Control Beliefs....Control

Here at DC we are dealing with control beliefs. Control beliefs control how we view the evidence for and against Christianity. Those of us who debunk Christianity have control beliefs which interpret the available evidence against Christianity. Those who come here and defend Christianity have control beliefs which interpret the available evidence on behalf of Christianity. The question therefore is this: where to we get these control beliefs? I have previously suggested that we get them from the accidents of birth; that is, we get them from when and where we were born. See here, here, here, here, and see also exbeliever’s take on it, here.

Some Christians who have debated with us seem to take the position that evidence is all that is needed, and that intelligence will lead someone to see the same things that they see. But from the perspective of most all philosophically trained people THAT viewpoint is truly ridiculous.

My cumulative case arguments are to help the reader see things differently. There is no single piece of evidence or lone argument that will cause someone to change their control beliefs, because evidence is always interpreted by our control beliefs. Control beliefs must come crashing down all together or not at all. Control beliefs cause us to accept problematic conclusions in some areas because the sum total of what we believe has fewer problems than the alternative way of viewing things. I try to share why I see things differently than Christians do, and they do likewise with me. But it's all with the seeing. It's not about intelligence or education. It's about seeing. And any philosophically trained person knows this.

A cumulative case is one where the weight of the sum total of arguments just all of a sudden topples your previous set of control beliefs, and that is what happened to those of us here who debunk Christianity.

We all operate from control beliefs and presuppositions. But ours at DC are much fewer than those who defend Christianity. Christians must defend the whole canonized Bible, and/or presuppose it all.

Anyone who thinks about this one lone difference between our respective control beliefs will see clearly that our presuppositions are better. On the one hand, the fewer things we must presuppose, then the more likely that accurately describes our human condition, based upon the principle of parsimony. On the other hand, unlike Christians, I realize a healthy measure of skepticism about control beliefs because I know they are largely adopted from a culture. So my control beliefs are skeptical ones. That’s why I have argued for the Outsider Test and think it's a better way to proceed.

19 comments:

Jason said...

I'm a philosophically trained individual and this doctrine of control beliefs was never explained to me during my studies. What you're talking about sounds like something from the realm of psychology or sociology.

John W. Loftus said...

Jason, are you familiar with Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and the debate that ensued from his book? Control beliefs are assumptions/presuppositions, and a more or less consistent set of them is more or less a worldview.

Jason said...

No, I've never read Kuhn to any extent that I can recall. However, I didn't take phil of science which, given the title of the book, is where I probably would have encountered him. Phil of science is not typically a requirement for a philosophy degree, however.

There is a huge body of work that can be included under the rubric of philosophy. I have found in my short experience that the only guaranteed common denominator for any philosophy degree is that which is presented in intro to philosophy. Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Singer...beyond that it's a crap shoot.

John W. Loftus said...

Assumptions? Presuppositions? Control beliefs? Logic operates based upon them, and so does science. Kuhn's book is widely quoted in philosophical circles, since he was dealing with the philosophy of science, and since it had implications for epistemology in general. What are Nietzsche's or Kant's assumptions? What year are you in your college program, and how attentive are you in class?

Jason said...

I graduated with a BA in philosophy from the University of Victoria. I finished with an A- average.

John W. Loftus said...

Even though you haven't been acquainted with what I'm talking about, do you see what I'm saying?

Jason said...

I think I understand what you are saying, but I am somewhat skeptical at this point. Since I'm new to the concept, however, I have no intention of issuing a serious challenge.

I took three years of logic classes by the way. None of my logic profs ever used the phrase "control beliefs". Besides, it would be irrelevant to discuss control beliefs in the way you are using the notion here in a logic class. You are describing psychological barriers. Logic classes develop derivations from a set of axioms, or "assumptions, presuppositions", etc. Predicate logic, Truth Functional Logic, First Order Logic, and so on are studies of derivations from and capacities of a set of axioms. Instructors in logic explain the relationships between the axioms and the inferences, but they don't tend to point out that everyone operates with a set of axioms called "control beliefs" and that unless these are toppled then any given individual will not be able to comprehend the rationality of any argument that cannot be derived from these axioms.

The website that contains all of the course materials for my third year logic class is still up. Kuhn is mentioned nowhere. You can find it here: http://web.uvic.ca/~tiberius/logic/

Out of curiosity, do you have an undergraduate degree in philosophy?

