Saturday, October 18, 2014

"I Believe"

Admitting that one's beliefs are uncertain, does not mean one can use 'belief' rather than 'knowledge' as a way to escape intellectual responsibility. To say one BELIEVES something is equivalent to saying one BELIEVES something is true. You cannot believe what you believe to be untrue. To say you believe something but are uncertain of it is not the same as saying that you do not believe it to be true, quite the opposite. That is just what the words 'I believe' mean.

Beliefs can be convictions even when they are not held as knowledge or certainties, and indeed most beliefs should also be convictions. Saying you are not certain of something does not insulate your positive belief from criticism, or from the possibility of error. Beliefs can be more convicting than even knowledge. They often are. I don't know my dog is conscious. But the conviction that my dog is conscious is far more important and action guiding to me than, say, my knowledge about the nature of pulsars.

Nowadays, people seem to use the term 'belief' as way to escape intellectual responsibility, as if admitting the uncertainty of one's belief relieves one of the need to support it rationally, or defend it epistemically and morally. Worse off, they use 'belief' to somehow confuse the issue of truth. As if saying one BELIEVES rather than KNOWS something, one is making a second statement that there is no actual truth regarding the matter of hand. But this is terribly muddled thinking. Epistemic uncertainty does not entail ontological fuzziness, though sometimes it is a result of it (as in quantum mechanics). I don't know right now whether there is an asteroid exactly 1 million miles from Earth. I don't know that there is or there isn't. But my complete lack of knowledge of the matter does not mean that the fact is a 'fuzzy' one. There either is an asteroid this exact distance from Earth or there is not.
Similarly, I believe in God and in Jesus Christ. I do not have certainty about these subjects. But they are deeply held beliefs and I fight and defend them. I have a responsibility to, both epistemic and moral. My conviction of the truth of these matters has no bearing on their truth. That I am convinced of them, and defend them vigorously, does not indicate they are more or less true (the arguments themselves can and does have a bearing on the issue, but not my subjective commitment). Neither, however, does my uncertainty on the matter. That I believe these things to be true, does not make them more or less true than if I was certain of them. The truth of the matter is independent of my believing and knowing.

There either is a God or there is not. Jesus Christ was either the supreme incarnation of this being or he was not. The truth is one or the other, not both nor neither. My uncertainty does not change this fact either way.

Nor can I escape my attachment to the truth of one side of these debates by admitting of my uncertainty. That I believe rather than know does not change the fact that I am saying there IS a God and Jesus is the Incarnation of that God. By saying I believe, I am committed to the truth, and therefore to one particular way the world is.

Nowadays, people seem to mean by 'believe' that 'ONLY in my belief system is it true that'. Of course believing and holding a set of beliefs is pretty much the same thing. But in both cases, you are holding beliefs about those things that are OUTSIDE your believing and your belief system. Saying you believe something is not saying it is true ONLY FOR YOU. You are SAYING it is true simpliciter, true for everyone. That is what you say when you say 'I believe that'. In point of fact, saying something is ONLY true in your belief systems is ultimately nonsensical.

Let X be the proposition that "what I believe to be true is only true in my belief system". Well is X only true in your belief system? If you believe it, then certainly it must only be true 'in your belief system' since you claim you believe it. Now let Y be the proposition that "X is true only in my belief system". Then Y, too, must also 'only be true in your belief system'. And so it goes. You end up with a vicious regress. You have to back up into some belief that is, simply, true, true independent of you, or else nothing you say MEANS anything at all. In that kind of belief-relativism, all thinking, speaking, and believing is nothing more than QUACKING. It is emptied of semantical content. It amounts to never believing anything at all. It is a form of mental suicide.

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