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BibleBeyond Opinion

Written in March 2013. Edited in January 2014.

In God, Theology & Cognitive Modules, I present the hypothesis that the steps which are required to reach mental wholeness correspond to the doctrines of Christianity. One could refer to this as natural theology, except my starting point is a cognitive model that maps onto neurology—which I refer to as the theory of mental symmetry.[1] The field of Christian apologetics also combines Christian theology with rational thought. Therefore, I thought that it would be useful to look at a book on Christian apologetics, called Beyond Opinion. Ravi Zacharias is the editor of this book, but it also contains a number of chapters written by other authors, all of which appear to be connected with his organization.

As usual, I will be taking a cognitive perspective. In this case, this means asking primarily two questions: First, what mental strategies are being used by the authors? Second, do the author's statements make sense when translated into the language of mental symmetry? Speaking in general terms, it appears that the theory of mental symmetry can be used to provide a cognitive basis for most of the arguments that are presented in Beyond Opinion.

There is a field of research known as the ‘cognitive science of religion’ that also approaches religion from a cognitive perspective. This field makes some interesting observations about the practical side of religion (which it calls folk religion) based upon psychological experiments, however most researchers in this field appear to ignore theology, dismiss the possibility of non-physical existence, and start from the theory of evolution. In contrast, I think that theology is highly relevant and that it makes especial sense when viewed from a cognitive perspective. I also suggest that the theory of evolution is a lousy starting point for the cognitive science of religion because it says nothing about cognition and was originally formulated to avoid the concepts of God and religion.

I should mention that I am not suggesting that religion and God are only in the mind. Instead, I am suggesting that cognitive mechanisms play a major role in determining our concept of God—whether God exists or not. That is because I keep encountering Christian believers, including theologians, who verbally claim to believe in the God of the Bible but in practice have mental concepts of God that are somewhat different. Justin Barrett, one of the researchers in the cognitive science of religion, has done experiments that examine this discrepancy. And my ultimate goal in focusing upon this discrepancy is not to criticize others but rather to avoid deceiving myself.

Because most of the chapters in this book are written by different authors, I will give the page number and usually say in generic terms that ‘Beyond Opinion says’ or ‘the author says’.

The attitude of Christian Apologetics

Let us turn now to the approach taken by Christian apologists and compare it with the approach which I have been attempting to follow. The apologist’s approach is illustrated by a quote in the conclusion to Beyond Opinion: “I should say a word about the great impact of apologists and the rigorous discipline that is at its core...I think of the impact of professors...who gave me a love for the word of God. That balance between the love of the Scriptures and the rigorous argumentation of why this is God’s Word gave me the imperatives I needed to preach and teach, especially in areas of great resistance” (p.331).

Several points can be drawn from this quote: First, Zacharias talks about a balance between rigorous argumentation and a love for scripture. This tells us that we are dealing with a hybrid approach. On the one hand, logic and rational thought are being used, while on the other hand a specific book is being defended. This tension between universal and specific is found repeatedly through Beyond Opinion. The rational thought tends to argue from general principles, either by looking philosophically at universal concepts, or by describing psychological principles that apply to all humans. However, these universal concepts and psychological principles are not used to build a universal understanding, but rather to defend the reasonableness of a specific book. Saying this another way, the goal of Christian apologetics is not to use logic and rational thought to build a universal theory but rather to use logic and rational thought to defend the message of the Bible.

But one of the core teachings of the Bible is that everything was created and is controlled by a sovereign monotheistic God of law and order. Historically speaking, this belief in a monotheistic God played a major role in the emergence of science with its search for universal rational theories. As one of the authors in this book states, “The conviction that the universe is orderly is germinal to science. Melvin Calvin, Nobel prize winner in biochemistry, has no doubt as to the origin of the universe: ‘As I try to discern the origin of that conviction, I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whim of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science’” (p.110).

Incomplete Monotheism

Therefore, I suggest that Christian apologetics is actually an incomplete application of the Judeo-Christian doctrine of monotheism. It goes part of the way by using rational thought to look for general laws, but then leaves the realm of universality in order to embrace the specific words of the Bible. One could compare this to the relationship between a student and his science textbook. The textbook accurately describes how the natural world functions. But, the child believes these facts because they are written in a textbook and not because they describe how the world functions. The goal is for the student to go beyond the textbook by discovering how the content of the textbook describes the real world. Ironically, the student who insists that his textbook is the only source of truth about the world is missing the point of the textbook, which is to teach the student about the world. In educational terms, this is known as the conflict between rote learning and critical thinking.

However, I suggest that modern science is also an incomplete application of the Judeo-Christian doctrine of monotheism. As Beyond Opinion states, “Many important aspects of reality are simply outside the provenance of science. Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar writes, ‘the existence of a limit to science is, however, made clear by its inability to answer childlike elementary questions having to do with first and last things—questions such as: “How did everything begin?”; “Why are we all here?”; “What is the point of living?”’ He adds that it is to imaginative literature and religion that we must turn for answers to such questions” (p.114). As for origin of science, “the common tendency [is] to trace the roots of content for a science back only to the Greeks of the six century BC, and then to point out that, for science to proceed, the Greek world had to be emptied of its polytheistic content” (p.110).

Mental symmetry suggests that the concept of a monotheistic God emerges when a universal theory in Teacher thought applies to personal identity in Mercy thought.[2] Notice that neither Christian apologetics nor modern science are following this combination completely. Christian apologetics says that God is a universal rational being but then uses personal experience and personal conviction to address core issues, while modern science searches for universal theory but avoids dealing with personal questions such as purpose, meaning, and value. Further, I suggest that the birth of science required a combination of Hebrew monotheism and Greek rationality. The overall mindset came from the Hebrews, but the methodology was provided by the Greeks. Both were essential.

Universal Truth vs. Defending Truth

Let us return now to the original quote by Zacharias. He mentions experiencing ‘great resistance’. When one is defending a specific book, then this means that other books are incorrect. As a result, apologetics will be viewed as a struggle between one holy book and another holy book, or between one religion and another religion. This assumption of inherent conflict is illustrated by the subtitle of the book: “Living the Faith we Defend” as well as the titles to the first six chapters: “Postmodern Challenges to the Bible”, “Challenges from Atheism”, “Challenges from Youth”, Challenges from Islam”, “Challenges from Eastern Religions”, “Challenges from Science”. Considerable effort is made within these chapters to build bridges, avoid combative attitudes, and look for underlying motivations, but the overall approach still assumes that one is defending the Christian faith from other alternatives.

In contrast, if one is using universal truth to build a universal understanding, then it should be possible to discover this truth everywhere. If one can only find this ‘universal truth’ in the pages of a specific book, then this is a strong indication that this book does not describe universal truth. Beyond Opinion says the same thing: “When we assert that the Christian message is true, it is not true because it works. Rather, the reason it works is because it is true. Truth is true even if no one believes it, and falsehood is false even if everyone believes it. The truth of a belief or claim is not dependent on its popularity or on the believer’s culture, sincerity, or preference. Something is true only if it corresponds with reality” (p.223). The author adds, “as Lesslie Newbigin correctly maintains: “The Christian faith is—as often said—a historical faith not just in the sense that it depends on a historical record, but also in the sense that it is essentially an interpretation of universal history” (p.226).

Thus, we see an inherent contradiction between the method of apologetics and the concept of universal truth. Science recognizes this contradiction in apologetics because science (at least within the physical realm) searches for universal theories. I suggest that this explains why “recent atheist critiques of Christianity have been severely critical of the idea of faith. The prominent atheist Richard Dawkins has famously argued that faith is a ‘process of non-thinking’. Other influential misrepresentations of faith from Dawkins include ‘blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence’” (p.32). The scientist wants a universal theory. The Christian apologist gives universal arguments but then makes the jump to a specific book. It is this jump from universal to specific which troubles the scientist.

I suggest that Richard Dawkins correctly analyzes the reason for this jump: “Faith is infantile, Dawkins tells us. It can only survive by being crammed into the minds of impressionable young children. We’ve grown up now, and we need to move on. Why should we believe things that can’t be scientifically proved? Faith in God, Dawkins argues, is just like believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. When you grow up, you grow out of it” (p.33).

What Dawkins is missing is the realization that all education begins by cramming information into the minds of impressionable young children. That is called rote learning. As far as the young student is concerned, every textbook is a holy book in which absolute truth is being revealed by authorities. Children need textbooks because they are not able to work out the facts on their own. This is especially true when dealing with facts that apply to personal identity, because such personal honesty makes childish identity with its infantile methods feel bad.

