Gnomicon 197

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  197
Sunday 25 November 2012
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A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence.
Richard Dawkins(26 Mar 1941 –  )

Some people have little use for this famous biologist, the man of ‘the selfish gene’, an aggressive atheist.  For myself, I believe he is quite brilliant, and hence hesitate to quibble over his statement above … but I shall nonetheless do so.

First, please read my musings on the absolutely crucial (as I see it) distinction I insist on making between ‘knowledge’ and ‘belief ’ – here.  I believe that underlying Dawkins’ statement is a serious epistemological flaw confusing, or at best glossing over, this critical difference.

My quibble is, briefly and pointedly, that Dawkins’ pronouncement implies that belief is subject to evidence.  This, I aver, is unbelievable nonsense.  It is the very nature of belief to be beyond evidence, evidence of any kind whatsoever.  What you know – or think you know – you should be able to demonstrate by some kind of logical, some kind of ratiocinative process or procedure.  What you believe is (in spite of what many erroneously take for granted) simply not subject to such validation.  It does not matter in any ‘objective’ sense whether what you believe is true or valid or not – it is your belief.  Now, I may well assert that what you believe is nonsense, not true, demonstrably (by me) false, but if you believe it you don’t need any evidence, no matter how delusional I may think that this belief is.  Belief by its very nature – at least on my understanding of what the word signifies – lives in a different universe from that inhabited by knowledge, and in that different universe is bound by other laws than those of the universe where knowledge dwells.

If John believes in the innate goodness of man, Sid could prove to his (Sid’s) satisfaction that people like Hitler and Mao demonstrate the error of this belief.  But Michelle could then dredge up the example of people like Gandhi or Mother Teresa and demonstrate thereby the accuracy of John’s belief.  What is a demonstration or a refutation of a belief?  What is the precise nature of each?  How precise, how limiting, how circumscribing or expansive must either be?  what is its protocol?  is there an applicable algorithm?  If X is something I believe in, I don’t need any evidence.  I just believe in X – whether it’s a delusion or whatever.  That doesn’t matter.  My – anybody’s — belief is entirely independent of lack or presence of evidence.

What if X is ‘atheism’?  What is the ‘evidence’ for atheism?  If someone – say a Richard Dawkins – then believes in atheism (which to the best of my knowledge is not demonstrable by any kind of ‘evidence’ [if I’m wrong on that one, demonstrate it to me!] – and certainly is not a species of knowledge), is this belief of his also a delusion?  By his own argument it seems to me that it must be – for it is something that he believes “in despite a total lack of evidence”.  And where are we, then, if that too is a delusion?

Are we in the midst of a ludic semantics?  Are we in the middle of an epistemological crise?

Does it matter?  As far as I can tell, it makes absolutely no difference to my life whether he believes in (he cannot possibly know this) the non-existence or the existence of God or god or deity or chance or whatever, and whether he is hoisted by his own petard or not.

His beliefs or non-beliefs do not affect me in any way, so I wish him and others like him of all stripes – believers as well as non-believers – happiness in their particular delusions (which of necessity, by the definition laid down, we all have in their infinite variety).

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