The Backfire Effect: When Accurate Information Is a Mistake

The Backfire Effect: When Accurate Information Is a Mistake September 21, 2018

Barack Obama is a Christian. He easily passes the tests you’d give to anyone else: he uses Christian language, he goes to church, and (most importantly) he says he’s a Christian!

It’s been fact checked, as if that would be necessary. Turns out that, yes, he’s a Christian.

But you wouldn’t be so sure if you took your conclusion from polls. In March 2008, before Obama was elected president, polls showed 47% of Americans accepted that he was Christian, 12% said Muslim, and 36% didn’t know. With time, this groundless bias should dissolve away, right? Nope. Four years later, the 2012 poll showed similar results.

Another poll in Mississippi found 12% saying Christian and 52% Muslim (and 36% Don’t Know). Among “very conservative” voters, it was 3% Christian, 58% Muslim, and 39% Don’t Know. That was in 2012. In America, where Article VI of the Constitution forbids a religious test for public office and the technology is widely available to look stuff up.

This example shows that we well-educated moderns don’t always accept obvious facts. Who could then doubt that first-century Christians might not have recorded events with perfect accuracy? But that’s just a corollary observation. I want to instead explore how this deeply embraced misinformation gets in our heads and stays there.

Backfire effect

The natural response for skeptics like me is to suppose that misinformed people simply don’t have the correct facts. People are eager to know the truth, and if we provide them with the facts, the misinformation will vanish.

In some cases, this is true. A correction that doesn’t push any buttons can work. It’s easy to accept a more efficient driving route to work or a new accounting policy. In situations like politics, however—as the “Obama isn’t a Christian” example shows—things are more complicated. And here’s the crazy thing: presenting people with the correct information can reinforce the false beliefs. That’s the Backfire Effect.

One helpful article (“How facts backfire”) notes that it’s threatening to admit that you’re wrong, especially where one’s worldview is involved, as with politics and religion. The article calls the Backfire Effect a defense mechanism that avoids cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is “the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.”

In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions.

It gets worse. I’ve written before about the critical but often overlooked difference between confidence and accuracy in memories, how a confident memory isn’t necessarily an accurate one. Studies of the Backfire Effect show that those people most confident in their grasp of the facts tended to be the least knowledgeable about the topic. That is, those most in need of correcting their beliefs are least likely to do so.

This isn’t just an academic issue. These people are voters, and their ignorance affects public policy.

(As an aside, this is related to the Dunning-Kruger effect in which more competent people rate their ability less than it actually is, while less competent people do the reverse. The hypothesis is that the less competent people were too incompetent to appreciate their own incompetence.)

How can we humans be as smart as we are but have this aversion to correct information? The human brain seems to seek consistency. It’s mentally easy to select confirming information and ignore the rest. Reevaluating core principles is difficult and stressful work.

Let’s not be too hard on ourselves, though. If we had to continually reevaluate everything, we’d never get out of bed in the morning. Cognitive shortcuts make sense, usually, but let’s keep in mind the limitations of our mental computer.

Silver lining

I do take some small delight in this, however. Political conservatives today grant themselves the privilege of picking and choosing their facts, rejecting Obama’s religion as well as evidence for climate change, evolution, and any other inconvenient fact. But then they undercut their own conservative Christian arguments when they insist that the authors of the New Testament were scrupulous journalists.

Nope—if conservative Christians care little for the truth today, they can’t insist that first-century scribes were any more careful.

Continue with a post discussing ways to bypass the Backfire Effect.

The door of a bigoted mind opens outwards
so that the only result of the pressure of facts upon it
is to close it more snugly.
— Ogden Nash

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(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 12/8/14.)

Image via Liji Jinaraj, CC license

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  • Bob Jase

    “Nope—if conservative Christians care little for the truth today, they can’t insist that first-century scribes were any more careful of the truth.”

    Sure they can and will – because contradictions are as meaningless as facts to true believers.

    • Ignorant Amos
      • What’s the deal with flat earthers? Is it just 10 people getting a lot of press, or is this really a thing within Western society?

        • aвѕolυт clancy

          Hi Bob, I enjoyed your post and just happened to see this comment. At least in central Texas it’s a real thing. I just moved away from there and I knew a handful of them. They were also all fundagelicals. Their basis for the flat earth belief was twofold: (a) It’s what the OT says; and (b) When I look at the horizon, it’s flat.

