Monday, July 28, 2014

Does Religion Dull One’s Ability to Distinguish Between Fact and Fantasy?

A visitor to my website recently brought my attention to a noteworthy article about a study published in the July issue of Cognitive Science. The article, with its provocative title, can be found here:
According to the article, the researchers in the study
demonstrate that children typically have a “sensitivity to the implausible or magical elements in a narrative,” and can determine whether the characters in the narrative are real or fictional by references to fantastical elements within the narrative, such as “invisible sails” or “a sword that protects you from danger every time.”
However, their research does not bear this out so well among children who have been exposed (presumably in a positively reinforcing manner) to religious teaching. The article states:
“Children with exposure to religion — via church attendance, parochial schooling, or both — judged [characters in religious stories] to be real,” the authors wrote. “By contrast, children with no such exposure judged them to be pretend,” just as they had the characters in fairy tales. But children with exposure to religion judged many characters in fantastical, but not explicitly religious stories, to also be real — the equivalent of being incapable of differentiating between Mark Twain’s character Tom Sawyer and an account of George Washington’s life.
The abstract of the study itself, which can be found here, reads as follows:
In two studies, 5- and 6-year-old children were questioned about the status of the protagonist embedded in three different types of stories. In realistic stories that only included ordinary events, all children, irrespective of family background and schooling, claimed that the protagonist was a real person. In religious stories that included ordinarily impossible events brought about by divine intervention, claims about the status of the protagonist varied sharply with exposure to religion. Children who went to church or were enrolled in a parochial school, or both, judged the protagonist in religious stories to be a real person, whereas secular children with no such exposure to religion judged the protagonist in religious stories to be fictional. Children's upbringing was also related to their judgment about the protagonist in fantastical stories that included ordinarily impossible events whether brought about by magic (Study 1) or without reference to magic (Study 2). Secular children were more likely than religious children to judge the protagonist in such fantastical stories to be fictional. The results suggest that exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children's differentiation between reality and fiction, not just for religious stories but also for fantastical stories.
I have not examined the details of the study any further than what the lead article and the study’s abstract say about it, so I cannot comment on the methods employed in the study beyond what is given in these two sources.

However, on the face of it, this seems to be nothing less than scientific confirmation of the kind of outcome one would expect from people under the influence of religion if what I have argued is correct. For several years I have been pointing out how religion subsists on blurring the fundamental distinction between reality and imagination. The reader who brought this article to my attention commented that my infamous question – “How can I reliably distinguish between what the believer calls ‘God’ and what he may merely be imagining?” – continues to go unanswered.

Many apologists for the philosophical primitivism of religion have kicked and squirmed in response to this question. But as my blog’s visitor rightly points out, none have been able to answer this question in a manner that salvages religion from my critique.

by Dawson Bethrick


wakawakwaka said...

good to see you back Dawson! well its no wonder Christians want to ban harry potter so much...

Tommy Hunslapper said...

Hail Dawson.

Still working my way through your blog, and I find to my surprise that I hold objectivist axioms, having arrived at them independently with no reading of Rand. Any way, that aside...

I too have taken to confronting fantasists with my version of your question.

"Can you propose a repeatable Method that will allow Me, and others, to reliably differentiate between Your 'Revelation/god claims/spiritual reality/Holy Spirit/etc' and merely your 'Imagination', to Me and others?''

So far all I have had are scripture quotes, calls to repent, anecdote, argument and testimony, and or kicking and screaming against the criteria I set for the Method.

The occasional one will admit they cannot.

It cuts to the heart of the matter, and not a single one can provide such a method.

Very telling.

Keep up the objectively good writing. :D

samonedo said...

Now, how could children of people who believe the Universe is a Cartoon be good at distinguishing reality from fantasy? Absolutely no surprise here.

Unknown said...

Thank you Dawson. Best Wishes and Regards for Continued Success.

freddies_dead said...

