Location: MA, United States

View my profile on Linked in

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Ethics of Belief By William K. Clifford

Nicholas Blanchette
Introduction to Philosophy
The Ethics of Belief

In The Ethics of Belief, the author argues against Pascalian Wagers and belief in God through faith calling it unethical because it comes from insufficient evidence. Clifford argues that belief in anything on insufficient evidence is unethical, even if the belief turns out to be right or true. He believes the decision to believe without patient investigation or by suppressing doubts is unethical because it leads to wrong actions. These actions are what some people believe to be wrong, and not the belief. Clifford argues it is the belief that caused the actions, and that is wrong. Clifford's whole argument can be summed up with this main point against the rational belief in God; "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence" (133).

Clifford's ethics of belief are to examine the evidence on both sides of the argument with the utmost patience and care with an open mind so not to be biased. He also claims the following: a true belief has some influence on our actions. No belief is a private matter but affects everybody around the man who holds it. No belief is without effect on the fate of mankind no matter how insignificant, trivial, or ridicules it is or however unimportant the man holding it is. Therefore every time someone believes anything with insufficient evidence, they danger society by weakening their ability to think, question, judge and learn from evidence.

I do not think Clifford's Ethics of Belief proves that faith in God is irrational. The main point of Clifford's argument says, "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." What is sufficient evidence? How much evidence is needed to be sufficient enough? How does one know he has enough evidence to make the ethical decision? Is a man qualified or competent enough to know he has enough evidence to make the right decision?

Let's say the ship owner hired an expert to inspect his ship to see if it was sea worthy, and this expert said that it was. It didn't erase the doubts in the ship owner's mind because of a dream he had of the ship going down the week before. The ship owner felt pressure to send the ship out from his business partners, because they didn't want to lose any more money on the ship being docked. So the owner, who wanted a more thorough inspection of the ship, felt the pressure from his business partners and with supposed sufficient evidence from an expert sends the ship out. It sinks killing all the innocent people on board. Would the ship owner still be guilty? He still suppressed doubts in his mind of what he believed to be sufficient evidence, and sent the ship to sea. Only, the doubts were supposedly irrational because they were based on a dream he had a week before of the ship going down. The expert he hired said the ship was sea worthy.

The ship owner in this story would have met the requirements Clifford has set for an ethical decision. Clifford would say this man is not guilty because it is not whether the believe turns out to be true or false but that it's the origin of his belief that make it right or wrong. This would not change the remorse the ship owner feels now who felt he knew in his heart that the ship was going to sink. Let's change the story a little and say the ship owner did not send the ship out to sea but got another expert opinion that said that the ship was not sea worthy. Both are experts, but they have different opinions. This could continue with a dozen experts, six saying that the ship is sea worthy and the other six saying that it is not. How patient of an investigation does the ship owner need to have to be sufficient? Wouldn't the difference of opinion of twelve experts make for even more doubts in one's mind? What should be done now, Clifford? This happens every day in the American court system, were the prosecution and defense attorneys find experts in the same field of study that have two different opinions. On what grounds should one entertain such disparate beliefs? What is sufficient evidence?

Clifford says that no man can be unbiased if he holds or even wants to strongly hold on to a belief on one side of an argument. Clifford himself believes that nothing is too big that human understanding can't figure it out rationally. He believes that everything can be figured out through careful and patient investigation of all the evidence. At one time rational men believed that the sun revolved around the earth because they observed the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. They had all the sufficient evidence of their day but still made the wrong conclusion. At one time rational men believed that the earth was flat for the same reason. At one time rational men believed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Rational man can be wrong in their conclusions, even though one can patiently investigate and gather all the sufficient evidence available to them.

Clifford believes that because you can not prove there is a God that it is unethical to believe in him. This is a contradiction because he is biased toward this belief, so how can he be open-minded to believing otherwise. What is the sufficient evidence that proves God does not exist? Faith as defined in the dictionary is "Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence." Hebrews 6 (NIV) says that "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him". Hebrews 11:(NIV) says "faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Neither Clifford nor anybody else in any age will ever find logical proof or material evidence that God exists because than there couldn't be faith which is required to please God.

I don't think Clifford proves that faith in God is irrational because there is insufficient evidence. This sentence is an oxymoron for faith as defined can not be proven. I believe in God not from sufficient evidence but through faith. In John 8:32 Jesus told the Jews who "believed" in him that "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." We will only know the truth about Jesus if we hold to his teachings. We would only hold to Jesus' teachings if we believed in him. This scripture claims that the sufficient evidence for the existence of God is holding to Christian teachings. Having done so, the believer's faith is confirmed by seeing pronounced changes and improvements in life. Without the initial seeds of faith to investigate the teachings, sufficient evidence of a changed heart and lifestyle will never be found.


Post a Comment

<< Home