On Stupid Beliefs
Move to a more appropriate forum if there is one [Mod: Moved to Irrationalities forum. Also tidied formatting. -- natural]. This is the culminations of 2 posts from my weblog. The posts are here and here. I'll also copy-paste both articles here, please follow the weblog if you enjoy and tell all your friends and such. Also, please tell me what you feel I got wrong/right, and uh, discuss the topic in general.
How To Tell If Your Belief Is Stupid
A lot of people try to push their beliefs on all of us every day, and we do the same ourselves. The big problem is that a lot of beliefs are just plain STUPID. Unfortunately, we often can't see that something we buy into is dumb or not (but since we don't really think we're stupid to begin with, we think it's everyone else who has dumb ideas, not just us). So, in order to help you, the reader, I have constructed a short guide to identifying stupid beliefs. After all, identification is the first step towards ridding yourself of stupid beliefs. If any belief you hold matches one of these 5 criteria, it is a stupid belief. If you don't agree, feel free to post a calm, rational, and well-thought-out comment in the comment section.
1: If The Belief Is Not Verifiable, It Is Stupid.
When you lack compelling evidence, you lack the ability to verify, and believing something that you can't verify is stupid. An example comes in the form of plaster casts of Sasquatch (Bigfoot) footprints. Do you have any evidence that the footprint is anything other than a fake? You only have the cast itself, and the word of the person trying to sell you the cast. You don't know that the Sasquatch is real, that the man trying to sell the cast to you is reputable, or if the cast is anything more than a fake. If he can't show you evidence aside from the cast itself, then believing you are holding a plaster cast of a Sasquatch footprint is simply an unverifiable claim...and if he can show you such evidence, then it will undoubtably be more interesting than any plaster cast would be.
2: If The Belief Is Not Falsifiable, It Is Stupid.
Falsifiability is an important principle not just in philosophy, science, and the philosophy of science, but in everyday life. How can you test any claim made by anyone if there isn't a way the claim could be proven wrong? An excellent example is David Icke's claims that the world is ruled by shape shifting aliens. If we ask why we've not seen evidence of this conspiracy, it's blamed on a cover-up. If we ask why we've not seen proof of the existence of shape-shifting aliens, it's because they can change shapes, of course. Literally nothing can disprove this notion. Meanwhile, the mainline theory ("David Icke's belief is bullshit" ) can easily be proven wrong by simply catching a shape-shifting alien changing form on tape. Granted, every attempt to do so has failed, but at least there's a test that could prove us wrong.
3: If The Belief Is Not Supported By Experts In The Relevant Field(s), It Is Stupid.
Some people study a particular thing their whole lives, or at least a significant portion of their lives. They learn from the best sources available, using the most up-to-date information to further their understanding of their chosen field, and often conduct research that furthers our collective knowledge of that particular field of study. These people are called "experts" and they know what they're talking about. Common people (you) do not. If, for example, every medical practitioner on the planet says that autism cannot be caused by any vaccine, and Jenny McCarthy, a Playboy Playmate turned actress with no medical background, is saying they do, she is wrong. Plain and simple.
4: If The Belief Is Dependent On A Logical Fallacy, It Is Stupid.
There are several logical fallacies out there. While something is not necessarily false because the reasoning that one uses to reach that conclusion is faulty, if the only or best reason to believe something is a logical fallacy, then the belief itself is stupid. A great example is found in the Appeal to Tradition page, specifically example 2, wherein a man says that women shouldn't be equal to men in that country because that is how the country has always been. Can you think of a real-life country that also treats women poorly because of tradition?
5: If The Belief Depends On Faith, It Is Stupid.
Oh come on! You knew this was coming. The word "atheist" is right there in the URL.
Of course, I'm specifically using the biblical definition of faith, found in Hebrews 1:11, or belief in things that you can't prove. If you deduced that point 5 is very similar to point 1, you are right, however, there is a difference here. When someone simply believes something they can't verify, once it's shown that the idea is wrong, it's not hard to accept reality, since there is generally at least some circumstantial evidence. When one has faith, it is very, very difficult to admit wrongness, since things you accept on faith more often than not affect one's life in a real way. But face it, if we were talking about was anything else aside from your religious views, would you accept it on faith alone? Well, actually, yes, there is one thing that is faith-based that isn't religion, but, dear reader, I highly doubt you think that racial supremacy is anything other than a stupid idea.
Stupid Beliefs Part 2: How to Know When to CareNot long ago I posted a handy method of telling if your beliefs are stupid.
