Introducing Cognitive Dissonance

This article is meant to introduce the concept of Cognitive Dissonance and how it relates to Christianity.
Cognitive Dissonance is a term in psychology that describes the feeling of tension experienced by a person when they hold two conflicting beliefs. When this happens to a person they feel uncomfortable and they start trying to figure out a way to reconcile the beliefs so they don't seem to conflict anymore and / or the discomfort is relieved. Dissonance is more likely to happen if the major idea is about who we are. To better explain this concept some examples of situations that introduce cognitive dissonance follow.

- People who think they are smart, moral or competent and they make a mistake that would indicate otherwise.
- People with addictions that know the behavior is harmful but want to continue to do it anyway, such as smokers, overeaters, compulsive gamblers, alcoholics
- People that are genetically disposed to Mental Illness have difficulty in reconciling their actions with their conscience
- People that cheat on or find ways to reduce their taxes either unintentionally or intentionally.
- People that make excuses for the 'embarrassing' or trouble-making member of the family.
- People that automatically start 'playing the blame game' and pointing fingers.
- Politicians, in fact there is a book out on this right now that is referenced at the end of this article.
- Subordinates that have to justify enforcing policies they don't support, in business, government, military, etc
- Salespeople that have to sell a product they don't particularly care about, but have a need to exaggerate its value to the customer
- Professional people that have made a mistake that impacts their self image, such as a prosecuting attorney that wrongly convicts someone who is subsequently shown through something such as DNA evidence to be innocent. The attorney doesn't want to believe they have made this kind of mistake.
- People that want to believe in things that are not supported by strong evidence such as Superstitions, UFO's, Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, Ghosts, Psychic phenomena, faith healing, etc
- People that have to reconcile why they hold a certain Religious belief rather than another
- People that have to reconcile events in their religion that they do not like, such as the many anecdotes in the Old Testament.
- People that have to reconcile why an all powerful and loving god would create the need to permit so much apparently needless suffering in the world.
- People that have to reconcile why Jesus mother and family thought he was crazy as described in Mark.
- People that have to reconcile why an all powerful loving God uses principles that are shown in day to day life to be flawed.

Once you understand the concept of Cognitive Dissonance and Self-Justification, you can see examples of it literally hour to hour, and especially in Movies and in TV where authors have to introduce conflict as quickly as possible to set the premise and give the characters something to do. It seems to be a mechanism, or drive related to self-preservation. The brain is wired for self-justification. It has been identified in every major culture. It shows up in fmri brain scans. Drew Weston showed that when a person is experiencing dissonance, the thought processes shut down and when the subject starts reducing dissonance the brain centers that show pleasure become activated. The problem is that it is a means of utilizing bias and ignoring evidence that prevents finding the truth or resolution of a problem. Once a person is experiencing Cognitive Dissonance it is very difficult for another person to interrupt the process. Attempts by another person to interrupt the process will result in the intensifying of the process and the resolve of the person experiencing dissonance to continue attempting to reconcile it.

An episode in a series of Psychology videos explains bias and cognitive dissonance very well. Follow this link Learner.org Part 11: Judgement and decision making. Registration is free to watch but you will have to create an account and I recommend it as 'safe' because i haven't received any spam since i did.

Of the many things the video talks about is a seminal experiment by Leon Festinger and Carl Smith.
Leon Festinger conducted one of the first experiments to introduce conditions that reliably induce dissonance. In the experiment the subjects were told to perform boring tasks. Afterwards they were given the opportunity to receive payment if they could influence others to participate in the experiment. Some subjects were given a twenty dollar payment, others only a one dollar payment and some were not given the offer. When asked to rate the tasks, the group that was paid one dollar rated them more highly than the group that was paid twenty. The group that was paid twenty dollars had an obvious external justification fortheir behavior, but those that were paid less had to internalize it. The researches theorized that the one dollar group did not believe they had sufficient justification to lie about the tasks so they were forced to changetheir attitude to relieve the stress. The process allowed the subjects to genuinely believe the tasks were enjoyable. Here is a link to the original paper.

Another similar experiment was done by Elliot Aronson where two groups were picked to join an organization with a initiation tasks. The organization turned out to be boring and uninteresting, but those that had the harder initiation felt more loyalty to it than those that had the easy initiation.

