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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Science of Belief and Unbelief

Fotolia© Jeff Metzger
Over at Mother Jones, Chris Mooney writes The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science. What do you do when scientific evidence contradicts what you already believe?

Imagine walking into work with the crowning achievement of your career under your arm. You are nearly trembling with excitement to share what you've been working on all night. Then the moment arrives and you get to share what you've discovered. You tell your bosses that the world is, in fact, round.

You're met with blank stares and a barely audible grunt. One of them asks how you got to this preposterous notion and you begin to describe your reasoning. Before long you've been shouted down and called a heretic. Not quite the day you were imagining. Something similar to this happens all the time. Evidence is ignored, skewed and reinterpreted based on the emotional bias of the people who hear it.

In the article, Mooney says: "Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn't trigger a defensive, emotional reaction."

If we're trying to lead people into a new way of thinking - a new way of believing. We can't start with contradicting what they've always thought. That's the road to increased resistance and intransigence. However, if we work to see the world from the perspective of the people we're trying to convince then we can present new information within the framework that they will expect. We are subversive. This is the way of Jesus with his parables. The way of the prophet Nathan before David. This is the way of powerful preachers.

How do you work to change minds?

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