It appears that authors who feel compelled to tell the rest of us that we are generally misinformed and delusional are witty and entertaining writers. That is probably a necessary ingredient in a book that is repeatedly telling us how wrong we are about most things! In this respect, Duffy’s “Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding” (1) had a similar feel to Chivers and Chivers’ “How to Read Numbers” (2) and a similar message to “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.” (3). Combined, these three books should sufficiently humble the overconfident and dogmatic Doctoral student and create the necessary teachability for the student to really grow throughout this three-year program. Further, these books should cause all students to engage in their research more carefully and critically (in the best sense of that term)—helping them to better diagnose the issue we are seeking to address with our NPO and the solution we are creating.
It also might make some of us (read: me) wonder if we can truly know anything!
Duffy suggests that our tendency to be wrong is the result of either the external manipulative environment we exist in or our brain’s desire for simplistic solutions that can be quickly addressed. In this, he is echoing some of the same thoughts of Kahneman’s ‘system 1 thinking’ that we often rely too heavily on, and often leads us to wrong conclusions. (4).
One of the more intriguing sections for me relates to Meyer and Land’s Threshold Concepts and the liminality of moving into a new way of seeing things (5). Duffy speaks to the cognitive dissonance that people feel when confronted with facts that challenge their current set of assumptions or paradigms. This discomfort can be much more unsettling and difficult to address when people’s identities or self-image are wrapped up in their beliefs. In such cases, the dismantling of their belief undermines their sense of self (6) and it is easy to see why people would be more prone to avoid facts and data that challenge their worldview—preferring instead to remain in the protective echo-chamber of their adopted worldview. Having just read Walker’s book, “Leading out of Who You Are” (7) which clearly locates our ability to healthily lead (undefended) in our identity as God’s beloved son or daughter, one can begin to see how embedded our Christian belief is within our sense of self. So, the obvious question is:
Are Christians more likely to resist critical engagement in their own belief systems and paradigms? If so, are we at greater risk of being wrong?
Of course, I immediately want to answer ‘no’ to such things! We have, after all, had centuries to sort out some of the essential truths of the Christian faith. However, I can also look around and see Christians vehemently fighting against science (for example) and see this convergence of belief and identity playing out in unhealthy and unhelpful ways.
But what of my own beliefs? And how do I remain open and receptive to adapting my beliefs and worldviews while also holding on to essential convictions of the faith?
One of Duffy’s conclusions speaks to the importance of continued learning: “The higher the educational level of the individual, the more accurate their perceptions are likely to be.” (8) This speaks not only to the process that we, as Doctoral students, are in, but also the importance of creating opportunities within the church community and discipleship process for contrarian ideas and confounding questions to be addressed. The tendency for churches to simply ‘tell others what to think and believe’ has not served us particularly well the past few decades, and increased opportunities to truly learn and explore will decrease young adult disillusionment and strengthen our capacity to think well as Christians.
Finally, one last random comment: Duffy identifies ‘political bias’s as a motivation for people to remain steadfast in their belief, regardless of the facts they are presented with (9). This book was published in 2019, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Duffy would have written a whole chapter on political bias and belief after our pandemic journey. Surely political bias had an inordinate amount of influence and power in many of our beliefs about covid-19 over the past 3 years!
(1) Duffy, Bobby, Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding. New York: Basic Books, 2019.
(2) Chivers, Tom, and David Chivers. How to Read Numbers: A Guide to Statistics in the News (and Knowing When to Trust Them), 2021.
(3) Schulz, Kathryn. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. New York: Ecco, 2010.
(4) Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. London: Penguin Books, 2012.
(5) Meyer, J., & Land, R. Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practicing within the Disciplines. New York, Routledge, 2006.
(6) Duffy, Bobby, Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding. New York: Basic Books, 2019. 62-64
(7) Walker, Simon P. Leading out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership. Carlisle: Piquant, 2007.
(8) Duffy, Bobby, Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding. New York: Basic Books, 2019. 214
(9) Duffy, Bobby, Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding. New York: Basic Books, 2019. 215
13 responses to “Wrong….Again!”
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Scott, the other observation I had from the reading was the assertion that changing one’s mind is also associated with losing one’s social place. Do you think the identity we have placed on our belonging to a particular denomination or congregation can impact our resistance to allow for a new belief?
Yes…great post Jennifer….I responded on your blog…but to answer your question: absolutely! There are huge implications when it comes to belonging and belief. This reality exists within all communities, but particularly churches that often act as not only our ‘faith’ place but our social circles as well…so the implications and consequences of not believing increase exponentially. It’s perhaps even more tricky within a ‘religious’ family unit. As our one child goes on a journey of deconstruction, one of his primary anxieties was how he could fit into our family unit. It was so important to talk with him and express our love for him and his ‘belonging’ in our family irrespective of where his journey takes him. That was the easy part….now trusting God to shepherd through this is MY learning journey!
Yes. . . we need to make more opportunities for followers of Jesus to ask theological questions and be intentional in discipling believers through deconstruction to reconstruction. How do you see churches making the needed shifts from a “telling” environment to a more “shepherding” environment?
