Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Evidence and Intellectual Dishonesty

What is it to be intellectually honest? What is the duty of honest, in deciding what is true.

One example was given by a philosophy professor of mine who said that when he presented the case for the existence of God in class, a student took careful notes. When the arguments against the existence of God were presented, the student covered her ears.

Or someone who says that, if the case for and against God were to be assessed rationally, atheism would surely emerge victorious, but they nevertheless choose, as a personal existential choice, to believe anyway? Or to disbelieve in the face of contrary evidence. Someone could say "I see some good evidence for Christianity, but if I believed it, I'd have to change my sex life. I don't want to do that, let me click on over to Internet Infidels, so they can get me nice and convinced that atheism is true."

But, of course, in most discussions, we find people on both sides of the issue claiming to be rational. And here it is still, of course, possible to accuse the other side of dishonesty. Russell, for example, thinks that the case for God is so strong that the only way any otherwise intelligent person could accept orthodox Christianity would be if they were to be affected by a desire to disbelieve the unpleasant.

Do we have a duty to fix beliefs in a certain way, so as to be honest? What are those methods? The trouble I have is that dishonesty charges are made by people who just think the case is just overwhelming on their own side and can't see how intelligent people who are interested in the truth could be on the other side.

The problem I've got is that people make these charges, and what it amounts to is the fact that they assessed the evidence differently and can't see how an intelligent person could fail to assess it the way they did. It's a kind of personal incredulity claim: I can't believe anybody could think the evidence was in favor of that.

What kind of evidence do we need to make charges of intellectual dishonesty against others? My claim has been that this is a claim that we should make very cautiously. We do not know what the total evidence another person is looking at.

If someone were accused of taking a position which implied a contradiction, one might be tempted to make this kind of charge. But of course, we don't see all the contradictions, and what may seem contradictory to you may seem so to someone else; they may see a relevant difference where you see none.

I'm trying to make a case against an itchy trigger finger on these charges. Again, I'm asking, what kind of evidence do we need?

7 comments:

Mike Darus said...

Tope 10 Examples of intelectual dishonesty:
1) I say I believe x but I really believe y.
2) I cannot take a position that is held by a person who I do not respect or holds a position I disagree with.
3) In order to take a position, I require absolute certainty.
4) My beliefs are not influenced by my family of origin.
5) All of my positions are proven by historical facts.
6) Those who believe differently than me are obviously wrongly motivated.
7) My position is supported by the real experts.
8) My positions are unique. No one have ever the ideas I have.
9) I have not been influenced by anyone else.
10) My positions are based on reason alone. I deny that any other motivations affect my decisions about what to believe.

Victor Reppert said...

I like this list. Only sometimes people really can be justified in thinking that their position is supported by the real experts. It is only when we have no criteria for real expertise other than agreement with my position that we are getting into dishonesty.

Victor Reppert said...

Notice that it is easier to see these sins of intellect in one's intellectual opponents than in one's friends.

Tom Gilson said...

One of my favorite points in Sam Harris's The End of Faith came after he had been complaining over and over again that there was no evidence for God. I had been wondering what would count as evidence for him. Finally he revealed the answer when he described God as that "for which no evidence is even conceivable." That pretty much explained what he was looking for; and it showed his own intellectual honesty on the topic.

Hiero5ant said...

One of my favorite points in Sam Harris's The End of Faith came after he had been complaining over and over again that there was no evidence for God. I had been wondering what would count as evidence for him. Finally he revealed the answer when he described God as that "for which no evidence is even conceivable." That pretty much explained what he was looking for; and it showed his own intellectual honesty on the topic.

A ctrl-F search of the PDF book reveals that this quote-mine "finally" appears on page 21:

"Finding ourselves in a universe that seems bent upon destroying us,
we quickly discover, both as individuals and as societies, that it is a good thing to understand the forces arrayed against us. And so it is that every human being comes to desire genuine knowledge about the world. This has always posed a special problem for religion, because every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which it has no evidence. In fact, every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable. This put the "leap" in Kierkegaard's leap of faith."

Not even a mention of God, much less "defining Her as that for which no evidence is even conceivable." Instead there is the matter-of-fact observation that some doctrines (not listed, but google up 'filioque' and imagine what that argument looks like to a nonbeliever) are so divorced from experience that it is in principle impossible to verify them.

You need to do some serious rethinking of your mote/beam tolerance ratio.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Pwnd.

I bet Harris would give tons of evidence that would make him believe: e.g., his deceased parents coming back and talking to him (not in a dream or anything, but in reality, in front of people, with the same DNA as his parents etc), telling him that God is real.

That would convince pretty much anyone that naturalism is false.

Blue Devil Knight said...

According to Ilion it is intellectually dishonest to:
1. Play devil's advocate.
2. Give a reductio type argument (after all you have to assume X to show ~X).
3. Give a charitable reading of anybody's work.
4. Disagree with Ilion.