John W. Loftus said...

Every logical argument has an assumption, as does every scientific argument. Based upon this assumption....let's see what entails. I do not have an undergraduate degree in philosophy. But I teach it, logic, and ethics.

You would do yourself well to get Kuhn's book. And see here.

John W. Loftus said...

Oh, and ask your professor what he thinks of what I wrote. Print it out for him. Then get back to me.

Jason said...

Every logical argument has an assumption, as does every scientific argument. Based upon this assumption....let's see what entails.

Sure. This is consistent with what I have written so far, and it is also distinct from the notion of control beliefs as psychological barriers to rational inquiry.

I don't talk to Johnston anymore. I moved out of Victoria after my graduation and it's possible that he has moved on as well. I'll mention it to another logic-savy philosophy prof that I keep in touch with to get his thoughts.

Why did you link me to a post on informal logic?

John W. Loftus said...

Why did you link me to a post on informal logic? Did you not see where some very important philosophers reached their control beliefs, or not?

Jason said...

Yes, I can see where you have discussed some of the weak points in Descartes, Hume and Locke. It seems that those beliefs of theirs that you appear to have earmarked as control beliefs are not quite the same as the Christian faith of a young woman living in Georgia. Hume's presumption of naturalism, for example, seems quite distinct. If the presumption of naturalism was a product of Hume's time and place, then why would he have to write esoterically to protect himself from persecution? All beliefs are, trivially, a product of a time and place in some respect. Perhaps this criterion (for identifying control beliefs) is not very useful.

It seems that elements of one's worldview are not necessarily impervious to a pointed rational critique. For example, both Plato and Aristotle in their writings pick up and discard control beliefs as quickly as modern man flips channels, rejecting them after pointed rational inquiry.

If someone clings to a belief irrationally, then that seems to be something about their particular psychology, and not necessarily an indication of the way things are. Anecdotally, I remember when I rejected Christianity. It was when I was exposed to Martin's critique of the incarnation. A single, pointed rational critique that rendered my worldview formally invalid is all that it took for me to change my mind (it would be difficult to argue that I was deluged with a large amount of anti-Christian argumentation up to that point since I had led a fairly sheltered life - indeed, I encountered Martin's argument at a Capernwray bible school). Not everyone that holds a version of the worldview I once held reacts in that way to the argument against the incarnation, but that is not because that is the way it has to be. It is a contingent matter of psychology.

John W. Loftus said...

Willard Van Orman Quine spoke of a web of beliefs. At the outside of the web are beliefs which can be dispensed of easily enough with new information, because they are the things we believed or disbelieve based upon experience.

The closer we get to the center of the web the more it takes to dispense with those centrally located beliefs because more is at stake. Web strands closer to the center require dispensing with all of the outter layers that are built on it. At the center of the Web is logic itself which controls what we believe. Dispensing with control beliefs toward the center of the Web is a monumental challenege requiring what Kuhn called a whole paradigm shift, and what I call as a conversion.

If control beliefs do not explain anything useful, then please explain for me why we argue day and night here at DC without any real resolution.

Get Quine's book too.

Jason said...
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Jason said...

I deleted my original post because of a spelling error.

I don't have time to read that book yet, but perhaps I'll get to it in the future.

I didn't say that the notion of control beliefs is not useful. I said that one of the criteria that you listed for the identification of control beliefs, namely that we get them from when and where we were born, is not useful. I said this because it appears to be false.

I suppose that the notion of control beliefs might be useful to explain why someone will not relent in the face of forceful rational critique against their position. However, it seems possible that some people might be psychologically enabled to abandon control beliefs easier than others. Thus, just because something is a control belief doesn't mean that it is impervious to reason necessarily.

I personally would be hesitant to use the notion of control beliefs when criticizing an opposing position. The concept seems to lend itself to facile dismissals. I have always been taught that in criticizing a position, one ought to make it as robust as possible, even if that means one must go beyond what a proponent of the position has explicitly presented.

I would also not allow the fact that a particular position may be a "control belief" to discourage any rational endeavour that I might mount against it.

