Is Belief Binary?

THE CLAIM: BELIEF IS BINARY

A few days ago on The Atheist Experience, a host named Jen said “belief is binary.”

I opposed this absurd notion in a a blog post that Matt Dillahunty, another host of The Atheist Experience, responded to in the comments, and seemed to affirm that belief was indeed discrete and did not fall on a continuum. He made the following statements.

1. “My point is that if belief is the state of accepting something as true, one either believes something or one does not.”

2. “Tending to believe, kinda believing, almost believing, kinda-sort believing…it’s all sloppy thinking at a meta-level.”

3. “It is, therefore, possible to ‘barely believe’ something (to use the colloquial) but that still means you believe it.”

4. “Once you DO believe a claim, you can believe it to varying degrees of certainty (or even disbelieve it to varying degrees of certainty) but whether or not (look at that language…whether or not) you accept the position is, in fact, binary.”

I intend to clearly demonstrate this position to be nonsensical.

THE ACCUMULATION OF EVIDENCE: NORMALLY GRADUAL

Consider George who comes up to you one day and claims to be able to inerrantly predict the outcome of any coin toss. You set up an experiment in which the toss is truly random, and let George begin to substantiate his claim. The chart below shows a smooth linear accumulation of evidence for George’s claim upon each consecutive correct prediction.

(Technically, the X axis should be exponential.)

Note that, in this simple example, for each consecutive correct prediction, the evidence builds linearly. There is no demarcation between “sufficient” evidence and “insufficient” evidence. The evidence at every point on the line provides only a probability between 0 and 1 on the claim. What does this tell us about warranted belief?
WARRANTED BELIEF: MAPS TO THE ACCUMULATION OF EVIDENCE

If belief is to be warranted, it must map to the evidence. This is not very emotionally satisfying, but this is the obligation of the scientific mind. The following chart illustrates the human predisposition towards emotional belief or disbelief. Note that it does not very well map to the evidence, and is therefore unwarranted.

This notion of a more emotional belief insufficiently constrained by the evidence does seem to map to Matt Dillahunty’s comments, but it is not warranted belief. Consider the illustration of warranted belief below.

The epistemic agent is obligated to restrict the degree of belief to the degree of evidence. As evidence accumulates gradually, so also warranted belief increases gradually. It is in no way binary. There is no point on the continuum of warranted belief that could constitute “sloppy thinking” as Matt stated in comment #2 above.

It is clear from this that warranted belief is not binary. To the degree that evidence arrives piecemeal to slowly accumulate towards high probability for a given proposition, to this degree warranted belief is not binary. To the degree that the evidence is available for a given proposition, to this degree must belief follow if we are to claim it is warranted.

THE ARGUMENT FROM LINGUISTIC USAGE: I TEND TO BELIEVE…

Matt seems to be playing linguistic games when he says “It is, therefore, possible to ‘barely believe’ something (to use the colloquial) but that still means you believe it.” Belief is a real emotional state, not a stipulated linguistic category. Language, if it is to have any potency, must reflect reality. The reality of epistemic states existing at every point along the continuum of warranted belief has generated a large assortment of phrases that are able to reflect those states. Let’s call this semantic resolution and consider the short list of 9 phrases below that provide a modest amount of semantic resolution.

Why would anyone want to reduce the linguistic resolution of any concept of belief by forcing it into bivalent categories that distort or remove its essential quality of gradience? An essential quality of belief is that it is an emotion that can be held at various intensities. An essential quality of warranted belief is that in most epistemic contexts such as in our coin-flipping context above, the emotion must fall at times in the middle of a continuum.

Belief is an emotion. It is a level of confidence in a proposition that can fall at any point along the epistemic continuum. Saying “I am uncertain about ‘X'” is not only legitimate, it is required given certain evidential conditions if the belief is to remain warranted. There is no room for the word “binary” here.

So, Matt says “Tending to believe, kinda believing, almost believing, kinda-sort believing…it’s all sloppy thinking at a meta-level.” This is absurd.

