What can you say when people refuse to change their beliefs in the face of evidence? Sure, evidence can be misinterpreted but does that mean we throw out reason, logic and evidence? Of course not. So how can people look the most convincing, undeniable evidence in the face – proof by any objective measure – and reject it in favour of their beliefs? How could anyone continue to believe that 2 + 2 = 78 in the face of the fact that 2 + 2 = 4? Everything we believe eventually comes down to faith; but we believe (through experience) that there is order in the world, so we can use our reason to learn how the world works. Faith and reason can coexist: in fact, faith without reason leads to foolishness and anarchy, and reason without faith leads to cynicism and stagnancy.

What we believe may seem odd to others, but all people should be allowed freedom of belief – with carefully delineated restrictions. But how can you hold an intelligent conversation with someone who refuses to accept that they can be wrong?

I was talking to a couple of Mormon (Latter-day Saints) missionaries today. Among the several other aspects we talked about, chiefly why I wouldn’t pray about the Book of Mormon, I asked them, What evidence would you accept that the Book of Mormon wasn’t true? Their answer boiled down to “none”. I emphasised, What if a document, a genuine – unforged – historical document was found that showed beyond doubt that the Book of Mormon was false: would they accept that? No, they wouldn’t. If evidence appeared to the contrary – no matter how genuine or well-founded it was – well, their feelings, their convictions, carried greater authority. This problem of feeling over fact didn’t seem to be a problem for them.

I asked them, if I ignored all the evidence and prayed about the truth of the Book of Mormon, what if I didn’t get an answer, or the answer was that the Book of Mormon was false? What then? Their answer amounted to, you’re not asking with genuine desire to know the truth: if you do want the truth, God will confirm that the Book of Mormon is true. They didn’t seem to be able to entertain any other possibilities.

Their faith was based on what? On their faith, it seemed, as well as on their experiences. They were convinced that the Book of Mormon and the LDS church was true, and that was enough. I mentioned the faith and sincerity of people of other religions, including people who die for their faith, but it didn’t faze them. They didn’t appear arrogant or condescending, but just unwilling to seriously consider the possibility that they could be wrong.

If you were on trial, would you want someone to judge you based on their feelings, and damn the evidence? Dear God, may people who follow feelings like this never hold power over human life.

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