Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Two Babies In The Womb: A Short Dialogue On Belief and Skepticism

I extend the afore-mentioned meme into a short fictional dialogue :

Skeptic Baby
: hey brother do you think mom was born from another mom which was born from another mom and so on ?

Believer Baby: No brother,  this would lead to the impossibility of an infinte regress , therefore the most rational thing to believe is that if mom exist then she is is eternal and uncreated. She is the ultimate reality beyond which nothing exists.

Skeptic Baby: but surely if mom can be conceived as uncreated why not this womb ?  what if there is no mom at all and only this uncreated womb ? how do we decide between these two possibilities ?

Believer Baby: In order to decide between these two alternatives we need to search for more evidence and see if the evidence is explained better by your "uncreated womb" hypothesis or by my "uncreated mom" hypothesis. So for example consider what is this voice we are hearing from outside the womb. By comparison with our voices we could infer via analogy that that this voice is that of person similar to ours. So there is atleast a third female person that is similar to ours existing outside the womb. That person is whom I identify with mom.

Skeptic Baby: Even if we concede that there is atleast a third person which exists outside the womb why should we be so certain that it is that person who is the cause of our existence ? perhaps all 3 of us are being caused by a 4th thing . or all three of us are uncreated ? moreover how can we be so certain that the voice is being generated from outside the womb ? Perhaps the inner walls of the womb are generating this voice ? after-all we don't have enough experience regarding voices and wombs to create a safe analogy that leads from us to the inference that mom exist.

Believer Baby:  well we have reached the limit of our knowledge. Given our epistemic situation the only thing we can do now do is to wait and hope that as our situation changes and more evidence emerges such that we will be in a better position to decide the truth. Until then we must stay open to all possibilities including that of a mom.

Skeptic baby: But merely to be open to a possibility is not the same as to believe in it. rather to be open is to be open to its rejection too i.e to be open to a proposition is to be neutral to the truth value of the proposition, neither affirming nor rejecting it . which means that we cannot just assert that uncreated mom hypothesis is true just because we like it. Similarly we cannot reject the uncreated womb hypothesis just because we find it counter-intuitive or depressing. Agnosticism seems to be the only rational position in this matter.

Believer Baby: Perhaps experience and observation alone cannot settle this matter however prudence might be able to do the task. Suppose mom in fact exists and we donot believe in her, in such a case mom might hate and punish us because we disbelieved in her. but if we do believe in her we will be rewarded by her love. On the other hand if mom infact doesn't exist and then it doesn't matter who was right for neither would receive any benefit nor punishment. By assessing these alternatives we can clearly see that the risk of rejecting the existence of mom is too high hence if a person is rational and care about his well-being then it is more prudent to believe in her than to not believe in her. of course this doesn't proves that she exist but it does show that whether she exist or not, it is nevertheless rational to believe in her existence.

Skeptic baby: assuming that we do have the freewill to change our beliefs as and when we want, we must ask in what sense should mom be considered as loving if something as trivial as a baby rejecting her existance is enough to justify her punishing and tormenting her own children ? Not only that but we are also assuming that we can know what criteria mom would use for punishment and reward. Perhaps mom rewards people for following the methodology of reason instead of the conclusion . so one who bases his belief on evidence would be rewarded instead of the the one who selfishly uses belief in mom as a means to an end to get reward. In such a case it would be least risky to become a skeptic rather than a believer. The only time pruidential arguments can work is when we can clearly identify all the possibilities but here the amount of possibilites are so high that it is impossible to determine which action would lead to reward and which to punishment. Given that neither prudence nor evidence is enough to justify this therefore it follows that for a rational person the most reaonable thing to do is to stay agnostic about it .

Believer baby: It seems to me that if we were to use your method of skepticism it would lead to not only the rejection of the mother but also of the womb and ourselves. so for instance why could it not be that this womb and our bodies are merely a hallucination created by an evil demon ? in reality nothing exist except our minds and the demon (Decartes skepticism). Infact lets forget the demon. lets just say that all that exist is my mind and all this the womb, the bodies, this conversation is merely a figment of my imagination (Soliphism) . what evidence can we use to rule out such possibilities? the simple answer is that we cannot. But does that mean we should be merely agnostic about these things? Certainly you would not claim that  its irrational to believe that our bodies exist and that the womb exist? it seems that at one point or another we must assume that at least some of our beliefs are true by default until we get a defeater for those believes. Since u give me no reason to think that mom  cannot existence therefore I can consider this belief as true by default.

Skeptic baby: The point you have raised is interesting. Their are certainly some similarity between radical skepticism of the kind u have mentioned and the skepticism about mom's existence. Nevertheless I must note that if this line of reasoning were to be used generally then we could justify any belief at all no matter how silly. For example we could believe that the cause of our existence was not mom but a machine and that such a belief must be taken true as default until proven false. we would destroy our only means of differentiating true from false beliefs. Given your epistemology how do we determine which belief is silly and which is to be given the status of "true-by-default" ? the simple answer is that we cannot do that. I admit the difficulty of ever refuting radical skepticism of the sort u mentioned.  The only answer I can give against your skeptical scenarios is that why should we not also be skeptical about our bodies and about the womb too? its true that my position allows very little beliefs to be justified but it is equally true that your position opens the gate fully: it allow too much beliefs to be justified.

Believer baby: It seems that both of us are on the extremes. One allowing too much. other allowing too little. we need a point of moderation. at which only the "right" beliefs would be allowed to be true-by-default and the "wrong" ones would be rejected.  but what would that point be is something we cannot settle. You would want to exclude mom from that moderation point whereas i would want to include it.

Skeptic baby: I would not want to admit it but it scares me to think what if the "point of moderation" is purely subjective , depending on the preferences of the person. which would mean that both of our positions are equally rational and irrational at the same time.

Believer Baby : well let us simply agree to disagree. that is the only thing we can conclude with this futile discussion. 

PS: this dialogue is written in response to the above mentioned meme . the original meme was intended to demonstrate the irrationality of atheism / agnosticism . One problem with the meme (among many others) is that it ignores the fact that we (the reader) have a preferential position of being outside the womb whereby we can confirm via experience whether moms exist or not. Therefore as an analogy to the theism vs atheism debate the meme fails utterly as we humans do not have such a preferential position when it comes to the question of God's existence. We are indeed like those babies in the womb and so for those babies the question would not be as straightforward as the meme makes it out to be. The key point here is to note that different beliefs can be considered justified in different epistemic situations. As i show in my dialogue  for babies in a womb a different set of beliefs would be rational than there are for us.

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