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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26001 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  11:20:24  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Last year, Allen Wood wrote a piece for the International Journal of Philosophy of Religion titled "The duty to believe according to the evidence." A lot of us here probably already agree with this idea, but I (for one) had never heard its name before. It's quite a read, but the main point is, as in its title, that we have a duty to believe things only so far as the evidence allows. Believing things for which the evidence is lacking is, in effect, showing contempt for our own capacity to think critically, and is therefore at least self-disrespect (or self-delusion). And because communities rely upon honest interactions between members, believing things which aren't supported also shows disrespect for the people around you.

One of the more interesting things is that this is framed as a duty. That people have an obligation to themselves and others to withhold belief when evidence is lacking. So no longer "you are entitled to your opinion," because if that opinion can be shown to be formed without regard to the evidence, then not only is it incorrect, it is immoral merely to hold it (much less try to convince others of it).

Here's the abstract:
‘Evidentialism’ is the conventional name (given mainly by its opponents) for the view that there is a moral duty to proportion one’s beliefs to evidence, proof or other epistemic justifications for belief. This essay defends evidentialism against objections based on the alleged involuntariness of belief, on the claim that evidentialism assumes a doubtful epistemology, that epistemically unsupported beliefs can be beneficial, that there are significant classes of exceptions to the evidentialist principle, and other shabby evasions and alibis (as I take them to be) for disregarding the duty to believe according to the evidence. Evidentialism is also supported by arguments based on both self-regarding and other-regarding considerations.
I first read this on Pharyngula but was directed there from SC's comment on Mixing Memory.

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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  12:50:45   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Not so much of a duty, I should think, as an obligation. If one doesn't react according to the evidence, he will be thought a fool at best and dead at worst. Or is that an over-simplification?



"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

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bngbuck
SFN Addict

USA
2437 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  13:16:09   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send bngbuck a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Dave.....

I haven't had the time yet to read all eighteen pages of Wood's essay, I hope to tonight. I assume you have read the piece in toto. Just a couple of preliminary questions:

1. Does Wood address the problem of those kind of beliefs that involve hypotheses or convictions incapable of evidentiary proof or disproof? Concepts for which no evidence is possible, pro or con.?

2. (The answer to this may negate my first question) What is Wood's definition of the word "evidence"?

I'm certain these questions will be answered by a read of Wood's piece, which I will do before I sleep tonight, but I would like your take on them. I promise not to get further involved until I read the source material!
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Dave W.
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USA
26001 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  13:22:08   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
1) That's pretty much Wood's thesis: it's immoral to believe things for which there is no evidence. Wouldn't it just be more immoral to believe something for which there can be no evidence?

2) "Evidence" would be an epistemic justification. Some are better than others. "Divine revelation," for example, generally sucks as evidence.

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tomk80
SFN Regular

Netherlands
1278 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  13:43:34   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit tomk80's Homepage Send tomk80 a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Haven't read the article yet. I'll try to do so later.

A question that always pops up in my head in these discussions. How can you believe something without sufficient evidence anyway? I don't see it as a duty, because it is impossible for me to work in a different way. How can it be a duty for me, if I simply have no choice in the matter?


Tom

`Contrariwise,' continued Tweedledee, `if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.'
-Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Caroll-
Edited by - tomk80 on 08/07/2008 13:44:29
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26001 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  14:12:40   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Wood addresses that, Tom, in the first six paragraphs. But it is not impossible for you to "work in a different way," simply because you can make mistakes.

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tomk80
SFN Regular

Netherlands
1278 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  14:31:53   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit tomk80's Homepage Send tomk80 a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Dave W.

Wood addresses that, Tom, in the first six paragraphs. But it is not impossible for you to "work in a different way," simply because you can make mistakes.

Of course I can make mistakes. The problem is that if I make mistakes, I do not do that willingly. And my problem here, although this is where I find that I might differ from others, is that when someone takes up a contrary position I need to investigate that position on its evidence. I get in a discussion on biological footprints where I am contradicted, I defend my position at that point, but as soon as I get home, I read up on that topic as best I can. I have a discussion on economical issues, I get home and can't help to check this position.

But perhaps this is the case with many things that we consider duties. I read a story recently on a man who had fallen between the subway tracks. Most people did nothing, but one man jumped in and saved the fallen man's life by helping him up, just before the subway arrived. One would argue that it was the duty of all people to save his life, but the guy who actually did probably never thought of it that way. He just saw a man in danger, jumped in and helped. For that man, it was an automatic impulse.

Perhaps with skeptics, the duty to check our facts, to go with the evidence, comes more naturally. We don't think that of it as a duty, we don't really have a choice.

