Jim Alcock: “One of my favorite examples of this opposition, between intellect and intuition is a colleague who is very smart guy, very rational, very skeptical about anything he can’t find good evidence for, and yet strongly argues that taking megadoses of Vitamin C will head off colds. I’ve pointed out that although there used to be some reasons perhaps to believe that, that all the good research has shown in recent years that Vitamin C doesn’t ward off colds at all. And he said ‘Well, I’ve read that stuff, but my own experience is that it works.’ So one day I saw him with a cold and I said ‘What happened to your Vitamin C?’ He said ‘Well, I have a cold but it would have been much worse had I not taken the megadose.’ I said to him ‘So it’s impossible for you to disconfirm your belief. Whatever happens, you’ll say the Vitamin C worked. If you have a cold, it would have been worse without it. If you didn’t take the Vitamin C you got a cold and that’s because you didn’t take the Vitamin C.’ And he admitted this and said ‘You’re right, but I just have such a strong conviction that this works.’ And so we get back to a type of definition of belief, it’s got the content and the conviction, and when you have that conviction, we like to think that conviction comes purely from our rationality, but often it comes from experience, from the intuitive side of the system.”
David McRaney: “Many psychologists and neuroscientists have written about this recently. Daniel Kahneman, David Eagleman, Jonathan Haidt. The idea being that we have an emotion first, and then we have a cognition second. And oftentimes the cognition, the thought, the rationality, the reasoning, all it’s doing is serving the emotion. All it’s doing is rationalizing and justifying the way we feel and we may not even know that we feel that way. We may not even be aware that all this stuff is happening behind the curtain. We just produce a thought, and as psychologist George Miller once said, ‘It is the result of thinking, not the process of thinking, that appears spontaneously in consciousness.'”- You are not so smart podcast- Episode 33- The psychology of forming, keeping, and sometimes changing our beliefs
BYU professor Steven Peck, in his new book Evolving Faith, gives a SKD (school kid’s definition) of the Scientific Method:
- Find or create a hypothesis-a prediction or explanation of something
- Make sure the hypothesis is falsifiable- that it could actually be proved wrong
- Test it against reality. If it fails, discard it; if it doesn’t, publish it.
Just to be clear, this method is difficult to apply to some spiritual ideas, like the existence of a supreme being. With the current available evidence, how could that claim be definitively confirmed or falsified? However, this method can indeed be applied to some spiritual claims. Does prayer affect the outcome of a situation? Does paying a full tithing improve your financial situation? Does the Priesthood have the power to objectively heal someone?
When I was young, an older friend of mine challenged me to a coin toss contest. He told me that if the toss came up heads he would win, tails I would lose. It took a number of coin tosses before I realized he had stacked the odds completely in his favor and there was no way he could ever lose.
I used to approach God and the Priesthood in a similar fashion. I had no reason to doubt the existence of a supreme being/entity that intervenes in the most minute details of our lives or the efficacy of his Priesthood power. It was just a given. Of course we had a Heavenly Father and he bestowed his power upon worthy males so they could act in his name. That’s just the way things worked. For me, God and his Priesthood could never lose, the odds were stacked completely in his favor. If I prayed or fasted for a certain favorable outcome and indeed it turned out just like I’d asked, then God won. If the outcome was not in my favor, or not how I had requested, then it was God’s will. Heads God wins, tails I lose. If I gave a Priesthood blessing of healing I would usually bless the individual to heal quickly but this would only occur through my faith as well as theirs. If the person did not heal, then either one of us did not have enough faith or it was God’s will. His ways are not our ways. There was no way for me to disconfirm my belief in God or the power I believed he had bestowed upon me.
Interestingly, Priesthood power seems to be uniquely manifested through subjective means. If someone loses a limb or is completely disfigured from an accident or illness or has burns over their entire body, is there ever a Priesthood blessing given to restore that limb or remove the disfigurement? If so, have these blessing been effective? Is this a valid question to ask?
I fall firmly into the agnostic- and more precisely, ignostic– camp as far as the existence of a supreme being or divine entity. I’m open to it. The evidence I see all around me seems stacked against that idea, at least for a divine being that intervenes in our lives. I see little point in arguing with someone who believes differently on this matter, or trying to convince them they are wrong. Who knows, maybe I’m the one who’s wrong. I’m constantly exploring new ideas and ways that other individuals, many of whom are much smarter than I, try to explain the world around them and how a divine being could fit into those explanations. I find joy in the journey and investigation, even though it leaves me with more ambiguity than I am sometimes comfortable with.
One thing should be clear, as you can see from the podcast snippet above, no matter how smart we think we are, we should always be open to correction and be willing to subject our beliefs to further scrutiny. The colleague mentioned in the podcast is an otherwise informed, intelligent, critical thinker, but no matter what evidence is presented against the efficacy of Vitamin C it won’t affect his conviction that it works. This brings up a number of other questions.
If someone believes Vitamin C works to ward off illness, should those who don’t believe, zealously work to convince them they are wrong?
If a Vitamin C believer is taking recommended doses, that may not actually help, but causes no harm, should Vitamin C non-believers work actively to debunk their belief?
Even if the active ingredients in a Vitamin C supplement have no physiological benefit, does the mere belief that they do cause a physiological benefit (placebo affect)?
If the Vitamin C believer is overdosing, and causing themselves harm, is it ok to point out the benefit of discontinuing Vitamin C usage or cutting back on the dosage? What if they are causing harm to others by recommending a certain brand or dosage?
Should a Vitamin C believer be dogmatic about the brand of Vitamin C they are using and proclaim to others that they should switch to their one and only true brand?
Is it possible that some individuals can get by just fine, or may even be better off with a different brand of Vitamin C or no Vitamin C whatsoever?