Beyond Opinion mentions this principle, but applies it to Christianity—using Christian words: “The apologist creatively retells the Christian epic while exposing the inconsistencies of alternative stories and their failures to justify their own assumptions about reality. Having done that, the Christian persuader must proclaim so that the Word of Christ will be believed until faith gives way to sight and the search makes us capable of knowing something of the divine mystery by the Spirit’s regeneration of the human heart” (p.175).

Notice the juxtaposition between universal thought and the message of a specific book. According to the author, the process begins by quoting the specific words of the ‘Christian epic’. The Christian apologist then uses rational thought to point out the irrational shortcomings of alternative ‘religious stories’. The next step is to ‘proclaim’ the specific ‘words of Christ’ in order to move beyond rote learning. But, the end result is a mysterious personal change which cannot be described adequately using a universal rational theory” (p.175).

When a scientist encounters this type of hopping between general and specific and between rational and irrational, then he responds negatively. But I suggest that the solution is not to adopt scientism and refuse to discuss the topic of religion. As Beyond Opinion says: “Some hold that science is the only way to truth and can ultimately explain everything. According to Peter Atkins, ‘There is no reason to suppose that science cannot deal with every aspect of existence.’ This view is called scientism. If Atkins claim were true, it would at once spell the end of many academic disciplines, such as philosophy, ethics, literature, poetry, art, and music” (p.112).

However, when the Christian believer talks about ‘the divine mystery’ of ‘the Spirit’s regeneration of the human heart’, then I suggest that this too is a form of implicit scientism, for the believer is assuming that only the natural world can be described by rational thought, and fears that explaining religion rationally will automatically remove any supernatural component from religion.

A Universal Formulation of Religion

Mental symmetry suggests that the solution lies in discovering an adequate basis for religious thought. All education starts with some form of rote learning—calling upon students to place blind faith in some specific message. In order to move beyond rote learning, two requirements must be met: First, it must be possible to find a basis for these facts which is independent of the opinions of people. In the language of mental symmetry, Perceiver thought tests facts by looking for connections that are repeated. The basis for scientific facts is the repeatable facts of the physical world. If this is the only basis for facts, then the end result is scientism.

For religious truth, I suggest that a basis can be found in the structure of the mind. When the cognitive model of mental symmetry was first developed, I asked the computer programming question of how this model of the mind could be programmed so that all of the cognitive modules would function together in harmony. Using this approach, I gradually discovered that the steps that must be taken to reach mental wholeness correspond to the essential doctrines of Christianity. This is examined in what most people consider to be too much detail in God, Theology & Cognitive Modules.

If one were to base a theory of religion purely in the structure of the physical brain, then this would be a form of scientism. Mental symmetry suggests that there is both a physical and a non-physical aspect to the human mind, and that the non-physical aspect survives the demise of the physical aspect. The theory of mental symmetry includes both of these aspects because it can be mapped on to brain regions as well as make sense of descriptions that are made of non-physical 'reality'.

Second, it must be possible to place these facts within the paradigm of a general Teacher theory. Mental symmetry suggests that the mind uses two main methods of forming emotion. Mercy thought associates emotions with people and events; Teacher thought associates emotion with words and theories and feels good when many items can be explained by a simple theory. Rote learning is based in the Mercy emotions of some authority figure. In order to escape this mindset, the Mercy emotions of the authority figure must be replaced by the Teacher emotions of a general understanding.

Notice that we have returned to the Christian assertion that personal salvation requires a belief in a universal rational God, except we have now defined this assertion in universal rational terms instead of quoting the words of a specific holy book. In the language of mental symmetry, a mental concept of a monotheistic God emerges when a universal theory in Teacher thought applies to personal identity in Mercy thought. Christianity teaches the existence of a rational, universal God. Science uses rational thought to build universal theories but it does not apply these theories to personal identity, thus it tends to reject the concept of a personal God, referring instead to the impersonal ‘hand’ of nature. Current Christianity talks about a universal rational God, but in practice it does not build universal rational theories of personal identity. Instead, it mentions some universal concepts of personal identity and then makes the leap to a transcendent God of mystery whose ways cannot be described in terms of rational universal theories but must be revealed in the pages of a special holy book.

One sees this attitude illustrated by the following quote: “The enjoyable paradox that exists at the interface between a sovereign God and the real freedom of humans made in his image is the highest level where we see this mystery displayed for human experience” (p.243). However, for Teacher thought—and for the scientist who uses Teacher thought—there is no such thing as an ‘enjoyable paradox’. Because the scientist deals with Teacher thought and not Mercy thought, the scientist is driven by Teacher emotions of order and disorder. However, when Mercy thought is combined with Teacher thought, which happens when one constructs a mental concept of God, then it is possible to use Mercy pleasure to make up for Teacher pain. Thus, when Teacher thought does not understand God, then Mercy thought can find pleasure in the great emotional status of a ‘mysterious, transcendent God.’

Mental symmetry suggests that these partial inadequacies are inevitable when one is in the process of constructing a mental concept of God. But, they do not reflect the Judeo-Christian belief in a rational universal God. That is because the scientist is combining the two words ‘rational’ and ‘universal’ while the Christian believer is combining the two words ‘universal’ and ‘God’. Neither, however, is using all three terms all of the time.

Mental symmetry suggests that it is possible to combine all three words if one starts with a cognitive model. Both science and religion then converge to the same quest of constructing an adequate mental concept of a universal rational God. Because one is dealing with a mental concept of God, it is possible to postpone tackling the question of whether such a God actually exists, which bypasses the main stumbling block of science. And, because one is looking at the personal transformation that is produced by believing in a universal rational God, one is experiencing personal salvation—which is consistent with the goal of Christianity. Finally, because one is dealing with a mental concept of God, it is possible for both science and Christianity to cooperate on studying the mental process of how personal transformation occurs.

Before we continue, I need to emphasize that I am not suggesting that holy books or blind faith should be eliminated. Rather, I suggest that they play a role in the process of learning. Learning starts with blind faith, and because we are all finite creatures, we are continually acquiring facts blindly from others. However, I suggest that blind faith is the first stage of learning and not the final goal. Blind faith should lead to intelligent understanding; rote learning should be followed by critical thinking. Beyond Opinion mentions this principle: “A certain kind of belief always comes before discovery” (p.168); “Belief prepares us for knowledge. Belief in God prepares as for the knowledge of God” (p.169).

Going further, if one places blind faith in a holy book or textbook, then studying that book will lead to critical thinking—if that book contains rational Perceiver facts that demonstrate Teacher order. Thus, blind faith in a holy book or textbook is better than blind faith in a person, because studying a holy book or textbook can help a person to escape blind faith. The difficulty arises when critical thinking is used to lead a person back to blind faith in a holy book.

Here too, the finite nature of human thought means that we often use critical thinking to evaluate the reliability of an author and then place blind faith in the words of that author. As Beyond Opinion says, “When asking about what is true, we are invariably in search of reliable guides. No one is an island. We have to trust some authority or another” (p.168). The problem arises when we then insist that the words of the author are a mystery that cannot be understood.

In each case, I suggest that blind faith in a holy book should be recognized as an intermediate strategy which we are forced to go through because of our finite nature but which we then attempt to transcend.

Preaching and Teaching

Let us return now to the final phrase in the initial quote by Zacharias. Notice that his goal is to ‘preach and teach’ the Christian message. When a message is based in the words of a specific book, then the only way to increase the domain of that book is by getting more people to believe in the book, which means preaching and teaching. In contrast, if a book describes truth which actually exists independently, then the main purpose of learning that truth is not to talk about it but rather to apply it in order to generate good results. For instance, the laws of science describe how the physical world functions. The main application of science is technology, which uses a knowledge of the laws of science to build physical devices that make physical personal existence easier and more pleasurable, such as vehicles, communication devices, and other ‘labor-saving devices’. Science did not spread around the world because of scientific apologists but rather because science succeeded in using technology to build marvelous devices that everyone wanted. Similarly, the best way to spread Christianity is not by using apologetics to ‘contend for the truth’. Instead, if Christian truth truly is universal, then it exists independently of the words of the Bible. Thus, applying these words should lead to personal transformation and this transformation will make people want to believe and apply the Christian message. This does not mean that teaching and preaching are not important. However, I suggest that they should be regarded as intermediate steps on the road to personal transformation.

