Author Topic: Argument for justifed belief in God  (Read 380 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline penfold

  • Postgraduate
  • *****
  • Posts: 752
  • Darwins +106/-5
  • Gender: Male
  • ...buzz buzz buzz...
Argument for justifed belief in God
« on: June 16, 2017, 06:47:31 AM »
My reading of the argument for the justifiability of religious belief as presented by William James in Varieties of Religious Experience. In my judgement the argument is sound and consequently that belief in God is justified.
 
Argument:
 
(1) Happiness is an appropriate goal of life.
 
(2) Many people are unhappy.
 
(3) Religious experience is one mechanism by which unhappy people obtain happiness.
 
(4) Religious experience correlates strongly to belief in God.
 
(5) If a belief allows a person to be happy they are justified in believing it.
 
(6) Therefore personal religious experience can adequately justify belief in God.
 
Justifications for each step:
 
(1): Philosophical assumption, starting point for many ethical systems (see, e.g. Mill). Whether or not it is 'true' (whatever that would mean) it is certainly a view that many people hold. NOTE: it is not claimed that happiness is the only appropriate goal (or even the most appropriate goal).
 
(2): Empirical observation. Strictly this step is not needed for the argument. I include it here for clarity.
 
(3): Empirical observation. For empirical study see Starbuck[1]. There is nothing here stating that this is the only (or best) way for unhappy people to obtain happiness.
 
(4): Empirical observation (see, e.g. James[2]) NOTE: I have used the neutral term ‘correlate’ because it is unclear whether, as some suppose, religious experiences cause belief in God, or whether belief in God is a prerequisite for religious experiences. For the purpose of this argument it makes no difference: if the former then the happiness afforded by religious experience justifies the consequent belief; if the latter as the experience provides happiness and so the prerequisite belief is justified as antecedently. (For what what it is worth, I suspect both situations occur but that the latter is perhaps the more common.)
 
(5) Follows from (1). If we are willing to accept happiness as an appropriate goal, then insofar as a belief allows for happiness it is, on the face of it, justified. It might be immediately objected that believing things which are known to be false on the basis of happiness is clearly wrong. There are two responses to this. First, it would be impossible to genuinely believe something you know to be false (The claim “I believe that P but I know that not P” seems to involve some form of contradiction). Second, in the specific case of belief in God there is no risk of the kind of immediate harm that this objection presupposes. For example if my belief that homeopathy works would lead me to refuse appropriate medical care then clearly I cannot justify it by reference to the fact that prior to falling ill the belief made me happy. While there are clearly some religious beliefs that do lead to immediate harm (a point which, as a Londoner, I am currently only too well aware of); there are also plenty of religious beliefs which don’t involve such harm and I would include in this the minimal theistic belief that God exists.
 
(6) Conclusion, follows from steps (1)-(5). Note that the conclusion is limited to the person who had religious experience; it does not serve as a reason for anyone who has not had such an experience to believe in God.[3]
 1.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/1410942?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
 2.  https://csrs.nd.edu/assets/59930/williams_1902.pdf
 3. For an argument which claims that the experiences of others should act as evidence for God's existence see Swinburne The Existence of God Ch 13.
"Goodness is about what you do. Not who you pray to." - Terry Pratchett

Offline Anfauglir

  • Global Moderator
  • ******
  • Posts: 6584
  • Darwins +468/-5
  • Gender: Male
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2017, 07:02:29 AM »
My reading of the argument for the justifiability of religious belief as presented by William James in Varieties of Religious Experience. In my judgement the argument is sound and consequently that belief in God is justified.

I have two general problems with the argument.

The first is that in the main, you can substitute "belief in god" with just about anything, and still get the same result.  "Playing soccer", "watching TV and eating beans", "rubbing your feet on a fluffy puppy", you can justify pretty much anything with this argument.

The second is that it apparently ignores all other results of "belief on god" other than "makes that individual happy".  I can think of any manner of things that make some weird folks happy, that result in misery for many other people - yet, from the above, they would be regarded as "justifiable beliefs" for the person concerned.
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
Why is it so hard for believers to answer a direct question?

Online jetson

  • Administrator
  • *******
  • Posts: 8456
  • Darwins +364/-6
  • Gender: Male
  • Meet George Jetson!
    • Jet Blog
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2017, 07:13:16 AM »
"Belief in _____"

All values put in the blank space can be justified by someone or some group, I think. Does the popularity of a thing make it a stronger justification? Perhaps.

Offline penfold

  • Postgraduate
  • *****
  • Posts: 752
  • Darwins +106/-5
  • Gender: Male
  • ...buzz buzz buzz...
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2017, 07:23:40 AM »

I have two general problems with the argument.

