I have occasionally asked myself this question: “Why would anyone believe anything he reads in a chain email (aka forward)?” You check your email, and there, wedged between messages for 100% Natural Penis Enlargement Pills and a personal email from a young lady who would like it very much if you would watch recordings of her pleasing herself sexually, is an email from a friend or aquaintance. The subject starts with “FW: FW: FW: FW: FW:” and 54% of the content of the message consists of who has already sent the message to someone else, and a collection of “>”s. You read this message of anonymous origin, often reporting the secret life history of a political figure, or some miraculous event that should strengthen your faith in God or the goodness of humanity. What in the world would make you think this message is factually sound? What lends credibility to it? What makes a person think that the Nigerian royal family has singled her out for transfering money?
My first theory is that the key is that you receive these messages from someone you know. It comes from Jim, so that makes it credible. Of course this is silly, because the original sender is probably about 20 people removed from Jim, but perhaps the name in the “From” field is enough to convince people that the information is valid.
Although this might play a part in how these forwards dupe the masses, I couldn’t really accept the most recent sender theory as the sole reason people believe chain emails. So my second theory is the age old reason for many a self deception. People simply want to believe what they read. They would really like for what they read to be true, so they just believe it. They use the email to support what they already believed. What silly fools.
But wait. Oh yes. Self examination rears its ugly head. It’s true. I thought of a forward that I had accepted as true. You know the one where the science professor tries to disprove the existence of God by claiming that if He existed, he would stop a piece of chalk from breaking when he dropped it. And guess what, oh yes, God caused the chalk to slip out of his fingers, roll down his pants leg, and come, unharmed, to rest on the floor. This shattered all that the professor knew about the world, so he fled the room, and a student listening to the lecture gave a sermon and got everyone saved. While I had doubted the divine intervention of this story, I had accepted the factual events as true. What if they weren’t? So I went to snopes.com and checked it out. A researcher had looked into this very email, and written a report about it. As it turns out, there is no factual evidence to support the story, and it has all the earmarks of a fictitious legend. It seems I had been duped like all of the other poor fools out there. Owned.
Linked from this article was a tract that outlined many of the things I had been taught in High School about the theory of evolution. It shows how much of the evidence for evolution is simply untrue, and much of it deliberate lies. However, this tract makes only a couple of sparse references to other document to back up these claims. Most often it points the reader to a video series created by a group whose purpose is to disprove evolution. Hardly a credible source. So how do I know that these supposed facts are true? Even in high school it was simply taught without source references.
Then this brought up the old question of how I can trust anything that I did not experience myself (*). Perhaps a large portion of all of the second, third, and more-hand information that I have received is untrue. When it comes to the sciences, I have likely verified less than 1% of what I have learned. Why do I trust all of this information? Unfortunately, the reason this is an old, recurring question for me, is that I have no answer to it. Guess the only reasonable thing to do is to just go on believing like those who tout their chain emails as Gospel Truth. Unfortunate.
*Some philosophers might argue that you can’t even trust those things you have experienced (evil genius, etc), but I’m not that paranoid.