Origins of Beliefs

• C h a p t e r 3The Cognitive Origins of Beliefs Many theologies, including some forms of Buddhism, Hin- duism, and Judaism, downplay the importance of beliefs, instead favoring community identification or engagement in particular practices being regarded as the core features of religious expres- sion. The term belief often carries connotations of commitment and devotion to a set of propositions that less intellectualist reli- gious traditions find uncomfortable. But surely even these tra- ditions affirm characteristic ideas that motivate or justify their community identifications and distinctive practices. To capture these affirmed ideas as well as confessional, propositional commit- ments, and because of its fit with human cognition, I adopt a par- ticular meaning of belief. By belief I mean an instance of mentally representing something as being the case in the generation of further thought and action. The something could be information, associa- tions, evaluations, and the like. These “beliefs,” as I explain below, need not be held or represented in propositional form or even con- sciously or explicitly at all.1 To believe something in this sense is similar to thinking that something is the case. I might hear that it is raining right now without being conscious of the fact but, never- theless, form the belief that it is raining. On a nonconscious level I think (or represent) it as raining, and so I believe it is raining.

This narrower definition of beliefs skirts the problem of histori- cal or cultural particularities surrounding “belief ” and enables the recognition that beliefs, in the sense meant here, underlie every action—religious or otherwise—and all religious actions regard-

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less of tradition, including ritual, prayer, and meditation. The con- struction and proclamation of every religious doctrine, likewise, hinge on the formation of beliefs. From this perspective, why peo- ple hold religious beliefs (beliefs that motivate religious action), and why religious beliefs tend to take the forms that they do across time and place are central questions to the study of any religion.

How one arrives at one’s conscious beliefs and whether arriving at them was done reputably has occupied a prominent place in phi- losophy since the Enlightenment. How do we arrive at beliefs then? Does cognitive science have anything to contribute?

Our working memory limitations require us to use conceptual information to complete our percepts, communication, and gen- eral thinking. Because we cannot hold everything in conscious- ness, we need nonconscious information to be available as needed to fill in the blanks. Fortunate for us, we have enormous long-term stores of information, of which we need not be consciously aware, that can serve this function. Some of this information has been acquired through cultural expertise, but much of it is acquired as a natural part of being human. In this chapter I present how non- conscious information contributes to the formation of beliefs, an area of broad application and particularly relevant to religion and theology.


Perhaps the factors relevant to belief formation that have received the most attention by psychologists concern the role of testimony.2 Common sense tells us that much of what we believe was imparted to us by other people. The importance of testimony bears upon every domain of knowing, even in the sciences: we believe things because trusted others tell us that they are true. Arguably, we would know very little in life if we did not give testimony the benefit of the doubt—sometimes called the credulity principle. We trust others unless we have good reason not to do so.

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One key to the power of testimony is the social context of the testimony: who is talking? If the sources are known and trusted individuals, we will tend to value their testimony all the more. Fur- ther, people have been shown to be subject to a number of context biases regarding to whom they listen: conformity bias, prestige bias, and similarity bias. These biases depend upon the social context rather than the content of the ideas or practices.3

Conformity Bias “You just think that because everybody else does!” If we look at how contested beliefs are distributed, what is immediately obvi- ous is that they are not uniformly scattered but tend to cluster. Peo- ple who believe that Manchester United is the best football club in England are more common in Manchester than in Liverpool or Portsmouth. People who believe that Brad Paisley is a better guitar- ist than The Edge will be in higher proportions in Tennessee than Ireland. In part this is because beliefs can motivate social affilia- tion, but mostly because people tend to conform to the dominant views of people around them. When in doubt, the consensus opin- ion serves as one’s default belief and is accepted as true.

