Part 2 of the rough draft follows
RELIGION AND THE MIND: CONFIRMATION BIAS
People who study a concept in which they have no emotional investment are going to offer more reliable conclusions than those who want the concept to yield a specific result. For instance, if you wanted safety information on a used car, would it be wiser to trust the word of a used car salesperson or the findings of a consumer report? I hope that you would trust the consumer report over the salesperson because the salesperson has a vested interest in the quality of his products and an even larger one in getting you to accept his opinion on his products. The consumer report, on the other hand, would likely have no interest in advancing a one-sided view of any product. Similarly, if you wanted to obtain information on the historicity and veracity of Islam, would you ask an Islamic scholar who has been taught about Islamic sanctity since childhood, or would you ask a secular scholar with no emotional investment in Islam? Would you not also do the same for Hinduism, Mormonism, Buddhism, etc? If you utilize the same reasoning and choose the unbiased scholar in each instance, as you very well should, why make an exception only for Christianity?
Scholars who hold no emotional investments in Christianity present the most unbiased conclusions on Christianity simply because they are more open during their studies to accept evidence that contradicts their tentative conclusions. Just as the used car salesperson will be hesitant to acknowledge and relay information that is damaging to the quality of his vehicles, the Christian scholar will be hesitant to acknowledge and relay information that is damaging to the veracity of his religion. We have no reason to believe that belief in Christianity provides a special insight into the veracity because every religion can make the exact same claim. The opinions of individuals with ego involvement, emotional investments, or vested interests in the outcome of a debatable issue are less likely to change when confronted with new information because people have an innate inclination to seek only evidence that confirms their pre-established beliefs. We can describe this phenomenon, termed confirmation bias, as the tendency to seek out answers that will confirm our beliefs and ignore answers that will not. Research has long established the presence of this phenomenon in persuasive psychology. Shermer put it best:
Most of us most of the time come to our beliefs for a variety of reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning…Rather, such variables as genetic predispositions, parental predilections, sibling influences, peer pressures, educational experiences, and life impressions all shape the personality preferences and emotional inclinations that, in conjunction with numerous social and cultural influences, lead us to make certain belief choices. Rarely do any of us sit down before a table of facts, weight them pro and con, and choose the most logical and rational belief, regardless of what we previously believed. Instead, the facts of the world come to us through the colored filters of the theories, hypotheses, hunches, biases, and prejudices we have accumulated through our lifetime. We then sort through the body of data and select those most confirming what we already believe, and ignore or rationalize away those that are disconfirming.[i]
According to Shermer, psychologists have discovered a process that people follow when given the task of selecting the right answer to a problem. Individuals (a) will immediately form a hypothesis and look only for examples to confirm it, (b) do not seek evidence to disprove the hypothesis, (c) are very slow to change the hypothesis even when it is obviously wrong, (d) adopt overly-simple hypotheses or strategies for solutions if the information is too complex, and (e) form hypotheses about coincidental relationships they observe if there is no true solution.[ii] Moreover, by adopting these overly simple hypotheses and strategies for complex issues, we gain immediate gratification. Shermer elaborates:
Good and bad things happen to both good and bad people, seemingly at random. Scientific explanations are often complicated and require training and effort to work through. Superstition and belief in fate and the supernatural provide a simpler path through life’s complex maze.[iii]
Cialdini provides a personal story that exemplifies the beginning of this practice well:
I had stopped at the self-service pump of a filling station advertising a price per gallon a couple of cents below the rate of other stations in the area. But with pump nozzle in hand, I noticed that the price listed on the pump was two cents higher than the display sign price. When I mentioned the difference to a passing attendant, who I later learned was the owner, he mumbled unconvincingly that the rates had changed a few days ago but there hadn’t been time to correct the display. I tried to decide what to do. Some reasons for staying came to mind – ‘I really do need gasoline badly.’ ‘This pump is available, and I am in sort of a hurry.’ ‘I think I remember that my car runs better on this brand of gas.’
I needed to determine whether those reasons were genuine or mere justifications for my decision to stop there. So I asked myself the crucial question, ‘Knowing what I know about the real price of this gasoline, if I could go back in time, would I make the same choice again?’ Concentrating on the first burst of impression I sensed, the answer was clear and unqualified. I would have driven right past. I wouldn’t even have slowed down. I knew then that without the price advantage, those other reasons would not have brought me there. They hadn’t created the decision; the decision had created them.[iv]
People who begin with specific beliefs on an issue are going to be highly unlikely to be persuaded by counterarguments, even with those arguments are greatly superior to the internal justifications for the previously established beliefs. Shermer reports that he his demonstrated this experimentally – with subjects ignoring, distorting, and eventually forgetting evidence for theories that they do not prefer. Moreover, as the degree to which the subjects internally justified their beliefs increased, so did the confidence of their positions.[v] With respect to religion, this phenomenon is certainly expected. Independent of the amount of influence and persuasion that Christians have absorbed, are the lukewarm followers not far more reachable through logic and reason than the ardent ones? Petty and Cacioppo (107-108) elaborate:
Social judgment theory emphasizes the importance of one additional factor in determining the amount of persuasion that a message will produce – the person’s level of ego involvement with the issue…Since involved persons have larger latitudes of rejection, they should be generally more resistant to persuasion than less involved persons, because any given message has a greater probability of falling in the rejection region for them.[vi]
Our analysis of emotionally involved scholars should lead us to an important question in desperate need of an answer. What good is a researcher who will preclude viable possibilities and refuse to consider that his point of view may simply be wrong? If past research tells us that there are three hypothetical scientific disciplines capable of yielding a hypothetical cure for a hypothetical disease, would we ever trust a scientist who was indoctrinated since childhood to believe that only one of the three could produce a cure? Should we honestly believe that apologists for biblical inerrancy, who began with the notion of a perfect Bible, would consider the possibility of a textual error? Should we honestly believe that other biblical apologists, who began with the notion of an inspired Bible, would consider the possibility that their holy book is fundamentally flawed? Many of the top Christian apologists even admit that when the data conflicts with the text, we should trust the text.[vii] So I ask, what’s the point?
This is the problem with all religious apologists, regardless of the specific belief. They will begin by presuming certain premises to be true (e.g. talking donkey, man coming back to life, DNA changes via peeled branches,[viii] moon splitting in half[ix]) and mold an explanation to patch the error, no matter how insulting the explanation and the claim itself are to common sense.[x] This is how religions thrive in the age of scrutiny and reason. Are these implausible explanations that apologists provide not the superficially confirming answers that doubting Christians want to find?