          That’s all they need, and your post here was such an accurate representation of what happened when I tried to gently educate them. More argument, digging their heels in. The anti-education trend in the US is really scaring me a bit, especially with the potential for harm with antivaxers. Their definition of critical thinking is to simply question everything…trust no one, particularly if linked with Big [fill in any industry, like Pharma].

        • Ficino

          Looking at the horizon!? Aristotle already pointed out that visual evidence that the earth is spherical comes when you see a sail from very far off at sea. First the top of the sail is visible, later the whole ship. That phenomenon wouldn’t occur if the surface of the earth were flat.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Mere details like that…pfft!

          They’ve got the word of God don’t ya know?

          If the visible evidence contradicts the word…then the evidence is wrong.

        • Greg G.

          If you find a contradiction discrepancy in the Bible, your eyes are lying.

        • wannabe

          Just like with adultery, if you even consider denying His Word, you are already damned.

        • aвѕolυт clancy

          Yeah. The one I talked to about that thought it was a matter of perspective. Say you have a line of trees going toward the horizon…well, they get “smaller” in the distance and eventually the trunk “disappears” and the top of the tree appears to touch the horizon. Same thing, dontcha know.

          She was actually my hair stylist for a while so we talked about the flat earth thing a few times but I was never able to make much progress. She didn’t know enough science to understand even basic principles, so when I tried to mention one the distrust kicked in…”That’s what they want you to believe.”

          It was the same thing with vaccines and she had a new baby. I found another hair place. I would have liked to have made a difference but when she wouldn’t listen to her doctor she wasn’t going to listen to me.

        • Jack Baynes, Sandwichmaker

          How do they explain the Sun and the moon visibly going below the horizon? They’re not shrinking and disappearing into the distance, they remain the same size, then are partially obscured by the horizon until they disappear.

        • aвѕolυт clancy

          This gif is from the Flat Earth Society wiki; it’s probably easier shown this way. Seasons are another issue and for that they have varying paths the sun takes above the disk.

          They accuse scientists of handwaving but they do the same, lacking the
          understanding of the basis for our current models. It would be nice if they’d put this amount of effort into learning some real science. I just don’t get choosing to be ignorant.

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9f9d12caafe7843a07e85a219f887e50ebc86f5ecfc5d6695b3eac40106cd4ab.gif

        • Jack Baynes, Sandwichmaker

          Yeah, I’ve seen that model, but it would have the sun and moon disappear into the distance, rather than over the horizon.

        • eric

          That model would allow the north star to be seen from Australia and the southern cross constellation to be seen from the US; neither is possible.

          There’s also the very clear problem with flight and ship travel around the antarctic (or over it!) being much shorter than what their “map” shows.

        • Otto

          If the Earth is flat this does not explain why there is ever darkness. What is suppose to be blocking the sunlight?

        • aвѕolυт clancy

          With the start of fall yesterday I saw a good article on flat earther equinox teachings on Live Science.

          The sun and moon are both very tiny and very close to the earth. 93M miles is another lie by Them (the speed of light, too, evidently). Instead, the sun moves in a circle above the earth disk and its light illuminates only part of the disk at a time, producing day and night.

          I also found out many of them don’t believe in gravity. We’re held onto the disk because it’s flying upwards through space very fast. They call it universal acceleration and say that’s what produces the effect of what others call gravity. The force lifting the disk is dark energy. It’s like a word salad of science!
          (edited typo)

        • Otto

          >>>”Instead, the sun moves in a circle above the earth disk and its light illuminates only part of the disk at a time, producing day and night.”

          That doesn’t make any sense, even if it was that small it wouldn’t matter, something would still have to block the light.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Make sense?

          Bwaaahahahaha…since when was that a prerequisite to the average knuckle-dragging imbecilic moron?

          These people are bug nutty, bat shit, barking at the moon, lunatic crazy.

        • Otto

          I agree…but anyone should be able to understand that when you have a light source everyone will see that light unless there is something to block it.

        • Greg G.

          You see stars, planets, and comets rising in the east. Then you see the sun rising from there, too. You see half the sun come up out of the sea if you are on the eastern shore.

          How can someone look up and see stars all over the sky and the moon but not see the sun?

        • Ignorant Amos

          It goes down past the edge of the disc.

          It’s hilarious that we are even giving this fuckwittery the time of day.

