About paradigm performance and God delusion

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A paradigm cannot be wrong, because it is not a statement about the reality. It is a starting point for examination of the world. However, a paradigm can be useful or useless for some practical purpose. Therefore, paradigms should be evaluated on a meta-paradigm level against a defined purpose; the paradigm can fulfil its purpose better or worse, i.e. it can be more or less useful.

As an example, the contemporary argumentation about 'God delusion' is mostly out of scope. There are two competing paradigms. Richard Dawkins asks: "What is the probability that a creator god exists in the real world?" After an examination using natural sciences, his answer is: very small.

However, many Christians that have approached the argumentation analytically, don't accept Dawkins' paradigm. Instead, they ask: "Given that creator God exists, what can we learn about the real world?" For them the probability of God's existence is irrelevant. For Dawkins and many other natural scientists, the Christian premise is unacceptable as a premise. They see a god as a hypothesis.

This problem cannot be solved, because the dispute is not about reality, but about which is the 'right' paradigm. There is no answer to this. The goodness of a paradigm can be evaluated, but only if the purpose of the paradigm has been defined. I have not seen anyone attempt this.

If the purpose of the paradigm is to motivate people spend their time and effort to serve a church, the answer is obvious. If the purpose is to understand the reality, the answer is not at all obvious. It can be demonstrated that a premise about God leads the thinking to focus on different kinds of things than without the premise. This enriches our description of the reality. However, there is less evidence that the God premise has effectively prevented scientists to make great inventions. (Although this is very hard to show, as we don't know about those potential scientists who failed to achieve breakthroughs because they were distracted by their God premise.)

What could be done in the current situation to increase understanding, is to

  • clarify that the disagreement is about paradigms, not about reality,
  • try and define purpose(s) for these paradigms, and
  • compare the performance of the paradigms against all purposes defined.

It is unlikely that the performance comparisons would make anyone to give up his/her paradigm. However, it would be scientifically very interesting to evaluate, where the God premise actually makes a difference when we try to understand the reality. I would guess that with a thorough examination about almost any detail of the world, the two paradigms tend to converge to similar answers. The current chasm between paradigms exists because the differences in paradigms tend to lead to emotional fights instead of thorough examination of the world.

Hypothesis about religious beliefs

Hypothesis: The reason for the existence of religions is the difficulty of humans to differentiate between the reality and their own thoughts (or other people's thoughts) about the reality.

→ The difficulty can be tested empirically?

Experiment: Test individuals are adviced to make a list of good properties of their choice to a particular random symbol, and a list of bad properties to another random symbol. Each individual is given the same two symbols, but they are randomly assigned to good and bad. The exposure can be stimulated by letting individuals discuss about the symbols in two groups. In each group, all individuals have been assigned the same good and bad symbols, and the other group has the opposite. This way, there may be group dynamics where the individuals also hear from the other members of the own group about properties of these symbols.

After this, the individuals are shown a video where people wearing these symbols are having an argumentation about a fuzzy topic. The individual is asked to explain what was going on in the argumentation, what kinds of motives each discussant had, and who, in the individual's opinion, was right. In addition, the individual is asked whether his or her own assignments of good and bad properties of the symbols has affected his or her conclusions.

The hypothesis is that the individual says that the assignment has not influenced the conclusions, but in fact is has.

Conclusion (if the observations support the hypothesis): People have difficulties in differentiating their own beliefs (which are the assigned properties of the symbols) and what actually happened (events on the video).[1]

See also


  1. Kahan D: Fixing the communications failure. Nature (2010): 463: 296-297.