I am not foolish enough to think that apologetic defenders of the Bible cannot find a “resolution” to any problem that I or other rationalists mention. It has been done a million times before, and it will be done a million times in the future. No skeptical author can offer anything that Christian apologists think they cannot answer. The consideration we need to give with respect to those answers is the likelihood of the offered explanation and how an unbiased, dispassionate individual would rule on the explanation. Is the suggestion a likely solution to the problem, or is it a way of maintaining their predetermined beliefs? Since most staunch Bible defenders have already declared that nothing is going to change their minds (and the solutions to presented biblical complications often reflect this disposition), we must be highly suspicious of the intellectual honesty put forth toward the development of the apologetic solutions. After all, as we will see, there are even apologists for specific, contradictory schools of thought within Christianity itself. How could two people use two contradictory avenues of thought and arrive at the same answer unless the conclusion preceded the explanation?
In short, either religious followers ignore evidence that is contradictory to their beliefs, or they superficially rationalize it. They interpret according to their preconceived notions and biases. When a skeptic points out a likely error, the Christian begins with the premise that it is not an error and then defends by any means necessary what he is already convinced is the truth. Misguided believers often accomplish this intellectually dishonest defense by citing a biblical authority who may have been influenced and conditioned to a degree even greater than that of the first Christian. It’s as simple as that. After all, God wrote it, so it must be true – even if it violates common sense. Shermer provides a wonderful example of how a premature conclusion influences observations in those who are not even affected by indoctrination:
When Columbus arrived in the New World, he had a theory that he was in Asia and proceeded to perceive the New World as such. Cinnamon was a valuable Asian spice, and the first New World shrub that smelled like cinnamon was declared to be it. When he encountered the aromatic gumbo-limbo tree of the West Indies, Columbus concluded it was an Asian species similar to the mastic tree of the Mediterranean. A New World nut was matched with Marco Polo’s description of a coconut. Columbus’s [sic] surgeon even declared, based on some Caribbean roots his men uncovered, that he had found Chinese rhubarb. A theory of Asia produced observations of Asia, even though Columbus was half a world away.[xi]
In the same manner that Columbus’ theory of Asia produced observations of Asia, I would suggest that a Christian’s theory of God produces observation of biblical veracity. All of the observations tend to make sense to the believer once the absurd premise is accepted. It is human nature to base explanations on premature conclusions, but knowing that it is human nature to do so allows us to think outside the box.
The importance of the fact that religious apologists were often indoctrinated with beliefs from childhood simply cannot be overstated. This is why Christians must excuse me for wanting authorities, if they must constantly appeal to them, to have started with minimal religious influence in their environment. Practice of religion clouds judgment; understanding of religion does not. In the same vein, if an atheist represses evidence for God, then he is committing the same mistake as the Christian who represses evidence against God. Someone who has been convinced since childhood that God does not exist is of no better use to us than a person who has been convinced since childhood that he does. The trouble for members of the religious side, however, is that the majority of disbelievers were not heavily influenced with hostility toward Christianity during childhood. Many were even once believers. Even with years of reinforcement from the environment working against them, the number of people leaving religion greatly outweighs the number joining it.[xii]
Very, very rarely do we see experts skilled in skepticism become religious. You might hear of apologists claiming that they were once atheists, but this is highly dubious and depends on the quality of atheism. If we are speaking of the classical definition of having no specific beliefs or disbeliefs, the point is moot because they lacked familiarity with the subject. Their inability to provide skeptics with remotely reasonable arguments for their conversion lends credence to this position.[xiii] Conversely, there are scores of well-known skeptics who are former ministers with doctorates in religious studies. Unlike a person who might have been instilled with atheism since birth, these skeptics are not experiencing any detectable psychological glitches that drive their defense of freethinking atheism/agnosticism/deism. A lack of a belief based upon a known lack of evidence is not the same as a lack of a belief based upon being told there is a lack of evidence. Freethinkers did not get their name by starting with no influence; they typically fought their way through it.
For a terrific example of confirmation bias, Sagan provides his readers with data for miraculous healings attributed to the Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France. The Catholic Church recognizes less than a hundred miraculous healings over the past 150 years, but they claim that these recoveries are proofs of supernatural intervention. The spontaneous remission rate of cancer, on the other hand, would accumulate a hundred such “miracles” in a population far smaller than those who have actively sought a cure from the Virgin Mary. “The rate of spontaneous remission at Lourdes seems to be lower than if the victims had just stayed home. Of course, if you’re one of the [survivors], it’s going to be very hard to convince you that your trip to Lourdes wasn’t the cause of the remission of your disease.”[xiv] If you have been indoctrinated to believe in your hypothesis beforehand, and you get the result you are expecting, an explanation of your bad reasoning isn’t going to convince you that a miracle did not occur. You believed in miracles from the start, sought a way to obtain one for yourself, and never considered the possibility of an alternative explanation. Preconceptions make all the difference.
RELIGION AND THE MIND: UNDERSTANDING CONFIRMATION BIAS
Some of my Christian readers have provided examples that perfectly demonstrate my position that many cannot differentiate a biased conclusion from an unbiased one. The most comical of which was a hypothetical verbal exchange between two individuals that an apologist named Jim and Bob. In his example, Jim informed Bob that Bob’s mother was a prostitute, to which Bob offered a vehement denial. Jim then informed Bob that he was wrong simply because he was biased toward loving his mother and did not want to accept the rational conclusion about her line of work.
This example was somehow supposed to be a parody of my position that bias prevents religious people from impartially weighing evidence. This apologist’s interpretation of my position was greatly disappointing because it did not have any bearing on the process of weighing and validating known evidence for making a conclusion – much less a conclusion on a matter with extreme emotional significance attached. As the verbal exchange between Jim and Bob does not afford the opportunity to weigh evidence, it is irrelevant to the issue of how bias can interfere with rational decision-making. Of course, with no evidence to offer, Bob’s opinion, due to his presumed familiarity with his mother’s activities, is going to trump Jim’s opinion.
Consider, however, a situation in which Jim actually saw the evidence that Bob’s mother was a prostitute. Suppose that Jim saw a police video of Bob’s mother clearly propositioning men to pay her money for sexual favors. There can be several problems with Bob being able to accept Jim’s story readily. Perhaps Bob's mother raised him to believe that she was an engineer or some other socially acceptable professional. Perhaps his mother always told Bob elaborate stories about her engineering projects. Like many people, Bob does not approve of prostitution and believes his mother would never engage in such activities. Bob loves his mother and has great respect for her, but he has no respect for prostitutes. The notion that she has been working as a prostitute obviously does not sit well with Bob. It is only natural that Bob is going to strive to vindicate his mother. He is not going to weigh the evidence objectively and render a dispassionate verdict.