          Get in the fuckin’ sack. ~ Dara O’Briain

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDYba0m6ztE

        • ildi

          “…well, science knows it doesn’t know everything, otherwise it would stop”

        • Ignorant Amos

          Obviously not “anyone”…I watched a documentary the other night on the beeb…Stacy Dooley: Face to Face with Armageddon…about the preeper phenomena in the state…flabbergasted a was.

        • Otto

          The key word was ‘should’…I think the most disappointing thing on my time here on Earth is just the complete willful ignorance that is prevalent among what should be adults.

        • Susan

          I think the most disappointing thing on my time here on Earth is just the complete willful ignorance that is prevalent among what should be adults.

          I was just standing outside a few seconds ago, looking at a near full moon and a tiny plane in the sky.

          The plane looked like it was flying very closely past the moon.

          If we didn’t have tools that explained how to make planes work and how to understand how far away the moon is, you couldn’t blame me for having the wrong idea.

          But we have those tools.

          If I choose my intitial and primitive perception over the vast amounts of data and well-honed tools…

          you could blame me for choosing my initial and primitive perception.

        • Thanks4AllTheFish

          Apparently it’s like a spotlight.

        • Ignorant Amos

          A very slow lighthouse, but not a static one, one that moves about…a flying light….spotlight. Jeez…what a way to spend the sabbath.

        • Thanks4AllTheFish

          I’m going to go with flat earthers are just seekers of attention. Otherwise, all I’m left with is they actively seek to be really obtuse and stupid people and/or barring that, Poes.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Am sure there are those that are attention seekers. I’m sure there are those that are really obtuse. I’m definitely sure there are those that are stupid. They are all feckin’ eejits, even if some of them don’t believe they are.

        • Otto

          I was thinking a flashlight…but that brings other problems into their argument…it is just void of reason…ugh

        • Greg G.

          With that model, how does Antarctica have daylight for the whole day during the South Hemisphere winter?

        • aвѕolυт clancy

          Yep. I mentioned to this person that my family lived in Alaska before I was born, and my mom used to talk about midnight softball games during summer.

          The flat-earther was stymied by that one – I think normally she’d have said that the light all day near the poles was a myth propagated by Them. But she didn’t want to call my mom a liar!

          Maybe this is a situation where personal anecdotes are actually useful.

        • Greg G.

          If one lived in the tropics, the length of the day may not seem to vary that much but in the snow belts, the hours of daylight change dramatically. The further north (or south below the equator), the greater the difference. Why would they bother insisting that the total daylight or darkness could not happen?

        • Michael Neville

          My brother spent three years in Alaska. The midnight sun is not a myth.

        • aвѕolυт clancy

          How did he like living there? My parents really loved it. It’s on my to-go list, but I add places a lot faster than I’m able to knock them off!

        • Michael Neville

          My brother liked Alaska but it was a very expensive place to live and the winters were brutal. He now lives in a suburb of Chicago, another expensive place to live with brutal winters.

        • Jack Baynes, Sandwichmaker

          Midnight sun in the north could work with that model, just move the sun’s “orbit” tighter so that it always covers portions of the arctic. While you can move it out so that it never touches the arctic in the winter.

        • aвѕolυт clancy

          Yes, that’s true. I think they have alternating solar paths to try to explain the seasons. So those may be set up to allow for the midnight sun.

        • Tommy

          That’s why they call Alaska the land of the midnight sun.

        • Jack Baynes, Sandwichmaker

          One of many problems with the southern hemisphere from the flat earth perspective.

        • One trick to get them to listen is to be from their tribe. Say you went to her church, voted like her, and so on, and you disagreed only on the flat earth issue. Because you’re an Insider, like her, the typical barriers would down so your “Flat earth is insane” message would get a hearing.

          Of course, if you’re not from their tribe (and can’t pass), that’s probably not going to work.

        • What’s scarier, from a more meta viewpoint, is people giving themselves power to declare pretty much whatever they want true or false. Homeopathy, anti-evolution, and anti-climate-change were bad enough, but with flat earth I wonder if anything is off limits for recategorization.

          Secondary question: how much blame is due Donald “Dear Leader” Trump for letting this genie out of the bottle?

        • aвѕolυт clancy

          I admit I’m biased because I’ve never liked him, but even so I think it’s fair to say he’s legitimized fringe beliefs for a lot of people. They’ve all been coming out of the woodwork. So much harm done and many backward steps taken.

