Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Not (Belief X) vs. Belief (Not X)

Take some concept X (such as, for example, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the invisible pink unicorn, bigfoot, God, free will, etc...). In some ways, there are two positions. Either you accept/believe X exists, or you don't.

But the 'don't' is a complex beast, in that you might not believe in X, but that doesn't mean you believe X doesn't exist. And then there's the question of why you don't believe in X. These two positions are typically referred to the weak (no belief in X) and the strong (belief in not X) positions.

The weak position is fully justified if there is no evidence, or no convincing evidence for X. The strong position is justified if there is evidence against X (which I'll get into more in a later post).

Allow me to borrow an analogy I came across recently. Say you brought a lottery ticket. Clearly, after the draw, you have either won or not won. In this case, X is "ka-ching!". But what should your justifiable belief be?

Until you check the numbers, odds are you haven't won, but neither have you not won. All you can say at this point is that are without winnings, and are unlikely to be a winner (based on the odds). (The weak position.)

When you check the numbers, then you have evidence either for or against X, and so can either celebrate(*) or through the ticket out and try again.
(* Depending on how much you actually won, YMMV.)

The point of all this is is that not believing in X is not the same as believing not X. Without (convincing) evidence either way, the former position is the rational position.

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