Gullible

Are Evangelicals more gullible than other people? A friend recently shared a blog article claiming that, among the blogger’s Facebook friends, it’s the Christians (and just this particular kind of Christian) who most frequently re-post “news” that turns out to be a hoax. Share this post and some company will donate to a kid’s heart transplant fund. Warn your friends that their hot dogs are about to explode. Don’t drink coffee/milk/water/juice/soda because it will ruin your health and cause you to be dead!

The blogger then went on to suggest four excellent reasons why Christians should not re-post this tripe, and an easy way to find out if something is true or not (just Google the first sentence). I recommend his article highly.

I’ve actually been pondering this topic for quite a while, because I have noticed the same trend. While all of us are taken in by hoaxes from time to time, it seems that my church friends are most frequently fooled. Talking this over with Pete, we wondered—is everyone is equally gullible, but we just happen to know more Christians? Or does our belief in God and in miracles (such as the resurrection) predispose us to faith in non-spiritual subjects too? Perhaps we’re used to reading the Bible and learning from it, so the written word has gained more authority for us than for others? (It would be interesting to compare Christians and Muslims, another “people of the Book,” in this regard.)

The more credulous of my friends believe all sorts of stories about subjects ranging from politics to aliens, but the biggest problem seems to be with anything scientific. It’s as if these otherwise intelligent people have decided their brains just can’t handle science, so they don’t bother to validate what they hear. Whether the topic is global warming, cancer cures, or allergies, there is a tremendous amount of misinformation circulating online. Or, someone might go to an “alternative medical practitioner,” then share what they’ve been told with their friends, who indiscriminately swallow it all. True, not all doctors are good doctors and not all accepted therapies work every time. Some alternative medical treatments are helpful. But many others are only good for curing us of our money, and some may be dangerously harmful. God calls us to be wise and discerning, and I don’t think He limits that to purely spiritual topics.

How can you analyze the validity of a scientific claim? Here is how Pete and I go about it.

  1. Check websites such as Snopes.com. QuackWatch has a ton of well-organized, easy to understand information on health-related fraud. I also recommend a Wiki-How article entitled “Recognize Medical Frauds and Scams.”
  2. Check the source. Was the article published in JAMA or another equally prestigious journal, or is it on an anti-science website? Good places to check out medical advice include the Mayo Clinic and the Johns Hopkins’ Health Library.
  3. Is the source selling something related to their scientific claims? Remember the Y2K hysteria—those selling survival gear were the loudest alarmists. Similarly, many health-related sites sell books, special foods, vitamins, and various medical devices.
  4. Are their claims backed by impartial studies, or is the “proof” merely anecdotal?
  5. Read the studies supporting the theory. Were they well-designed? How many subjects were included? Was there a control group? Was the study a “double blind” (meaning even the researcher didn’t know which subjects were being tested and which were controls)? What kind of statistical analysis was performed on the data? If you feel unable to decipher the article, have someone with a science background help you.
  6. Was the study confirmed by another study by a different scientist or team? Promising studies lead to further research. One study doesn’t prove anything.
  7. Talk to someone who is knowledgeable in the field. They are probably familiar with current research and theories.

I urge all of us (myself included) to do a bit of research before going public with the latest “news.” The last thing I want to hear is, “Those Christians will believe anything!”

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