Thursday, 17 May 2012

Causes and Reasons

Rational and Irrational Causes of Beliefs

A belief preceded by and resulting from paranoia or wishful thinking is caused by an irrational process. A belief preceded by and resulting from evidence-gathering or logical thinking is caused by a rational process. It is sometimes thought that a caused belief would have been held whether or not it was preceded by a rational process. However, if the holder of the belief had not reasoned, then he would have believed differently. Therefore, his reasoning was the cause of his present belief.

Earlier events may have caused him to reason as he did. It is sometimes thought that a belief without rational processes as its earliest causes has no rational basis. However, earlier causes generated thinkers whose thoughts are the rational bases of their beliefs. We could not think before we were conceived but developed this ability later.

Irrational beliefs are true only coincidentally, e. g., if a man happens to be pursued when he imagines pursuit. Un-coincidentally true beliefs are caused by the rational processes of heeding evidence and drawing inferences. 

Causes of thoughts include movements of atoms in brains. If thoughts were nothing but such movements, then they could not be about anything but an effect is not “nothing but” one of its causes.

A brain is part of an organism interacting with its environment. Sensitive organisms respond to environmental alterations. Conscious organisms believe propositions about their environments. Unconscious responses and conscious beliefs differ qualitatively. Therefore, mind is not a quantitative increase in organismic sensitivity but one qualitative effect of such increases.

Impeding Rational Discourse

To assert and deny the same proposition would be irrational and would also be to say nothing. To this extent, whoever asserts and re-asserts a belief is rational but he may be unable to state reasons, to state adequate reasons or to reply to counter-arguments. 

Arguments convincing to Christians seem fallacious to sceptics. Logically, arguments are either valid or invalid but social influences, psychological dispositions and emotional reactions counteract rational considerations. People reason from different premises to preconceived conclusions. Ideologies rationalise status quos. Conformists accept, but non-conformists challenge, received beliefs. Everyone defends his own beliefs.

Words change meaning. “Communism” changed from “common ownership” to “bureaucratic dictatorship”. Terminological ambiguity about controversial concepts transforms an intended dialogue into two interrupted monologues.

Causality, Rationality and Christianity

A, indoctrinated in Christianity, fears to question it. His co-religionists discourage consideration of alternatives. He explains any part of his belief system by reference to another part: “Jesus said…”, “The Bible says…”, “The Church teaches…” He feels superior to Jews but never reflects that he could have been indoctrinated in Judaism. He thinks that theologians know the reasons for Christian belief.

B, terrified by the claim that non-Christians are damned, ended his fear by accepting Christianity.

C considered and was convinced by philosophical arguments for monotheism and historical evidence for the Resurrection. He was converted on rational grounds and, unlike A and B, can debate with sceptics. When C invokes Biblical or ecclesiastical authority, he can explain why he accepts such authority. It is possible, though unlikely, that C will persuade E (below) or vice versa. C must make sense of the fact that his co-religionists include A and B. He attends church with them but debates with E.

D was indoctrinated in Christianity but values rationality so has studied and accepts arguments for Christianity. He thinks that he was indoctrinated in the one belief which, his reason now assures him, happens to be true and that he would have converted to Christianity even if he had been educated as a Muslim. However, as a reasoning Muslim, he would first have rationalised Islam and would probably have remained Muslim.

E studies and disagrees with pro-Christian arguments.

A’s and D’s upbringings caused their beliefs.
B’s fear caused his belief.
C’s and E’s study of philosophy and the New Testament caused their belief and scepticism, respectively.
A and B are irrational.
C and E are rational.
D aspires to rationality.

Disagreements between C and E

Cause: a discussion of cosmic contingency.
Effect on C: the conclusion that many contingent beings imply one necessary being.
Effect on E: the conclusion that logical necessity is a feature of propositions, not of beings.

Cause: a discussion of evidence for cosmic design.
Effect on C: the conclusion that a supernatural being designed the universe.
Effect on E: the conclusions (i) that conclusions about the entire universe are premature and (ii) that conceptual incoherencies rule out monotheism as a satisfactory explanation.

Cause: a reading of Mark’s Gospel.
Effect on C: acceptance of the empty tomb.
Effect on E: suspicion that the tomb stories originated in the oral tradition.

Cause: a reading of Luke’s Gospel.
Effect on C: acceptance that the man on the road to Emmaus was Jesus.
Effect on E: suspicion that he was not Jesus, if this incident even occurred.


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