          When I was a kid I pictured 2020 as being like the Jetsons…everyday space travel (or at least I was hoping!) but I sure never imagined fundamentals of scientific understanding would be up again for debate.

        • Thanks4AllTheFish

          My first response comes from something my mom used to say to me.

          “Arguing with a fool will only make you look foolish.”

          So I generally just say “Sure, Okaaaay, whatever you say,” and walk away shaking my head. On occasion though I do ask the question, “What character flaw causes you to embrace stupid ideas?” Then I walk away.

        • Greg G.

          My first response comes from something my mom used to say to me.

          “Arguing with a fool will only make you look foolish.”

          My daddy told me to shoot first and ask questions later so I shot him and asked, “Why?”

        • aвѕolυт clancy

          Thanks! I’ll try that in future. It doesn’t lead to useless arguing but still shows disagreement.

          If I’m wrong about something, I’d rather someone educate me. I don’t want to be ignorant. But even when one is willing to be corrected it can be hard because of the effect Bob was writing about here. Even worse with someone who wants to hang on to certain cherished beliefs.

        • Thanks4AllTheFish

          I think most critical thinking people [even cynics, like me) enjoy learning new things. One of my turn-offs comes from folks who tend to behave the same way I do when I think I know something and stick by it just because no one has presented an argument that sways me in another direction. Talk about irritating!

        • Cynthia

          Do these people not travel ever?

          I mean, I’ve flown to Australia, and people have flown from Australia in the other direction back to where I live. At no time did anyone fall off the edge of the earth.

        • Greg G.

          I wonder how satellites work on Flat Earth? GPS satellites have to correct for relativity to be useful. How do geosynchronous satellites for communications stay up?

        • MadScientist1023

          Well, I think they call spaceflight and all pictures of the Earth taken from orbit a conspiracy made by NASA, so they would probably say that satellites don’t exist. And knowing Flat Earthers, they would say it in a supremely smug, condescending, and completely idiotic way.

        • Otto

          I can’t understand to what end the conspiracy is suppose to serve? With chem trails it is the gov’t trying to keep the population down, same with fluoride. 9/11 was a false flag operation. How does promoting a round Earth help not only the US gov’t but every other gov’t person and scientist? The conspiracy has to reach world wide proportions and I don’t see how that could be a) hidden and b) helpful.

        • Greg G.

          The moon landing certainly was a hoax but Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were such perfectionists that they insisted on photographing the hoax on location.

        • Bob Jase

          They have wires holding them up of course.

          Don’t ask what the other end of the wires are attached to.

        • MadScientist1023

          I think they call it an airline conspiracy and/or secret government/Illuminati police who patrol the edge of the Earth to keep anyone from finding it. Because reasons.

        • Michael Neville

          At no time did anyone fall off the edge of the earth.

          That’s what they want you to believe.

        • Susan

          At no time did anyone fall off the edge of the earth.

          Pac-Man.

          https://www.livescience.com/62454-flat-earthers-explain-pac-man-effect.html

        • Bob Jase

          Q-bert, teach the controversy!

        • Ignorant Amos

          Well there was over 200 attending the conference at that link. I like to think over 190 of those attending were just inquisitive rubber neckers…but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were those kinds of numbers of folk really that daft enough to believe such absolute ballix.

          Apparently the membership of the International Flat Earth Research Society of America and Covenant People’s Church in California reached 3,500 at their peak in the 90’s.

          Supposedly the nonsense is experiencing a bit of a resurgence.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_flat_Earth_societies

        • Greg G.

          Most flat-earthers know the world is a sphere. They just hate God… or something.

        • Have you seen the FB flat-earthers group?

        • Greg G.

          No, I haven’t. A FB friend has been posting a lot anti-flat-earth material lately.

          I did visit the Flat Earth Society web page many years ago.

        • Their banner says they have members from all over the globe. Make of that what you will.

        • If there is justice, the 200 were composed of 10 true believers and 190 gawkers + press.

          But there probably isn’t justice …

        • im-skeptical

          It’s a growing movement, and has many of the trappings of a religion, including sacred texts (the main one is Zetetic Cosmogony, which is a real hoot). Their apologists have ready answers for anyone who questions their beliefs. And, it seems that most of them are Christians.

        • Well, there goes my dream that once I get everyone to understand that Christianity is nonsense, the problems of the world thinking stupid will be solved for good.