The first is that in the main, you can substitute "belief in god" with just about anything, and still get the same result.  "Playing soccer", "watching TV and eating beans", "rubbing your feet on a fluffy puppy", you can justify pretty much anything with this argument.

The second is that it apparently ignores all other results of "belief on god" other than "makes that individual happy".  I can think of any manner of things that make some weird folks happy, that result in misery for many other people - yet, from the above, they would be regarded as "justifiable beliefs" for the person concerned.

I don't really understand your first point. Surely if 'playing soccer' made you happy you'd be justified in doing so? Similarly with the others. I suspect that many of them will only produce a transient happiness whereas a religious belief, at least in principle, has a psychological permanence to it; but other than that slight difference then I would affirm the others as equally justified. Why is this problematic?

The second point, I think this is a concern. I originally was going to present a version including a harm principle but wanted to start simple. It would run as follows. (7) A justified belief must account for the benefit and harm beyond that done to the individual and justification may be withdrawn on these grounds. While this might sound complicated it is nothing more than the harm principle which is found in and applied by almost all liberal societies. I see no additional issues with its use here.

"Goodness is about what you do. Not who you pray to." - Terry Pratchett

Offline penfold

  • Postgraduate
  • *****
  • Posts: 752
  • Darwins +106/-5
  • Gender: Male
  • ...buzz buzz buzz...
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #4 on: June 16, 2017, 07:27:52 AM »
"Belief in _____"

All values put in the blank space can be justified by someone or some group, I think. Does the popularity of a thing make it a stronger justification? Perhaps.

I'm not sure all values can ('Suicide is good' / 'take crystal meth' / 'betray friends'). Also the strength of justification is dependent upon the happiness of the individual not popular support. Other than that I would affirm (see post above) that any belief which legitimately makes people happy can be justified following the argument.
"Goodness is about what you do. Not who you pray to." - Terry Pratchett

Offline Anfauglir

  • Global Moderator
  • ******
  • Posts: 6584
  • Darwins +468/-5
  • Gender: Male
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #5 on: June 16, 2017, 07:28:19 AM »

I have two general problems with the argument.

The first is that in the main, you can substitute "belief in god" with just about anything, and still get the same result.  "Playing soccer", "watching TV and eating beans", "rubbing your feet on a fluffy puppy", you can justify pretty much anything with this argument.

I don't really understand your first point. Surely if 'playing soccer' made you happy you'd be justified in doing so? Similarly with the others. I suspect that many of them will only produce a transient happiness whereas a religious belief, at least in principle, has a psychological permanence to it; but other than that slight difference then I would affirm the others as equally justified. Why is this problematic?

Point is, that the object of the argument is irrelevant - which means there is nothing special about "belief in god" as the focus.  Substitute "belief in Satan", the argument has the same weight.  Doesn't mean the argument is wrong, just a bit....."well, so what?".  Because all it really says is "if it makes you happy, do it".  Trite and rather pointless, IMO, not really an "argument".
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
Why is it so hard for believers to answer a direct question?

Offline penfold

  • Postgraduate
  • *****
  • Posts: 752
  • Darwins +106/-5
  • Gender: Male
  • ...buzz buzz buzz...
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #6 on: June 16, 2017, 07:40:13 AM »
Point is, that the object of the argument is irrelevant - which means there is nothing special about "belief in god" as the focus.  Substitute "belief in Satan", the argument has the same weight.  Doesn't mean the argument is wrong, just a bit....."well, so what?".  Because all it really says is "if it makes you happy, do it".  Trite and rather pointless, IMO, not really an "argument".

Well I am not sure the argument is quite as simple as 'if it makes you happy do it'. For a start we are talking about beliefs not actions. Further these beliefs we are talking about are momentous ones (hence the focus on religious belief, though, as you rightly pointed out there is nothing intrinsically special about that).

In a sense I am glad you are so readily accepting of it. I suppose the reason I find the argument interesting and the reason I posted it here, is that most people seem to hold the view that a belief is not justified by the fact it makes us happy, rather, a belief is justified by reference to what is true or real. Bertrand Russell once said that "to believe something because it is useful rather than because it is true is the height of intellectual treachery".

