Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldnt

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Some of you may also know that there is a question as the validity of suicide bombings within Islam. And I'm sure that most of you have become weary of the inane formula that "Islam is peace" in the context of a world where the "religion of peace" is one of the major loci of conflict.

To understand these questions we need to get below surface reflections, folk psychology and sociology. One must move past facile quasi-Marxist narratives of economic deprivation, therapeutically modeled psychologies of envy, or tautologically derived assertions that only evil individuals could commit evil acts.

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First, I think one must move past the idea of a religion as a set of agreed upon axioms from which the content of the faith is derived. In other words, there is no real Islam apart from how the religion is lived. Our perception of Islam, or any other religion, is simply based on prototypes shaped by induction. By "prototype," I mean more than the standard dictionary definition, I mean in a cognitive sense the idealized average of all exemplars that we insert into the subset of entities we label "Muslim," or "Islamic behavior. To give an example of what I mean, in a European gentile intellectual might conceive of the Ashkenazi Jews as a naturally fecund folk, that was part of their prototypical definition.

In no one would generalize that Jews are fecund, though a subset the Haredi still remain quite fertile. As a function of space, one might note that in South Africa the Gujarati Muslim community forms the entrenpenurial core and elite of the Indian community. So in this situation there is a perception that Muslims are more educated and well off than the basal Indian population. This prototype is clearly not universally applicable.

In other words, the categories and demarcations in our minds are fungible. We may verbally assent to a host of explicit, precise and clean affirmations of axioms which serve as outward boundary markers between groups i. The reality that we generate our conceptions of particular groups from prototypes means we need to face another issue, our models of how individuals behave often assume a Standard Social Science Model , where individuals are uniform generalized information processing machines in the soup of culture which dictates their behavioral patterns.

A conventional narrative for Muslims, for example, would point to the violence directed toward unbelievers in the Koran, and connect that to the Muslim culture, and then infer that the culture biases believers toward a range of behaviors bounded by the coda encapsulated in the Koran.

There are two interesting trends here: a the individual generating the model is utilizing abductive reasoning , working back to a plausible premise from the set of facts before them, and b there is an implicit assumption that the individuals i. The same process can be seen when Muslims disavow that violent nihilistic terrorists can be Muslim, because the set of facts they see before them are not congruent with the hypotheses they have which presumably form their construct of what a Muslim is. We need to get beyond the Standard Social Social Model where culture is a mysterious force of great potency which is determinative in behavior of populations, as well as the folk psychology that is often its partner.

Now, I do not mean to imply here that there is no intercultural variation in norms and values which might shape the expected response of a given individual to particular inputs, I am simply asserting that our models might be off, and that we are not reasoning appropriately from the set of facts we have before us. One key problem, which was first elucidated by anthropologist Daniel Sperber in the s, is that minds have particular features and biases which constraint and shape how culture evolves.

In other words, imagine that evolutionary biologists simply ignored the reality that phenotypic variation was constrained by phylogenetic history, genetic architecture and morphological dependencies, and pretended as if all the diversity in form and function was simply the result of an exploration of the set of all possibilities. So the explanation for why humans don't have wings would be that wings were simply not favored by selection, or that it was a stochastic outcome.

The reality is that we know that tetropod body plans are highly constrained, and evolutionarily novel features are atypical, and more often than not they result in 'monsters' as opposed to functionally improved specimens. In relation to culture, it implies that there are canals of expression that will be favored because of the architecture of the mind, which exhibits biases of comprehension and transmission. One reason that avant-garde fictional styles are often on the margins of the mainstream might be that the human mind is biased toward conventional and derivative plots that it can "relate" to, and styles that are congenial to the way we process information.

Similarly, the commonalities that we see between human cultures may simply be an expression of the fact that some cultural styles were not selected for by the human mind's transmission biases. In Richard Dawkins' conception of memes the character of the meme itself was the only consideration in regards to its fitness, that is, a meme that included an instruction for its own propogation was fit.

Sperber would add the caveat that ludicrous and unintuitive memes would hamper their own propogation no matter how many clever instructions they had for their own dissemination. Minds are not trivialities floating in a sea of culture, rather, it is culture which is the handmaid of the mind, it is in the mind that culture exists, and it is in the mind that culture modifies how we behave. And because all this has to do with the mind, we run into confusions and misunderstandings, because we assume that we understand ourselves.

Humans live with the conceit that we are conscious creatures with free will. To some extent we are, but there are also a myrid of subcomponents which are encapsulated and sealed off from the generalized cognitive capacities which have "hard-wired" and "reflexive" responses, and these are no less "us" than our reflective mind. The verbal creeds, affirmations and declarations map well between the outer world of our intercourse with other humans and our inner world of our conscious.

But the reflexive subcomponents also have a strong effect on how we behave, how we think and how we interact with our fellow human beings, but this shadow-self often gets short shrift from the conscious mind. Far too often our conscious mind takes credit for our reflexive self, or, offers up specious reasoning to "explain" behavior whose root was not conscious or reflective in the least.

Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn't by D. Jason Slone

Folk psychology only addresses the conscious world of thought and deed, and so too often it misses the big picture. Because verbalized folk psychology derives from the conceits of the conscious mind it throws up a model which constructs towers of deductive rationality to justify all we do and profess.


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The complexity of the world around us, and its chaotic meanderings, obscure the reality that our models derived from folk psychology are really rather weak. The idea that terrorists are poor or underprivileged persists because of the strength it takes from our own conceit about being able to model the psychology of other human beings naturally in other words, we have a cognitive bias to discount our own cognitive biases and accept our consciously generated narratives which slot into our ideologies. This idea is false. Contentless platitudes like "they hate us for our freedoms" appeal to our emotional needs, but really say little about the world that gives us a grasp of what is going on out there, as opposed to our own internal psychology.

A model that assumes behavior deduced from axioms that itself derives from abduction fails because the latter form of reasoning is the true clue as to what is really going on in the mind of the Other. Which brings me to the entity for which Islamic terrorist aver that they are dying for, God. A few weeks ago I read a slim text by D. Jason Slone titled Theological Incorrectness. The central organizing question in the book was this: why do you people profess belief in one idea of a God but behave as if God is a different entity altogether?

A clear example is the fact that monotheists aside from Mormons express a belief in an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent deity outside of time and space. These are the axioms, the truths, of the faith. The vast majority of believers quicky and articulately can express their belief in these truths. But, during canned experiments where they describe how this God would interact in the world on-the-fly their descriptions of "God" would imply an entity sharply at variance with the one deduced from the truths that they expressed fidelity toward.

While the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob is an all powerful entity that knows all and can do all in an infinitesimal period of time, the divinity which is generated by unscripted elicitations of God acting in the world is a sharply delineated creature of supernatural power, but constrained within time and not omniscient in an absolute sense. On the other hand, Theravada Buddhism is often portrayed as a non-theistic religion without a Creator God. While Mahayana Buddhists explicitly accept the existence of divine beings, Boddhisattvas, Theravada Buddhists adhere to the older doctrines which emphasize human agency in the world bereft of supernatural aid.

That is the theory, the reality is that Buddha the man for Theravada Buddhists of a non-elite bent is a supernatural being of divine essence, acting serially within time, not omniscient, but of great insight. Even though the Buddha, according to the canons, has left this universe through nirvana , Theravada Buddhists seem to speak as if he remains to watch over the faithful and aid them in their travails.

When asked about their beliefs many Theravada Buddhists will deny that they believe in a god-entity, but only if they are familiar with Western thought and perceptions of Buddhism, or, if they are religious professionals. What you see here is a convergence onto a cognitive optimum.

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