  • TinnyWhistler

    This is exactly why I don’t make my political opinions known very often on facebook. I can make more of an impact by flying under the radar and asking “Oh dear me, I’m so clumsy I can’t do anything for myself, could you please help me find a source for this all I can find is THE MEDIA repeating this inane statement thanks so much” type questions when a distant relative posts Alex Jones style BS.

    I’ve been shouted down before when I propose this strategy as not being true to myself and pandering to the dark side but I will note that I’ve had demonstrable success in slowing the deluge of BS that certain individuals post, so I’ll continue on my merry way and continue to not care what ideological purists on the internet think of my strategy.

    The backfire effect is real. The question is what to do about it. Simply being smug still doesn’t change minds.

    • WallofSleep

      “… I’ll continue on my merry way and continue to not care what ideological purists on the internet think of my strategy.”

      Good on ya! Ideological purists operate under absolute moral certainty in their political positions. On a small scale, they are thoroughly boring and annoying. However the last time we saw the absolute moral certainty of ideological purists in action on a large scale, it wasn’t pretty.

      https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/0d/c4/6f/61/auschwitz-i-arbeit-macht.jpg

    • I like the sound of that strategy and should probably use it myself more. Of course, with anti-vaxxers, I probably won’t because you know ASD.

    • Michael Neville

      There’s a thin line between asking for sources and JAQing off [LINK]. The first is a legitimate method of debate while the second is a form of trolling. Something like “you say that most rape victims don’t go to the police, do you have a source for that?” can be either, depending on the motivation of the asker, which isn’t always obvious.

      • TinnyWhistler

        Oh, I’m not trying to debate, I’m trying to prompt these people to find out *for themselves* that they’re posting complete BS. If I just pop in and say “WOW this is BS” then we’re now arguing. If I clumsily ask for sources on complete fabrications, then either the poster or someone else the poster is friends with will probably Google it and find out it’s BS.

        I do this for “DO YOU SEE THIS VETERAN HIS NAME IS JOE AMERICAN HE SERVED FOR 500 YEARS AND AS SOON AS HE CAME HOME HIS DAUGHTER WAS RAPED TO DEATH BY JIHADISTS THANKS A LOT LIBERALS” type posts.

        I try not to be a sea lion. If someone gets annoyed, I just leave. I’d rather preserve good will for another fight in the future.

  • eric

    One helpful article (“How facts backfire”) notes that it’s threatening to admit that you’re wrong

    This is why, IMO, a scientific education at the undergrad and grad level tends to produce (on the whole…with many exceptions…) less religious and fanatic people. Experiments are often wrong. Hypotheses are often wrong. Submitting papers for publication in a good peer-reviewed journal gets you 4-5 detailed letters back about all the ways you are wrong. You get used to it. Being wrong stops being so scary and upsetting, so you’re willing to look at evidence that counters somethnig that you know.

    Sure, scientists can compartmentalize as well as the next person, walling off some (political or religious, mostly) beliefs from criticism. So it’s by no means any sort of qualitative difference or innoculation against irrationality. But I suspect that education at least incrementally improves ones’ willingness to accept facts that run counter to ones’ current beliefs.

    • Ignorant Amos

      Which is why sciencey folk are more likely to be irreligious….

      Although it is possible to be a scientist and still believe in God — as some scientists seem to manage it — there is no question that an engagement with scientific thinking tends to erode, rather than support, religious faith. Taking the U.S. population as an example: Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is. ~ Sam Harris

      The percentage of members of the Royal Society in the UK is higher again as far as I can remember.

    • Phil Rimmer

      Sometimes science infects religion in a way that pretty much drains it of all significant toxins.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsi__TJSo-A

      (first few minutes)

      Flipping blind faith for questing doubt.

      If we could lead the godmatic down this path we could pack up and go home.

  • skl

    AFAIK, “church” and ‘attending church services’ are big things for bible believers.
    AFAIK, Obama is not big on those things.

    • Otto

      No different than a lot of Christians in America you asswipe.

      • Perhaps skl has anointed himself Judge of All Christians.

        • wannabe

          Well, somebody has to be!

        • Gary Whittenberger

          One person has to be? I’m skeptical of that idea.

      • Jack Baynes, Sandwichmaker

        But somehow the fact that he doesn’t engage in any of the required Islamic worship rituals doesn’t prevent people from calling him a Muslim.