Tom

`Contrariwise,' continued Tweedledee, `if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.'
-Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Caroll-
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13462 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  15:01:57   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I don't understand how we can call all belief without evidence immoral until we have sorted out the evolutionary causes (beneficial adaptations?) and the psychology of belief, (are we wired for it?) that might explain why some un-evidenced belief's are so pervasive in most human cultures through most, if not all of human history.

I haven't read the file yet, so I will withhold comment.

I know that the causes of belief are still being looked at by scientists.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26001 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  19:17:45   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
The fact is, we have the capability to change our beliefs when presented with new evidence or better argumentation. Whether it's something as life-changing as switching from being a fundamentalist Christian to being an atheist or something as trivial as learning that the movie that you thought starred Samuel L. Jackson actually starred Morgan Freeman, beliefs can be modified, dumped, turned around or created through a willingness to examine both the evidence and our epistemic basis for forming beliefs.

And since we can change our beliefs, we have an obligation to make use of the most-reliable methods and all of the available evidence to arrive at beliefs that reflect (to the best of our ability to know) reality. It is an obligation to ourselves and to the others with whom we choose to live. A failure to follow epistemic reliability or a neglect of data actually corrupt our own brains and from there the larger community by ensuring that our beliefs don't conform to reality as much as they could otherwise. We rob ourselves of truth by doing so.

From that point of view, we can see that it doesn't matter whether certain beliefs might be "hard-wired" into us through evolutionary processes. Some of us have overcome such hurdles, and there's nothing particularly special about us as compared to those who embrace unevidenced beliefs (immorality). The only people who deserve to get a pass are those with actual organic brain disorders (just like they are held blameless in legal matters), and there are relatively few among the larger skeptical community who are willing to say (for example) that a belief in Bigfoot is a symptom of insanity.

Suppose, though, that we wish to cast the widest possible net for those who should be held not responsible for their beliefs. Do we have any evidence that, say, religious belief is due to a psychiatric disorder? If we do, and it passes scientific muster, then we would be justified in believing (and thus evidentially moral ourselves) that religious people are insane, and should not be considered immoral by evidentialism's standards. I don't see such evidence, though. Not right now - and "right now" is the best we can do.

Another point that Wood makes is that it's moral to believe something a little if all you've got is a little evidence for its truth. In other words, belief isn't a binary, on/off condition but a contiuum, and we should proportion our belief (in anything) to the extent allowed by the weight of the evidence. By (my) extension, how moral or immoral a belief is will depend not on it crossing some arbitrary line but instead on how far away from the amount of belief that is warranted due to the evidence the incorrect belief is on that continuum. If, for example, the "scale of belief" runs from 0 (total disbelief) to 100 (absolutely must believe it), and there is enough evidence to say that belief in other life within our galaxy should be a 60, then we can say that anyone who ranks it at 100 and anyone who ranks it at 20 would both be equally immoral (off from what is warranted by 40) in their beliefs, but not nearly as immoral as someone who absolutely believes that the Earth is flat (off by 100) or that evolution is a trick of Satan (off by 100 on two counts). As with the difference between "doing 60 in a 55 zone" versus "premeditated murder," we can choose to be more forgiving of slightly immoral beliefs than of egregiously immoral beliefs. It's not an all-or-nothing ethic.

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Cuneiformist
The Imperfectionist

USA
4954 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  19:28:06   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Cuneiformist a Private Message  Reply with Quote
At some point, though, the evidence is just foggy. I'm still not convinced about the Shakespeare authorship question, and find myself buying into other theories that the "establishment" might find crazy. But I find their arguments to be rather lacking. So am I justified in thinking that their evidence is lacking, or is my bias (?) getting int he way??

Which, I guess, I my bigger question-- it's sometimes hard to let personal bias not cloud judgment. Are we always smart enough to spot those biases and correct for them, or not?
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13462 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  19:41:47   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Unless a person is lying, how is having a belief in a hereafter Immoral? Do you know how many people have been fed religion from the time they were born and have never ever had their beliefs challenged? Are they immoral too?

I hate philosophy...

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13462 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  19:51:52   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Let me see if I have this right. Are you saying that every person who falls for some bullshit is acting without morals when they are had?

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26001 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  20:00:15   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Cuneiformist

Are we always smart enough to spot those biases and correct for them, or not?
Not on our own. And perhaps not even as a group. But that's why we need to be open to being shown that we're wrong.

If I remember correctly, Wood touches on the fact that we are never justified in thinking ourselves to be 100% correct in anything. We have knowledge on the limits of our epistemic methods (even the best of them), and so we're pretty sure that even if what we see really is all there is, we will never, ever be absolutely, written-in-stone sure of it. (And I should have written "off by nearly 100" instead of "off by 100" in my prior post because of this.)

