Saturday, May 03, 2014

Believing In

Apparently Julian Baggini and others will be discussing whether it is rational to believe in God on BBC One tomorrow. When I read the tweet I had a sudden epiphany: Is it rational to believe in anyone (or anything)?

It has always seemed somewhat silly (irrational) to me to believe in, say, Darwin or evolution or the theory of evolution. Lots of people do, but they seem to do so largely in the spirit of any other religion. They don't believe anything very specific. They believe a certain group of scientists is speaking the truth, and that preachers are speaking a falsehood. They take Dawkins to be their pope and Darwin to be their savior. Something like that, any way. Now, I think it is perfectly rational to believe that the human species, like all modern life forms, evolved from more primitive forms. It is also perfectly rational to believe that the meaning of our lives as human beings derives from the designs of some greater intelligence. As long as you believe that some proposition is true based on your belief that other propositions are true, then you are being rational in your beliefs. You may of course be completely mistaken. But you are not being irrational.

What is irrational is to "believe in" someone or something. Even your faith in a friend or spouse is not, of course, the result of a rational process. It has no propositional content, so your faith can be betrayed, but it cannot turn out to be "false". So whether or not your faith is rational depends on what you believe when you say you believe in God. Do you believe that He hears your prayers and protects you while you sleep? Well, what evidence to do you have? Then we can decide. But if you're going to admit that you're merely believing in him, then you don't need to be rational about it at all.


Presskorn said...

It's really sort of depressing that such rather obvious semantic distinctions never enter into the discussions.

Both sides continue to treat the discussion of God's existence as if it was matter of *believing that* (Christians are mistaken in interpreting their own views in this way).

And yet both sides also persists in discussing the matter with a passion only appropriate to *believing in* - as if character of their spouse had been questioned (evolutionary biologists are mistaken in getting so exiciting about the whole thing).

PS: By your standards, the 2013 documentary on Dawkins, "The Unbelievers" [available for free!/], is a good religious movie. In that movie, I love the fact that its intro consists of people like Cameron Diaz and Bill Pullman who passionately tells us that Dawkins is right about everything. It is indeed very relieving to knowing that Dawkins's theory is consistent with Camaron Diaz's views on evolutionary biology.

PSS: Again and this is part of its depressing its characteristic, it's not that the Christian side fares better. This movie by Vince Vitale (going on BCC today) is for instance completely nutters or perhaps more accurately, just plain false:

JforJames said...

I don't 'believe' in Darwin/evolution but I 'accept' the theory as a better creation story.