There are some religious believers who learn these ideas and run completely off the rails with them, mistakenly thinking that they’ve gotten hold of some knockout blow to evidence-based inquiry.
The purpose of this post is to explore the arguments that believers often make based on these ideas, with the intent to show exactly where believers go wrong.
After all, in conversations between believers and skeptics, it is very common for the skeptics to request evidence for the wacky claims that believers make (since, obviously, nobody has any reason to think that a claim is likely true unless there is evidence for it…and since the believer actually does accept the claim under discussion, the believer must implicitly think there is evidence for it).
Sometimes this request is met with honest effort on the part of believers. They’ll point to things that they mistakenly think are evidence. Other times, believers will try to redefine what is meant by “evidence,” either honestly misunderstanding or purposefully and dishonestly confusing the issue. They’ll claim that their subjective feelings are somehow “evidence” for the existence of powers or beings that, if these powers or beings were real, would have a detectable effect on the world outside of these believers’ heads.
But on some occasions, the believers will question the very idea that evidence and reason are useful tools in the first place.
“What evidence,” they sometimes ask, thinking themselves clever, “do you have that all claims require evidence?”
Another way to phrase this objection is, “What’s your rational argument for thinking that reason is an effective tool? Oho! You can’t do it without being circular!” The implication is that any rational proof of reason’s effectiveness has to begin from the presumption that reason is effective, thereby begging the question (since it assumes the thing that it’s trying to prove).
In other words, their argument boils down to “You can’t prove reason with reason. Therefore, God.” [Or whatever nutty claim they’re making]
What’s happening here is that the believers in question have learned a small bit of philosophy. But, as I’ve noted elsewhere, a little philosophy can be a dangerous thing. Their half-comprehension of this issue leads them to all kinds of confusion.
Read on for a full explanation.