Is it right to not believe someone simply because it is beyond our experience?


I've heard plenty of testimonials where people claimed supernatural experiences. Sometimes I feel like they can be 'out of the grid' of those hearing them and so often times we put them in the "I don't believe that, probably didn't happen" basket.

Is it sound to do this? Is it right to not believe someone simply because it is beyond our experience? Is it right to believe someone if they tell us something out of our experience?

Ben Potter

Posted 2015-01-15T02:56:12.163

Reputation: 123

Usually it is better to investigate but if the person is dependable then give some chance to faith and believe in what He says despite you not having experienced it on your own... – Ashish Shukla – 2017-08-05T05:12:41.700



I think the limit you're running into is the idea the you either believe in something or you don't. Its trivial to show countless examples where that is insufficient.

One approach you could take to reconciling this is to create a tiered system of belief. This would still be an approximation, but it could be enough of a model to help. For a predicate P:

  • "I believe P is true" There is no question in your mind. Anyone who disagrees will find themselves having a hard time discussing philosophy with you, because you axiomatically assume P is false whenever you need it.
  • "I think P is true" You aren't positive that P is true, but you're generally willing to accept most arguments that start by assuming P is true axiomatically. You're also willing to entertain the idea that P is false in a thought-experiment form without suffering substantial dissonance
  • "P is likely to be true" You tend to believe P is true, but you're more wary of arguments that require P to be true, because you want to stay on the fence.
  • "I'm willing to entertain P" You tend to believe P is false, but you'll keep an open mind because it makes it easier to communicate with people.

If you were to choose this model of belief, it would be hard to rationally say "I believe P is true" with no personal experience. That's not to say its right or wrong (which is the wording your question used), just hard. Some cases where you could argue it is right are:

  • You have a reason to trust someone with your life. Consider wartime scenarios. If your squad member says he saw a glint of a sniper scope, there is no way you are going to stand up and start debating until you experience it yourself. You drop the ground and act as though there is a sniper, because it keeps you alive. You have effectively ceded some control over your body to you squad mate (which is why unity is such a big deal in these situations).
  • You have to make a decision. We don't always have the luxury of gathering all the facts before making a decision. Sometimes you just have to make a decision, and stand behind it with all your might, because failing to make a decision was more damaging than a bad choice. Consider religion. Most of us have never experienced the afterlife, but many believe in it whole-heartedly.

Cort Ammon

Posted 2015-01-15T02:56:12.163

Reputation: 16 681


Cort Ammon suggests that there are situations where you really have no choice but believe someone's warning (e.g. a going of a rifle scope). That's a good example.

The irony is that in time of war, we are ordinarily LESS trustful of people we don't know. For example, we often hear the idea that people should be assumed innocent until proven guilty. But in time of war that's turned upside down, replaced with "Halt! Who goes there?"

In the political arena - which is a pretty big arena - I trust almost no one. I've learned to evaluate and investigate the things I hear or read.

As for the supernatural, that's a loaded word. I don't know what philosophers have to say about the "supernatural," but I'm not a big believer. The natural world is amazing enough, though anyone could have an experience that might be described as "supernatural."

But, again, if we're in the political arena, and I hear a conspiracy theory that involves 1) supernatural entities, or 2) space aliens, I automatically dismiss that theory. (I do believe in "space aliens;" I just don't believe they've ever visited Earth, nor can I imagine why they'd want to replace Democrats or Republicans in tampering with the political system.

David Blomstrom

Posted 2015-01-15T02:56:12.163

Reputation: 1