Once Jim shows Bob the video, uneasy feelings are going to stir within Bob and drive him to create possible scenarios that would explain what he has seen. Perhaps it is a scripted movie; perhaps it is a practical joke; perhaps it only looks like her; perhaps she has a long-lost twin sister. As far as Bob is concerned, these scenarios are more likely to be factually correct than what the evidence plainly indicates because the evidence directly contradicts Bob’s core beliefs of his mother having a different profession. Bob must ask himself if it is truly more likely for his mother to have a long-lost twin sister than it is for her to have deceived him out of fear of ridicule. How would a dispassionate person rule on the evidence?
Bob’s bias prevents him from accepting the most rational conclusion on his mother’s occupation. In short, Bob has an enormous emotional investment that renders his conclusions much less reliable because he does not want his mom to be a prostitute. Jim, on the other hand, is thoroughly dispassionate and does not care about Bob’s mother one way or the other. We should therefore consider Jim more reliable than Bob on the subject at hand because Jim is able to view the evidence without bias. The most likely conclusion, given the weight of the evidence, is that she works as a prostitute.
As this example relates to the Bible, Bob would be the religious scholar who – for as long as he can remember – has been told by his peers, his parents, and his society, that the Bible is a sacred book. Jim would be the secular scholar who has no emotional investment in the Bible and has recently stumbled upon overwhelming evidence and a number of solid arguments that indicate its complete lack of reliability. Just as the apologist will invent unlikely scenarios to explain the new evidence (and we will see many such examples), Bob has invented unlikely reasons why the evidence is not what it seems. It will be extremely difficult for Bob to accept Jim’s story – just as it is extremely difficult for a Christian to accept evidence against the Bible’s reliability. If the video was of anyone other than Bob’s mom – just as if the evidence was against any religion other than Christianity – Bob would have no problem concluding that the woman was engaged in prostitution – just as the Christian apologist would have no problem seeing how the evidence was detrimental to another religion.
With this in mind, biblical apologists will continue to protest such a conclusion because they claim that nonbelievers also have biases that prevent them from drawing rational conclusions. This is no doubt true in some cases, but apologists cannot deny the great disparity between the few with an emotional investment in wanting to show that a particular belief system is false and the many that have spent their lives believing and sacredly observing the belief system. If I personally hold any bias, it is the kind that drives me to rely fervently upon evidence rather than my personal convictions. I believe that this outlook is an indispensable necessity when in search of the truth.
I have no emotional attachment, ego involvement, or confirmation bias toward relatively minute biblical inconsistencies, such as whether or not there is a contradiction about the permissibility of public prayer.[xv] If the evidence pointed away from my current position, and it seemed as though I made an error in judgment, I would have no problem in admitting so. There are several passages that I previously believed were erroneous or contradictory, and I had no problem letting them go once I found a sufficient (or at least a vaguely plausible) explanation. The passages that I continue to regard as contradictions do not have a feasible rectification, as far as I know; and it will take an enormous philosophical rethinking to demonstrate otherwise. In great contrast to my outlook, an apologist of biblical inerrancy cannot allow even the smallest of problems to enter the text because each one destroys the whole foundation of infallibility. Thus, as Bob invented unlikely scenarios to protect his deepest convictions, so will the apologist.
The thought processes of liberal Christians who uphold the Bible but realize its limitations from human authorship are not much different. Instead of premises based around inerrancy, their convictions are often built around an unalterable foundation. While they might accept that there is a historical inaccuracy in one passage, a difference of author opinion in another, and a scientific absurdity in a third, the idea that the Judeo-Christian God never existed is an inconsiderable position because it conflicts with the foundation that has been in place since childhood. While they believe that mistakes, contradictions, cruelties, and absurdities are human reflections of an infallible god, they never seriously consider the ramifications of a god that would allow a great measure of mistakes, contradictions, cruelties, and absurdities to be his reflection. It is much more sensible to say that a perfect being had absolutely nothing to do with the Bible, but since they prematurely used the conclusion as a premise, these Christians will not seriously consider such a possibility.
RELIGION AND THE MIND: TWO EXAMPLES OF CONFIRMATION BIAS
Most people I know are willing to cooperate in leveraging/multiplying the value of legitimate knowledge expressed by legitimate experts.
Let’s face it: the vast majority of people who have spent a great deal of time studying the Bible believe it is the word of God. That is an inescapable reality. Should we leverage some credibility to specific claims based on the position of the authorities? Of course, stating that ninety percent of experts agree with position A is usually a valid point to make. However, it does not on its own as the ultimate answer to a question. I am perfectly aware that the vast majority of experts in the history of the Ancient Near East will back positions that are beneficial to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or all three. I would be foolish to think otherwise. What I hope readers will realize is that, due to conditioned indoctrination and active bias, the distribution of expert opinion shouldn’t, in this particular instance, be considered as evidence, much less an adequate argument.
My claim of bias refers not only to the confirmation bias practiced by the experts, but to the affiliation bias of the sample as well. People who have an interest in pursuing knowledge of the history of Christianity are most certainly those who have already been indoctrinated with the importance of it. If they believe in Christianity ardently enough to pursue a career from it, they are unquestionably more likely to interpret evidence so that it is favorable to their preconceived notions. Should it come as any surprise that the vast majority of experts in any religion believe in the religion that they study, even though no religious belief is even close to holding a majority opinion in the world? Christians make up thirty-three percent of the world, yet ninety percent of experts in Christianity probably practice it. Muslims make up twenty-one percent of the world, yet ninety percent of experts in Islam probably practice it. Mormons make up far less than one percent of the world, yet ninety percent of experts in Mormonism probably practice it.[xvi]
As for confirmation bias, it is patently prevalent that apologists of every religion begin with the conclusion that their scriptures are true and work backwards to find the supportive evidence. They are not interested in the most likely conclusion that they can draw from the evidence, but rather the most likely conclusion that does not invalidate their beliefs. We can say with unflinching near-certainty that if Christian apologist A were born with religion X instead of Christianity, Christian apologist A would instead be just as confident that religion X was the correct belief. There are countless apologists for every religion who claim to be able to prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, that each of their respective, contradictory belief systems is true. If ninety percent of scholars studying Christianity agree with a position on a hypothetical dichotomy that favors Christianity, I would make the bet every time that roughly ninety percent of the scholars came into the field as Christians. The opinion of such authorities, who began with a certain conclusion instead of analyzing the evidence to reach it, cannot be trusted simply because they are authorities. Conclusions based upon evidence are important; conclusions based upon evidence that has been interpreted to support an a priori assumption are what we should take with a handful of salt.
