How Faith undermines Logic: why logic will not rescue one from a cult, or persuade a fundamentalist

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by Neil Godfrey

This passage from Deborah Bennett’s “Logic Made Easy“, and drawing conclusions from scholarly studies, hit me between the eyes when I read it just recently:

Subjects have difficulty applying rules of logic when counterexamples in the subject’s experience are unavailable or difficult to recall and when the logical task fails to cue individuals to search for counter-examples. (p.105)

This is why it means nothing to, say, a Moonie if one attempting to pull them back out of that “cult” tries to force them to change their minds by presenting them with the plain-as-day evidence of dubious character of their leader; or why one will generally waste one’s time by pointing out the clear evidence for evolution or the fallibility of a biblical text.

The Moonie or fundamentalist is being completely rational within their own lights. The difference is that they are unable to see the counter-examples to their belief system even when they are right beneath their noses. (I know. I used to be this way myself, and often reflect on why I remained in such a thought-system for so long.)

And the reason they are unable to see what is staring them in the face is that their faith system instructs them to exercise total thought-control. The same technique used in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT):

[Cast] down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Their faith can only be sustained by the techniques of cognitive behaviour therapy. Counter-examples and falsifying evidence simply does not exist, or there would be no faith to begin with. Anything presented as falsifying evidence is conceptualized as a weapon of Satan designed to deceive and in his war against them. The contrary evidence is simply rejected as a tool of Satan to destroy them.

CBT will prompt the believer to reject the contrary evidence immediately. This can be done either by literally dismissing it as false, or more subtly by ingeniously if sometimes fatuously “discovering” reasons to “prove” the invalidity or irrelevance of whatever falsifies their belief. The sham behind these arguments is readily apparent to anyone who notices that only the less informed or fellow-believers buy them. But to those of faith, that simply proves that they alone are right and the whole world lies in darkness.

But they are being logical. Such members can be and often are very smart. They can be studying for higher degrees and doctorates in the most respected institutions. They can even repeat and write all the evidence and argument required to be awarded their letters. But they may not believe much of it. Or they may use some of their “worldly education” in ways it was never intended and would not sustain scrutiny by scholarly peers.

But no matter how logical one may be, that rigid and valid mental process will simply fail to properly inform if faith is lurking to rob them of the ability to even see falsifying evidence right before their eyes for what it really — and so obviously — is.

In other words, faith undermines one’s ability to apply rules of logic — as Bennett, above, observes. Falsifying evidence simply will not exist and must therefore be exposed as falsely presuming to falsify: so goes the (CBT) thought process of faith.

And ironically this is also why it can be the most intelligent, the most mentally agile, who will remain strongest in their faith! One should expect them to have the greater ability to find rationalizations to “falsify” what is otherwise obvious to anyone led by genuine scientific enquiry instead of faith.

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Neil Godfrey

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