Skeptical Inquirer magazine (March/April 2015) published a study by Charles S. Reichardt and Ian A. Saari: "When Don't the Highly Educated Believe in Evolution? The Bible-Believers Effect." The following is commentary.
Joe Szimhart (April 22, 2015)
High IQ and Faith The results of research that Bible-believers with higher education are more likely to not believe in evolution or global warming does not surprise me (“The Bible Believer's Effect,” Reichardt and Saari, SI Vol. 39, No. 2). My long experience conducting interventions with people in cults, sects, and new religions since the early 1980s reflects those results. Most of my clients in cults over the decades have had higher than average educations. Reichardt and Saari offer standard explanations for this effect including belief strength, confirmation bias, need for consistency, and over confidence. Lately, I have been reformulating what it is that draws people to absolute faith claims and I find that it is not faith at all. The Bible-believer's effect is the result of social influences surrounding the certainty to knowledge that something is true. People in general are naturally attracted to transcendent propositions and to an immediate apprehension or experience of knowledge. We all at times wish we had and some (perhaps most) believe that we have some kind of extra sensory knowledge. This inner desire persists despite evidence to the contrary. That desire may be inherent and comes from a category of epistemology called gnosis. According to Gilles Quispel (2005), gnosis is the third component of the European cultural traditions. We use three ways to understand and apprehend reality: Gnosis, faith, and reason. Gnosis may be the most primitive aspect of how we know in evolutionary terms. We can say that animals employ a form of gnosis to respond to and survive in the environment. We use words like instinct, genetic programming, and natural response to explain how animals know how to behave. We tend not to project faith and reason onto animals although it appears that something like faith occurs when animals “trust” a herd leader or in their ability to avoid a predator nearby. Also, it appears that animals can “figure something out” as when a raven or monkey employs a new tool to retrieve food from a hole. In this model faith and reason were born of gnosis and no one aspect can be independent of the other. Of course, faith and reason in humans is dramatically more apparent and expressed. My success (when it occurs) in helping people de-convert from bad faith and to end cult behaviors comes not from opposition to gnosis and faith but from a reasonable appreciation of those aspects. I am not being coy here. This is not about compromise, but it is about recognition that all human beings know in these ways. Briefly, here are references: Peter Meusburger et al. (eds.) in 2008 published Clashes of Knowledge that contains an article (Chapter 7) by Wouter J. Hanegraaff, “Reason, Faith, and Gnosis: Potentials and Problematics of a Typological Construct.” Hanegraaff refers to the research of Gilles Quispel (1916 - 2006) in Gnosis: The Third Component of the European Cultural Tradition (Quispel, 1988/2005). With Quispel, Hanegraaff notes that gnosis is a “kind of intuitive, non-discursive, and salvational knowledge of one’s own true self and of God.” In the very least, gnosis is that sense of identity you have when you are not thinking about identity. It is what you are using to have faith and to be reasonable. To simplify, here is Hanegraaff’s “Typology of Three Basic Kinds of Knowledge:” Characteristics of Knowledge Claimed include analytic categories of reason, faith, and gnosis. Reason is both communicable and verifiable. Faith is communicable but not verifiable. Gnosis is neither communicable nor verifiable. According to this typology, gnosis is that extraordinary aspect of knowledge that is not communicable and not verifiable. Crude examples of gnosis in action occur when someone says “It just is,” or “My experience tells me that it is true,” or “I have the Holy Spirit within me,” or “I have no words to describe what happened to me, but I was profoundly changed.” This is what drives the average skeptic crazy when faced with that passive aggressive smile on the face of a true believer during an argument about a belief. This is also where discussion breaks down and the “reasonable” skeptic throws up his hands and walks away. During interventions, this is precisely where the discussion can get productive. The argument is not whether gnosis exists or faith as such is “wrong” or is false reasoning, rather it asks: How well is gnosis being employed in matters of faith and reason? The actual term gnosis only comes into play when the group or cult in question claims to represent a Gnostic tradition or some technique to produce more gnosis, as if that were possible. Regarding the Bible-Believers Effect, I do not see it as mere faith or certain faith, but more as believers claiming to “know” the truth, the knowledge that is “beyond understanding” (Job 36:26; Acts 17:11; Philippians 4:7) and that is the problem—it is a misapplication of faith. This is gnosis locked up in faith without reason, and faith without reason is always doomed to be constricted. In effect, it is not so much that Bible-believers claim to be God in the knowledge that comes from their God, but that their ideas become God in their absolute and unreasonable convictions. That misuse of gnosis is idolatry of ideas in the mind, which is something that Sir Francis Bacon alluded to when he discussed his Four Idols: Idols of the Cave are those which arise in the mind of the individual.
For more on three categories of knowledge claims see:
Clashes of Knowledge: Orthodoxies and Heterodoxies in Science and Religion edited by Peter Meusberger, et al (2010)
especially Chapter 7:
"Reason, Faith, and Gnosis: Potentials and Problematics of a Typological Construct" by Wouter Hanegraaff