Rightfully so, I put little stock in the opinions of people who began studying Christianity years after they accepted the existence of a talking donkey. If we brought in an intelligent, rational group of people who were never indoctrinated, who were never even exposed to the idea of religion, and asked them to become experts in the ancient history of the Near Middle East, I would be extremely confident that it would be the unanimous consensus of the group that the Bible is bunk. You just cannot trust those with huge emotional investments to be objective on critical issues.
Not only does the problem of experts with premature conclusions reach outside of Christianity, it continues outside of religion. Think of other fields of study that skeptics and rationalists consider to be based upon myths. What percentage of people who are UFO experts believe that UFOs are flying saucer-shaped vehicles piloted by gray aliens? I have not been able to find a statistic on the question, if such a study has even been undertaken, but should we not feel confident that the vast majority of UFO experts are UFO apologists? People with such interests will naturally join such fields, leading off with the determination to validate their unusual beliefs, continuing with the notion that seemingly inexplicable phenomena have radical solutions, and striving to convince people of their outlandish beliefs.
Just like the biblical defenders who are prone to practice confirmation, UFO apologists do not pay much attention to evidence and explanations that debunk their beliefs; they find ways of making it consistent. Since they are not interested in simple, rational explanations for sightings – just as religious believers are not interested in simple, rational explanations for miracles – they begin with premise that the sighting is authentically alien – just as religious believers begin with the premise that the miracle is authentically divine – and mold explanations without breaking their foolish premise.[xvii]
Have you ever seen the pseudoscientific techniques and equipment used on television shows that delve into the world of ghost hunting? Like the Young Earth Creationists who inappropriately use carbon dating on living organisms,[xviii] these ghost hunters will determine that unusual electromagnetic fields present in old houses, typically caused by bad wiring, are spirits of the deceased looking for someone among the living to avenge their deaths. While this ghost hunting process may seem foolish to discerning Christian readers, it is no different from Christian scholars using ridiculous apologetic and hermeneutical studies to eliminate obvious textual inconsistencies. In each discipline, researchers ignore the simple explanation while advancing the interesting explanation that advances the preconceived notion.
We can say the same for those who promote cryptozoology, gambling systems, mind reading, paranormal beings, astrology,[xix] etc. The believers have the desire to become the experts; disbelievers have no real interest in the matter. Every now and then, you will find rationalists dedicated enough to devote some time to explain that glowing spherical objects in ghostly photographs are illuminated dust particles, memories of alien abduction are the result of sleep paralysis, and tales of vengeful gods who demand to be worshipped are remnants of ancient folklore.
These rationalists, who have studied with great interest but without preconceived notions, are the ones who offer natural explanations for unusual phenomena. There is every compelling reason to believe that average people who take the time to learn both sides of the debate, and who did not enter with interest in the supernatural, will agree with the naturalistic explanations offered by skeptics. The skeptic, because he has no emotional investment in Bigfoot, will eventually conclude that the creature is based upon myth since the evidence does not support the claims of the believer. Despite the opinion of the objective skeptic, and with no good evidence in favor of the existence of Bigfoot, the believer is going to continue believing what he wants to believe, thanks in part to dubious evidence and crippled thinking skills. The Bigfoot enthusiast will not listen to reason because he convinced himself long ago of the veracity of his beliefs. Otherwise, he will have to accept that he wasted his life on nonsense – and who wants to believe that?
To someone who has never heard of the Judeo-Christian God or the American Bigfoot, the nature of each should be no different. Since no special privilege has been bestowed upon either entity since childhood, debunking the existence of one should be no more difficult than the other. Intelligent believers in each, however, often pose a problem, because they are very gifted at coming up with ridiculous scenarios that maintain their increasingly ridiculous proposals. Likewise, intelligent apologists are quite skillful at making an argument seem valid when a critical eye can tell that it is not. I see the solution to this problem, not as a matter of debunking those ridiculous explanations that believers offer, but rather as a matter of exploring the best options to make them appreciate the underlying reasons for their beliefs. Once this is accomplished, the foolishness of the defense should eventually become apparent.
Christianity must have something to it because of the large number of books promoting and defending it.
There can be a tendency to make the erroneous assumption that a large volume of repetitious material that defends a certain proposition somehow increases the validity of the proposition. Many people make this mistaken assumption, and it borders on the logical fallacy of arguing by numbers. Of course, we should apply the same rule to disbelievers and non-Christian authors. If a million people repeat what I have written in this book, the statements are no more valid than they are right now. The validity of the statements rests entirely upon how well someone can demonstrate them as factual.
The importance of this point is that it is not a matter of deciding which major world religion with widespread publication is the right one. Circumstances independent of the veracity of those religions’ claims created the current distribution of observation. Fundamental beliefs in aggressive conversion, rapid changes in social structure, and localized advances in information technology all certainly play a role in the availability of literature that supports a particular viewpoint.[xx] All things equally considered, any of the ancient religions might be correct. It is not logically sound to disqualify a belief system from consideration as the correct one just because a very small population observes it. Conquering and converting for several centuries may increase the number of adherents, but these methods do not increase the likelihood of the conquerors having the correct religion. Since the number of followers of a religion has never been (and probably never will be) empirically demonstrated to correlate with the veracity of that religion, Christianity is just as likely to be true from the onset as Jainism, for example. Again, there are religious scholars of every belief system who contend that they can prove the veracity of each of their respective religious beliefs. There is simply no consensus among unbiased scholars as to which, if any, makes the most reasonable claims. It is a great intellectual dishonesty to think that your religion has “something to it” because it has the highest number of authors who support its veracity.
