DiaBlogue: (EEE-III) Beneath Belief

In the final part of my response to Alan’s EEE response to my epistemology, I want to address Alan’s concerns about specifics. First, in terms of specific, fleshed-out paradigms:

Only (III), as far as I can tell, is concrete enough to be applied as a “truth test”. I wonder if we ought not include a couple of other things somehow. How does logic or reason fit? How about parsimony?
and then in terms of specific questions:
As far as “specific assertions, ontologies, and/or ethics that [I] would like to examine next”, how about:
1. The Bible is (is not) an honest and reliable document.
2. Eternal damnation can (cannot) be justified (if the Porsche is not already red)
3. Social good is (is not) evidence for the truth of Christianity.
4. Christianity is (is not) best explained as a solely human construction.

[Read more] for my attempt to — well, maybe not answer his questions, but at least explain what would be needed for me to provide a meaningful answer.

The thing that struck me most about Alan’s question is how they are all framed in binary terms: given a statement “X”, how can we know if belief is justified (X is true) or belief is impossible (X is false)?

Building on our discussion of context, I would argue that it is not feasible to evaluate such, well, absolute claims. In particular, I don’t think it is possible to meaningfully assess those statements apart from a particular purpose. Put another way, we need to normalize statements against some sort of ‘null hypothesis’. Even a simple statement like “the sky is blue” can get quite tricky, depending the needed precision. Here’s an example of a more contextual rewriting of Alan’s questions in terms of statements that I believe:

1. The Bible is sufficiently reliable to enable me to grasp truth that I could not grasp without it
2. If there are transcendent values, then there exist systems of justice which justify eternal damnation under certain plausible circumstances
3. Christianity has created more social good than any other belief system
4. The success of Christianity is not adequately explained by scenarios that discount all supernatural intervention and/or inspiration

Of these, (2) and (3) aren’t possible for us to discuss without some system of ethics, and (4) depends heavily on both (2) and (3). So, (1) is the only one that we can conceivably tackle with our existing epistemic tools.

To do that, though, I think it useful to first understand the relationship between belief and trust. I might summarize my view as:

Beliefs[i+i] = Character(Trust, Experience, Reason; Beliefs[i])

That is, our Beliefs evolve as our Character evaluates the factors of Trust, Experience, Reason, and prior Beliefs. In particular:

* All Beliefs require some element of Trust
* What we Believe next depends partly on what we Believe now
* Beliefs depend strongly on Character, not just external or logical inputs
* Trust precedes Experience, and Experience precedes Reason, though there is also feedback

Perhaps even more importantly, I interpret this as more like a complex vector field than a series of Booleans. That is, each Belief is not a simple, independent True/False decision, but a complex system with varying degrees of precision, confidence, applicability, and inter-relatedness. The value of logic is that it uses analytic propositions to link two synthetic Beliefs in a discrete chain, so that one testable or accepted Belief can be used to validate another, thus untangling the web into a series of more-or-less distinct strands.

Okay, that’s probably waaay more detail than Alan (or our three readers) really wanted, but hopefully he can dig through these three posts to find something EEEsy to respond to. 🙂