Martin Young
Martin Young

Thank God for Dunning Kruger

There’s not a word written in any of my posts on belief and spirituality that is not heavily weighed nor seriously considered. What will my post say, what effect will this have, what answers does this post potentially offer to those having difficulties with the topic I’ve chosen, and, last of all, what does this writing cost me? After all, reputations are made very slowly and are rapidly lost online.

So each post I write about belief is submitted with a sense of foreboding, for I know what is likely to come from both directions in the comments section. The regular commentators from the atheist world do not disappoint. “Hypocrisy, idiocy” they cry, bashing furiously on their keyboards. Others from the religious right-wing climb in. “Bad Christian, sell-out” they squeal, equally incensed by my expressions of uncertainty. I, like the apostle Thomas, am in “no-man’s land” and it is not a comfortable place to be.

What is it about “fixed belief” that makes fanatics and idiots of both groups? Right-wing religious types cannot, or should not, ignore the world as it is, as science has shown it to be, for a world made according to God’s plans would not contain deceptions. And atheists confine themselves to the smaller worlds of documented fact, never daring to enlarge and expand their minds beyond the narrow horizons of what they can see, of what they don’t or can’t know they don’t know. The truth, as in so many things, lies somewhere in the middle of both these extremes.

So, thank God for Dunning and Kruger, psychologists from Cornell University, who in 1999 introduced to the world the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning–Kruger effect is a “cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to an inability of the unskilled to recognise their ineptitude”.

It all comes down to what we make of evidence before us, and whether we have been serious enough in our efforts to find the truth contained therein. Dunning and Kruger suggest that those who have made the effort will have to deal with uncertainty and insecurity. I draw strength from the experience of CS Lewis, one of the greatest Christian writers of all time, who in Mere Christianity described his moment of conversion as leaving him “the most dejected, reluctant convert in all England”. It is not an easy transition for many, and it definitely was not for me. No person can argue another to a change in belief. In my case it was a slow process of realisation as well as a series of events beyond coincidence that dragged me kicking and screaming to accepting that the idea of God wanting to be involved with us was beyond reasonable doubt.

As for evidence, there is more than enough to show that man evolved from apes, and all life from lower forms over a very long period of time — evolution. That fact says nothing about whether God had a hand in the process. DNA, the mechanism responsible, has every attribute of a software code or language, and both of these without exception in human history have been written by a writer.

There is also evidence that supports very strongly the story of a man claiming to be the Son of God, being executed as a common criminal, and yet inspiring what is today the world’s biggest religion based on the probability that he did what he said he would do by rising from the dead. In the process Jesus changed his ragtag group of disillusioned followers into a powerful force that forever changed the world.

If the evidence exists for either, one has a choice whether or not to believe it. If both are believable, then both possibilities can be considered to coexist, and the search is on for satisfying explanations that respect both.

For those with an interest in the truth about Christianity it is worth examining the Resurrection seriously, because in it is all the evidence one needs to find God. It is the “acid test” for the whole religion. The evidence is there, perhaps not as incontrovertible as critics would like, but still there nevertheless if one is prepared to give it unbiased consideration.

Given a comprehensive overview of the uncertainties and mysteries of the world and universe as we know it, it is possible to work out how everything could fit together. There are huge holes in my understanding, but I have the reassurance that this is normal from biblical authors like Paul, and they are holes only for the relatively fine print, having in themselves no great theological weight.

So Dunning and Kruger sent us all a caution. Don’t be too certain of anything as complicated as religion. We still know too little.

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”

Bertrand Russell for all his scepticism understood what Dunning and Kruger would later confirm.

Thank God for them indeed.

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