How One Psychologist Is Tackling Human Biases in Science


How One Psychologist Is Tackling Human Biases in Science.

What is no doubt bad news for many scientists should be good news for the progress of science and the enterprise of knowing.

It’s good to see greater effort being made to explore the place of intellectual virtue in the practice of science. And there is some irony in the fact that problems of bias in research and intellectual activity in general is confirmed by the methods of scientists.

It would be good to have more examples of the problem described by these researchers on bias. And it would be useful to study the effects of such pervasive scientific shortcomings on belief in matters beyond scientific judgment—in religion, for example.

‘Born Bad’: How the idea that we’re all sinners has shaped Western culture – The Washington Post


‘Born Bad’: How the idea that we’re all sinners has shaped Western culture – The Washington Post.

Read this book review by Michael Dirda and consider where the argument about original sin and the history of Christian doctrine errs.

Your observations are welcome. Feel free to share using the comments box below.

What Do William Gladstone and Little Big Man Have in Common?


I don’t get it, these coincidences with no significance always happening to me.

Allow me to illustrate from today’s events.

Around noon, I hefted my copy of Roy Jenkins’s biography of William Gladstone from the shelf, with the vague intention of reading some portion of its 698 pages. As if this would not be enough to occupy the few moments I could spare, it occurred to me that I might also refresh my memory of what Susan Wise Bauer says about reading biography, in her book The Well-Educated Mind.

Book Cover-Roy Jenkins-William GladstoneBook Cover-Susan Wise Bauer-Well-Educated MindBook Cover-Thomas Berger-Little Big Man

Not only had I forgotten what Bauer says about biography, I had forgotten that she doesn’t say anything about biography as such. Rather, she has a chapter on reading autobiography. And her guidelines are fairly specific to this sub-genre, with only limited application to biography in general. Still, my wandering eye surveyed the pages on autobiography. In there, she recommends several worthy examples. Among them is Mary Rowlandson’s The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration (1682). This autobiography Bauer calls a “captivity narrative,” as if this is a recognized sub-species of the genre. This was news to me, but it was plausible.

This evening—mind you, this was several hours later the same day—I was relaxing with a different book. I had ordered Thomas Berger’s novel Little Big Man and it arrived with today’s junk mail. Naturally, I began with the Introduction by Brooks Landon. It is mercifully short, so getting to the first page of the novel itself was relatively pain-free.

But now I come to the coincidence that occasions this post.

It was entirely coincidental when I read Brooks Landon’s opinion that this novel is “a literal model of the traditional ‘captivity narrative'” (page xvi).

There it was again—”captivity narrative”—twice in one day, with no recollection of prior encounters with the term. Certainly, the term is not (or was not) a part of my active vocabulary. So why, with no real familiarity of the term, did I encounter two uses of it in such a disconnected sequence of events, in two books, one a work of non-fiction and the other a novel—all within the space of a few hours?

What difference does it make? you ask. But that’s the point, you see. It makes no difference. It just happened. It was a coincidence of no consequence!

But coincidences often are thought to be consequential just in the nature of the case. And so it is doubly puzzling that inconsequential coincidences should happen so often.

Sigmund Freud and the Illusion of Peace


Yesterday’s post was about Karl Marx. Today it’s about Sigmund Freud, who was born on this date in 1856. They have this in common—that religion is a subjective response of one sort or another, to be explained away psychologically or sociologically. Feuerbach contended that God is part of the furniture of a dream world. Marx called religion “the opiate of the people,” a drug that postpones the realization of social utopianism. Freud, when writing about religion, spoke of “the future of an illusion.”

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

All were atheists. All traded the idea of God for a vision of reality that gained traction for awhile, then lost steam. Almost no one knows about Feuerbach, and those who do seldom think of him with affection. Marx’s communism, where it exists, is anything but utopian. And Freudian psychoanalysis is now repudiated by most practitioners and theorists in psychology.

The doctrines that God is a projection of the human imagination (Feuerbach), that religion is a drug that holds humanity back from realization of its highest aspirations and greatest potential (Marx), that the idea of God meets some need for a grand Father figure (Freud), are all affectations. They each acknowledge the pervasiveness of religion in the experience of humanity. Each explains away what it does not argue is false. Each imagines a world improved by the deconstruction of religion. And each has failed in its diagnosis of the human predicament and in its prognosis for a religionless world.

