Tough Questions Answered

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    If you want to find out whether Christianity fares well in the arenas of science, philosophy, ethics, and history, then you should subscribe to this blog. Our purpose is to show that Christianity is the most intellectually rich worldview that exists. Why is that? Because it is true. Every week, we will post 2-3 articles which should take you no more than 5 minutes to read. We believe that your Christian walk will be greatly enriched or, if you are not a Christian, you will come to see that Christianity is a most reasonable faith.
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  • What Are the Implications of the Halo Effect?

    Posted By on April 16, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    In the previous post, we looked at the halo effect, as explained by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow What Are the Implications of the Halo Effect?. We saw that the halo effect causes us to overweight our first impressions of a person so that subsequent impressions are largely influenced by those first impressions.

    If we like a person when we first meet them, then we will consistently look for reasons to like everything about them as time goes on. If we don’t like a person when we first meet them, then we will consistently look for reasons to not like anything about them as time goes on.

    The halo effect has many implications for apologetics and evangelism. Say you want to discuss the gospel with someone. If that person already sees you as likable, based on their positive initial impressions of you, then when you present the gospel message, they will most likely be receptive.

    If, however, the person with whom you want to discuss the gospel dislikes you, based on their initial negative reactions to you, then they will most likely reject anything you say to them about Christianity. They will simply assume that you are wrong about everything because of the halo effect.

    I have had many skeptical visitors to the blog over the years who, after interacting with me initially, decide that they just don’t like me. In their minds, I lie, I don’t understand evidence and rational thinking, and I’m just not someone who can be trusted. How do I know? Because they tell me. Once these people have formed their initial opinions, I know that no matter what I say to them, no matter how I say it, they will never accept anything coming from me. This is the halo effect.

    On the other hand, there are people who interact with me and immediately like me; they find me to be trustworthy and reasonable. With those people, the halo effect works in my favor. They are quite willing to hear what I have to say, even when we don’t agree on everything.

    If a person doesn’t like me, for whatever reason, they are not going to listen to what I have to say about the gospel. I can rest assured, however, that God will bring along someone else who that person does like. There is usually no point in me banging my head against the halo effect to change that person’s impression of me. They have formed their opinion and it is probably not going to change, at least not without substantial effort on my part and theirs.

    I think the halo effect is one reason that Billy Graham was such an amazing evangelist. Most people, after first seeing or listening to him for just a few minutes, immediately like him. There is just something about him that people like. The halo effect, undoubtedly, helped him bring thousands and thousands of people to Christ.

    Alas, we all can’t be Billy Graham. This is a hard pill to swallow for an apologist or evangelist, but swallow it we must. Most of us know at least some people, even in our families,  who just don’t like us a great deal. The fact is, we probably cannot reach those people, but, we do need to reach those who do like and trust us. They are ready to hear what we have to say.

    What Is the Halo Effect?

    Posted By on April 14, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    200px Thinking, Fast and Slow What Is the Halo Effect?It has nothing to do with the popular video game, but like confirmation bias, it is a concept you need to understand because it impacts all of us, and we are mostly unaware.

    Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow What Is the Halo Effect?, describes the halo effect.

    If you like the president’s politics, you probably like his voice and his appearance as well. The tendency to like (or dislike) everything about a person— including things you have not observed— is known as the halo effect. The term has been in use in psychology for a century, but it has not come into wide use in everyday language. This is a pity, because the halo effect is a good name for a common bias that plays a large role in shaping our view of people and situations. It is one of the ways the representation of the world that System 1 generates is simpler and more coherent than the real thing.

    Kahneman provides a concrete example:

    You meet a woman named Joan at a party and find her personable and easy to talk to. Now her name comes up as someone who could be asked to contribute to a charity. What do you know about Joan’s generosity? The correct answer is that you know virtually nothing, because there is little reason to believe that people who are agreeable in social situations are also generous contributors to charities.

    But you like Joan and you will retrieve the feeling of liking her when you think of her. You also like generosity and generous people. By association, you are now predisposed to believe that Joan is generous. And now that you believe she is generous, you probably like Joan even better than you did earlier, because you have added generosity to her pleasant attributes.

    Real evidence of generosity is missing in the story of Joan, and the gap is filled by a guess that fits one’s emotional response to her. In other situations, evidence accumulates gradually and the interpretation is shaped by the emotion attached to the first impression.