One does find these principles being mentioned—but generally within the context of apologetics. Building an adequate concept of a universal God, by definition, requires interdisciplinary research. However, today’s academic world is highly specialized. Therefore, building a universal theory means tying together these various specializations, something which is difficult to do. Zacharias mentions this principle, but the reason he gives for interdisciplinary research is not constructing an adequate mental concept of God but rather learning how to answer his opponents. “The apologist does not have the privilege of a single discipline. In the audience sit specialists from a variety of fields. They expect the one giving the answer to be trained in multiple disciplines. That’s what makes it hard. It is all the more imperative that in answering we do not pretend to know, but answer what we do know with clarity” (p.313).[3]

One builds a general theory in Teacher thought in order to experience personal benefits in Mercy thought. Zacharias also mentions this aspect, but again within the context of apologetics: “The apologist’s task begins with a godly walk. One ought to take the time to reflect seriously upon the question, Has God truly wrought a miracle in my life? Is my own heart proof of the supernatural intervention of God? That is the apologist’s first question” (p.306). Using an analogy, I suggest that Christian apologetics is somewhat like the American space program of the 1960s, because the ultimate goal was not to send a man to the Moon but rather to beat the Russians in order to prove that capitalism is superior to communism.

In a similar manner, I suggest that the ultimate reason for eliminating personal hypocrisy should be to experience more fully a transformed personal life. After all, what drives scientific research today is a desire to experience more fully the benefits of technology. This principle is also mentioned, but within the context of apologetics: “What angers [the skeptic] about the believer is that the believer is strong in his or her condemnation of someone else’s moral life while at the same time living a double standard. In other words, the Christian’s private life is no different from that of the one who doesn’t claim to be a believer. The only difference is the arrogance of condemnation in one and the acceptance of personal moral choice by the other” (p.304).

Again, I need to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with preaching and teaching or the use of words. Words make it possible to build understanding, construct a mental concept of God, and go beyond the physical environment. But, words can only give a person the description of a general theory, and when a person remains in words then all he can do is try to gain audience share by preaching and teaching in order to get others to believe his words. The problem arises when a holy book is viewed as the final basis, because then one becomes mentally trapped in words, unable to change reality. However, a person can only go beyond words if these words do describe something else—if the ultimate basis lies outside of the book.[4]

An Implicit Image of God

Zacharias makes the following curious observation about the field of apologetics: “The second area of study is supplemental and interactive reading, wrestling with the ideas that shape our lives. Whether we deal with narrative or meta-narrative, we must know how the same story is told in different genres of literature. The mind is a powerful but fragile instrument. To neglect the mind is to stunt the gift of imagination. To overfeed the mind is to make mystery disappear, and the enchantingly subtle is tragically lost under the weight of explanation. I’ve known of apologists whose minds have played havoc with their own mental health in later years. Theirs was a costly lesson on the price of imbalance” (p.309).

I suggest that we are dealing here with what I call an implicit image of God. An explicit image of God is simply the one that a person talks about, while an implicit image of God reflects the general structures that a person applies to his personal identity. If a person makes a career out of apologetics, then his implicit image of God will be a God of apologetics—one who uses words to defend the message of a specific book, and this image of God will drive personal behavior (because it will turn into a Teacher mental network and become a source of conscience). The end result is that personal identity in Mercy thought will feel imprisoned, because a God of apologetics is a very narrow God. Zacharias suggests that the solution lies in giving personal identity a bit of freedom by leaving some ideas unexplained, while mental symmetry suggests that the answer lies in going beyond the words of a specific book to a search for universal concepts. Whenever a theologian preaches a certain doctrine or follows a certain path and then warns that this doctrine or path should not be followed completely, then I suggest that this is a sign that one is dealing with an inadequate concept of God.

Mental symmetry suggests that the underlying problem is a wrong definition of truth combined with an inadequate concept of God. First, if truth comes from a certain book, then obviously those who believe in this book are right and those who don’t are wrong. Hence, the 'arrogant condemnation' mentioned earlier, because truth is being viewed as something to which one adheres, which is imposed by people upon people. However, if religious truth describes universal principles about the human mind, then the ultimate purpose for learning religious truth is to understand and transform the human mind, and not to convince others. In simple terms, one adheres to truth not to be right but rather to escape insanity. Second, if a person has an inadequate concept of God, then he will lack the Teacher emotion that is needed to motivate behavior. Instead, his behavior will be emotionally driven either by the Mercy emotions associated with cultural experiences, important people, and physical pleasure, or else by the Teacher emotions generated by the universal theories of secular science and technology.

Before continuing, I should emphasize that my main purpose is not to question Ravi Zacharias or his group. They are regarded as being on the cutting edge of using rational thought to analyze Christian doctrine, and the level of thinking that is contained within Beyond Opinion is impressive. However, I am attempting to point out that the cutting edge of rational thought in religious analysis is significantly behind the cutting edge of rational thought in science. Again, I need to emphasize that the fault does not lie with theologians and apologists. That is because it is much easier to discover facts when observing the world than when observing the mind, and it is much easier to use rational thought when dealing with non-emotional physical objects than when attempting to analyze the emotional subjective. Having said that, the fact still remains that Christian apologetics only partially understands the message that it preaches. Similarly, the theories of natural science are significantly more developed than the hypotheses of either natural theology or the cognitive science of religion.[5]

Finally, I should mention that I am doing my best to practice what I preach. Back in the 1980s, my brother and I began by studying spiritual gifts as described in Romans 12, and we developed a simple cognitive model. Since then, I have been extending this cognitive model by examining the research of others and translating their findings into the language of mental symmetry. When one continues to do this for several decades, then the end result is a general theory of personal behavior, or in religious language, a reasonably adequate mental concept of God. I have consistently found that studying the work of others helps to clarify my cognitive model and gives me a more accurate concept of universal truth.

A Mental Concept of God

Thus, I would like to take a few pages to analyze some of the points made in Beyond Opinion, and suggest some areas in which it is possible to use mental symmetry to provide a cognitive explanation for points which are being stated but not explained.

I’ve mentioned the problems of having an inadequate concept of God. Beyond Doubt actually devotes an entire chapter to this very subject. The author asks, “What is idolatry? It is ‘treating what is not ultimate as though it were ultimate, making absolute what is only relative,’ says Emery Professor Luke Timothy Johnson. ‘An idol is something within creation that is inflated to function as a substitute for God,’ suggests Dick Keyes” (p.279). Translating this into the language of mental symmetry, an idol is a specific object, person, or experience within Mercy thought that is taking the place of a universal understanding in Teacher thought. What makes idolatry mentally possible is the fact that Mercy emotion feels the same as Teacher emotion. As a result, Mercy emotions of personal devotion can be used to substitute for a lack of understanding in Teacher thought.

Thus, constructing an adequate concept of God can also be viewed as attempting to escape idolatry. Every person begins life as an idolater because the childish mind is centered upon specific people, experiences, and objects within Mercy thought. Jean Piaget, the child psychologist, describes this mindset in considerable detail. However, if one uses the definition of idolatry given in Beyond Opinion, then one must conclude that basing truth in the specific words of the Christian Bible is also a form of idolatry, otherwise known as Biblicism.

This assessment should not be viewed as a condemnation, but rather as an observation. As the author says, “The scriptures reveal that God graciously discloses his truth as we are able to receive it... When we consider the whole of scripture, we witness the Biblical principle of progressive and unfolding revelation. That is, God makes himself and his purposes known to his people partially and sequentially” (p.294).

And if the same rational universal God created the universe and wrote the Bible, as Christian apologetics maintains, then it should be possible to bring natural theology up to the level of natural science—because both are an expression of the same universal being.

The author adds that “Idolatry is a meaningful concept only within the framework of radical monotheism...If we believe that there is only one ultimate power from whom all things derive and toward which all things were ordered, not as independent entities but as creatures, then the service of any creature as ultimate must be regarded as deception and distortion” (p.279). This is a significant statement. In the language of mental symmetry, when Teacher understanding is lacking, then one has no choice but to base ‘absolute truth’ in specific Mercy objects, experiences, and people. But when one gains a general Teacher understanding, then one must let go of the Mercy crutches—one must abandon idolatry and embrace radical monotheism.

The author observes that “Freud and many notable atheists’ early deprivation under absent and malevolent fathers gave birth to their lifelong hostility to God...They reasoned that if God were anything like their father, they did not want God to exist” (p.289). This is an interesting finding, however I suggests that the real problem is that images of finite people in Mercy thought are being confused with the concept of a universal God in Teacher thought. Because the mind of the child is based around Mercy experiences and people, a child will probably get his initial concept of God from his mental image of father, but this has nothing to do with the universality of God. Thus, we are looking here at a type of category mistake, in which the wrong cognitive module is being used.

Science and God

Moving on to the chapter that deals with science, the author points out that we “need to distinguish between gaps that are closed by science and gaps that are revealed by science; perhaps we could call them ‘bad gaps’ and ‘good gaps,’ respectively” (p.129). This is an important point. In the language of mental symmetry, a ‘bad gap’ is an exception to a general Teacher theory, while a ‘good gap’ reveals the limitations of a general Teacher theory. Mental symmetry suggests, and the philosophy of science agrees, that every technical theory has a limited domain. Mental symmetry also suggests that these various technical theories can only be integrated by adopting a less rigorous form of thought and looking for analogies and metaphors.

