One of the problems with intellectual conversations is that they are generally restricted to intellectuals. By their nature intellectuals tend to value reflection and some semblance of comprehension and consistency. This is a “curved” scale; I’m not contending here that intellectuals really attain a very high absolute level of analytic clarity or coherency, but, the process itself tends result in a minimal baseline of plausibility to a propositional sequence.
I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that the problem with attempting to understand human cognition as a sequence of inferences generated from propositions is that most people don’t even make the nominal attempt to engage in the act of deep reflection. The heuristics and biases which shape modal psychology are determined by a combination of intuition, custom and conformity. Paradoxes of inconsistency are no great issue when ideas and propositions have only a minimal level of contingency. Arguments are ad hoc and operationally instrumental. The aforementioned guides of intuition, custom and conformity hone mental reflexes which can be accessed rapidly and with reasonable surety, despite the lack of deep comprehension.
In most cases I don’t believe that the disjunction between the preferred ideal way that intellectuals reflect and the modal operation of human cognition is much of an issue. Intellectuals, or those who fancy themselves as such, might struggle with issues of ontology. But I do not believe that this is particularly on the radar of the typical individual whose concerns are more prosaic, the basic material and emotional comforts and securities of life. Confusions only emerge when institutions and systems aim to span the full gamut of conventional cognition. For example, in politics or religion, where intellectuals build systems which are very relevant to the lives of most humans. Because of the general obscurity of intellectual constructs to the “average Joe” there is a large body of literature which exists to make abstruse concepts “relevant” in everyday terms to everyday people (e.g., instead of “soteriology,” what is “God’s plan for you”).
Because of the chasm between those inclined to think, write and expound, and the typical human, I believe it is critical that we inspect the shape of what people actually believe, as opposed to what one might expect if they were idealized inferential machines. So with that, I will reproduce below the fold a selection of religious data from the Barna Group:
|Bible is totally accurate||Satan is real||Works don’t earn Heaven||Christ was sinless||God: all-powerful Creator|
|Assembly of God||77||56||64||70||96|
|Baptist (any type)||66||34||43||55||85|
|Church of Christ||57||36||42||54||80|
|Lutheran (any type)||34||21||27||33||72|
|Mormon/Latter Day Saints||29||59||15||70||84|
The one datum I want to emphasize here are the proportion who agree that God is an all-powerful Creator: Mormons are the one group who have developed the most advanced scholarly exploration of the position that God is not all-powerful because of the materialist stream in Mormon thought. And yet it remains the more liberal Protestant groups who are most skeptical of the Omni-God. On the other hand, one could contend that elite religious thought does influence the popular level when one looks at the opinion in regards to the ability to works to attain heaven; Mormons and Catholics are obviously the most distanced historically from Protestant ideas of justification by faith alone, and they do exhibit the greatest skepticism of that idea. All that being said, these general trends still encapsulate a great deal of within group variation which one should not expect if theology results in necessary certainty in relation to doctrinal matters.
It seems to me that the ultimate lesson of these sorts of data are that insight into human thought and behavior must be firmly grounded in empirical evidence, not a priori analysis. The specific nature of humanity is contingent, not necessary.