7 x 5 Never Equals 75 (333)

eCrozier #333 – 21 April 2017

 The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool
– William Shakespeare in As You Like it

If the young boy in this cartoon were exhibiting something called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, then he wouldn’t say his answer “may” be wrong. He’d be certain that he got the answer right. It was the teacher who was wrong. I had never heard of this “effect” until recently, but Dunning & Kruger, two social psychologists from Cornell University, have been studying this “effect,” which now bears their name, for 18 years.

In their repeated studies, participants took tests and then they were shown their scores on the tests. They were then asked to estimate how well they did in relationship to others who took the same test. Participants who did quite poorly on the test consistently estimated that they ranked higher than others. As Dunning & Kruger wrote: “Although test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd.”

But the same wasn’t true of those who did relatively well on the test. They tended to slightly underestimate how well they did in relationship to the others tested. It seems there’s some modesty among the competent, but such modesty isn’t present in the less competent. Similar studies have been done in other cultures around the world, but the same “effect” isn’t nearly as pronounced in those other cultures as it is in ours. While the Dunning-Kruger Effect appears to be a somewhat universal human tendency, it seems Americans have it on steroids.

Blessed Paul the Apostle reminds us in Romans 12 that we shouldn’t think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. That’s wise counsel for us all, but some people truly believe they “ought” to think more highly of themselves. They really do believe they’re smarter and wiser than others. They even continue to believe that after they’ve been shown the results that prove otherwise.

Americans used to look up to wise and learned people. We didn’t call educated people “elitists” or belittle how much they knew. But, it seems, more recently we’ve grown leery of people who know more than we do or at least we’re unwilling to acknowledge they do know more than we do. For example, even though nearly every Nobel Laureate in Science has affirmed that climate change is real, a danger to the planet, and is caused by human action, we have influential people who discount what these learned people have said and deny their educated conclusions. Saying these Nobel Laureates engage in “fake science” doesn’t change the scientific conclusions. 7 X 5 will always equal 35 no matter how much anyone might “feel” otherwise.

I’m not sure what to make of all this, other than to be thankful that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world: For those who, for modesty’s sake, will judge themselves slightly less wise than they truly are and for those who persist in their own ignorance and still believe they are wise.



eCrozier #78

Our souls are ever restless until they rest in thee, O Lord – St Augustine

I just finished reading The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life by the evolutionary psychologist, Jesse Bering. He contends that belief in God is an “adaptive illusion.” But such belief serves an important evolutionary function because we humans are “cognitively predisposed” to seek order and purpose. Bering calls this cognition our “theory of mind,” which humans alone have. It’s our instinctual capacity to reflect on our and other people’s behavior and try to make sense of the intention. In our desire to make sense of life, our “theory of mind” ascribes divine agency and thus a larger, eternal meaning to life.

Humans did not start out this way. Bering argues that proto-humans were “impulsive, hedonistic, and uninhibited.” As our “theory of mind” developed, we began to judge ourselves and one another. This capacity led most humans to moderate their behavior because they felt they were being judged by others and by God. In time, those who failed to moderate their behavior suffered reproductive failure. This led to the evolutionary success of those who were predisposed toward moralistic religious belief.

Unfortunately, this is science at its worst. Bering clearly knew where he wanted to end up and then engaged in patently unscientific speculation about our forbearers. Bering never answers the question as to why our forbearers began to condemn “impulsive, hedonistic, and uninhibited” behavior. Wouldn’t they have already needed to “possess” some moral judgment and some desire for self-moderation and self-restraint in order to discern that such behavior was wrong?

This is Bering’s “missing link,” which he completely ignores. I’m not denying the benefits to our collective knowledge that evolutionary psychology has brought us. Scientists continue to help us understand how we humans have evolved physically and psychologically. But this bad science only aids the arguments of evolution deniers. They will throw the baby out with the bath water.

I don’t believe scientists will ever find this particular “missing link,” because like with the theory of the “Big Bang” in astrophysics, something had to exist to bring into existence, well, existence. We, of course, believe it wasn’t just something. We believe God called the universe into existence. Likewise, there is a priori in us a desire for God that God placed in our hearts. In the language of evolutionary biologists, we are hard-wired for God. Augustine was right. There is a God-given restlessness in our souls.

We humans, of course, can spend a lifetime trying to deal with that restlessness in all sorts of unholy ways through the pursuit of possessing material goods, gratifying physical passions, or hankering for the applause of others. Many of us do just that.  But those pursuits never truly satisfy. Resting in God is the only true “theory of mind” that in the end makes sense.



eCrozier #56

There are two approaches we humans have traditionally taken to seek the truth. The first way is existential and begins with experience, observation, and reasoning. We review our experiences and those of others; we observe all the phenomena we can; and, then we make our reasoned conclusions. The second way is transcendent and begins with revelation, listening, and faith. We receive God’s revelation, listen to the witness of the saints, and accept by faith the revealed witness. Both ways represent valid approaches to truth-seeking. For the last 400 years, however, they’ve taken divergent paths: the first becoming the exclusive property of scientific rationalism and the second the purview of religion. This divergence is unnecessary. That’s not to say both approaches are the same, rather it’s to say that both are valid approaches in seeking the truth. Plus, this historic divergence is beginning to end since some theoretical physicists are beginning to sound like Christian mystics when they speak about the universe.

Many people confine science to the realm of facts and religion to the realm of opinion. But this isn’t fair to either. All science begins with a point of view that’s based on both fact and opinion. When scientists observe phenomena, they have to interpret the data collected. This requires making a judgment as to what about the data is important and what’s unimportant. Although they bring an informed opinion to their work, it’s still an opinion. Religion requires faith. As John Polkinghorne has observed: Many people seem to think that faith involves shutting one’s eyes, gritting one’s teeth, and believing six impossible things before breakfast, because the Bible or the Pope or some unquestionable authority tells us so. But faith cannot be based on such things. Faith, if it’s going to have integrity, has to be based on what is true. It can’t be a placebo-like crutch to lift our spirits, says Polkinghorne. So, we ask questions. How did life begin? Does life have meaning, purpose, and destiny? Both the existential and transcendent approaches are important in answering such questions. To be fair, faith does require a leap, but so does science. Einstein’s theory of relativity was a leap. It was a hunch based on what he thought should be true. That sounds much like faith.

The Bible is the witness to faith. The disciples were huddled in fear as Pentecost’s fire came upon them. Afterward these same fearful disciples were in the streets proclaiming Jesus as risen Lord. Imprisonment, beatings, and even death wouldn’t deter them from that proclamation. Could a vague feeling or a temporary group psychosis fuel such an impassioned determination to proclaim the Gospel? Even to skeptics, it’s hard to deny what occurred after Christians proclaimed Jesus rose from the dead. So, all human beings are people of faith. We are just more obvious about it than agnostics or atheists. Faith, however, isn’t certainty. As Hebrews states: “It is the evidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1).  All ways of knowing have limits. Regardless of approach, existential or transcendent, we’ll face limits to what we can know. In truth, the more we know; the more we realize just how much we don’t know. Faith asserts that there are some things that will always pass human understanding.