Saturday, January 23, 2010

An economist argues for the irrationality of religious belief

His argument has overtones very similar to Loftus's Outsider Test for Faith. Religious believers, he charges:

· accept their religious beliefs with little or no evidence
· accept religious beliefs that are contrary to the evidence
· accept religious beliefs without studying competing views

· are certain about religious beliefs that are dubious at best, and

· accept their religious beliefs not because they are intellectually compelling, but because they are emotionally comforting.


unkleE said...

I think it is true that many, perhaps most, religious believers consider only a small portion of the evidence that non-believers think is relevant and important to the question. But:

(1) The same is probably also true for many unbelievers.

(2) It is surely incorrect to generalise as Caplan does and you summarise. Some believers consider evidence very deeply.

(3) It is not always lack of evidence but a different view of evidence to what Caplan is using - e.g. some believers may be less critical, or give greater weight to personal feelings and experience, or to the "authority" of the church or preachers or philosophers, or whoever.

(4) The situation is therefore not as dire as Caplan portrays. Not everyone has the time, interest, ability or information to do a thorough study of the evidence and to thoroughly argue the logic of belief and disbelief. In life generally, we accept a great deal on the authority of others - doctors, scientists, colour consultants, fitness trainers, etc. So if someone chooses to trust the reasoning of someone like CS Lewis or Alvin Plantinga (or Victor Reppert!) because they don't feel competent to find their own way through the arguments, then it is hard to see what else they could do nor how we should criticise them.

Thus I feel it is enough that respected believers with integrity have thoroughly explored the evidence, and the rest can build off this. I know it leaves open the question of who to trust - e.g. Plantinga or Dawkins? - but that remains a problem for any view.

Perhaps it will be objected that most believers don't even consider philosophical arguments or the views of people like Lewis or Plantinga, but in my experience that isn't the case with most believers. Lewis has influenced so many people. And most people, if asked why they believe in God, will give some sort of answer like "It must all have come from something" or "It couldn't all have come about by chance", which are of course simplified versions of the Cosmological or Teleological arguments.

Intellectuals and academics should not expect all people, regardless of intellect or education, to make decisions with the same rigour as they attempt to use. The real world is not like that. Unbelieving intellectuals should be content with debating with those who do have the capability to reason from evidence - there are enough of them around!

Anonymous said...

That's just a bad essay from Caplan, and it's insulting to compare Loftus' OTF to it. Sure, many of us disagree with Loftus, but his OTF has taken a lot of time, thought and effort and he continues to respond to critiques. Caplan's essay seems like it was thrown together without seriously thinking through any of the issues nor considering the control beliefs affecting his analysis. It's just a bad essay no matter how you look at it.

Victor Reppert said...

He was making a similar point to the one Loftus makes. Obviously, Loftus' argument is better developed than this one. However, he does make the claim that economists should pay attention to these sorts of considerations.

Yes, Caplan just asserts a bunch of things that should be defended by argument.