Prestige Bias The conformity bias is joined by a prestige bias in shaping those we choose to imitate in terms of behaviors or beliefs. When a strong consensus is lacking, who do we trust to have the truth or to imi- tate? Those who are highly regarded, have social power, or high sta- tus. Again, advertisers have known this for a long time and used celebrities and other high-status individuals to endorse their wares. Such prestigious affirmation of products ranges from sensible to absurd. Sensible endorsements are when we might expect that the high-status individual actually has relevant expertise, as when Michael Jordan endorses basketball shoes, something he uses more frequently and at a higher level than most people. Being a high- performing basketball player qualifies him to have an opin-

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ion worth considering when it comes to basketball shoes. But why should I care what hot dog he chooses? Or why should an actor’s— even a very fine actor’s—opinion on a political issue or candidate move me in the least? Rationally, it should not as a general prin- ciple, but humans seem to have a natural tendency to treat presti- gious individuals as good targets for imitation regardless of how the prestige was achieved.

Similarity Bias Politicians spend a lot of time trying to get the electorate to iden- tify with them, to show that they are somehow similar to everyone else. In April 1993 President Bill Clinton appeared on MTV and famously informed the world that he wore briefs not boxers. Some political observers of the time decried the gross condescension of the presidency, but others praised Clinton’s political acumen: at the time the vast majority of American men wore briefs and this was a great way to show he was a regular guy. But why, if he was a presti- gious individual, did he need to communicate that he was a regu- lar guy? When in doubt, we first trust those who are similar to us. This similarity bias is a fairly sensible strategy from a long-term per- spective. Historically, people “like us” would have been most likely to possess reliable information relevant for people “like us.” If you were a local angler and wanted to know where to catch fish in the local lake, you would ask another local angler, not a foreign angler, or a local sheepherder. The lesson extends to all kinds of cultural knowledge such as how I should behave in social settings, what is safe to eat, how to best build a house, and so on. Of course, we can use similarity bias together with prestige bias to produce the prin- ciple that one should learn from the most prestigious individual of the group of people with which one identifies.

I have only given a cursory treatment of these social biases that impact testimony because as important as these factors are in transmitting ideas and beliefs, these factors say little about cross- culturally recurrent patterns in the content of beliefs. Suppose we

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want to know why people in many parts of the world believe that ghosts (or similar entities) exist and act in the world. Answering, “Why do people believe in the existence of ghosts?” with “Because they were told about them,” or “Because a prestigious individual told them,” or “Because a majority of people around them believe in them” only pushes the question back a step: “But why did those who testified to the existence of ghosts believe in ghosts?” To answer this sort of question, we need a different sort of answer.4 The rest of this chapter will look for such an answer.

Two-System Model of Reasoning

Advertisers have long known that a key to getting people to want your product—to believe that it will meet their needs—is repeti- tion. Make the claim over and over again. Associate your product with joy, happiness, success, and satisfaction repeatedly. The same basic principle applies to political campaigns, education, and pros- elytizing. Such repetition changes attitudes, judgments, and beliefs, and these, in turn, change behaviors. Why is repetition often suffi- cient to win hearts and minds?

An important clue for how minds form beliefs comes from Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman’s research on judgments and choice. Together with Amos Tversky, Kahneman made huge con- tributions to an area Herbert Simon called bounded rationality.5 These psychologists challenged the model of the mind once domi- nant in economics that people can be regarded as careful, rational decision-makers—rational in the sense that they consciously think through the evidence and reasons available and arrive at the opti- mal justifiable decision that is usually right. Instead, Kahneman’s work has shown that people tend to form judgments and choose among options using processes that are not always rational.