When a concept of God is based in some form of Mercy idolatry, then the religious believer will look for God in bad gaps. For instance, if he experiences a miracle that science cannot explain, then he will see this as proof that God exists. In contrast, I suggest that one builds a universal concept of God by looking for the good gaps and then filling in these gaps by looking for similarities with existing general theories. Notice how this is different than the theory of evolution which takes existing natural processes and universalizes them, and it is also different than a ‘God of miracles’ which suggests that God is found in violations to natural order. In contrast, mental symmetry suggests that non-physical realms exist which are governed by laws which are different than natural laws but similar to natural laws. For instance, it appears that the supernatural realm can be explained as a mirror image of the natural realm, a non-physical realm in which energy and matter are flipped as well as space and time.

The natural scientist views the very concept of Biblical revelation and divine intervention as a bad gap—an exception to the universal laws of science. However, if one views religion from the perspective of cognitive development and mental wholeness, then Biblical revelation becomes an essential step in the overall process of learning. Going further, human history can be explained as God leading human society through the process of cognitive development in order to reach mental wholeness. And, I present the hypothesis in God, Theology & Cognitive Modules that both Christian theology and the philosophy of science can also be explained using the same cognitive model. Obviously, the physical, the mental, the spiritual, and the supernatural all belong to different realms. Thus, each of these realms is a limited domain with its own set of general laws. But, it appears that these various realms can be related through parallel and symmetry using a meta-theory of cognitive development.

Compare this with the universal theory of evolution. First, I suggest that the theory of evolution is a theory of ‘bad gaps’ because it bases human development in mutations, which are exceptions to the general laws of biochemistry. This is like the religious believer looking for God in miracles. Second, a universal theory of evolution says that mental development is the result of physical mutation combined with environmental pressure. In contrast, mental symmetry suggests that cognitive development is not a random by-product of evolution but rather the key to understanding everything. Third, a universal theory of evolution makes God look like a really poor teacher because his human students were 'stuck in preschool' for millions of years before finally entering the school of civilization.

The Trinity as a Basis for Religion

Mental symmetry suggests that a person constructs an adequate mental concept of God by building a universal theory that applies to personal identity. One of the chapters in Beyond Opinion is entitled ‘The Trinity as a Paradigm for Spiritual Transformation,’ in which the author does attempt to use a mental concept of God as a starting point for a universal theory that applies to personal identity. This chapter contains a number of interesting points but it still concludes by escaping to mystery. The quote on mystery made earlier occurs within this chapter: “The enjoyable paradox that exists at the interface between a sovereign God and the real freedom of humans made and his image is the highest level where we see this mystery displayed for human experience” (p.243).

The author points out the core element of Teacher thought, which is order-within-complexity—finding a general theory that can tie together all of the specific elements, and he relates this to a concept of God: “A further application in apologetics could be the way the created order exhibits the unity in diversity of the Creator... This phenomenon can also be observed in the fact that the components of the universe that are so different from one another are, at the same time, made up of the same protons, electrons, neutrons, and the same chemical elements” (p.239). He extends this concept elsewhere: “Beauty and harmony are best explained only when ultimate reality, God, is the ground of both unity and diversity” (p.241).

Going further, the author recognizes that the Teacher concept of a universal God is incompatible with the Mercy viewpoint of dividing existence and people into good and evil. “God is holy without any reference to sin. How do we define that kind of holiness? We cannot define good with reference to evil because good is the origin of which evil is the counterfeit—a problem parallel to defining the infinite in terms of the finite” (p.240).

The author continues that “the answer lies in the trinitarian being of God. Love is the epitome of all virtue in the highest expression of holiness. God should not have to depend upon his creation to actualize his capacity to love, for that would make creation as important as the creator because the creator would be incomplete without his creation. But the Bible introduces love as an interpersonal quality requiring the subject-object relationship that is available in the Trinity” (p.240). In other words, love has its source in the relationship between the aspects of the Trinity. This is an interesting concept, but the author is unable to take it much further.

Mental symmetry suggests that it is possible to apply this concept to both God and creation in a semi-rigorous manner. Summarizing briefly, when we originally examined the seven cognitive styles, we discovered that three of the seven have an unusual ability to concentrate: the Teacher person, Contributor person, and Mercy person. If one examines the personality of these three cognitive styles, one notices that they correspond to the behavior of the three persons of the Trinity as described in the Bible: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To a first approximation, these three personalities correspond to mind, will, and emotions (which is an analogy of the Trinity given on page 237).

Looking at this in more detail, we have already seen that an image of God the Father emerges from a universal theory in Teacher thought. Because humans live in a world of physical objects, Mercy thought remembers finite objects, experiences, and people. However, it is also possible for a concept of universality to emerge within Mercy thought, leading to a concept of divine Spirit. If a person identifies with his physical environment, then this will lead to a god of pantheism, such as one finds in a tribal religion. However, if one first constructs a mental concept of God the Father and then uses this as a mental basis for rebuilding childish structures within Mercy thought, then the end product is a Holy Spirit which the ‘world cannot receive’.

The author suggests that “it is only in the trinitarian understanding of God that his transcendence over creation can coexist with his immanence in creation” (p.240). I suggest that the previous paragraph adds some detail to this suggestion. In the human realm, a mental image of God the Father is transcendent in the sense that it is a personalization of the universal laws that govern reality, while God the Holy Spirit is immanent in the sense that human existence also occurs within the same Mercy realm of experiences. Interestingly, theory suggests that this relationship may be reversed in the angelic realm, with God the Father being immanent and God the Holy Spirit transcendent.

The suggestion is made on page 238 that a trinitarian God is able to move with respect to himself. This actually makes sense from a cognitive perspective. The mind contains two emotional modules: Mercy thought and Teacher thought. In personal transformation, one of these is held fixed as a reference point while the other is being reprogrammed. In addition, emotional pleasure in one can be used to balance emotional pain in the other; transforming personal identity in Mercy thought is painful, but this Mercy pain can be balanced by the Teacher pleasure of understanding the nature of God. Thus, I suggest that there is some validity to the author’s suggestion.


If one attempts to bring personal identity in Mercy thought directly together with universal understanding in Teacher thought, then this leads to the form of Eastern meditation in which a person asserts that “I am god” (the ‘New Age’ religion described on page 95). This approach produces emotional pleasure but short-circuits the process of cognitive development.

However, it is also possible to use Contributor thought as a bridge to tie together Teacher thought and Mercy thought. Describing how this works is beyond the scope of this essay, but a simplified (slightly out of date) explanation can be found starting on page 92 here. The point is that Contributor thought acts as a mental incarnation by connecting universal theories in Teacher thought with memories of finite people within Mercy thought, in addition to building the mental connections that are required to connect a universal theory in Teacher thought with a universal structure in Mercy thought.

Saying this once more, when one examines the mind, one notices that Contributor thought acts as the ‘glue’ which 1) ties together Teacher universality with Mercy specifics—corresponding to the relationship between God and humans, 2) ties together Mercy universality with Teacher specifics—corresponding to the relationship between the Holy Spirit and angels, and 3) ties together Teacher universality with Mercy universality, corresponding to the relationship within the Trinity. Humans, by definition, start with Mercy specifics, discover 1), use 1) as a starting point for comprehending 3), and then possibly grasp 2).[6] In contrast, a universal being would supposedly start with 3) and then add specifics to this universal relationship. For a finite being, the challenge is to construct an adequate mental concept of God. For a universal being, the challenge would be to particularize this relationship to the detailed level of finite creatures—hence the need for a divine incarnation to appear in finite human form.[7]

Going further, the process by which the two halves of Contributor thought become integrated, the steps that are required for Contributor thought to integrate the mind, and the process by which Contributor thought transforms personal identity correspond in surprising detail to the Christian narrative, including the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christian ‘prayer of salvation’, being ‘born in sin’, and ‘dying to self’, as well as the doctrines of atonement, justification, and sanctification.

Summarizing, the process of reaching mental wholeness requires applying ‘the Christian narrative’, and when of all seven cognitive modules are functioning together in harmony, then the mind will contain the concept of a Christian trinitarian God.

This is significant because it means that one does not have to base ‘the Christian narrative’ upon quotes from the bible. Beyond Opinion is able to explain a number of religious doctrines as universal principles. However, it is to forced to make the jump from universal principle to specific holy book when describing the core of the Christian narrative (for example, p.132, p.163, p.174-176). Mental symmetry suggests that this logical leap is not necessary, because the Christian narrative can be derived from the wiring of the mind. More specifically, it appears that biblical phrases which describe the interaction between members of the Trinity are neither poetic nor mystery. Rather, they appear to make logical sense when viewed from a cognitive perspective.

