Objections to Religious Moderates and Intellectuals (part 2)

Objections to Religious Moderates and Intellectuals (part 2) June 24, 2009

Shane writes in reply to this post,

Hi Dan, long time reader first time commenter.

Do you have any /empirical/ evidence that religious people are more credulous, more stupid on average than non-religious people of comparable education and similar sociology? If you do, I’d love to see it.

But if you don’t have such empirical evidence, then all you are left with is a sort of a priori ideological claim about the empirical facts of human psychology. Now personally, I make it a policy never to believe anything that admits of empirical proof on the basis of insufficient evidence, so I can’t get on board.

Hi Shane!

First of all thanks for your loyal readership and your first of hopefully many contributions to my blog!  I’ve long enjoyed your contributions face to face and facebook to facebook and I’m really grateful you’re taking the time to help me out by participating on the blog.

Your empirical question is worth investigating for the valuable illumination it would provide.  I will keep an eye out for information on the subject and point out that, consistent with my position, I see no threat from such studies.  If somehow it could be shown that the trick to improving people’s cognitive reasoning skills was to habituate them in fallacious ways of thought, then counter-intuitively, as an indirect consequentialist (as I am) we might have to do that!  Similarly, if it were shown that educating people away from those fallacies and from religions that reinforced our natural tendencies to commit them actually helped rid them of those fallacies, I would hope you would take that to heart.  And if the difference was split as you suggest is possible (and that people would be hopelessly flawed reasoners in the same proportions along relatively stable demographic differences) then I’d say that there’s no harm in at least not promulgating fallacious thinking, even if biology is dead set against our efforts.

But, what I do know even without such empirical investigation and can say right now is as follows:

(1) I never said religious people were more stupid, what I said was that religions explicitly train people in the intellectual vices which I distinguished at length.  You are free to explain to me why they’re not vices and show me how the uses of ritual, appeals to dogmatic authorities, citing of simple “faith” as sufficient reason, citing of God’s authority as enough to morally justify biblical genocides, etc. do not entail training in counter-rational and authoritarian habits of thought.  How does one train someone to assess evidence carefully while telling simultaneously training them to pull the “but it’s just a matter of faith” card whenever cherished beliefs are challenged?  How does it not undermine someone’s sense of objective moral principles to train them to think that if God orders a genocide then that’s okay because He’s all powerful?  People’s native intelligences are not the issue.

(2) Irreligious people may prove on average as strong or weak in their reasoning skills given their comparable sociological factors, etc.  But that does not mean that religion is a force correcting, rather than perpetuating our natural tendencies for fallacy since it thrives on the sorts of fallacies mentioned above.  And I’m fairly confident that world history’s inverse relationship between religious fervor and scientific advancement is valuable evidence on this point.

(3) Religious people ARE credulous if they are willing to believe in a virgin birth and a resurrection and a rapture, et al.  If that’s not credulous, what is?  There may be some equally credulous, self-dubbed “irreligious-but-spiritual” people who share equally credulous attitudes towards magic crystals.  Obviously, getting away from the particular credulities and fallacies perpetuated by major religions is not enough to make someone think straight.  But it couldn’t hurt.

(4) I never said every argument to be plausible or believable had to pass the strictest empirical tests even where those are not possible. Just that they be made in terms of reasons and evidence open to anyone.  I am answering you with reasons for your consideration, based on our commonly accessible evidence, canons of logic, and common types of experience.  That’s all I demand out of reasons.  And it’s categorically different than if I were to say to you, I’m right because I’m inspired by the Holy Spirit—TA DA!!!

But my question to Shane is, aside from teasing me about my affection for something like a W.K. Clifford-style approach to evidence, how do you feel, as a highly educated, philosophically rigorous, politically and theologically moderate and progressive person about the fact that when you encourage faith in others you are often sending them to institutions which fall way below your own educational and philosophical standards?  As someone I genuinely respect as an intellectual, I am really curious whether the substance of my critique in my previous post had any salience to you at all.

See the rest of this series of posts:

Objections to Religious Moderates and Intellecuals 1

Objections to Religious Moderates and Intellectuals 3

Objections to Religious Moderates and Intellectuals 4

On Teleology and Intellectual Virtues and Vices (5)

How Faith Is Not Like Other (Revisable) Reflexive Assumptions (6)

Against Faith and In Defense of Naturalism and Induction (7)

Your Thoughts?

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