There is further difficulty in accepting the veracity of Christianity based partly upon these books. While I have already demonstrated the illogical methods through which the overwhelming majority of experts come to accept the divinity of the Bible, it is also worth noting that many Christian authors obtain doctorates and other titles from diploma mills in order to increase their audiences’ perception of credibility.[xxi] Petty and Cacioppo offer a study in which an audience “agreed more with statements attributed to respected and trusted sources, such as Abraham Lincoln, than with the same statements when they were attributed to nonrespected, nontrusted sources, such as Vladmir Lenin.”[xxii] Cialdini reports that people will even view someone as taller when they have an official title because height is often associated with reliability.[xxiii]
People are persuaded more, quite understandably, by a person who they perceive to have more expertise on a subject.[xxiv] It would be reasonable to assume further that people would similarly find an argument more persuasive when written by someone who lists their formal title as opposed to someone who omits it. I would never argue that the decision to consider arguments more heavily when they are from authorities is a bad practice, but many diploma mill graduates have taken advantage of this finding. This point reminds me of a recent episode of The Simpsons, in which creationists have gone to court in order to fight for the opportunity to teach their nonsense in public schools. When a witness for the plaintiffs is asked for his title, he trumpets, “I have a Ph.D. in Truthology from Christian Tech” to the awes of the jury.[xxv] For this reason, I have decided to omit my formal title, gained from eight years of post-secondary education, from the cover of the book. I will let my arguments stand on their own merit.
Petty and Cacioppo elaborate on the effectiveness of one-sided messages targeted toward those with confirmation bias. Such communications are effective on those who have made pre-determined conclusions on the issue in question and those who know very little about it. I have found that many religious believers like the one making this suggestion, due mainly to no fault of their own, fit both descriptions quite well. Two-sided message, on the other hand, are often persuasive to audience members who are well-versed on the issue and have the intellectual curiosity to be further persuaded. Furthermore, commercial advertisements (in our situation, apologetics) often utilize one-sided messages on an audience when the product (similarly, the religion) is well-liked, widely consumed, has few competitors, and enjoys loyal customers. All four qualities can be easily applied to Christianity.[xxvi]
RELIGION AND THE MIND: COGNITIVE DISSONANCE AND ITS EFFECTS ON CONFIRMATION BIAS
To this point, we have examined how people will acquire their religious beliefs for illogical reasons, primarily through childhood indoctrination, and justify those beliefs using illogical methods, notably by prematurely rallying against conflicting information. The reality, however, is that from time to time, conflicting information will be unavoidable. Human beings passionately strive to remain free from internal conflict because there is a strong tendency to maintain consistency among the elements of a cognitive system. This motivation is no different from Bob’s uneasy feeling to explain the video of his mother prostituting. It is provoked by cognitive dissonance; and the human mind has the innate tendency to eliminate it as quickly as possible.
The founder of Cognitive Dissonance theory compared the psychological drive to physiological hunger.[xxvii] Just as hunger is a motivation to eat and rid oneself of the hunger, cognitive dissonance is a motivation to explain inconsistency and rid oneself of the dissonance. Explanations, therefore, go toward satisfying dissonance just as food goes toward satisfying hunger. He suggested three modes that people use to rid themselves of dissonance.
1) An individual can alter the importance of the original belief or new information. Suppose that you believe in the Judeo-Christian God. If someone presents evidence that contradicts your belief, you can alleviate the dissonance by deciding that the existence of God is not important to you or that information on his existence is irrelevant because the debate falls outside of human understanding. We see the latter on occasion when discussing aspects of religion, particularly when an apologist for biblical inerrancy finally surrenders to the idea that the Bible might not be perfect. As one can decide that an inerrant Bible is not a necessity for believing in God, the question of inerrancy becomes moot. Note that this avenue does not necessarily resolve the discrepancy, but instead relegates it to a matter of non-importance – a move that eliminates the uneasy feelings.
2) An individual can change his original belief. Suppose again that you believe in the Judeo-Christian God. If someone presents evidence that contradicts your belief, you can also alleviate the dissonance by deciding that the information is correct and your previous belief was premature. We almost never see this in matters of religion because of the perceived level of importance that childhood indoctrination has placed upon Christianity. Someone who cares very little about religion, on the other hand, is more likely to be persuaded by the veracity of the argument.
3) An individual can seek evidence that is critical of the new information. Suppose yet again that you believe in the Judeo-Christian God. If someone presents evidence that contradictions your belief, you can also alleviate the dissonance by convincing yourself that the new information is invalid. Needless to say, this is what we usually see in matters of religion. Since religious people do not want to trivialize or change their beliefs, finding information that supports the original belief and/or information that brings the new evidence into question is the quickest method to eliminate the cognitive dissonance. Therefore, it is cognitive dissonance that primarily drives confirmation bias. We will consider this phenomenon for the balance of the section.
It makes perfect sense for an individual to want to study the issue in question when a conflict arises, but unfortunately, we often fall victim to confirmation bias and use illogical reasoning to rid ourselves of the conflict when it manifests on important issues. In situations where the information cannot support our decisions, such as the undeniable reality that we have based our religious affiliations primarily on environmental cues (without any real knowledge of other religions), we often resort to methods that will increase the attractiveness of our decision and decrease the attractiveness of the unchosen alternatives.
Petty and Cacioppo cite a number of studies in which subjects utilize the practice of spreading the attractiveness of two contrasting decisions, even when there are no objective facts on which to base the reevaluations of the alternatives. People simply become increasingly sure of their decisions after they have made them by “rationalizing one’s choice of alternatives [which] serves to reduce the cognitive dissonance produced by foregoing the good features of the unchosen alternative and accepting the bad features of the chosen alternative.”[xxviii] When it comes to religion, a believer will defend his faith and attack the alternatives in part simply because he has already rendered a decision on the matter.
Furthermore – and this is where the strength of the motivation kicks into overdrive – Petty and Cacioppo explain that the effects of cognitive dissonance, and consequently the practice of confirmation bias, increase as the positions between the two beliefs diverge and the perceived importance of establishing a position grows.[xxix] Could any two positions be in sharper contrast than the existence and nonexistence of God? Could any dilemma be more important to the Christian than whether or not God exists? It naturally follows that questions on the issue of God’s existence provoke the most cognitive dissonance within those who are deeply involved in the issue. As this debate generates the greatest amount of cognitive dissonance, it naturally follows that people are increasingly willing to accept explanations that alleviate the uncomfortable feelings. As the uneasiness becomes more powerful, people become more willing to surrender to whatever arguments are offered – just as when hunger becomes more powerful, people become more willing to eat whatever food is offered. This will subsequently lead to highly illogical justifications for maintaining our beliefs.
RELIGION AND THE MIND: EXAMPLES OF COGNITIVE DISSONANCE
Imagine the contrasting levels of cognitive dissonance generated in the following two scenarios of a married economist with a five percent failure rate on financial predictions:
The economist invests his life savings in a mutual fund on his professional understanding that the value of the fund will increase quickly and dramatically. However, his trusted private detective friend tells him that he is almost certain he spotted a secret earnings report, which stated that the value of the fund will immediately fall fifty percent. A small amount of cognitive dissonance is generated in this individual because his failed understanding might cost him his reputation as a reputable economic forecaster. The economist has three options for eliminating the dissonance: he can convince himself that the decrease in value is irrelevant to his status; he can accept that he is not really an economic expert; or he can convince himself that the new information presented to him by his friend is wrong, and he is therefore still an economic expert. It is clear that the last avenue yields the most desirable results. From our understanding of confirmation bias, he will likely find a way to convince himself that his friend is wrong.
