January 18, 2010
Happy MLK Day, all. I encourage you to read jim's third installment of his series Proof of God's Existence for yourself before reading mine.
After setting up an odd series of events between Mary the neighborhood realtor and Carol the neighborhood skeptic, jim closes with the following set of questions:
Are Carol's [suspicion and uneasiness] justified at this point, slight though they be, or can they be summarily dismissed? Is this early foreboding of suspicion rational? Irrational? Pre-rational?
As far as justification goes, my first thoughts were that suspicion and uneasiness are ontologically distinct from beliefs. I'd say what we call uneasiness is pure feeling that may or may not be rooted in some observation or experience. On the other hand, suspicion seems to be a little bit of both feeling and belief. To me, a suspicion is basically a provisional hypothesis cast in response to some (often anomalous) observation or experience. As such we should evaluate each according to their own merits.
Feelings are real and true whether we say they're justified or not (meaning that the subject actually feels them). Though I'll play along with jim on his terms, for me, the salient question from Carol's perspective isn't whether or not her feelings are justified, but why she had them in the first place. The philosophical question of whether a given belief is justified remains forever contingent on agreement as to what constitutes justified belief in the first place, and anyone who participates even peripherally in (a)theist discussion knows just how difficult that can be. Also, that we declare some belief justified has no bearing on whether or not the belief is true. Justification always depends on knowledge which is a work in progress.
At the end of my day, I'm not the least bit interested in securing acceptance from skeptics; I'm interested in explaining reality as it is. Though not always easy to answer, the question of why one experiences a given feeling or phenomena bypasses bickering about justification and gets directly to discussing reality as it is. Those who've experienced anomalous events can surely identify with the frustration of being told they're not justified to form conclusions about the realities they know they've experienced. I don't know about you, but I couldn't care less whether or not some self-appointed arbiters of warrant accept the justification for my beliefs. Skeptics are just as prone to confirmation bias as anyone else. Further, reality doesn't need their approval and will certainly march on without them. I'm interesting in explaining reality as it is, and formulating worldviews that accommodate reality as it is. That's why I get frustrated with most of the skeptics I deal with: they're all-too-willing to shoot down other people's explanations without offering anything superior of their own. They criticize theists and "outside the box" thinkers until the sun comes up, then hide behind the mask of negative claimant and it often comes across as self-righteous obliviousness: "I don't know what's true, but I know your beliefs are false, and I don't have to explain any of my beliefs because atheism is a negative claim."
Yeah, okay. Keep running with that.
All that being said, here's my short answer to jim's question, prefaced by the aforementioned caveat: in my opinion, Carol's initial and ongoing uneasiness are justified, but any ongoing suspicion less so. Carol's initial and ongoing uneasiness would also seem rational, but again, any ongoing suspicion less so. Though it's recently become obvious to me that an in-depth discussion of warrant is necessary, in my opinion, nothing in jim's story warranted any suspicion whatsoever except Mary's apparent resistance to Carol opening or touching the boxes, and even that only warranted a temporary or provisional suspicion at best.
A more in-depth evaluation of jim's question will have to wait for the next installment.