What makes us believe? How do we come by our beliefs? What can make us change our beliefs? Are beliefs something tangible and concrete, universal truths, waiting to be discovered, or are they something we develop in our minds to help us predict and make sense of things we experience?
Belief is defined as a mental state in which we think something to be the case, with or without substantiating evidence. An attitude that something is more likely to be true than not. Philosophers have come to call it a “propositional attitude”, the attitude that a proposition is true. They even have a little formula, “S A that P”, where S is the subject, A is the attitude and P is the proposition. For instance, Johnny (S) hopes (A) that Susie likes him (P). That makes it more scientific.
In this writer’s humble and admittedly unprofessional opinion, we have to divide belief into a couple of different categories. I think we need to distinguish between “belief that” and “belief in”, although I can come up with propositions that make the distinction seem wholly arbitrary, and I’m sure others can too.
It’s easy to say “I believe that the sun will rise tomorrow.” It’s happened for every single one of my roughly 21,535 days on this planet, although there were a few where I was too young or too incapacitated to make note. So my belief has some basis, it’s happened before and it’s supported by other beliefs (astrophysics and planetary motion), so I feel pretty good about that belief.
It’s a little harder to say something like “I believe in love.” Well, this is a little abstract. What exactly is it about love “that” you believe? That it exists? That you’ll find it? That it’s good for you? It seems that, for me at least, a “belief in” always needs a “belief that” to make it clear.
And I think that’s what makes me believe. I need a “that”, especially if there’s an “in”. And the “that” has to be supported somehow. I can’t “believe in” something unless what I “believe that” is empirically true. And if the empirical truth changes, there goes my “that” and the “in” might just follow along.
What makes me believe? Proof. How do I come by my beliefs? Studying the proof. What makes me change my beliefs? When the proof no longer stands up. Are beliefs tangible and concrete, or are they developed in our minds?
Yes. I know, I cheated a little on the last one.