Should we have full disbelief in propositions with no evidence or should we have a small amount of belief in them?

The proponents of the camp that says you should have a small amount of belief often comes from the idea of “humility” and the recognition that human beings can always be wrong about anything.

To me, this results in two problems. First, I doubt that one has this attitude for all beliefs that have no evidence. Usually, there are only a few (often widespread) beliefs that people sort of keep a small degree of belief in. And in practice, it’s not usually very small. For example, one may think there is no evidence for god but just from the constant exposure to the idea of god or habits in thinking about the topic, one may doubt their atheism much more than they doubt Big Foot to exist even if they both have no evidence. There are an infinite number of beliefs that people either don’t consider or find to be completely ridiculous to the point of full disbelief. This points to inconsistency.

Secondly, there is no contradiction in feeling sure about something and still changing your mind in the future if evidence comes into fruition. Beliefs don’t have to be fixed during one’s life. Also, if belief is not a choice, then evidence would force you to change your mind anyways.

For example, if one is certain that aliens have not visited earth and an abundant amount of evidence of their visit comes forth tomorrow, I doubt that many wouldn’t change their mind. Even if they wanted to, many would be forced to. This is a case of one feeling certain without being dogmatic.

So, is it better to be certain or still leave a sliver of doubt for beliefs with no evidence behind them? It has been proven that certainty is extremely comforting for one’s mental health which is why the concept of faith or people of faith have been proven to feel less anxiety and depression. Uncertainty fuels anxiety as shown here.

Faith is often considered irrational when one believes in something without evidence. But if one believes that something doesn’t exist if one has found zero evidence for its existence, can that kind of faith be rational and perhaps even useful in a psychological sense?


2 Answers 2


"The recognition that human beings can always be wrong about anything"

It's just that: a recognition. We would (or would not) have the capacity to be wrong regardless of whether or not we recognise it.

Recognising it allows one to question things you may be wrong about, which serves the goal of believing as many true things and as few false things as possible (for those of us that care about this goal).

"One may doubt their atheism much more than they doubt Big Foot"

The consequences of God's existence would affect every aspect of one's life. Whereas the existence of some ape-like creature in some forest somewhere would probably have functionally zero impact on the life of the average person.

More doubt may be warranted for more important beliefs.

Also, if many other people believe something, more doubt may also be warranted, as this could indicate those people are reasoning soundly, and there's instead a flaw in your reasoning process. This also suggests that one should doubt atheism (and theism) more than abigfootism.

Of course that doesn't mean you should be completely certain of something if everyone (or most people) believes it either: if everyone follows that principle, false beliefs may never change.

I also suspect many skeptic atheists would say they doubt their atheism more than what's rationally justified. We recognise that we're influenced by emotion and the "appeal" (which, for a lot of people, is largely fear) of the existence of eternal torture (or annihilation), and being able to do things to reach eternal bliss instead, is strong, regardless of how poor the justification is for thinking those things exist.

"There is no contradiction in feeling sure about something and still changing your mind in the future if evidence comes into fruition"

If you're certain about something, you probably won't concern yourself much with exploring alternatives and looking for evidence. Evidence usually doesn't just materialise in front of you out of nothing. You need to go looking for it. Also, you may already have seen the evidence, or acknowledged the lack thereof, but you may just not have considered that with an open-enough mind.

Evidence sometimes "force people to change their mind", but often people can and do just close themselves off from reflecting on or even seeing the evidence. When I was a theist, I entirely closed myself off from atheists (on the topic of religion, at least), because I was convinced that atheism was "evil" and engaging would tempt me away from God and would make me suffer eternal consequences. So I never even heard any evidence or arguments against what I believe. Although I realise that many theists do engage with atheists.

"If belief is not a choice..."

Belief isn't a choice, but you can choose to question something, which can create doubt, and which can ultimately change beliefs if you reevaluate your reasons for believing.

You probably can't start believing there's an invisible unicorn in your backyard, no matter how much you (responsibly and indiscriminantly) doubt and reevaluate, but that would be "working as intended" to avoid unjustified beliefs.

"Uncertainty fuels anxiety as shown here"

Let's separate epistemology from psychology. Proportional uncertainty seems to be good for believing as many true things as possible, regardless of whether it's good for mental health.

Beyond that, not all uncertainty is equal. Just because a study linked uncertainty to anxiety doesn't mean you'll experience anxiety from a "sliver of doubt", or from uncertainty within a carefully constructed epistemological framework.

  • The consequences of God’s existence would affect everyone’s life. But that doesn’t follow that more doubt is warranted. This is because I can simply attach a consequence to any belief, God or not. I can do this for an infinite amount of propositions. This is also the reason why Pascal’s Wager doesn’t work. There is no more evidence for a being that puts all atheists into hell than one who puts all theists into hell. It’s surprising that traditional objections to the Wager don’t mention this rebuttal and rather focus on the objection that other religions exist which isn’t exactly the same Sep 4 at 12:24
  • Good answer by the way. I do want to address the “looking for evidence” part. I actually do think evidence comes to people, almost always, atleast in a preliminary sense. Almost any hypothesis that anyone conjured up had a preliminary sign or some observation or coincidence that made them look for evidence. This usually does “just come” to you. So this doesn’t really address the supposed practicality of simply fully disbelieving X if X has no evidence. Sep 4 at 12:29
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    You can't get knowledge without beliefs, but you can't get beliefs without knowledge :-) Something familiar there... "The Human Condition" maybe?
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 4 at 12:37
  • @thinkingman If whether something is true would have greater consequence for you and how you "should" act, then it follows that you should try to be more certain about whether it's true, and you can achieve that (oddly enough) by exercising doubt. There are infinitely many propositions. But we only evaluate a finite number, based on some criteria. Having many other people believe a thing (like God's existence) isn't a good reason for believing it, but it could be a decent reason to evaluate it, since those people may have good reasons.
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 4 at 12:46
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    @prof_post We can falsely recognise something. We can consider something to be the case regardless of whether or not it is the case.
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 7 at 9:49

The essence of the philosophic mindset is to learn to question the walls of the boxes one is thinking within.

This is the OPPOSITE of our human inclinations, which is to leap to a conclusion, build a world model based on it, and then look for confirmations of ones model. Humans are psychologically built to seek for confirmation bias.

Adopt the philosophic mindset, and you should then question:

a) are the confirmatory evidences I think are unquestionable, actually as unquestionable as I have been treating them?


b) Are there contrary evidences I have just not gone looking for?

BECAUSE we humans seek confirmations, IF you go looking, you will find communities who will assert that your preferred assumptions are unquestionable, and that contrary evidence does not exist. From what I see of your posts, your "research" into philosophic questions primarily seems to consist of seeking the communities who will assert unquestioned verification of the confirmation biases you prefer.

Instead, a philosopher will go looking for the counter evidences, and the challenges to your preferred POV.

THEN, one you have actually explored alternative POVs (multiple) AND can reach agreement with people coming from alternative initial POVs about the evidence involved, and degree of certainties we have on interim conclusions, only then should you try to quantify degrees of certainty in your preferred beliefs.

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