We were not born Atheists or Christians pt 2

You probably were thinking that we would continue with the Biblical discussions laid out in part one, but not so right now.  We need to discuss some logical concepts of belief and wisdom first.

wisdom

We will be delving into some theoretical philosophical concepts.  If you have ever taken a college level philosophy course, you would have covered this in the first three weeks of class.  I have had five semesters of philosophy (yes I dropped out of the sixth semester, in order to riot and party) so I hope to be able to compile a reasonable summary for you.

If you believe that there is a God, you probably have given a lot of thought as to why. It is not necessary to discuss the details of my attempt to understand but a short answer is, I do not know why.  Best guess would be something like this:  “Having been an atheist for so many years and believing everything I had been taught, when I looked at life and saw so many individuals being so very happy and never touching drugs or alcohol, I just knew there was something I was missing out on.  I had a back injury at work and spent hours laying in my backyard garden and watching a world I had known existed but never saw for six months.  Then my daughter was born and I just knew that there had to be a god, something or someone who had made all of this work. So I began a search for the Truth and I now know I have found it.”

This obviously is not an argument for God’s existence. It is not intended to be, it is just a condensed version I give when asked.

There is the possibility I could be wrong about this. Possibly my belief that God exists is just a byproduct of the way the the world is and the events that occurred to me in my life.   Maybe god-belief is just one of the many things that happen to a person, then again, maybe not. I do not know and cannot say how my belief that God exists came about or how it is sustained.  I have some guesses, given my specific brand of belief, but overall, I have to admit that I really cannot be specific.

I have no doubt that there are good arguments for God’s existence. (By “good”, I mean that many people find at least some of them irresistible, when they are considered either individually or jointly.)  What I am trying to say is that whenever I think about these arguments, I generally find some part of them unsatisfying as a proof for believing.  This dissatisfaction has caused me to decide that these arguments play virtually no role in either forming or sustaining my belief that God exists.

Is this situation normal among theists, Christians and in general believers? I believe that the vast majority of people, who think they know why they believe that there is a God, are to some extent probably wrong.  It is not that I think that the majority of believers in God are equivocators. I just think that they are incorrectly identifying the true causes of their god-belief. This can be done without being a liar.

Why is this? Why do so many people (both the theists and the atheists who harangue them) feel that they must understand why the person believes that God exists? Why are not people more comfortable with simply not knowing?  There are two false views possible. The first is a view that our beliefs are directly under our voluntary control; in other words, our beliefs are like choices for which we are directly responsible.  In addition, the second view is that our beliefs are reasonable only if we are aware of good enough reasons for them (whatever “good enough” amounts to).  Should we accept either of these views?

Are our beliefs under our direct voluntary control?  Are we responsible for our beliefs? Truthfully whenever we are responsible for our beliefs, we are only so indirectly. That is, while it may be within our power to make it such, that some belief is either formed or not formed.  It is not within our power to just, at will, form a belief or even prevent a belief from being formed.  I can indirectly belief that that there is a mad pit bull in my living room.  I can do this by first asking someone to bring over a mad pit bull, and entering into my living room. Nevertheless, I cannot just at will and regardless of the available evidence believe that there is a mad pit bull in my living room.  While I can make it indirectly such that I do not have any specific beliefs about who was, the 19th president of the United States of America by intentionally avoiding certain sorts of history books and other relevant materials that may be able to overturn my lack of beliefs.   I cannot, just at will, not believe that Rutherford B. Hayes was the 19th president when I come across various forms of information that would confirm he was.

However, if we are to be directly responsible for our beliefs, we must be able to form beliefs simply by trying.  For example, if a part of your body is under your direct control, all you have to do is to move a body part.  As long as nothing is preventing you from moving your body part, you will be able to. However, how would you go about endeavoring to believe something directly?