    Impressions of a person are gained over a period of time, but the halo effect causes us to overweight first impressions over later impressions. Here is the problem stated:

    The sequence in which we observe characteristics of a person is often determined by chance. Sequence matters, however, because the halo effect increases the weight of first impressions, sometimes to the point that subsequent information is mostly wasted.

    Early in my career as a professor, I graded students’ essay exams in the conventional way. I would pick up one test booklet at a time and read all that student’s essays in immediate succession, grading them as I went. I would then compute the total and go on to the next student. I eventually noticed that my evaluations of the essays in each booklet were strikingly homogeneous. I began to suspect that my grading exhibited a halo effect , and that the first question I scored had a disproportionate effect on the overall grade.

    The mechanism was simple: if I had given a high score to the first essay , I gave the student the benefit of the doubt whenever I encountered a vague or ambiguous statement later on. This seemed reasonable. Surely a student who had done so well on the first essay would not make a foolish mistake in the second one! But there was a serious problem with my way of doing things. If a student had written two essays, one strong and one weak, I would end up with different final grades depending on which essay I read first. I had told the students that the two essays had equal weight, but that was not true: the first one had a much greater impact on the final grade than the second.

    In the next post, we will look at some implications of the halo effect.

    Why Are the Poorest Countries Poor?

    Posted By on April 11, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    poor rule Why Are the Poorest Countries Poor?Not enough education, not enough access to credit, not enough foreign aid, not enough access to contraception. Nope. According to a paper written by political scientists Gary Cox, Douglass North, and Barry Weingast, the root cause of poverty is violence.

    Cox, North, and Weingast write:

    Indeed, we show that violence is surprisingly common throughout the developing world, including the richest developing countries. The median number of years between violent regime changes in the poorest half of the world’s countries is seven years; at twelve and a half years, it is not much higher in the richest developing countries. In contrast, the median number of years between violent regime change in the richest decile of countries is sixty years.

    If you take the poorest half of countries in the world, their governments are violently overthrown every 7 years! The richest 10% of countries in the world only experience violent government overthrow every 60 years.

    The authors continue:

    Many scholars and practitioners of development associate the problem of violence mainly with failed states, such as Somalia or the Congo. Unfortunately, the problem is far more widespread; violence and violence potential are endemic to all developing countries.

    The authors argue that stable governments are able to coordinate and mobilize large amounts of capital and coordinate large numbers of people to establish economic conditions that can enable a nation to prosper, but if government leaders are always under threat of violence, then they will never work to create these conditions. Basically, the threat of violent regime change paralyzes them.

    In thinking about this conclusion, that violent regime change is what holds back economic prosperity in developing countries,  I can’t help but recall the words of Paul in Romans 13:1-5:

    Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

    God has decreed that human governments are a tool to keep peace and to bring justice. Stable governments, as a component of God’s common grace, help ensure that violence is minimized, that people aren’t constantly fearing for their lives.

    For those of us who are blessed to live in the upper 10% of countries who have experienced only peaceful regime changes over several decades, we must thank God. Even though we may not particularly support the policies of those in leadership, they are there to keep the peace. Remember that God is using them.

    What Is Confirmation Bias?

    Posted By on April 9, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    200px Thinking, Fast and Slow What Is Confirmation Bias?Confirmation bias is a concept you need to understand because it impacts all of us, and we are mostly unaware.

    Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow What Is Confirmation Bias?, describes confirmation bias in the context of a person being presented with a statement that they can choose to believe or not believe. Kahneman begins, “The initial attempt to believe is an automatic operation of System 1 , which involves the construction of the best possible interpretation of the situation. Even a nonsensical statement . . . will evoke initial belief.” (emphasis added)

    Kahneman explains that unbelieving is an operation of System 2, but we already know that System 2 requires additional cognitive energy to get engaged. So what does this mean?

    The moral is significant: when System 2 is otherwise engaged, we will believe almost anything . System 1 is gullible and biased to believe, System 2 is in charge of doubting and unbelieving, but System 2 is sometimes busy, and often lazy. Indeed, there is evidence that people are more likely to be influenced by empty persuasive messages, such as commercials, when they are tired and depleted.