Stating “I believe ‘X'”, and stating “I slightly believe ‘X'” are not even close to equivalent. To say that, because the second statement also contains a word in the first statement, they are therefore equivalent is a foolish choice of low semantic resolution at best, an attempt at distortion at worst, and certainly reflects a misunderstanding of semantics.

Jehovah is not magically made tolerant simply because his fits of low tolerance yet have some small fraction of a percent of tolerance.
Likewise, I don’t magically become confident in “X” after stating that my confidence in “X” is waning.
These are linguistic games unbecoming of rational thinkers.

Belief is an emotion, that if warranted, must at times map to evidence that uncomfortably hangs in indeterminacy. Evidence for and against various gods most generally arrives to the individual mind in degrees. There will be times when this evidence requires a level of belief that fully legitimates the statement “I don’t know whether I belief in god ‘A'”. This is neither slopping thinking nor an invalid position on the epistemic continuum of belief. It is, in fact, the only honest position in some cases.

CONCLUSION: BELIEF IS IN NO WAY BINARY

Once in a while I tag myself an atheist. The only reason I occasionally opt for this low semantic resolution tag is to quickly establish some common ground when I’m not actually interested in engaging in dialog. On my Facebook profile page, I offer the following higher semantic resolution description.

“The Abrahamic god is illogical, a personal god improbable, and an Einsteinian god not certain.”

My degree of belief/disbelief for each of these versions of god varies, and are not equivalent. I don’t need someone reducing the semantic resolution I’ve carefully employed to accurately reflect my beliefs by having them absurdly claim they are equivalent because belief is binary.


  • Belief is not binary.
  • Warranted belief legitimately falls on a continuum.
  • Uncertainty is not only legitimate, but obligatory in certain evidential contexts.
  • Intentionally reducing the semantic resolution of the statements and positions of others has no place in honest dialog.



It must be said that Matt is spot-on in much of his commentary on religion. I recommend The Atheist Experience for anyone hoping to hone their critical thinking skills.

Comments are highly encouraged.
Update: A link to a discussion on this topic


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27 thoughts on “Is Belief Binary?

  1. In order for you to demonstrate that I’m wrong, you first need to be talking about the same thing.

    You’re talking about belief and the language we use to describe degrees of certainty.

    I very clearly stated that my statement was based on a particular definition of belief:

    Belief – acceptance of a proposition.

    It is, despite the red herrings here, a binary proposition. You either accept the proposition or you do not accept the proposition. This says NOTHING at all about how close you might be to accepting it or what language you might use to describe how close (or far) you are from accepting it…or anything remotely like that.

    So, I’ll ask again…have you watched the lecture on belief?

    • Matt, I’ve already asked twice for the link to that lecture on belief. Feel free to post it.


      You’ve defined belief as “acceptance of a proposition”.

      The phrases…
      1. “I completely accept ‘X’ as true.”
      …and…
      2. “I tenuously accept ‘X’ as true.”
      …do not reflect the same epistemic state.

      “Acceptance” is simply another synonym of “belief”, and refers to the same emotion that “belief” refers to. That underlying emotional reality falls on a continuum. It is in no way binary.

      What you are doing is attempting to find a linguistic tag (“acceptance” in this case) that is syntactically deployed in a “binary” way, then ignore the semantics of the term and claim the “binary” syntactic use of the term defines the reality of epistemic states.

      You’ve got it backwards. The reality of epistemic states should inform our choice of language, rather than choosing language that might be co-opted to illegitimately constrain our ontological commitments.

      So if you think “acceptance” and “belief” extend past mere syntax, and actually semantically reflect the reality of an emotion, then we are indeed talking about the same thing. However, If you want to remove a word from its conventional usage, and sever it from its ontological base by arguing that syntax informs reality and by stipulating an alternate private denotation of the word, we are not talking about the same thing, and are engaged in a game of private semantics I’m disinclined to play.

      The substrate of emotional reality that undergirds the words “belief” and “acceptance” is a epistemic continuum, and these words in no way reflect a binary reality.

      Let me ask, is there the reality of an epistemic continuum that undergirds the terms “acceptance” and “belief”?