Consider the following judgment problem. List the highest crime-rate cities in the United States. What cities come to mind? Los Angeles? New York? Miami? Las Vegas? Or alternatively, rank

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the following U.S. cities (given here alphabetically) in terms of seri- ous crime rates from highest to lowest:

• Atlanta, Georgia • Cincinnati, Ohio • Flint, Michigan • Las Vegas, Nevada • Los Angeles, California • New York, New York • St. Louis, Missouri • Washington, DC When I have given this example in the past, generally educated

people volunteer Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, and Miami near the tops of their lists. I have found, informally, that the amount of convergence in these rankings is moderately high, and very inac- curate. For instance, published the following 2008 crime data for these cities on a scale with 321 as the U.S. national average, and higher scores indicating higher crime rates:

• New York, 245 • Los Angeles, 349 • Las Vegas, 505 • Miami, 632 • Washington, 676 • Cincinnati, 734 • Atlanta, 787 • Flint, 932 • St. Louis, 1081 Los Angeles is actually near the national per capita average and

New York is below average in serious crime. Why then, when peo- ple think of crime in America, do Los Angeles and New York spring to mind as top offenders, but St. Louis, Atlanta, and Cincinnati rarely come to mind? This association between crime and Amer- ica’s largest cities has been built up over repeated exposure to the pairing. Because they are large cities in terms of numbers of people, and they are media centers, more published reports about crime in

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those cities reach us. Further, television and film producers often choose cities like New York and Los Angeles for crime shows (CSI: New York, Law & Order, and NCIS: Los Angeles; but also CSI, set in Las Vegas, Miami Vice, and CSI: Miami).

These repeated associations between some cities and crime become part of our nonconscious cognition available to solve the judgment problem in the absence of other information, and rates are hard to judge. That is, we have the intuition that these are high crime-rate cities. Atlanta and Cincinnati just don’t seem like high crime cities. This example illustrates a heuristic Kahneman calls accessibility. If an idea or association comes to mind rapidly, we are more likely to regard it as correct. Kahneman comments aptly: “People are not accustomed to thinking hard and are often con- tent to trust a plausible judgment that quickly comes to mind.”6 In a sense, Kahneman is suggesting that we apply the credulity prin- ciple to the “testimony” of our own minds. What our minds tell us, we are inclined to believe.

Kahneman presents the impact of accessibility on judgment through a dual-processing or two-system view of cognition. Increasingly, cognitive scientists discuss human thought as reflect- ing two different general subsystems. One that might be labeled the “intuitive” system can be characterized as fast, automatic, effortless, and emotional; whereas the “reasoning” system is slow, controlled, effortful, flexible, and less emotional. The intuitive system gener- ates impressions that are not voluntary or verbally explicit. The reasoning system creates explicit, verbally expressible judgments. Kahneman’s argument is that these two systems are not indepen- dent, but when the intuitive system generates thoughts that come to mind seemingly spontaneously and effortlessly—thoughts that have high accessibility—they serve as basic material for the rea- soning system to form an explicit judgment. A key question, then, is what makes an idea accessible? His answer: “The accessibility of a thought is determined jointly by the characteristics of the cogni-

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tive mechanisms that produce it and by the characteristics of the stimuli and events that evoke it.”7

Concerning beliefs generated by perception or memory, the les- son from Kahneman is simple and timeworn. Our percepts and memories automatically and immediately deliver beliefs without intervening reflection. I believe there is a teacup in front of me because my visual perception system registers stimuli for which TEACUP is the most accessible matching object. I do not reason my way to this belief. Similarly, if you were to ask me how the tea- cup came to be sitting in front of me, my memory system immedi- ately produces a memory of me filling the cup and placing it on the table in front of me. In the absence of overriding reasons to mistrust this memory, I believe it. In fact, most of the time when we rely on our percepts or memories, we do not even consciously consider whether the beliefs they deliver are true or false. Their high degree of accessibility makes them indubitable. We can think of these auto- matic, intuitive beliefs as the starting point or default assumption for further reflection or to just take at face value. Similar lessons apply to other beliefs that are not directly formed through percep- tion or memory. I discuss these below.

Two Kinds of Belief

In a similar vein to Kahneman, and following anthropologist Dan Sperber, I find it helpful to talk about two kinds of “beliefs”: reflec- tive or explicit beliefs, and nonreflective or intuitive beliefs.