    And now comes the concept of confirmation bias:

    The operations of [System 1] associative memory contribute to a general confirmation bias. When asked, “Is Sam friendly?” different instances of Sam’s behavior will come to mind than would if you had been asked “Is Sam unfriendly?” A deliberate search for confirming evidence, known as positive test strategy, is also how System 2 tests a hypothesis.

    Contrary to the rules of philosophers of science, who advise testing hypotheses by trying to refute them, people (and scientists, quite often) seek data that are likely to be compatible with the beliefs they currently hold. The confirmatory bias of System 1 favors uncritical acceptance of suggestions and exaggeration of the likelihood of extreme and improbable events.

    Unless we are paying close attention and engaging System 2, our bias is to believe what we are told. System 1 will pull memories and ideas out of our mind to confirm whatever is being presented to us. It is only when we pause, think, and consider what is being said, that System 2 can start to methodically test what is being presented to us.

    As someone who reads a tremendous amount of anti-Christian material, I am aware of this process happening to me all the time. I will read statements that say, in effect, “This aspect of the Christian worldview is totally wrong,” and my initial reaction, if I don’t have my mind really engaged, is almost always to agree! In fact, if I just uncritically read any author, I will find myself wanting to agree with most of what the author is saying.

    I don’t think this reaction is all bad, though. The best way to understand another person’s viewpoint is to immerse yourself in their ideas as best you can, and try to see the world as they see it. If you stop to critically analyze every sentence, you will quickly exhaust yourself and never see as the other person sees.

    So my recommendation is to let System 1 have its way when you are reading new material, at least for a while. Once you’ve uncritically read enough to understand the main point of the author, then go back and bring System 2 into the game. Analyze, critique, question what you’ve read.

    The situation where System 1 can really be dangerous for a person is when that person only reads material that already confirms their previous beliefs, and reads without ever engaging System 2 to analyze, critique, and question what they’ve read. If this happens over and over again for years, you have the making of a dogmatic and stubborn individual, someone who is rarely thinking about what they believe.

    Why Do We See Causality All Around Us?

    Posted By on April 7, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    200px Thinking, Fast and Slow Why Do We See Causality All Around Us?Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow Why Do We See Causality All Around Us?, describes the concept of intentional causality. According to Kahneman,

    Your mind is ready and even eager to identify agents, assign them personality traits and specific intentions, and view their actions as expressing individual propensities. Here again, the evidence is that we are born prepared to make intentional attributions: infants under one year old identify bullies and victims, and expect a pursuer to follow the most direct path in attempting to catch whatever it is chasing.

    Intentional causality is contrasted with physical causality. Physical causality is perceived when we see physical objects interacting with each other, such as one billiard ball hitting another and causing it to move.

    Kahneman assigns the ability of human beings to see both kinds of causality to System 1 and believes there might be an evolutionary reason for why System 1 is so ready and adept at seeing both intentional and physical causality in the world around us.

    The experience of freely willed action is quite separate from physical causality. Although it is your hand that picks up the salt , you do not think of the event in terms of a chain of physical causation. You experience it as caused by a decision that a disembodied you made, because you wanted to add salt to your food. Many people find it natural to describe their soul as the source and the cause of their actions.

    The psychologist Paul Bloom, writing in The Atlantic in 2005, presented the provocative claim that our inborn readiness to separate physical and intentional causality explains the near universality of religious beliefs. He observes that “we perceive the world of objects as essentially separate from the world of minds, making it possible for us to envision soulless bodies and bodiless souls.”

    The two modes of causation that we are set to perceive make it natural for us to accept the two central beliefs of many religions: an immaterial divinity is the ultimate cause of the physical world, and immortal souls temporarily control our bodies while we live and leave them behind as we die. In Bloom’s view, the two concepts of causality were shaped separately by evolutionary forces, building the origins of religion into the structure of System 1.

    These two kinds of causality are important to understand, for they stand in the center of the battle between two major worldviews: atheism and theism. Atheists affirm physical causality, but deny intentional causality (they claim it is just an illusion and that only physical causality is really operating). Theists affirm both physical and intentional causality.

    Almost every debate about the origin of the universe, or the fine-tuning of the physical constants in the universe, or the design of biological organisms, comes down to whether you believe that intentional causality is real or illusory. There is no doubt that most human beings believe that both are real, and that this belief is hard-wired into us, but that doesn’t settle the debate.