  2. http://www.atheist-community.org/lectures/speakers.php?id=53

    Hopefully that will clear some of this up. There’s a link to slides, audio and the full video of the talk.

    At this point, though, I have to stop responding (at least temporarily). I have too many deadlines (work, move, ACA) creeping up and a ton of other discussions like this and simply don’t have enough time to keep doing this. Drop me an e-mail after you’ve watched that lecture and let me know if it helped clarify anything or if we’re still at an impasse.

    I’ll do what I can to answer when I have time.

    • I watched Matt’s video on belief twice.

      I must conclude that it appears he is attempting to take the term “belief” out of its conventional context, and to stipulate a new meaning for the term.

      I have not met anyone else who insists that belief is “binary” and who thought that “tending to believe” something “reflects sloppy thinking”. This remains an incoherent notion to me, and is strangely incongruous with Matt’s usual cogent and coherent arguments.

  3. […] But let me go beyond simply eschewing faith from my epistemology. Warranted belief is not simply belief that has evidence; it is a degree of belief that maps to the degree of the evidence. If evidence is completely lacking or evenly distributed, neither belief nor disbelief is warranted. The common misconception is to consider the emotion of confidence that we can evoke towards or against any proposition to be somehow an epistemic christening that warrants an degree of belief or disbelief incommensurate to the available evidence. This is more fully addressed here. […]

  4. keddaw says:

    If belief were binary then Richard Dawkins 6.9 on his 1-7 belief scale would make him a believer in most (if not all) non-self-contradictory gods.

  5. Phil E. says:

    I’m gonna say something I don’t think either of you will agree with: you’re both right. Belief can be binary (discreet) or continuous. It may further the discussion to compare Believing to liking or wanting something. Could it be that you two are talking about two different things, but using the same word?

    It may also help to think of “warmness” and how to determine if a room is warm. 80F is warm, 50F is not, and somewhere in the middle there is a fuzzy area that may or may not be considered warm. According to traditional logic, the room is either warm or not warm. Conversion from real, continuous data (e.g., temperature) to a more useful metric (e.g., warmness), is a method used in some AI systems, called fuzzy logic. Warmness is normalized to a value between zero and one. So, 50F and below has a value of 0, 80F and above has a value of 1, and everything else has a warmness value between 0 and 1 that is dependent on some mapping function. This mapping function need not be linear, as it is in Phil’s example. While temperature is the pure, raw data, it needs to be processed to reflect how humans think and operate. Warmness is purely definitional and not as easy to determine as temperature, but is actionable in a way that temperature alone is not. In addition to humanizing variables, fuzzy logic also allows us to take partial actions. We can operate the AC at different levels, depending on the degree of warmness. We turn on the AC because of how “warm” it is, not because it’s >80F. Your argument seems to parallel this example quite well. I would compare Phil’s representation of belief to fuzzy logic, and Matt’s to traditional logic. Based on this comparison, I think that Phil’s system, while more complicated, is the more valuable of the two.

    • To simply say “I believe” something, does has value. But it has very low semantic resolution, and sacrifices accuracy for convenience.

      So while one can linguistically simplify belief, any simplification is always a distortion to some degree. The actual concept of belief is not binary, and it is not just a minor flaw to claim when describing the concept of belief, “either you believe or you don’t believe.”

  6. Leonard Friedman says:

    If you can produce a single statement of belief that does not indicate either belief or unbelief then I’d love to hear it. Belief is a binary state, despite your pretentious waffle.

    • Here, let’s plug something else in.

      If you can produce a single statement of intoxication that does not indicate either intoxication or sobriety then I’d love to hear it. Intoxication is a binary state, despite your pretentious waffle.

      Reality is not determined by language. Belief is an emotional disposition, and as such, is inherently gradient.

      However, language does most often accommodate reality.
      The following 2 statements are semantically worlds apart and reflect 2 very different epistemological realities.

      • I tend to believe that X is the case.
      • I absolutely believe that X is the case.

      The word “belief” quite coherently takes modifiers of degree.
      Let’s not pretend belief is binary. You know better.