Reflective Beliefs Reflective beliefs are those beliefs we consciously hold and explicitly endorse. Barring deception, simple verbal responses are the most direct measure of reflective beliefs. For instance, the answer “Yes” to the question “Do you think that dogs are better pets than cats?” indicates a belief in the superiority of dogs to cats as pets. Reflective

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belief, then, approximates common use of the term belief. In terms of the two-system model above, reflective beliefs are a product of the reasoning system. Reflective beliefs are typically represented as propositions. “The chair is ugly,” “England won the last World Cup,” “Bob is angry at Emma because Nick told Tom about Bob’s secret,” “Maple leaves have five points,” and “Harvey is seven feet tall” are all examples of reflective beliefs. Note that reflective beliefs are not necessarily inferential in the sense of reflectively drawing inferences from consciously accessible evidence or reasons or inferring them from other beliefs, a point I return to below. Reflective beliefs may be true, false, or indeterminate, concerning fact or opinion.

One’s reflective beliefs may appear to defy any attempt at a gen- eral explanation because they seem so idiosyncratic and depen- dent upon personal history, experiences, and cultural context.8 In the case of a given individual’s reflective beliefs, this resistance to explanation may be largely true. When considering why it is that people generally tend to hold the sorts of reflective beliefs that they do, including religious beliefs, however, cognitive science provides us with some explanatory traction. This traction derives in large part from considering intuitive, nonreflective beliefs and their rela- tionship to reflective beliefs.

Nonreflective Beliefs Nonreflective beliefs map closely onto what might be called tacit or intuitive knowledge. They are products of the intuitive system, and are likewise cognitively natural in McCauley’s sense of having a high degree of automaticity and requiring little conscious effort to produce. These nonreflective beliefs are representations that we have whether or not we know we have them. They are nonre- flective in that they do not require conscious, deliberate, reflective resources to form them. We might never be aware of many of our nonreflective beliefs even though they guide our information pro- cessing, speech, and other actions. Though unlikely to be repre-

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sented as verbal propositions, for the sake of clarity I will present examples as propositions.

Nonreflective beliefs include such ideas as “Snakes are scary,” “Rainbows have bands of color,” “People have minds,” “I am,” “A definite article does not precede a proper name,” “Unsupported solid objects fall,” “The sun moves relative to the earth,” and “Dogs have puppies.” When cognitive scientists talk about what infants or chimpanzees think or know, they generally are referring to non- reflective beliefs—refusing to commit to whether these nonver- bal animals are explicitly, reflectively aware of these beliefs. Note that whether a belief is true or false is independent of whether it is reflective or nonreflective. Likewise, nonreflective beliefs may be part of natural cognition or expertise.

Relating Reflective and Nonreflective Beliefs Reflective beliefs are typically obtained through nonreflective beliefs by several means. First, nonreflective beliefs anchor and inform the range of likely reflective beliefs by serving as default positions. It is hard work to think, and so we are inclined to just accept nonreflective beliefs for our reflective ones. For instance, when confronted with a question that they have never consciously considered such as, “Do you believe snakes are dangerous?” peo- ple may have no explicit, reflective belief one way or the other, but must come to a decision. Unless relevant information, such as from previous education in zoology, comes to mind, the most likely reflective belief will be that option consistent with relevant nonre- flective beliefs. If thinking about snakes triggers an association with fear and danger, as is often the case, then the nonreflective belief “Snakes are scary” seems right and serves as the starting point or default for the reflective belief “Snakes are scary and dangerous.”

