Blind faith

Posted on Aug 20, 2022

Religious studies have a quite a lot to say on the world around us, and progress more specifically. In an article termed When Prophecy Fails and Faith Persists: A Theoretical Overview, one can read the same lesson we find in Kuhn’s scientific revolutions book. It’s hard for people to change their minds, and religious movements that fail to predict the future can thrive as long as they keep proselytising. Quoting:

The resilience displayed by religious groups in the face of prophetic failures suggests, as several commentators have argued, that the level of dissonance experienced by insiders is less than that imagined by outsiders, particularly social scientific researchers with their greater personal and professional commitment to logical consistency.76 In the simple and poignant words of Snow and Machalek, “Unlike belief in science, many belief systems do not require consistent and frequent confirmatory evidence. Beliefs may withstand the pressure of disconfirming events not because of the effectiveness of dissonancereducing strategies, but because disconfirming evidence may simply go unacknowledged.

In sort, you can keep marketing an idea long after it has clearly failed. Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions makes a similar observation (quoting Planck):

An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning: another instance of the fact that the future lies with the youth

It’s hard to change our faiths. Which kind of begs the question: what if scientists start doing the evangelism of marketeers and religious leaders? You would probably get stuck in the lies of the past, and new truths would never find their way.