    For those who want to claim that the concept of intentional causality is not real because it is produced by evolution, that argument doesn’t fly. Where the ability to see intentional causality came from is not directly relevant to whether there really are intentional causes.  Pressing this claim would be a case of the genetic fallacy. The source of an idea cannot tell you whether an idea is true or false.

    And besides, if you believe evolution caused human beings to see intentional causality, then you must also believe that evolution caused human beings to see physical causality, and almost nobody wants to say that physical causality is unreal.

    Why Are Old Testament Sacrifices Incapable of Completely Dealing with Sin? Part 2

    Posted By on April 2, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    altar Why Are Old Testament Sacrifices Incapable of Completely Dealing with Sin? Part 2In part 1, we started to look at why animal sacrifices of the kind specified in the Old Testament Law are incapable of completely dealing with human sin once and for all. First, the sacrifices were limited in their moral efficacy, and second, the sacrifices were limited in scope to certain kinds of personal sins.

    Biblical scholar Duane Lindsey, in The Bible Knowledge Commentaryprovides three more reasons why they weren’t completely effective.

    Third, the sacrifices were limited in purpose to the covenant preservation and renewal of a redeemed people. The Levitical sacrifices were a part of the worship of a redeemed people in covenant relationship with their God. Corporately, and perhaps for the most part individually, the occasion of the slaying of the Passover lamb and the application of its blood to the doorposts in Egypt were outward expressions of inward faith that signaled the regeneration and justification of individual Israelites.

    The subsequent sacrificial system dealt ideally with worship and covenant renewal, not initial salvation. It was comparable to the New Testament believer’s experience of 1 John 1:9, not to the sinner’s experience of John 3:16. . . .

    Fourth, except for the Day of Atonement ritual, the sacrifices were limited in scope and duration to one sin per sacrifice. The forgiveness granted was real though temporary (in the sense that each sin required another sacrifice). Thus while God accepted the sacrifices for the removal of guilt in the case of the sin being dealt with, such temporary stays of divine wrath did not result in the permanent purging of a person’s conscience (Heb. 10:2).

    Fifth, the efficacy of sacrifice was not inherent in the animals sacrificed or in any or all parts of the sacrificial ritual. God provided atonement and forgiveness in view of the all-sufficient sacrifice that Jesus Christ would offer on the cross. Christ’s death was “a sacrifice of atonement” by which God paid in full for the forgiveness which He had extended before the Cross (Rom. 3:25).

    In other words, the Levitical sacrifices were validated in the mind of God on the basis of Christ’s death as the one truly efficacious Sacrifice for all sin, the Lamb of God who was slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8; cf. 1 Peter 1:19–20). The efficacious value of the sacrifices was therefore derivative rather than original. It is in this sense that the author of Hebrews asserts, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Nevertheless the benefits experienced by the Old Testament believers were just as real as the clothing which is worn by a 20th-century credit-card purchaser whose account has not yet been paid in full.

    Lindsey summarizes, “The Levitical sacrifices were efficacious both for restoring the covenant relationship and (when offered in faith) for the actual forgiveness of particular sins, but this efficacy was derivative, needing to be validated by the one all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ on the cross.” Once Christ’s sacrifice occurred, the animal sacrifices were no longer needed.

    Why Are Old Testament Sacrifices Incapable of Completely Dealing with Sin? Part 1

    Posted By on March 31, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    altar Why Are Old Testament Sacrifices Incapable of Completely Dealing with Sin? Part 1Although virtually no Christians advocate a return to the sacrifices enumerated in the Law, especially in the Book of Leviticus, we should still ask ourselves why this system was not sufficient to completely deal with the sins of mankind.

    Duane Lindsey provides a very helpful explanation of the issues in The Bible Knowledge Commentary. Lindsey first notes that the sacrifices did accomplish something. Atonement for sins is mentioned several times in Leviticus. According to Lindsey,

    [S]acrificial atonement involved the actual removal of the guilt and punishment for the particular sin(s) involved. The broad scope of the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement . . . extended this principle to include “all the people” (Lev 16:33) and “all their sins” (v. 22), that is, “all the sins of the Israelites” (v. 34). The complete forgiveness of the Israelites’ sins for the past year is further described in terms of cleansing from sin in verse 30.

    But Lindsey notes that there were several limitations of these sacrifices that made them unable to finally and completely deal with mankind’s sin problem.