Notice, each of these visions for humanity attempts a solution for the human predicament, which they each in their own way attribute to religion. But the attempt to shift responsibility for the human predicament onto God is itself responsible for the human predicament. The strategy has its origin in the Garden, where the serpent alleged that God’s warning and God’s promise would hold the first couple back from realizing the full potential of humanity.

The impulse is the same for every generation. There is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:4-11). Today, the false starts toward utopian society are rooted in scientific naturalism, mysticism, political meliorism, and religious fanaticism. In every case, true religion is either denied or obscured. The effect is the same: to steer men and women away from the only sure source of salvation, individually and collectively.

We frantically grasp for some semblance of peace—peace of mind, peace among nations. But our frenzy only makes things worse. It displaces peace. And it ensures that the true source of peace is passed by, unnoticed. That source is too good to be true, too easy for it to really count: “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).

But isn’t that how the achievement of peace should come? Not as an achievement, but as a gift?

Some dates:

  • 1841—Publication of Ludwig Feuerbach’s, Das Wesen des Christentums (English: The Essence of Christianity)
  • 1848—Publication of The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
  • 1922—Formation of the Communist Party in Russia and establishment of the Soviet Union (USSR)
  • 1927—Seizure of control of China by the Communist Party
  • 1927—Publication of The Future of an Illusion, by Sigmund Freud

Confusion in the Public Square—The Case of Pam Geller and Islamic Jihad


Pam Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, is an activist. She clearly is on a mission to raise awareness of the threat from radical Islam. Most recently, she hosted an event in Garland, Texas. The idea was to award $12,500 to the winner of a cartoon contest for depicting the prophet Muhammad. This is just the sort of thing that riles Muslims worldwide. It is provocative and incendiary. It appears that it was deliberately so. Ms. Geller doesn’t like jihadists, and this is her way of drawing—quite literally—attention to the seriousness of their threat.

The event in Garland turned bloody when two gunman rolled up to the venue, brandished high-powered weapons, and were shot dead by the police. A media frenzy has developed over the event, but it has been focused through a peculiar lens: the misdeeds of Ms. Geller.

Apparently, Geller wishes to test the first amendment protecting freedom of speech in the United States. And she seems to have concluded that this precious right has been trampled in the aftermath of the event. In her media appearances, she has sought to direct attention to the truth of her message, so dramatically demonstrated by what happened at the Curtis Culwell Center: Muslim radicals are a danger and a threat to Americans right here at home.

There are at least three possible motivations for the media outcry against Ms. Geller:

  1. The Chris Matthews of this world probably are motivated by a socially and politically liberal ideology. These ideologues are always at pains to distinguish peace-loving Muslims from those radicals who have highjacked the peaceful religion of Islam, almost as if the “extremists” aren’t real Muslims. They smugly pronounce Islam to be inherently peace-loving, without any obvious awareness of what the Qu’ran teaches or Muslim history. They haven’t discerned that the “true” Muslims that they link together are the reformist progressives who feel no compunction to take the Qu’ran literally. Because they’ve bought the line that Islam itself is harmless, these ideologues are intent on calming emotions about the dangers of Islam. Pamela Geller should be ashamed of herself.
  2. Some of Geller’s critics may be genuinely fearful for American security. They’ve accused her of being dangerous. They’ve suggested that she is a threat to our security. After all, her actions were provocative. She sponsored an event that is offensive to Muslims. And radical Islamists can be counted on to step out of the shadows to shed blood to “voice” their disapproval. If she and her cohorts keep this up, we’re bound to face more immediate and alarming threats in our own backyard. She owes it to her fellow Americans to keep a lid on it and let saner measures deal with the threat she abhors.
  3. Some pundits may simply think Geller is acting stupidly. She’s asking for trouble, foolishly thinking that her campaign will stem the tide of jihadism in the world. There are better ways of answering the threat, and it’s nuts to think that progress can be made on this front through the antics of an extremist counter-Islamist. (Of course it won’t. But it may also be stupid to think that she thinks it will.)

