Just a thought to pass by you all for your consideration and erudite responses:
I call myself evidentialist. Just what is that? Before I can explain that, we need to take a look at what belief is and what it represents.
Belief. What is it? Well, painting with a broad brush: A belief is an assumed truth. When we go beyond simply believing something to be true with some flexibility to that level of knowing something we believe to be true and it is set rigidly is quite a large leap. It requires something called faith and faith requires a shutting down of our critical faculties so that external information to the contrary does not interfere.
So, again with our big brush; everything is a belief—including what I just said. That works as a decent definition of belief for most. I’ll get around to the meaning of evidentialist later. Belief then works as a tool of convenience. People assume their cars will start in the morning. They assume they still have jobs. They assume there will be milk in the refrigerator for their morning cereal. Fortunately, for these beliefs, when things don’t agree with the assumption, they are easily changed. Cast out without a second thought. “Ah, the battery’s dead.” “Hmm, I’ve been fired.” “There’s no milk.” When these things happen, we discard the belief and set about solving the problem or accepting the new conditions and get on with our lives.
We use these flexible “beliefs”, these assumptions about life, as a convenience tool to avoid having to think about other possibilities—as a way to keep our feet planted on the ground without having to think about it. When these assumptions prove workable often enough, we will persevere in those beliefs until something goes awry. Then it’s time to rethink the situation.
When we cross that line between simple and flexible assumption into knowing something we believe is true all the time, that it is infallible, we have slipped the bonds of rational thought. You see, just because something has proven to be true for a while does not guarantee it will hold true in the next instant. People usually believe that what has happened so often in the past, will continue to happen similarly in the future. That this is patently false will provide considerable disappointment for many. On the positive side for this type of belief, these flexible beliefs can be changed or modified to account for a new set of circumstances. The rigid ones cannot.
Cultural differences affect beliefs, too. One of the major reasons peoples from different cultural backgrounds have different beliefs is their manner of viewing the world in which they live. Certainly you’ve heard the term Culture Shock. Though I don’t agree much with linguistic relativity, it does play a role in shaping a people’s world view as well. The words one uses and the manner in which they are arranged help form how one thinks and to some extent what one thinks. As a result, belief systems vary widely around the world.
Then there are beliefs which tend to exclude other beliefs. They reside among those rigid beliefs I mentioned before. Paramount among these is religious belief. They must reject the beliefs of other religions because they are not truly compatible. A Jew cannot accept the tenets of Christianity because he/she ceases the practice of Judaism. Though he/she remains Jewish by lineage, they are no longer Jews by religion/belief. This is not true for converts to Judaism for obvious reasons. It follows then that if a person has a particular belief, say Christianity, he/she must also build up an array of disbeliefs. They off handedly reject any other religion or set of tenets as false. This can and often does includes other sects of Christianity. There can be only one “true” religion. They can do this without understanding anything about the other belief system because it is obviously false. It doesn’t agree. This, by the way, applies to an overwhelming majority of religions.
So, what is the upshot here? Realize that people’s beliefs are nothing more than what they assume to be true. When those beliefs become rigid, as in religion, one may feel free to challenge their world view, but do it nicely. One of the questions I pose to believers of any stripe is, “Is it remotely possible that what you believe may be false?” If their answer is in the affirmative, there may be some grounds for continued conversation of a rational nature. If the answer is negative, then there is no room for communication and a different approach or disengagement is in order.
Oh, about the evidentialists. We are what you could call the supreme skeptics. We hold no beliefs, no assumed truths. As odd as it may sound, it is a much more rational way to live than holding beliefs or disbeliefs—or both. We don’t accept certain beliefs simply because they are not rational, not grounded in the Universe surrounding us. We require evidence before even considering belief, though we generally reject belief as a faulty operational method. The only beliefs that we knowingly accept are those mundane ‘car will start’ ideas that help us navigate the world without cognitive overload. Anything based in the supernatural is automatically rejected as there is no way to obtain objective evidence of something operating outside our physical reality. This includes all forms of superstitious beliefs, religions, extrasensory perception, all forms of paranormal gobbledygook, and just anything that does not lend itself to objective scrutiny and is patently not falsifiable.
So, there you have it. I am an evidentialist. How about you? How do you think this term might apply to your way of viewing the world around you.