In addition, after having been faithfully married to his wife for five years and having absolutely no reason to distrust her, our economic expert is told by his trusted private detective friend that he is almost certain that he spotted the economist’s wife in a hotel room with another man while on a separate assignment. A large amount of cognitive dissonance is generated in this individual because his perception of being a good husband is of higher personal importance than his perception of being an expert in understanding the economy. He has three options for eliminating the dissonance: he can convince himself that his wife’s infidelity is irrelevant to his standing as a good husband; he can decide that she cheated because he has not been a good husband; or he can convince himself that the information presented to him by his friend is wrong, and he is therefore still a good husband. It is clear that the last avenue again yields the most desirable results. From our understanding of confirmation bias, he will likely find a way to convince himself that his friend is wrong.
The economist is now battling with two pieces of discomforting news. The issue now becomes which explanation he will sooner accept in order to eliminate the cognitive dissonance. Since the perceived difference in his potential career status is not as important as the perceived difference in his potential husbandry status, he will likely sooner believe that his friend was mistaken on his second claim than his first, even though this decision is contrary to his field of expertise.[xxx] This is where the trouble with the process begins.
The economist will pursue methods to invalidate the new information, not based on the unlikelihood of the new information, but rather on how much he dislikes the new information. If our subject was a completely rational individual who stuck to the facts, it should be much harder for him to accept the information on the investment than the information on his wife. He is wrong on economic forecasts only five percent of the time, and given the nature of his purchase, he no doubt committed an extraordinary amount of time to research the purchase. Being faithfully married for twenty years barely makes him an average husband; and studies have shown that over one-half of all American marriages likely experience some sort of infidelity.[xxxi]
Because of his greater bias for wanting confirmation of his wife’s fidelity, he will seek reasons, many of them highly unlikely, for the information to be erroneous. Being convinced of a comfortable belief is of much higher priority than coming to an objective conclusion based solely on the facts. Despite the possibility of tangible evidence pointing to the conclusion of his wife’s infidelity, he still may not be fully convinced. He may need to hear his wife’s confession personally to believe the story – and even then, he may briefly remain in a state of denial. The stronger the conviction in question, not necessarily the more unlikely the possibility, the stronger the resistance against contradicting evidence will be.
Now imagine what level of dissonance he would feel after receiving information that is contradictory to his religious beliefs that have served him throughout life. These solid ideas tell him that there is no good reason to accept the existence of his god. His parents and grandparents are not in heaven; the man who kidnapped his missing child may never be punished; no one is really listening when he prays; complete justice is an idealistic fantasy; eternal happiness does not exist. While one-half of all Americans will experience marital infidelity, at least two-thirds of all people in the world have the wrong religion.[xxxii] His economic prediction failure rate is low (5%), the possibility of infidelity is relatively high (50%), and an incorrect religious belief is widespread (67%[xxxiii]). Nevertheless, he becomes increasingly less willing to believe the outcomes even as the chances of those outcomes become increasingly probable. Cognitive dissonance, due to individual preference, will cause him to accept increasingly unlikely explanations as long as he uses them to prevent having to accept increasingly undesirable consequences. When cognitive dissonance becomes more and more involved in thought processes, decision making is driven less and less by the facts.
RELIGION AND THE MIND: ELIMINATING COGNITIVE DISSONANCE
The methods to eliminate cognitive dissonance in matters where we are not experts do not necessarily need to be complex, especially when tensions are high, uncomfortable inconsistency needs to be eliminated, and stress inhibits proper judgment. While some bewildered people will quickly manufacture outlandish explanations to eliminate the feelings from cognitive dissonance, others will simply appeal to the position of authorities. Very rarely will people decide to undertake a meticulous fact-finding exercise in order to understand the best reasons for each position when their most sacred beliefs are being questioned.
Many people with whom I discuss the Bible in person will put the method of appealing to authority into practice as a first line of defense. If I cite a foundational problem with their religion, such as why an all-knowing creator cannot co-exist with free will,[xxxiv] they will often report later that they found solace in the fact that they found a wealth of material in books or webpages that justified their original beliefs. Perhaps an individual with some sort of degree who runs a website chocked full of articles offers a long, complex argument as to why my suggested difficulty is nothing to worry about.
The previously troubled Christian might not peruse, comprehend, or even read the entire argument offered on that website, but the fact that the article is offered for public review satisfies him that there is a reasonable answer to my suggestion. Never mind the fact that anyone can cite an authority who agrees with a particular position, especially when it comes to interpreting religion. Due to the innate bias to confirm what we already believe, the article surely is not going to be scrutinized or tested against a rebuttal. The Christian was interested in feeling comfortable with his belief, not dispassionately evaluating it. While such actions will successfully alleviate the uncomfortable feeling accompanying the realization of conflicting information, the individual experiencing these emotions has not actually rectified the problem. To the Christian, the invalid dispute is now gone; to everyone free of emotionally preformed conclusions, it still requires a logical and justifiable resolution.
Eliminating the cognitive dissonance is of foremost importance. People want to feel reassurance that they are correct in their beliefs, especially when there is a lot of emotion, personality, history, and identity at stake. If the Christian were truly interested in the truth, he would analyze the article to see if it adequately addressed the points of my suggestion. But he is not questioning; he is defending. We have all taken the easy way out at some point, but freethinkers appreciated the intellectual dishonesty in such an approach and have since made a decision to follow the truth wherever it leads.
To evaluate the idea that involving topics arouse high levels of illogical thinking, consider a series of real world examples of religious followers being confronted with what ordinary people would consider damning evidence against their beliefs. The following is from Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails:
The group was a private and cohesive band of individuals who believed that the world would end by flood before the sun rose on 21 December. This belief was based upon a “message” received from aliens on the planet Clarion by the group’s leader, Mrs. Keech. The aliens also indicated that they would use their flying saucer to save the members of the group on the eve of the flood. Following the flood, the group would be returned to earth to create a better world.
