A man convinced against his will; is of the same opinion still

Posted: January 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

Conviction, Correction and Conversion in the Light of Opinion

While opinion may not be of the popular majority, opinion is still — nonetheless — an infallible ruse.

There’s a widely known saying attributed to certain luminaries such as Benjamin Franklin, Sir Walter Raleigh, Samuel Butler, and Hudribras:

“A man convinced against his will; is of the same opinion still.”

This same notion can also be found among the teachings of Freemasonry. [1]

Brendan Nyhan, a health policy researcher at the University of Michigan and Jason Reifler, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, have published a paper documenting that, when people are presneted with verifiable facts and history that contradict their firmly held beliefs (hence, opinions), the facts often fail to convince them otherwise. (“When Corrections Fail,” Political Behavior 32(2), pp.303-330). This shouldn’t come as a surprise, though as research has found that when people are given facts that refute erroneous opinions, many people actually become further entrenched in their incorrect views.

This is not only found in the political arena, but also in the various dialogues of ideas, economics, religion, and (the ultimate taboo) sex… which, I guess, could be wrapped in with morality — or the lack of it.

Most people really don’t seek out information to challenge their beliefs: more often than not, they look for “evidence” to support their own views. As Nyhan explains,

“Studies have shown that people tend to seek out information that is consistent with their views; think of Liberal MSNBC and conservative devotees of Fox News. [2.] Liberals and conservatives also tend to process information that they receive with a bias toward pre-existing opinions, accepting claims that are consistent with their point of view and rejecting those that are not. As a result, information that contradicts their prior attitudes or beliefs is often disregarded, especially if those beliefs are strongly held” (Myths About Health Care Reform Remain, New York Times, March 25, 2010).

However, not only do people tend to disregard information that conflicts with their previously held notions, they often become more convinced of a falsehood after hearing the truth.

Why is this so?

Because most people — on both sides of the aisle — have come to believe a lot of what they hold to be “dear and true” based on a false premise to begin with.

As Nyhan explained in a NPR radio interview,

“People were so successful at bringing to mind reasons that the correction was wrong that they actually ended up being more convinced in the misperception than the people who didn’t receive the correction. So the correction, in other words, was making things worse” (On the Media, July 3, 2009).

Nyhan reached his conclusion(s) using tools of modern social science. In doing so, he confirmed what students of Scripture have understood for over a thousand years. Jesus Christ saw this same phenomenon firsthand when He corrected the Pharisees and Saducees on many occasions: and let’s not forget the “scribes and lawyers” here, either.

“Which of you convicts me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” (John 8:46).

Absolutely no source of facts could be more credible than the Logos — the Word — made flesh. And no source of facts were going to change their minds. The Pharisees would not accept the truth from Jesus Christ. Not only did their carnal nature keep them from knowing the truth and in a state of self-deception, but their own assumptions about Jesus prevented them from seeing Him objectively.

As the prophet Jeremiah warned,

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

In the ultimate analysis, as both modern science and ancient Scripture confirm — and corroborated by history, tradition and the writings of the Early Church Fathers — most people will believe what they jolly well please.

Even when people hear God’s Truth, they receive it according to their own inclinations and pre-disposed notions, as Christ elaborated in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9). The Apostle Paul goes even further to explain that spiritual truths are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14) — so, we can understand that unless God opens the minds and spiritual insight of the hearers, they will be blinded by Satan, whom Scripture calls “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

So, what does all this mean?

If we challenge ourselves and open up our minds and set our preconceived notions (and opinions) aside and look “outside the box” at — perhaps, a third opinion — we might find that both sides of the debate are founded on a false premise and we will both come to correct some old misunderstandings.

This is no small matter, especially in light of recent events in our global interaction.

There’s an old arab proverb that states if you let the camel get his nose through the door of your tent, it will not be long before he is in the tent with you. And once a society allows anything contrary to its customs and heritage to creep in — it will eventually gain a toe-hold and overwhelm said society.

Editor’s Notes:

[1.] The Principles of Masonic Law: A Treatise on the Constitutional Laws, Usages And Landmarks of Freemasonry, By Albert G. Mackey, M.D.

[2.] And Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, etc.,

(Originally posted by The Colonel at The Sundowner blog)


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