Friday, 19 June 2009

Belliefs without evidence

Andrew Brown, in the comments to his article Resurrection shuffles, has said

... the claim for god is that he is not a thing amongst other things, as Santa would be, supposing he existed. In that sense the orthodox Christian belief is that god does not exist; certainly not in the sense that anything else might be said to. So there couldn't be evidence that such a god exists in the way that there could be evidence for or against a martian teapot. There might be reasons for believing/trusting/worshipping etc. But they are not evidence.
That last bit is very curious. Reasons for believing without evidence! When I asked him about it, essentially he told me to piss off. But it still remains a curious thing to say.

Now, maintaining an outwards how of believing something without evidence - yes, we've probably all done that at one time or another, but that isn't actually the same as believing itself.

You can mistakenly believe on the basis of what you think is evidence, but that isn't quite the same thing - you are basing your belief on evidence even though it is of much poorer quality than you are aware of.

What Andrew Brown seems to be claiming is that one can make a conscious decision to believe something, knowing that the belief is unjustified, i.e. lacking in supporting evidence.

Can anybody shed light on this mystery?


  1. hope you'll continue to appear on cif - one forum is best

  2. Looks like Brown has been reading Terry Eagleton.

    Personally, I don't rate teapots high in terms of trust, especially extraterrestrial ones.

  3. Are you saying that we can't make a conscious decision to believe something that is lacking in supporting evidence?

    And if not, what are you saying?

  4. biskieboo

    Andrew claimed that there were reasons to believe. I'm asking what those reasons are.

  5. Because it's your culture
    Because it's alien to you
    Because everyone else does
    Because no one else does
    Because you enjoy it
    Because it makes you uncomfortable
    Because it is expected of you
    Because it is not expected of you
    Because you find it challenging
    Because you don't find it challenging
    Because it makes you do things you wouldn't otherwise do
    Because it stops you doing things you would otherwise do
    Because you want things to change
    Because it makes you feel safe
    Because you want to try an experiment
    Because you always have

  6. Hi Jonathan

    I don't think that most people would go through the process that you do of establishing a proposition, looking for evidence (however one sees it) and then coming to a conclusion about a statement of fact. Belief for most people is a matter of emotion or moral feeling, or of a response to an experience.

    Whether that is what Andrew was talking about is a different matter.

    nikias 1

  7. biskieboo

    Some of those are reasons to fake an outward show of believing. Some are ways in which you can mistakenly think something is evidence when in fact it isn't. But are any of them reasons for inwardly believing, knowing there is no evidence?

  8. They might not be for you but they could be for others.

  9. biskieboo. Would you care to elaborate on that at all?

  10. Don't assume that everyone else is like you, i.e. thinks like you do, has lead your life, has only experienced what you have experienced.

    Your set of life experiences may lead you to believe a whole bunch of stuff. Why would someone else believe the same bunch of stuff that you do if they haven't lead your life?

  11. biskieboo: So, you've explained that we're all different. I think we both knew that already. What I was hoping you would elaborate on is in what way you are different on this particular topic.

  12. I don't undertsand why you have a problem with it. I don't understand why you don't get that some people might choose to believe things that there is no evidence for. I don't know why you think it such a big deal. If they choose to do it what are you going to be able to do about it? Nothing really, if evidence doesn't come into it for them.
    I only see it as a problem if their behaviour is problematic due to what they believe without evidence. If their behaviour isn't a problem I am not personally going to worry about what they choose to believe. It's none of my business unless it affects me in some way.

  13. biskieboo: I'm just trying to understand how you are characterising this. Are you saying that you just believe some things for no reason at all, or that you have reasons for genuinely believing something that don't involve evidence, or that you recognise that some things you think of as being as evidence would not be accepted by some others.

    As for whether it is a problem or not, I have to claim that it is, though the harm that may be done as a result will very from person to person. If somebody is in the habit of believing things without evidence in one aspect of his life, there is no knowing whether and when that habit will spread elsewhere. I could cite Tony Blair and his belief in the existence of WMD as a classic example of untold harm being done as a result of the spread of such habits.

  14. jonathan, i think you are wrong here. there _can_ be many reasons to believe. like being afraid of the consequences of giving up the belief.

    for instance, i was a very superstitious child, and i invented a bunch of rituals to avoid any harm. these rituals gradually worn out, when i started to understand more about reality, and realised they didn't work, but i think that's mainly because these were my own inventions, so i had no reinforcement from my peers, that these rituals are necessary to avoid harm. in the case of religion there is a lot of reinforcement, that maintains the fear of abandoning it. also, most of the time giving up religion equals to giving up you current social contacts. it could be really hard.

    i consider these reasons rational, even if it's a different rationality than that you (and i) seek.

  15. "Are you saying that you just believe some things for no reason at all, or that you have reasons for genuinely believing something that don't involve evidence, or that you recognise that some things you think of as being as evidence would not be accepted by some others."

    I'm not saying any of that. I'm saying that I can understand that other people may do all of those things for a variety of different reasons. And that it is not my job to stop them doing it, unless I feel it is detrimental to me.

  16. You asked AB to clarify the murky miasma he calls reason? No wonder he told you piss off.

    Just found your blog and am enjoying it greatly. Used to follow CIF belief (and still do Occasionally), but AB is such a lightweight.