Thursday, June 09, 2005

Conversations with Angie: The need for certainty


I do think you might've misunderstood what I meant by "reasonableness is enough." You said reasonableness is not enough for you since there are lots of beliefs that are reasonable. By "reasonable," I don't just mean that Christianity isn't absurd or that Christianity might possibly be true. I would agree that lots of beliefs are reasonable in that sense of the word, and I would agree that that kind of reasonableness is not a sufficient reason to dedicate one's life to a belief. What I mean by "reasonable" is that there are good reasons to think Christianity is true, even if those reasons aren't necessarily conclusive. Belief in Christianity is reasonable to me in the sense that it's a justified belief that falls short of absolute certainty.

Let me give an analogy to explain what I mean. I said before that there is very little I know with absolute certainty. If you've ever read David Hume's book, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, you'll know what I'm talking about. Hume demonstrated that there's little if anything at all that we can know for certain, simply because there's always the possibility that we're wrong. For example, it's possible that we're all dreaming. Maybe we're plugged into the Matrix with probes in our heads. Maybe we're brains in vats being stimulated. In that case, we can't know with absolute certainty that anything we're experiencing in the world is real. However, just because these scenarios are possible broadly speaking, that doesn't mean they're reasonable to believe. It seems much more reasonable to believe that our senses are generally reliable, and that there really is an external world, and we're pretty much experiencing it the way it is. That's what I mean by "reasonable." Our belief in the external world is a justified belief, and it's reasonable even though we can't be 100% certain that our belief is true.

I think you're right to say we're opposites in the sense that I don't require absolute certainty before I'll dedicate my life to something, whereas you do. But I must admit that I don't understand why you would require that kind of certainty. Maybe you can explain that a little more in your next email. Now I'll grant that my belief in Christianity is not quite as strong as my belief in the external world, so let me make another analogy that may better explain why I don't see things the way you do.

Let's say you go to eat at a restaurant. We've all seen those shows on TV, and we've all heard those stories about how people will put all kinds of nasty things in people's food and drinks. With that in mind, we obviously can't be certain that when we eat out, somebody didn't blow snot in our food or something. If we knew for certain that they DID, then we probably wouldn't eat the food, right? But we DO eat the food, even without absolute certainty. The possibility of somebody putting something nasty in our food isn't nearly as unlikely as the possibility that we're plugged into the Matrix, and yet we still eat. We eat it because we find it reasonable to believe that nobody put something nasty in our food.

In fact, we make decisions every single day on less than absolute certainty. We get in our cars every day not knowing with absolute certainty that we won't get in an accident and get killed. We marry people, dedicating our lives to them, without knowing with absolute certainty that they won't cheat on us, abandon us, or get cancer the next week. We do these things because our beliefs outweight our doubts. As much as we'd like absolute certainty, we don't need it.

I don't see why religion should be any different. I agree with you that there's no point in being a Christian if you don't think Christianity is true. But what I disagree with is that you have to be 100% sure that Christianity is true before dedicating your life to it. After all, it's impossible to be neutral. You either dedicate your life to being a Christian or to not being a Christian. You can't be a Christian and not be a Christian at the same time and in the sense. You either are or you aren't. So if you require 100% certainty that Christianity is true before being a Christian, shouldn't you also require 100% certain that Christianity is false before NOT being a Christian? Very few people (if any) are 100% sure either way. Even some of the most famous atheist philosophers don't claim that kind of certainty in their disbelief in God.

The only things I'm 100% certain of are basic things like the laws of logic, that 2+2=4, that I exist, that I'm having sensory perceptions, and things like that. With everything else, I have a measure of belief and doubt. With the external world, I've got about 99.99% belief and 0.01% doubt. With other things, I may have 60% belief and 40% doubt. But even with 51% belief, that's still a belief that the thing is true rather than false, and although the belief may be loosely held and not strong at all, I think we ought to live according to what we think is true rather than what we think is false. So even if my belief is only 51%, I ought to live consistently with that belief.

It's hard for me to say exactly how strong my belief in Christianity is, because there are several claims that, together, constitute what I take "Christianity" to be, and the strength of my belief in some of those claims is stronger than the others. For example, I'm more certain that God exists than I am that Jesus was raised from the dead. I believe them both, but my belief in God is stronger.

In the next email, I guess I'll tell you what I take those basic claims of Christianity to be and give you some idea of how strongly I believe them. It will be part of my answer to some of your reasons for doubting Christianity.

In my last email, I told you there were some things you said that I could relate with, so I'll also go into those in my next email.

Maybe one of these days, I'll get around to telling you why I think Christianity is true. In the meantime, I'm going to Canton this morning. Those Rice Crispy treats last night sure did make me thirsty!


Conversations with Angie: Angie responds

1 comment:

daleliop said...

Interesting stuff. ^_^