        • Ignorant Amos

          And in which the taking part in are a much stricter requirement than any of that wishy-washy Christian fuckwittery…go figure.

    • Your point being … ?

      • eric

        It’s just more tribalism. If one is conservative and white, skipping church implies you’re a true Christian who is just very busy. But if one is liberal and black, skipping church implies you’re not a true Christian.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          If you want to try to classify a person’s worldview, it is best to look at a variety of their behaviors, not just one.

    • epeeist

      AFAIK, Obama is not big on those things.

      Just like 80% of the rest of the population of the US.

      Oh, and I know that according to Gallup 40% of the population report they go to church every Sunday. The thing is, half of them are lying. I seem to recall this is contrary to the commandment about “bearing false witness”.

    • Halbe

      So, after reading a post that makes it crystal clear that you are very stupid if you claim Obama is not a Christian, the first thing you do is… claiming Obama is not a Christian. You really are desperate to not be taken seriously, aren’t you?

      • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

        I don’t know if he’s desperate to not be taken seriously so much as he’s just completely clueless.

      • Kit Hadley-Day

        Ski is not known for his ability to form rational argument or even look ahead the logical endpoint

    • Clint W. (Thought2Much)
    • Tommy

      Are you?

      • skl

        No.

        • Tommy

          That’s what I thought.

  • sandy

    If “cognitive dissonance” could have a child, certainly “the backfire effect” would be one of it’s children.

  • wannabe

    I think you’re underestimating the effectiveness of a constant barrage of lies.

  • wannabe

    Barack Obama is a Christian… [because] (most importantly) he says he’s a Christian!

    And the Republican Party is the party of fiscal responsibility because they say they’re the party of fiscal responsibility.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      That’s when you look to behavior for (dis)confirmation.

      Obama has been seen in xtian churches, as I understand it.

      • Greg G.

        Obama was ridiculed because a preacher from the Christian church he once attended was found to have said some radical things.

      • Ignorant Amos

        President Obama is a Christian. His wife is a Christian. They’ve baptized their children as Christians. The Obama family were members of a Christian church in their hometown of Chicago. At his inauguration, Obama was sworn in on a Christian Bible, and as president, he’s proceeded to speak many times with pride about his Christianity.

        http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/pointless-scrutiny-obamas-church-attendance

        That lying day-glo cunt Trump on the other hand…he’s always at church.//s

        • Jack Baynes, Sandwichmaker

          His church is a golf course.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          A golf course is not a church, never has been.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          Disagree.

          What if one is a pantheist who worships nature, specifically through well-tended grasslands?

        • Ignorant Amos

          I’ve no doubt many a Christian golfer has said the odd prayer before teeing off or tapping a difficult putt. Billy Graham certainly does it…

          “”The only time my prayers are never answered is on the golf course.”

          Gary seems to erroneously think a church is a building.

          This is not a biblical understanding of the church. The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.”

          So regarding a golf course can be a church, yeah, that’s a fact already.

          AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Masters golf tournament is about to kick off in Augusta, Ga., this week. But a group of Christian golfers there are working to make the home of the Masters more famous someday as “The Home of the Master” — Jesus Christ.

          The rationale? Since many golfers will never go into a church to find God, Christians need to take God out to the golf courses.

          http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2014/april/golfs-sacred-journey-taking-god-to-the-masters

        • Gary Whittenberger

          A golf course does not meet the definition of a “church,” despite your disagreement.

        • Greg G.

          Many golfers talk to God Damn and Jesus Christ, especially when they are in a hazard.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          That’s funny, Greg, but a golf course is still not a church.

        • Greg G.

          There is a church about 25 miles from where I live that has “Rushing Wind” in the name, which I presume is a reference to Acts 2:2, but they are a motorcycle church. They go for a bike ride to someplace they like and hold a service there. The road is their church.

          Why not a golf course? Are gaudy plaid knickers any worse than priestly robes and extravagant mitres?

        • Otto

          As long as you have the Holy Water (gin and tonic preferably) in your cart it IS a Church

        • Gary Whittenberger

          Please provide us with your definition of “church.”

        • Greg G.

          church, n.: 1. a gathering of people for religious purposes. 2. the place where said people meet.

          It is basically what Paul was talking about where the English word used is “church” but those are not the only definitions.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          I think those two definitions are pretty good. I accept them.