  7. Natsu says:

    I strongly disagree. When we say binary we do not mean only two possible answers with no variation. Obviously there are different degrees of belief. Think of a number line from -5 to +5. The numbers 1 through 5 are positive belief. The numbers -5 through 0 are lacks of belief. 0 in this case is complete uncertainty, but it is obviously not a positive belief. It is absurd to think that there is something between belief and a lack of belief. There are degrees of belief, yes, and there are degrees of disbelief. But overall, until you definitively say yes, then there isn’t an active belief.

    The default position in any case is the lack of a belief. If you propose a claim that I have never heard of before then it must first be defined. Using undefined material in examples is fallacious. After asking “What’s that?” to the new claim, you then reword it and define it for me. At that point in time I will realize that I did not believe it (assuming it is actually a new claim) in my entire life up to this point.

    As for your coin toss example. Different people have different thresholds of belief. One person might be gullible and belief in the psychic powers after the first coin turns up heads. A skeptic might still not believe even after ten heads in a row. If a person reaches a point of being uncertain, then that still falls under the guise of not believing, yet. Belief is a positive thought/emotion, this means that negative and lacks of said emotion constitute what is meant by “lack of belief.” I will never think the way you do. It completely boggles my mind that you don’t see it as such.

    • Natsu, you’re wrong in stating that the default position in response to a proposition is the lack of belief.

      Let me illustrate.

      1. I have a golden square triangle in my pocket.
      Rational default belief: You most certainly do not.

      2. I have a gold bar in my pocket.
      Rational default belief: You most probably do not.

      3. I have a coin in my pocket.
      Rational default belief: That is quite possible.

      4. I have air in my pocket.
      Rational default belief: That is nearly certainly true.

      The epistemic reality is never binary.
      Linguistic shortcuts may be binary, but they do not reflect the epistemic reality, and necessarily reduce semantic resolution.
      The epistemic reality is not that you either believe or you don’t as Jen said on The Atheist Experience. There are many nuanced positions that are available along the epistemic gradient, and the rational position is the one that corresponds to the degree of the evidence.

      Here’s another thought experiment you can conduct on yourself.
      1. Buy a deck of cards.
      2. Ask a friend to remove the ace of spades should he so desire.
      3. Begin turning over the cards one at a time, each time assessing your epistmic commitment to the proposition “The ace of spades is missing from this deck.”

      If you uncover the ace of spades near the bottom of the deck, your epistemic certainty, if it is to be rational, will follow an unpunctuated and smooth path on a gradient from low certainty to high certainty when 1 or 2 cards remain. Evidence for most propostions arrives in degrees, and therefore the rational epistemic position must map accordingly.

      You stated that different people have different thresholds of belief in respect to the coin toss senario. I agree. But this emotional threshold for belief does not yield rational belief. Rational belief is belief to a degree that maps to the degree of the evidence, and if the evidence arrives in degrees, the degree of rational belief must be adjusted to a corresponding degree. There is no legitimate bivalent threshold in the coin toss scenario. The human tendency to flip some epistemic switch is a weakness. Rational belief must map to the degree of the evidence. Imprecise linguistic categories distort the epistemic reality and ought to be avoided where precision would add depth of meaning.

      Saying as Jen did on the Atheist Experience “Either you believe or you don’t” is simply wrong. Demanding that people choose either “theist” or “atheist” as a descriptor of a nuanced epistemic position is just silly. These highly pixelated terms cannot serve to advance an understanding of the actual degree of commitment to a given proposition.

  8. Mortekai says:

    In the above, you listed 4 examples:

    1. I have a golden square triangle in my pocket.
    Rational default belief: You most certainly do not.

    2. I have a gold bar in my pocket.
    Rational default belief: You most probably do not.

    3. I have a coin in my pocket.
    Rational default belief: That is quite possible.

    4. I have air in my pocket.
    Rational default belief: That is nearly certainly true.

    one and two illustrate different points on a continuum of disbelief. Three and four illustrate different points on a continuum of belief. The only difference is the amount of certainty present.

