Facts Don’t Persuade Us

Hat tip to Phil Wilson who tipped me off via Facebook this morning to this Boston Globe online article, “How Facts Backfire”:


The research described by the article confirms what most of us have suspected, I think, for a long time: that facts don’t persuade us. We accept the facts which support what we want to believe, and ignore or distort reported facts in order to conform with what we want to believe. And some of us – who have reached a really deep level of dishonesty with self – misreport or lie, inventing items which we portray as factual.

These ways we deal with facts affect the way we vote, the studies show – which does not bode well for our country.

More than than that, they affect the way we handle our businesses, our interactions with others, our lives and – you know it’s true – our faith.

It’s not a new phenomenon. Jesus had to refute it in Matthew 12:22-45, where Pharisees reinterpreted the fact that He had just exorcised a demon from a man who regained his sight and speech by saying: “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” They didn’t try to controvert the obvious fact that a demon had been exorcised. They just “put a spin” on it that conformed with what they wanted to believe about Jesus.

His response included some of the straightest talk ever about a house divided against itself, and the consequences of blaspheming the Holy Spirit – which I believe to include crediting the wondrous, beneficial and miraculous acts of the Spirit to Satan and his minions; in essence, calling His good “evil.” He calls it an eternal sin “which will not be forgiven.”

(Let’s remember that, the next time we’re thinking about bad-mouthing someone who claims to have an extraordinary experience and can’t help but wonder if it was God’s touch in their lives, shall we?)

Our resistance to facts which challenge our beliefs is bad news – not those facts themselves. In a society which largely no longer knows the difference between a fact and a premise, cannot distinguish inductive from deductive logic or exhorted knowledge from experiential knowledge from empirical knowledge, knows little to nothing about logical fallacies, has little regard for the balance of passion with reason – this can be disastrous news.

What bothers me as much as anything else – or more – is that I occasionally catch myself resisting the facts.

And that I should probably be catching myself more frequently when I do it.

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