Leon Festinger summed it up in the video as "we come to love what we suffer for".

Carol Tarvis and Elliot Arronson (the researcher noted above) wrote a book on this subject called Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs
In an interview with Carol Tarvis on Point of Inquiry, the Podcast of the Center for Skeptical Inquiry she was asked if Cognitive Dissonance is manifested in religious belief and the following summarizes her response.


Q: There are religious people that don't demand proof for their beliefs, is this a way of relieving their cognitive dissonance?
A: The more important a particular belief is to us the more strongly we will ignore or reject evidence suggesting we are wrong. Religion is central to what gives many people meaning and purpose in life. This type of belief will be defended at all costs. Examples of dis-confirming evidence creating Cognitive Dissonance are Evolution, the Holocaust and disasters.
Most religious people are not threatened by evolution. They find a way to fit it into their beliefs, but some cannot fit it into their beliefs and they will go to great lengths to try to refute the dis-confirming evidence.
How do Jews deal with the Holocaust? The Jews believe they are the chosen people, and god is looking after them. How could a good loving god have permitted genocide? Students of Cognitive Dissonance Theory would predict that people would become more religious and their faith would be strengthened. What most people do is not lose their faith in God but reduce the dissonance by saying God is responsible for the Good in the world, human beings are responsible for the Evil or God is testing faith. The Christian response to the question of how Jesus could permit enormous suffering to happen is to believe that it is to test faith. Anything that is not consonant with a belief in God is reinterpreted to make it consonant. For example after a terrible disaster the survivors will say something like "god was looking after me" but discounting the fact that God was not looking out for other people that died.


Another interesting interview related to cognitive dissonance is from the radio show "All in the Mind". They interviewed Phillip Zambardo, the lead researcher involved with the Stanford Prison Experiment. The experiment had to be cancelled because it got out of control. The participants started self-justifying doing terrible things to each other and it had to be stopped. He was the expert witness for the defendants in the Abu Ghraib trial, explaining how situational factors can make good people do bad things using cognitive dissonance to self-justify their actions. It is described in his book
The Lucifer Effect. It made me think about slavery, the crusades, Old Testament atrocities and William Lane Craigs defense of killing pregnant mothers with a sword. (thanks Steven Carr!)

I suffered severely from dissonance and when I decided to subject my religious beliefs to the same type of criteria and scrutiny that I used for my day to day life, I discovered that I could no longer hold a belief in God. I Know that it is likely that I am not going to convince any christian that there is no God, but what I can do is, through the use of rational discussion, point out the weakness in their arguments and principles that their arguments depend on to introduce cognitive dissonance in their mind.

People use different criteria for reasoning based on the context of the situation. They are called Spheres when the the concept is applied to a group and "compartmentalizing" when applied to an individual. This concept is discussed in Stephen Toulmins "Introduction to Reasoning" and Richard D. Reinke and Malcom O. Sillars "Argumentation and Critical Decision Making". The difference in the spheres and compartments can be seen very well when comparing Scientific reasoning, Legal Reasoning, Religious Reasoning, Artistic Reasoning, and Business Reasoning. I am sure these are not all the spheres that can be identified but they are useful for this discussion. The difference between them is the weight that each places on types of evidence and principle. And often one type of reasoning taken out of context and applied in another sphere or compartment breaks down. For example, the type of anecdotal evidence used in Legal reasoning would break down when applied to science, just as Religious witness testimony breaks down when applied to Legal Reasoning. These facts insulate poor reasoning and can be used to Justify poor conclusions. However, when comparing the principles that conclusions depend on, it is not so easy to justify poor conclusions. For example, the concept of evidence is fundamental to all the types of reasoning but the type of evidence is not. However, if we say the type of evidence needed to justify a Christian belief is not sufficient to justify a Muslim, Hindu, Jewish (etc) then the principle breaks down and we can say the conclusion is flawed.

If you watch this blog long enough you can see people wrestling with this concept as illustrated here in this recent exchange between me and a commenter. We were talking 'embarrassing moments' in the bible and whether or not they are useful to build a case for authenticity. The argument goes that by including the 'embarrassing moments' in the bible it adds authenticity to it.

