So There was this Lutheran Evangelical, and he Approaches this Rabbi
Counting the Costs

Cake, Fruit, and the Limits of Reason

It was irksome when those atheists put up their "Let Reason Prevail" billboard right next to that Illinois State Capitol Nativity Scene - that much was immediately apparent. But putting my finger on just why it was irksome required more effort. Of course, I immediately shouldered the task. Was it the presumption, by the sign's authors, that they held a monopoly on "reason?" Partly. Was it the crassness of plunking it next to the Nativity Scene, as though it, too, offered a message of hope? Closer. In fact, I prematurely declared, that was IT!

However, you don't necessarily express your innermost fears on the internet, to be pawed over by all and sundry.  In truth I was anything but convinced that my answer was IT. Something was still missing. I've tossed and turned each night since. 

Until now. For now I see clearly what was lacking: scientific indication! We all know today that one ought not think anything without first checking with scientists, yet I had done exactly that! more! Diligently consulting tomes of research, I came across an experiment that blew that silly "Let Reason Prevail" slogan sky-high. Reason cannot prevail among humans. We're not capable of it. We can muster a fair effort when distractions are few. But add in any significant stress, and human reasoning ability goes right to hell. It's hard to come to any other conclusion after pondering the cake-fruit experiment of a few years back. Alas, it's received only the publicity of light fluff news. It deserves more, as it holds unsettling implications for any future based on the veneration of reason.

The cake-fruit experiment unfolded thus: (as discussed on NPR Morning Edition) In 1999, Stanford University professor Baba Shiv enrolled a few dozen undergraduates and gave each a number to memorize. Then, one at a time, they were to leave the room and walk down a corridor to another room, where someone would be waiting to take their number. That's what they were told, anyhow.

On the way down, however, participants were approached by a friendly woman carrying a tray. 'To show our thanks for taking part in our study,' she said, 'we'd like to offer you a snack. You have a choice of two. A nice piece of chocolate cake. Or a delicious fruit salad. Which would you like?'

Now, unbeknownst to each participant, some had been given two-digit numbers to memorize, and some had been given seven-digit numbers. When Shiv tallied up the choices made (for that was the object of the experiment) he found that those students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as those given two digits! Two digits - you choose fruit. Seven digits - you choose cake. What could possibly account for that?

The reason, Shiv theorized, is that once you weed out the occasional oddball, we all like cake more than fruit. It tastes better. But we also all know that fruit is better for us, for cake makes us fat and promotes tooth decay. This is a rational assessment that almost all of us would make. But if our minds are taxed with trying to retain 7 digits instead of a no-brainer 2, rationality goes right out the window, and the emotional "yummy, cake!" wins out! 'The astounding thing here,' said the Wall Street Journal's Jonah Lehrer, reviewing the experiment, 'is not simply that sometimes emotion wins over reason. Its how easily it wins.'

Now, this experiment was not taken very seriously by anyone. When the media covered it at all, they treated it as fluff - a transitional piece going in to or out of more serious news. "Oh, so that's why I pig out after a hard day at work here," giggling HappyNews people would tell each other on TV. But plainly, the experiment holds deeper significance. Aren't world leaders also susceptible to emotion trumping rationality? Daily they grapple to solve the woes afflicting us all. Meanwhile, opponents seek to undermine them and media outlets try dig up dirt on them. If it takes only five extra digits for emotion to overpower reason, do you really think there is the slightest chance that "reason will prevail" among the world's policymakers, immersed in matters much more vexing (and urgent) than choosing between cake and fruit? Has it up till now?

THAT'S what's so irksome about the "Let Reason Prevail." slogan. Reason cannot prevail among imperfect humans! It can occur, but it cannot prevail. Humans are not capable of it.  Five digits is all it takes for our rational facade to crumble!

Now, if there is one thing Jehovah's Witnesses are known for, it's their insistence that humans do not have the ability to govern themselves. Everyone else (among Christendom) accepts the present setup of squabbling nations as a given and prays for God to somehow bless the leaders running it - usually with the proviso that whatever country they're in emerge on top (or at least intact). Doesn't matter too much, though, since said religionists are all heavenbound! Just passing through, you understand. So while one might not like staying in a crummy hotel, you can at least console yourself that it's only for a night or two.

Not so Jehovah's Witnesses. Earth is where God meant us to be, so that is where we focus. Like the psalm says: (115:16) "As regards the heavens, to Jehovah the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men."  And our view that humans are incapable of governing the earth is no more than acknowledging the words of Jeremiah:  "I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step." (Jer 10:23) And: "The wise ones have become ashamed. They have become terrified and will be caught. Look! They have rejected the very word of Jehovah, and what wisdom do they have?" (Jer 8:9) In other words, today's calamitous conditions aren't really a surprise to those who've immersed themselves in Bible instruction. It's what they've always expected. They're not stuck with the pathetic hope that voting out the incumbents will somehow bring in a more amenable bunch of politicians among whom "reason can prevail." It's human rule itself that's at fault.

