Monthly Archives: June 2010
Warning: The following post involves personal statements that may seem arrogant and dogmatic to those with nonscientific worldviews and those who value faith over reason. Discretion and thicker skins are highly recommended.
What is a belief? Is it a belief that a belief is a belief? Or is it a fact that some things we hold to be true are beliefs and some are things we can and do meaningfully know about the world and ourselves?
I define for my purposes that a belief is any sort of proposal, claim, or statement, that we hold as being true, regardless of its actual truth value.
It is entirely possible for something we do not definitively know but merely suppose, to be true, but merely holding it as true doesn’t make it so. The evidence of experience tells me that belief alone does not literally sculpt reality.
To be true, a belief has to relate to reality, whether of the world outside or inside our skulls. Even if a belief turns out to be true, unless we have a way of being made aware that it is, it is merely a highly probable guess that by chance happens to be fact.
As a skeptic, even more important than looking into strange claims and far more interesting, is understanding the psychology of belief — the entire range from feckless acceptance to dedicated denial — and understanding what gives rise to, motivates, and perpetuates beliefs from the mundane to the bizarre.
I’m not interested in ‘making people not believe,’ since what people believe is their own business when those beliefs are adopted of their own free will and understanding. I draw the line at those claims that are promoted using deceptive or coercive means, whether coercion by force of law, or coercion by fear or force. I want people to think for themselves, not to be told what to think or believe by command of an authority or blindly accept whatever happens to agree with their prejudices out of ignorance.
Unfortunately there’s a lot of that going on in the world, which isn’t a hopeless situation, it just means there’s more work to be done. As long as the human condition remains the way it is, skeptics will always have something with which to stay busy. Bring it.
Those who tell you not to think smartly are not to be trusted, and any claim that requires a suspension of disbelief to accept it should be doubly regarded with suspicion.
And so do I inquire of you, my wily readers:
How do you define a belief? How do you define a fact? Are you given to distinguish a belief from a fact? Do you consider the terms interchangeable? Why? Why not? If not, what do you consider facts and what to you are only beliefs? Why?
TNQ is a daily question that I pose to you, my readers, and please, do feel free to comment — I’m not an ogre. As per the title, TNQ is published each weekday at 12:00 PM