Lee:
I wouldn't even add it [argument for authenticity from embarrassing moments] to my portfolio to make a cumulative case. The reason why is someone like me would turn it around and point out, like I did in my first post, that in the beginning, Jesus as god was not the consensus. These things put in there were not threatening to that idea. Over time they became threatening. I would turn this argument around and say that it better supports Jesus lack of divinity because the anecdotes are not consistent with what should be the case if a god walked the earth, and if anyone should know it would be his mother. It better supports as ed points out that the further away from the event the larger his divinity grew which is more consistent with the creation of a legend than historical authenticity.

Commenter:
I would ad it [argument for authenticity from embarrassing moments] considering that it contributes in a positive way, even if it is neither necessary nor necessarily sufficient to make a case. Historical inquiry demands that I take it into consideration. The alternatives, while plausible, are not very strong in my opinion since they argue from silence and are based on hypotheticals.


What I want to point out is that while he asserts that the principle i am using to build my case is flawed he is happy to use it for his argument. Namely that the alternatives that I am using are not very strong and based on hypotheticals. His argument was too. And I claim his are based on them to a much larger degree since I have precedent on my side. In any case, I didn't use this example to declare that I am right, I simply used it as the most recent example of cognitive dissonance that I have experienced. If you watch this blog day to day, you see it almost every day.

The truth will stand up to scrutiny and the truth will set you free. People just have to decide to break down the walls between those compartments and identify and eliminate sources of bias because they will not be convinced by anyone otherwise.

REFERENCES not all inclusive, refer to the body of the article for more.

* Point of Inquiry podcast with Carol Tavris interview.
* Science Friday podcast interview with Elliot Aronson
* Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs
* Wikipedia on Cognitive Dissonance
* Stanford Prison Experiment
* The Lucifer Effect

Solomon Asch conformity experiments
* Solomon Asche
* Conformity Experiments
* YouTube video

Drew Weston
* Discussion of his experiment
* His book "The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation"


18 comments:

akakiwibear said...

Lee, an interesting post on cognitive dissonance but I fear that you have misused it, perhaps to try to resolve your own post cognitive dissonance. Clearly we can all struggle with choices atheist or theist alike.
With some editing you could substitute ‘atheist’ for ‘Christian’ in your post without altering the argument – only the conclusion you infer; that Christians have more of a problem with dissonance than atheists do would change. Either way the conclusion is invalid.

But perhaps I am a bit harsh, maybe you are saying something else? Do you think that there may be a personality factor at work here – that some individuals are less able to cope with uncertainty than others. Some need certainty there is, or is not, a God and as a result ascribe to strong atheism or more fundamentalist religions. Those with a greater tolerance for uncertainty are happier with agnosticism or liberal theology. If this is so, then it would be interesting, but so what? Certainly neither of us could use it to support our a/theist position.

I will yield to temptation however and edit my above comment until it more closely parallels your post in order to illustrate my original point.
Using your posts as an example, you may have written: .. that there may be a personality defect at work here – that some individuals are less able to cope with uncertainty than others. Christians need the certainty that there is a God while those with a greater tolerance for uncertainty are happier with agnosticism.
or perhaps we could reword it as ….>.. that there may be a personality defect at work here – that some individuals are less able to cope with uncertainty than others. Atheists need the certainty that there is no God while those with a greater tolerance for uncertainty are happier with theism.

Lee, I find your posts generally trigger my sceptical alarms. It would save readers the trouble of deconstructing your posts and removing the bias from the interesting material if you simple posted them straight to start with.

Hamba kahle - peace

M. Tully said...

Lee,

Excellent post. There have been neuroscience studies done on people who have the connections between their brain hemispheres severed (at one time considered a hopeful treatment for severe epileptic seizures). It appears that the left hemisphere of the brain has a pre-programmed routine to justify our actions beliefs, regardless of any basis in reality that might exist. In one experiment I read about, the subject was shown a chicken claw to one eye and a snowstorm to another and then asked to pick two pictures that described what he saw. The eye that saw the snow was attached to the hemisphere that could register memories but not logically connect them. The subject picked pictures of a chicken and a snow shovel. When asked why he chose those two pictures he said that the chicken went with the chicken claw and the snow shovel is what you needed to clean a chicken coop. In another one the right hemisphere was shown a sign that told the subject to walk to the door and return to the couch. When the subject returned he was asked, “Why did you get up and return the couch?” He answered that he was going to get a Coke, but couldn’t find one. There is an important lesson to take from these tests (besides learning more about how the hemispheres of the brain interact, which I think is also very important) and that is that dissonance exists, it is probably preprogrammed and if you want to find the closest thing to objective reality as you can get, you if to recognize it and put in place strategies to guard against it.