If we side with James over Russell then we have a very different world view suddenly. We no longer justify beliefs only by reference to standards of evidence and method, but are willing to accept that beliefs are instead justified by how we feel. This would represent a profound movement away from the kind of empiricism that (if you'll forgive the generality) seems to be prevalent among the atheist community.

ps It definitely is an argument by any definition of the term![1]
 1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument
« Last Edit: June 16, 2017, 07:42:58 AM by penfold »
"Goodness is about what you do. Not who you pray to." - Terry Pratchett

Online jetson

  • Administrator
  • *******
  • Posts: 8456
  • Darwins +364/-6
  • Gender: Male
  • Meet George Jetson!
    • Jet Blog
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #7 on: June 16, 2017, 07:57:32 AM »
If such beliefs were limited to personal happiness, then who would argue? The obvious problem comes from the exact same beliefs becoming the hammer of oppression, hate, bigotry, and so on.

Online jdawg70

  • Administrator
  • *******
  • Posts: 4747
  • Darwins +1031/-10
  • Ex-rosary squad
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #8 on: June 16, 2017, 08:45:08 AM »
Other than that I would affirm (see post above) that any belief which legitimately makes people happy can be justified following the argument.

In contrast to illegitimately making people happy?

Is there a difference between justification and rationalization in this context?
"When we landed on the moon, that was the point where god should have come up and said 'hello'. Because if you invent some creatures, put them on the blue one and they make it to the grey one, you f**king turn up and say 'well done'."

- Eddie Izzard

http://deepaksducttape.wordpress.com/

Offline Jag

  • Fellow
  • *******
  • Posts: 3454
  • Darwins +469/-9
  • Gender: Female
  • Official WWGHA Harpy, Ex-rosary squad
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #9 on: June 16, 2017, 09:15:09 AM »
Other than that I would affirm (see post above) that any belief which legitimately makes people happy can be justified following the argument.

In contrast to illegitimately making people happy?

Is there a difference between justification and rationalization in this context?

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a fan of this approach, but I see penfold's point, and (uncomfortably and reluctantly) agree. There IS a difference between justification and rationalization.

A belief can be justified without being rational. My agreement is more a matter of semantics than of substance, because most people do not seem to understand or recognize the difference between the two words, and thus give "justification" to much credit. As others have said, the structure is pretty flexible, and nearly anything can be substituted for god-beliefs and the structure still works fine.

Eating ice cream after every meal could be justified - I like ice cream and would enjoy having a few bites several times a day - but it would not be rational - it would be unhealthy, and I would eventually fall into the habit of eating in order to have dessert.
"Tell people that there's an invisible man in the sky that created the entire universe and the majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure." ~George Carlin

Offline YRM_DM

  • Reader
  • ******
  • Posts: 1211
  • Darwins +412/-2
  • Gender: Male
  • WWGHA Member
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #10 on: June 16, 2017, 11:38:02 AM »
If a terminally ill patient or elderly person in their last years is relying on a belief in God to help them get through each day, no, I don't want to take that away because their reality is pretty bad and they're not as likely to make a bad life decision at that point based on faith.   Whatever works at that point.   That's why many terminally ill people are heavily drugged in ways that would never be acceptable if you weren't terminally ill.

But untrue beliefs that cause happiness can be harmful.

Consider, say, a psychic.  You might feel comfort if a psychic claims to be able to communicate with your dead wife's spirit... and you might continue to pay the psychic $800 a month to tell you what you want to hear.   This might make you feel good.   But, there's a very real possibility that the money spent will hurt you, or that you'll find out the psychic is lying, and feel stupid and unhappy and poor, in a much greater degree.

Consider Christians who... maybe break up a good relationship because they feel their partner is tempting them (not by doing anything, just, being tempting).   Consider Christians who forego medical treatments for prayer.  Consider Christians who turn down great job offers after praying, and interpreting some coincidence as God's will?  Consider Christians who skip out on the Halloween Party and Tricks or Treats so they can stand freezing in the pumpkin patch all night for nothing.

Unless a believer is so able to compartmentalize their faith that it never negatively affects their life choices.

Being a Christian means giving a lot of non-harmful things up, and potentially making harmful choices.   It only makes sense to do this if the faith is based in truth, not feelings of happiness.
You can't spell BELIEVE without LIE...  and a few other letters.  B and E and V and I think E.

Offline Foxy Freedom

  • Fellow
  • *******
  • Posts: 2854
  • Darwins +316/-14
  • Why is it so difficult to say you don't know?
    • Foxy Freedom on Doctor Who
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #11 on: June 16, 2017, 12:50:51 PM »
Argument:
 
(1) Happiness is an appropriate goal of life.
 
(2) Many people are unhappy.
 
(3) Religious experience is one mechanism by which unhappy people obtain happiness.
 
(4) Religious experience correlates strongly to belief in God.
 
(5) If a belief allows a person to be happy they are justified in believing it.
 
(6) Therefore personal religious experience can adequately justify belief in God.

The argument is always unsound.

