Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Comments on McCormick on Motivated Reasoning

I don't think the lecture was worthless, by any stretch of the imagination. However, there is a tricky feature to this, which is that it is easy to see the "motivated" aspects of our opponents' arguments and have a hard time seeing them our own side. I didn't like the way he took the entire field of Christian apologetics, and says that it was an example of motivated reasoning. I sketched out in "On being an apologist" how apologetics might be done without what is being called motivated reasoning. 

I thought his lecture got close to Bulverism on a couple of occasions. 

My rule is to constantly check my own thoughts for motives, but not try to speak with any authority about the motives of others. However, if opponents think there are no non-rational motives for what they think, and that all the non-rational motives are on my side, I have no trouble pointing out at least possible non-rational motives that they might have. Since they can't read my mind, all the can come up with are possible motivations I might have for believing as I do.


Crude said...

Why single out "Christian" apologetics, instead of just "apologetics" - including atheist apologetics?

And to anyone who says no atheist supports or engages in such, there's a little (crappy) book called A Manual for Creating Atheists which explicitly calls for the production of the equivalent of atheist street evangelists.

Physician, heal thyself.

Obsidian said...

I think given the sort of denailism Jesus mythicists engage in , its pretty clear there's motivated reasoning on the other side.

btw there's this article from a psychologist (I think he's a compatibilist) trying to defend reason. He's defending a different kind of attack from the one you and Lewis make though.

RD Miksa said...

I think, upon full reflection, and specifically focusing on the issue of apologetics, the truth that McCormick’s video brought out is the following: Atheists remind all of us to watch out for motivated reasoning, for they admit that all people are subject to it, and yet they then use motivated reasoning to claim that they are much less prone to using motivated reasoning than their theistic counter-parts are. Consider, for example, that in McCormick’s video, he admits that everyone is subject to motivated reasoning, but then particularly singles out Christian apologists and religious believers, thereby tacitly implying that—at least in terms of the atheism/theism debate—while non-religious believers are also subject to motivated reasoning, the Christian apologists are much worse. So bad, in fact, that they deserve to be specifically mentioned. And yet, all the things that McCormick claims religious believers and Christian apologists do, are, in my experience, just as often committed by atheists and naturalists. For example, McCormick targets the idea of “Faith Seeking Understanding” and claims that this is essentially a backwards way of thinking that is particularly susceptible to motivated reasoning. He then associates this particular approach with religious believers and Christian apologists, again implying that they are particularly prone to motivated reasoning given their use of this reasoning method. And yet, in his section on “Faith Seeking Understanding”, McCormick, not surprisingly, completely fails to mention that atheistic-naturalists use this approach just as much, if not more so, than religious believers do. After all, atheistic-naturalists have no idea how abiogenesis occurred, and yet they have faith that it somehow did even as they seek to understand how it could. Atheistic-naturalists have no idea how consciousness arose given naturalism, and yet they have faith that it somehow did even as they seek to understand how the process occurred. And so on, and so forth. The examples could be quite readily multiplied. So while McCormick is happy to target religious believers for what he considers to be their use of this “poor” method of reasoning, his own motivated reasoning ensures that he does not point out that the exact same method is used by atheistic-naturalists such as himself. Nor does he point out that such a method is used by scientists the world over. Or that it is the method that we have all used since birth, and is thus both a common and sound method of reasoning. But why does he not mention this? Very likely because that would not fit the narrative that he wants his lecture to portray: namely, that Christian apologetics and religious believers are particularly prone to motivated reasoning while others, such as himself, are not susceptible to motivated reasoning to the same extent as those poor, benighted apologists are.

Take care,

RD Miksa

im-skeptical said...

Methinks thou dost protest too much.

Victor Reppert said...

Really? No progress on these issues is ever going to be made if people can't recognize that motivated reasoning goes on on both sides of the issue. Why take your opponents seriously if you think you have them psychoanalyzed from the start?

Dave Duffy said...

Motivations are central to a criminal prosecution. You have some chance on guessing motivations correctly when having a beer with the guys you actually know after work.

Trying to figure out motivations on the internet with people you don't know who have fictitious names? Impossible.

im-skeptical said...

As it happens, McCormick has written on the topic of motivated reasoning in the case of Christians' belief in the resurrection. He contributed a chapter called "The Salem Witch Trials and the Evidence for the Resurrection" in The End of Christianity, in which he makes a case for Christians' acceptance of evidence for the resurrection as being motivated by their prior religious belief. You may not agree with the case he makes, but he has presented this reasoning and argued the point in a logical manner.

Contrast that with the visceral reactions we see here to the mere fact that he discusses motivated reasoning. Do I see any logical case being made to refute what he says? No. I see emotion-laden logical fallacies and a distinct failure to address the actual issue he raises.

Victor Reppert said...

The Salem Witch argument is a really interesting one, though I do think it fails. But even if it worked, it wouldn't necessarily justify any particular psychological explanation.