Friday, July 02, 2010

The Outsider and the Elephant

Loftus attributes religious belief to sociological conditioning. The elephant in the room is the culture of disbelief that is perpetuated, not by argumentation, but by intellectual intimidation and bullying, which anybody can find at most secular institutions of higher learning. I'm talking about the sort of "nobody believes that anymore" chronological snobbery that makes you feel as if some overwhelming argument was given on the day you were absent. It's the sort of attitude that makes an adolescent feel like a truly independent thinker because he has learned to be critical of his parents' attitudes and has adopted, instead, the attitudes of his peers. The idea that becoming a religious skeptic means transcending sociological pressures strikes me as ludicrous.


Mike Darus said...

The Reformed and Catholic Christian traditions struggle with the reality of teen rebellion. They established the Confirmation ceremony specifically to address the inclination for children NOT to follow their parents' faith. In the Evangelical tradition, this surfaces in the agnst of parents whether their children will make a credible confession of faith in their teen years.

My tendency as a teen was to throw off religion to pursue other interests. This was cut short by a conversion experience.

There are many compliant children who likely do fall into Lotfus' social conditioning, but they are the exception and sometimes become a problem of their own in the church. It is somewhat likely that those who do not independantly choose Christ do not exhibit the traits of a devoted Christ follower.

This tendency is also experienced by Christians who unevenly live for Christ. Some days I can live like an atheist. It is actually pretty easy.

My own decision to follow Christ was not warmly encouraged by my parents. I even broke away from the church that I grew up in and gave me the opportunity to hear the gospel (from another church). I expect the rule is that most people are independent thinkers, just not in the mold of philosphical inquiry or even intellectual research. Most of us are much more holistic in our approach to life. We are convinced and motivated by factors other than sound logic and argumentation.

Sociological conditioning in a broad sense is a powerful argument when considering people groups. When it comes to individuals, it breaks down. Victor makes a good point that for the college student, the sociological pressures are in favor of making skeptics. Perhaps the new rebellion on the college campus will be to join a church.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Victor, you have really hit on something here. Things are far, far worse in England, where as you know I lived for several years. The suffocating air of condescension that a believer has to endure is probably unimaginable to most Americans, who live in a far more tolerant, mildly religious environment.

I cannot tell you how many times I was greeted with astonishment by friends and co-workers in the UK, when I told them I was a believing Catholic. their first response was usually something like, "No really, you're kidding me, right?", eventually followed by "Well, that's because you're an American, and we all know what yahoos they are over there. After all, your president is George Bush (I didn't vote for him, but that never seemed to matter). We of course are all atheists."

bossmanham said...

The other elephant in the room is that this line of argumentation is a genetic fallacy. It's probably true that some people are religious because of the environment they grow up in. Many ancient Israelites were religious because they were Hebrews. But just because many do believe due to the culture doesn't mean that something isn't true.

Loftus and others also ignore the good reasons people have to believe in God.

Jim S. said...

"We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can be almost as stupid as a cabbage, as long as you doubt. The fashion of the age has identified mental sharpness with a pose, not with genuine intellectual method and character. ... Today it is the skeptics who are the social conformists, though because of powerful intellectual propaganda they continue to enjoy thinking of themselves as wildly individualistic and unbearably bright."

Dallas Willard
Hearing God

Doctor Logic said...

The real issue is having an appreciation for cognitive bias.

Just for example, in the last thread, Bob said:

...I can readily believe that one can accurate describe a life changing event that occurred to one 40 or 50 years ago. I brought up the instance of learning of JFK’s assassination. To this day, I can in intricate detail describe where I was, what I was doing, and how I reacted when I heard the news. And that was nearly 50 years ago! Now if I were witness to a miracle, or were I to see someone rise from the dead, you can bet your life I would never forget the smallest, most trivial detail for as long as I lived. So the composition dated of the Gospels should not be an issue.

What Bob is really saying is that his memories of his experiences when he learned JFK was shot are *vivid*. And that's fine. Bob's memories may even be quite accurate, assuming Bob has had little reason or suggestion to modify his memories.

However, it is well-known that memories of events can be warped if the subject is motivated to change them or is under a suggestive influence.

I think it is naive to suggest that believers in a paranormal event (such as the founders of Christianity) would have accurate memories of their religious experiences.

First of all, just because an event is merely imagined in the heat of religious hysteria doesn't mean its memory won't be vivid.

Second, experiments show that memories of significant events vary dramatically from person to person. This is a well-known phenomenon in criminal trials, IIRC. Communicating and collaborating witnesses will generally come into harmony.

Third, research shows that memories are fluid, and that recalling a memory makes it malleable and subject to revision. That is, recalling a memory converts it from a long-term memory to a short-term memory, after which it is re-committed to long-term memory. Indeed, there's a new treatment for PTSD that involves having the patient recall the traumatic memory, while administering drugs that will block commitment of short-term memories to long-term memories.

There are a hundred other cognitive biases. Wikipedia has a nice list:

In my experience, Christians are not particularly skeptical about cognitive faculties, and when they say otherwise, they're really only giving them lip service.

The way to overcome cognitive bias is by using the scientific method. So when theists say that God only shows up when you eschew the scientific method, they're really saying that he only appears in the noise of human bias, which is at least convenient, if not unethical.

As for the NT, it's clear that there were vast reservoirs of bias involved in its development and codification.

Anyway, to get back to your point, I can assure you that there are certainly plenty of atheists who don't take cognitive bias seriously either! However, to criticize a secular academic environment as a source of bias is a bit rich. While there are plenty of places in academia where science isn't important, academia is also one of the FEW places where science and criticism ARE taken seriously.

kmisho said...

I think there's some truth to Loftus's idea. Culture rules us to the extent we do not notice it, just as it seems no one has an accent in the place where you live.

If it's true that the particulars of a religion are cultural products, like your accent, then denying those particulars is like recognizing that you have an accent.

And the only way to unlearn your accent is to first of all realize that you have one.

Victor Reppert said...

But religious skepticism is a social product also. There's all sorts of pressures in a culture driving people toward skepticism about religion. So, if someone stops talking like a Southerner and starts talking like Richard Dawkins, he's still got an accent.

kmisho said...

**But religious skepticism is a social product also. There's all sorts of pressures in a culture driving people toward skepticism about religion.**

This appears to me to be a variation on Plantiga's argument that naturalism is self defeating, that denying a religion is itself a religious occupation.

If this is so, it waters down religion to such an extent that accepting or denying it is inconsequential. I however doubt that you want to deny the importance of the very thing you wish to defend.

And this is the ultimate problem with these presuppositionalistic arguments: they destroy friend and foe alike.

Victor Reppert said...

But that is the sort of thing that is underlying the Outsider Test. It smuggles in an epistemology that will sink both believer and nonbeliever, if applied consistently.