So it seems to me that the notion of control beliefs cannot be used in and of itself to explain why someone will not reject an absurd position (since the notion is not sufficient as counter-examples have shown), it should not be used in discourse itself since it is facile (which implies that it is fallacious), and it should not be used in philosophical critique for the same reason. Students of philosophy typically are responsible for explaining why a position is true or false, strong or weak, etc.. When one begins to ponder why any given individual would prefer to hold onto a belief in spite of a strong rational case against it then one has crossed into the territory of psychology, or at least some neutral ground between psychology and philosophy. Says I.

John W. Loftus said...

I didn't say that the notion of control beliefs is not useful. I said that one of the criteria that you listed for the identification of control beliefs, namely that we get them from when and where we were born, is not useful. I said this because it appears to be false.

Today we saw an Amish woman walking around town, fully dressed to cover herself even though it's about 90 degrees outside and humid. My wife commented that she's glad she's not an Amish woman. I responded that the only reason she's not is because she was not born into an Amish family. I provided you links to the Outsider Test here. Read them.

About the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) I argued for in my book, Richard Carrier said...."But you are right about OTF: that's an excellent chapter. The logic of it is insurmountable, IMO, even by a so-called reformed or 'holy spirit' epistemologist."

I suppose that the notion of control beliefs might be useful to explain why someone will not relent in the face of forceful rational critique against their position.

Whether or not the critique is rational will depend upon whether the person accepts or rejects certain foundational assumptions. I've had many Christians state that my arguments against Christianity are not just wrong, but stupid. Why is that? They are rational to me.

I would also not allow the fact that a particular position may be a "control belief" to discourage any rational endeavour that I might mount against it.

And neither do I. For me it's a cumulative case. The belief system falls together as a whole or not at all, since any one individual belief inside the web of beliefs is supported by the others. But I never know which argument will produce the proverbial domino effect of dismantling the whole system of beliefs, so I argue on one front and then on another front.

So it seems to me that the notion of control beliefs cannot be used in and of itself to explain why someone will not reject an absurd position (since the notion is not sufficient as counter-examples have shown), it should not be used in discourse itself since it is facile (which implies that it is fallacious), and it should not be used in philosophical critique for the same reason.

Absurdity, like rationality, is person related. I, for instance, think Christianity is absurd in that it isn't rational. Christians have claimed that atheism is absurd, and even irrational. Can you produce the proverbial "smoking gun" argument? If you think it's the incarnation, try again. yes, it was for you, but it won't be for many many other Christians. They have their answers...answers which we reject of course, but they accept it even if it's mysterious because of other tightly held control beliefs. And there is nothing wrong with that, in my opinion, because I did the same thing as they are doing. We all have Kuhnsian anomalies (get Kuhn's book)that we just can't seem to fit into a completely consistent world-view. These are beliefs which are bolstered up by other beliefs we have which we think we can explain.

Have you studied epistenmology? Have you read Nicholas Wolterstorff's Reason Within the Bounds of Religion?

When one begins to ponder why any given individual would prefer to hold onto a belief in spite of a strong rational case against it then one has crossed into the territory of psychology, or at least some neutral ground between psychology and philosophy. Says I.

Again, what one considers a rational case is person related and based upon control beliefs. When we deal with control beliefs held by people whose lives are built around those control beliefs, then it is psychological. So what? Give me an argument one way or another about religious beliefs that doesn't involve a psychological element. One former philosopher, Richard Rorty, came to believe there was no objective truth to be had from logic, arguments or evidence, so he switched to teaching psychology. He ended up believing that psychology was the dominating factor in whether or not someone believes anything--anything. And even if he's wrong about this, there is a lot of truth to it, which makes the dividing line between philosophy and psychology a continuum at best. There is no purely philosophiocal Spockian cold harded factual incontrovertible argument--none! How much more then, is this true when it comes to religious beliefs in which we cannot even agree on the facts. I had a book once called, What is a Fact? Where the author argued that facts are extrememly hard things to pinpoint. Ian Barbour has argued that there are no facts. Facts are always theory laden. Issues in Science and Religion. Read also the works by Michael Polanyi, especially Personal Knowledge

By the way. How many classes did you take in philosohy, and what are your pursuits now? You show a surprising lack of familiarity with espistemology.

John W. Loftus said...

I see I had spelling errors too...Oh well.

Jason said...

