Worse than merely Not Thinking

Part 3 in my Don't do Anti-Thinking series.

Why is anti-thinking worse than not thinking? Because anti-thinking tricks you into believing that you have properly and carefully considered a matter. And the dangers, as Voltaire suggests, is that "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

There are quite a few people that think that they have come to a religious conclusion via some rationally defensible justification. Books like the Case for Christ/Creator/etc. are best sellers that attempt to rationally make the case for a specific religion.

There are also the types that boldly proclaim to know things about external reality based off of an emotional response.

I have found a bunch of videos over at mormon.org which proudly displays some of the worst examples of thinking I have come across. These videos are not some encounter that I had on the street and edited to my own purposes. They appear here unedited. Among other things, mormon.org and the videos are promoting belief in an internal warm-fuzzy-feeling truth detector. They claim that people can gain reliable knowledge through faith because the Holy Ghost will whisper the truth to them. Lest you think I am oversimplifying the case, I will quote directly from mormon.org [my emphasis added].

mormon.org: How can I know this is true?

You can discover for yourself that what you’ve been learning is true by:

  • Sincerely praying to your Heavenly Father and asking Him if what you are learning is true.
  • Continuing to study and give thoughtful consideration to what you are learning.
  • Listening with your heart for the Holy Ghost to whisper the truth to you.

Yes. Gaining knowledge is a three step process. If you are faithful, the Holy Ghost will whisper the truth to you.

It gets worse. The videos are astounding examples of proud anti-thinking.

Let's look at another video [2 mins -- if you have trouble seeing this video please let me know what browser you are using, thanks! ]:

The video begins with the man claiming that he's believed in Jesus his whole life, so when he was searching for the true religion, he knew that Jesus had to be a part of it.

This is an exercise in identifying examples of poor thinking; how many can you find in the first minute alone? I find at least three.

  1. Searching for the Truth, but will only check if the answer he's considering is the answer he wants (no others need apply).
  2. Among the answers he will consider, his highly tuned warm-fuzzy feeling truth detector lets him know whether he has found the right one. Perhaps we could call it the Goldilocks approach to truth?
  3. If you ask him questions that he cannot answer about his new found truth, well, he expects that portions of the truth is hidden. The Holy Spirit will not whisper the answer to just any question. It's a nice defensive tactic for maintaining faith in the face of reality.

I stop after the first minute and leave identifying the remaining mistakes to the reader.

When people spout this kind of nonsense to me in person I always ask some variant of the question: What kinds of knowledge can this warm-fuzzy feeling truth detector give you?

I think it's important for both the person you are engaging and yourself to explicitly locate the limits of knowledge that faith can give a person. This truth detector only appears to works on questions that cannot be verified.

If the warm-fuzzy-feeling truth detector gives them unverifiable answers to questions that cannot be checked, and never gives reliable answers to questions that can be checked. Make the case that he does not have a new way of gaining knowledge; he has a new way of fooling himself.

Now, I'm open to the possibility that I'm wrong, and that their feelings based truth-detector could reliably give the right answer. But I'd have to see some evidence for it reliably giving verifiable answers before I'd trust the truth-detector on matters outside of reality.

In case you may be wondering, 'so some people get a warm feeling from being superstitious, what harm is that?' There is a lot of harm that comes from this kind of thinking, and I'll end by quickly mentioning the Mormon effort to outlaw gay marriage by voting "yes" on Prop 8.

It matters that people can be persuaded to take away the rights of others because they feel that a ghost has whispered in their heart. It matters because once they accept 'faith' as a valid way of gaining knowledge, there is no limit to the nonsense that can flood a person's brain.

Note: the video is hosted locally so that it loads faster. It is left unedited and with a link back to the original. I consider this to be a "fair use" of the footage. Please email me if you have any concerns.

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