Some Preliminary Conceptual Distinctions Related To Belief And (Dis)Belief

Spootmeister, a Camels With Hammers reader whose advice on videos has led to many a great find that we have been able to feature here, has finally produced his first video on atheism and theism.  It’s an interesting video in which he tries to make several key distinctions between types of beliefs and types of atheism, and then to consider to what extent we can control what we believe.  I’m a little torn on his last point and so am particularly interested in Your Thoughts.

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Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Spootmeister

    I guess I could have put it much more concisely: If an option A is chosen without the consequences being known, it can not be said that the consequences of A were themselves chosen.

    It’s… just not a way I’ve ever used the verb “to choose”.

  • Spootmeister

    So if we choose to evaluate evidence and argument by some set X of rules, and we are not aware that adopting X leads primarily to atheism, it can not be said that whoever chose to use X chose to be an atheist.

    For example, theists who choose to adopt a more rigorous, evidence-based and rational approach to thinking about their religion–in order to justify their beliefs (which they still hold)–can’t be said to have chosen atheism, should they end up deconverting. Matt Dillahunty, of the Atheist Community of Austin, is a prime example. Hopefully I don’t get his story wrong in the details, but the point should be clear.

    Matt was going to attend seminary after 25 years of being a fundamentalist, and through conversations he had, discovered that he didn’t have good enough reasons for believing what he did. Citing a Bible passage about it being good to have good reasons for belief, he decided to study about his religion, and ended up becoming an atheist instead of having his belief strengthened. I would not call his choice to better ground his beliefs a choice of atheism over theism, because he didn’t know the inevitable outcome.

  • Spootmeister

    Oh, and thank you very much for featuring my video! :) And whatever constructive criticism you have, by all means please let it loose! I’m always looking to improve my thoughts on these matters.

  • Daniel Fincke

    Hey Mark,

    I think what you’re saying here is right on and it definitely accounts for my own experience, studying theology passionately committed to vindicating the faith with the result of having to abandon it against my will and desire.

    What I am suspicious of, however, is the claim that we cannot choose to believe. I tend to agree with Descartes on this that our intellect is finite but our will is infinite and that our problem is that we can assent to believe without careful enough inspection. In this way I think believing than clearly be a volitional matter.

    This is why I see the issue as a moral one and why my deconversion was based on the ethics of belief. My realization was not that there was no God but that given the insufficiency of the evidence and given the arbitrariness of the Scripture’s pretensions to authority, I was not morally entitled to believe and so I had to refrain. Another person can have all the same awareness of the relevant facts and dubious problems of the Scriptures and yet volitionally opt to go the other way. We could both see the same facts and have comparable degrees of belief and disbelief on a range of propositions, I think, and yet, commit ourselves in opposite directions and then stemming from those different commitments form all sorts of other firmly felt beliefs.