I should mention a fourth potential motive for the media’s present obsession: Their need for another news story. “After all, Baltimore has calmed down, and they need some news to report.” This vague allusion to media cynicism neglects the significance of similarities and differences in media treatment of Ms. Geller’s escapades. They share a distaste for her actions; they differ in their specific criticisms of them.

The Common Sense Objection

The media critique of Geller has generally fallen short of accusations that she crossed the line protecting her freedom of speech. Her freedom of speech is protected. And note, Geller is doubly protected. First, the first amendment protects her from prosecution for her actions. Second, when threatened by violence, she and her cohorts are rightly protected by law enforcement. The gunmen who were killed violated the law. Geller did not. They had murder on their minds. Geller did not.

Here’s a difficult question for the media to wrestle with: If the gunmen were shot and killed for their own violent, law-breaking actions, while Pamela Geller was exercising her first amendment rights and did nothing legally wrong, should we focus on what the jihadists are doing to threaten American civil liberties, or should we focus on the wisdom of Pamela Geller’s actions? Wow, that’s a tough one.

Many media personalities have focused exclusively on the provocations of Ms. Geller and not at all on the nefarious action of the gunmen who represent world jihadism. They’ve blamed her for what occurred on May 3. This is a diversion from the truth that the gunmen were responsible for the outcome and that their acts were motivated by commitment to extremist Islam. And it ignores the report that ISIS has taken responsibility for the murderous decision to attack the Muhammad Art Exhibit.

There is a place for considering whether Pamela Geller is going about things in the right way. I think it’s a mistake. For several reasons. Not the least of which is that it isn’t exactly the Christian thing to do. I hope there aren’t a lot of Christians commending her for the strategy she’s adopted. Rank and file Christians—who have little influence on the international stage and can do little to effect geopolitical change—are called to winsome engagement with those who do not accept their Gospel. On the other hand, I believe there is the possibility of crafting a Christian strategy for dealing with ISIS and others. I even think that a Christian strategy is what is most needed today. Urgently needed.

But the media have a responsibility to get their priorities straight in the encouragement of civil discourse about what matters most. And right now that includes assessment of the potential for future attacks, some of which will likely succeed if we’re not vigilant. It’s not as if it takes a Pamela Geller to stimulate jihadist outrage.

And all Americans should be wondering whether fellow Americans whose tactics they disapprove should be cowed into silence into order to make peace with those who plot the disruption of our civil liberties. Reportedly, the winner of the cartoon contest has gone into seclusion after receiving death threats. Does Chris Matthews think he’s getting what he deserves?

Karl Marx Is Dead—And So Is Dialectical Materialism (for the most part)


Nietzsche famously said, “God is dead.” His great intellectual forebear, Karl Marx, was born on this date in 1818, just five years after Søren Kierkegaard, who has the same birthday. Marx is perhaps the best-known atheist of the 19th century. He grew up in a German-Jewish home. But it is said that he converted to Lutheranism when he was only six years old. Either it didn’t take, or it didn’t last.

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

He was a militant atheist during his college years at Bonn and Berlin. He was drawn to a group called “the Young Hegelians.” A major figure of this group was Ludwig Feuerbach, who influenced Marx and probably inspired much of the atheist element in Marx’s “dialectical materialism.” For Feuerbach, God is nothing more than a projection of the human imagination. Religion is but a dream. And it is a dream with a mixed reputation. It expresses the guilt and remorse characteristic of the human condition, and then pretends to offer a solution. Humans find it pretty hard to escape this fantasy, since it serves a useful purpose.

Marx extended the motif, calling religion “the opiate of the people.” More drug than dream. The corrective he envisioned would replace the need for a beneficent transcendent being with a social arrangement that would ensure tranquility and economic stability. His dialectical materialism provided the metaphysical framework for his communist utopianism. As materialist, he asserted that all is matter, including the human person. But his materialism affirms an evolutionary history that leads dialectically to utopian finality, where society progresses from “each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” The path to this ideal condition would be painful but necessary. It would be mediated by revolution.