Lee Randolph said...

hi akakiwibear,

Lee, an interesting post on cognitive dissonance but I fear that you have misused it, perhaps to try to resolve your own post cognitive dissonance.
ad hominem, poisoning the well

I will yield to temptation however and edit my above comment until it more closely parallels your post in order to illustrate my original point.....
strawman

It would save readers the trouble of deconstructing your posts and removing the bias from the interesting material if you simple posted them straight to start with.
Another ad hominem, poisoning the well.

I don't understand your comment for the most part but if rewriting it and accusing me of bias makes you feel better, feel free. If you would take parts of MY article and deconstruct it, refute my premises that lead to my conclusions that would help.

Hi m. tully,
I've heard about those studies, thanks for contributing to the content.

akakiwibear said...

Lee, the comment was not intended to attack you as a person, but the quality of the argument - if I offended, I apologise.

My point remains Clearly we can all struggle with choices atheist or theist alike.
With some editing you could substitute ‘atheist’ for ‘Christian’ in your post without altering the argument – only the conclusion you infer; that Christians have more of a problem with dissonance than atheists do would change. Either way the conclusion is invalid.


You did not like my example, fair enough. I have edited your post as suggested by my example, and so, presenting no more or less evidence than you do. I think my point is proven:
This article is meant to introduce the concept of Cognitive Dissonance and how it relates to atheism
Cognitive Dissonance is a term in psychology that describes the feeling of tension experienced by a person when they hold two conflicting beliefs. When this happens to a person they feel uncomfortable and they start trying to figure out a way to reconcile the beliefs so they don't seem to conflict anymore and / or the discomfort is relieved. Dissonance is more likely to happen if the major idea is about who we are. To better explain this concept some examples of situations that introduce cognitive dissonance follow.

- People who think they are smart, moral or competent and they make a mistake that would indicate otherwise.
- People with addictions that know the behavior is harmful but want to continue to do it anyway, such as smokers, overeaters, compulsive gamblers, alcoholics
- People that are genetically disposed to Mental Illness have difficulty in reconciling their actions with their conscience
- People that cheat on or find ways to reduce their taxes either unintentionally or intentionally.
- People that make excuses for the 'embarrassing' or trouble-making member of the family.
- People that automatically start 'playing the blame game' and pointing fingers.
- Politicians, in fact there is a book out on this right now that is referenced at the end of this article.
- Subordinates that have to justify enforcing policies they don't support, in business, government, military, etc
- Salespeople that have to sell a product they don't particularly care about, but have a need to exaggerate its value to the customer
- Professional people that have made a mistake that impacts their self image, such as a prosecuting attorney that wrongly convicts someone who is subsequently shown through something such as DNA evidence to be innocent. The attorney doesn't want to believe they have made this kind of mistake.
- People that want to believe in things that are not supported by strong evidence such as Superstitions, UFO's, Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, Ghosts, Psychic phenomena, faith healing, etc
- People that have to reconcile why they hold a certain Religious/atheist belief rather than another
- People that have to reconcile aspects of their atheism that they do not like, such as the conduct of some so called ‘New Atheists’.
- People that have to reconcile why they need to blame God rather than than themselves for so much apparently needless suffering in the world.
- People that have to reconcile why their atheism is dependent on a flawed literalist interpretation of the bible.
- People that have to reconcile why important atheist arguments they rely on uses principles that are shown in day to day life to be flawed.


In the interests of space I have not edited the whole of your post in this vein, but if you wish ...

Hamba kahle - peace

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Akakiwibear,
Lee, the comment was not intended to attack you as a person, but the quality of the argument - if I offended, I apologise.

Ad hominem is not necessarily offensive, the way you used it was not offensinve as I understood it, but it does constitute a red herring as it was used to avoid attacking the argument while attacking the author.

