For years, and especially through the 2016 election season, I (and I’m sure many of you) have wondered how people with no mental illness or developmental disability could believe the pure nonsense of conspiracy theories and fake news. It is truly baffling when seemingly rational people believe and spread information that is either unfounded or provably false, simply because they choose to believe it.

In a new essay, Jerry Adler draws a connection between the thought patterns required for religious faith, and the ability or tendency to believe falsehoods. The article points out that people who differ widely on religion (from New Age to Pentecostal) and politics (from Jill Stein to Donald Trump) are apparently susceptible to the same cognitive errors. Adler asks:

…is there something in the mindset of a religious believer — someone who accepts the reality of an unseen deity, based on ancient accounts of events with no parallel in everyday experience — that encourages the acceptance of unprovable claims in the realms of politics or science?

It certainly seems likely. Careful to respect the importance of faith to millions of people, Adler nevertheless asserts that unaccompanied by reason, faith is insufficient for dealing with the complexities of the modern world. Linking faith-based decision-making to politics, Adler says:

But is that any way to run a country? Maybe it’s a time to reawaken our capacity for doubt, now when misinformation is more readily available and arguably more dangerous than ever before in history. Faith has a place in the lives of many people. But, per Augustine, it can no more stand alone than pure reason; a Christian must call on both to be strong in the world.

Adler’s essay explores the phenomenon in carefully objective detail, and it’s worth a read.

Read the entire essay here: Essay: Fake news, faith and reason

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