I have already recognized the importance of time and place with respect to certain popular cultural memes, for lack of a better term, such as manner of dress and religious preference. I'll reproduce what I said here:

It seems that those beliefs of [Descartes, Hume and Locke] that you appear to have earmarked as control beliefs are not quite the same as the Christian faith of a young woman living in Georgia. Hume's presumption of naturalism, for example, seems quite distinct. If the presumption of naturalism was a product of Hume's time and place, then why would he have to write esoterically to protect himself from persecution?

Your mention of the Amish is like my example of the Christian from Georgia, but neither of these memes are of the same sort as the control belief of Hume that I commented on. Hume's family, if I recall correctly, was composed of religious (and supernaturalist) types. Thus we cannot say that Hume is a naturalist because the members of his family are naturalists, right? To spell it out: either Hume's presumption of naturalism is not a control belief, or control beliefs do not necessarily come from when and where we were born.

I am not contesting the claim that people born into certain social circumstances are highly likely to adopt certain worldviews. This observation from your outsider test blurb is uncontroversial.

I disagree with your position that absurdity and rationality are relative to each individual. I believe that there are standardized, objective tests for absurdity that are not contingent upon any particular individual's foundational assumptions. Since you teach logic, you know that in logic something is absurd if it entails a contradiction. Someone might not comprehend that a contradiction obtains, but that does not mean that there is not an absurdity. That simply means that they do not grasp it.

The claim that rationality is relative to the individual is more plausible than the claim that absurdity is relative. Rationality is contingent upon a value-set, and this set is postulated. However, rules of inference must still be applied correctly in order to obtain properly rational outcomes from a stipulated value-set. Worldviews tend to operate with rules of inference from truth-functional logic. TFL does not yield results given the same input data that are relative to individuals.

I do not claim to have a "smoking gun" argument for one simple reason: there is no one single theism, or Christianity for that matter. Martin's critique of the incarnation severed a crucial strand of silk, to use your web metaphor, from which resulted enough cognitive dissonance to displace my religious belief. I think that such a maneuver is possible for any incorrect belief set (it is by virtue of such possibilities that belief sets are even identifiable as incorrect, after all - I am uttering tautologies). How an individual reacts to the maneuver is the variable.

The reason that I have laboured the distinction between psychology and philosophy, if there is one to be made, is because you have claimed that any philosophically trained person knows about control beliefs. However, if there is any one field of study that one can say that the notion of control beliefs is required reading, then I would suggest that it is psychology, and not philosophy, for the reasons I have already elaborated upon.

My pursuits now are paying rent, putting food on the table, enjoying life, harassing ex-pastors on the internet, and reading. I'm currently reading "The First Idea: How Symbols, Language, and Intelligence Evolved From Our Primate Ancestors to Modern Humans" by Greenspan and Shanker. They take the position that language is a wholly memetic structure, contrary to the popular modular view of many influential contemporary evolutionary psychologists like Tooby and Cosmides. What do you know about the subject?

In the course of my studies I focused on ethics, legal theory, and philosophy of evolutionary biology. Streams I did not study in depth include epistemology, metaphysics, and historical philosophy, although I did learn what was required from those subjects for my degree. I'll provide you with a run-down of my philosophy classes here. To turn the tables a bit, I'm sure that with just a little bit of experimentation I could speak to you about philosophical thinkers and concepts that you have not devoted very much time to. This shouldn't be surprising, since the scope of philosophy is enormous.

Intro to philosophy.
Existentialism.
Informal logic.
Plato.
Aristotle.
Applied Platonic Philosophy to Contemporary Problems.
Philosophy of Religion.
Analytic Philosophy.
Applied Logic.
The Rationalists.
Biomedical Ethics.
Moral Philosophy.
Theoretical Logic I.
Theoretical Logic II.
Philosophy of Law.
Theory of Perception.
Democratic Theory and Practice.
Responsibility, Causation and the Law.
Philosophy of Biology.

John W. Loftus said...

To turn the tables a bit, I'm sure that with just a little bit of experimentation I could speak to you about philosophical thinkers and concepts that you have not devoted very much time to. This shouldn't be surprising, since the scope of philosophy is enormous.

Agreed. Thanks for stopping by to "harrass ex-pastors" like me. Come back anytime.