    And Natsu is correct that the default is disbelief. One cannot be convinced of a proposition that one has no information about.

    Jen was right. one either believes or one doesnt. Its the strength of that belief that varies. Using theist or atheist as a descriptor is simply a starting point. Its akin to finding an address, and using the city as a starting point. One goes from there to further refine the location, as one uses those terms to start describing their beliefs on the subject of god. From there, one can further refine the details of that belief, but the starting point is a binary proposition.

    • Thanks for commenting, Mortekai.

      You’re entirely wrong when you say “the default position is disbelief.”

      Disbelief is no more a starting point for an epistemologically assessed proposition than is “dislike” a starting point for an aesthetically assessed object.

      You don’t “dislike” a book about which you have no information before you start reading it.

      You don’t “dislike” a new flavor of ice cream before you taste it.

      Neither do you “disbelieve” a proposition before you assess it. The disbelief that emerges from strong disconfirming evidence during assessment is many epistemic miles from the starting point prior to assessment. You start epistemically neutral. To claim that this must be called “disbelief” is as absurd as calling my aesthetic position on a book I’ve never read “dislike”.

      You’ve actually inverted the proper relationship between ontology and linguistics. Ontology is objective; linguistics involves the subjective attempt to reflect that objective ontology to others with the highest resolution possible.

      There is one belief/disbelief continuum that is identical in kind to the like/dislike continuum. To suggest that there are necessarily 1 continuum for belief and another separate one for disbelief is to absurdly abandon the primacy of ontology over linguistics; the fact that we have 2 conventionally-derived words does not change the ontological fact of a single belief/disbelief continuum.

      Jen was wrong; belief is NOT binary. The context of her words was a response to someone claiming not to know for certain whether a particular god exists, a position not only perfectly legitimate, but necessary if the accompanying degree of evidence maps to the degree of belief being expressed.

      Once again, it is a human tendency to want to find closure on questions of existence by emotionally prematurely defaulting to one extreme or the other. But it does not change the fact that rational belief is the degree of belief that maps to the degree of the available evidence for any given proposition. And because evidence frequently arrives in degrees, so also rational belief must, at the same frequency, be of degree.

      To impose low-resolution binary terms such as belief/disbelief or like/dislike on an experience, then argue that the terms determine the underlying ontology is irresponsible. These pixelated terms are linguistic shortcuts of convenience at best, and, assuming a faithful reflection of the ontology is our goal, ought to be avoided in any serious discussion of any particular proposition.

  9. Uneducated Average Guy says:

    Phil,
    I can’t help but to think “law of excluded middle”. I can’t simultaneously believe and disbelieve a claim, only one or the other (binary!) with varying degrees of certainty, based on the evidence available. I consider the degree of certainty additional information,

    In other words, it doesn’t matter how much I like beer; I still like beer.
    It doesn’t matter how much I disbelieve and dislike the god of the bible, I still disbelieve and dislike the god of the bible.

    That reminds me, I was about to go get a beer :)

    • The fact that you feel you can only “believe” or “disbelieve” something is simply an illusion. You know that you may be at any point on the continuum between “like” and “dislike” for a variety of foods, many falling somewhere in the middle. Our emotional propensity to choose one side of an issue does not remove our ability to take an intermediary epistemic position, nor does it negate the fact that a rational position is necessarily an intermediary epistemic position in many cases. It is linguistically lazy to insist that there are only 2 binary positions. Try telling your romantic partner that you merely love him/her without quantifying the degree of that love. To presume the words belief/disbelief are adequate is to intentionally pixelate the concept into near meaninglessness. Acknowledging all the possible positions on the continuum of belief both eliminates many disputes, and promotes a more scientific, undogmatic, and nuanced application of belief to the propositions that we encounter.

      • Uneducated Average Guy says:

        Phil,
        Can you give me an example of something that you both believe and disbelieve?

        Perhaps we are in partial agreement if the intermediary epistemic position you refer to is more simply put: “I don’t know”. That would be the rational position for claims without evidence, or without sufficient evidence; I agree. However, doesn’t taking that position take you out of the game?

