A believer is not one who ponders, considers, or investigates. The believer is one who mocks the investigator, refuses to reveal the reasons why they would demean the curious and their ideas, and meticulously avoids acknowledging their own protected notion or exposing it to risky critical scrutiny.
The skeptic in contrast honors the ethic of the investigation, and chooses to remain neutral until they know more.
In an ancient mythology a certain man befriended a horse who happened to graze in the same valley as the one in which the man lived. One day the man decided to impress his friend the horse with his ability to create and maintain fire for his purposes. So he did just this, creating fire from a stone flint and some dry leaves he had gathered beforehand. But he did not show the horse this process, rather merely brought the horse to witness the fire once it was well ablaze. The horse’s reaction was so immediate, fearful, and visceral that the man was slightly taken aback. It was at this point that the man hatched a plot in his mind.
A potential difference is always useful, not simply between energy states, but between entities as well. The man therefore insisted to the horse that, unless the horse could also create and control fire, the horse could never be the man’s real equal as a friend. The horse’s lack of articulating fingers and abject ignorance at creating and exploiting fire was a shortfall or miss (sin) on the horse’s part. Thus their friendship must now be modified to that state of skilled-master and servant as well. The man reassured the horse that he was a degreed, qualified, just, forgiving, and loving master – so not to worry. If the horse would obey the man, there would be no trouble at all. After a couple almost guaranteed instances of ‘disobedience’, and seeing that he had no option at hand in that the valley was critical to his food supply, the horse therefore accepted its slavery role as something it deserved. The horse had undertaken the working burden of a premature conclusion of science, called a ‘belief’.
For the (ancient) Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”1 Peter 1:16, Bible – New Living Translation (added context)
In this mythology, the horse had been coerced by a magician’s stage act into adopting what is called a belief. The horse was burdened by the ‘offended’ man into becoming his lesser being and servant. The man did so knowing that it will take hell and high water to remove this entrenched notion from the collective mind of horses thereafter. The horse will now defend this notion at all costs – the man really need do nothing further. The goal has been accomplished. The horse and his progeny will obediently plow his fields and offer a life of ease for the man, for the remainder of time.1 Such is the power of belief.2
It is never what a person says, but rather –
It is what you forbid which defines your belief.
It is what you tolerate which defines your allegiance.
The Litmus Characteristics of Belief
Now a belief is differentiated from other ideas which might be entertained in the mind of man by several distinguishing characteristics. It is critical that the ethical skeptic understand these characteristics so as to defend those researchers who are accused of being motivated by a ‘belief’, as distinct from the accuser or finger-pointer who is ironically indeed exercising a belief themself. These litmus characteristics include the following:
- A belief is the solely tolerated alternative, so important that it sustains itself in the mind of the believer at the expense of all other ideas, science, and forms of inquiry (see: Omega Hypothesis).
- The belief-holder seeks to debunk initial inquiry which would consider/research any alternative idea – at its very inception (see: Inverse Negation Fallacy and Debunking).
- The belief-holder assigns labels of condemnation (woo, pseudoscience, bunk, etc.) to any competing idea and those who investigate such ideas.
- The belief-holder implies that enormous effort went into validation of their belief sometime in the past, but somehow cannot ever provide/recite that effort.
- The belief-holder applies this constraint to other persons aside from self, rendering their defacto conclusion an enforcement upon others and not merely a personal opinion (a debunker operates upon their belief in this manner).
- The belief-holder enforces this by citing or implying an appeal to authority which substantiates the belief itself (even if an unacknowledged one) and justifies their actions in its enforcement upon others.
- The belief-holder will often enforce their belief surreptitiously (not acknowledge it, rather simply enforce it as default truth or the null-hypothesis-as-truth).
- The belief-holder constrains or undertakes actions or adopts other beliefs based upon the belief (or can be coerced into doing so).
- The belief-holder coerces others to undertake actions or to adopt other beliefs based upon the belief – through building celebrity and an implicit threat towards others’ professional or social acceptability.
- Belief is cultured in a petri dish called syndicate.
- A belief always confers a burden or dissonance upon its holder, whether acknowledged or not.
- Onerous belief is less burdensome inside a scripted life or syndicate role. An unscripted life will suffer under the imbalance of top-heavy belief.
In essence, the believer can only function under the ‘truth’ of one notion at a time. Such notion bears a hook and barb; its extraction is painful, and therefore threatening to the person contemplating departure from under its intoxication. The actual validity of that notion is indeed irrelevant, as a belief can in fact be either true or untrue. A null or even scientific hypothesis can also constitute a belief as well. Moreover, it is what belief does to the believer, and what the believer does to others, which actually serve to betray the pathos of belief itself.
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.F. Scott Fitzgerald
Belief’s Contrast with Faith
One is free to ponder the realm of ideas, unshackled of oppression from those who promote their belief through an inverse negation stage act or pretense of ‘science enthusiasm’. As the ethical skeptic might notice within this Wittgenstein framing of definition, belief has nothing whatsoever to do with hunch, guess, fleeting notion, theory, hypothesis, sponsorship, investigation, consideration, research, conspiracy theory, nor even more importantly, faith.
Faith is a personally cherished idea one holds for self, despite a substantive lack of evidence for its veracity. The difference however, is that faith is not enforced upon others, because its adopter understands or acknowledges its incumbent epistemic weakness and personal context. Faith is very similar in its fabric to love, something which may be shared mutually – however, ultimately is held by only one participant alone, may stand as fully irrational, and cannot be enforced nor coerced upon others.
Whether or not such a habit as faith constitutes indeed a virtue remains a matter under heavy debate. But no one can deny that our relationship with the universe implicitly encourages the existence of faith. Willfully so? Well, that remains a matter of faith.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.Hebrews 11:1, Bible – New King James Version
Faith – the personal choice to cherish an unproven construct as inspiring hope. Faith is the portrait one paints inside the frame of reason, a canvass upon which we are free to aspire, and hopefully also therein have the portrait come into consistency with one’s life (integrity). Faith has little to do with belief, mythology, or religion – as such things merely serve as distractions/obstacles to its incumbent work to begin with.The Ethical Skeptic
If a person is out in the field researching an idea which you find distasteful, and your innate reaction is to attempt to debunk all that he has observed, then that person is not the believer …you are. You are the tricked, mythological horse who carries the unacknowledged burden – the exploitation and enslavement of belief.
The Ethical Skeptic, “What Constitutes Belief”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 23 Jul 2021; Web, https://theethicalskeptic.com/?p=51810
- The bucolic artwork-in-image to above right is from Wikimedia Commons, File:Winslow Homer – Man with Plow Horse.jpg; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Winslow_Homer_-_Man_with_Plow_Horse.jpg
- Please note that belief is disambiguated in this context from the state of ‘venerating knowledge’ or ‘faith’.