The eve of the great flood arrived. The eve turned to night, then to early morning. The aliens and flood failed to materialize, and the group was downcast. Suddenly, Mrs. Keech received another “message” from the aliens saying that the world had been spared because of their faith. Hearing this, the group members rejoiced, reaffirmed their faith in their purpose, and set out to recruit new members for the group. The undeniable disconfirmation of their beliefs left them not only unshaken, but more convinced of their truth than ever before. As illustrated in this case, people sometimes think, feel, and act in ways that don’t appear plausible. People sometimes hold or change attitudes despite the objective facts.[xxxv]
This one is from an article published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology:
A southwestern evangelical Christian group believed that there was soon to be a devastating nuclear attack. One hundred three members of the group descended into bomb shelters so that they might survive the attack and build a better civilization. After forty-two days and nights in the bomb shelters, the members surfaced, accepting the fact that no nuclear attack had occurred as expected. But rather than accepting the obvious conclusion that they had erred in their prediction, group members proclaimed that their beliefs had been instrumental in stopping the nuclear attack.[xxxvi]
Consider a third story in which believers of a popular American religion are unconvinced that their religion is a sham, even when smacked in the face with hard evidence. Joseph Smith purportedly translated The Book of Mormon, the holy text of the Latter-Day Saints, from golden tablets provided to him by an angel. He did not perform the translation by looking at the ambiguous text on the tablets, which incidentally no one else ever laid eyes upon, but rather by burying his head in his hat, staring at a rock that he placed inside, and using a spiritual medium to transcribe what he saw on the rock.[xxxvii]
After completing 116 pages of translation, Smith loaned the pages to his scribe who either destroyed or lost them. The scribe was replaced, and the lost pages were never retranslated. Smith claimed that God forbade him to retranslate the lost pages because the ones who stole the manuscript planned to publish an altered version to discredit his ability to translate the golden tablets. Instead, Smith translated an abridged version out of the hat.
To anyone who was not indoctrinated with Mormon beliefs, it is clear that Smith could not retranslate the tablets because he could not remember the nonsense he made up and rattled off as he went along. The Church of the Latter-Day Saints commonly explains the obvious fraud by declaring that the decision was made by God and therefore unquestionable. Apologists for the Book of Mormon can no doubt defend this position to the satisfaction of its adherents, but because the rest of us were not indoctrinated to accept the veracity of Smith’s translation, we see right through the smokescreen. The Mormons see the matter as God making a declaration to not worry about an answer, which would be readily acceptable to any believer. Outsiders, however, see the matter as God never having made such a declaration, and that Joseph Smith was lying or delusional. This defense is similar to the Christian belief that arguments provided by nonbelievers are resolved by citing “the mysterious ways of God.” Where the Mormon chooses not to question claims of God’s actions regarding the Book of Mormon, the outsiders (Christians and other non-Mormons) see the reasoning as an absurd alibi. Similarly, where the Christian chooses not to question “the mysterious ways of God,” the outsiders (non-Christians) see the reasoning as an equally absurd alibi.
The explanations given by Mrs. Keech and Joseph Smith for the inconsistencies relieve the cognitive dissonance that was no doubt generated in the believers immediately after external factors showed that the facts were inconsistent with their beliefs. I imagine that even most of the Christian audience is asking how the doomsday cults and Mormons could be so foolish as to not acknowledge the obvious, but I say to this Christian audience that the evidence against your beliefs is every bit as strong. Jesus’ failed return prophecies (not to mention bodily resurrections and demonic exorcisms, among other absurdities) are no more deterring to Christians than alien/nuclear absences are to doomsday cults or translational hoaxes are to Mormons – simply because believers have accepted the veracity of each suggestion as the essential foundation for the belief. Just as the cult members used wild explanations for the absence of their outlandish predictions, Christian apologists offer lengthy speculations that the failed prophecy of Jesus returning to earth one day in the near future was a product of misunderstanding or mistranslation. Others even believe that Jesus already fulfilled the predictions sometime in the first century.[xxxviii] Never mind that there is no rational evidence for either suggestion; all that matters is maintaining an internally justifiable belief in the Bible’s veracity. Anyone who has not been socially indoctrinated to accept the Bible’s veracity sees the clear mistake.
Consider a similar topic that arouses almost as much nonsense as religion – politics. One study performed just prior to the 2004 US Presidential Election enabled researchers to empirically demonstrate, using MRI scanning, that people who were strongly loyal to one candidate, when confronted with contradictory statements made by their candidate, did not use areas of the brain associated with reasoning to solve the discrepancies. The supporters instead relied upon regions of the brain associated with emotion to justify the personal allegiance with their respective candidates.[xxxix] I could cite similar studies that support irrational behavior of highly involved individuals in areas outside of religion for the remainder of this book, but I hope this will be sufficient to establish my point that people do not utilize dispassionate critical thought when justifying their most important beliefs. Human beings are highly emotional and shun logic when something challenges their emotional beliefs.
RELIGION AND THE MIND: OTHER THEORIES RELATING TO COGNITIVE DISSONANCE
In addition to Cognitive Dissonance Theory, there are two other similar and/or compatible theories worthy of mention currently floating around in persuasive psychology that may explain additional reasons why people provide illogical defenses for their beliefs. Impression Management Theory suggests that people increasingly stick by their decisions because consistency leads to social reward and inconsistency leads to social punishment.[xl] In this case, a Christian may be inclined stick to his beliefs because his peers may frown upon an inconsistency if he changes his mind and decides, for example, that the Bible is not without flaw and that donkeys have never talked.
Psychological Reactance Theory suggests that people increasingly stick by their decisions when others threaten the opportunity to express those decisions freely.[xli] It is my opinion that this explains, in part, the boom of Christian beliefs in Rome during the infant years of the movement. While most religions were readily accepted and incorporated into Roman culture, Christian followers gained the disdain of authorities by refusing to worship emperors and attempting to convert others into doing the same. It should be obvious that this upset a number of Roman leaders.
A lengthy discussion of the persecution and laws against Christianity in the Roman Empire is beyond the scope of the text, but consider two examples. Nero is often believed to have burned and crucified Christians for their beliefs.[xlii] Diocletian, in addition to burning and torturing Christians for their beliefs, ordered the destruction of Christian scriptures and places of worship.[xliii] Even for someone who knows next to nothing about persuasive psychology, it’s not difficult to imagine how people would become more dedicated to and firm in their beliefs when faced with such violent opposition. Petty and Cacioppo point out that people in such a situation are “driven to respond by performing the threatened behavior; counterarguing, often covertly, the reasons for and benefits of the restriction; and changing attitudes toward the various alternatives, particularly revealing more favorably the threatened or eliminated alternative.”[xliv] It is obvious that under such circumstances, any group will respond by dropping their relatively minor differences and uniting for a common cause. Others outside the group may then naturally desire what the authorities have forbidden and investigate the beliefs of the persecuted.
