June 1, 2010

Thinking About True Belief and How We Are All True Believers

Hi, welcome to the midweek, thanks for the comments and feel free to send links of any further information if there is something I am missing. This blog will  be about true belief, the nature what defines true belief and trying to put that nature in a comparable light.

For myself to accomplish those three things it is of paramount important to define what I mean by  the concept of true belief. True belief would have to be simply the act of putting a belief beyond doubt. No matter what the evidence, popularity, or contradictions, the belief is held unquestioned as capital 'T' truth. This is a sort of Kierkegaardian ideal for knowing something is true. Soren Kierkegaard has an interesting take on belief and the understanding of truth and really defines what the essence of true belief is. His idea is that if you can take a belief and believe in it so much that the belief becomes true to you.  I got a description of this type of reasoning from the Stanford Philosophic Encyclopedia where Kierkegaard explains that concept of true belief that goes beyond reason.

"There are two possible attitudes we can adopt to this assertion, viz. we can have faith, or we can take offense. What we cannot do, according to Kierkegaard, is believe by virtue of reason. If we choose faith we must suspend our reason in order to believe in something higher than reason. In fact we must believe by virtue of the absurd."

This is an elegant and fair description what  true belief is and Kierkegaard understood and expressed that idea as well as anyone, although what he did with that understanding is very peculiar.

So with that I'll mention that James Randi on many occasions made statements showing he understands true belief. In one instance, I think the second time he was on the skeptics guide to the Universe, he brought up the issue of true belief. He talked about how a man was having trouble with his wife. His wife was sick, and beyond help, but she didn't take that as the end of the matter. She, like many people in such a sorry state, kept spending money on different frivolous shame therapies and hoping for a cure. Her husband had, had enough and was tired of the monetary losses and asked James Randi what he could do, and Randi, being honest, said that there was probably nothing. Once someone has become a true believer in the Kierkegaardian and Lamar Keene  sense they are beyond being reached.

I think for the most part I agree with Randi, and to show the example of this type of idea I wanted to talk about the success rates of door to door religion peddlers, but alas I could find no statistics on their success rates. What I did find was a New York Times article taking about Mormon's who had become door to door salesmen. Mormons make good door to door salesmen because they are used to being rejected and have some strategies for dealing with the rejection inherent in that line of work. The article mentions that it takes 50-100 doors to create one or two sales of products, which is pretty low considering they have a useful product to share. The article then ends on a sad note, of an act performed by upon Pinnacle door to door salesmen,

"Newbies, for fear they may retreat to their cars, are dropped off and left on foot without shelter or access to a bathroom unless they can gain admittance into a house to make their sales pitch. Mr. Rogers, who is 21, had three energy bars and no umbrella to last him through a long, wet day.
He had made one sale by dark, when they picked him up."
That one sale is selling a product that has a function and that people may need, I'd imagine the rates for selling a religion door to door is an order of magnitude lower than that, but I'm sure there are occasionally successes.
What door to door people who talk about religion are doing is trying to change someones true belief , which can be done if the people are vulnerable. This is like the deathbed conversions that sometimes happen, but I don't how it work work with beliefs and anyone who is able to weight evidence well.

This is by definition true because true believers go beyond evidence and rest their mind on pure unquestioned faith. Once this is happened, all that evidence can do is plant the seeds of doubt that so often go without sowing. It is a sad story, with no happy ending or cure.

I think in a way though everyone is a true believer in matters of taste. No amount of evidence will tell me that I don't like the taste of cheesecake, like the color green, or thought that Hegel was a bastard to read. These are matters where evidence is almost irrelevant, and why I say almost will be the subject of my next post. Taste is a subjective understanding that, while not needing to be illogical and require faith, is made with anecdotal evidence and biased evidence.

Trying to change the mind of the true believer is like trying to tell someone their favorite movie wasn't any good, it just is, unfortunately, a waist of breath. This is not to say that it isn't worth doing, just like the few people that the door to door religion peddlers are able to get to, there is a small minority that might change over time, but it's not worth being hostile or overly hopeful for it to happen.

Thanks for reading.
-the moral skeptic.

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