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Monday, May 26, 2014

It's a trap ...

Some willfully ignorant anonymouse said:
You say:
"...if the consequences of not believing in that worldview are everlasting and unchangeable, then you have very powerful pragmatic reasons to believe in that particular supernatural worldview rather than not."

- All arguments along that line rely on the premise that beliefs can be freely chosen. They cannot. If you believe that the resurrection of Jesus is true beyond any reasonable doubt given the evidence that you are aware of, then you cannot choose out of the blue to believe that it is much more likely that Jesus was not resurrected. The consequences of such a belief are completely irrelevant, if it could be demonstrated that not believing in the resurrection of Jesus would have desirable consequences, you still couldn´t choose to believe the opposite of what you actually believe. What could change your beliefs is becoming aware of new evidence, new arguments etc. This is how beliefs are formed, they are not chosen based on the consequences they entail.
And I responded:
But, of course, not only *can* one freely choose one's beliefs, but one does. Always.
Can you see the trap I set him? ...

The "trap" is that he can convince others of the truth of his claim ("All arguments along that line rely on the premise that beliefs can be freely chosen. They cannot.") only if the claim itself is false; and secondarily, that even in the act of trying to convince others of the truth of his claim, he's going to have to retreat into self-contradiction and incoherency.

[this is a marker that I hope to find the time to expand upon that]

As others who commented after me have noted, he's denying the freedom (and effacacy) of the will. And, when you get right down to it, denying the reality/existence of the will itself: he's denying that we are persons. His argument, such as it is, is that the evidence (that one is aware of) related to some issue forces one to believe this or that regarding it. The argument is that "belief" is just something that happens to a person (*), that one is a passive non-agent acted upon, rather than an actor who actively evaluates and chooses.

Part of what makes his claim seem plausible until one looks closely is that it ignores that people can and do lie, not only to others, but also to themselves.

Victor Reppert has a recent post that has bearing on this issue: What happened to C. S. Lewis. Could it happen to you? -- Being that we are persons (rather than, say, robots) -- being that we *are* free wills -- we are always free to discount, ignore, or lie to ourselves about whatever evidence there is, or that we are aware of, concerning some issue.

Though I didn't watch the Jerry Seinfeld show, I could not escape some exposure to it. One of the scenes I do recall seeing involves George Costanza telling Jerry, "Just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it" For me, this has always seemed a perfect encapsulation of what I'm talking about: people can and do choose to believe this or that without good reason to do so, and then carefully avoid learning knowledge/evidence that may show the belief to be false, and consciously disregard such contrary evidence as they fail to avoid.

Now, if one wishes to say something like, "Well, ok, but what you're talking about is intellectual dishonesty", I would reply, "Welcome to my world" Why do you think I'm always banging on that drum? I do so precisely because so many people *do* use various intellectually dishonest strategies as tools to protect their chosen beliefs from critical scrutiny.

Perhaps one wishes to say something like, "Well, ok, but what you're talking about is not *real* beliefs". I would reply, "And?" Why do you think human languages have so many ways of denoting the subtle differences in the epistemic status of beliefs? It's because the absolutizing language Mr Anonymouse wishes to use doesn't really work.

(*) This, by the way, is an echo of the false belief that people (especially women) love to love with regard to love: people love to deny that love is a choice, that one chooses to love and chooses to not love. People especially love this denial when they have chosen to love (or "love") inappropriately.


Water into Whine said...

The person's answer had to involve the word 'aikido.'