It certainly sharpens their ability to blur the line between fact and fantasy as it's the only way they can maintain belief in their imaginary God(s).

Unknown said...

Hello freddie and everyone.

One of the beneficial consequences of using the primacy of existence argument supported by identifying theism's god notions as stolen concept and prue self reference fallacies is that it forces the theist to confront that their dualism presuppositions whether substance, property or predicate are indefensible. At least that was the take away for me from the first three paragraphs Dawson offered in his response to Dave McPhillips.

// Christians who comment on my blog typically indulge in the practice of mere assertion: they simply assert what they believe and give no background rationale for why they believe or how they came to believe it. The how of knowledge is completely missing from their slogan-laced spiel. Also missing from what they offer in their comments is any informed concern for maintaining objectivity. Objectivity has at root to do with the relationship between consciousness and its objects. But the bible gives believers no guidance on this matter, keeping it safely out of view.

One might suppose that this is accidental, and for the primitives responsible for authoring and compiling the writings that eventually made their way into the bible, this may be the case. But for modern-day believers, their failure to consider the relationship between consciousness and its objects in an explicit manner is philosophically inexcusable. This is especially the case when apologists for a religious worldview condemn rival positions for being “subjective” or “irrational.” Such objections carry no weight when coming from a religious perspective, since religious perspectives themselves are inherently subjective and irrational.

Objectivity is adherence to the primacy of existence throughout one’s knowledge and judgments. Rationality is adherence to reason as one’s only means of knowledge, one’s only standard of judgment and one’s only guide to action. One will not find these virtues either explained or endorsed in “sacred writings” like the biblical storybook. On the contrary, at every turn throughout the biblical narrative, one finds assault after assault on the integrity of the human mind, as though this one thing – claimed at the same to have been created by the Christian god itself – were the source of all evil and woe in the universe, as though it were a “dung heap” that needed to be flushed down some cosmic toilet once and for all. //

Unknown said...

Hello Dawson, I've not heard from you for a while. I'm wondering if you're in good health? Are you well? I've read in the news that Thailand's immigration offices are "craking" down on non-Thai nationals who are working in Thailand with only tourist visas. Are your visas and work permits in order? I hope you and your family are well and safe and that you'll prosper.

Best Wishes

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Robert,

Thank you for your concern. I really appreciate it.

Yes, I realize I've been absent from my blog quite a bit this summer. Don't worry, I'm doing fine - healthy, happy and managing well. Unfortunately, I've just been monstrously busy these past couple months - way too busy hardly even to look at my blog, let alone work on new entries. My work has consumed my time voraciously and without mercy. But it's very rewarding, so it's not all bad. Plus, my wife has been traveling a lot this summer for her work, so I've been taking care of my daughter by myself for the most part. That too is rewarding, but it does take a lot of time and energy.

I saw your note the other day about a message you saw on Facebook (a Jeff Sosnowski?) and in fact I started writing an interaction with what the gentleman stated in the part that you had quoted. But alas, I haven't had time to review what I have already written and prepare it for posting. Hopefully later this week?

Yes, I realize you asked me to point to entries already existing on my blog which deal with what the Facebook user stated in his critique. I know that I have already addressed his criticisms in previous entries, but I've had no time to go and scout them out. Plus, my blog could use another entry, so I figured I'd just write one in response to it. So, if I can carve out some more time later this week, I'll try to get that up.

Okay, really, I have to run!

Thanks again,

Unknown said...

Hello Dawson.

Thanks for your reply. Yes I was concerned for you and your family due to the recent unrest in Thailand and the strident nationalism coming from the new government evident in the news, and I'm delighted your well.

Take all the time you wish to reply or compose a new blog for Mr. Sosnowski's comments that I requested references for posted. Existence will still exist after our star becomes a white dwarf and were all long dust. Jesus isn't coming back and no matter what any rational person writes Mr. Sosnowski will remain a strident Calvinist Christian.

Justin Hall said...


