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Religion: Why do we believe?

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

How do people change from doubt and disbelief to full devotion?

This is commonly explained through Swinburne’s principle of credulity and principle of testimony.

Swinburne's principle of credulity states that an individual gathers knowledge through a personal experience. Individuals who undergo an experience will believe it to be the truth because they witnessed first-hand proof. This applies only if they themselves trust that they were in a right and sensible state, where no doubt or question will be considered, hence the individual can gain full confidence about particular knowledge.

If these conditions are not met, the principle of testimony may be sought after. The principle of testimony follows the basis of trust. Unless we have good reason not to trust someone, what others tell you should be a good source of information. However, it may be harder to fully and confidently believe in the information provided by others, as one does not have affirmative proof for themselves. Unless experienced, an individual would have relatively no proof or reason to believe in that information. The information provided could be biased or not fully understandable, and hence unreliable.

An example of the principle of credulity is when a person sees an animal fly, and hence, they can confirm themselves that that particular animal has the capability to fly. An example of the principle of testimony is when an astronaut from NASA in outer space tells a responder on planet Earth a fact of something happening in space that people on Earth may not be able to identify. The astronaut is qualified, so we would tend to believe that they are telling the truth.

Different religious revelations occur to different individuals. Some may have an experience with one god, while some others may have an experience with another type of god. The ability to experience special revelations differs between cultures. If one is surrounded by a particular religion, they are likely to expect experiences or experience revelations of that particular religion, as they are more aware of it, more willing to believe the knowledge presented to them, demonstrating the principle of credulity. They accept themselves as sane, having confidence in themselves that the experience presents the truth and reality. Everybody is raised in unique circumstances, hence everyone will have separate opinions and receive different amounts of influence. It may not necessarily come from religious backgrounds, but from general upbringing. For example, one may be more trusting, hence willing to consider knowledge delivered from religious experiences, adapting the principle of testimony.

Additionally, religious knowledge tends to revolve around superior, intangible beings. There is no possible way to physically or scientifically prove the existence of a religious figure, such as God. Hence, without a special revelation, one cannot obtain information through Swinburne's principle of credulity. That leaves the principle of testimony, which is comparatively unreliable.

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