          So, I would conclude that a golf course could be a church, but it was not designed as a church. There might be a golf course somewhere in the world which serves as a church, but I would have to see the evidence for that.

          Just because a pantheist is golfing with his buddies at a golf course does not mean that the course itself is a church.

        • Greg G.

          A church is the people. Where they meet can be called a church, whether it is built as a church building while doubling as a voting precinct, floor space in a strip mall, a hotel conference room, a stadium, a basement, or a yard (weather permitting).

          Buddhists or Jews might use “temple”.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          You previously presented two definitions of “church”, one focused on people and the other focused on place. I agreed with those two alternative definitions.

          As I said, a golf course could also be a church, depending on the circumstances. However, I do not know that this hypothetical has ever happened.

        • Cynthia

          I expect the prayers of some golfers would be more sincere than those of some church-goers.

        • Ignorant Amos
    • Joe

      What other criteria are their for being a Christian. Self identifying is the only criteria for being a Christian.

      • Ignorant Amos

        There’s no true Scotsman indeed…and there never was either.

      • Gary Whittenberger

        I disagree. Look at speech about religion and at other behaviors, like going to church, tithing, saying prayers, etc.

        People sometimes self-identify incorrectly. For example, Einstein said he was not an atheist when he actually was. There are a few different explanations for this.

        • Joe

          “Saying prayers”? How does that prove they’re a Christian? I have said prayers before, at Boy Scouts, just because everyone else was. Are ypou also saying all Christians tithe?

          There’s no super special ontology to being a Christian. It’s just a set of behaviors that people follow.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          Consider the content of the prayers. That will help you with your guess of the person’s worldview.

          As I said already, it is best to examine a set of behaviors, not a single behavior.

        • Joe

          Somebody can’t pretend to pray?

        • Gary Whittenberger

          Yes, actors in plays and movies sometimes pretend to pray. What’s your point?

        • Joe

          That prayer is not a guarantee of being a Christian.

        • Gary Whittenberger

          Ok. I never said it was.

        • Otto

          From the Religious Tolerance website.

          “We accept as Christian any individual or group who devoutly, sincerely, thoughtfully, and seriously believe that they follow Yeshua of Nazareth’s (a.k.a. Jesus Christ’s) teachings as they interpret them to be.”

          http://www.religioustolerance.org/christ.htm

  • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

    The backfire effect is an example of human behavior that makes me wish God existed so I could file a bug report:

    https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/conspiracy_theories.png

  • Michael Neville

    During the 2008 presidential election the Republicans tried to make a big deal out of comments made by Obama’s minister in Chicago, Jeremiah Wright, about taking land from Native Americans, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the invasions of Grenada and Panama, and support of “state terrorism” against Palestinians and South African blacks. Republicans tried to tie Obama closely to Rev. Wright, who nobody argued wasn’t a Christian. So if Obama’s “spiritual leader” is a Christian, then why is anyone saying Obama isn’t a Christian.

    Oh I forgot, Republicans are not known for their consistency.

    • Tommy

      To them Muslim = terrorist, anti-American, non-white.

      They always used the word as a slur.

      • Ignorant Amos

        And ironically, untrustworthy, ffs.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    One approach that sometimes works is to focus on method of discovery: “If I wanted to find out for myself what Obama’s religion is, what would be the best way to do that?”

    • Better: ask yourself, “If I wanted to find out for myself what some random dude’s religion is, what would be the best way to do that?” and then apply that algorithm to Obama.

      The problem is conservatives not being satisfied with the algorithm that they happily use on everyone else.

      • Gary Whittenberger

        Excellent point, Bob! I agree. That would be even better. Have them stipulate a method or help them devise a method. Then select a few persons randomly and a few well known persons, and apply the method.

  • Anthrotheist

    “How can we humans be as smart as we are but have this aversion to correct information?”

    I would argue that perhaps the biggest reason is because humans are not inherently rational.

    We are born without even the capacity for complex reasoning, that comes later in our development. So by the time we have the capacity for such reasoning, we have years of experience getting along (and responding to the world) without it. Mathematics is usually touted as the most pure form of logical reasoning, and most kids can’t do much more than memorize math facts and practice basic processes for nearly the first decade of their life (and many people don’t ever master much more than that). It takes a long time, and a lot of work (puzzles, procedural games, etc.) to get a human to think logically; consider how many kids don’t get that kind of effort, time, and attention, and then consider how many people apparently care little for facts and reason.