Thursday 5 October 2017

Why are some people religious? Asking the wrong question...

Much of genius is asking the right question - and it isn't easy. Finding the answer to the right question might be straightforward (which is why many people can understand the achievements of genius) - but asking that question is often extremely difficult (which is why so few people are geniuses).

And if you ask the wrong question, you may have entered a fly-bottle from which the way-out is very difficult to find. You will spend perhaps a lifetime buzzing around banging-off the walls but never escaping.

There are many example of wrong questions - such as: Why are some people Religious? This is wrong because people are naturally religious. Essentially everybody was religious until recently; and still the great majority of the people in the world are religious. So the proper question is: Why do some people become non-religious? Or - why are people atheists?

Another wrong question is: Are there differences between men and women? That question assumes that men and women are expected to be identical - unless specifically proven otherwise. But the idea that men and women would be identical is, in general, ridiculously implausible. So the proper questions are something more like: in what direction do men and women differ in this trait? How big is the difference, What effect does this difference have?

Another example is: Why am I unhappy? This assumes that the spontaneous baseline state of humans is a state of happiness, and any dropping below this state requires explanation. Yet the reality is the opposite - we are happy for a reason - and when there is no reason to be happy, we are not.

The above examples also suggest why people so often persist in asking the wrong questions - in that many individuals and groups benefit from people asking the wrong question.

If you make some grossly implausible or impossible assumption such as 'men and women would have equal outcomes if they were treated equally' - then all inequalities can be portrayed as an injustice.

(Almost the entirety of Leftist/ Liberal/ Progressive politics is based upon this false, and dishonest, inference.)

If you assume that religion needs explaining, it is a short-step to regarding religious people as pathological.

If happiness is taken as the norm, then industries can thrive based on the assumption that if everybody is not always optimally happy; then some-body or some-thing is to blame for it. If these problems can be addressed and solved, then everybody would always be happy... which seems-like so desirable a state that it justifies very extreme, intrusive, coercive actions to attain.

Another set of wrong questions is concerned with inequalities - why are there inequalities of wealth, income, health... and should there not be a 'fairer' distribution of such things? Such a perspective begs all the necessary questions (such as the incentive of the distributors to distribute fairly that which they have appropriated for the purpose) and inverts causality (because, typically, the current situation was not caused by 'distribution' of goods).

Unlike things, equally treated, will have unlike outcomes - so the equality debates are all based upon false assumptions regarding the equality/ sameness of persons.

But what when somebody in power keeps on, and on, asking the wrong question? Can they be convinced of their error?

The answer seems to be, only seldom. But even so, the only hope for progress is to become aware of the implicit assumptions which lie behind questions; and to recognise when the wrong question is being asked.


Chiu ChunLing said...

I think it is less a matter of asking the wrong question as of refusing to accept the rather obvious answers to certain questions that are perfectly legitimate.

Why are some people Religious? Because it turns out that belief in a higher meaning to life even when going on living is extremely difficult has a positive survival value (whether or not that survival value extends past this life). One can appeal to the idea of evolution or intelligent design in presenting this view, but either way, it is clear that once you accept the obvious answer to the question, it is irreligion that is pathological.

Are there differences between men and women? How should we identify some people as "men" and others as "women" if there weren't? The question immediately becomes "how do we define 'men' and 'women' so as to be able to distinguish one from the other?"

Why am I unhappy? Well, that's a perfectly legitimate question as long as I'm actually unhappy...and willing to honestly look for the cause. I think that sometimes people do mistake other things for unhappiness when they are actually not unhappy...I've occasionally wondered why I felt so terribly empty and realized it was because I had neglected to eat, or felt terribly weary and fixed it with a good nap. But it is those who are actually unhappy who are most prone to avoid facing the glaringly obvious answers to that question.

And since these answers are often the answers to other questions as well, we can trace the persistence in asking certain kinds of question to unhappy people refusing to confront the true causes of their unhappiness.

Bruce Charlton said...

Well, no!

The point of the post is that we are often led to ask the wrong question; and once that is in place then the 'obvious' answers are themselves wrong.

And the right question is often very difficult to find - that is the experience of science, where the major breakthrughs come from the 'paradigm shift' of a different question.