Reasoning with Biblical Doctrines
by Mary Patterson
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In the last few years, there have been numerous “adjustments” in the Watchtower organization, both for doctrines and procedures. While many readers find these revisions enlightening, there are still many brothers and sisters concerned about all these changes and what it means for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Change is never easy, especially when it comes to doctrinal changes. You can be told that something is “truth” for years – even decades – only to have it changed within one simple article. Why is it so difficult to accept that a doctrine we had long believed as being based on the scriptures – turns out not to be?
The fundamental reason is the way our brain is hard-wired. Beliefs (whether religious or otherwise) are designed to enhance our ability to survive; they are biologically designed to be strongly resistant to change.
“Belief” is the name of the survival tool of the brain designed to enhance the danger-identification function of our senses. Beliefs extend the range of our senses so that we can better detect danger, thereby improving our chances of survival as we move into and out of unfamiliar territory. Beliefs, in essence, serve as our brain’s “long-range danger detectors.”
Because our senses and beliefs are both tools for survival, our brain considers them to be separate but equally important. In other words, beliefs operate independent of our sensory data (evidence). Beliefs are not supposed to change easily or simply in response to evidence. If they did, they would be virtually useless as tools for survival. A police officer unable to believe in the possibility of a killer lurking behind someone with a harmless appearance could easily get hurt or killed.
As far as our brain is concerned, there is no need for data and belief to agree. They each augment and supplement one another. They are designed to be able to disagree. So when data (or evidence) and belief come into conflict, the brain does not automatically give preference to the data.
This is why beliefs (even erroneous beliefs) do not die in the face of contradictory evidence. The brain doesn’t care whether the belief matches the data. It cares whether the belief is helpful for survival. Period.