Belief and "The Backfire Effect"

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    Dang Martin


    The Misconception: When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking.

    The Truth: When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.

    I don’t consider my position of non-belief to be a “deep conviction.” It’s a negative position that is falsifiable via evidence. The likelihood of that evidence showing up is almost none, since no one has ever presented evidence of the supernatural.

    It’s just claims that I don’t believe, because I see no reason why I should believe them. There is nothing to defend.

    This does not mean that I am immune to holding a false belief, and then defending it. I did just that in late 2013, when a “friend” on Facebook said she had cancer. She gave me some “evidence” in the form of pharmacy receipts, and a letter from her divorce lawyer who wrote about how he was sorry to hear that she had cancer. That last piece of “evidence” is very biblical in nature, for it is equally circular.

    But by that time, the emotional pull into the situation was strong, and various aspects of manipulation were at play. I had no awareness that any of this was happening at the time. This would go on for about 8-9 months. Even when the truth finally came out, it took me about 3 months to wrap my head around it, and about a year to figure out exactly what happened.

    Eventually, enough convincing evidence came in that I had no choice but to accept the truth. The feeling of the crush, when the truth finally penetrated, was devastating. I was wrong, I got taken by a scammer, and it happened in front of everyone I’d ever known. All because I believed her, as she begged for her life. There was great financial loss, extreme social shame, and career devastation. Effectively, my life was destroyed, due to my belief in this situation.

    In my story, there were some things that I considered to be evidence, due to emotional manipulation, and the emotionally-charged situation. I was groomed into believing. While I’ve never experienced childhood indoctrination, I suspect that what I felt and experienced with this is about as close as it can get. Just add WAY more time, more emotional manipulation, and do it while that person is not intellectually developed.

    But what if there is NO evidence to support a belief?

    My favorite story in the link above is about how Ronald Reagan built up this legend of “The Welfare Queen.” She was this person who supposedly lived in Chicago, having 80 fake names, 30 addresses, and 12 Social Security numbers. She had a Cadillac and lived a life of luxury.

    The problem was there is no evidence that this person ever existed.

    This legend is quickly approaching its 42nd birthday, and yet it still persists.

    I had a conversation with a friend in the Midwest, a Conservative Republican who was livid about welfare recipients. “You don’t know how bad it is here. Welfare recipients in this state are living high on the hog. They have steak and lobster for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They drive expensive cars, and live in mansions. They’re flush with cash, and flaunt it all over town.”

    I asked him if he’d ever seen someone like this in-person, flashing their cash, or if he’s seen their cars, or their mansions. He replied, “No, but they exist.”

    I commented that “this sounds like an awesome deal,” and suggested that maybe I move back to the Midwest.

    The conversation came to an end shortly after I asked him why the hell he was wasting his time working, when he could join the welfare recipients and have a better life.

    The only certainty that I had about this discussion was that he sincerely believed everything that he was saying.

    Ever since my unfortunate scamming, I’ve tried to stay aware. I typically considered myself to be skeptical in nature. That is, if something seems too outrageous, then I will question it. However, the problem with this approach is that an American who has cancer and cannot afford treatment is not all that outrageous of a story. It’s a horrific story, and it is highly believable. Skepticism did me no good.

    I could try to be more skeptical. Ironically enough, I was skeptical of that solution. When you get burned like I did, every little thing that touches your skin hurts.

    Thanks to assistance from therapist, I was able to see what went wrong. When this person appeared to get emotionally unhinged, my empathy let me go along for the ride. I was then “listening with my heart,” instead of listening to what was actually being said, or observing what was actually going on.

    After I became emotionally invested, it was my financial investment that sealed the case shut. After all, I would not be sending money to a scammer. What kind of idiot do you think I am? I’m a skeptic!

    On top of the “emotions-over-listening” issue, I had the sincere belief that I could not possibly get scammed, because I am a skeptic. I was above getting scammed. I sincerely believed that, and it was this belief that left me wide open in the most ironic way.

    One solution is to not listen with my heart or emotions. Do not get wrapped up into the emotional state of the other person, be it real or perceived. Actually listen to what they say. I actually got to put this idea into practice not too long ago, when I was at a gas station and a man approached me.

    “Sir, I’m sorry to bother you. That’s my truck parked behind you. I was in town with my wife, visiting family. We were heading back home, but I got robbed. My wife is 8 months pregnant. Can you spare some money for gas, so that we can get home?”

    A rather moving story, no doubt, full of emotionally pleas.

    The first red flag appeared with the first word he said. He called me, “Sir.” This might sound sad, but when another person is overly-respectful, kind, or emotional, that is a warning to shut off my empathy and turn on my ears.

    He was also rather emotional in his tone, which cannot be conveyed here. It can be observed in some of the ideas, such as getting robbed, or having a pregnant wife. The idea of being stranded in a strange town is certainly unsettling.

    The OLD me would have felt badly for him, and I would have given him $20.

    However, the NEW me was listening. What I heard was that he was “in town visiting relatives.” This means that he is not very far from his relatives.

