Monday, July 28, 2014

Does Religion Dull One’s Ability to Distinguish Between Fact and Fantasy?

A visitor to my website recently brought my attention to a noteworthy article about a study published in the July issue of Cognitive Science. The article, with its provocative title, can be found here:
According to the article, the researchers in the study
demonstrate that children typically have a “sensitivity to the implausible or magical elements in a narrative,” and can determine whether the characters in the narrative are real or fictional by references to fantastical elements within the narrative, such as “invisible sails” or “a sword that protects you from danger every time.”
However, their research does not bear this out so well among children who have been exposed (presumably in a positively reinforcing manner) to religious teaching. The article states:
“Children with exposure to religion — via church attendance, parochial schooling, or both — judged [characters in religious stories] to be real,” the authors wrote. “By contrast, children with no such exposure judged them to be pretend,” just as they had the characters in fairy tales. But children with exposure to religion judged many characters in fantastical, but not explicitly religious stories, to also be real — the equivalent of being incapable of differentiating between Mark Twain’s character Tom Sawyer and an account of George Washington’s life.
The abstract of the study itself, which can be found here, reads as follows:
In two studies, 5- and 6-year-old children were questioned about the status of the protagonist embedded in three different types of stories. In realistic stories that only included ordinary events, all children, irrespective of family background and schooling, claimed that the protagonist was a real person. In religious stories that included ordinarily impossible events brought about by divine intervention, claims about the status of the protagonist varied sharply with exposure to religion. Children who went to church or were enrolled in a parochial school, or both, judged the protagonist in religious stories to be a real person, whereas secular children with no such exposure to religion judged the protagonist in religious stories to be fictional. Children's upbringing was also related to their judgment about the protagonist in fantastical stories that included ordinarily impossible events whether brought about by magic (Study 1) or without reference to magic (Study 2). Secular children were more likely than religious children to judge the protagonist in such fantastical stories to be fictional. The results suggest that exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children's differentiation between reality and fiction, not just for religious stories but also for fantastical stories.
I have not examined the details of the study any further than what the lead article and the study’s abstract say about it, so I cannot comment on the methods employed in the study beyond what is given in these two sources.

However, on the face of it, this seems to be nothing less than scientific confirmation of the kind of outcome one would expect from people under the influence of religion if what I have argued is correct. For several years I have been pointing out how religion subsists on blurring the fundamental distinction between reality and imagination. The reader who brought this article to my attention commented that my infamous question – “How can I reliably distinguish between what the believer calls ‘God’ and what he may merely be imagining?” – continues to go unanswered.

Many apologists for the philosophical primitivism of religion have kicked and squirmed in response to this question. But as my blog’s visitor rightly points out, none have been able to answer this question in a manner that salvages religion from my critique.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Response to Christian James

A Christian leaving comments on my blog Dave's McPresuppositions, Part V, has left two additional comments that I reply to below.

In my exchange of comments with Christian James, I had asked him if there was anything that he would not sacrifice for Jesus. He winced at this question and resisted answering it. He would not come out and give a firm yes or no to the question, but instead chose to remain in his closet on the matter.
After some back and forth which is available for readers to review at the above link, Christian submitted two more comments today, and instead of replying in the comments, I am replying directly to him in the form of a new blog entry.
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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dave's McPresuppositions, Part V

As I embark on the fifth installment of my series of posts directly engaging Dave McPhillips’ faltering comments campaign against reason and objectivity, I ask readers to pay close attention to the pattern that Dave’s objections continually exhibit, namely a pattern of reaching for skeptical angles aimed at undermining reason, intellectual integrity and confidence in one’s own faculties.

Presuppositionalists are in the habit of relying on such patterns, not only because their worldview requires men to renounce their minds and prostrate themselves before authoritarian mystics and witch doctors whose say-so is supposed to serve as the end-all, be-all of knowledge, but also because it is so effective on many non-Christians who have themselves already accepted skepticism’s core premises.

