After Church: What Is Evidence? – Part 4

Part One

Part Two

Read Part 3 First!

Part Five

Of course, perception plays a very similar role (although obviously unique) as a learned habit of evidence formation. A person sees certain things in their visual field, but they do not necessarily form beliefs. People do, however, see distinct things. When it become necessary to form a belief – for example, “I see Dr. Hopp”, and the further belief “Dr. Hopp is there” – then the belief formation begins. It arises out of the need to communicate that idea with another person. I saw Dr. Hopp. Someone else believes that I did not see Dr. Hopp.
However, this causes my formation of a specific belief, “I saw Dr. Hopp and he is there”, based on the perception that I saw Dr. Hopp. The percept has been added as evidence under the watchful eye of public scrutiny.

Because of this, beliefs are active processes, not unconscious states floating around that magically create beliefs arbitrarily. They are formed in conditions where one find that belief producing processes are an imperative to their well-being, in some sense. I know that I hold beliefs; those natural reactions and common knowledge that appear to be beliefs that I held unconsciously became beliefs when I actively make them beliefs in my conscious awareness. This is direct awareness, with no intermediates or connectors. At that point in time, they become actively held beliefs.

The supposed unconscious “beliefs” are learned habits, although they are neither propositions nor evidentially based. Those things which you believe that you “always believed” could just as easily be a bit of mental trickery, in that one could just as easily adopt an argument as an actual belief retrojected into the past. That does not mean their function always constitutes a negative.

subitizing mini poster

In subitizing, for example, a human being can instantly judge how many of a specific object actually lies within their visual field without actively counting. Usually done with up to ten objects, an individual can immediately (somewhere in the 250-350ms range per item, in scientific terms) perceive that ten objects are present; this function forms through constantly measuring quantities in environments, grouping those objects together, and being able to apply that same methods to different objects. Where was this “belief” that there are ten objects in my visual field unconsciously accepted? Rather, it was perceived. Perhaps it is evidence, but it is certainly not a belief unless it necessitates anything I do, perceive, reason, etc., creating a belief, and that appears as an incorrect judgement at its core. The result of it is a belief, if used in that fashion, but sometimes one simply perceives ten objects incredibly quickly.

In any case, perceiving something or assuming something through habitual use does not make it a belief. Beliefs are bound by time T, the present, as more evidence is added to the total evidence, rather than by the past in general. I can recognize what I believed in the past,
but it is modified by what evidence has arisen that can modify what beliefs are currently held. That is why most evidence must work on both a public level, and internally that public standard works as a guide for the individual’s privately held beliefs – these standards are learned habits, as well. In a move that surprises no one, negotiating the private and public spheres are learned through use, and eventually inculcated as habits.

One might imagine beliefs, then, as a subset of habits, “guiding principles” that structure both behavior and experience. It is only when a person brushes up against a problem large or small – say, that I do not have enough change for the subway – that the belief is formed. Suddenly, my belief that I had enough money to ride the train has come into question. Furthermore, the evidence of my previous experience and memory do not come  to bear on this situation; they have proven faulty, and now I cannot board the subway. In this sense, the motivation behind the epistemic concern is to bring the belief back to its original state through amendation or to bring a suitable defeater (whether propositional, mental, or evidential) that renders the belief irredeemable, hence becoming discard-able. Thus, evidence must be gathered in a process that Peirce calls “inquiry”, in that a person actively examines their environment in order to settle the irritation that has happened. Inquiry, thus, attempts to settles irritation on the basis of evidence substantial and fitting to the belief being questioned.


Beliefs, then, are formed in a public environment: because they only come into question when the beliefs of the mind come into conflict with the evidence of the environment outside the mind – hence, they are “objective”. So, to counter any problem with the beliefs themselves, they must correspond to whatever object they are directed – in other words, they are vulnerable to correction because they are public. The evidence allowing for the formation of such beliefs are these objects. Our ideas about them remain vulnerable to correction, while reality and the public sphere will determine what constitutes evidence in any context.

We do not, by nature of our environment, gain the arbitrary luxury of determining proper evidence. This does not deal with an appeal to how “knowledge” is formed – rather, it take Peirce’s ideas of evidence and says “our beliefs are hypotheses made from the best evidence available,” in an ideal epistemic agent. They are properly basic and first assumptions until they conflict with other beliefs. Then, they become intentional ideas in the mind, further furnished as beliefs that one holds regarding whatever context in which the relevant evidence arose. Thus, the evidence which works should become relatively obvious. Given this externalist account, there is no starting point or foundation for the evidence, only a continually working process of hypothesis formation in progress.

This is why, for example, tenacity does not work as a stronghold for belief – merely holding a belief just because one wants to hold it is against the idea of objectivity.The  fittingness of doxastic response B to evidence E is objective fittingness, in the sense that fittingness from the subject’s perspective, feeling or otherwise, does not make it sufficient in itself. No subjectively determined connector, whether learned, seemingly-learned, or  unlearned can possibly give that response any fittingness to the context at hand. Peirce, as well, sees beliefs produced by authority or a priori intuitions as insufficient because they do not satisfy any kind of objectivity requirement; they may be used to holding them from a practical standpoint, but epistemic concerns force a different approach. In other words, even though emotional attachments and other factors influence belief in daily life, an epistemologist must strive to allow a method that

be such that the ultimate conclusion of every man shall be the same.

Part Five

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.