The Reason Rally And The Realm of Doubt: Why Both Skeptics and Theists Have To Exercise Faith
by Eric Chabot
We all know the Reason Rally is this weekend. In a few short days, we will see the largest gathering of atheists in the country come together to celebrate the pursuit of reason over religion. Some friends of mine have already written a response this event. But as I was reflecting on this event, I just happened to pick a book out of my library that is relevant to the current debate between atheists and theists. Mortimer J. Adler’s Six Great Ideas has a chapter called The Realm of Doubt. In this chapter, Adler discusses some of the issues of epistemology which is the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge, belief, truth, and types of certainty. Can atheists and theists say “I know” with complete assurance that their position is true? I know atheists say they lack a belief and are not really taking a position. I won’t go into the great detail about the problems with this definition of atheism. Instead, let expand on what Adler discusses in this wonderful book:
Certitude and Doubt
The problem we encounter is when we attempt to decide which of our judgments belong in the realm of certitude and which in the realm of doubt. In order for a judgment to belong in the realm of certitude, it must meet the following criteria: (1) it cannot be challenged by the consideration of new evidence that results from improved observation, nor can it be criticized by improved reasoning or the detection of inadequacies or errors in the reasoning we have done. Beyond such challenge or criticism, such judgments are indubitable, or beyond doubt.
A judgment is subject to doubt if there is any possibility at all (1) of its being challenged in the light of additional or more acute observations or (2) of its being criticized on the basis of more cogent o more comprehensive reasoning.
A courtroom analogy is helpful here: a jury is asked to bring in the verdict that they have no reason to doubt- no rational basis for doubting- in light of all the evidence offered and the arguments presented by the opposing counsel. Of course, it is always possible that new evidence may be forthcoming and, if that occurs, the case may be reopened and a new trial may result in a different verdict. The original verdict may have been beyond a reasonable doubt at the time it was made, but it is not indubitable-not beyond all doubt or beyond a shadow of a doubt–precisely because it can be challenged by new evidence or set aside by an appeal that called attention to procedural errors that may have invalidated the jury’s deliberations- the reasoning they did weighing and interpreting the evidence presented.
Our Daily Judgments
It is obvious that many of the judgments we make in the daily affairs of life are like jury verdicts, beyond a reasonable doubt or are favored by a preponderance of evidence. And for all practical purposes, we generally act on judgments that can only reach a high level of probability. We do not even hesitate to act on them even though new evidence may show up in the future…
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