    First, the sacrifices were limited in their moral efficacy. Since empty ritualism was never an acceptable option to God, a truly acceptable sacrifice must have been prompted by genuine faith and moral obedience to the revealed will of God (26:14–45, esp. v. 31; Pss. 40:6–8; 51:16–17; Prov. 21:27; Amos 5:21–24; Heb. 10:5–10; 11:4, 6).

    Sacrifices that were not brought in faith were perhaps sufficient at times for restoring ceremonial cleanness and meeting civil requirements (e.g., the restitution connected with the guilt offering), but did not really please God because they were empty formality. . . .

    Second, with the possible exception of the Day of Atonement ritual, the sacrifices were limited in scope to certain kinds of personal sins. Theologically they did not atone for the sin nature, or for the imputed sin of Adam. Nor did they even include willful acts of sin which were committed in defiance of God (cf. Num. 15:30–31, and comments on Lev. 4:1–2). Therefore Levitical sacrifice was not a complete and final scheme whereby all forms of sin could be removed.

    It was mainly concerned with sins of ignorance, accident, carelessness, and omission, including sins of ritual defilement and misdemeanors that violated property rights. Sins for which there was no individual sacrifice were those done in defiance of the Lord and His commands—willful violations of the Ten Commandments (except minor violations of the eighth and ninth commands), willful disregard for ceremonial regulations, and any other violations of covenant relationship between Israel and the Lord. Such sins could be immediately forgiven only on the basis of unqualified grace in response to faith and repentance (cf. Pss. 32; 51). Otherwise they awaited the cleansing of the Day of Atonement ritual.

    We’ll look at three more limitations of the Levitical sacrifices in part 2.

    How Were People Who Lived Before Jesus Saved?

    Posted By on March 28, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    We know that today the contents of the gospel involve the deity, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But what about people who lived before him?

    Theologian Norm Geisler explains:

    It seems that there are at least four sine qua non explicit soteriological beliefs (or “elements of saving faith”) for all times:

    (1) God exists.
    (2) We cannot save ourselves from our sinfulness.
    (3) God’s grace is necessary for our salvation.
    (4) We must believe in God and in His grace to receive salvation.

    All of these are found in one crucial text: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6).

    The first, third, and fourth qualifiers are stated—(1) God exists, and (3) He graciously rescues those who (4) seek Him by faith—and the second is implied, i.e., (2) we sense the need to come to Him in faith and ask for His help, recognizing that we cannot overcome sin on our own. Without these aspects of faith (belief), it seems impossible for anyone, at any time, to be saved. This is the “universal plan of salvation.”

    So what is this universal plan of salvation? How is it that Old Testament and New Testament believers both believed the same gospel?

    While God’s stated content of salvation differed for Abraham and Paul, the same basic message was preached to both. Paul says there is only one gospel (Gal. 1:8), but he quickly clarifies that Abraham believed this one gospel (Gal. 3:8). The content as revealed to Abraham was,

    [God] took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15:5–6)

    Geisler continues:

    This act of faith is used in the New Testament as an example of how we receive justification before God (cf. Rom. 4:3). When Paul spelled out the contents of this same gospel (cf. Gal. 1:8), he included far more revelation; namely, explicit belief in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for our sins (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1–6).

    The gospel itself did not change; however, required salvific belief regarding the content of that gospel did change. Even if it could be argued from certain verses (e.g., John 8:56; Gal. 3:16) that Abraham somehow foresaw the Messiah someday coming as his Seed, it would still not be demonstrated that all believers in the Old Testament era had to know and believe the gospel as later (more fully) revealed in order to be saved. There is no evidence that every saved person from that time comprehended and embraced this, nor did any of them know that Jesus of Nazareth was the foretold Promised One.

    In summary, every person who has ever been reconciled to God has believed that God exists, has recognized that her sins have separated her from God, that only God can save her, and thrown herself on the grace of God to be saved.

    Is Christian Salvation Unjust or Unfair?

    Posted By on March 26, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    Scales of justice2 Is Christian Salvation Unjust or Unfair?Many non-Christians have accused the Christian God of being unjust or unfair because he asks that they recognize their sinfulness before the Creator-God, recognize their need for forgiveness, and then place their trust in Jesus Christ and his atoning death. They argue that this is just too narrow, too exclusive. God, the argument goes, is simply unjust and unfair.

