Jump to content

Enduring Religions and the Conjunction Fallacy


Recommended Posts

While pondering the other night (a dangerous pastime) I surmised the enduring religions of the world owe at least part of their success to being more adept at taking advantage of our in-built limitations or cognitive biases.  Oddly enough, I have Choices, Values, and Frames, by Tversky and Kahneman, collecting dust on a bookshelf from my undergrad days so I'm partially acquainted with their work on cognitive fallacies.  Two summers ago I read The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis (of Moneyball fame), and was reminded of their work - I highly recommend The Undoing Project as Choices, Values, and Frames is rather dull.

 

A seed of an idea has formed in my mind that religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam may be more successful because their claims easily take advantage of the conjunction fallacy (also called the Linda problem).  Monotheism makes the most sweeping, fantastical claims when compared to mere pantheons of limited gods with powers divided amongst them.  Even Hinduism appears to share the concept that Brahma, Shiva, & Vishnu form a trinity that encompasses everything - Zeus was merely the son of Cronus, who in turn was the son of Uranus.

 

Logically & mathematically, each additional condition is less likely than the condition standing alone.  For example, the odds I have a ball are higher than the odds I have a red ball.  However, when presented with this situation in a way that does not call explicit attention to the conjunction, most people will rate the less likely option as more likely.  The Linda problem illustrates this phenomena well.  People are more likely to rate an all powerful, all present, all knowing god as being MORE likely than Zeus, even though the odds are astronomically smaller.  Essentially, the bigger the lie, the more people will be fooled.

 

This fallacy is not merely a product of ignorance, but appears to be an inherent defect in our reasoning abilities.  One that unless we're on constant vigilance - we all fall prey to.  The Undoing Project gives multiple examples of Tversky and Kahneman running these fallacies against unsuspecting, but highly trained PhDs in relevant fields such as statistics and watching the majority of these expert reasoners be mislead at nearly the same rate as the general populace.

 

This was a bit rambling, but wanted to share and see if anyone has insight on it.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, Krowb said:

While pondering the other night (a dangerous pastime) I surmised the enduring religions of the world owe at least part of their success to being more adept at taking advantage of our in-built limitations or cognitive biases.  Oddly enough, I have Choices, Values, and Frames, by Tversky and Kahneman, collecting dust on a bookshelf from my undergrad days so I'm partially acquainted with their work on cognitive fallacies.  Two summers ago I read The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis (of Moneyball fame), and was reminded of their work - I highly recommend The Undoing Project as Choices, Values, and Frames is rather dull.

 

A seed of an idea has formed in my mind that religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam may be more successful because their claims easily take advantage of the conjunction fallacy (also called the Linda problem).  Monotheism makes the most sweeping, fantastical claims when compared to mere pantheons of limited gods with powers divided amongst them.  Even Hinduism appears to be share the concept that Brahma, Shiva, & Vishnu form a trinity that encompasses everything - Zeus was merely the son of Cronus, who in turn was the son of Uranus.

 

Logically & mathematically, each additional condition is less likely than the condition standing alone.  For example, the odds I have a ball are higher than the odds I have a red ball.  However, when presented with this situation in a way that does not call explicit attention to the conjunction, will rate the less likely option as more likely.  The Linda problem illustrates this phenomena well.  People are more likely to rate an all powerful, all present, all knowing god as being MORE likely than Zeus, even though the odds are astronomically smaller.  Essentially, the bigger the lie, the more people will be fooled.

 

This fallacy is not merely a product of ignorance, but appears to be an inherent defect in our reasoning abilities.  One that unless we're on constant vigilance - we all fall prey to.  The Undoing Project gives multiple examples of Tversky and Kahneman running these fallacies against unsuspecting, but highly trained PhDs in relevant fields such as statistics and watching the majority of these expert reasoners be mislead at nearly the same rate as the general populace.

 

This was a bit rambling, but wanted to share and see if anyone has insight on it.

 

Wow, I somehow lost my whole posting before posting it :(

 

Of well, here is a briefer version of it. I hadn't heard of the Linda problem before but it certainly makes sense. You would think PhD statisticians would understand probabilities far better than that and not make one of the simplest mistakes of probability logic.

 

Based upon my life experience it seems that logic has little to do with most people's religious beliefs. They follow the beliefs of their parents for approval, and for the same reason the beliefs of their society. If when one gets older and has to deal with both religion and logic together, then they choose the logic of others or invent their own that is consistent with their original beliefs, to modify them as little as possible based upon logic.  I think many of these believers follow Pascal's wager whether they know of it or not. Bet on religion to have eternal life, and if it isn't true you will have lost little.

