Why Bad Beliefs Don’t Die

Why Bad Beliefs Don’t Die February 25, 2011

The thoughts of Gregory W. Lester (as edited down by John W. Loftus) (okay, now I feel like calling myself Daniel W. Fincke):

Because senses and beliefs are both tools for survival and have evolved to augment one another, our brain considers them to be separate but equally important purveyors of survival information….This means that beliefs are designed to operate independent of sensory data. In fact, the whole survival value of beliefs is based on their ability to persist in the face of contradictory evidence. Beliefs are not supposed to change easily or simply in response to disconfirming evidence. If they did, they would be virtually useless as tools for survival….Skeptical thinkers must realize that because of the survival value of beliefs, disconfirming evidence will rarely, if ever, be sufficient to change beliefs, even in “otherwise intelligent” people….[S]keptics must always appreciate how hard it is for people to have their beliefs challenged. It is, quite literally, a threat to their brain’s sense of survival. It is entirely normal for people to be defensive in such situations. The brain feels it is fighting for its life….it should be comforting to all skeptics to remember that the truly amazing part of all of this is not that so few beliefs change or that people can be so irrational, but that anyone’s beliefs ever change at all. Skeptics’ ability to alter their own beliefs in response to data is a true gift; a unique, powerful, and precious ability. It is genuinely a “higher brain function” in that it goes against some of the most natural and fundamental biological urges.

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