamatic reasons (such as the efficacy of medical science — all but the most deluded believers go to doctors rather than faith healers because they are more likely to find effecive treatment with the latter than with the impotent and ineffective layer on of hands), change will come in the future as it has in the past.

Still, it is depressing to think that our best arguments and the most effective presentation of evidence may be likely to fall on deaf ears.

One thought on “Facts vs. Faith — Which Will Win?

  1. Sorry, haven’t been staying in touch with the blog lately. Just saw this posting tonight and realized how long it’s been since I was here for writing or reading. My bad as they say.

    The failure of facts to change beliefs held on the basis of faith of one sort or another has been the impetus behind most of Jerry Coyne’s writing. He wrote Why Evolution is True to get the facts about evolution into the public sphere. When he discovered that having the facts had no discernible impact, he started writing Faith vs. Facts to explain why faith was no good. So far only the choir is paying attention it seems.

    I’m leaning more and more to just asking the faithful questions to which I know they will have difficulty responding with answers that make any sense and will fall back on their faith. When that happens, then all religions are equal and they don’t like that since they want to “win”. Pushing on that to keep their level of discomfort up seems more interesting than trying to get them to accept the facts.

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