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The Christian Delusion 3: The Malleability of the Human Mind

01/08/2011

This is probably my favorite chapter so far, although the extreme persuasiveness of the argumentation has not hit me yet. In it, Jason Long provides a large amount of evidence that people come to believe things for really bad reasons. They find arguments more compelling when they are given by likable people, by good looking people, that the emotional involvement with the issue affects the interpretation of it, that many, even when stumped by arguments, avoid changing their minds by simply believing that their authority figures have good answers, that if a person can answer less strong arguments, they think that if they were given more time, they could answer the stronger arguments, whereas if given just the strong arguments, they feel more persuaded (me with the handbook of Christian Apologetics?).

All these things suggest that more doubt in ones assertions is almost always warranted. There are so many places where our reason can fail us, to have great confidence in our own abilities seems ridiculous. The blow to Christianity comes when the author points out that if people took off their lenses of cultural bias and analyze the Bible fairly, they would not hesitate in seeing it as mythological. Only due to the biases above do people give more credibility to the Bible than they ought to.

Kindle Notes:

Michael Shermer demonstrates the existence of an intellectual attribution bias that helps dispel the claims of believers who think they are an exception to the indoctrination process. He shows that an individual is nearly nine times more likely to think he arrived at his religious position using reason than he is to think any other Christian did the same (768).

Petty and Cacioppo have found that providing a person with a few strong arguments provokes more attitude change than providing these arguments along with a number of moderate arguments (775).

Petty and Cacioppo also report that the likeability of the source of the message conveyed plays a major role in whether that message is capable of being persuasive (782).

Note: Argument against PZ?

Petty and Cacioppo report that subjects are often motivated to understand an issue when they are led to believe that they would have to later discuss the issue with someone who took a contrasting position (789).

Note: Is this why I read?

A troubled Christian might not peruse, comprehend, or even read an entire argument offered in defense of his belief, but the mere fact that a possible answer exists satisfies him that there is a reasonable answer to the skeptical objection (822).

Note: Arthur’s trust that his dad knows the answers.

Due to an innate bias to confirm what we already believe, the authority’s position is not going to be scrutinized or tested against a rebuttal (824).

Note: Dawkins’ popelike image, Disciplemakers conference, trusting the conversation leader, not me.

Psychologists Muzafer Sherif and Carl Hovland have demonstrated that a person’s level of emotional involvement with an issue has an enormous impact on how new evidence is interpreted (858).

I could cite numerous similar studies that demonstrate irrational behavior from highly involved individuals, but this is sufficient to establish my point that people shun dispassionate critical thought when justifying their most important beliefs and personal values (863).

Note: This is exactly what happen when people say they’ll sacrifice logic if it brushes up against their emotionally charged basic beliefs.

Prominent apologist William Lane Craig declares, “[S]hould a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa” (868).

If an intelligent, rational group of people who were never exposed to the idea of religion were asked to become experts in the history of the ancient Near East, the unanimous consensus of the group would be that the Bible is bunk. They would reach this conclusion for two reasons: there is absolutely nothing in the book that would impress critically thinking dispassionate outsiders, and they would not have been exposed to the centuries of aura and mystique that society has placed on the Bible. Psychologist Frank Sulloway has shown that people with open minds also compose one group less likely to be religious (899).

Note: This can be a fair retort to accusations of close-mindedness. There is psychological evidence that being more open minded predicts leaving faith, because you need to be open minded to really consider changing your mind.

“Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons” (904).

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