After Church: What Is Evidence? – Part 3

Part One

Read Part 2 First!

Part Four

Part Five

However, here the reader reaches an odd standstill. Though many of our faculties are aimed at true beliefs, evidence (whatever that constitutes) is how an individual reaches his/her conclusions. But how much evidence? Does the total evidence sway the person towards a specific belief rather than another, and do alternative hypotheses/defeaters count as evidence? As well, what counts as good or bad evidence in any particular context, whether it be the introspective mind or the comfortable position of social mores? Simply put, can evidence receive a more precise de nition in the production of true beliefs with warrant, or are we condemned to a future of relativism?

Most evidence is used to create new beliefs. Whatever the number or anything to that effecr, evidence is labeled as such for the production of new and “true” beliefs. That does not mean the evidence may be irrelevant to one’s belief, or that it constitutes evidence, but it exists for the production of beliefs whether it malfunctions or not (as in the Matrix case). So, does one always accept a proposition on the basis of another, as some might think in evidentialism? Not always.

It makes sense to say that people hold beliefs on evidence, but the connection between the experience and the belief is key. It is the circumstances, the being-appeared-to in question, that gives any perceptual judgement the ability to confer evidence, beliefs, and then warrant for the belief. If it were solely the propositions alone that were the evidence for my beliefs, then that would be a precarious position simply because I am not always an active and conscious agent in the process of “evidence” gathering.

Sometimes, the perceiver is not actively forming, creating, or finding evidence, forming beliefs, or anything of the sort; there are perceptions which any human being will apprehend with instant cognizance, while others are unconsciously apprehended. For example, when a dog bites someone’s leg, the person certainly is not thinking “I will not know whether or not that the proposition ‘I am being bitten by a dog in the leg’ is true unless I have the correct
evidence from sense experience, specifically sensations of pain and the view of a distinct spatially distinguished whole called a dog. Otherwise, a proper belief based on the proper evidence will not be formed.” Simply put, the belief in being bitten by a dog is based on the immediate perceptual appearance: the perceptual experience of being bitten hurts!

Dog biting


Is the person in this situation representing anything to the mind? One doubts that this is the case until after the instincts which activate nerve cells and the like have played their part. In other words, evidence is only evidence when it is classified as such – it is intentional by its very nature. A natural instinct of pain does not produce a belief in and of itself, nor does any sense experience create a propositional belief; rather, a human being intentionally direct a belief to that perception.

Of course, this returns to the idea of circumstances wherein the proposition was formed. No one needs to provide an acceptable probability for or against, but by being formed in favourable circumstances they provide warrant. So, one comes to see evidence is based on circumstances in which beliefs are formed. But does this mean evidence of all kinds have some similar characteristics? Thomas Reid, succinctly, states

I confess that…yet I am not able to find any common nature to which they [evidence] all may be reduced. They seem to me to agree only in this, that they are all fitted by Nature to produce belief in the human mind, some of them in the highest degree, which we call certainty, others in various degrees according to various circumstances.

In that sense, objects of evidence, whatever form they might take, obviously vary too wildly to label a “characteristic” to all of them that they hold in common.

However, Reid’s seeming reluctance to give an account is a cop-out, to say the least. Evidence is less a specific object of examination than a concept applied to a diverse array of objects (material or propositional), but that does not mean that such a general description gives an account fitting to the subject matter. Instead, think of all the various ways and forms evidence comes about – memory, testimony, perception, a priori knowledge, induction,
probability – and state a general characteristic that works in implementation: habit. Habit, according to Charles Sanders Peirce, is

the tendency to repeat any action which has been performed before.

One might also state that habits are a tendency to enact the same actions at any time the relevant circumstances come about or are achieved. As well, there is the habit of acquiring other habits. These all work in the process of evidence creation, and thus evidence and habit are linked inextricably for the production of beliefs and warrant for those beliefs.


Let us take memory, for example. Memory is one of the closest phenomenon of “things we know” – a personal sort of knowledge. Memory, for almost all normally functioning human beings, obtains for anyone with consciousness. As well, its general purpose is recalling past events. It works in a simple conversation, wherein a friend asks where you left his/her car keys – you recall the fact that you left them on his/her desk in plain sight. The memory
of an individual works as a reliable source of information in most day-to-day circumstances. They are developed naturally through living life, and human beings come to accept the fact that they can recall past events and experiences in which they were the experiencer in
question. Typically, they are taken as basic beliefs about the self and its personality; there  are no inferences about them, only intuitions accepted without question except in specifically “doubtful” situations. Memories, in eeffect, work as evidence in a variety of contexts due to these particular characteristics.

And this is quite odd – if memories were founded on some other basis than themselves, the instant they came about they would be in question. Instead, people retain, create, and use memories without any conscious awareness whatsoever, even when memories are
actively being used! It is only in introspection that, suddenly, they become an object of inquiry, belief, and warrant. Their evidential basis finds no quarrel for the normal human being. Rather, over continual use, reflection, and remembrance, the use of memory becomes
a habit.

Humans learn how memories work in the design plan; although people live in the present, they also recollect the past. It is by use of memory that one understand what it is, and continual use allows its formation to become a habit of human life. That does not make it belief, but memory certainly has the proper characteristic to become evidence when needed, required, or relevant. That is not to say that memories cannot become unreliable at times; one learns this also, as in when one suddenly forgets what they were going to do when entering a different room. In general, however, one can recognize when memory works properly and when it does not, and this is acquired through use.

Part Four

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.