A Philosophy of Religion

On page 261, the suggestion is made that all philosophical and religious systems contain the four elements of: “a background theory of the universe, a theory about the nature of man, a diagnosis of what is wrong, a prescription for putting it right”. The theory of mental symmetry describes these four in the following way: Mental symmetry is a cognitive model of the human mind. This model has been tested by examining human personality in a number of areas as well as by using the model to explain the research of others in a number of fields. Using this model, it is possible to see how the mind could function in a whole manner. However, living in a physical body in a physical world programs the mind in a fragmented manner that is not capable of achieving mental wholeness. The mind can become mentally whole through the assistance of the mental concept of a rational, universal God. The mind is incapable of developing the mental concept of a rational universal God on its own. When one examines history, one notices that there is a religion which describes the path to reaching mental wholeness and that this religion claims to be based in divine revelation. This leads to the hypothesis that this is an accurate religion and that there is a rational universal God. When one examines the physical world, one notices that it is consistent with rational human thought as well as the concept of a rational universal God. This leads to the hypothesis that a rational God made the physical universe. Human history makes sense if viewed from the perspective of a universal rational God leading humans to greater mental wholeness. Pursuing mental wholeness creates a personal identity that is no longer a slave of the physical body and physical existence. A mind that is mentally whole will pursue long-term benefits for personal identity. If human existence ceases at physical death, then this entire structure is absurd, which leads to the hypothesis that human existence continues after physical death.

Notice that this formulation has several significant features: First, it is a legitimate scientific theory because it is based in the repeatable process of programming the mind, something which can be observed and analyzed. Second, it is consistent with post-modern skepticism because it recognizes that no fact about the external world can be known for certain, and that all information is based upon partial certainty. Third, personal faith is required because an individual must personally commit to a process of personal transformation based upon partial certainty. Fourth, it is a legitimate formulation of a religion because it leads to a belief in God, the need for personal salvation, and the existence of the afterlife. In brief, this appears to be a post-modern, scientific, rational, universal formulation of a religion that is consistent with Christianity.

Evil and Suffering

Let us turn now to the question of evil and personal suffering, a question that Beyond Opinion takes an entire chapter to tackle. Zacharias rightly points out that evil is not just a problem but rather a problem that affects us at the core of our personal identity (p.180). Zacharias makes a number of good points, which I would like to interpret from the viewpoint of mental symmetry.

Mental symmetry suggests that the question of evil is actually a category mistake prompted by the behavior of childish identity. Remember that personal identity resides within Mercy thought, which remembers experiences along with their associated emotional labels. One of the main flaws of childish personal identity is that it uses identification to cling to good experiences and denial to avoid bad experiences. In addition, childish identity will view God from a Mercy perspective as an invisible Very Important Person. In fact, this is how the cognitive science of religion interprets a mental concept of God. In its words, when a person experiences some situation that cannot be attributed to any known agent, then the mind contains an Agency Detector Device that will jump to the conclusion that this situation must have been caused by some invisible agent—hence a belief in God and angels.

Viewed from this perspective, evil is simply an unpleasant experience that childish personal identity cannot deny. Mercy thought would like to block off the painful experience, but something is preventing Mercy thought from doing so, something is ‘holding a person’s hand to the fire’. The Agency Detector Device (which mental symmetry explains in terms of mental networks) will then conclude that ‘God is making me suffer’. Notice that this is only a problem when childish identity is being forced to face pain. As Zacharias says, “Natural disasters, tragedies, and cataclysmic events are ironically called ‘acts of God.’ Oddly enough, a bumper crop, a beautiful day, a close brush with what should have been death but wasn’t, the wonderful joys and pleasures of life are given no such benevolent source” (p.182).

A similar problem arises when childish identity is prevented from identifying emotionally with a pleasant experience. Here too, the Agency Detector Device will respond by ‘blaming God’: “God does not want me to have any fun. Conscience is the little voice that stops a person from having fun.”

Notice that all of this reasoning is based upon the category mistake of viewing God from a Mercy perspective. In other words, the core of the problem is childish personal identity. Quoting an illustration mentioned by Zacharias, “One of the shortest letters written to an editor was by G.K. Chesterton. It read, ‘Dear sir: In response to your article, “What’s wrong with the world,”—I am. Yours truly, G.K. Chesterton’” (p.206).

Science and technology help us to understand what it means to deal with the problem of suffering from a Teacher perspective.[8] Science is based on a search for repeatable principles of cause and effect. In other words, science doesn’t care whether it is you or a plastic dummy that plummets over the cliff to destruction on the rocks below. Instead, science focuses upon the trajectory that you and the dummy take through the air and notices that both of these paths can be described using the same general equations.

Saying this another way, Teacher thought deals with sequences while Mercy thought remembers experiences. When one blames God for an experience, then this indicates that one is viewing the situation from a human Mercy perspective and not from a divine Teacher perspective.

Science looks for universal Teacher theories by searching for principles of natural cause-and-effect, but it ignores personal Mercy experiences. When one adds personal Mercy emotions to principles of cause-and-effect then the result is conscience. When one searches for repeatable principles of conscience, then, by definition, one is constructing a mental concept of God—because an image of God emerges when a general Teacher theory applies to personal identity. Zacharias states that “Objective moral values exist only if God exists” (p.190). Mental symmetry suggests something slightly different: A search for objective moral values will inevitably create a mental concept of God. It is not possible to talk about universal moral values without also referring to a concept of God.

Science does not remove human suffering, but technology can. Technology uses scientific knowledge of natural cause-and-effect to create objects that make life easier. Of course, technology can also be used to construct better bombs, but that is a human problem in which humans are choosing to use a knowledge of universal law to amplify rather than alleviate human suffering.

Thus, science and technology teach us that ‘calling upon God to eliminate human suffering’ is actually a two-stage process. The first stage involves constructing a mental concept of God based in universal principles of moral cause-and-effect. Following this first stage requires personal honesty and will lead to a guilty conscience.[9] However, if one does not include personal Mercy emotions then one is choosing the impersonal path of science which leads, by definition, to personal meaninglessness—because personal Mercy emotions are being ignored.

The second stage is to use understanding to guide behavior. In the same way that a knowledge of natural law can be used to alleviate physical suffering, so a knowledge of the character of God can be used to ‘become righteous’ in order to avoid personal suffering and pursue lasting happiness.

This process is implied by the following quote: “The gospel and Christianity are concerned with reality, and hence with truth. By this I mean what the true nature of life really is and means. Christianity is not an escape system for us to avoid reality, live above it, or be able to redefine it. Christianity is a way that leads us to grasp what reality is and, by God’s grace and help, to navigate through it to our eternal home” (p.257).

Suffering and Patience

But why is suffering necessary? Zacharias makes an interesting statement: “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain but from being weary of pleasure...It is not pain that has driven the West into emptiness; it has been the drowning of meaning in the oceans of our pleasures” (p.206). Mental symmetry explains it this way. The fundamental problem is childish identity with its identification and denial. Continual pleasure leaves childish identity intact (because it does not challenge the structure of childish mental networks), leading to the meaninglessness of Pavlovian stimulus-and-response. Suffering challenges the existence of childish identity and forces the mind to develop higher strategies. Of course, the danger with the method of suffering is that childish identity may ‘blame God for suffering’ rather than learning through suffering. Quoting Beyond Opinion, “A friend of mine used to say, ‘Trials will make us bitter or better, and I have seen this demonstrated in many lives” (p.257).

Moral evil is caused by humans. War, for instance, is a moral evil because humans are choosing to kill each other. Moral evil can be explained by free will. But, free will cannot explain the presence of natural evil, in which natural events cause a person to experience painful results. When a person chooses to learn from suffering, then this adds personal meaning to an evil situation—which is very important, but it still does not explain the presence of evil situations. Mental symmetry can be used to suggest a possible reason for natural evil.

Remember that there two ways to question childish identity. The first is to force it to face unpleasant experiences—which describes the path of suffering, while the second is to prevent it from identifying with good experiences—which describes the path of patience. Obviously, if the path of patience is to work, then childish identity must regard good personal experiences as goals to be reached through cause-and-effect (or sowing and reaping) and must not be allowed to use identification to pretend that personal identity has already arrived at the goal.

This suggests a cognitive explanation for the Biblical story of the temptation of Adam and Eve. ‘Eden’ means pleasure and a garden implies patience, because one must sow and then wait for plants to grow before reaping. However, the requirement for patience is that one must not practice identification. Notice the emotional identification in the following biblical quote: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3). Interestingly, the tree is called ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ and the serpent says to Eve: “God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The path of patience does not have to know evil because it learns its lessons by waiting for good rather than passing through evil. In contrast, the path of suffering is acquainted with both evil and good. Obviously, a universal Teacher-based being is aware of both good and bad experiences, in the same way that the law of gravity applies to both a plastic dummy and a human body. However, a finite Mercy-based human does not have to be aware of evil—if that human chooses to follow the path of patience. The story in Genesis goes on to say that Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden and that the physical environment was then modified to teach them through suffering.