    But if we look at the biblical data, we see that regardless of how exactly God determines who will spend eternity with him, his selection is eminently just and fair.

    First, we know God is loving and merciful. See this blog post on God’s love in the Old Testament and this post on God’s mercy in the Old Testament. There are several more passages that can be highlighted:

    “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Ps. 145:8-9).

    “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:44-48).

    “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4).

    “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

    Second, we know that God is just and morally perfect. See this post on God’s moral perfection in the Old Testament. But also consider these passages:

    “Shall not the God of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25)

    “He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity” (Ps 98:9).

    “The Lord within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail” (Zeph. 3:5).

     “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed” (Acts 17:31).

    “God will give to each person according to what he has done” (Rom. 2:6).

    Time and again the Bible reassures us that God will deal lovingly, mercifully, and justly with all of humanity. As Glenn Miller notes in his excellent article, “Notice, that there will be NO excuse of ‘not fair’ with God’s judgment…no one will argue that their situation is Unfair!” When we all stand before God, not one of us will dare to accuse God of unfairness or injustice.

    Why Do We Answer the Questions We Weren’t Asked?

    Posted By on March 24, 2014

    Post Author: Bill Pratt 

    200px Thinking, Fast and Slow Why Do We Answer the Questions We Werent Asked?Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, has introduced us to the two processes going on inside our minds: System 1 and System 2. We’ve already looked at the fact that System 1 kicks in first when we are approached by a situation with which we aren’t familiar. System 1 has lots of shortcuts it likes to take instead of dealing completely rationally and thoughtfully with what is being presented (that’s System 2′s job, after all).

    One of these shortcuts is that System 1, instead of answering the question that is being posed, will substitute an easier question and answer that instead. Kahneman explains:

    The normal state of your mind is that you have intuitive feelings and opinions about almost everything that comes your way. You like or dislike people long before you know much about them; you trust or distrust strangers without knowing why; you feel that an enterprise is bound to succeed without analyzing it. Whether you state them or not, you often have answers to questions that you do not completely understand, relying on evidence that you can neither explain nor defend.

    How can this be? How can we have answers ready for everything that comes our way, without even giving the questions much thought?

    I propose a simple account of how we generate intuitive opinions on complex matters. If a satisfactory answer to a hard question is not found quickly, System 1 will find a related question that is easier and will answer it. I call the operation of answering one question in place of another substitution. I also adopt the following terms:

    The target question is the assessment you intend to produce.

    The heuristic question is the simpler question that you answer instead.

    The technical definition of heuristic is a simple procedure that helps find adequate, though often imperfect, answers to difficult questions.

    Kahneman is arguing that when we are presented with a complex or abstract question, instead of slowly thinking about it, our minds immediately offer up a solution by answering a simpler and different version of the question. The table below gives some examples.

    Target Question Heuristic Question
    How much would you contribute to save an endangered species? How much emotion do I feel when I think of dying dolphins?
    How happy are you with your life these days? What is my mood right now?
    How popular is the president right now? How popular will the president be six months from now?
    How should financial advisers who prey on the elderly be punished? How much anger do I feel when I think of financial predators?
    This woman is running for the primary. How far will she go in politics? Does this woman look like a political winner?

    Kahneman points out that

    System 2 has the opportunity to reject this intuitive answer, or to modify it by incorporating other information. However, a lazy System 2 often follows the path of least effort and endorses a heuristic answer without much scrutiny of whether it is truly appropriate. You will not be stumped, you will not have to work very hard, and you may not even notice that you did not answer the question you were asked. Furthermore, you may not realize that the target question was difficult, because an intuitive answer to it came readily to mind.

    As a Christian sharing the gospel and sharing evidences and arguments that  show Christianity is true, I have to be aware that substitution is going on. Here is another table that illustrates what I’m talking about.

    Target Question Heuristic Question
    Do you believe Christianity is true? Do I like the Christians I know?
    Are you convicted by your sins? Am I basically a good person?
    What do you think of the historical evidence of the resurrection? Do I think that miracles can ever occur?
    Would you consider following Christ? Do I want to be associated with the Christians I know?

    It sometimes takes great effort to convince your friend to actually answer the questions you’re posing to him. Be aware of what is going on and keep bringing your friend back to the real question, not the question he simply substitutes because it’s easier for him to answer.

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