On those few occasions when presuppositionalists are confronted with firm, sustained and uncompromising endorsements of reason, they can typically be found replying with a “yeah, but” sequence of utterances and quickly proceeding to deploy skeptical tactics intended to undermine reason and one’s confidence in his own ability to use it. Apologists recoil at reason as though it were Kryptonite to their inflatable superman. The bible does not lay out an epistemology of reason, and it’s obvious to anyone who reads it that believers are expected to swallow everything it says uncritically on its own say-so, regardless of the fact that its claims are unsupported by evidence and contrary to reason. That’s the express opposite of reason. In the “good old days” of the Dark Ages, Christians could be more open and forthright about their worldview’s pronounced antagonism against reason. Martin Luther, one of the Reformation’s most outspoken exponents, was notorious for his explicit rejection of reason. Luther recognized the threat that the Renaissance posed to the religious worldview, and in response to this threat he dug his heels in and put even greater outspoken emphasis on Christianity’s aversion to reason. This was no accident.
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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dave's McPresuppositions, Part IV

I continue now with the fourth installment of my extended interaction with some of Dave McPhillips’ comments which he posted here Previous installments in this series can be found here:
Up to this point I have been showing how Dave’s own worldview cannot address questions which he has raised against Objectivism, a worldview which is diametrically opposed to his Christian worldview. Dave had issued a series of questions and charged me with failing to address them when he first raised them (they had not been raised before, so how could I be reasonably expected to have addressed them until they were raised?). I then turned those questions back to Dave and challenged him to answer them. To date, his responses to his own questions have made a miserable showing. Let’s see if he can recover any hint of credibility on behalf of his worldview in the proceeding exchange.
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dave's McPresuppositions, Part III

In this post I continue my exploration of Dave McPhillips’ comments which he posted here.

This is the third of a series of installments in which I interact with Dave’s attempts to defend his god-belief and promulgate the skeptical view of the human mind that is so vital to religious faith. For earlier installments, readers are invited to read Part I and Part II of this series.

In this installment, we explore Dave’s claim that “Christians have a rational basis” for their beliefs and his questions about reason from the perspective of rational philosophy. Indeed, it is good when a mystic at least asks about reason and its foundations, for his own worldview will not provide suitable answers to these. That is because the mystic’s worldview is fundamentally opposed to reason.
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Monday, June 09, 2014

Dave's McPresuppositions, Part II

I continue now with my examination of Dave McPhillips’ comments which he posted here. This is a continuation from Part I of this series.

In the present installment, we pick up from where the last one left off – specifically with an examination of the implications of Christianity’s foundations with regard to the issue of metaphysical primacy.

I had written:
(2.) “Your statements confirm my analysis that Christianity assumes the primacy of consciousness at the most fundamental level – i.e., characterizing existence as having its source in some act of consciousness – i.e., metaphysical subjectivism.”
Dave replied:
Yes, you are right. I do believe in the primacy of consciousness, not my own or any other human but God’s. without the mind of God nothing is possible.
Finally one of them concedes one of my fundamental objections against Christianity!
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Saturday, June 07, 2014

Dave's McPresuppositions, Part I

Christians who comment on my blog typically indulge in the practice of mere assertion: they simply assert what they believe and give no background rationale for why they believe or how they came to believe it. The how of knowledge is completely missing from their slogan-laced spiel. Also missing from what they offer in their comments is any informed concern for maintaining objectivity. Objectivity has at root to do with the relationship between consciousness and its objects. But the bible gives believers no guidance on this matter, keeping it safely out of view.

One might suppose that this is accidental, and for the primitives responsible for authoring and compiling the writings that eventually made their way into the bible, this may be the case. But for modern-day believers, their failure to consider the relationship between consciousness and its objects in an explicit manner is philosophically inexcusable. This is especially the case when apologists for a religious worldview condemn rival positions for being “subjective” or “irrational.” Such objections carry no weight when coming from a religious perspective, since religious perspectives themselves are inherently subjective and irrational.

Objectivity is adherence to the primacy of existence throughout one’s knowledge and judgments. Rationality is adherence to reason as one’s only means of knowledge, one’s only standard of judgment and one’s only guide to action. One will not find these virtues either explained or endorsed in “sacred writings” like the biblical storybook. On the contrary, at every turn throughout the biblical narrative, one finds assault after assault on the integrity of the human mind, as though this one thing – claimed at the same to have been created by the Christian god itself – were the source of all evil and woe in the universe, as though it were a “dung heap” that needed to be flushed down some cosmic toilet once and for all.
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