Monday, July 26, 2010

How facts can make things worse

While reading the Toronto Star last week, this headline caught my attention, "How facts can make things worse." Being a big proponent of "the truth shall set you free," I was alarmed at the notion that getting facts can make it worse. How so? It turns out that the article is about a fascinating research project about how presenting facts to politically conservative people in the U.S. can actually cause them to  solidify their wrong position! (If it's too hard to read in the window below, you can find it here: How facts can make things worse.)

After reading the article, I wondered how it might apply in Christian circles. Is it possible that we who value the truth might also be subject to the "Backfire Phenomenon"? What do you think? I'll comment below, but just to review, here are two salient points from the article:

It is known as the backfire phenomenon: misinformed people who are given correct information not only reject that information, but end up believing the wrong information even more strongly.

Part of this response can be attributed to a common psychological phenomenon known as motivated reasoning — when people encounter discordant information [they]wile-coyote-road-runner find a way to deal with that information in a way that doesn’t threaten what they already know or believe.

So does the backfire phenomenon happen in Christian circles? By presenting facts to some wayward Christians do we actually make things blow up even worse? I suspect this is exactly what has happened in the last 40 years with regard to the erroneous teaching about an end times "rapture" of believers. Thanks to Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth it became very popular to believe that true Christians would be raptured to heaven before the outpouring of God's wrath in the last days. Now, in reality, the term "rapture" is not biblical nor is the concept supported in the Bible. There's just no way that Bible verses like Revelation 4:1 support the idea of all believers being taken up to heaven before seven years of wrath ("After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this"). But, when we have tried to correct this teaching by presenting evidence from the Scriptures, it has only made things worse and multiplied the false teaching about the rapture. In fact, it exploded into the best-selling series of Left Behind novels. Now it seems almost impossible to present the Biblical truth on this matter and have it heard. Trying to do so with the novel readers only makes things worse.

What do you think? Are there other examples in the Church where presenting the facts only makes things worse?

Another example that came to mind for me is in those circles where the sovereignty of God has been taught in such a way as to promote a deterministic understanding of reality,Road-Runner leaving us to be merely puppets pulled by God's strings. Though it seems abundantly clear that we are radically free event o run wild, presenting the Biblical teaching on free will — the human power to choose only seems to make things worse (I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live" - Deut 30:19; "choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve" - Josh 24:15; "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" - John 3:18; "Whoever wills, let him take the water of life freely" - Rev 22:17). Though the Scriptures clearly teach that humans have free will, presenting these facts to some people only makes things worse and they then support even more extreme versions of determinism where nothing happens apart from God willing it which serves to make God the author of evil (theologically, an unacceptable position rejected by the early church).

Anyone want to weigh in? Is it true that sometimes facts make things worse in the church? What do you think?

Just thinking,
Ken Symes

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