RE: Natural Order & Belief

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Tue, 21 Nov 2006 23:20:43 +1100

Tom Caylor writes:
> > The problem with religious beliefs is not that they are bizarre (after all, many
> > scientific theories at first glance are just as bizarre) but that there is no reasonable
> > basis for deciding whether they are true. People usually choose religious beliefs because
> > they would like them to be true or because their parents brought them up that way.
> > It may be interesting to know if a religious belief makes a person happy, has inpired
> > good deeds or great art, and so on, but the specific question I want answered is whether
> > it is true. For example, it is true that the smallpox virus causes a severe illness which has
> > killed million of people over the centuries, and this is true regardless of whether it is good,
> > bad, interesting or whatever. I would like to know whether it is the case that Jesus rose from
> > his tomb after being crucified or Athena sprang from Zeus' head after Hephaestus struck it
> > with an axe, and I would like to know this independently of whether it makes an interesting
> > or inspiring story.
> >
> > Stathis Papaioannou
> I assume that your "problem with religious beliefs" also has to do with
> the religion's claim that the object/subject of belief is an important
> key to something, for instance the solution of the problem of evil. If
> the bizarreness is not an issue, then simply the belief that some
> contingent event happened thousands of years ago is not preposterous.
> I would agree with you that whether something is true is of sole
> importance to whether it is worthy of being believed. The task at hand
> then would be to use our finite resources to come to a decision about
> whether or not we will believe an event occurred. I agree with your
> implied thought that it seems that if something key to our
> understanding of the "universe" is tied to a contingent event in
> history, then it would seem only fair that sufficient evidence of this
> event should be accessible to us. I have found that there is. Again,
> the specifics of this topic (Christianity) are probably too contingent
> to get into on this List. However, in this thread, I am talking about
> the fact that such a configuration (a key to understanding our
> "universe" and living in it is tied to contingent events in history)
> cannot be ruled out by any "proof" at the Everything level.
> Furthermore, I claim that the Everything level cannot solve all of the
> problems.
When I am confident about some empirical belief, I am confident that a perfectly fair,
disinterested observer given the same evidence that I have will come to the same conclusion
that I do, or at least entertain it as a serious possibility. For example, if I am confident that
the Quran was written in Arabic in the 7th century, then I am confident that any reasonable person
who went to the trouble to investigate the matter would agree with me. If I am a Muslim, I
may be as certain about the evidence supporting that the Quran is the word of God as I am
about the evidence supporting that the Quran was written in Arabic in the 7th century. However,
while as a Muslim I may be just as confident that a reasonable and disinterested observer would agree
about when the Quran was written, I would be far less confident that he would agree about its
divine origin (and perhaps be converted to Islam). This presents a problem: I can't say that both
my beliefs about the divine origin of the Quran and when it was written are epistemologically
equivalent and empirically equally well founded, but hold that a disinterested observer would likely
accept one but not the other. I have to say that one of my beliefs is *not* as firmly rooted in the
objective evidence as the other, but that in order to drag it up to the same level of believability, it
requires something in addition which even the perfectly fair and disinterested observer lacks: namely,
faith. And when you allow faith to tip the balance in these equations, anything at all can be taken as
Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Tue Nov 21 2006 - 07:21:08 PST

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