How can a person know he or she is not in error? Because we are the ones judging our own thoughts, it’s not easy to determine if we are up to the task. Surely, there are other folks who consider some of your views to be void of sound reasoning. So the question remains, who is correct?
After many years of contemplation, I’ve come to realize that magical thinking is one of the most common causes of erroneous beliefs. It is the ability to draw conclusions that are based on a person’s desire for what reality should be, not necessarily upon what reality actually is. People simply believe things that have no connection to logical thinking. Here are some examples:
Relics of saints can transfer spiritual energy. The pet psychic who claims she can read your dog’s mind by looking at a photo of the dog. Doing an Indian rain dance will cause precipitation to fall from the sky. Wearing your favorite lucky shirt will improve your bowling score. The Bible contains hidden teachings that only certain groups can understand.
It’s very appealing to believe one is able to create whatever reality one so desires. Someone who uses magical thinking will have the satisfaction of always being correct. However, with the ability to create your own evidence for your beliefs, there is nothing to prevent error from creeping into your consciousness.
The imagination is a wonderful tool for innovation, but without guidelines to govern this creative energy, we will eventually get off track. Our brains should come with the warning: “Danger, the lack of a factual foundation may cause a sudden shift from reality.”
One of the biggest obstacles to truth is bias. There is good kind of bias; then, there is a type that involves having a preference to one particular point of view, or ideological perspective, that is not supported by fact.
My knowledge of the effects of alcohol on drivers makes me know I’m biased against anyone who drinks and operates a vehicle. A negative bias might be someone who thinks all doctors are quacks. In other words, a negative bias paints with a broad brush, and this is most often the wrong kind of bias.
Someone’s view that he or she has no faults is a pretty good indication that magical thinking is causing them to be biased. No one is perfect, so if you can’t recall the last time you were in error, you might have bias issues.
Someone put together the following list of questions that are based on the Socratic method of evaluating an argumentation. These can be very helpful in detecting our personal biases.
What do you mean by_______________?
How did you come to that conclusion?
Why do you believe that you are right?
What is the source of your information?
What assumption has led you to that conclusion?
What happens if you are wrong?
Can you give me two sources who disagree with you and explain why?
Why is this significant?
How do I know you are telling me the truth?
What is an alternate explanation for this phenomenon?
The term, “true believer syndrome,” is largely credited as being coined by M. Lamar Keene in his 1976 book, The Psychic Mafia, referring to an irrational belief in paranormal events, even after direct confession or evidence that the events were fraudulently staged. Keene became interested in this phenomenon after he worked to expose fraudulent psychics, faith healers, and miracle workers.
He would show people that the person claiming to have supernatural powers was a scam artist, and they would refuse to listen to him. “The true-believer syndrome is the greatest thing phony mediums have going for them” because “no amount of logic can shatter a faith consciously based on a lie,” said Keene.
True-believer syndrome proves that the wrong type of magical thinking can lead to self-deception. Here are a few glaring examples of this phenomenon:
Flat Earth Society – Based in Lancaster , California , the name for the Flat Earth Society is self-explanatory They advocate the belief that the Earth is a flat disk centered at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice, with the sun, moon, planets, and stars only a few hundred miles above the surface of the earth. They believe the numerous modern satellite and space shuttle photos showing the earth as a sphere to be hoaxes. The ability to climb a tall building and see the curvature of the earth for themselves would probably not sway them from thinking the earth is not flat.
Crop circles – In the late 1980s and early 1990s, crop circles began appearing in British wheat fields. UFO watchers claimed the circles were caused by the landing alien spacecraft. In 1991, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley admitted to creating some 300 crop circles with a piece of wood and some string. They even demonstrated to the press how they carried out the hoax. Crop circles advocates refused to believe the men had created the circles. In the face of the revelation, one gentleman maintained his faith by claiming a special magnetic force had knocked down the wheat stocks.
Money scams – In the mid 1980s, my own late grandmother had received letters telling her that she was the winner of a lottery. The only thing preventing her from receiving a huge payout was for her to first pay a handling fee. Despite the fact that my grandmother never received a dime, and that supposedly she was winning contests she never entered, my grandmother continued to send money to these scammers. My grandmother continued this behavior even after being sternly warned that she was being defrauded.
William Graham Sumner offers one of the best summary of critical thinking: “Critical thinking is the examination and test of propositions of any kind which are offered for acceptance, in order to find out whether they correspond to reality or not. The critical faculty is a product of education and training. It is a mental habit and power. It is a prime condition of human welfare that men and women should be trained in it. It is our only guarantee against delusion, deception, superstition, and misapprehension of ourselves and our earthly circumstances.”
