The following is a rant against something I heard one of the hosts of the Atheist Experience say. I can’t find a place to post it on their blog, so I’ll post it on mine.
On the last show of The Atheist Experience, Jen stated that “belief is binary”. If I heard right, she went on to say that “either you believe or you don’t”.
Did I hear right? If I did, let me state unequivocally that she is dead wrong.
Belief is warranted only to the degree it maps to evidence, evidence arrives in degrees, and therefore warranted belief is not binary, but must be held in degrees.
If I don’t find my wallet after a night out, and don’t know whether I dropped it or it was stolen, I do NOT have to choose a default position. As the evidence for either side accumulates, I am only warranted in holding a degree of belief that matches the degree of evidence. There certainly can be a considerable time where I don’t have evidential warrant to place belief in either hypothesis, and may find myself at any position upon a smooth continuum of belief if I am to restrain my desire to “know” to fall in line with the evidence.
Let me recap. Evidence falls on a continuum. Warranted belief must follow the evidence. Therefore we can expect warranted belief to fall anywhere on a smooth continuum of certainty/uncertainty.
The only exception to this is where you have logical impossibilities. “Evidence” can be rejected in this case.
And let’s just get over the need to apply tags to ourselves. State what you believe. Language is a product of convention, words do not retain their original meaning, and we assert a denotation of a word against convention at the risk of being misunderstood.
And just so you know where I’m coming from, I believe the Abrahamic god is impossible, and have a very low degree of belief in the possibility of an Einsteinian god. The tag “Atheist” does not well capture who I am, though I might use it for the sake of simplification in certain contexts.
The fact that warranted belief is not binary except in logical contradictions is also fatal to religions who suggest that belief in a particular savior decides between 2 very polarized destinies. Since warranted belief falls on a continuum as evidence accumulates, to say that some god then designates some arbitrary threshold on that continuum to determine either salvation or torture makes that god unjust. If blessing/punishment is ultimately determined by belief, that blessing/punishment had better map to a continuum as smooth as the warranted-belief/evidence continuum. Anything else is unjust, and the biblical Jehovah is therefore unjust…or imaginary.