De-Rationalize Your Beliefs Day

Fear your selves

Image by alexrheadrick via Flickr

With yet another failed Rapture prediction under our belts, I hereby unilaterally declare October 22nd to be “De-Rationalize Your Beliefs Day”.  What would YOU continue to believe in, even after being proved wrong, by just coming up with a more complex rationalization for doing so?

Remember how many groups there are out there that will continue to create excuses and workarounds for their beliefs in spite of failing prediction after prediction. Harold Camping’s failed May prediction was rationalized as a “Spiritual Rapture”, which means it really, really, truly did happen, just without anyone noticing.  Other failed prediction groups have come up with similar rationalizations: in the case of the Seekers, God was “so impressed” with their faith that he decided to spare the world his wrath.  Many others rationalize the violence and immorality prescribed in the Old Testament as something that “no longer applies” to us today, which somehow implies that stoning adulterers, gay people and disbelievers, or forcing rape victims to marry their rapists was morally OK at ANY point in time. Mormons continue to believe Joseph Smith’s “revelations”, in spite of the fact they have been proved wrong over and over (e.g. the Native Americans were one of the lost tribes of Israel). Scientologists, believe… well, Scientologists believe the wackiest things out of all the religions, and yet even they have thousands of adherents.  After decades of decrying other nations’ use of torture, many people rationalizes the U.S. use of waterboarding as either “not torture” or “justifiable under the circumstances”, eerily echoing those they had previously condemned.  Cognitive dissonance is a pretty strong engine for us to come up with justifications for the things we believe even in the face of overwhelming evidence, and religion seems to be one of its greatest energy sources.

What I have found most amusing is the number of comments in posts and articles that attack Camping with some variation of “Of course he’s wrong, he’s a false prophet, if you knew your Bible you’d realize that, it’s all in there if you know how to interpret it correctly”, without a trace of irony. Camping’s predictions have been biblically-sourced and interpreted from the beginning, and his claims of having discovered the truth are only different from everyone else’s in that he made a specific, testable prediction and failed.  There’s no reason to feel superior just because you’ve had the good sense to NOT make any predictions that could test your beliefs: your approach demonstrates lack of faith far more than more any better approximation to the truth.

What beliefs do you hold that, in the absence of proof behind them, sound as crazy to outsiders as Camping’s “Biblically-proven” Rapture predictions? And is there anything that could happen or you could learn that would disprove those beliefs, or would you probably just find a slightly more complex rationalization for them?  If you would continue to believe something in spite of volumes of evidence against it, exactly how does that make you more rational or your belief more sensible than Camping’s and his followers?

And remember the Mother of All Rationalizations: “his ways are unknown and mysterious, so we cannot understand them”, which is used to rationalize the Problem of Evil, why good things happen to bad people and bad things to good, or anything else that becomes theologically difficult to explain.  It’s the carte blanche rationalization, the universal throwing up of hands to say “I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense, there’s no proof for it at all… and yet I still believe.”

So let’s take “De-Rationalize Your Beliefs Day” and re-ground ourselves a little.  Science progresses by constantly re-researching basic principles, re-analyzing core concepts, and sometimes discarding them when the rationalizations required to keep them going become more complex than the principles themselves (see epicycles, for example).  It’s not a bad approach, and will eventually cure more people of malaria than the laying-on of hands.  So let’s try an approach that seems to work, systematically roots out inconsistent and incorrect beliefs, and gets us as close as we can possibly get to the truth: let’s go back to basics and start removing the rationalizations, and discarding the beliefs that are left ungrounded.

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