You go to a shop to buy a bat, and a ball. In total they cost £1.10. The bat costs £1 more than the ball. How much does the bat cost?
Listened to a very interesting episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast on ‘the enigma of reason’ yesterday. The interviewee – Dan Sperber – was outlining how he feels the pride we humans take in our ability to reason is misplaced. We see ourselves as ‘above the animals’ because we can reason things through… and yet reason has not brought us to peace, nor to agreements about what is true.
What interested me most was his outlining the phenomenon of ‘confirmation bias.’ Once we gain a belief, we tend to use reason to confirm and reinforce it – not to correct it, challenge it or critique it. Why is this? Surely we want to access the best truth that we can? We want to think ourselves reasonable and rational people, but in fact we are not.
What we tend to do is run mostly on intuition, though we think we are being rational. Take the problem above: most people will initially come to the answer that the bat costs £1 and the ball 10p. But this is wrong as the bat in this case does not cost £1 more. We need to think more carefully, more rationally than we may be think we need to.
Sperber’s own view is that reason evolved in order to help us deal with other people. The masses of people we meet deliver large amounts of information, and we need to be able to interrogate this information in order not to be ‘taken in.’ As he puts it, reason helps us to ‘get beyond the bottleneck of trust in communication’ – you can just trust everything anyone says, so reason evolves to help us winnow out the crap.
Getting finally to a point: this is why I think Pete Rollins’ new book is important. If reason is what separates us from the animals, then doubt is what elevates us above unthinking belief.
To put it more bluntly: there is a massive dose of confirmation bias in almost all forms of Christianity. People come to belief, and then refuse to allow doubts to form and shape that belief in a way that points it further into truth. What I love about what Pete does in Insurrection is that he takes a wrecking ball to this confirmation bias, and insists that people really let doubt come into play as a way of moving towards better understanding.
It’s something I wish we saw more of – in politics, in religion and in life in general. We shelter in the comfortable gardens of ideas that suit us spoken to us by people we respect. Comfortable it may be, but true it isn’t.
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