Saturday, May 30, 2009

Can we suspend judgment on belief in God?

John Loftus sent the following note to me.

Richard Feldman makes the argument that if two "epistemic peers" with "shared evidence" disagree on an issue, then what both people should do is "suspend judgement." Yes. Again, we have no trouble affirming gravity for we all agree about it (no one wants to bet against it, levitators aside for the minute), we were all taught to believe it, and we can test it for ourselves. Therefore we can be assurd that there is gravity.


My response to this is Jamesean. We either have to act as if God existed or act as if he did not. We have to decide whether to attend church on Sunday, whether to think of our fellows as headed for an immortal life or headed for extinction, etc. We must decide not only what can we know, but what must we do and what can we hope.

Let's ask this question. Could you suspend judgment on the question of whether your wife is unfaithful? You have a choice to make. You have to act as if she is or act as if she is not. Suspense of judgment may be a legitimate option temporarily, but sooner or later you've got to make up your mind.

And you have made up yours on both the God question and the question of your wife's fidelity. You are not suspending judgment, are you? So why ask me to suspend judgment?

15 comments:

unkle e said...

I agree with your answer, Victor. As the saying goes, I'm not going to die wondering.

I think the argument John refers to here is valid on matters that we can afford to wait. Many scientific and philosophic questions are in this category, and science generally needs to wait until it can know with 95% confidence.

But many aspects of life require something different (your example is just one). Making a decision in an emergency (e.g. deciding whether to evacuate a burning building), choosing who to vote for or who to marry, choosing what course to do at University, etc, are other examples of decision-making without certainty.

Even in science, we may wish to make decisions in advance of full certainty - e.g. those suffering from HIV often wish to try out drugs which have not yet been fully tested, because they offer more hope than anything else.

Eric said...

"We either have to act as if God existed or act as if he did not."

I agree. I read somewhere that this is one of the most important elements of the much maligned Pascal's Wager. Even if you don't buy Pascal's alternatives, it's hard to escape the point that leads him to pose his perhaps inadequate alternatives, i.e. the necessity of making a choice.

Ilíon said...

VR: "... And you have made up yours on both the God question and the question of your wife's fidelity. You are not suspending judgment, are you? So why ask me to suspend judgment?"

And here you were saying not too many months ago that you don't really understand what is meant by the phrase "intellectual dishonesty." It seems to me that you do know, after all. And it seems to me that you've more than implied that Mr Loftus is indeed intellectually dishonest.

Maybe there is something to all that Kumbayah business, after all? ;-)


As I keep pointing out, the question of God's existence is a question about the very nature of reality -- it is the Ultimate Question; or, looking at it the other direction, it is the First Question: for all other questions one may ask, and thus all other answers one may discover, follow from the answer one gives to the question, "Exists God?"

*Everyone* -- including the self-proclaimed agnostics -- supplies an answer, whether the correct or the incorrect answer, to the question. Everyone -- including the self-proclaimed agnostics -- lives as though he knows the answer to the question; though, it must also be acknowledged that many people try irrationally and illogically to live as though both potential answers are correct.

Maynard said...

Richard Feldman makes the argument that if two "epistemic peers" with "shared evidence" disagree on an issue, then what both people should do is "suspend judgment."I'm unacquainted with Feldman's argument, so I don't know what he means by "epistemic peers" or what properly constitutes "shared evidence." But suppose, for the moment, he's right.

Given any proposition p, then, if two epistemic peers with shared evidence disagree with respect to p, then they should suspend judgment concerning p's truth-value. What if p is the proposition

two epistemic peers, with shared evidence, should suspend judgment concerning a proposition's truth-value when there's disagreement with respect to that proposition,

and the appropriate conditions are satisfied for two epistemic peers to suspend judgment with respect to p? According to Feldman, it seems they should both suspend judgment about whether it's ever justified to suspend judgment on a given proposition.

Ilíon said...

Quite so, Maynard; these little schemes of deceptive reasoning that 'atheists' and 'freethinkers' periodically try to float do so often seem to be built around the same old lead balloon.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, it seems as though we both separately posted our responses to each other today. See this.

Anonymous said...

As one whose mind simply cannot decide what is the truth of 'god', what happens is that one creates, with reason and emotion and limited knowledge - and irrational hopes an fears - an independent 'universe picture' which carries its own implications for actions.

