Monday, March 29, 2010

Can Religion Be Explained as a Meta-Cognitive Deficit? Or, the Kowalski Conjecture

What is meta-cognition? My acquaintance with this concept comes by way of Big Mischief's precocity: it was in some literature about gifted & talented children. The long & short of it is that meta-cognition means thinking about thinking.

Thinking about thinking certainly bears on the conundrums that religion presents to the sceptically minded. The religious-minded are notorious for their gullibility, shoddy reasoning,empirical evidence, and even disdain of all rationality. Meanwhile, skeptics, even ancient skeptics are concerned with the reliability of knowledge and thinking.

The religious-minded of all varieties, but especially Christians, tend toward either a binary opposition of either X is true, or X is false; either one complete certainty, or sinful doubt. The unreflected quality of this style of thinking wants to present the truth or falsity of a belief to be a property of that belief. How one thinks is of no consequence, rather it is what one thinks that of supreme importance. This latter style of thinking if allowed free reign would completely ignore the person holding beliefs and doing the thinking. To borrow a mathematical term: the subject would cancel out, leaving only the propositions and belief in question.

Contemporary skeptics complain incessantly of shoddy reasoning coupled with disdain for empirical evidence that mark the religious-minded. The demand for absolute certainty that Evangelical Christianity demands forbids consideration of the nuances of doubt, certainty, and full range of possible conclusions that may be drawn from a piece of evidence. Metaphorically speaking, apologists for Young Earth Creationism can be likened to a freight train speeding along to its final destination: there is no possibility of reconsideration of conclusions. There can be no reflection and consideration of the question, "Could I have made a mistake?"

Sceptically-minded blogs such as Pharyngula, The Bad Astronomer, or Respectful Insolence, are all marked by a careful consideration of pro's and con's. Evidence is carefully weighed so as to extract the maximum possible certainty and no more. Implicit in all the posts for those blogs is the recognition that how one arrives at a conclusion is infinitely more important than the conclusion arrived at. In these representative blogs, it is a given that thinking is not something to be taken for granted.

It is characteristic of the genuinely religious to be perplexed at this attention to nuances of certainty and doubt. That doubt and certainty come in shades of gray probably makes as much sense "those with their eyes on the prize of heaven" as speaking of colors to the blind, or of quantum field theory to a four year-old. There is a deficit of understanding that be filled with mere words devoid of understanding and meaning.

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Just to be clear the differences between the religiously-minded, conspiratorially-minded, and the ideologically-driven lie less in the specific content of the religion, conspiracy, ideology, than in the ways that specific contents of a given religion, conspiracy, and ideology are used to avoid recognition and assimilation of evidence and its attendant continuum of certainties and doubts.

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