Consider the question of whether other people have conscious thoughts. Maybe it has never occurred to me to think explicitly about whether other people have conscious thoughts and I have

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not been exposed to related philosophical ruminations. So how do I form a reflective belief on the subject? I tap my intuitions and dis- cover the nonreflective belief “People have conscious minds.” Find- ing no reason to reject or override such an intuition, I accept it (at least initially) as my reflective belief. In the absence of salient, rel- evant, consciously accessible reasons not to do so, reflective beliefs are simply read off of nonreflective beliefs.9

Similarly, a second way in which nonreflective beliefs inform reflective beliefs is by lending credibility to reflective propositions. Consider, “Is it morally permissible to use a hedgehog as a polo ball?” One view of moral reasoning is that we rationally, reflectively arrive at moral norms and then apply them to a particular case. More typically, however, a particular moral question generates emotion- laden intuitions (of which we may become consciously aware) that we then reflectively justify.10 Contemporary research on beliefs and decision-making in various domains often points to the important role of intuition or emotions.11 When presented with a choice, decision, or judgment, we often have a reflexive, emotional reac- tion and then we reflectively generate reasons to justify the gut reac- tion. We report our reasons as why we believe what we do, but we might have settled on other rationalizations: the beliefs are driven most forcefully by intuitions and emotions. These intuitions are products of the intuitive system and, when they have meaningful content (e.g., “that action is repulsive”), are nonreflective beliefs. Explicit propositions will be more likely to feel right when they converge with implicitly held nonreflective beliefs.

This principle can be extended to cases in which multiple nonre- flective beliefs bear upon an explicit proposition. Suppose someone tells you that somewhere on Tasmania there has been discovered an animal called a manoby that has babies of an entirely differ- ent species with metal organs inside of them. Manobies become invisible when people look at them, the exception being Thurs- days, when they stay entirely visible. The proposition to consider is “Manobies exist.” In this case, reflecting upon the possible exis-

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tence of manobies, you probably have several different nonreflec- tive beliefs that you draw upon to arrive at a reflective belief. You likely have the intuition (nonreflective belief) that animals do not have babies of a different species. Further, you know (via nonre- flective belief) that animals do not have metal parts inside as part of their nature. You likely have the strong intuitions that animals cannot become invisible, and that visibility cannot be depen- dent upon whether something else is looking at it or the day of the week. Physical laws concerning visibility are constants, as you nonreflectively know. On the other hand, you have the sense that strange things live in Tasmania. All of these nonreflective beliefs weigh in on whether you believe in the existence of manobies. The more nonreflective beliefs that are consistent with manobies exist- ing (versus nonreflective beliefs that are problematic for such a belief), the more likely one is to believe, and believe with confi- dence. Plausibility increases with the cumulative support of nonre- flective beliefs. I have spelled out this evaluative process as if it were wholly consciously reasoned, but we may instead simply have the intuition that manobies could not exist and only generate reasons after already deciding.

These nonreflective beliefs that serve as defaults for reflective beliefs or lend plausibility to them may be products of (matura- tionally) natural cognition or expertise. As natural cognition is more broadly shared within and across populations, natural cogni- tion will play the greatest role in anchoring and informing explicit, reflective beliefs that are recurrent within and across human populations.

Above I have described how reflective beliefs arise through non- reflective beliefs, but nonreflective beliefs can be reflectively cre- ated as well. Reflective beliefs may become nonreflective through rehearsal. Heavy repetition can train the “intuitive system,” result- ing in what might be called expertise, or what McCauley calls practiced naturalness.12 For instance, I was once taught that one must mount a horse from the horse’s left side. Previously I had no

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reflective or nonreflective beliefs about the way to mount a horse. I would approach the horse from either side. With practice, how- ever, I have come to just feel like approaching the horse on its right is wrong and mounting from the left is right.13 Because of rehearsal, I now have a nonreflective belief about the “right” way to mount a horse, but it began as a reflective belief delivered via authoritative testimony.