Critical thinking is what keeps us out of trouble. Whenever we encounter a situation that could be hazardous to our mental, physical or financial well-being, we need to pull out the litmus paper of skepticism.
Imagine a friend named Bob comes to you and says he has invented a car engine that can get 200 miles per gallon, and that he needs to raise $1 million to set up a shop that can mass produce the engine. Bob asks you to contribute $100,000 to the project, and promises to make you instantly wealthy once the company goes public. Because you trust your friend, you decide to clean out your savings account and place a second mortgage on your house. A year later, you find out Bob’s engines don’t actually achieve such high levels of fuel economy, and the whole project goes bust.
Critical thinking would have saved you and many other people from losing money. It’s an appealing idea to own shares in a company that would be the next Microsoft, but the unlikelihood of this being the case should have given you pause. There are no cars that get 200 miles per gallon, because the technology to accomplish that is beyond our grasp. The reason no one created a microchip that could operate at a gigahertz in the 1960s is because it required tens of billion of dollars in research and 30 years of trial and error before a microchip of this speed was possible.
The usage of critical thinking does not require us to be cynical of all things. If you drive down the interstate and come upon a bridge, you don’t ask yourself whether the will collapse as you cross it. You know that any bridge in a heavily trafficked area will be well maintained. Critical thinking would serve you well if you encounter a rickety bridge on an old country road.
The stubborn nature of man is sometime almost immune to any type helpful advice. There is a method of last resort that has been the turning point for many people. People who is flying in the face of reality will eventually encounter a personal crisis that will forces them to reassess their beliefs.
Someone may think nothing is wrong with drinking. When that person loses a job, he or she is confronted with the type of evidence that cannot be pushed aside. Then he or she is forced to admit to the error.
Personal calamity doesn’t require someone to come to the truth. I’ve seen plenty of people hit rock bottom and still manage to blame everyone else for their problems. A woman who has been divorced five times can still think that she’s just had a run of bad luck with men. A man who wasted his life away on booze can find fault in all the enemies that drove him to drink.
Anyone who realizes he or she has received a wake-up call needs to take prompt corrective action. People often recant of problems they had previously confessed to having. When temptation comes along, the same magical process of delusion draws them back in. People need to know that the clock is constantly moving forward. The devil doesn’t care how many times you press the snooze button; his strategy of victory is based on the fact that people will continue to hit the button.
God Does Not Use Magical Thinking
A lot of Christians believe that the Kingdom of God operates on magical thinking. God just makes a wish and things magically happen. The process may appear to be that simple from our vantage point, but that can’t be how things work. For every complex cause, there needs to be an intelligent force acting behind it.
God does not have a personal fairy godmother to grant His wishes. When the Almighty desires to perform what we would call a supernatural act, He has to fulfill it himself. When Jesus healed the man of leprosy, the biological composition of the man’s infected skin was broken down and rearranged to form healthy skin. When the Lord walked on water, either He was made lighter or the molecular bonds of the water were made stronger.
Magical Thinking’s inability to bridge the gap between the natural and supernatural world has provided an opportunity for some people to rationalize many biblical miracles. The parting of the Red Sea is frequently explained as being the result of a wind blowing away the water. Some folks go into pure heresy by claiming that Jesus didn’t die on the cross; they say He simply fainted and later recovered.
Faith is not a special power unto itself. It is simply an asterisk that says, “I don’t know how God did it.” When believers arrive in heaven, the Lord will reveal all mysteries, and there will be no more “magic.”
Christians Should Not Use Magical Thinking
To see the negative influence magical thinking has had on the Church, one only needs to open the Yellow Pages of the phone book and look under “churches” to see how splintered the body of Christ has become. We all started with one body, and today there are over 10,000 different denominations in America.
A lot of the walls between denominations would crumble if church leaders were as diligent about scriptural doctrine as the ancient Bereans. I’ve always liked the saying David Reagan has helped popularize: If the first sense of Scripture makes sense, seek no other sense, or you will end up with nonsense.
I once ran across an atheist site that listed several reasons scientific reason is superior to Christianity. It repeatedly blamed Christians for lacking common sense. Here are a few guidelines to help put believers more in line with Bible-based truth:
1. A Berean Christian will check for possible weaknesses in his or her own doctrines.
2. A Berean Christian should be quick to test all new teachings against the Word of God.
3. A Berean Christian should only side with views that come straight from the Bible.
4. A Berean Christian would never agree to a “loyalty oath” of an organization.
5. A Berean Christian needs to be able to admit that he or she might be wrong.
Christians need to be mindful that there is a devil who actively seeks to mislead people. With the Bible being the only source of truth, it is foolhardy for people to think they can use their own judgment to separate right from wrong. That’s just magical thinking a satanic delusion to take the minds of man off Jesus, who is the Word of God (John 1:1).