You could almost view it that God himself is conducting an experiment, just like Baba Shiv. Not that it was his purpose, but when humans insisted on setting their own standards of "good and bad," rejecting his sovereignty, he said "Go ahead.....for such-and-such an amount of time see if you can make good on your claim of self-government. When the times runs out, then.....we'll see." Isn't this the meaning of those early Genesis chapters? Isn't the grand experiment of human self-rule ending exactly as the Bible foretold it would? And doesn't it show, as any novice JW will tell you.....sometimes a bit parrotlike, but true nonetheless, that "it just goes to show we need the Kingdom." Announcing this Kingdom, so that people may align themselves with it, is the purpose of the Witnesses' public ministry.....................see also here


Tom Irregardless and Me   No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'



I actually commend JW's for their view on earth as being the eternal hope for all Christians. But that's where I differ. I believe earth is for all Christians, none to be eternally separate from others. At any rate, i've done decent amount of investigating in this area as far as "Christendom's" view on this. And yes, there is a large consensus among "fluffy" evangelicals that "heaven" is where we all go. And perhaps these are the ones whom JW's run into the most.

But the evangelicals who really know their Bibles, especially the Ph.D theologians, fully agree that earth is their destination. And just to give you an example, check out this eschatology discussion between four of the most prominent evangelical theologians:

I can't recall where in the discussion this came up, but all four dispelled the myth that heaven is our destination as Christians. The whole discussion is very interesting to watch, but i'm sure you'd be more interested in the earth discussion.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that many more than just JW's believe that earth is our eternal dwelling place.

tom sheepandgoats


I published your comment without the supplied link, though I realize that leaves a hole in it.

I like material such as this presented transcript-style. That way, without viewing the entire presentation, which I feel I must do, I can get an idea of how long it is, allocation of subject matter, themes, and so forth. I can fast-forward. I almost never view video that is simply talking heads for that reason. I'll take your word for it that they eventually get around to discussing how the earth figures in God's purpose, and thanks for the observation.

I hope you will not take offense if I don't want to bring the church experience into my blog, and it seemed that your link would do just that. A lengthy debate or discussion among four evangelical leaders, before an audience, on their differing views of "eschatology." Presumably, there is no final resolution - just a hashing out of different ideas, with the audience free to side with any of them, none of them, combine some views, reject them all, or just walk away and say "neat stuff." It's just so different from anything I can concieve of happening among Jehovah's Witnesses, where we believe God instructs his worshippers in an entirely different way.

It opens with prayer, too, and that annoys me.....not the fact of prayer, of course, for we also open with prayer.....but the wording of the prayer itself. "Father, I love these guys....Bill and Jim and Sam....." Again, in a PUBLIC prayer, I can't concieve of a Witness opening with "I," as if to highlight his own spirituality. And of course, I know that when they say Father, they mean Jesus. That grates, too, since it clashes with our understanding that one ought to approach God through Jesus.

Also, your own comment (not from the link) rankles: "And yes, there is a large consensus among "fluffy" evangelicals that "heaven" is where we all go......But the evangelicals who really know their Bibles, especially the Ph.D theologians, fully agree that earth is their destination." Is this to say that "fluffy" evangelicals don't know their Bibles, and if so, why do the leaders, especially the "Ph D theologians", not rectify this? We manage to keep our people on the same page. The notion that evangelical leaders believe a fundamentally different doctrine than the rank and file is also foreign to Jehovah's Witnesses.

Look, I don't want to cause offense by dropping the link. You offered it in good faith, I'm sure, to illustrate your point. Presumably, they didn't veer off into discussion of what they don't like about Jehovah's Witnesses. Chalk it up to my rigidity, if you like. The four fellows are no doubt pleasant enough guys in person. Cute comment from one participant that, although, yes, the moderator is older than any of the others, he's not older than all of them put together. But I came from a church background many years ago, deciding after Bible study to follow a pattern I believe is more scripturally accurate; I've no desire to revisit it what left behind.


Tom, your comment brought a thought to my mind.

I have a family member who says that we should study the Bible and let God reveal what each of us needs at the right time in our lives. They also stated, "aren't all christians holy and doesn't God also speak through the lower ranking Christians?"

Letting go of a lot compared to my beliefs as a JW, I nodded and thought of Korah. Wasn't his point in rebelling against Moses that "the whole assembly is holy" and that God speaks to others, and not just Moses? It would have been a waste of breath to discuss that point, and I left it as an "agree to disagree." Yet I find the comparison to Korah striking.

tom sheepandgoats

As a practical matter, "agree to disagree" often works just fine.

The comments to this entry are closed.