How could it be any other way?
The seemingly impossible decisions .. are simply out of the picture.

Ilíon said...

Anonymous: "... The seemingly impossible decisions .. are simply out of the picture."

Anonymous,
With your 'universe picture,' you have already *implicitly* answered "No" to the question -- though, at the same time, I have no doubt that you constantly seek to populate your 'universe picture' with concepts which simply don't fit.

That is the point, after all: that it is impossible for any man to live as though the question either is meaningless or at best has no possibility of answer. There are only two possible answers to the question, and *everyone* chooses one or the other; though, not everyone lives consistently with the answer he has chosen.

Ilíon said...

Christians frequently fail to live up to the 'universe picture' we believe to be the truth about reality. But then, it always have been a part of that 'universe picture' that none of us *can* live up to the moral perfection -- perfect love -- God requires of us.

'Atheists,' on the other hand -- and thank God for small miracles -- generally do not live down to the 'universe picture' they believe to be the truth about reality.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

First: it is *obviously* possible to suspend judgement on whether or not your wife his unfaithful. If you have some reason to think she is, but the evidence is ambiguous, it would be a mistake to confront her in the way that you would if you had unambiguous evidence that she was on faithful, because if you were wrong it could be a disaster.

For God: I think the answer here is underdetermined. It depends, in large part, whether you think you know anything at all about what God would be like *if* he existed. Given the number of possible views of God, the issue is complicated and interesting. It would be easy to write a dissertation on the topic. I haven't thought about it in *that* much detail, but I doubt that, even with a somewhat high credence for "damn you forever" type Gods, there wouldn't be some set of credences for which both "act like you're sure there's a God" and "act like you're sure there's no God" would be inappropriate responses.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

That should be "unfaithful," not "on faithful." Dunno how that happened.

AMANDA GILBERT DZURILLA said...

Margaret Bonnano:

It is only possible to live happily ever after on a day to day basis.Nice Comment!

Ilíon said...

The All-Too Credulous Hallq: "First: it is *obviously* possible to suspend judgement on whether or not your wife his unfaithful. If you have some reason to think she is, but the evidence is ambiguous, it would be a mistake to confront her in the way that you would if you had unambiguous evidence that she was on faithful, because if you were wrong it could be a disaster."

Silly man! You're conflating suspending acting in certain ways based on the belief one holds about some evidence with the impossible act of suspending belief about that evidence.

If one is presented with some evidence that one's spouse is unfaithful, then one *chooses* to believe either:
1) that one's spouse is not, after all, unfaithful; or,
2) that one's spouse is indeed unfaithful;

There is no suspension of belief involved.

One *chooses* to believe that one's spouse is faithful -- one *chooses* to believe that the evidence presented is false evidence not worthy of consideration. Period. The matter is closed. If the matter *isn't* closed, then one ovbiously does not believe what one is pretending to believe.

Or, one *chooses* to believe that one's spouse is unfaithful -- one *chooses* to believe that the evidence presented is sound. From there, one *chooses* to:
1) confront the spouse with the evidence at hand;
2) seek further evidence so as to strengthen the one's case against one's spouse;
3) seek further evidence so as to weaken the one's case against one's spouse;
4) pretend, as best one is able, to be ignorant of the evidence.


The All-Too Credulous Hallq: "For God: I think the answer here is underdetermined. It depends, in large part, whether you think you know anything at all about what God would be like *if* he existed...."

The erroneous nature of this has already been explored.

Anonymous said...

That assumes there IS clear evidence about the wife. Seems to me that in the case of god one may seek all the further clarification and evidence either way, but if nothing conclusive emerges ... the mind and emotions, etc etc, leads you to some other working concept of life the universe an everything.
It may be that one is predisposed more to belief. Or not.

Fortunately we already know the answer to the meaning of life etc. is .. 42 !

anon again.

Ilíon said...

Anonymous: "That assumes there IS clear evidence about the wife. Seems to me that in the case of god one may seek all the further clarification and evidence either way, but if nothing conclusive emerges ... the mind and emotions, etc etc, leads you to some other working concept of life the universe an everything."

You weren't paying attention. You weren't paying attention to the original post, you weren't paying attention to the expansion on it ... and, you weren't paying attention to what you, yourself, have just posted. I've quoted it, if that helps you.