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September 18, 2004

No arguing with quasi

In response to David's post below, I have to point to a weird fact I stumbled upon (from In Gods We Trust):

...For example, after reading a bogus article on a new finding from the Dead Sea Scrolls that seemed to contradict Christian doctrine, religious believers who also believed the story reported their religious beliefs reinforced (Batson 1975). For believers, then, confidence in religious doctrine and belief can increase though both confirmation and disconfirmation of any factual assumptions that may accompany interpretation of those beliefs.

The author goes on to assert that statements about religious beliefs are actually "quasi-propositions," they might seem to follow normal conventions about axioms and inferences, but they really don't. Religious believers already presuppose what they know to be true, that is they have faith, so evidence is really only pro forma. Additionally, since the assertions themselves are logically impossible to deconstruct (the problem of evil, infinite regress, etc.), there emerge a host of various "interpretations" of counterintuitional constructs (Biblical "literalists" are just as clever about interpreting things as non-literalists if you take a close look at the anotations in their study Bibles)

Over at Internet Infidels they have a paper up titled Three Strikes, You're Out!--The Quick and Dirty Case Against Mormonism. Most of my friends in high school were Mormon, so I know a little bit how they dealt with the fact that their religion is eminently falsifiable because it makes explicit claims about the history of the pre-Columbian New World. I found that my friends held two simultaneous opinions:

  • Archeologists just want to find "mummies" and are fools.
  • Archeologists have confirmed the claims of the Book of Mormon about the pre-Columbian civilizations of the New World (some even believe that the Smithsonian uses the Book of Mormon as a reference).

I noted that these were contradictory opinions, but I realized that the fact or reality of these assertions weren't too relevant, Mormonism (belief) came first.

I was also confronted by the fact that my Protestant evagenlical friends were totally exasperated by the fact that their Mormon friends could not see how their religion was false, that it made claims that were ludicrous. In response, my Mormon friends would respond that their religion was actually much more rational than the faux Greek philosophical clap-trap that is the norm for conventional Christianity (the Mormon god is a physical being, not a philosophical ideal, specifically Mormons will make fun of phrases like "God sits upon a topless throne" as nonsense, as thrones all have tops obviously). These same evangelical friends once also told me that they had learned about Hinduism in church, that Hindus believed gods became incarnated into human beings and walked among us, as if it was one of the most bizarre things they had heard (they said this with a straight face, though they freely interchanged the term "gods" with demons).

My overall point is that you have to know the psychology of the "opposition." Some readers believe that religion exists because of the explanatory power it provides, that it is a proto-science, and therefore it can collapse upon falsification. I've seen that this model just doesn't work. Not only does religious belief stand up to logical critiques, it can defy empirical contradiction.

The Mormon religion has been falsified on numerous points in relation to its archeological claims for most of the 20th century. This is even apart from the fact that Joseph Smith was quite clearly a shyster. Nevertheless, as scholars of religion like to point out, it is the most successful American-born religon, and there are now more Mormons than Episcopalians! Isn't this evidence that demands a verdict? Religion ~ proto-science? False!

Posted by razib at 01:51 PM