However, I have been told that we all have at least a few beliefs that are stupid, and I agree...however, having dumb beliefs doesn't always matter. The fact is almost all people have a few stupid beliefs that they still hold onto. To determine whether you really need to exorcize a belief from yourself or pressure a friend or loved one to change their beliefs, one should use the following 3 related criteria:
I'd wager that all people have doubts about most of their beliefs. For everything we're completely sure about, there are probably a dozen we're not sure about. (note that this is personal observation and by no means scientific). The sincerity of your belief largely determines whether you'll care enough to take any action which may be detrimental to yourself or others. For example, if you're roughly 60% convinced there is a malevolent secret society controlling the planet, chances are you won't care much, if you're roughly 85% convinced, you'll probably line the pockets of Alex Jones or sone other crackpot, and if you're 100% convinced of it, you may end up like Timothy McVeigh.
Bottom Line: If you or your friend barely believes the crackpot idea, don't worry about it.
Even if you fully believe something, you may not find yourself caring all that much. Maybe there are more pressing needs in your life, maybe you feel you can't change anything and deliberately stop caring, or there may be some other reason I am unaware of. Conversely, we might have some seemingly inconsequential belief that takes over one's life. How many people do you know who truly believe in the Christian god, yet routinely skip church to do something around the house? It isn't necessarily that they don't really believe, it's just that they find other things that they care more about at that point. Here are examples of people I have personally experienced that illustrate my point. All three of these people believe in a shadowy "new world order" that secretly rules the world. One friend is sure of it, but doesn't care at all. "yeah, they exist, so what?" Another hates them, but minimizes the amount he can do about it, and so it rarely factors into his life except that he listens to Alex Jones and watches documentaries like Zeitgeist. A third is a deranged man who I spoke to when I had my first YouTube channel (now banned after some abuse of the flagging system) He scoffed at my denial of a NWO, and said "I will DIE fighting the new world order!!!" (there were more exclamation points.) Clearly this is a man who takes his fictional secret societies seriously, and assuming he wasn't trolling, should be in a mental institution.
Bottom Line: If they don't care about their beliefs, neither should you.
This is the most important thing, really. I will use a couple of my own dumb beliefs, and one from a former friend of mine, to illustrate my point. I am growing a "playoff beard", which is started at the end of the NHL regular season, and shaved only when your team is eliminated from the playoffs. I tried that last year, but got annoyed with it and shaved it during round 2...and the Vancouver Canucks seemed to suddenly forget how to play, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks for the second year in a row. Now, whenever I want to shave, I get the neurotic feeling that Vancouver will lose every remaining game if I shave. I know it's dumb, but I believe it. Likewise, I believe that chocolate and orange juice relieves seasonal allergies. Despite no actual proof from the medical community that this is true, I believe it. What are the consequences of these beliefs? Until (at the latest) June 15, I have a shaggy and sort of itchy beard, and whenever my pollen/dust allergies act up, I feel a craving for orange juice and chocolate (word to the wise:don't take them together).
My one friend, however, has destroyed himself through his stupid, stupid beliefs. He has become a full-blown member of Ramtha's School of Enlightenment. This is the cult that put out that retarded bit of pseudoscience What The Bleep Do We Know? into our collective consciousness. They also have regular "events" (the cheaper ones run at $1000/event, without travel expenses) and they sell a ton of books, CDs and DVDs. He went to an event every month, took a lot of time off work, and drove away his friends. He eventually went bankrupt due to this cult. Bear in mind, this is a man who made a lot of money, though I don't want to violate anyone's privacy. The man went broke and eventually moved to Washington to be closer to Ramtha. I haven't heard from him since last tie he asked my family for money and was turned down harshly.
This is an example of a belief with a real serious consequence. Adherence to this foolish cult has destroyed more lives than just his, and there are plenty of other beliefs, even nonreligious ones, that can cause severe damage to a person's wellbeing. It may cost them (or their family members) their health, hteir friends and family may abandon them, and it could even cost them their lives. You are a horrible friend for not stepping up and trying to point out the error of their ways if you see this coming. Even if you feel you're risking the relationship, you need to speak up, even hold an intervention. Granted, you need to make sure they aren't right (thus, the last post), and that the belief is serious, important to them, and potentially harmful. But if it meets all that criteria, act.
Bottom Line: When a dumb idea can cause legitimate damage, if you don't try to stop it, it's on your hands.