Philosophy

Why Believe Anything at All?

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Author Brett Kunkle Published on 03/05/2013

Why do you believe what you believe? Seriously, pause for a moment and think hard about that question. What are the reasons behind the beliefs or views you hold? Everyone has beliefs, whether conscious of them or not. Some beliefs are mundane like “I had a cup of coffee with breakfast.” Others seem to be a little more significant like “My wife and children love me.” In either case, it seems we ought to have good reasons for our beliefs.

Imagine you ask me why I believe my wife loves me and I respond, “Well, she spends most of her time with other men. She never tells me she cares for me and is actually quite rude. And I’ve caught her lying on a number of occasions and therefore, it is hard to trust her.” You would be confused. You may think those are certainly reasons but they are not good reasons to believe my wife loves me. Indeed, they are good reasons to believe she does not love me. So it is fairly obvious the reasons for our beliefs should be good ones. But what makes for a good reason?

Some people will argue it does not matter what you believe or why you believe, as along as you believe sincerely. But is sincerity a sufficiently good reason to believe something? Think about it. If you decide to go skydiving, are you primarily concerned that your beliefs are sincere? When you are coasting in a plane at 10,000 feet in the air, preparing to jump into the wild blue yonder, and then plummet towards the earth at mind-numbing speeds, do you merely want a sincere belief there is actually a working parachute in your backpack? Absolutely not. You want a true belief that your parachute is in full working order. If you sincerely believe that your parachute works but you are sincerely wrong, you’ll look quite different when you land. That sincere, but false, belief will kill you.

Others will point to family, culture or a religious tradition as a sufficient explanation for belief. But again we must ask if this alone is a good reason to believe something. What if I was raised in a family, culture or religion that taught modern day medicine is bad? Instead, when someone is ill, I was raised to believe evil spirits inhabit their blood and therefore, they must be cut so they will bleed and release the spirits. Is it enough for me to believe such things on the basis of a cultural or religious tradition? Of course not. Such reasons are not enough to justify these kinds of beliefs. Rather, in this example we want beliefs that are supported by the medical facts. Once again, we seem to be driven toward a different kind of reason: truth.

Now let us apply this same thinking to our varying religious beliefs. In my view, religious beliefs are some of the most significant beliefs to think about. In religion we consider life’s most important issues like origin, meaning, and destiny. So, why do you hold your particular religious views? If you answer with reasons like sincerity or tradition, this is not sufficient. When it comes to our religious beliefs we do not want to focus on the sincerity of those beliefs. We do not want to believe them simply because someone told us to. Rather, we want to know first and foremost whether those beliefs are true or false. If we come to discover that our religious beliefs are false, then we ought to let go of those beliefs no matter how dear they are or how sincerely we have held them in the past.

Consider your own beliefs. Do you have good reason to think your most deeply held and deeply cherished beliefs are actually so? If not, maybe you will be open-minded enough to join us in a careful exploration of life’s most significant questions.