Belief and Evidence

I continue to follow Ryan Bell and his blogging. He’s working his program working to bolster the position he’s been creeping towards by immersing himself in atheist literature.

Within this post he posts an idea I hear regularly.

It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it—the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.

I find this assertion to be the naïve, contrary to all evidence of human behavior and belief, and full of religious doctrine.

1. Naïve. People don’t believe much of anything this way. Our beliefs and systems of belief mostly find us, rather than are found by some formal process of evidentiary discovery. Note studies such as this one . This supposed pyramid of justified belief has long been discredited and abandoned. We believe within our worlds. That doesn’t make me a relativist but it does cast huge doubt on this imagined pyramid of “sufficient evidence.” “Sufficient” requires an evaluation and each believer in anything has by themselves does their own evaluating.

2. Itself contrary to evidence. If I were to interrogate a person who believes themselves to be righteous according to this sentence “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” I could begin to ask them about a world of beliefs that they depend upon based on little or no “evidence”. We simply act in this concrete world based on inferences based on patterns of experience. Will your legs work? Sure you have evidence, until the day that they stop. Will your car start? Will that chair hold you? Is your house filled with good air or carbon dioxide. The list can go on forever. Do you believe your mother loved you? On and on.

We form beliefs based on a world of pre-conscious believing. There are many people in the world that have difficulty trusting other people because they were abandoned, abused or betrayed as children. Evidence points in certain directions.

Studies have show that depressed people actually have a clearer view of the world because they lack some of the self-regarding biases most Americans not only embrace but promote to their children “you can do anything you want to do, just believe in yourself.”

People believe based on a innumerable factors, a cold analysis of evidence has little to do with it and if someone decided this must govern their lives they wouldn’t be able to leave the house because they’d need to constantly be checking for evidence of the most mundane and yet important beliefs normal life requires. This is fantasy land.

3. This is pure religion. I love the use of “sin” in this quote. So somehow there is an ontological moral standard that failure to life this out in live violates. Please tell me, o atheist, what are the consequences of breaking this great commandment? Shame? Loss of pride? Scorn and shunning from the belief police? This makes no sense to me at all. Why not believe any old thing I want to? Because I’ll disappoint a group of people making up rules about what I should believe? I thought getting rid of that practice was the whole point in ditching religion.

I really don’t get how any of this makes sense.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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