November 7, 2009 in Features

Questionnaire tests consistency of one’s beliefs

Donald Clegg
 

‘Do You Think What You Think You Think?” That’s the title of a philosophical quiz book that I recently finished.

You can take the tests online at The Philosophers’ Magazine ( www.philosophersnet.com) but, hey, buy the book.

It opens with a “philosophical health check,” a 30-question test designed to isolate “tensions” between beliefs. Which is to say, contradictions in what you believe, or at least think that you believe.

I scored near top marks with just one tension. Rats, only one away from perfection.

Still, they told me, “You seem to be an admirably consistent thinker, if not entirely so.” Please excuse me a moment while I pat myself on the back. There, that felt good.

Just what beliefs are they checking out? The biggies, naturally, the ones we fight over: Is morality relative? Can you put a price on a human life? Are there any absolute truths? Is there an all-good, all-powerful God?

This last was a tension for a third of respondents, involving both a belief in an all-good and powerful God, as well as that “To allow an innocent child to suffer needlessly when one could easily prevent it is morally reprehensible.”

This is the “problem of evil,” of course, the domain of theodicy, which is the attempt to reconcile the apparent contradiction between a good God and the fact of suffering.

This is only a problem for believers, as others simply recognize that part of human nature is a disposition, at least for some, to behave despicably. Still, theologians have sacrificed a lot of trees to justify all the suffering that God apparently allows, for what reasons God only knows.

Let’s look at another: “Severe brain damage can rob a person of all consciousness and selfhood.” This, in opposition to “On bodily death, a person continues to exist in a nonphysical form.”

Again, about a third of respondents also held this tension, with a belief in both an embodied self (dependent on the brain), and a denial of it, known philosophically as dualism. Again, not a problem for nonbelievers, but it’s pretty hard to believe in heaven without being a dualist.

Moving on to the next couple of tests, I still scored just one away from the top in logical reasoning and assessing the validity of syllogisms: “To err is human. But you have the potential to become inhumanly logical.”

Not that this makes me right, as my wife would certainly point out. However, “Pat, pat.”

Nine more chapters and tests to go, but as I haven’t space to examine all of them, I’ll just go to the most popular and controversial of them.

The scoring looked to be a pain, so I took “Battleground God Game” online, the 461,117th to do so. Just Google it and you’ll hit the link.

This test asks, “Can your beliefs about religion make it across our intellectual battleground unscathed?” It asks respondents to reply to 18 statements about religion, such as, “If God does not exist, then there is no basis for morality.”

I received no hits, and had to bite just one bullet, for a belief that evolution is true – there is no absolute certain proof of it – while agreeing that it is foolish to believe in God without certain proof.

My score, by the way, doesn’t mean that I’m right or wrong, just pretty consistent in my beliefs.

I bit that bullet by agreeing that a higher standard of proof is required for belief in God than in evolution.

Oh, well. I do. The stakes are higher.

Donald Clegg, a longtime Spokane resident, is an author and professional watercolor artist. Contact him via e-mail at info@donaldclegg.com.


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