I liked this post. You know I was not raised in a religious home and I can not recall ever believing that entities such as Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy were real. I always grouped them conceptually with such entities as spiderman and wonder women. I placed god in that group from the earliest memories of having the concept come to think of it. As a cradle atheist it is difficult for me sometimes to relate to atheists that were once theists.

Justin Hall said...

@Ydemoc and Robert

I know I said that I was done blogger but what the heck I have something up new poking fun at Sye,

Ydemoc said...


Thanks! I"ll check it out.


Unknown said...

Justin, Ydemoc Hello. Nice to see your messages. I posted the link to Justin's blog on my facebook page and another user reposted it to a presuppositionalism discussion group. I read about half of it, before being distracted, but will complete the read today. Best Wishes to you guys and to all the other readers too.

Justin Hall said...

thanks for the feed back Robert. I have taken some time off of work so I plan to write up some more posts. Also I am going to post a audio version of my post on Sye over on youtube after I edit it some more.

Unknown said...

Hello folks.

Here's a little comment that so far is shutting down theist debaters.

A dilemma facing the Christian is that in order to make sense of a transcendent and super-natural "THE UNKNOWN GOD" of Christian theism as preached by Paul in Acts 17, she must positively describe her superstitious fear that there may be something out there that is only by linguistic fiat negatively defined. To do this she must wrench out of their proper context concepts abstracted from human emotions and cognition like love, knowledge, will, intention, purpose, desires. Stripped of their context in biological and material human cerebral function, those concepts become devoid of meaning, and the act of applying them to the fallacy of claiming to know the unknowable constitutes a colossal stolen concept.

// If the Christian wishes to use positive characteristics for God while retaining their meaning, he must reduce his God to a manlike or anthropomorphic level. On the other hand, if these predicates do not mean the same when applied to God as they do when applied to natural entities, then they assume some unknown, mysterious meaning and are virtually emptied of their significance. In this event, God is pushed into agnosticism. Frederick Ferr’ describes the theistic dilemma as follows:

The theist is caught in a cross fire. Either human language is allowed to retain its meaning, drawn from human experience of the finite, in which case it cannot be about the God of theism, who is not supposed either to be finite or to be properly describable in finite terms; or language, “purified” of its anthropocentric roots, is emptied of meaning for human beings, in which case it can be neither human language nor—for us—“about” God. ~ Ferr’, Language, Logic and God, p. 68.

The Christian is faced with an either-or situation. Either we can use human language to speak meaningfully of God (in which case God cannot differ in kind from finite existence), or human language cannot be applied to God at all (in which case the word “God” becomes meaningless). By stipulating that God is supernatural and unknowable, the Christian effectively removes God from the domain of language and communication—thereby removing him from the context of rational consideration.// ~ G.H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God

Notions of theism and its various gods are neither in categories of ideas that can be true or false because they're nonsense. Religious language about "Gods" is conceptually invalid and hence non-cognitive, and that is justification for the strong atheist position.

Tommy Hunslapper said...

Hail again Dawson. Also Ydemoc, and Robert. I am still in the process of reading the entire blog archive. So far I am enjoying it, and learning some things to boot.

I think I just got through all the blogs featuring interractions with Nide/Hezekiah Asshat/Trinity/what-have-you. It rapidly got to the point where merely anything he posted made my teeth itch.

Yet it seems that such behaviour from that kind of 'apologist' is the rule rather than the exception. Indeed, one may almost presuppose that they will inevitably react that way. Objectivism really gripes their irrits, it seems.

Anyhoo, after I catch up with all you have written (and I for one do not think you 'argue from verbosity') I will perhaps have more informed comments to make. ( iam up to September 2012.)

But so far, I find myself in very much accord with the objectivist position. Primarily, I think, because I both admire and understand the linguistic formulation that Rand set forth. Language being the vehicle of concepts from mind to mind. And as an amateur linguist and lifelong bibliophile (ironically enough) I have a deep and keen appreciation for precision and clarity in writing.