The nonreflective beliefs that reflective beliefs encourage via rehearsal will be instances of expertise, as in mounting the horse from the left or learning how a chess knight moves. Explicitly being taught that other people have consciousness or that dogs give birth to little dogs (and not little cats) may be possible, but it is redun- dant with the deliverances of natural cognition.14

So far I have been focusing on fairly direct impacts of reflective and nonreflective beliefs on each other. Indirectly, they may inter- act as well. As the nonreflective beliefs derived from natural cog- nition are essentially universal and early developing, they broadly ballast the rise of cultural systems and the kind of expertise one is likely to acquire. For instance, because quantum mechanics is so poorly supported by natural cognition, quantum beliefs are poorly distributed and unlikely to be encountered. Special cultural scaf- folding such as educational systems, institutions, written record systems, artifacts, and the like may be required to transmit widely ideas that deviate too far from natural cognition. Modern science is an excellent case in point as the enormous scaffolding provided by specialized symbolic and mathematical systems, special observa- tion tools, rules and procedures, schools and academies, academic journals, and other forms of cultural support enable scientists to generate and maintain bodies of knowledge that deviate dramati- cally from natural cognition.15

Reflective beliefs may similarly impact nonreflective beliefs via the cultural environment. To illustrate, the owner of the shop next to the grocery store might have a belief about aesthetics that leads her to place pink flamingos outside her shop. Eventually, the towns-

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folk know nonreflectively that pink flamingos are next to the gro- cery store. In this example, a reflective belief was instrumental in changing the environment such that it increased the likelihood of acquiring some specifiable nonreflective belief.

To summarize, natural cognition supplies nonreflective beliefs that constrain and inform reflective belief formation directly and indirectly. Reflective beliefs can importantly impact nonreflective beliefs that are part of expertise, either directly or indirectly. These new nonreflective beliefs can, in turn, constrain and inform other reflective belief formation.

The relatively invariable components of this belief formation process are the deliverances of natural cognition. We all have them. They tether what we are likely to learn, and they constrain cultural expression, which further influences what we are likely to learn. It follows that when trying to understand beliefs acquired as part of expertise or as part of natural cognition, we need to know what our content-specific natural cognition supplies to us.

Combining Content and Context Biases

After noting that several context biases impact whom we are likely to imitate or regard as providers of trustworthy testimony (con- formity, prestige, and similarity), I have been focusing on dynam- ics that hinge on content-rich natural cognition. This distinction has sometimes been called content biases versus context biases. Of course, both are at play in belief formation. If a prestigious indi- vidual tells me something that deviates from my content-specific natural cognition, I may be more receptive to it than if a nonpres- tigious individual tells me the same thing. Such a dynamic hap- pens in higher education all the time: we are inclined to believe the (sometimes) outrageous things professors teach because they are esteemed experts. Ideas that too greatly violate the nonreflective beliefs from natural cognition, however, are unlikely to be believed by prestigious individuals in the first place.

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What all of these observations converge upon is that our two- system way of thinking entails that our reflective beliefs are influ- enced by our nonreflective beliefs. In fact, typically, reflective beliefs are obtained through or derived from nonreflective beliefs, albeit through processes of which we might not be consciously aware.16

What Does the Belief-Formation Process Say about Whether Our Beliefs Are True?

When worldviews collide—religious or nonreligious—beliefs become a big deal. It isn’t uncommon during heated disagreement about the existence of a god to hear a skeptic challenge the reli- gious person to “prove” that his or her beliefs are true, and regard it as a humiliating and decisive defeat for the believer when he or she fails to do so.

Kahneman’s work on reasoning heuristics and biases are often presented in the context of showing how our ordinary judgment- making procedures frequently yield irrational, illogical, and false conclusions. It may be tempting, therefore, to conclude that these automatic, nonconscious cognitive dynamics that influence belief- formation cast a shadow of doubt over all beliefs thus formed. If automatic cognitive processes noninferentially deliver beliefs to us, then such beliefs cannot be trusted on the grounds that they have not been reasoned to. They have been foisted upon us by our cog- nitive machinery, right?

A full treatment of such epistemological issues falls beyond the scope of this book, but many of us cannot help but wonder whether explaining where reflective beliefs come from amounts to “explain- ing away” the beliefs themselves—particularly when it comes to religious beliefs. Allow me a few brief comments for now.

