This is an idea I’ve been tossing around for a little while. It’s not fully fleshed-out, may still need some work, so I hope you’ll understand if it’s got weak points. (In fact, if you find some, please let me know via the comments section below; credit will be given where due.)
I call the idea The Reality Test. It’s meant to be a double-check of any purported statement of fact or tenet of belief, or of those making the statements or holding to the tenets. The Reality Test is a single question:
“Does this assertion or belief match up with what I and others have observed about reality?”
Pretty simple, right? When someone says something that seems a little off, give it The Reality Test. Does your own experience corroborate or contradict the statement? Does it jibe with what you know about the field to which the statement is applicable? Does it square with my core beliefs, those tempered by experience and study, about how the universe works? Or, for that matter, with the stated core beliefs of the person making the assertion? In short, does it agree with reality or try to go against it?
To a certain extent, we use something like The Reality Test every day. When your boss tries to convince you that the (latest) reorganization will help the company, when your child is making excuses for why their homework isn’t done, when your spouse is attempting to justify an expensive purchase, you apply a version of The Reality Test on the spot, and shape your response accordingly. This is just a codification of that same instinct. It’s not perfect, obviously – sincere beliefs can still be sincerely wrong, and there has to be room left for faith (to cover what reason cannot) – but it should help sort out the more fragrantly obvious examples of horse manure.
Let me give you a few examples using The Reality Test, and then I’ll go into why I’m bringing this up right now.