If I only knew how to seek to believe something directly, I would.  The problem is, I do not.  My wanting something to be the case is not enough to form the belief that it is.  There are all sorts of things that I want to be true, while I do not believe that they are. For example, I want it to be true that I can ride a chopped Harley up and down the continental divide, but I do not believe that I can due to my physical condition.  My imagining or pretending something to be the case (even while also wanting it to be the case) is not enough to form the belief that it is.  I can pretend that all sorts of things are the case while also wanting them to be the case without ever forming the belief that they are. For example, in addition to my wanting to ride that Harley, I can also pretend that I am, without ever truly believing that I have.

I have not tried this exercise often, both wanting and pretending something to be the case that I do not already believe is the case. I must admit it is not easy.  Therefore, perhaps if I did this exercise for years on end, I would eventually wake up one day and find myself with the relevant belief- that I have ridden my chopped Harley one last time.  But even if this process worked, it should be clear, if it was not before, that our beliefs are not under our direct voluntary control. That is, however beliefs occur, beliefs are not made like choices.   Beliefs are very much a product of evolution. Let me explain.

Evolution, the belief of or lack thereof, that we possess is greatly influenced by our choices, just as a plant may wither and die or thrive based upon whether we choose to water it. However, that plant is a product of two things: (1) how that plant is, its basic nature and (2) how its environment, the nature of its surroundings contribute to its development.  A fern will not grow in the Arctic and the Arctic poppy won’t grow in the Sonora dessert.   This is no different for us. Our beliefs and non-beliefs are largely a product of both how we are and how our environment is. Yes, you seemingly do have some direct influence over both of these factors. However, your influence over your beliefs is not direct. If you want to influence your beliefs, you must influence either yourself or your environment in some manner and hope that such influencing works out in your favor. Nevertheless, what you cannot do is simply believe whatever you choose. That is simply not the way that beliefs work.  It seems that the best that we can ever do, if we want to acquire or prevent some belief, is do our best with what is within our direct power and hope that whatever we are doing is enough to result in either the formation of some desired belief or the prevention of some undesired belief.

What if our beliefs are reasonable only if we are aware of good enough reasons for them, whatever “good enough” amounts to?  I think that our rejection of this view should be a natural consequence of our rejection of the view that we are directly responsible for our beliefs.  If beliefs are more like plants and less like choices, then why should we think that we would be aware of the reasons that either constitute or fail to constitute their cause?

I am not saying that logical reasons are unimportant or that logical reasons are insufficient for changing our beliefs.   I am not saying that when our beliefs change for logical reasons that we cannot be aware of those changes. I am simply rejecting the view that the goodness of any and every belief depends upon our being aware of some good-enough reason for it.

Ok, then it is fair to ask, what is my good-enough reason for this view?  In one instance, where we want to be aware of good-enough reasons for our own beliefs, perhaps my rejection of the view that our beliefs are like choices, justifies my rejection of the view that the goodness of our beliefs depends upon our awareness of good-enough reasons for them.  But,  in another instance the  awareness of good-enough reasons for our beliefs and lack thereof is very important, perhaps my rejection of the view that the goodness of our beliefs depends upon our awareness of good-enough reasons for them is good-enough simply because sufficient reasons to accept such a view have failed to overtake me.  Moreover, if the latter is the case, then why should the goodness of my rejection of the relevant view depend upon my being aware of such a failure?

Let us look at the facts: my failure to accept the view that the goodness of our beliefs depends upon our awareness of good-enough reasons for them is plausibly due to some sort of evidential failure on the part of such a view. Given this sort of evidential environment and given the way that I am, my rejection of such a view seems beyond reproach. Why should anything else be demanded of me?  Why should I also have to be aware of these facts?  Somehow a failure of belief has occurred.  Moreover, if I am not responsible for such failures since  I am not directly responsible for my beliefs, then why should I have to be aware of anything for my lack of belief to be acceptable?

The significance of all this?  It is something like this: inasmuch as we are committed to the practice of evaluating ourselves and others, let us focus our evaluation primarily upon that for which we are directly responsible and could be ultimately blameworthy: our voluntary choices or actions. For when do we ever rightly hold a person responsible for the things that occur totally beyond their control? We do not.

