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Wertbag

Is belief a binary question?

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The point that came up can be summarised as "Is someone who is unsure of their belief put into the atheist category?" 

The idea seems to be belief is black and white, with either an open belief in a position or all other viewpoints are by default unbelievers. When it comes to atheist vs theist, the answer given seems to be: "Do you believe in god?", "I'm unsure, its plausible" equals atheist. To my mind this position is very distinct from an atheist who says "I do not believe in god". 

Some people define this position as pure agnostic, in that they have no knowledge and that is the only statement they are comfortable with. 

While we are all keen on people using terms like "I'm unsure" or "I don't know" (which is a knowledge claim not belief) as that is an honest position and a humble understanding of our limits, some say that it is invalid when applied to belief. An honest fence sitter is forced into the category with those who are clear as to where their mind is. 

Perhaps it is just a definition problem, trying to fit all of the various standpoints into two neat boxes.

I'm of the opinion that there are very few binary questions. With so many unique views, so much variation or degrees of belief, that to label the grey range scale in neat packages is nigh on impossible. The categories selected become so vague as to be of little value. 

Some have tried to expand on the idea with terms like strong or weak belief, or Dawkins 7 point scale. 

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I think we believe something when we think it is true, and we disbelieve something when we think it in not true. I also think it's very possible to take neither attitude.

 

If someone I meet on the street says to me "my cousin Steve lives in New York!" My response will likely be something like "ok..." I don't take any attitude towards the proposition that that guy's cousin Steve lives in New York. I don't believe it, and I don't disbelieve it. Its just a thing I heard. 

 

So no,  I don't think belief is binary.

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I think there is a confusion of concepts regarding active vs. passive unbelief.  “I do not believe that god exists” is not the same as “I believe that god does not exist.”  The same goes for knowledge; Joshpantera in the knowledge thread referred to a positive claim for knowing god does not exist.  I call myself a gnostic atheist but I would not make such a positive claim; I only assert that the evidence presented in the courtroom (a flawed bible, subjective contradictory experiences reported by believers, failed answers to prayer, etc.) is sufficient to warrant a verdict of, “I therefore do not believe that god exists.”


So I see the binary belief concept not as a choice between active beliefs that god exists vs. does not exist, but as simply whether or not you accept the proposition that he exists.  It is as if “I believe that god exists” were a mental ballot measure; belief means that you punch your ballot.  If you don’t belive that you have sufficient knowledge to do so, or are unwilling to commit for some other reason, that’s fine, but the fact is that you have not accepted the proposition and do not have a belief in god.


Now what if someone says, “I think there is a 30% chance that god exists.”  Is that person in a 30% belief state?  Maybe; it would depend on your understanding of belief.  But this takes us back to what started all this:  using the agnostic label to dodge the question of belief.  I maintain that every agnostic either has or does not have a belief in god, and that if you are withholding judgement, you do not believe.  (Which you have a right to do; there is nothing perjorative about this, it’s just a fact.)

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Belief is either a binary question...or it's not. :)

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When someone believes in a god who literally exists, they don't consider that they could be wrong; they KNOW he exists. Those who do not believe may be quite certain or may soften the impact by admitting that anything is technically possible, though probability takes precedence. That is an honest position but it does not imply any actual belief.

 

We may think about it more clearly if we take "god" and all the baggage that goes with that term in our society, and think about belief/no belief in Xenu. 

 

 

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On 3/6/2020 at 11:46 AM, TEG said:

So I see the binary belief concept not as a choice between active beliefs that god exists vs. does not exist, but as simply whether or not you accept the proposition that he exists.  It is as if “I believe that god exists” were a mental ballot measure; belief means that you punch your ballot.  If you don’t belive that you have sufficient knowledge to do so, or are unwilling to commit for some other reason, that’s fine, but the fact is that you have not accepted the proposition and do not have a belief in god.

 

This is exactly right in my view. It is like a ballot question. That's how positive belief works. You either punch the ballot or refrain, for whatever reason you refrain. The fact is that you refrain from punching the belief ballot positively therefore excluding yourself from the positive position. 

 

But people may not like the fact that any lack of belief in something defaults them in with others who are more convinced in their lack of belief. This leads to shying away from it. And can lead to conflating the two categories of: 

 

A ) Belief - theist / atheist

B ) Knowledge - gnostic / agnostic

 

To the question of do you believe (A), someone will answer with a knowledge answer (B). So I think that it is a problem of definition in that sense. But they are trying to avoid being too abrasive and similar issues when conflating belief questions with knowledge answers. 

 

On 3/6/2020 at 12:05 AM, Wertbag said:

Perhaps it is just a definition problem, trying to fit all of the various standpoints into two neat boxes.

 

It's true that many fence sitters honestly do not know whether they believe it or not. But it's also true that in their lack of understanding the fuller scope, they've defaulted out of the positive belief position. This is why it's good to cross reference with fictional propositions that are identical. 

 

If you are non-committal about the existence of Santa, you haven't committed to positive belief in Santa. Not knowing whether Santa exists or not deciding what you think about it yet places outside of positively believing in Santa. It's binary like that.

 

If you tell a kid who asks you if you believe in Santa, "I don't know," it's very likely because you're trying not to offend them. Acknowledging to yourself that you don't actually believe it, but you're just trying to be polite and civil for the sake of someone who does. Of course that's just one instance of a large variety of possible scenarios. But it can illustrate the point. 