And everyone has desires, dreams and other distractions through which all observations are filtered, whether we want them to be or not. Thinking "there's no way I could be biased about this particular subject" is itself an immoral thought, because the evidence suggests otherwise.

And it is okay for evidence to be foggy (sometimes foggy is the best we can get), it's just not okay for us to build firm beliefs upon such foggy evidence. For example, the evidence in favor of evolutionary theory in general is as rock-hard as we can expect right now, but if anyone were to claim with that much certainty that a particular species of dinosaur was the ancestor of all modern birds, you should feel free to question their thinking.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
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marfknox
SFN Die Hard

USA
3739 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  20:19:09   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
The only honest option for lovers of innocence is to
accept that their love for it simply proves that they have lost it forever, and that their only task
now is to face up to the uncanny and abysmal challenge of making some kind of new life for
themselves in the bleak, comfortless territory east of Eden that we call the human condition.
I enjoyed this passage, and I can think of having met people who do this. That said, I don't think it characterizes most fundamentalists. I think most Christian fundamentalists in the first world are either genuinely innocent due to poor education and a cultural homogenous environment which supports their fundamentalism, and I think many other fundamentalists would actually agree with this essay and honestly think they are basing their Creationist bullshit beliefs on evidence.

I pretty much agreed with the article, but didn't feel I was reading anything new. Skeptics have always championed the virtue of skepticism along with tolerance. He's not calling for some radical and fervent challenge to irrationality, only that we should not condone lazy thinking. Well, yeah. Problem is, most people who are guilty of this either don't realize it or certainly aren't going to admit it (like being caught doing any other vice.) And the fact that most people would respond that way shows that the value of reasoning and having evidence for beliefs is already accepted in our culture as an ethical imperative.

My biggest problem with philosophical articles such as these, is that they "theorize" about ethics and morality as if it is an objective topic. Even if I agreed with the premise, why should I place value on self respect and respect for others? All this should stuff is bullshit. The fact of the matter is that most of us do value self respect and respect for others because of a mix of nature and nurture. Saying should just sounds like a self-righteous moralist. The way to convince people of a certain moral or ethical imperative is to point out how it helps and/or prevents harm in a clear and concrete way, period.


"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26001 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  20:21:56   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

Unless a person is lying, how is having a belief in a hereafter Immoral?
If you will allow that to "progress" as a society we must constantly build upon solid foundations of knowledge to improve our own lives and the lives of our descendants, then the time and effort used to form and maintain a false belief (which cannot be used as a reliable foundation for further knowledge) represents resources that have been wasted and can never be recovered. In my mind, it is as immoral to believe in a hereafter as it is to fail to maintain proper tire pressure (which wastes gasoline).
Do you know how many people have been fed religion from the time they were born and have never ever had their beliefs challenged? Are they immoral too?
If you isolate a child at birth and bring him up completely normally except that you specifically teach him that rape is good for keeping women in their place, and then let him loose on the world at age 21, are the rapes he commits not immoral acts?
Let me see if I have this right. Are you saying that every person who falls for some bullshit is acting without morals when they are had?
Yes, because they are failing to engage in proper diligence against being taken in, and thus helping their corruptors further damage our society. They are less immoral than the con-men who with selfish malice purposefully deceive, but allowing oneself to believe the con is not itself a blameless act.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26001 Posts

Posted - 08/07/2008 :  20:34:42   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by marfknox

My biggest problem with philosophical articles such as these, is that they "theorize" about ethics and morality as if it is an objective topic. Even if I agreed with the premise, why should I place value on self respect and respect for others? All this should stuff is bullshit. The fact of the matter is that most of us do value self respect and respect for others because of a mix of nature and nurture. Saying should just sounds like a self-righteous moralist. The way to convince people of a certain moral or ethical imperative is to point out how it helps and/or prevents harm in a clear and concrete way, period.
One of the problems with any article of finite length is that the author has to assume that his audience knows (and agrees with) some of the premises he uses for argument. At the most-basic (and obvious) level, an author writing in English assumes that at least one of his readers will understand English, and so the author can refrain from devoting hundreds of pages of introductory material to teaching his readers the most-common words and their meanings.

Wood obviously wrote the article for a philosophical audience, and one which would be familiar with many of the concepts he was using. I say this precisely because he didn't spend pages and pages discussing why, precisely, self-respect or other-respect are good things. In fact, it seems to me that all ethics treat respect as "good," so there are probably a few textbooks on the subject that Wood feels his audience would have on their shelves. Remember, this wasn't published in a wide-distribution, popular-press magazine. Wood is speaking to his peers, not to us.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
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Why not question something for a change?
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