        As I said before, I agree that there are varying degrees of belief or non-belief. Holding a belief and having doubts isn’t the same as simultaneous belief/disbelief, though.

        When I tell my wife that I love her, I usually don’t quantify (nor does she). If love is present, then not-love (hate?) isn’t present. The degree is extra helpful information, but doesn’t change the position held.

        Looking forward to your response. As my name suggests, this is just an interest of mine. Hoping you can show me that you’re right, and where I’m wrong. :)

        • An epistemic position falls on one point along the continuum of belief. There is no possibility that you will both believe and disbelieve if you simply remove these low-resolution terms. There is movement by the rational mind along the continuum of belief that maps to the balance of confirming/disconfirming evidence. Saying “I don’t yet know” is not only a legitimate statement in the game of belief, it is the only rational statement if the balance of confirming/disconfirming evidence is equal. If you intend to communicate a nuanced epistemic position, why use low-resolution terms such as “belief” and “disbelief”, then state that these words go beyond the scope of their linguistic context and suggest that epistemic reality itself is binary? The epistemic reality is most certainly not binary for the rational mind. There are language games that can be played, but if your use of language has the purpose of effectively communicating your precise position along the continuum of belief for a given proposition, then limiting yourself to “believe” or “disbelieve” is quite counter-productive.

  10. Uneducated Average Guy says:

    “There is movement by the rational mind along the continuum of belief that maps to the balance of confirming/disconfirming evidence. Saying “I don’t yet know” is not only a legitimate statement in the game of belief, it is the only rational statement if the balance of confirming/disconfirming evidence is equal.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the statement “I don’t yet know” outside of the realm of belief? It is a knowledge claim, not a belief claim. It is my understanding that knowledge informs belief, and that knowledge is hierarchically higher up the ladder than belief . Without knowledge (e.g. evidence), you are unable to reach either belief or disbelief rationally. Perhaps this is where we differ. That is what I meant when I referred to the “extra helpful information”. From my view, adding the knowledge continuum to the question of belief instead of as ancillary information is counter productive.

    • If you treat belief and disbelief as if they were 2 boxes, and you must choose which box to throw your bet in, then “I don’t yet know” falls outside the realm of belief.

      But merely choosing between 2 discrete categories is not the realm of belief. Belief is a continuum. So rather forcing the ontology of belief to fit our linguistic terms, we should be striving to fit our linguistic terms upon the actual continuum of belief. It is the continuum that is ontologically prior to any linguistic terms we might employ to reflect the continuum. The phrase “I don’t yet know” properly falls on the continuum between belief and disbelief. And it is the proper initial position for all honest and rational inquiries. As the body of confirming/disconfirming evidence grows and and tilts this way or that, the rational mind follows along the continuum of belief, but if the balance between growing confirming/disconfirming evidence remains equivalent, “I don’t yet know” is the proper epistemic position.

      On a secondary note, I must strongly disagree with your suggestion that evidence is a form of knowledge. “Knowledge”, as it is commonly used, is merely a subjectively defined notion, much like “reasonable doubt”. “Knowledge” as it is philosophically employed in an attempt to make it objective, is merely an impractical contrivance. Words are not prior to concepts. It is the concept that should drive the word choice of anyone hoping to successfully communicate.

      The human inclination is to want words we frequently use to faithfully map to the underlying concept. But reality is full of continuum such as the continuum of belief that defy the imposition of a single word or binary pair of words to reflect the underlying truth to any meaningful level of resolution. Take the word “atheist”. I actually believe the following. “The Abrahamic god is illogical, a personal god improbable, and an Einsteinian god not certain.” The term “atheist” does not come even close to capturing my position, plus it is full of connotative baggage I want no part of. I therefore seldom call myself an “atheist” except when I don’t actually care whether the person I’m in dialog with knows my actual position. Once again, the actual epistemic stance is what our word choice should reflect, rather than expecting reality to conform to our linguistic preferences.