You did not like my example, fair enough. I have edited your post as suggested by my example, and so, presenting no more or less evidence than you do. I think my point is proven:
This article is meant to introduce the concept of Cognitive Dissonance and how it relates to atheism

This presupposes that an atheist holds two inconsistent beliefs.
What two beliefs does an atheist hold that cause dissonance?
I think a theist holds many irreconcilable beliefs. Here is an example of one expressed as an argument.
Christians experience cognitive dissonance when trying to reconcile the following beliefs.
1. God is perfect, all powerful, all knowing, possibly all good (depending on what type of christian you are)
2. God created humans with freewill knowing full well that they would misuse it and disobey him for which he had set up a system to punish mankind up until the point that he would rectify it with a human sacrifice.

Logical inconsistencies sufficient to induce dissonance follow.
1. Why does a perfect being need to make people? He shouldn't want for anything.
2. Why did he punish so many people for the sins of a couple, or why does he not unambiguously interact with us like a teacher would to help us pass this test he has set up for us?
3. Why is a human sacrifice necessary to rectify the problem of sin? How does that follow?

So now, I will stipulate for the sake of argument that athiesm or agnosticism is a belief and say that all the above is more easily explained as folklore. So now where is the logical inconsistency that is causing me or any other atheist dissonance?

I can understand the concept of reciprocity in mortal beings but not between mortal beings and a perfect one. I don't steal chickens from the supermarket because to steal them would undermine the system of reciprocity I enjoy and I would eventually have to raise, kill and clean my own chickens. I get a benefit, the supermarket gets a benifit, the stock person gets a benifit and the guy that raises, kills and prepares the chickens get a benefit.

You get the benefit of eternal reward or at least no punishment and god gets what? your praise? Your obedience? Your love? And that is important to a perfect being how?

To me god is incomprehensible. How can I be expected to love something that I don't understand? These are not frivolous objections.

when you punt to mystery, mission accomplished, dissonance introduced.

If you don't mind can you return the favor and provide some rationale to your statements below? Just add a "because" at the end of the sentence and add a brief rationale so I can see that you are not just automatically nay-saying.

- People that have to reconcile why they hold a certain Religious/atheist belief rather than another
- People that have to reconcile aspects of their atheism that they do not like, such as the conduct of some so called ‘New Atheists’.
- People that have to reconcile why they need to blame God rather than than themselves for so much apparently needless suffering in the world.
- People that have to reconcile why their atheism is dependent on a flawed literalist interpretation of the bible.
- People that have to reconcile why important atheist arguments they rely on uses principles that are shown in day to day life to be flawed.


Thanks in advance.

zilch said...

Nice post, Lee. A related concept, the confirmation bias, is part of the problem we have in seeing the world the way it is: the tendency, once having formed a hypothesis, to only notice confirming evidence, and to discount contrary evidence. And no one is immune: atheists, believers, scientists, politicians...

And thanks for the link to Craig's apologetics for genocide in the OT. Absolutely chilling: following his reasoning, as long as it's in someone's holy book, any kind of atrocity goes. He has the unbelievable effrontery to say that the butchered Caananite children were being done a favor, because they got into Heaven that way. This is the dangerous face of religion, the one that gave us Crusaders and suicide bombers.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Zilch,
nice to see you again. Thanks for the contribution to the content. Confirmation Bias seems to be a big part of Cognitive Dissonance. It is a handy mechanism to reconcile what you want to believe.

Kind of like WMD in Iraq. I admit, I was fooled into support. "Things are getting better, stay the course...."

akakiwibear said...

Lee, you ask, ”What two beliefs does an atheist hold that cause dissonance?”. Your question is clearly flawed – a sucker punch - , it supposes that ‘an atheist’ characterises all atheists, which as we all know is not true.

Just as there are a range of beliefs and persuasions among Christians so too among atheists who use the terms ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ to describe themselves, or ‘weak leaning atheist/agnostic’ as JWL describes himself … and you want an example of dissonance?

Your own post provides the examples you seek, illustrated by ”People that want to believe in things that are not supported by strong evidence such as Superstitions, UFO's, Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, Ghosts, Psychic phenomena, faith healing, etc” . Neither atheism nor theism is based on proof absolute regarding the existence of God – clearly only one could be, but neither is.