 

Moreover, we should not. A person can only rightly be held responsible for an event’s occurrence or nonoccurrence to the degree that such a person’s voluntary actions or inactions contributed to an event’s occurrence or nonoccurrence.  Our voluntary actions and inactions, whatever they may be and only to whatever degree that we may actually engage in them, are the only sorts of things for which we are directly responsible and for which we can be ultimately blameworthy. The only way that we can be indirectly blameworthy for anything is if we are in direct control of something.

A relevant question: if we want to evaluate such voluntary actions or choices, how should we evaluate them? There are many ways of evaluating voluntary actions.  Moreover, given such a plurality of ways of evaluating such actions, which standard of judgment stands supreme, if any? That is, is there any way to evaluate the goodness or value of voluntary actions that either is able to be preferred over all others or, at least, not preferable by any other? I do not know if there is one standard that is categorically better than every other is for evaluating voluntary actions. However, I do believe that there is at least one way of evaluating actions that is at least as good as any other, a standard that is preferable. It is according to the standard of wisdom.

To begin to show this, let us first look at wisdom. “Wisdom” seems to pick out something in the ballpark of knowledge for protecting one’s threatened interests. “Wisdom” seems to pick out something other than mere knowledge.  It seems to pick out a sort of knowledge. How should we evaluate it?  There are many ways of evaluating voluntary actions.  Moreover, given such a plurality of ways of evaluating such actions, which standard of judgment stands supreme, if any?   Is there any way to evaluate the goodness or value of voluntary actions that can be preferred over all others or, at least, not preferred by any other?  I do not know if there is one standard that is categorically better than every other one is  for evaluating voluntary actions. However, I do believe that there is at least one way of evaluating actions that is at least as good as any other, a standard that is ultimately preferable. It is according to the standard of wisdom.   For example, while it seems incorrect to call one’s mere know-how for cape-tugging, spitting, mask-pulling and messing around with others “wisdom,” such know-how does seem to count as wisdom when we also know that such actions should be avoided when relative to Superman, the wind, Spiderman, a gang of bullies, respectively.

This understanding, I believe, points us towards wisdom’s relativity. Wisdom is always relative to some interest.  In addition, another interesting thing about wisdom is that wisdom seems to be maximally inclusive.   That is, there is no threatened interest according to which some wisdom cannot be relative. Thus, wisdom is like philosophy in that both wisdom and philosophy are primarily second-order interests. For example, just as for any discipline you pick, there can be a second-order philosophy of that discipline (e.g., the philosophy of science, the philosophy of mathematics and even the philosophy of philosophy), there can be, for any interest you pick, some wisdom for that interest.

Therefore, the reason that the standard of wisdom is a preferred standard for evaluating our respective actions is a result of two factors. The first has to do with the nature of wisdom and the second has to do with what would have to be true of any evaluative standard that was able to beat the standard of wisdom. Overall, given wisdom’s nature and a genuine concern over the well-being of our interests, there couldn’t one.

To show this, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there is some evaluative standard that is able to be more preferable than the standard of wisdom, a standard that, based upon the judgment of its evaluation, we would be willing to change our behavior.  If there is such an evaluative standard, then there will be some consideration in virtue of which we would be willing to change our behavior, based upon its evaluation. For (1) whenever we act rationally, we always act for reasons and (2) the reasons for which we act are always grounded in our cares, interests, goals, desires and the like.  So, for you to be compelled to change your behavior based upon some evaluation of your behavior that evaluation would have to reveal something negative about your behavior for which you cared. However, given wisdom’s maximally inclusive nature for such cares, interests, desires and the like, there is no reason that wisdom cannot be relative to such a care.  If not, then there cannot be a standard for evaluating your actions that is able to be better than the standard of wisdom. Wisdom is always available for your interests and no other consideration is aimed at handling your interests with better care.

Now, with this foundation, (1) that voluntary actions are the appropriate objects of our evaluative judgments and (2) that the standard of wisdom is an uncompromising standard for evaluating such objects, we will continue with this series.

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