Surely identifying the causal mechanisms of reflective belief (e.g., that reflective beliefs come from nonreflective beliefs) does

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not, in itself, say anything about the truth of the beliefs. If we accept that our minds are embodied in some sense, it would be surpris- ing if any beliefs did not have some causal explanations in terms of cognitive systems. All of our beliefs are at least partially caused by natural mechanisms whether they are true or false, good or bad, a point made elegantly by philosopher and early psychologist Wil- liam James.17 So identifying the causal chain behind a given belief does not imply that the belief is wrong.

That a causal story for reflective beliefs exists does not cast asper- sions on the belief in question, but perhaps this particular account of where reflective beliefs come from is unsettling. Shouldn’t beliefs be reflectively reasoned to from evidence, logic, and mathematics? Reflective beliefs arrived at via nonreflective beliefs appear to vio- late philosopher W. K. Clifford’s dictum that “It is wrong, always and everywhere for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.”18

Clifford’s assertion resonates with those of us brought up in the age of science and skepticism. We don’t just accept what is told us or what seems right, but demand evidence, no? No. Certainly in some cases it is wrong to believe something without sufficient evi- dence, such as believing someone guilty of a crime, or believing that on a yet-to-be-discovered planet live green monkeys that enjoy backgammon. Nevertheless, it certainly cannot be wrong “always and everywhere” to believe things in the absence of sufficient evi- dence—that is, unless by “evidence” we include the automatic deliverances of our cognitive systems, our intuitions. All of our beliefs, at one point or another, rely at least in part upon unproven, undersupported intuitions—the sorts of intuitions described in the upcoming chapters. If we dismissed all beliefs that rely on intu- itions for support, we would be left with no (or at least very few) beliefs at all. Surely Clifford has set the bar too high.

The point is, we can never fully escape the influence of nonre- flective beliefs on the formation of our reflective beliefs. Accepting

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a position like Clifford’s—rejecting all beliefs caused importantly by nonreflective beliefs—would leave us intellectually paralyzed, unable to believe anything, including believing that we can’t believe anything and believing Clifford’s position. Self-defeating positions are never good ones.

Rather than be trapped in a skeptical quagmire, unable to know anything (including that I can’t know anything), I regard it as more prudent to adopt a position of initial trust toward my cognitive fac- ulties and their ability to deliver to me, via nonreflective beliefs, true beliefs and genuine knowledge about the world. Undoubtedly we make mistakes in forming true and good reflective beliefs, but rather than being concerned that natural causes for our beliefs mean we should doubt their veracity until they are vindicated through evidence and reason independent of these natural causes (if that were possible), we are justified in holding them until evidence and reason suggest that they are problematic (including evidence from science when applicable).19 In short, identifying the cognitive ped- igree of a reflective belief does not automatically “explain away” the belief.

Our understanding of particular causes of belief formation, such as those identified by Kahneman, might give us reason to suspect that some of the causes for our beliefs lead us to predictable types of errors. But note that discovering the errors presumes that we have some reliable ways to form beliefs about which beliefs are in error and which are correct. We have to have general trust in our belief- forming equipment or we would not be able to tell when and where it goes wrong—nor could we even do science. Science is built on a qualified trust of our cognitive faculties: we can approach truth but require judicious use of reason and systematic observation to guard against error.

In the next three chapters I offer more details about the natural cognition that gives rise to these structuring nonreflective beliefs. Chapter 4 focuses on how we naturally think about the world around us. Chapter 5 concerns how we naturally understand other

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humans. These observations are combined in chapter 6 to build a case for the naturalness of belief in gods generally, and a super- knowing, perceiving, powerful, immortal creator God in particu- lar. In none of these belief domains does specifying the cognitive, causal background automatically entail that the beliefs are wrong or unjustified.

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