fact  n.  a thing that has actually happened or is really true; reality, truth.

Have you ever heard of denialism? Here’s how it works: confronted with an uncomfortable reality, people choose to embrace a defense mechanism instead.

Michael Specter, the journalist and author who wrote the book about it (Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives), defines denialism as a fear-based response: “… when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie.”

Wikipedia describes denialism as “an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event, by the person refusing to accept an empirically verifiable reality.”

moon-landingAll kinds of denialists exist. Believe it or not, some people still deny we live on a globe, and insist that the Earth is flat. Holocaust deniers say that the Nazis didn’t exterminate millions of people. Moon landing deniers say it was all a hoax. Climate deniers resist the overwhelming scientific evidence that says the planet continues to heat up as a result of man-made activity. AIDS denialists say that the HIV virus has nothing to do with the disease, preferring instead to assign blame to various shadowy conspiracies. Religion denialists claim that a belief in anything beyond the physical is the functional equivalent of insanity. Evolution denialists call their unproven suppositions creationism or “intelligent design.” Denialist conspiracy theories abound, too.

This kind of unreasoning, anti-scientific denial seems increasingly prevalent in our world today.

Perhaps that comes from the dizzying pace of technological change we’re experiencing; or from the rapid increase of human knowledge in general; or from the burgeoning new discoveries made by science. Maybe some people retreat to denialism because they only have access to bad or prejudiced or downright false information—poor research, fake news, unreliable studies or intentionally misleading propaganda. Education and discernment play a significant role in combatting denialism, of course, but so do street smarts and life experience. Regardless of the cause, though, denialism has proliferated.

So, in light of all this denialism, consider these basic Baha’i principles: the truth exists, and it’s our job to find it and investigate it for ourselves. The truth is one, not many. Ultimately the truth feeds, nourishes and sustains our minds and souls, while lies offer us no nutritional value whatsoever:

A man may have attained to a high degree of material progress, but without the light of truth his soul is stunted and starved. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 31.

So let’s see if we can agree on three simple premises about denialism:

  • Knowing the truth is always better than believing a lie.
  • A fact is a fact.
  • Independently judge for yourself, and verify your own truths.

Agreed? Probably not too many people would disagree with these. But lately we have a hard time, many if not most of us, with determining what’s factual and what’s not. Here are some tips from the Baha’i teachings that can help anyone independently judge the factual truth for themselves, and avoid denialism:

1. Investigate! Never accept anything reflexively or at face value. Instead, examine the evidence yourself, and look into any claims of truth with skepticism:

Let us examine the facts as they are, investigate the truth and reality in order to arrive at a true opinion and conclusion. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 96.

2. Reason and research! When you come across a claim, use your inductive reasoning powers and your ability to research that claim before you accept it. Be scientific about what you believe, and anchor your beliefs on a firm foundation, not on shaky ground:

The man of science is perceiving and endowed with vision, whereas he who is ignorant and neglectful of this development is blind. The investigating mind is attentive, alive; the callous and indifferent mind is deaf and dead. A scientific man is a true index and representative of humanity, for through processes of inductive reasoning and research he is informed of all that appertains to humanity, its status, conditions and happenings. He studies the human body politic, understands social problems and weaves the web and texture of civilization. In fact, science may be likened to a mirror wherein the infinite forms and images of existing things are revealed and reflected. It is the very foundation of all individual and national development. Without this basis of investigation, development is impossible. Therefore, seek with diligent endeavor the knowledge and attainment of all that lies within the power of this wonderful bestowal. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 50.

3. Don’t believe what you can’t confirm! Try, as hard as you can, to unite your thoughts, beliefs and emotions. In matters of religion—which include all of your most cherished beliefs—don’t accept superstition:

Religion must stand the analysis of reason. It must agree with scientific fact and proof so that science will sanction religion and religion fortify science. Both are indissolubly welded and joined in reality. If statements and teachings of religion are found to be unreasonable and contrary to science, they are outcomes of superstition and imagination.

How can man believe that which he knows to be opposed to reason? Is this possible? Can the heart accept that which reason denies? – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 175, 231.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

8 Comments

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  • 4 days ago
    In the last few years I have found it much harder to check facts than before. More opposing extreme versions of supposed facts are published, and less of them give enough background information to verify them. I increasingly have to give up and admit that I cannot know what the facts are about some issues.
  • Mar 18, 2017
    Continued comment on homosexuality: The House of Justice recently said that because Baha'u'llah spoke of the "subject of boy" in the Aqdas and even if to some Baha'is it isn't clear what He meant, they said that the Guardian made it crystal clear that the "subject of boys" refers to ALL homosexuality, so it's part of sacred scripture and can never be altered. They then give the quote of Baha'u'llah where He says, "Judge not the Book of God by the current standards of men, for the Book itself is the unerring balance". So, where does that ...leave gay Baha'is? Out in the cold! Denialism at its finest.
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    • Mar 18, 2017
      Where is the definitive or official statement that gay Bahá'ís are left out in the cold?
      The existence of gays has not been "denied" by anyone. The very fact that there is a "subject of boys" proves it. :-)
  • Mar 18, 2017
    Abdu'l-Baha states: "The man of science is perceiving and endowed with vision, whereas he who is ignorant and neglectful of this development is blind. The investigating mind is attentive, alive; the callous and indifferent mind is deaf and dead. A scientific man is a true index and representative of humanity, for through processes of inductive reasoning and research he is informed of all that appertains to humanity, its status, conditions, and happenings..." Yet, when it comes to the subject of homosexuality the Baha'i Faith and the UHJ are in denialism. The House said that homosexuality is outside the ...realm of science and NO scientific research will ever change the Faith's stand on this subject, not EVER! Very sad.
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    • Hooshang Afshar
      Mar 20, 2017
      To me gay sex seems irrational. Truly spiritual and religious person can avoid sex. One can control one's urges by chemical medication. A doctor who had prostate cancer removed his prostate. He said he became free of cancer and also sexual thoughts and urges. This was on TV, abc.net.au. In Mathew 19 Jesus says some have renounced marriage for the kingdom of heaven-referring to Himself.
  • Melanie Black
    Mar 17, 2017
    I found this to be a concise and informative essay. I had never heard of the term "denialism" before, (in fact my spell-checker doesn't even recognize it as a word). I've certainly heard of denial, though; the present age is filled with it. Just recently on PBSNewsHour there was an interview with the author of a book that looked at the latest trends in the world towards nostalgia, nationalism, and populist movements and came to a similar conclusion that you have - that people are fearful and/or cannot imagine the future, and find comfort in an idea of "the good ...old days" (whatever they were). He also mentioned that the industrial revolution had much to do with many of these ideas within some groups. Very interesting.
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    • Andrew Scott
      Mar 17, 2017
      Melanie,
      You may find this helpful:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denialism
  • Mar 17, 2017
    David, masterful generalities brought down to specific arguments for investigating the true nature nature of reality. And religion, true religion, is all about doing that. At every level.