Existence exists
To exist is to have identity
Consciousness is consciousness of something
Objects have primacy over subjects.

All clear and concise ideas that I fully agree with... Or rather, should I say Rand Agrees with Me.

Be well all.


Justin Hall said...

@David Eriol Hickman

I know exactly what you mean. TAG does seem to act like attractor for those that can at best be described as well meaning examples of Kruger Dunning syndrome. At worse a pack of adults with the manners and mental faculties of emotionally disturbed children. One consistent theme I have witnessed over and over is this, despite all their talk of contrasting world views they seem utterly incapable of grasping a world view that explicitly spells out its starting points. A world view in which their killer question loose their very meaning. They are authoritarians at heart and one thing authoritarians do well is project.

Speaking of their sloppiness I recently ran into a presupper named Paula Joshua or at least that is his handle. He made the claim that Hitchen's razor was self defeating. If you are not acquainted with this razor it stats that which can be accepted arbitrarily can be rejected arbitrarily. Now it is strongly implied that what hitchen's is stating here is hast for things that require evidence, that is inductive reasoning. Paula retorts back that since the senses can not be falsified without begging the question then hitchen's razor should apply as well. The senses are accepted arbitrarily and thus can be dismissed arbitrarily. No I am not making this shit up.

The crucial distinction that is obvious with a few moments reflection is that the senses provide precepts, not concepts. What they provide automatically is perceptually self evident. We don't demand a fracking syllogism from our eye balls! That Paula could not figure this out or did not think the distinction was important goes a long way to bolstering your contention that their apologetic regurgitations make your teeth itch.

Unknown said...

The "multiverse", "moral relativism", and the "right" to kill the unborn...

Key elements of the Atheist Fantasy.

freddies_dead said...

Jon Drake said...

The "multiverse", "moral relativism", and the "right" to kill the unborn...

Key elements of the Atheist Fantasy.

I wonder if Jon can explain just how a possible multiverse, moral relativism or being pro-choice are in any way reliant on the truth of atheism?

The existence of people of faith who accept the possibility of a multiverse or agree with a woman's autonomy over her own body already piss all over his little outburst.

He also seems oblivious to the fact that Christianity, by it's own admission in the Bible, results in moral relativism. God's supposed "absolute" commandments are a) subject to that God's whim, as we can see with "Thou shall not kill" when He decides to ignore them and drown the world in a flood or order the slaughter of the Canaanites, and b) not applicable to that God, as evidenced by the way believers will try (and fail) to rationalise the immoral actions of their God. Christianity simply espouses "might makes right" moral relativism.

Unknown said...

Hello Jon Drake

Nice to meet you. You remarked:

// ... Key elements of the Atheist Fantasy. //

After viewing your Google Plus activity, I speculate you're a Christian believer of some sort, thus my curiosity as to how Christians differentiate any difference between their god beliefs and god fantasies.

Can you provide a method whereby any rational person may reliably differentiate your god beliefs from god fantasies?

Thank you for considering my question and best wishes to you and yours.

wakawakwaka said...

moral relativism lols thats pretty funny coming from a christian.

Unknown said...

Hello Freddie: Thank you for this:

// He also seems oblivious to the fact that Christianity, by it's own admission in the Bible, results in moral relativism. God's supposed "absolute" commandments are a) subject to that God's whim, as we can see with "Thou shall not kill" when He decides to ignore them and drown the world in a flood or order the slaughter of the Canaanites, and b) not applicable to that God, as evidenced by the way believers will try (and fail) to rationalise the immoral actions of their God. Christianity simply espouses "might makes right" moral relativism. //

Very true.

Best wishes for continued success.


95BSharpshooter said...


From the same bunch that claim the universe was created in six days, and assorted other infantile fantasies?

And how does one kill the "unborn"?

Ya' know, LSD is sooooo 1960s.