  11. Uneducated Average Guy says:

    We can discuss evidence as knowledge some other time if you’d like.

    I can see your point about the linguistics of it, being a kind of short hand in a way. I still have to disagree on “I don’t know yet” falling on a belief continuum.

    I hope you don’t take me as saying since I believe/disbelieve this claim, it is with 100% certainty. That “I don’t know” is always hanging around to varying degrees as well. That’s why I find it odd to try to infuse the two with each other. For the moment, this seems to be the impasse.

    It has been enjoyable discussing this with you. None of my friends enjoy discussing or thinking about things like this, and that’s what makes the internet so great.

    I plan on reading up more on this topic, and take your points into consideration. Thanks again for taking your time to talk with me. Perhaps I’ll come back one day and tell you that I’ve seen the light!

    • Uneducated Average Guy says:

      Phil,
      I do feel it necessary to apologize for my colloquial use of knowledge (defined as information/facts, or knowledge OF). I am but an armchair philosopher (the worst kind eh? Haha) and realize now that evidence does not count as knowledge as defined in epistemology. My bad!

      Still researching this binary thing :)

  12. Jesse says:

    If I answer proposition A with ‘I do not yet know’ am I not implying that the question was ‘do you know A?’ rather than ‘do you believe A?’.
    With my state of knowledge being absence with regard to A, as per not yet knowing, am I not still free to either believe it anyway – irrational though it may be, or conversely to not believe it as a rational consequence of being absent knowledge? It seems to me that not knowing does not preclude believing or not believing.
    Also, if belief is to affirm a proposition then only affirming that proposition can count as belief, correct? Does not affirming the proposition or affirming the negative meet the necessary criteria for what constitutes belief?
    I understand that there are multiple ways to answer a ‘yes or no’ question; yes, no, not sure, neither – but don’t each of these answers imply a binary underpinning by way of a simple dichotomy between answers that are ‘yes’ and answers that are ‘not yes’? If only affirming a proposition counts as belief then only ‘yes’ answers count as belief and all other answers are simply ‘not yes’ and therefore not belief.
    I’d like to know if I have gotten something wrong here.

    • It seems to me that you are improperly placing language above reality. Reality has primacy over the language that is employed to reflect reality.

      If your significant other demands that you tell them whether you love them or not (rather than how much you love them), they are attempting to illegitimately place the binary artifacts of language above the gradient nature of actual love.
      Love comes in degrees. Belief comes in degrees.
      Supposing that binary terms can adequately represent a nuanced position on a gradient is to invert the proper relationship between reality and language. A binary position limits you to the low resolution of 2 polar and binary points rather than to the full resolution of any position along the gradient. Language must conform to reality, not reality to the artifacts of language. Acceptance of this fact is reflected in casual statements such as “I tend to believe…” as well as more scientific assessments that assign a specific probability based on available evidence.

      (I find the term “knowledge” as it is traditionally defined (“justified true belief”) simply a form of belief since “true” can be only assessed objectively, an objectivity not immediately available to the believer. A distinction between “belief” and “knowledge” is therefore not useful in this discussion.)

  13. […] And this brings us to Greg’s perennial blunder; he treats rational belief as if it were binary. It is not. Belief in propositions about the physical world are determined inductively. Since inductively derived evidence is normally obtained incrementally, rational belief must align itself with the balance of confirming/disconfirming evidence along the epistemic gradient. Belief in any inductively determined proposition inherently lies on a gradient. Both theists and atheists get this wrong. If the balance of evidence lies on a 90% probability, you are irrational if you position your belief at 100%. There are no exceptions for the rational mind. You may have to “commit” to a categorical position at times where you have less than 100% certainty such as in the acceptance of a job, but that does not require an epistemic commitment of 100%, and such an epistemic commitment after a binary 100% choice on a 90% probability assessment would be irrational.More on this here. […]

  14. Richard says:

    Hi Folks,
    Just wanted to add that I really enjoyed reading through all this :)
    Wish I was intelligent enough to add to the debate :)

    All the best.
    Richard

  15. […] address this issue previously here and here, but I think it warrants […]

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