The Distinction Between Assent & Belief

Jeffrey Jordan wrote a thought-provoking response to Schellenberg’s Divine Hiddenness Argument (hereafter DHA). First and foremost, hats off to Jordan for producing such an interesting read. There is a wealth of material to chew on and incorporate into other (a)theist arguments contained in that post. I recommend reading it with a notepad or text editor handy, because it will get your gears turning for sure.

I intend to explore the DHA in further detail in upcoming posts, but for now I just wanted to share a little snippet that I find highly relevant and often overlooked in (a)theist dialog: the distinction between belief and acceptance.

In response to Premise II of DHA, Jordan writes,

Accepting a proposition, unlike believing, is an action that is characterized, in part, by one’s assenting to the proposition, whether one believes it or not.[5] One accepts a proposition when she assents to its truth and employs it as a premise in her deliberations. What is it to believe a proposition? Believing a proposition is being disposed to feel that it is probably the case. Belief and acceptance typically converge, but they can diverge, since one can believe a proposition that one does not accept.

For example, think of the gambler’s fallacy. One might believe that the next toss of the coin will very probably come up Tails, since it has been Heads on the previous seven tosses. Nevertheless, one ought not to accept that the next toss must come up Tails, or that the probability that it will is greater than one-half. Acceptance, unlike believing, is an action that is under our direct control. If one accepts a proposition, one can also act upon it. Acting upon a proposition is behaving as though it were true. The two-step regimen of accepting a proposition and acting upon it is a common way of inculcating belief in that proposition. And, importantly, there is no hint of self-deception tainting the process.

The relevance of this distinction is that one can accept that God exists, even if one does not believe that God exists. Since acceptance is under our direct control, one can choose to accept, even if one cannot choose to believe. Indeed, God, if he exists and perfectly loves, may value acceptance…

Might this mean atheists can no longer use variants of “not enough evidence” as an excuse to refuse to participate in a relationship with God?

What does the fact that acceptance and belief can diverge contribute to arguments about whether or not thoughts / feelings / beliefs are “real”, “material”, etc.?

If we can consciously override a thought / feeling / belief, then, mustn’t it be something “real” by even the naturalist’s sense of the word?

What ramifications do you think the distinction between assent and belief holds for various (a)theist arguments?

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