Would God modify the physical environment to eliminate natural evil if enough people chose to follow the path of patience? One would have to do an experiment to test this hypothesis. However, I suggest that it is possible to give a partial answer. That is because following the path of science and technology has removed significant amounts of natural suffering from the human world. The average person today lives much longer with much less physical suffering and pain than people did in the past. As a result, Western society now lives in a relative Garden of Eden. Has Western society responded by encouraging the path of patience? To some extent, yes. But not when dealing with the core of personal identity. Here, Western consumerism encourages identification and not patience. The primary purpose of advertising is to get the potential customer to identify emotionally with some good experience. Similarly, movies allow viewers to pretend for a short while that they are the hero or heroine. Likewise, people may say that one should practice patience in the area of sexual pleasure, but today most do not. And, the purpose of taking illicit drugs is to generate pleasure artificially without having to accomplish anything. Even in the area of finance, buying stocks in order to invest in companies is now overshadowed by day trading with its computer algorithms. We conclude that if a God exists who is leading human society to mental wholeness, then that God is being forced by us to continue using the teaching method of suffering because we ourselves are choosing to make it very difficult to learn from patience.

There is a perceptive quote in Beyond Opinion that conveys a similar sentiment using religious language: “‘I have a question for you. Can God trust us?’ It was a good question. I said to him, “You know, in the gospel of John it says that Jesus didn’t entrust himself to the crowd because he knew what was in their hearts. But if you ask me, God does want to trust us and indeed, entrust us with something very valuable. But before he can trust us, he must first transform us. The reason God shines his light of moral judgment into our hearts is not to expose and shame us, but to transform us, because he is a gracious and compassionate God” (p. 151).

I should emphasize that what I have just suggested is a possible Teacher reason for natural evil and not a Mercy reason. Mercy thought deals with specific experiences. Learning from suffering provides a Mercy reason for specific evil experiences; the situation may be painful, but responding correctly to that situation will lead to personal transformation. Teacher thought, in contrast, deals with general rules. Mental symmetry suggests that a general system based upon natural suffering is in place because humans as a group are either unable or unwilling to learn from a general system that is based upon natural patience.

Islam and Blind Faith

Let us turn now to the chapter on Islam, written by an author who has “gone through rigorous Islamic training at a very high level” (p.61). Zacharias makes the following statement on his website in an interview about critical thinking. When asked, “What about the Christian who says, ‘I really don’t need to learn this skill; I just need to study the Bible.’” He replies “I wish that person were right because I would love to be that way too! Interestingly, many Muslims actually live like that. I have talked to one of the leading muftis, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and he said, ‘I just have to tell you what the Qur’an says and that’s what I believe.’ Well, what happens in a world of pluralistic options? What happens to the world of reason? What happens to legitimizing the process, not just the end conclusion you’ve come to? Is that what it is all about? ‘I’m not going to listen to any other argument; I’m just going to believe what I claim to believe.’ Can you do that in a court of law? ‘I’m not going to defend what I’m saying; I’m just telling you I didn’t do it.’ It doesn’t work. We do believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but we come through a process of legitimizing that claim. We just didn’t make that claim; we tell you why we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, and the Bible itself lays claim to this methodology.”

In this quote, Zacharias is talking about blind faith in a holy book. I will use the term ‘religious fundamentalism’ to describe this combination. Zacharias is telling us that Islam emphasizes religious fundamentalism, while Christianity uses critical thinking to point to religious fundamentalism. This brings us back to the discussion at the beginning of this essay in which I suggested that bible-based Christianity is a combination of blind faith and critical thinking, and that Beyond Opinion uses a high level of critical thinking but still ends up with blind faith in the ‘grand narrative’ of the Christian Bible. However, we have just seen that the core content of Christianity can be derived from the structure of the human mind. (Christian doctrine as well as the history of Christianity is analyzed in much greater detail in a series of articles written after this essay.)

If we examine Islam briefly from a cognitive viewpoint, I suggest that it is possible to explain many of its core doctrines as by-products of religious fundamentalism. (Islam is examined in more detail here.) In order to do this, we will need to explain some of the cognitive mechanisms behind religious fundamentalism, beginning with blind faith. Perceiver thought (one of the seven cognitive modules) is the part of the mind that works with facts. It can acquire facts in one of two ways: First, Perceiver thought can look for connections which are repeated; this is the method used in critical thinking. Second, Perceiver thought can be ‘mesmerized’ by Mercy emotions into believing the facts of some expert or defining experience as absolute truth; this is the method of blind faith.

Thus, we see that blind faith requires a source of truth that is given great emotional respect. Beyond Opinion tells us that “Islamic law declares that insulting the Prophet Mohammed is equivalent to insulting Allah. Allah and Mohammed are paired throughout the Qur’an. If one believes in Allah without a belief in Mohammed and his status as the final prophet, he or she is regarded as an infidel and an enemy of Islam. Though denied outwardly, this belief is firmly established and central to the very survival of Islam” (p.65). Notice the final phrase: “This belief is...central to the very survival of Islam.” This tells us that the mental foundation for Islam is the emotional respect that is given to the Prophet Mohammed.

Emotional respect is a relative measure. The believer must feel that his source of truth has much greater emotional status than the emotional status given to personal identity. Thus, religious fundamentalism will be naturally accompanied by an attitude of religious self-denial. This attitude is seen in the word Islam itself, which means submission or surrender (p.61).

Now let us turn our attention to the Muslim concept of God. I have suggested that the concept of a monotheistic God emerges when a universal theory in Teacher thought applies to personal identity in Mercy thought. A universal theory can either be proclaimed or constructed; I can either say that everything fits together, or I can fit everything together. Teacher thought uses emotions to evaluate theories; when everything fits together then Teacher thought feels good, while Teacher thought feels bad when there is an exception to the general rule.

Let us look first at the option of saying that everything fits together. Suppose that some Very Important Person tells me a theory. This source of truth has great emotional status in Mercy thought. But, Teacher emotion feels the same as Mercy emotion. Therefore, Teacher thought will sense the strong Mercy emotion and feel that the theory has great Teacher generality. By the same principle, if The Prophet of God makes a statement about God, then this statement will feel universal because it is being spoken by the ultimate authority. One finds this combination in the Shahada, the Muslim statement of faith: “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.” This statement is repeated several times a day during Islamic prayers, and a person converts to Islam by sincerely reciting this phrase in Arabic. Thus, the feeling of a monotheistic God is being created by having a supreme authority proclaim the existence of such a God.

Now suppose that someone refuses to make this ‘statement of faith’. This will create two problems: First, the non-believer is questioning the emotional status of the source of truth. If this is allowed to continue, then this may cause others to doubt truth. Second, the non-believer is contradicting the universal Teacher theory, and Teacher thought hates exceptions to the general rule. This explains why “in Islam, the highest sacrifice is not that of self-denial for the good of others but of self-sacrifice for the sake of Allah in killing his enemies. The benchmark of true believers is not their ability to love their enemies but how much they can hate them, even if they are their own parents, children, brothers, or kinsmen” (p.64). Blind faith leads to self-denial. But, when blind faith is used to proclaim the existence of a universal being, then Mercy emotions of devotion will be combined with Teacher feelings of universality—the believer will deny himself in order to preserve the universality of the proclamation of God. This will be felt emotionally; the believer will feel in Mercy thought that he must deny himself for God, while Teacher thought will motivate him to hate the non-believer.

Now let us examine the option of actually fitting everything together. If one is to follow this option with a holy book, then the holy book must contain order that can be fit together. As Beyond Opinion states, “strange as it may sound, the Qur'an has no coherent message, lacks clarity, and is historically inaccurate and internally inconsistent” (p.65). Thus, if the Muslim scholar attempts to go beyond saying that everything fits together to actually fitting things together, then he will find that this cannot be done with the Qur’an. Thus, the content of the Qur'an makes it difficult for a person to construct a mental concept of God.

Perceiver thought looks for facts that do not change; when Perceiver thought is used to construct a mental concept of God, then the relationship between God and humans will be guided by Perceiver facts which do not change. This is known as a covenant. Quoting from Beyond Opinion, “As described in the Qur’an, Allah is not a covenant-making god, for if he were to do that it would diminish his absolute authority and might find him subject to his creatures due to such a covenant. As portrayed, he is a master of deception. He contradicts himself and justifies that by calling it abrogation, meaning the replacement of earlier revelations with latter ones as they were out of date and no longer applicable—all within a period of 23 years” (p.63). Notice the various features: First, the absence of Perceiver thought is seen in the lack of a covenant; the relationship between God and man is not governed by any long-term facts. Second, there is the underlying assumption that the emotional status of God is so great that Perceiver thought must remain mesmerized; if Perceiver thought were to begin functioning then this would question the emotional status of God. Finally, since many of these abrogations occurred during the 23 year period in which the Qur'an was dictated, we see that the prophet of God used his emotional status to repeatedly impose new facts upon believers in the name of God.

