Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gullibility 101: What is Gullibility? What Sorts of Beliefs are Produced by Gullibility and by Being Gullible

One might wonder whether it really matters if people are gullible and believe so many things without or despite contrary evidence. Even if the evidence and arguments against some of these beliefs are incontrovertible, so what? Clearly these beliefs serve some sort of need in people, otherwise they wouldn’t be so popular. Whether people derive pleasure or comfort from them, why not let them be? Why insist on critical, skeptical evaluations which make believers feel anxious and insecure?

Such points might have more merit if gullibility never did any harm and baseless beliefs never had any real impact outside the belief itself. The truth, however, is that habits of gullibility cannot be restricted to just a few isolated beliefs in a person’s life. If a person develops a habit of accepting claims without requiring commensurate evidence and reason to back that claim, then such habits of thinking will necessarily influence their approaches in areas like politics and social policies — and this affects us all.

Even if we set this aside, however, gullibility can still have negative effects for believers themselves and it’s justified to be concerned about this. Belief in the efficacy of untested medicines, especially those relying on “faith,” can prevent a person from obtaining reliable medical treatment in a timely fashion. False beliefs about stars controlling one’s destiny can prevent one from trying to take personal responsibility for what happens to them. False beliefs matter because truth matters, and gullibility matters because the only reliable method for consistently arriving at the truth, or at least closer to the truth, is by relying upon science, reason, and logic.

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