Therefore inherent in both is doubt. Reading and reason can take one only so far, the final step of believing that there is/isn’t a God is one of faith for theist and strong atheist. It could be argued that weak atheists remain in a state of tension (dissonance) as they are aware of an important decision that they feel unable to make.

Clearly both atheist and theist may feel no tension within their belief system. You identify possible areas of tension for theists, personally they do not trouble me, I have reconciled them through reason and. You no doubt claim to suffer no dissonance holding views I consider to be irrational, I can understand that.

However what is clear is that you would experience tension if you held as beliefs what you present as “Logical inconsistencies sufficient to induce dissonance”. This too I can understand as they reflect a misunderstanding of common Christian beliefs.

Clear too, is the potential for dissonance among atheists who have based their atheism on debunking an inerrant, literal bible and the beliefs that emerge there from and who then discover that most of the world’s Christians don’t believe that anyway.

You asked “If you don't mind can you return the favor and provide some rationale to your statements below? Just add a "because" at the end of the sentence and add a brief rationale so I can see that you are not just automatically nay-saying.’ .
I will indulge you, although I am sure most readers will recognise that in reversing your statements they have lost none of their generality, but as you asked so nicely ..
- People that have to reconcile why they hold a certain Religious/atheist belief rather than another because there are strong and weak atheists an atheist has to reconcile why they hold that they don’t believe either way or that they believe there is no God
- People that have to reconcile aspects of their atheism that they do not like, such as the conduct of some so called ‘New Atheists’. because they may not identify with the views expressed, e.g. most contributors on this site accept the historical Jesus, but some commentators do not. It would be clearly wrong to say there are no tensions among atheists.
- People that have to reconcile why they need to blame God rather than than themselves for so much apparently needless suffering in the world. Because many atheists blame God for suffering in the world to substantiate the argument of evil. This frees them from the guilt of recognising that they contribute directly or indirectly to that suffering, but because they don’t believe in the God they are blaming it causes tension.
- People that have to reconcile why their atheism is dependent on a flawed literalist interpretation of the bible. I have covered this above
- People that have to reconcile why important atheist arguments they rely on uses principles that are shown in day to day life to be flawed. because the argument of evil is defeated by freewill and to maintain the integrity of their argument some atheists deny their own freewill, which they exercise in day to day life.

Now I have to repeat that not all atheists would feel a tension from any/all of the above – but reading the posts on this and other atheist sites some clearly do. The above goes to demonstrating my main point that your argument was as applicable to atheist as to theist.

Enough on this. Peace

Lee Randolph said...

Hi akakiwibear,
Neither atheism nor theism is based on proof absolute regarding the existence of God – clearly only one could be, but neither is.
granted, but atheism/agnosticism is an end product of cognitive dissonance. And a lot of reasoning is defeasible by the introduction of new information. But the special pleading type of arguments that the theist uses to support the slaughter of the canaanites (for example) cannot be justified in any other context. You can't say that a group of people are justified in slaughtering another group except when commanded by God. The principle of murder as a bad thing does not apply to God who is supposed to be good, but evidently, he is good in way that we don't understand. This concept of 'good in a way that we don't understand' is only applicable to god since if in principle an act or behavior isn't what we'd normally characterize as good, then we wouldn't label it as good. God gets off on this principle as well.

Generally speaking, weak or strong atheists use the principle of observation, comparison and inference (as one example) to form an idea. This principle works day to day in our private and business lives. The theist does not have this way of knowing at their disposal since they must give credence to the bible, and the bible describes things that seem to be contradictory such as the slaughter of the canaanites. Some people will say that this is not the behavior of a good being, therefore, either the bible is wrong or god is not good, or god is good in a way that we do not understand (in which case his goodness has no meaning to us, therefore cannot be labeled 'good' since good has a different meaning).

I am an equal opportunity debunker, I think the bible is folklore, and if a christian wants to sit down with me and tell me what in the bible is literal or metaphor thats fine, i'd love the excercise, because i've been there and done that and the level of uncertainty it introduces will destroy a belief in some people.

However what is clear is that you would experience tension if you held as beliefs what you present as “Logical inconsistencies sufficient to induce dissonance”. This too I can understand as they reflect a misunderstanding of common Christian beliefs.
I bet you would say that many christians hold a misunderstanding of common christian beliefs wouldn't you? If you like I can give you list of thirty or so disagreements between denominations to help you out.

- People that have to reconcile why they hold a certain Religious/atheist belief rather than another because there are strong and weak atheists an atheist has to reconcile why they hold that they don’t believe either way or that they believe there is no God.
The resolution of this dissonance depends on the method used to resolve it. If we use the tried and true method of observation and inference, then we come down to either god doesn't exist, doesn't care, or is not understood enough to justify a belief that christianity is the RIGHT religion.

- People that have to reconcile aspects of their atheism that they do not like, such as the conduct of some so called ‘New Atheists’. because they may not identify with the views expressed, e.g. most contributors on this site accept the historical Jesus, but some commentators do not. It would be clearly wrong to say there are no tensions among atheists.
This is dissonance between people, cognitive dissonance is in the mind of one person.

- People that have to reconcile why they need to blame God rather than than themselves for so much apparently needless suffering in the world. Because many atheists blame God for suffering in the world to substantiate the argument of evil. This frees them from the guilt of recognising that they contribute directly or indirectly to that suffering, but because they don’t believe in the God they are blaming it causes tension.
Not hardly.
You are overlooking the apparent hierarchy of freewill incumbent in your scenario. The rapists freewill in more important than the victims? The dying babies in poor countries are at the mercy of yours and my freewill because we don't find them and save them? You want to tell me with a straight face that an infinitely powerful and intelligent and compassionate being couldn't come up with a better system than that? A better explanation is pure and simple chance and circumstance, not a divine plan and this follows from observation and inference.

- People that have to reconcile why their atheism is dependent on a flawed literalist interpretation of the bible. I have covered this above
not hardly. As I pointed out, if that were the case, then there would be a lot less non-theists because they would stop their slide when they adopted a more liberal view of the bible.

- People that have to reconcile why important atheist arguments they rely on uses principles that are shown in day to day life to be flawed. because the argument of evil is defeated by freewill and to maintain the integrity of their argument some atheists deny their own freewill, which they exercise in day to day life.
this depends on a dogmatic and simplistic view of freewill. It is true that I have the ability to eat sauteed mushrooms or not, but I don't have any control of the nausea I get when I smell them. This uncontrolled motivation steers my behavior, just as it does in many other aspects of behavior, moral, amoral, and moral neutral. I'll bet you didn't have to pick every single word placement in your comment did you? You didn't give it much thought did you? It was more or less automatic wasn't it? You had the choice but it didn't even occur to you to exercise it did it? Sometimes we have options that we are not even aware of and don't pop into our minds which impedes our freewill and affects our behavior. Try to hold your breath for five minutes. I bet you can't no matter how hard you want to. Its a biological thing.
I think that anyone that is not in a self-justifying mood could figure out that some things just don't seem to be a matter of freewill, and try to figure out why that is. Especially when it comes to addiction or mental illness (where do you effectively draw the line between what is mental illness and what is not? It is a matter of the observer is it not, namely the doctor?).

Lee Randolph said...

Hi akakiwibear,
oh yea, I forgot to say that
you are right when you say that cognitive dissonance applies to atheists and agnostics. It applies to everyone, which is pointed out in the article. It is an equal opportunity provider.
;-)
But my position is that atheists and agnostics have a tried and true process for resolving it that doesn't have to rely on as much mystery as the theist.

akakiwibear said...

Lee, you are most gracious with " ... you are right when you say that cognitive dissonance applies to atheists and agnostics. … my position is that atheists and agnostics have a tried and true process for resolving it that doesn't have to rely on as much mystery as the theist.", it saves us many words.

peace

SpongJohn SquarePantheist said...


Don't teach your grandmother how to suck eggs
.

Lee Randolph said...

hi spongjohn,
I appreciate the easter egg in your comment, but i don't get your point. A lot of times it adds value to a conversation to avoid ambiguity.

I am reading the article and the wikipedia article on presuppositionalist apologetics and am finding it to be more of the same mind boggling house of cards that christians build to try to hide the lack of strong evidence for a christian god, let alone a god at all.

Until christians can come up with some sound principles to differentiate the biblical scriptures from the other Canaanite and near eastern writings of the time, then there is no reason to give one more credit than the other. When they can do that then they will have a premise to start from and there won't be any presupposing necessary.

SpongJohn SquarePantheist said...

This was a good thread - all the major points were thrashed out & people can read through it and come to their own conclusions. I just wanted to add the minor point that Christians have always been aware of the fact of 'cognitive dissonance', as Paul articulated it more than 2000 years before psychologists coined the term.
IOW, both sides are aware of paradox (in which it would not be unreasonable to hold viewpoints in tension, even if one weren't happy about having to do so) vs. logical contradiction, and it doesn't accomplish anything to speak about 'cognitive dissonance' as such - in other words just stick to arguing about the reasonableness of the beliefs themselves and not the people that hold them.

I'd also like to ask you, re the reference to Standford you say, "how situational factors can make good people do bad things". How do you reconcile the tension between having to believe the average person is 'good' with empirical evidence that suggests peoples' 'goodness' consists of their being in circumstances where it's merely not convenient (or impossible) to do evil (like Jeffrey Dahmer on a desert island where there would be no one to kill - would he be 'good' then?). It seems Jeremiah, or any Calvinist has an easier time than you would reconciling this reality with his world view.

WoundedEgo said...

Lee...

Is "cognitive dissonance" not a morally-neutralized term for "guilt?"

The idea that Christians experience more guilt is not particularly provable.

The fact is, EVERYONE experiences guilt/"cognitive dissonance" except sociopaths.

I have been EXTREMELY burdened lately about a lie I told to a prospective employer... It is KILLING ME... that I overstated my experience. I need a priest! I feel I should sacrifice an animal!

Bill Ross
http://bibleshockers.blogspot.com

Lee Randolph said...

Hi spongjohn, thanks for taking the time to expand your comment and thanks for the compliment.

I just wanted to add the minor point that Christians have always been aware of the fact of 'cognitive dissonance', as Paul articulated it more than 2000 years before psychologists coined the term.
right, just as aesop elaborated on in his fable about the fox and the grapes, around 500 BCE.

in other words just stick to arguing about the reasonableness of the beliefs themselves and not the people that hold them.
I agree to a degree. Open minded people and or disciplined thinkers will override thier natural bias. Some people can not override it whether the context is religious, professional or personal.

How do you reconcile the tension between having to believe the average person is 'good' with empirical evidence that suggests peoples' 'goodness' consists of their being in circumstances where it's merely not convenient
First, I agree that context plays an important part in behavior. In fact I would argue that this rebuts the 'universal moral' that christians say comes from god. But to presume that people are naturally 'evil' and that they would do 'evil' (keeping in mind the context) at the first opportunity is an exaggeration. I can think of many examples (as I'm sure you can) of people not doing 'bad' things when they have the means, motive and opportunity.
anyway, that was a phrase used in the interview with Zombardo, but I am not going to sidestep the issue on that account. In my opinion I think a more presice restatement of that would be "situational factors make people [that have not set a precedent of doing bad things] do bad things." And If I stipulate that it is possible to get all people to do things that are universally considered evil, the christians still have to show that there is a supernatural correlation to this behavior, behavior which can be explained more easily through evolutionary psychology and simple self-preservation. The missing piece in the christian argument is the link between the natural and the supernatural and until that link can be shown some other way than with literature of questionable origin, then they are all weak arguments.

Forgive me if i misunderstood you and or have misinterpreted your position. I'm kind of rushed for time.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi bill,
Is "cognitive dissonance" not a morally-neutralized term for "guilt?"
no, aesop elaborated on it in his fable about the fox and the grapes, around 500 BCE.

The idea that Christians experience more guilt is not particularly provable.
this is your strawman, you can play with it by yourself.

WoundedEgo said...

I did oversimplify the concept.

What Aesop said was:

"It is easy to despise what you cannot get."

This is viewed by some as saying that people sometimes reduce cognitive dissonance by rationalization, not that despising sour grapes is in itself CD.

It appears that CD is what we experience when we have information that we are neither able deny or to embrace. The process of denial requires a rationalization to alleviate the pangs of conscience.

Bill Ross
http://bibleshockers.blogspot.com