The absence of Perceiver thought is also seen in the character of God. We have seen that when the Christian believer cannot understand core doctrines, then the natural tendency is to give up and declare that the doctrine is a paradox and that God is a transcendent mystery. In Islam, this transcendence describes the essence of God: “He never reveals himself, as he is ultra transcendent and unknowable...There are no absolutes with him. He has prepared a desired place for those would do his bidding but with no certainty” (p.64).

When Perceiver thought is not functioning, and when revelation about God does not involve Perceiver truth, then truth will also be lacking when there is communication about God. This is referred to as the doctrine of Takkiya: “It sanctions lying to or deceiving others to advance the cause of Islam or to preserve its good name. As such, ‘It permits the suspension, as the need arises, of almost any or all religious requirements, or its doctrines—including a total denial of faith—when fearing threat, injury, or compulsion of any kind in a non-Muslim Society, or even in a Muslim Society’... The Takkiya is very effectively used in apologetics, so a Muslim debater will hide or deny certain parts of the Qur’an to justify and advance the cause of Islam. Always outmaneuvering his Christian opponents, the debater does this with no guilt as this is divinely sanctioned. I personally practiced this prior to coming to the Lord. It is displayed in words, actions, or attitudes” (p.73).

Remember that Teacher thought feels bad when it encounters an exception to a general theory, and a universal theory must, by definition, be able to explain everything. Obviously, Teacher thought will feel bad when the Qur’an is compared with the Bible, because these two are not consistent. However, when emotional status is being used to impose facts upon Perceiver thought, then emotional status can also be used to ‘remove’ any contradictions between the Qur'an and the Bible. Beyond Opinion describes this approach, which was first used by Mohammed when dictating the Qur'an. “Unlike any other religion or ideology, Islam bases its authenticity and legitimacy firmly upon the prior revelations contained in the whole of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures” (p.66).

If one uses Perceiver thought to compare these books, then one will notice major inconsistencies between them. Mohammed dealt with these problems by saying that the Qur’an is consistent with the Bible, and that Jews and Christians had corrupted their Scriptures to make it look like they were inconsistent. In the words of Beyond Opinion, “These disputes...promoted the revelations in Muhammed’s defense that he was supremely unique, the final prophet, the only means of salvation, and the absolute authority within Islam and thus to all mankind. Naturally these views were challenged by the Christians and Jews of Muhammed’s day, and these challenges lead him to claim that they were both in error and lying. He further accused them of tampering with their own scriptures in order to remove the prophecies that predicted him” (p.67). Notice how Mohammed is using his emotional status to overturn any contradictory facts and to proclaim the universality of the Qur'an.

The author finishes the chapter by giving several recommendations on how to interact with Muslims. He recognizes that we are dealing with two incompatible ways of handling truth in Perceiver thought: “Studying the Qur’ essential, but it is also spiritually draining and unhealthy without a constant dose of God’s truth. As a general rule, I recommend a four-to-one ratio of praise, worship, and immersion in the word for every one hour in the Qur’an or other sources” (p.77).

He emphasizes the need for internal personal integrity, especially when interacting with people in whom Perceiver thought is not functioning: “When you converse with Muslims, you need to watch your temper because the lies and refutations will not always be limited to the issues of the Bible, but will spill over into your culture, your country, and all you hold dear” (p.78).

He emphasizes that what is needed is a love (positive Mercy emotion) that is universal (positive Teacher emotion): “Demonstrate the love of Christ in your relationships with Muslims...When I read the New Testament, what amazed and astounded me the most was the teaching on love, not only for one’s kin and kindred, but even toward one’s enemies” (p.78).

The Attitude of Religious Fundamentalism

Notice that all the Muslim doctrines that we have discussed reflect a common cognitive mechanism, namely the method of religious fundamentalism. Notice also that religious fundamentalism is not an expression of mental wholeness in which cognitive modules are functioning and cooperating, because personal identity is being suppressed in Mercy thought, Mercy thought is preventing Perceiver thought from functioning, and Teacher thought is being emotionally fooled with the feeling of a universal theory.

In Islam, both the message and the method appear to reflect religious fundamentalism. In contrast, the message of Christianity is not consistent with the method of religious fundamentalism. As a result, the religious scholar who approaches the Bible with an attitude of religious fundamentalism will have problems understanding it and will conclude that much of it is a mystery. However, if one approaches Christianity from the attitude of reaching mental wholeness, then the message seems to make sense. And, because this same cognitive perspective can be used to explain core doctrines of Islam, we are no longer dealing with one religion versus another religion when comparing Christianity with Islam. Instead, it is possible to analyze both of them using a single general theory of human personality.

Beyond Opinion observes: “For the evangelical Christian, it may be surprising to hear one’s devotion in the Bible being equated with the fundamentalist Muslim’s reverence for the Qur’an. But this is precisely what has happened. Rather than exposing the pluralist dream for what it is, 9/11 and other terrorist activities have simply confirmed in the minds of many postmoderns that any serious commitment to a holy book is a dangerous thing. It is not Islam in particular that should be reforming itself, they say, but rather any passionate belief in a holy book. And so it is ‘fundamentalism’ that is considered the enemy, and evangelicals are equated with Al Qaeda” (p.13).

Mental symmetry suggests that religious fundamentalism is a problem for Christians, Muslims, and every other religion that is based in a holy book. We began this essay by examining the theoretical problems that result from combining religious fundamentalism with Christian belief in a rational universal God. I have taken some time to look at Islam in order to point out the practical and personal problems that result from religious fundamentalism. But, religious fundamentalism is not just a ‘Muslim problem’, because the country that regards itself and is regarded as ‘the most Christian country on earth’ now spends as much on its military as the rest of the world combined, and is currently in the process of finishing the longest war in its national history while continuing to fight a never-ending ‘war on terrorism’.

The secular postmodern concludes by rejecting the message of Christianity, while mental symmetry suggests that the message of Christianity needs to be separated from the method of religious fundamentalism. The message of Christianity is mental wholeness; the method of religious fundamentalism is not. The message can be separated from the method by presenting the message in the universal terms of a general theory. Beyond Opinion does this to some extent. Mental symmetry suggests that is possible to express the entire core message of Christianity in universal terms based in a cognitive meta-theory.

Notice the precise nature of the problem. Both Christianity and Islam begin with blind faith in a holy book—as does education in general. Thus, the starting point is religious fundamentalism. However, Islam is unable to go beyond blind faith to critical thinking because emotional pressure is being used to keep Perceiver thought mesmerized and because the content of the Qur’an lacks structure. And, when the Muslim apologist follows an approach that avoids Perceiver truth and the Muslim God uses abrogation and a lack of covenant to avoid Perceiver truth, then the very idea of finding an independent basis for the words of the Qur’an will be rejected. The end result is that Islam remains stuck within religious fundamentalism, unable to move further.

Computers and the Internet

Beyond Opinion discusses secular postmodernism, 9/11, and the revival of spiritual interest. I have also noticed that both religious and secular society appear to be converging upon spirituality. On the one hand, the average religious individual is looking more for religious experiences than religious doctrine, while on the other hand, the average secular individual is looking beyond physical experiences for something more meaningful. In both cases, what is wanted is spirituality without content, religion without guilt. Thus, the tendency is to ignore the realm of Teacher theory and universality as irrelevant to personal experience, and the postmodern mind tends to focus upon pragmatics and methodology.

However, I suggest that computers and the Internet are in the process of causing a global transformation that will force us to re-examine the relationship between Teacher universality and Mercy personal identity. I should mention that the following few paragraphs are not related to any specific content in Beyond Opinion. Instead, Beyond Opinion merely acted as a trigger for directing my thinking in a certain direction, and when this happens, I find that it is helpful to follow the train of thought to see where it leads.

For the average older person, the Internet is merely a tool, a way of communicating and interacting more easily. However, for the younger generation, the Internet is not just an extension to normal life but rather forms a major aspect of personal existence, and the young person does not know what it is like to live without the Internet. Every year, more and more activity is being performed via the Internet rather than through traditional means. I would like to examine this transition briefly from a cognitive perspective.

