Chapter Two: “Does Evidence Need Evidence?”
In chapter two Stokes discusses evidence in the argument that evidentialism hinges upon it. We often think of evidence as being something physical, but Stokes describes what we think to be physical really forms an argument and that argument makes us form a belief. “But how can we have a reason or argument for everyone of our beliefs?” Evidentialism is a never ending pyramid with each belief needing an ever growing row of supporting belief until you reach the foundation, but you can’t build the foundation because at that point there is not way to back-up foundational beliefs so the entire pyramid falls. This all reminds me of the scene at the end of Expelled when Ben Stein debates Richard Dawkins and you witness evidentialism fall apart.
Stokes gives another option: “we could reason in a circle, the chain of reasons or beliefs circling back on itself, so that the belief you began with is supported– ultimately– by itself.” Well this is bunk and reminds me of my high school geometry class when our instructor had us define a line. Our definitions fell apart because all our definitions included that which we were attempting to define– a line is a line is a line. So evidentialism negates itself, by either being “an infinite chain of reasons , a circular chain, or a chain that comes to an end. The first option is impossible… and if evidentialism is true, the second and third result in irrationality.” Stokes closes chapter two with the teaser for chapter three (a running trend in the book) that “all reasoning needs a place to stand, a foundation. These foundational beliefs are called basic beliefs because they’re the basis of all our beliefs. And basic beliefs are often perfectly rational.”
Chapter Three: “They Should Have Seen This Coming”
Stokes opens chapter three going from the Enlightenment to the Matrix, and concludes “for all our cognitive faculties, whether memory, introspection, or even reason itself. We can never step outside these belief-forming mechinisms to independently verify their reliability.” In the reasoning about reasoning section my brain turned into a pretzel for a bit. It is at this point philosophy bothers me like physics. There is nothing like a bunch of nerds to ruin the good fun of tossing a ball around by dissecting it into a velocity and vector math problem. Don’t get me wrong, I find both worthy pursuits and necessary. However, the quote Stokes includes from the Enlightenment philosopher, tThomas Reid, is pure gold, especially when Reid throws down on reason versus perception.
“Why, sir, should I believe the faculty of reason more than that of perception? They come both out of the smae shop, and were made by the same artist; and if He puts one piece of false ware into my hands, what should hinder Him from putting another?”
As Stokes points out, “favoring reason over our senses amounts to arbitrary preferential treatment.” So, evidentialism, proven false, does not allow for philosophical anarchy. Stokes closes the chapter describing what makes a belief rational. “A rational belief is one formed by a properly functioning cognitive faculty operating in the appropriate environment.” Again, Stokes ends a chapter with foreshadowing, “though we have decent definitions of ‘evidence’ and ‘rational belief,’ it still may be that belief in God comes nowhere near being rational in this more accurate sense.” Finally, as Reid showed, “our cognitive faculties are a team.” When we separate and isolate them, as evidentialism has shown, they become nullifying.