After my treatise on reason, there are still some lingering questions: if reason is all that it’s cracked up to be, why do so many people disagree? Why do people adhere to beliefs in spite of evidence that they are false? Why are reasoned arguments so uncompelling for many people? I think the simplest answer is psychologically-based dogmatism.
A psychological study by Ross and Francis found that dogmatism is associated with certain personality types. Many people are familiar with the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test which separates personalities into 16 categories based on 4 dichotomies: extraversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judgment/perception. This particular study looked at the correlation between these categories and dogmatism. The entire study is interesting, but I’m only going to look at one of the categories: sensing and intuition.
Ross and Francis explain the difference: “Sensing types focus on details, realities and practicalities as perceived by the senses, concentrating on specific content, while intuitive types focus on possibilities, meanings, and relationships as perceived by the unconscious, relating information to the wider context.”
The results were unsurprising. Sensing is associated with greater dogmatism than intuition. A manifestation of this association is found in denominational preferences as well; sensing types are more associated with evangelical Protestants while intuitives prefer liberal Protestant churches.
Why is this unsurprising? Consider the following example: An individual spends an hour in prayer. During that time, they experience strong emotions, crying at various points before finally coming to a conclusive peace.
The sensing person is likely to say, “I wrestled with God,” and believe they had a genuine experience with the Lord. An intuitive person is more likely to ask, “Was this experience really an interaction with the divine or was it all in my head? What about all the people in other religions who claim to have similar experiences with God? Why would God decided to have a personal interaction with me out of all the people on this planet He could have chosen?”
If people believe they have had an interaction with God, they are going to be more prone to dogmatism than if they recognize the possible other explanations. When challenged on their faith, they will rely heavily on the content of their personal experience. This will be an uncompelling justification for the intuitive types, who are quick to point out the similar experiences of people in other religions. When looking for ways to justify faith, people are likely to find different reasons compelling based upon their personality types.
This has pretty serious implications for evangelism. To the intuitive, a sensing explanation will seem like foolish dogmatism. To the sensing type, the intuitive’s concern with other possibilities will seem like faithlessness. Reason lies somewhere between these two extremes.