It assumes that a person will have no idea that their belief is false.

In that case a person will necessarily protect one false belief with another and so invent a pseudo-reality which will be harmful to themselves and others. For example prayer instead of medical treatment, revelation instead of knowledge, and false relationships with other people based on a false understanding of people's natures as sinners and their fate in Hell.That sounds like a recipe for disappointment and unhappiness.

On the other hand if a person discovers that their belief is false they will suffer cognitive dissonance and anger at wasting their time and probably need counselling to help with their confusion.
The Foxy Freedom antitheist website is http://the6antitheist6guide6.blogspot.co.uk

The 2nd edition of the free ebook Devil or Delusion ? The danger of Christianity to Democracy Freedom and Science.       http://t.co/2d1KcJ9V

Offline eh!

  • Professor
  • ********
  • Posts: 7682
  • Darwins +457/-109
  • Gender: Male
  • jimmy hendrix is jesus
  • User posts join approval queueModerated
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #12 on: June 16, 2017, 04:36:06 PM »
Presumably strapping a suicide vest and detonating in a public square makes some people happy, belief in god justified?
some skepisms,
1. "I have not seen God. I have felt the invisible presence"
2. What if there is a rock in the middle of a road, a blind person is speeding towards it, ...they say that they can't see it.   Would you recommend him to keep speeding?

Offline Add Homonym

  • Fellow
  • *******
  • Posts: 4458
  • Darwins +434/-5
  • Gender: Male
  • I can haz jeezusburger™
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #13 on: June 18, 2017, 02:12:58 AM »
It assumes that a person will have no idea that their belief is false.

Yeah. There is no way this is useful for someone who cannot believe in (say) Christianity, because they will then have to invent their own religion. The comfort seems to come from being part of a smug social group. It's almost tempting to join up to a Christian group, to get a bunch of fawning women, who will be impressed by your outrageous antics that aren't limited by imagining spy-God all day.
When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be bleedn obvious.

Offline foke

  • Freshman
  • *
  • Posts: 26
  • Darwins +7/-0
  • Gender: Male
  • WWGHA Member
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #14 on: June 18, 2017, 08:28:54 AM »
I will try to keep this short.
For the purpose of my reply, I will assume we are speaking of the christian God, and with little altering, can also apply to the muslim God.

Your argument, while you are right that it is indeed one by any definition of the term, more or less falls under the category of straw man fallacies. And I'm not saying this with any hard feelings or malicious intent. It's just that you're essentially arguing over something that is generally not being disputed at all.

I very much doubt that any of the folks here would have anything against people's personal beliefs themselves, as long as they remain personal. There are, however, at least two problems that might come out of them - the smaller problem arises when those same beliefs command the individual that holds them to project them unto others (Mark 16:15Matthew 24:14, Psalms 96:3). The bigger problem arises when those beliefs are encouraging the individual that holds them to carry out atrocities and otherwise actions that are in direct contradiction with secular understanding of justice and morality, thus posing threat to the structure that modern day society revolves around. (Deuteronomy 21:18 - 21:21, Leviticus 24:16, Leviticus 20:13, Exodus 31:15).

NOTE: The following is my personal opinion conclusion:
Therefore I will say that as long as such beliefs pose even the slightest threat to the welfare of our secular society, the goal of achieving personal happiness through them is not only inappropriate, but not justified at all.

EDIT:
(7) A justified belief must account for the benefit and harm beyond that done to the individual and justification may be withdrawn on these grounds.

I must have missed this. But yes, basically this is the concept my point revolves around, with the little addition that I personally think that even the threat of harm beyond that done to the individual is grounds for withdrawal of justification.
« Last Edit: June 18, 2017, 08:54:01 AM by foke »

Offline screwtape

  • The Great Red Dragon
  • Laureate
  • *********
  • Posts: 15076
  • Darwins +1128/-38
  • Gender: Male
  • Karma mooch
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #15 on: June 18, 2017, 09:16:07 AM »
I just posted a link to an Aron Ra correspondence in Evolution where he talks about how "belief" means different things to atheists and the religious.  For us, beliefs at least ought to correspond to reality.  Our beliefs make up a model of reality.  For the religious, beliefs are motivated intentions.  They are "make believe".  So, to say religious beliefs are warranted is to run into that difference as to what beliefs are. 

If beliefs ought to correspond to reality, then no, it is not a warranted set of beliefs to hold just because they make you happy.  That which can be destroyed by the truth ought to be.

What's true is already so. Owning up to it does not make it worse.

