A Manual For Creating Atheists pgs 79-80

May 23, 2016

“Having certain convictions–even the belief that one should form one’s beliefs on the basis of evidence–is not noble. Formulating beliefs on the basis of evidence and acting accordingly does not make one a better person. It just makes it more likely that one’s beliefs are true and far less likely that one’s beliefs will be false. Similarly, not formulating beliefs on the basis of evidence (faith) does not make one a bad person. Aristotle made the distinction between a moral virtue and an intellectual virtue, and working toward developing a reliable epistemology is a step toward developing intellectual virtue.”

–Peter Boghossian, A Manual for Creating Atheists, pgs 79-80


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7 comments on “A Manual For Creating Atheists pgs 79-80

  • “Having certain convictions–even the belief that one should form one’s beliefs on the basis of evidence–is not noble.

    “Beliefs is the wrong word for confidence in evidence! It is too easily attributed a false equivalence with “beliefs” based on indoctrination, propaganda, or wishful thinking! The elegance of scientific thinking and mathematical deduction, IS noble!

    Formulating beliefs on the basis of evidence and acting accordingly does not make one a better person.

    Surely a competent person is “a better person” than an incompetent one, providing the competence is in some ethical purpose rather than some destructive one. In that sense, the competent judgements based on evidence, are not necessarily “better” (better is not clearly defined here), but are more likely to be so.

    It just makes it more likely that one’s beliefs are true and far less likely that one’s beliefs will be false.

    Purposeful objectives are usually at least more effective than the random outcomes of wishful faith-thinking which are likely to ensure failure.

    Similarly, not formulating beliefs on the basis of evidence (faith) does not make one a bad person.

    “Bad”, without a clear definition, rather begs the question. If we are pursuing moral objectives, then using “faith” in unreliable thinking, clearly makes those people bad at achieving achieving the desired results, so persistence in using failing methods does make them “bad people” in terms of effectiveness!

    If they were employed as say: airline pilots, electrical engineers, or surgeons, they should either be persuaded to be properly trained to think clearly and accept and use effective methods, or should be sacked as incompetent, dangerous, and incapable of working to acceptable standards!
    Accident reports are full of wish-thinking decisions made on faith without evidence, in place of carrying out proper tests, checks and procedures!

    Blundering incompetents who insist on using failing methods, are in terms of practical outcomes – “bad people” to be involved in those activities.



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  • 2
    rocket888 says:

    “It just makes it more likely that ones beliefs are true and far less likely that ones beliefs will be false”

    But in a world this complex, it’s extremely rare that one has first hand knowledge of evidence; rather, we all (mostly) make our judgements based on the (faith based) belief that others have had first hand evidence. And today, more often than not, the evidence is the output of computer programs.

    How many times have we listened to a speculative theory where the author never admits to just what is speculative vs. evidence based. The multi-verse and string theory come to mind – but my favorite is the belief that we can prove the universe came from nothing, even though we have not even come up with a good definition of “nothing”.

    So, perhaps we too should stop worshiping the lords of evidence, as though they were omnipotent.



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  • rocket888 #2
    May 24, 2016 at 1:49 am

    So, perhaps we too should stop worshiping the lords of evidence, as though they were omnipotent.

    Or perhaps we should just learn to recognise the difference between soundly and repeatedly tested evidence, based on scientific methodology, and stuff which has been erroneously labelled “theory”, when it should be called “speculation”, “hypothesis”, or as yet “untested theory”!

    In science the definition of “theory” is very specific!



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  • My unease with this particular paragraph by Professor Boghossian concerns definitions.
    He begins by saying that it is not “noble” to “form” one’s beliefs on evidence. Then he
    switches to “formulating” beliefs. These are very different processes. He further states that acting on such beliefs does not make one a better person. I humbly disagree, sir.

    To “form” simply means to develop an opinion or idea. To “formulate” means to express something with care; to communicate something carefully or in specific words. “Noble” means possessing high ideals or excellent moral character

    I submit that a person who does formulate beliefs based on evidence and acts accordingly is a better, nobler person than one who cannot legitimately “formulate” beliefs without the evidence to buttress such specious claims , especially when that otherwise good someone then claims to own a higher “virtue”.

    I am slightly concerned that the professor’s erudite words may serve to enable those who choose faith without reason.



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  • There appears to be some confusion over what Peter is trying to say.

    My two-penneth:

    Having certain convictions – even the belief that one should form one’s beliefs on the basis of evidence – is not noble

    If we believe [accept something as true], even if we base that belief on something seemingly concrete – like evidence, this is not noble [it does not grant us the personal quality or having high moral principles].

    Formulating beliefs on the basis of evidence and acting accordingly does not make one a better person

    Formulating beliefs [methodically studying and accepting something as true], using evidence, and acting on that belief does not make you morally superior.

    It just makes it more likely that one’s beliefs are true and far less likely that one’s beliefs will be false

    You could still be mistaken. Also, as a moral actor, you are more likely to be acting for the good because you’re more likely to using truth as a starting point – but this does not make you more moral, just more competent.

    Similarly, not formulating beliefs on the basis of evidence (faith) does not make one a bad person

    Formulating beliefs on faith [on the basis of conviction without evidence], and acting on that belief does not make you morally inferior.

    You could still be a good person, you’re just more likely to be incompetent.

    Aristotle made the distinction between a moral virtue and an intellectual virtue

    Ergo: When thinking about how we form our convictions, our beliefs, we need to consider the morality and the truth seperately.

    … and work … toward developing a reliable epistemology …

    An important task for each of us as individuals is, then, to study how we get to a consistently high level of trust in our knowledge [true, justified beliefs] …

    [as] a step toward developing intellectual virtue

    … and consider if we are using our thinking faculties to reach truth.

    Or, to put that another way: Thinking based on evidence is not the be-all-and-end-all. The way you think matters, if you value truth and if you value seperating right from wrong. Truth and morality are different virtues that may require different knowledge [true, justified beliefs].

    The sentence that follows this, in the book:

    Street Epistemologists should diligently try to uncouple the idea that the act of belief, the tenacity with which one holds a belief, and the epistemelogical system to which one subscribes, are moral virtues. Dennet terms this “belief in belief” – the idea that people believe that they should have certain beliefs.

    In other words: The extract provided above is the basis of the main approach to helping people who say they believe through faith to see that they may be victims of faulty thinking – but that doesn’t make them a bad person, it just makes them wrong about certain things.

    In most theologies the meaning of faith is bound up with belief, trust, loyalty and security – but it boils down to the same thing in the end: Trust me, I have the truth. This, inexorably, leads to the conclusion of the Believer saying that they believe (enter belief X here) through faith. What the Beliver means is wrapped up in those other words so losing that faith might be frightening – we’re possibly talking about a major loss of security and trust – and this is why tenacity kicks in.

    Peter is often taken to task by more thoughtful faith-heads for his shortcut: Faith = a belief in things you don’t know. I have so far not seen one detractor that acknowledges the depth of Peter’s thinking, and that is demonstrated in the above extract.

    Even if we grant the Believer all those caveats on the meaning of faith it makes no difference. The way they’re applying thinking to reach truth has no intellectual virtue – their epistemology leaves a great deal to be desired. Their thinking is faulty.

    Peace.



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