 

https://academy4sc.org/topic/pascals-wager-the-bet-of-a-lifetime/?utm_campaign=&utm_medium=ppc&utm_source=adwords&utm_term=pascal's wager&hsa_tgt=kwd-299776948983&hsa_mt=b&hsa_acc=2755491261&hsa_grp=116140216280&hsa_ver=3&hsa_src=g&hsa_cam=11697400942&hsa_net=adwords&hsa_kw=pascal's wager&hsa_ad=481976552296&gclid=Cj0KCQiAj9iBBhCJARIsAE9qRtC7T_U3diiBKWvebdAnJKW6PyhsUG7f_GhXJbB9s4uDckVjEA1zPWYaAqe-EALw_wcB

 

Another thing you mentioned was big lies can have more weight than small lies. From this I thought of Joseph Geobbels' propaganda quote:

 

An internal quote regarding propaganda -- obviously not meant for the public.

(Translated from German)

 

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

 

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/joseph-goebbels-on-the-quot-big-lie-quote

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the insight with Goebbels' quote.  I had never seen the full version of it. 

 

So Kahneman and Tversky may have been psychologists, but they are considered the founders of the field of behavioral economics.  Classical economics is based on the premise of the "rational man."   Behavioral economists refer to psychology and say man is not a calculating machine.  We use heuristics as a "good enough" approach to survive and these mechanisms are just about universal while also being universally flawed.  It's a fascinating research area. So I was struck with the thought that our major religions some how tap into one or more of these biases to root themselves in a way compatible with our flawed programming.  Thus making them difficult to remove as significant work is generally required.

Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/24/2021 at 10:03 PM, Krowb said:

A seed of an idea has formed in my mind that religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam may be more successful because their claims easily take advantage of the conjunction fallacy (also called the Linda problem).  Monotheism makes the most sweeping, fantastical claims when compared to mere pantheons of limited gods with powers divided amongst them. 

That's an interesting perspective, and thank you for it. It makes sense that the broader, more universal, and featureless a deity is that there are more contexts and situations that you can shoehorn it in as an explanation. 

 

That being said, this need for abstraction and explanation is itself a specific value system. A culture that interprets "a god that can fit into more situations" or "a god that can explain more things" as inherently "more probable" will see this type of god as convincing. In the broadest and most abstract sense, if you knew nothing about a person and you had to make a guess as to whether or not that person had a ball, why add a qualifier like "red"?

 

On the other hand I think there are peoples and cultures that value tangible experience and awareness as evidence for probable "realness". If you see a person holding a red ball you can confidently say "that person is holding a red ball" without doubt and you'd laugh at a philosopher who abstractly argues "it's more likely that a person in general will have a ball of any color than specifically a *red* ball". Arguably Zeus is a lot more believable deity because you can directly experience a thunderstorm. You can point at it, appreciate it, and really *feel* the essence of a thunderstorm. A Christian theologian who clownishly tries to describe something so universal as being indescribable will appear ridiculous in the face of a mighty thunderstorm. Yeah, it doesn't mean that there's a bearded man in the clouds holding a lightning bolt, but you can file that at a metaphor for the power and awe of an actual, literal, thunderstorm.

 

In this sense, I feel polytheism is actually more believable because it's a catalogue of livable experiences described as human personalities. Monotheism is attractive to people who find abstractions persuasive due to their universality, which I think is a specific cultural perspective. 

 

I'm not arguing @Krowb's initial point. I'm just kind of rambling on about my own thoughts about monotheism vs. polytheism. Maybe I misunderstood some nuance about what a 'conjunction fallacy is'. Thank you for coming to my TED talk!

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, DestinyTurtle said:

I'm not arguing @Krowb's initial point. I'm just kind of rambling on about my own thoughts about monotheism vs. polytheism. Maybe I misunderstood some nuance about what a 'conjunction fallacy is'. Thank you for coming to my TED talk!

 

Rambling is welcome!  That's essentially what started this topic.  Look into the conjunction fallacy a bit, while cultural influence obviously affect the nature of a particular local religion, this particular reasoning error appears to be a hardwired reasoning defect as opposed to a cultural bias.  But you are 100% correct that cultural influences are going to be a large part of the religion that ultimately springs up.   Just spitballing here, but that may be why Hinduism has maintained all their local deities whereas Christianity and Islam jettisoned theirs.

  • Thanks 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Guidelines.