5/3/12

The Geography of Faith

Here's a reason to be a skeptic that holds up at first, but crumbles on reflection:  religious beliefs depend on where a person lives.  Via Jerry Coyne, here are two amusing maps:


If having a belief depends on where you live, the suspicion is that the belief is shaped by non-rational forces instead of being a consequence of the way the world is.  We shouldn't take these kinds of beliefs too seriously, if at all.

And yet, and yet.  The likelihood of believing in human rights, or equality for women, or same-sex marriage, or democracy ... all these beliefs would go on Map #1.  They vary from place to place.  Nevertheless, you could make a case that liberal democratic views on these matters are rooted in the way the world is.  I'm not going to become a skeptic about women's equality, just because the folks in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia don't believe in women's equality.  So why should anyone take sheer geographical variation as evidence that the tenets of some religion are false?  Bad precedent! 

6 comments:

Unknown said...

So why should anyone take sheer geographical variation as evidence that the tenets of some religion are false
Huh? I dont see anyone other than you making this claim.
Coyne's claims are
a) The obvious point that people’s religious beliefs are almost completely determined by where they happened to be born
b) Since one’s faith is almost completely an accident of birth, then, one should be highly skeptical about whether one’s faith is correct.

Jean Kazez said...

You're just restating the same argument I'm responding to. Religious beliefs are almost completely determined by "where they happenned to be born." I'm summing that up (quickly) as "geographical variation."

Whether people believe in women's equality is just about as dependent on where they were born. I think it's dangerous taking a step from "believing it depends on where you were born" to "it's probably not true."

I honestly believe that when it comes to women's equality, I was fortunately born in the right place--the place where my environment fosters the right belief. Some people are epistemically less lucky--they're born into an environment that fosters the wrong belief about women's equality. Like Saudi Arabia, for example.

I don't think it would be utterly crazy for a Christian to employ the same reasoning. Lucky me, I was born in the US, which fosters Christian belief. The poor souls in India are in a place that fosters belief in the wrong gods.

If this is pretty reasonable in case #1, how can it be horrendous in case #2? Obviously, as an atheist, I think there are much better reasons to be skeptical. For example, there's the reason that Christian ideas are incoherent (Jesus is both father and son ... oh come on!).

Faust said...

Summary response"

Hey look a "fact" vs "values" map. Queue up fact vs. values distinction discussion. Suggest some values may be facts or similar to facts. Back and forth go to entrenched positions.

In related news I'm 60% through Haidt's recent book.

Jean Kazez said...

Exactly ....

So do you like Haidt? Should I read, or do I actually already know everything he's going to say (based on listening to interviews, reading his other books, etc)?

Faust said...

Well I am a long time Haidt fan. I think he fits firmly in the tradition of American Pragmatism (and I locate myself in this line of thinking), and does a good job of applying himself to certain problems in that vein, so I find myself in enthusiastic agreement with Haidt most of the time.

You know pretty much what he is going to say. It's basically a mix of a compilation and synthesis of his work since Happiness Hypothesis.

However, there is value in that compilation and synthesis, and it is a VERY easy read. It's almost too slick. I can't decide whether it's because he does such a good job of laying out his ideas, if it's because I'm already biased towards his position, or if its genuinely just too much a of a gloss. Hard to say for me.

You did like Haidt's repsonse to Coyne in thread, and you're going to get a lot more thinking in that vein...so maybe worth it. I'll update when I finish the whole thing....

Unknown said...

I think it's dangerous taking a step from "believing it depends on where you were born" to "it's probably not true."
And I'm merely stating that Coyne (or anyone else that i can see) hasn't made that step, so who are you responding to?

I don't think it would be utterly crazy for a Christian to employ the same reasoning.Lucky me, I was born in the US, which fosters Christian belief. The poor souls in India are in a place that fosters belief in the wrong gods.
It would be unreasonable for that Christian to then believe his all loving God punishes people for accidents of birth. It still doesn't necessarily make any tenet of Christianity false.