Good Question Cathy! Definitely more difficult to do on a Sunday morning….but we’re having some success doing ‘seminar style’ events that create some safe space to ‘not be ok’ and allows for questions and discussion.
Thank you, Mr. Scott, for your posting; it is both interesting and informative. When you listed the three titles and added that it helps humbled us, I totally agree. I felt the same as well. Thank you.
“One of Duffy’s conclusions speaks to the importance of continued learning: “The higher the educational level of the individual, the more accurate their perceptions are likely to be.” (8) This speaks not only to the process that we, as Doctoral students, are in, but also the importance of creating opportunities within the church community and discipleship process for contrarian ideas and confounding questions to be addressed. ” Yes and… I know some people with Ph.D’s in medical stuff (a technical term) that have been sucked in to the TikTok and other social media vortex of misinformation regarding vaccines, politics, and an assortment of other subjects. It’s one thing if a highly educated person can see a divisive topic from both sides and understand where each side may be coming from. It’s another thing when this highly educated person is obviously being manipulated by the algorithms and cannot see beyond their own nose! I realize that I too, could be accused of being manipulated by the algorithms but I really, really *try* to see both sides of something. If this highly educated person admonishes me against getting another vaccine (as this person has done) because of all the “soccer players dropping dead on the field after getting their vaccine” I roll my eyes but I also go and look up their claim and try to find information about it (realizing that even my google feed has an algorithm set to soothe my confirmation bias).
I appreciate what you say about the importance of creating opportunities in the church to address questions, ideas, etc that may be contrary. We have a saying at our church that we are about a “spacious Christianity” meaning people are at all different points in their journey of faith and we appreciate them all….especially if they happen to fall in the more progressive part of the journey. Okay we don’t say that last part but it is definitely implied in our preaching and classes offered and theology. The problem is, everyone can see through it and (I think) it keeps those on the more conservative side of things from voicing their contrary thoughts, questions, and opinions, creating a sort of feedback loop or echo chamber within our church.
Yes Kally…an increasingly challenging place to be in: to be a genuine ‘safe-space’ for both the left and the right. Is it truly possible to create this kind of safe environment within a community of people that have to have some kind of ‘bounded set’ in order to be a group? This is getting increasingly tough!
Really enjoyed your posts Scott. You have some great questions and concerns in there about holding Christian convictions while also being open to hear other perspectives and engaging critical thinking. I’ve often wondered if holding loyalty to particular ideas inevitably hinders the integrity of our scholarship and pursuit of truth. I’m noticing this balance is crucial when engaging the up and coming generations openness to the Christian faith.
James Fowler’s book, The Stages of Faith, has helped me tremendously in this area over the years. It is one of my top 5 books of all time. Ever heard of it? Thanks for your posts!
Thanks for the recommendation Adam! I’ll take a look as I haven’t read that one.
Scott! My man – this is a chewy post – thanks for sharing such deep thoughts on Duffy’s book.
I agree that it can be challenging to confront our own misperceptions and biases, but it is an essential part of personal and intellectual growth. I appreciate your observation about the potential for Christians to resist critical engagement in their own belief systems and paradigms.
Question: do you think that this resistance is a result of a fear of challenging one’s faith or a lack of exposure to diverse perspectives? Additionally, how do you think churches and Christian communities can create opportunities for learning and exploration while still upholding essential convictions of the faith?
That actually might be the whole question of your NPO, so don’t worry about answering it all here!
This was a nice read. You wrote, “Are Christians more likely to resist critical engagement in their own belief systems and paradigms? If so, are we at greater risk of being wrong?”
Yes. And yes again. Or that is what I think non-Christians’ would like to believe.
This weekend I assisted DACA applicants reapply for their two year renewal. The ladies were bright, the age of my children, and had all the cultural signs of U.S. citizenship. It was a joy.
Oddly enough the DACA workshop was in a Rights Advocacy office (I won’t mention their names). The walls had a smart collection of LGBT artwork and the reading library bordered on the socially unacceptable.
My group of four that was assisting the DACA applicants were Christians from Colorado Springs. Both groups (Denver & Colorado Springs) were there to help DACA clients. WE could not be further from each other on the morality scale.
I would like to think that we came across as caring, compassionate Christian examples, giving them pause in their normal vitriolic approach to our Christian standards.
Back to your question. I do think we need to be careful in avoiding critical engagements of our belief, We need to do the opposite, God called us to build relationships and to meet people where they are. They will will know us by our love for each other. Perhaps that is one response that will help us be transparent and authentic to a world seeking truth.
Well, Scott, you struck gold again in your post! Thank you. Based upon your post I have an easy question. In the past 10 years how have you changed theologically? No need for a novel…just a few sentences will be sufficient.
Hmmm…good question Todd. I’m more convinced about some core truths of the faith and much less concerned about secondary issues. I care a lot more about how we are living this stuff out than what we profess to believe. Perhaps my biggest theological shift in the last decade has been from an ‘eternal hell and conscious torment’ to ‘conditional mortality’.