    I told him, “I’m sorry to hear that you got robbed. How horrible! I’m sure your wife is upset. But if what you are saying is correct, then you might be too emotionally upset to remember that you are still in town, where your relatives live. I think that you should give them a call.”

    Finally, there are manipulations out there that may not be so obvious, because they are missing the body language, voice inflection, and other cues that might give us warning. A good example is the man’s story, from above.

    This can be the case for online posts, blogs, social networking posts, and news articles.

    When I read something, and I feel good about what I’ve read, I have to stop and ask why. This felt like it was written for me. Why? The same goes for things that I find disagreeable. Why do I disagree with this? Why do I not like it?

    I’m interested in knowing your thoughts, or if you have any other ways of checking yourself to make sure that you’re not believing something that is wrong, or potentially self-destructive.

    I think that intelligence is not enough. Neither is skepticism, unless you take it to the point that you become skeptical of your good and bad feelings about things. That was a depth that I did not explore until recently.

    This might better explain my problem with the word “believe” to others, when it comes to certain topics, especially things where belief is not required.

    Belief has been discussed in another thread. How do you check your beliefs? How do you protect yourself?


    Here a couple of vids that might be of interest. The value of Skepticism and Critical Thinking.


    How do you check your beliefs? How do you protect yourself?

    I am going to take “beliefs” to mean the concepts upon which I build my worldview. I don’t think I set out to protect them. I want them to be attacked but I will only engage in rational debate. I distinguish between religious belief which is just personal opinion and what others may call “my beliefs” but which I call “my current understandings”. They are not something I cherish or invest any emotion in. I do not try to have them protected in any way. Anyone is welcome to try to tear them down.

    Beliefs tend to be fixed. “I believe in God” is a statement of belief that is fixed. You can’t believe it any more or any less, even if you sometimes have doubts. “My current understanding” of how the Universe is always under review. It evolves as I learn more but I will chuck it in the bin if it is shown to be wrong.

    I accept “Big Bang Cosmology” because it is a workable theory. Ok, we are missing a few trillions of a second out of 13.8 billion years ago but to that point the mathematics work and there is plenty of peer-reviewed evidence to support it. However I am now considering that Higgs field theory will soon come to challenge the accepted Inflationary model. When I learn more about that my current understanding will change. Wait until the next theist asks me if “I believe in the Big Bang”!!

    The same with Evolution. It is 100% factual (video this coming Sunday School). Therefore I do not need to defend it – to myself or to anyone else. I can explain it to those uneducated about it. Nothing anyone tells me ever challenges the theory so I have dismissed what YEC’s and Intelligent Designers claims. They are wrong. Their extraordinary claims and beliefs can just be dismissed. They below to the dark ages.

    From these “understandings” I have come to accept that I live in a Universe that does not know or care that I exist. Sometimes I think that because we are part of the Universe – made of “universe material” and because we are aware of the Universe and almost aware of its beginning and ending – that we are it consciousness. But that is just me not always liking to admit my own insignificance in the “grand scheme” of things. Evolution is not aware that it evolved us. It does not even know we are just one species of mutated ape DNA.

    So I build my worldview upon the foundations of my understanding of Modern Cosmology and Evolution. I am content with the fact that I will die within the next 40 years and I understand that when I croak that will be the end. To see it any other way is wishful thinking. The foundations of my worldview have allowed me to face my own mortality and I really don’t care about it. Life is not all that important!! I will enjoy live while I can and live with my own code of morality in how I conduct myself. I understand the enormity of the “odds” of my existence and the chances of having lasted as long as I have, which is longer than most humans have ever lived. I have very few possessions and don’t care much for them (I would not let my Alexa hear that!!). I will try to make the world a better place for others when and where I can. I will engage in as much debauchery as I can and will always love those close to me and prefer a feast of friends alive than the giant dead family.

    I have had theists tell me that such views sound very cold and make existence meaningless. I tell them that for me that is more realistic than anything they believe. I decide what gives my life meaning. I see their beliefs as nothing more than a comfort blanket and a delusion that detracts from seeing the world as it really is. If it did not make so many of them dangerous I would almost feel embarrassed for them. They see life as a valley of tears and look forward to their next one. I find that all very sad.  I mean these people are adults telling me they hold the belief that they can communicate with the Creator of the Universe and for holding that belief they are each to become an immortal. I understand them to be plain wrong. If they can give me reasons to change what I understand to be my pillars of reality, I will gladly change them. It is “my belief” that they never will because they are only pretending to know the things they claim to know.




    “The conversation came to an end shortly after I asked him why the hell he was wasting his time working, when he could join the welfare recipients and have a better life.”

    That made me laugh out loud!



    I love the idea of a “spirit” world. I wanted my horoscope to be true. I wanted to live forever with my family all happy in heaven. I wanted Jesus to love me. I was raised in Catholic schools.

    All of that meant little as I matured into an educated, thinking person. However to take that final step I think courage and self-confidence was key.

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