Sadly, this much of the Marxist vision has been realized; but its glorious outcome has been more nightmare than dream. Neither Marx nor Feuerbach offered any real arguments against the existence of God. Instead, they embrace the nonexistence of God as a kind of article of faith. They imagined that all who believe in God do so without objective warrant. But pervasive belief in God must be explained—and got rid of—somehow. Thus they offered psychological and sociological explanations for religious belief. This created space for Marx’s theoretical speculations, which gained surprising traction in his day. His dialectical materialism is mostly a thing of the past. Communism has been exposed as a vicious means for dictatorship rather than equality. But the attitude persists that religion is a private matter that tends rather to debase humanity than to realize humanity’s highest aspirations.

This is a powerful catalyst for secularism. If religion is ungrounded, the most it can offer is private solace. But the heart grows restless with solace that has no objective ground. And so humanity turns to substitutes, seeking always to make a better life without God. It matters not whether God is dead—as Nietzsche proclaimed. What matters is whether the heart appropriates what reason supports. Our need for spiritual solutions to pervasive problems is some evidence that spiritual solutions do exist. But that possibility can only be taken seriously if evidence for religious truth is considered fairly and objectively. No path to a better world is worth trying if it doesn’t start there.

As I noted in a previous post for today, Søren Kiekegaard sought to awaken recognition of these facts about humanity and spiritual values. Too bad Marx didn’t listen to Kiekegaard.

The Great Dane—Remembering Kierkegaard


Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Today is Søren Kierkegaard’s birthday. He was born May 5, 1813, in Copenhagen, Denmark. He’s been called a Christian existentialist, a fideist, a satirist, and “the melancholy Dane.” He was concerned about the disconnect between Christian profession and the lived reality of true Christianity. He called his contemporaries to a deeper personal encounter with God. And he wrote with penetrating insight about the failure of the purely aesthetic life—what we today might call secularism—which seeks pleasure without discerning its natural and ultimate end, namely, despair. Kiekegaard’s contribution is considerable, even for the evidentialist. In fact, his sermonic style may be of value to the apologist who insists on the value of evidence. E. J. Carnell, mid-twentieth century, did the most to bring Kierkegaard’s insight into an overall “combinationalist” approach to apologetics. Carnell wrote:

There can be no question that Søren Kierkegaard gave a profoundly convincing defense of the third locus of truth.

Carnell was speaking of a “third way of knowing,” which respects the tendencies of the human heart, properly submitted to God, to discern religious truth. In this, Kierkegaard (and Carnell) were like Blaise Pascal, who spoke of “reasons of the heart which reason cannot know.” Carnell’s commentary on Kierkegaard continues:

What Christianity has always assumed, Kierkegaard made explicit. . . . Saving faith is not simply an intellectual assent to objective facts. Faith is cordial trust; it is a concerned, inward response to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Until the end of time, therefore, men who remember what it means to be a person will defend the supremacy of truth as inwardness. God sent His Son to make us good, not simply to make it possible for us to recite the creeds of the church.

Carnell is saying that few apologists have noted this vital aspect of Christian belief and conduct. But he issues a caveat:

But what must be questioned is the prudence of Kiekegaard’s attempt to secure inward truth by opposing it to objective evidences. It is from his lips, not those of the biblical writers, one learns that faith must believe what understanding finds contradictory—and for that very reason. Scripture’s healthy balance of the loci of truth has been upset by Kierkegaard. Rationality was bequethed by Jesus Christ as a light by which men may penetrate the darkness of error. ‘The true light that enlightens [gives a spiritually rational nature to] every man was coming into this world’ (John 1:9). Being a rational creature, thus, man must proportion his spiritual commitments to what the mind can conscientiously clear. Apart from this distribution of authority edification is impossible. . . . Saving faith germinates only after the mind is first convinced of the sufficiency of the evidences. If Christ taught plain logical nonsense . . . a balanced man would turn aside from Him as one to be pitied, not trusted. The reason why we are able to trust Christ is that He spoke and lived in a way which is congenial with our axiological expectations.

For Carnell, our “axiological expectations” include both what is existentially compelling and what is rationally convincing. “Faith” without the soul’s commitment may not be faith at all. But what is faith if it is not grounded in good reason? For anyone can have faith in anything.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,087 other followers

%d bloggers like this: