The following is part of a Series called Conversation with a Deconverter.
Question Number 10
About Narrative Substitution
Up to now I have asked about six different psychological phenomena – each of which you could think of as a tool in a defined tool set – in the context of various religious narratives. Of course, the point of the exercise was to see if the presence of these phenomena, these tools, could be reasonably surmised in these narratives. In the interest of time and economy I won’t explicitly go through every question again, but I would submit to the reader that if they go back and read each question again it will be obvious that any one of these tools, in fact, could be applied to any one of the narratives. In other words, all the tools were in use in every narrative, I just picked narratives that better illustrated how each tool worked.
Now, I’d like to expand the conversation and the questions to include a larger context. I’ll use Confirmation Bias as my example, but this applies to all the six tools we’ve identified so far: Suppose I took the first narrative, that one about Helios, and suppose I said, “you know what? The truth of the matter is my question was too narrow. I could have just as well asked something like the following”:
Given any narrative exhibiting characteristics of Confirmation Bias, would it be more likely that the narrative was the result of Confirmation Bias or that the God of the narrative is The One, True God? The way I would confirm this is to just ask, in each and every case, how are they any different as far as exhibiting signs of Confirmation Bias? Of course, they may differ considerably in the attendant details and story line but that’s not the point. The point is that they all exhibit characteristics of Confirmation Bias. But the adherent may object:
“I think this is invalid because whatever substitutions you make, when you round-Robin every religion and get to mine and substitute a narrative referring to my God it will not be what it is because of Confirmation Bias, it will be because my God is The One, True God. In other words, my God is the exception”.
Without examining the validity of this objection at all, we’ll entertain it anyway. The reader should go back now and read the first two paragraphs of the “Motivation” section, changing it from any narrative to any narrative but my own, and we are ready to proceed. Suppose I now round-Robin every religion for which a similar narrative exists, for each of the tools we’ve discussed, but dutifully exclude your narratives from that list. Now, why would this be any different than the one case? That is, when your God is not included in this analysis, why is the case of the many any different than the case of any one of them?
About Mathematical Induction
I’d like to introduce a concept here from mathematics. I’m not purporting to be applying mathematical induction (this can only be done with algebraic objects). I’m simply going to show that this process is the logical underpinning of the logic of induction generally. When one performs a proof in mathematics using mathematical induction they are relying on some sleight of hand to do something pretty powerful:
Exploiting the known internal consistency of algebra they are showing (in this context absolutely proving) that, whatever values any of the variables might hold in any given instance, the algebraic relationship still holds generally.
Now, let me say this in English and remove it from the formal framework of mathematics and talk about induction generally. This is a rigorous way of saying that if I can show that the process by which I step through a sequence of possible steps is provable and proven, regardless of what step I’m in, then I can show that the relationship is generally true. This is what we are doing with our substitution. In this case, we are outside the system of logic I’m talking about so we can’t say something is “provable and proven”. But that’s not the point. All we need to show for our purposes is that it is more likely than not as stated.
In other words, I’m asking the reader to forget about putting a label onto what religion a narrative belongs, and ask the more general question:
Is it more likely that tool X was in play or that the God of narrative X is The One, True God? If we continue to honor the request of leaving out your God from this test, it should be just as easy for you to agree to that statement as the former one because the former is merely a specific instance of the latter. They are in all material respects the same thing. We do indeed have an apparent “defect” in this argument because now we have to explicitly assume that a god you believe is 0% probable is considered. But there are two things to remember. One, what you believe about these other gods is not material right now. What matters is if it is logically possible that any of these gods could exist. Even if that were not true, we are going to remedy this “defect” shortly anyway.
This is like if your five year-old child has a ball he plays with but loses it, and he tells you the only thing he missed about it was that it was a ball, then you could replace it with any ball (not that kids are really that specific – if only) and he is happy. The thing to focus on here for our purposes is in making sure that we know the attributes of the boys fondness toward the ball (in our analogy those attributes are comparable to the tools we’re talking about). I can be confident that when I go shopping at the toy store, ceteris paribus, as long as I choose a ball my boy will be happy. It could be any size, color or texture. As long as it’s a ball. And that’s not all. If my daughter, mother, sister and sister-in-law all go out independently and do the same thing, all of them picking out a different ball, my boy will be happy even if any one of them gives him their choice of ball, and this is true regardless of which one of the five of us adults’ ball is given to him.
So, here’s what I want to ask. I’ll start first with the kind of narrative similar to the Helios narrative, which we’ll call a class of narratives, X, and we’ll use Confirmation Bias as the example as we did for the Helios narrative. Remember, they can be as different as we please; the similarity we’re talking about is in the attributes of Confirmation Bias they all exhibit. Finally, we’ve left your God out of this list for now.
Is it more likely that Confirmation Bias was in play or that the God of narrative X is The One, True God?
Go to Question Number Eleven