2015-08-30

Understanding Extremist Religion

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by Neil Godfrey

An inevitable question arising out of my preceding two posts that attempt to set out the fundamentals of Neil Van Leeuwen’s analysis of the nature of “religious belief/credence” is where extremist views fit in. This is a topic I’ve broached several times before from different perspectives and hope to again as I get through more readings from various fields (e.g. anthropology, philosophy). In this post I add Van Leeuwen’s comment.

First, to recap:

Characteristics of Factual Belief

1. Factual belief is independent of its practical setting

We can believe our ancestor can see but this credence is elicited by ritual or religious moments and never changes our belief that the ancestor is a lifeless corpse. 

2. Factual beliefs have cognitive governance

The reverse is not true: we may imagine people really do turn into animals but do not worry we are eating a person when eating a pig. 

3. Factual beliefs are vulnerable to evidence

Failed predictions like the Y2K fear are forgotten; failed predictions in religions are maintained by adding further credences to them.

Characteristics of Religious Credence

1. Religious credence is dependent on its ritual and religious places and moments; it is not independent of its practical setting

We can believe our ancestor can see but this credence is elicited by ritual or religious moments and never changes our belief that the ancestor is a lifeless corpse.

2. Religious credence does not govern factual beliefs

We may believe people turn into animals but do not worry we are eating a person when eating a pig. Creationists rely upon clusters of other religious credences to maintain their opposition to the facts of geology.

3. Religious credence is not vulnerable to evidence

Failed predictions like the Y2K fear are forgotten; failed predictions in religions are maintained by adding further credences to them.

4. Perceived Normative Orientation

Credences structure behaviour towards “the good” and away from “the bad”.

5. Free Elaboration

Credences can be elaborated and imaginatively extended (e.g. God is more angry with people in your city today than with those in Hell); one cannot elaborate factual beliefs.

6. Vulnerability to Special Authority

Devotees can accept empirical failings in a guru but not moral hypocrisy.

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Van Leeuwen sees extremist credence as another cognitive attitude that needs defining.

So what are the characteristics of extremist credence?  Note that 1 and 2 overlap with properties of factual beliefs:

 

Characteristics of Extremist Credence

1. Independent of its practical setting

Shares this property with factual beliefs. Other secondary cognitive attitudes turn off outside the practical setting. 

2. Extremist credence has wide cognitive governance

On the rule that factual beliefs have a general governance over other cognitive attitudes (imaginings, hypotheses, etc) NVL writes: “Governance goes one way . . . : if it went equally in both directions, the contents of the classes of attitudes would simply collapse into one another and people would lose all grip on reality whenever encountering fiction, contrary to what happens.” (p. 703)

3. Not vulnerable to evidence

Failed predictions like the Y2K fear are forgotten; failed predictions in religions are maintained by adding further credences to them.

4. Perceived normative orientation

Credences structure behaviour towards “the good” and away from “the bad”.

5. Free elaboration

Credences can be elaborated and imaginatively extended (e.g. God is more angry with people in your city today than with those in Hell); one cannot elaborate factual beliefs.

6. Vulnerability to special authority

Devotees can accept empirical failings in a guru but not moral hypocrisy.

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On the role of the content of extremist beliefs NVL comments:

On my view, having false contents that are unsupported by evidence does not by itself make extremist credence vicious. Rather, extremist credences are vicious because they are not responsive to evidence and they have unrestricted downstream consequences on thought and action. Balance is missing (cf. Audi, 2008).

That’s my note-taking from Neil Van Leeuwen’s article as I seek to get a handle on the basic concepts. Next, Harvey Whitehouse — after I finish reading some other things, or maybe before I finish them . . . .

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2 Comments

  • 2015-08-31 17:05:00 UTC - 17:05 | Permalink

    You might find these interesting. Here are two studies that point towards religious belief not being treated the same as factual belief in the brain:

    For
    children, religious beliefs fall somewhere between factual beliefs and opinions
    , and different brainwaves are produced when people hear factual, religious, and complete nonsense phrases.

  • David Ashton
    2015-08-31 17:27:14 UTC - 17:27 | Permalink

    Brainwave research is promising but at an infant(ile) stage. Much depends surely on the “religious” statements given to the subjects. Persinger’s work on “mystical” experience could run parallel.

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