 

On 3/6/2020 at 11:46 AM, TEG said:

Now what if someone says, “I think there is a 30% chance that god exists.”  Is that person in a 30% belief state?  Maybe; it would depend on your understanding of belief.  But this takes us back to what started all this:  using the agnostic label to dodge the question of belief.  I maintain that every agnostic either has or does not have a belief in god, and that if you are withholding judgement, you do not believe.  (Which you have a right to do; there is nothing perjorative about this, it’s just a fact.)

 

This sounds very true of Santa or even Xenu:

 

On 3/7/2020 at 8:25 AM, florduh said:

We may think about it more clearly if we take "god" and all the baggage that goes with that term in our society, and think about belief/no belief in Xenu. 

 

That should clarify things about the agnostic position. Maybe. It'll be interesting to see where this goes. 

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On 3/7/2020 at 12:56 AM, midniterider said:

Belief is either a binary question...or it's not. :)

 

We all know you're a hanging chad on the belief ballot......

 

hanging-chad.jpeg?resize=698%2C400&ssl=1

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2 minutes ago, Joshpantera said:

 

We all know you're a hanging chad on the belief ballot......

 

I'll hang there forever just to piss all of you off...lol

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Not sure about belief ballots, but with real ballots, nobody gets to vote on my behalf if I decide to not vote at all. :) 

 

.....

 

My parents never voted...see, my agnosticism is all their damn fault! lol

 

.....

 

I do understand the thinking behind belief being a binary question, though. Maybe we could say it's binary for pro-binary people .... and not binary for other people. Maybe there is no ultimate truth! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another issue that I was discussing with my wife is whether or not people actually do believe, when they are claiming belief. An example of what we were looking at is when people take a pascals wager sort of route. Her mother, apparently devout SDA, told her the following: 

 

'I am more afraid of the consequences of not believing and being wrong, then of believing and being wrong.' 

 

The question we were considering about her mother is whether she actually does believe it? It sounds like a forced belief. So forced, that it appears like an agnostic (who knows that they don't know if there's a god) playing lip service to themselves and others from within a believer context.

 

And that got me thinking about belief in and of itself. I do think there is genuine, unforced, not pretending belief. But at the same time there's probably a slew of examples granted to the belief spectrum that aren't necessarily positive belief. Aren't truly theistic, monotheistic, etc., etc.

 

Taking it back it to Santa Claus. The wager looks like below: 

 

'I'd rather believe in Santa and be wrong about his existence than not believe in Santa and find no presents under the tree.' 

 

I really think (assume, don't know this as hard fact) that there are much more practicing christians than there are believing christians who really do believe this stuff without doubt or seconding guessing it. The very proposal of a pascal's wager situation shows that they entertain that it's not 100% factual. And can't possibly believe in an authentic, 100% all in sort of way. 

 

At this rate, tons of people are placed in the non-believer camp made up of agnostics and atheists who would resist being put in that camp tooth and nail! But so what? Anyone lacking that sort of 100% conviction of positive belief is a doubter of said belief. And possibly doesn't even actually believe it when all is said and done!

 

The said person merely 'wants' to believe it and 'tries' to believe something as opposed to just going along with natural belief full convinced of it with no self forcing or paying lip service to themselves and others. The Calvinist's would probably readily agree to this, I'm sure. All of these people with less 100% conviction would represent the reprobate and unelect of god, predestined to failure since before the creation of the world. This doesn't seem like a stretch at all considering their theology. 

 

It's a radical look at things, I know. 

 

But I don't care how radical it seems in a philosophical, truth seeking context. I'm just pushing to tease out hard truths regardless of the implications. So how true or false is the above and why? 

 

 

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If they go to church, put money in the plate, try to do right, and dutifully tell people that they believe, I would give them the benefit of the doubt.  If they really did not believe, they would not do all that stuff.  There is even room for doubt; “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”  Another agnostic theist is the uneducated person who says, “don’t confuse me with all that theology stuff; I believe, and that’s that.”  I would say there is a significant number of those folks (I have known a few), even if some of them are not being honest.

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1 hour ago, TEG said:

If they go to church, put money in the plate, try to do right, and dutifully tell people that they believe, I would give them the benefit of the doubt.  If they really did not believe, they would not do all that stuff.  There is even room for doubt; “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”  Another agnostic theist is the uneducated person who says, “don’t confuse me with all that theology stuff; I believe, and that’s that.”  I would say there is a significant number of those folks (I have known a few), even if some of them are not being honest.

 

They do all of the works, yes. They make all of the claims, yes. But they realize and understand that it may not be true. They want it to be true for sure, hence the works and claims. But admit that they don't know for sure when reaching for these pascals wager scenarios. This is very forced. Scared of something so telling yourself that you believe it when all the while you're not sure of it.

 

I don't know if I believe these types of claims of being believers anymore. Not the people who reach for pascal's wager type scenarios anyways. I'm doubting them and their belief claims. 

 

The one's who won't even go there, and won't even entertain the wager at all, those are the believers that seem more honest and authentic about belief. How to gauge who's who would be difficult to impossible. The only way that I can see to try and differentiate them is to see who's willing to reach for the wager and who isn't willing to go there at all. 

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