Offline Azdgari

  • Laureate
  • *********
  • Posts: 14099
  • Darwins +470/-40
  • Gender: Male
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #16 on: June 18, 2017, 10:07:16 AM »
How does the OP's soundness change if we replace "belief in God" with "white nationalism"?

Does it change at all?
I always say what I mean. But sometimes I'm a sarcastic prick whose tone can't be properly communicated via text.

Online jetson

  • Administrator
  • *******
  • Posts: 8456
  • Darwins +364/-6
  • Gender: Male
  • Meet George Jetson!
    • Jet Blog
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #17 on: June 18, 2017, 12:29:29 PM »
I just posted a link to an Aron Ra correspondence in Evolution where he talks about how "belief" means different things to atheists and the religious.  For us, beliefs at least ought to correspond to reality.  Our beliefs make up a model of reality.  For the religious, beliefs are motivated intentions.  They are "make believe".  So, to say religious beliefs are warranted is to run into that difference as to what beliefs are. 

If beliefs ought to correspond to reality, then no, it is not a warranted set of beliefs to hold just because they make you happy.  That which can be destroyed by the truth ought to be.

I try to avoid using "belief" when it comes to what I consider to be true or not. For example, someone asks if I believe in the theory of evolution, and I respond with "no, I accept the theory as accurate based on its premises, facts, and evidence." Of course, if something comes along that topples the theory, I will likely reject it for a better explanation.

I am not comfortable using the word "believe" or the phrase "believe in", even though they have generally accepted meanings. I would rather be precise and avoid the trap of "see, you believe just like us".

Offline Add Homonym

  • Fellow
  • *******
  • Posts: 4458
  • Darwins +434/-5
  • Gender: Male
  • I can haz jeezusburger™
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #18 on: June 19, 2017, 12:59:10 AM »
How does the OP's soundness change if we replace "belief in God" with "white nationalism"?

Does it change at all?

Anything is justified, if it makes you happy.
When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be bleedn obvious.

Offline Anfauglir

  • Global Moderator
  • ******
  • Posts: 6584
  • Darwins +468/-5
  • Gender: Male
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #19 on: June 19, 2017, 02:14:54 AM »
Well I am not sure the argument is quite as simple as 'if it makes you happy do it'. For a start we are talking about beliefs not actions. Further these beliefs we are talking about are momentous ones (hence the focus on religious belief, though, as you rightly pointed out there is nothing intrinsically special about that).

What makes a belief "momentous", exactly?
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
Why is it so hard for believers to answer a direct question?

Offline wheels5894

  • Fellow
  • *******
  • Posts: 4481
  • Darwins +290/-1
  • Gender: Male
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #20 on: June 19, 2017, 05:54:59 AM »
Well, what an interesting discussion. I have been away for a week's holiday so haven't really been looking in but now I am back...


My first problem with sort of argument is that it leads to a 'standard god' if you like and not to any god in particular. We end up with the usual position from arguments for god when we arrive at a god but cannot identify which one it might be. Happiness might well be provided by any god so we are not better off than before.


Secondly, I don't think it leads us to a god at all! Well, mystical experiences are ten a penny to anyone who has access to the right chemicals and even,  a magnetic helmet so such experiences are far more likely the result of the mind playing tricks than an external source so while some people might think an experience could be from a god, the likelihood is that it is a reaction of the brain and mind to something and not signifiy anything more than that.


So i do not go along with this idea at all and do not see it function of anything special. Of course, for a theist, it works fine as they already believe in a god so that the argument adds to what they already believe. However, for non-believers, I can't see the argument succeeding at all.
No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such that its falshood would be more miraculous than the facts it endeavours to establish. (David Hume)

Offline YRM_DM

  • Reader
  • ******
  • Posts: 1211
  • Darwins +412/-2
  • Gender: Male
  • WWGHA Member
Re: Argument for justifed belief in God
« Reply #21 on: June 19, 2017, 03:02:13 PM »
To sum up what Foxy posted above, and what I'd posted...

False beliefs all can lead to damaging behaviors.

If you believe you can fly by holding a feather, you might get great confidence from this.   You might lose your fear of sky-diving.   You might feel comfortable and happy hiking on high cliffs.   Those are good things right?   You've gained happiness and confidence from a false belief.   No harm done!   Until you try to fly.

If you believe that you can gain the afterlife by acting a certain way, you might get great confidence from this.   You might lessen your fear of dying or family dying.   You might feel more comfortable when things go wrong in life.   Those are good things right?    You've gained happiness and confidence from a false belief.   No harm done!   Until you look back and consider the choices you've changed and the people you've judged and the hangups you've lived with...  for no reason at all.

You can't spell BELIEVE without LIE...  and a few other letters.  B and E and V and I think E.