Can There Be Bad Reasons to Reject a False Belief? A Reply to John Loftus

According to John  Loftus, “There isn’t a bad reason to reject the Christian faith.” Now such a claim seems to me not only false, but obviously false. Anyone who has taken an introductory course in logic knows that you can have invalid deductive arguments and logically incorrect (or weak) inductive arguments for a true conclusion. So why does Loftus claim that there isn’t a bad reason to reject the Christian faith? I want to quote Loftus at length.

Keep in mind I’m also speaking of the reasons people personally have for rejecting Christianity rather than the arguments constructed to convince others. I don’t think people must be able produce an argument that will convince others of something before it can be said they have good reasons for what they think. A farmer may have good reasons to think aliens have abducted him even though he cannot convince anyone else. A lawyer may have good reasons to think someone is a con-artist even though she cannot produce an argument that will convince anyone else. People who have been victimized by someone may not be able to see that criminal in a good light. They are emotionally engaged. They have good reasons for what they think even if others don’t agree. Counter-intuitively, people may have bad reasons for conclusions that end up being true. This raises the thorny issue of Gettier Problems.

Is there a legitimate distinction then between someone’s having good personal reasons and having bad reasons for believing something? Again we’re not talking about arguments constructed to convince others, for the rules of logic dictate which arguments are good ones from bad ones. We’re talking instead about the personal reasons people have for accepting or not accepting something as true. How do we really know that what we think is justified? Do we really understand how many cognitive biases affect most all of us most of the time? Do we have a clue at how many arguments are constructed to defend what we have come to believe based on personal idiosyncratic irrational reasons? Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, the three master’s of suspicion, taught us to be suspicious of all arguments because the ones constructing them most likely have ulterior self-serving agendas.

This seems to be confusing the distinction between an epistemic situation and what can reasonably be believed by a person in an epistemic situation. For example, consider the following epistemic situation (ES1).

ES1: Suppose, like what happened to Jodie Foster’s character in the movie Contact, you were somehow transported through a wormhole; had a conversation with an extraterrestrial intelligence; were brought back to Earth; and had zero objective evidence that that experience actually happened.  (Note: in order to eliminate any potential ambiguities, we will assume that, unlike what happened in the movie, there is no videotape with 18 hours of recorded silence.)

If you were in ES1, it would (arguably) be rational for you to believe that experience happened while at the same time it would be rational for everyone else to reject your claims. This is because everyone else was not in ES1. They did not have that experience, so the belief that the experience happened would not be rational for them.

It doesn’t follow, however, that ES1 makes it rational to believe literally anything. For example, if you were in ES1, it would not be rational for you to believe that the moon is made out of green cheese, since ES1 provides no reasons to have such a belief.

By the same logic, there can be bad reasons to reject Christianity or any other false belief.