As the Roman Emperors openly punished people for observing Christianity, the findings of modern psychology indicate that this may have had the opposite effect of what the Emperors intended. We cannot ignore the ramifications of affecting people’s desires by denying them from what they might otherwise be indifferent to or requiring them to do what they might have done anyway. Cialdini reports several cases of outrage and increased rebellion in cases requiring residents of a town in Georgia to buy firearms, the banning of laundry phosphates in Miami, and the banning of speeches on universities campuses.[xlv] In addition, there are the more popular cases of alcohol prohibition in 1920s America, pornography regulation on the internet, books banned from libraries, and religion in the Soviet Union. Thus, the overbearing punishments for observing the Christian religion in all certainty generated more interest in it and support for it. Furthermore, the ostracizing of Christians in the Roman Empire was a sharp reversal of religious freedom, which is much more likely to lead to revolt than the continued absence of a freedom that was never allowed. Cialdini explains:
It is not traditionally the most downtrodden people – who have come to see their deprivation as part of the natural order of things – who are especially liable to revolt. Instead, revolutionaries are more likely to be those who have been given at least some taste of a better life. When the economic and social improvements they have experienced and come to expect suddenly become less available, they desire them more than ever and often rise up violently to secure them.[xlvi]
Parents who unknowingly condition their children to shun logic and reason when confronted with testable and observable Bible-debunking evidence are now the ones who perpetuate the domination of Christian beliefs. Contributors to our environment deceitfully teach us that certain things are unquestionably true, and such nonsensical ideas begin at an age at which we have yet to behave or think in a rational manner. The same ideas are also continuously reinforced in an isolated Christian environment until they accumulate to a degree at which conditioning trumps rational inquiry, bias influences judgment, cognitive dissonance leads to absurd rationalizations, intelligence becomes increasingly unimportant, and religious beliefs render common sense impotent. Petty and Cacioppo evaluated the situation quite succinctly, “People often hold beliefs that are fundamental to them but for which they have no conclusive evidence.”[xlvii]
[i] Shermer 283-284.
[ii] Shermer 59.
[iii] Shermer 277.
[iv] Cialdini 110-111.
[v] Shermer 299-300.
[vi] Petty and Cacioppo 107-108.
[vii] One of the most widely touted Creationist websites, answersingenesis.org, offers this is in their statement of faith: “No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.”
[viii] Bible: Genesis 30.
[ix] Qur’an: Sura 54 (Al-Qamar).
[x] A few years ago, I spoke with an apologist who, in order to harmonize the layers of the Grand Canyon with the six-thousand-year-old age of the earth, claimed that the Colorado River once flowed uphill.
[xi] Shermer 46.
[xii] It is also worth noting that the number of people who leave specific denominations for non-denominational worship greatly outweighs the number moving in the opposite direction. American Religious Identification Survey 2001. Kosmin, Barry A., et.al., eds. The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. 19 December 2001. .
[xiii] And again, this goes back to the earlier point of extended religious environment running deeper than you might think. The perceived appropriateness of believing that a man rose from the dead gives artificial credence to such an absurd claim.
[xiv] Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York : Ballantine Books. 232-233.
[xv] I believe that there is an indisputable contradiction committed between two authors on the subject, which is a position I will defend later in the section.
[xvi] A list of studies and surveys used to compile these figures can be found online at http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html.
[xvii] UFO apologists actually have a bit easier than biblical inerrancy apologists. The former can admit hoaxes and mistakes; the latter must defend everything.
[xviii] From The TalkOrigins Archive, accessed online at http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CD/CD011_3.html.
[xix] It is widely known that Ronald Reagan, the leader of the free world during much of the Cold War, used astrologers to assist in his scheduling, security, and perhaps, his foreign policy. Scary thought, no?
[xx] The printing press, for example, is much more widely used in Christian regions.
[xxi] A diploma mill is an institution that hands out degrees like candy. Accrediting bodies do not recognize them. They’re usable, but meaningless. The US Department of Education has a searchable database of accredited institutions online at http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation/Search.asp.
[xxii] Petty and Cacioppo 62.
[xxiii] Cialdini 222-223.
[xxiv] Petty and Cacioppo 63.
[xxv] “The Monkey Suit.” The Simpsons. FOX. WTTE, Columbus. 2006 May 14.
[xxvi] Petty and Cacioppo 74-75.
[xxvii] Leon Festinger, in Petty and Cacioppo 137, 140.
[xxviii] Petty and Cacioppo 141-142.
[xxix] Petty and Cacioppo 137.
[xxx] In other words, it makes much more sense to believe that an economist knows the economy and a detective knows what he detects.
[xxxi] An exact figure is difficult to estimate, but this percentage is consistent with the opinions of psychologists who specialize in the field of marital infidelity. Gerhardt, Pam. “The Emotional Cost of Infidelity.” The Washington Post. 30 March 1999 : Z10.
[xxxii] If Christianity were true, sixty-seven percent would have the wrong religion. If any other religion were true, this value would only increase (e.g., seventy-nine percent if Islam, ninety-nine percent if Judaism, etc.)
[xxxiii] This value is much higher if we consider specific dominations. Catholics and Protestants, for example, have different biblical canons, which would further increase the likelihood of being born into the wrong religion.
[xxxiv] More on this later.
[xxxv] I have quoted the condensed version from Petty and Cacioppo 125.
[xxxvi] Hardyck, J.A., and Braden, M. “Prophecy fails again: A report of a failure to replicate.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1962, 65, 136-141. I have quoted the condensed version from Petty and Cacioppo 139.
[xxxvii] Any reasonable person would dismiss such a claim almost immediately, but this is not the point I wish to discuss.
[xxxviii] A group known as the Preterists.
[xxxix] Westen, D., Kilts, C., Blagov, P., Harenski, K., and Hamann, S. “The neural basis of motivated reasoning: An fMRI study of emotional constraints on political judgment during the U.S. Presidential election of 2004.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2006).
[xl] Petty and Cacioppo 152.
[xli] Petty and Cacioppo 155.
[xlii] Tacitus makes this allegation in his Annals, but the veracity of the account has long been in dispute.
[xliii] Diocletian ordered such measures in an “Edict against the Christians,” published in the year 303.
[xliv] Petty and Cacioppo 159-160.
[xlv] Cialdini 249-252.
[xlvi] Cialdini 257.
[xlvii] Petty and Cacioppo 139.
Part 2 of the rough draft follows