What makes the Internet so powerful is that it removes many restrictions that have historically limited the ability of people. Using an analogy, suppose that I own valuable jewels and want to protect them from being stolen. Because people are not able to travel through walls, I can protect the jewels by hiding them behind walls. Thus, the physical inability to travel through walls places a limitation on theft. However, if people acquired the ability to teleport, then walls would no longer be sufficient to protect valuables. Instead, either people would have to become honest and learn to resist temptation, or a fulltime guard would have to be posted alongside the jewels to protect them.

To a certain extent, the Internet has given us the ability to teleport. For instance, we can now video-chat with individuals across the globe as if they are in the same room with us, and become friends with people we have never met. But, this ability to ‘ignore walls’ also makes it possible to copy movies, songs, or books instantaneously across the world.

This ability to ignore walls extends to other realms as well. For instance, in the past, pornography was hidden behind counters and other forms of physical walls and societal taboos. On the Internet, pornography is now available at the click of a button for free. Exactly how much of the Internet is devoted to pornography is hard to tell, but figures suggest between 5% and 35%. The point is that the physical boundaries have vanished here as well.

This ability to ignore walls also extends to corporations and governments. Think, for instance of all the information that can be gleaned about people from what they post on facebook and other similar sites. It is now possible, for instance, for a store to learn that a girl is pregnant before her father does. And, the government is using this information to find out more about people. In other words, what used to be hidden behind walls is now available for anyone to see. And, governments are taking advantage of this new transparency. For instance, the American government is currently building a $2 billion center in Utah that has the capacity to store 100 years worth of the world’s electronic communications.

Today’s ability to ignore walls goes further. In the past, humans have been restricted by the ‘wall’ of limited mental abilities. Thus, even if the government had ‘100 years worth’ of information, humans would be unable to sort through this information. The modern computer can smash through this limitation, because it can comb through mountains of data and pull out meaningful trends.[10] Today, a human job application may be analyzed and rejected by computer and never even be seen by another human.

The computer has removed another ‘wall’ as well, through the introduction of the general purpose device. Electronic devices of the past were designed and built to do one function and could not be altered to perform another function. Thus, if someone bought a radio, it was not possible to turn this radio into a television set or a tape recorder. Today though, instead of buying a radio or television or recorder, we buy a computer which can be programmed to act like a radio or television or recorder—or whatever. Thus the wall that used to limit the function of machines has been removed.

3D printing is just starting to extend this freedom to objects in general. In the past, if I wanted a certain object or part, I had to order it from the manufacturer. With a 3D printer, I simply download the file for that part and print it out. Thus the wall of manufacturing is now starting to be removed.

This process of removing walls is self-reinforcing. As computers and the Internet remove more and more walls, it becomes increasingly convenient to use computers and the Internet, which means that a greater portion of personal existence uses computers and occurs via the Internet, which makes it possible for corporations and government to learn more about everyone’s personal life.

When physical and mental walls can be bypassed, then I suggest that personal existence boils down to three stark choices: The first choice is societal chaos, in which everybody copies and watches whatever they want. The second choice is a global police state, in which the government monitors everything that is done using the Internet and computers—which now covers much of human activity. The third choice is personal transformation, in which people gain the internal ability to make wise choices and resist temptation. In terms of our jewel illustration, when physical walls are removed then there are three choices: All valuable jewels are stolen, every valuable jewel has a physical guard standing beside it, or people learn to respect private property.

Let us look at these three choices. Suppose that everyone has the freedom to copy and watch whatever they want. A worldwide survey of 19,000 parents showed that children are now starting to watch pornography from the age of six and starting to flirt on the Internet from the age of eight. Children are simply not mentally equipped to handle such emotional experiences at such an age. That brings us to the second option of the police state. Legislators are now using the hot button of ‘child pornography’ in order to gain popular support for their quest to build a police state. And this political strategy has become more pervasive since this essay was first written.

Dueling Gods

Let us look at this second option more closely. Recent revelations by Edward Snowden have shown that a worldwide police state is no longer just a theoretical possibility. Instead,the technical infrastructure for a global police state is already in place and operational. The only step that remains is for governments to take advantage of the information that is already being gathered about everybody. Mental symmetry suggests that a concept of God emerges as a general Teacher theory applies to personal identity. Thus, the all-seeing, ever-present, external structure that has been constructed by corporations and government using computers and the Internet will lead to a very potent concept of God. But this is a 1984 version of God, in which everyone fears universal government.

Thus, society is currently facing two possible disaster scenarios. The first is the mental and emotional degradation of unbridled pornography. The second is the 'beast' of a worldwide police state. My fear is that religious fundamentalism will inadvertently facilitate the police state in an attempt to deal with pornography. Looking at this cognitively, blind faith can only continue as long as a person feels that his emotional status is much lower than the emotional status of his source of truth. This means that a doctrine of self-denial naturally accompanies religious fundamentalism, and the tendency is for religious fundamentalism to suppress childish identity rather than transform it. Therefore, religious fundamentalism will tend to see pornography as the primary threat because pornography replaces self-denial with hedonism. Second, blind faith uses emotional status to impose truth. Therefore, it is natural for an attitude of religious fundamentalism to expect the government to censor the Internet. Does censorship work? Censorship takes its most extreme form in Islam. Evidence strongly suggests that the Muslim approach does not work. That is because desire comes before choice, and desire is being driven by the identification and denial of childish identity.

The third option is that of personal transformation. This is described in extensive detail in other essays. Stated briefly, the Christian path of salvation uses the internal voice of conscience to build a mental concept of God, and then uses this internal concept of God to guide behavior and transform personal desire. Government surveillance creates a mental concept of God through external means. Christianity, in contrast, creates a mental concept of God through internal means.

These principles have always been true. Computers and the Internet have simply removed some of the walls that limited the expression of childish identity and the extent of government surveillance. In the language of mental symmetry, the childish mental networks were always there, but now they are being triggered more often and they can express themselves more fully.[11]

Because so many walls have been removed, doing nothing is no longer an option. However, I suggest that the current Christian answer of juxtaposing the attitude of religious fundamentalism with the concept of a universal rational God is not enough. If one wishes to overcome the emerging Teacher universality of total global surveillance and control, then I suggest that only a universal formulation of Christianity will suffice to resist the power of the state and transform childish personal identity. Science and technology have made it possible to develop such a formulation; computers and the Internet are in the process of making such a formulation imperative.

One of the authors in Beyond Opinion spent several days in a communist prison for attempting to bring Christian literature into a communist country. He writes, “We see a scenario that has been repeated across history time and time again. It is okay to believe so long as you known and accept the limits permitted. You can believe what you want privately, but when a public demand intersects with your ‘personal’ convictions, you are expected—no, you are required—to conform to society’s demands, and to do so quickly and without reservation” (p.259). Today, the private realm is on the verge of disappearing. When this happens, then private faith will no longer be an option. Instead all that will remain is either total faith or total submission.

[1] The theory of mental symmetry began with a study of cognitive styles using the list of seven ‘spiritual gifts’ mentioned in Romans 12. Mental symmetry interprets these spiritual gifts as cognitive modules. Thus, the term ‘Teacher thought’ refers to a cognitive module and the core traits of this cognitive module can be worked out by observing the behavior of the Teacher person.

[2] Mercy thought and Teacher thought are two of the seven cognitive modules. A description of these modules can be found on the website.

[3] This does not mean that every religious believer has to become a cross-disciplinary specialist. But, some person or group of people will have to do the research that is needed to make it possible for the average person to start viewing God as a universal, rational being.

[4] Yes, it is possible to use words to order people to change the world. Dictators do this all the time. But if these words have no basis in reality, then the world will not stay changed. Instead, continual force will be needed to stop people from the rebelling and prevent the world from returning to its original state. That is what happens when the words are unnatural—contrary to the nature of reality or the structure of the mind.

[5] An analysis of two books on the cognitive science of religion can be found here and here.

[6] The relationship between Mercy universality and Teacher specifics can be seen when humans learn professions and apply these professions within a society.

[7] Contributor thought also ties together specifics with specifics, by assigning meanings to words in abstract thought, and working out cause and effect in concrete thought.

[8] I should point out that this explanation is directly related to the concept of a mental incarnation.

[9] Thus, some form of atonement is required to make this personal honesty possible.

[10] The previous ‘walls’ involved Perceiver thought and physical restrictions. Here we are looking at Server thought and the removal of human limitations.

[11] This quote from Beyond Opinion describes reasonably well what it means to view love from the perspective of personal transformation: “We all recognize a sacred love when we see it, and we long for it. We all recognize arrogance and selfishness when we see it too. Sacred love is not without boundaries. There are lines that commitment will not cross because when they are crossed it ceases to be love” (p.200). In the language of mental symmetry, following the path of personal transformation will build mental networks that lead to deep joy and satisfaction. Because these mental networks were constructed at great personal cost, they will be carefully protected.