There was an abundance of responses/comments to my post, “It’s All in Your Head.” Wow. Somehow that topic was linked to my post on consequences. Anyway, I noted I could certainly be wrong as to the charge I was committing some fundamental error of logic or reason as to my responses to the question: “If we cannot prove or found a narrative empirically/scientifically, how can we know which narrative is true?” I then submitted the partial answer that we can consider the consequences of a narrative as a sign, clue, or pointer toward the underlying truth of that narrative as it can be shown that it gave rise to those very consequences. I didn’t say that such “proved” something beyond a shadow of a doubt or laid out some strict progression that one must accept by its inexorable logic. Again, the whole point was to show how, if we cannot found a narrative empirically/scientifically… If one doesn’t even accept that possibility, then they will still “hear” everything as trying to follow that course, which clearly, misses the point that such is exactly what I’m saying cannot be done (and of course reveals their hidden presuppositions).
I followed that up with two posts on “Truth” and noted that the “truth” of a narrative must include a conception of knowledge that is more than just information or “facts.” I think a realistic, thick, and robust concept of what amounts to “knowledge” must include context and aspects of wisdom and meaning. Further, those aspects must always trump or be considered more significant than the merely factual or informational.
Related to that post, Bernard kept asserting I was making an error of logic—one surrounding this issue:
“Your ‘evidence as hint ‘case does, as best I can tell, contain a logical flaw, in that it claims a hint towards one hypothesis without any reason why the alternative, live hypothesis (you accept it’s possible, this is all we need) is less well supported by the same evidence.”
Part of the problem is that Bernard has yet to tell us what the alternative hypothesis is. Since he claims it too can explain, just as well, the positive-outcomes of the Judeo-Christian narrative, it’s sort of important we know what this alternative is, right? Otherwise, how can this alternative even be evaluated? By referencing what I accept as “possible” I’m assuming then the alternative Bernard was suggesting was the very thing I was noting in the post as a dead-end. What I meant by “possible” is that it’s possible I am wrong. It’s possible too that every reader of this blog is wrong. So what? Does that make everything any of us assert then as “evidence,” or as a hint pointing toward the truth, logically flawed?
Putting that aside, I do agree with Bernard if he is saying that logical, reasonable, people can interpret the evidence of existence and see it such that one could be led to lean toward belief in God but also to atheism or agnosticism. But this is why I’ve been so clear to say that one cannot assert the evidence “proves” or must (has to) lead one to my conclusion (or the atheist’s). This is why the evidentialist/correspondence theory goes nowhere. At the scene of a crime, again, the evidence may point reasonably toward two different suspects or theories. One is then not making a logical error to suggest that he is led to see “hints” “signs” or “clues” that might give more weight to his interpretation of the evidence over the other detective’s view. One can disagree or say, “I just don’t see that,” but I still don’t understand how one can be accused of making an error of logic or reason to suggest so. How does someone noting the mere “possibility” that a person’s theory may be wrong (attributable to other causes) indicate he or she (the one asserting the theory) is therefore committing a logical error? That doesn’t make sense to me, but, maybe that’s just me.
In all this talk about my committing some error of logic or reason, I wonder if any readers have considered whether or not they may be committing a form of a genetic fallacy error in claiming that because the origins of the Judeo-Christian narrative might be purely cultural/psychological, the claims or results cannot be considered true or as giving more weight to one narrative over another. See here.
Plus, have we considered that even William James noted the self-refuting nature of the charge:
“But now, I ask you, how can such an existential account of facts of mental history decide in one way or another upon their spiritual significance? According to the general postulate of psychology just referred to, there is not a single one of our states of mind, high or low, healthy or morbid, that has not some organic process as its condition. Scientific theories are organically conditioned just as much as religious emotions are; and if we only knew the facts intimately enough, we should doubtless see ‘the liver’ determining the dicta of the sturdy atheist as decisively as it does those of the Methodist under conviction anxious about his soul…They are equally organically founded, be they of religious or non-religious content.
To plead the organic causation of a religious state of mind, then in refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual value, is quite illogical and arbitrary… [Emphasis added] Otherwise none of our thoughts and feelings, not even our scientific doctrines, not even our dis-beliefs [emphasis added], could retain any value as revelations of the truth, for every one of them without exception flows from the state of their possessor’s body at the time.”
We can certainly leave an “illogical and arbitrary” possibility on the table, but what does that tell us about those who reach for it or want it handy? So for those who want that possibility kept open, you may wish to reflect a little more on why that is. It certainly seems to contain the seeds of a view already convinced and one that is sure everyone else’s view is a result of “organic causation” except their own. Again, this is why I noted its being “possible” but pointless and self-defeating to discuss. All of our conceptions are organic, but that is not the point. The point is do they refer to anything outside ourselves. To then say, well, they are organic, is to say nothing—because so is the state-of-mind opposing this view. One just came under his own critique. Physician, heal thyself.
I readily admit that there are many people, both secular and religious, who have never been very reflective, have never asked deep questions, and believe what they do simply because they grew up in a certain culture/context or have a certain “bent” of mind. They’ve never “owned” what they believe and probably couldn’t tell us why they believe what they do. They “just” do. It is just “obvious” to them. So yes, it is always possible someone only believes something to be true because of their culture, education, geography, family, and religious background. But this is possible for anyone, including the person who’s an atheist or agnostic. Its possibility hardly defeats mine or anyone’s thesis about a narrative’s truthfulness or the linking of impact on a culture to truthfulness.
By the same token, there are those who have been reflective, who have tried as best they can to separate out what they know was believed for purely cultural/context reasons, and have truly “owned” what they believe and can give well thought out reasons for those beliefs. Most of us who have been to college or lived outside the areas we were raised are made to do this. We are made to confront what are often nothing more than prejudices and taught (or we eventually learn) to own for ourselves what it is we truly believe. We may be right, we may be wrong—or a complex mix of both. But at least we own it. And by “owning” I don’t mean we have it all down and are done learning. The very opposite in fact. I simply mean we know what and why we believe what we do, at this stage of our learning and maturing, and can humbly articulate those things to some communicable degree.
I think the people in this discussion have done that “owing.” I think it fairly intolerant and privileging to treat anyone in this group or elsewhere as if they were a part of the first group mentioned (those who “just” believe because…they “just” do). Unless they prove otherwise, I would like to extend to anyone that benefit of the doubt. I would also appreciate it being extended to me.
Regardless, and beyond this very basic respect issue, none of us should be committing the genetic fallacy of believing that the origin of a belief (whether theism, atheism, or empiricism) alonedetermines whether or not it is false—or whether or not we can say the evidence (consequences) of existence lends “weight” to one view over the other.