This is very relevant to the subject of idolatry that I am learning right now.
Idolatry comes up in Sanhedrin pages 60-63 and in Avoda Zara 41.
Rav Shach says we see the essence of idolatry is the thinking that it has power to save.
Is that the only condition? I think it is clear it needs some kind of invisible power to affect things at a distance. Otherwise why is it any different than walking into a store and asking for a loaf of bread.
In any case we see idolatry is not the same as a mistaken world view. These are different subjects.
Michael Huemer's essay deal with why people choose irrational world views. and if we are to understand idolatry we need to understand this phenomenon.
So what we have here is two things: (1) A simple definition of idolatry from Rav Shach. Ability to save. [Based on the Talmud in Avoda Zara that an idol that fell and broke does not need nullification because those that worship it say, "It could not save itself so how could it save me?"]
(2) The idea of Michael Huemer and Bryan Caplan that people can will themselves to believe things that they know are wrong in order to fit in with a group that want to be a part of.
I brought this up in my learning Talmud session yesterday. We were getting to teh end of teh subject of idolatry in Sanhedrin 63. The next mishna is a different subject. So I was trying to sum up some of what we had learned.
He brought up the fact that I had studied Scientology as a very important example of a cult and asked about some of the aspects of it that I had learned about. And also brought up another cult in the USA.
I still hold that Scientology is the archetype example of a cult and is still very important to study from that aspect.
I mean you can't study the cult you are involved in because you are involved in it. And as far as you can tell there might be some aspects of it that are good. After all why else would you have gotten involved in it? That makes it very important to study scientology as a pristine example of cult and how it recruits and develops even when it is based on a ridiculous idea.
And this is the connection between Michael Huemer and Rav Shach. Rav Shach showed us what is the essence of idolatry: the thought, "This can help." At least as a necessary condition but maybe not sufficient. That comes directly from the Talmud itself. And what we learn from professor Huemer is that people can choose to believe irrational things because of the desire for sex or to fit into a group where they expect to get sex etc.
This all boils down to the vacuum of knowledge. That is what idolatry and a cult is. The statue is a vacuum of knowledge. It is like something hollow that one can put into it all his imaginations and delusions and he wants to do that because he wants to fit into the group that is following that vacuum of knowledge.