Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand

After over 300 comments on how I know E=mc2 I'm transferring the discussion/debate here. I do find it interesting, so in a way I thank Steve for raising it. Now he has brought up a different example. In his own words:

I originally sent John Loftus an email in an attempt to start a dialogue with him about some of the things he said in his book "The Outsider Test for Faith" with which I disagree (e.g., "Faith is irrational."). My original email was intended to demonstrate a very specific point (i.e., that most beliefs held by individuals are based solely on testimonial evidence). I was not arguing that E does not equal mc^2. I was arguing that most of us believe that E=mc^2 because we have been told that it is true by people whose opinions on such matters we trust.

It was...intended to be only the first email in my dialogue with John Loftus.

So let me start again with a different example.

I believe that William Shakespeare wrote "Hamlet" as well as all of the other plays and sonnets that are typically attributed to William Shakespeare. How did I come to have that belief? People told me that William Shakespeare wrote "Hamlet," and I believed them. I had no reason not to believe them.

This testimonial evidence that I received from others is an example of what I call "indirect personal evidence." It is indirect because I acquired the evidence from someone else, as opposed to direct evidence that I acquire with "my own two eyes." Since "Hamlet" was written hundreds of years before I was born, I did not have the opportunity to sit in Shakespeare's study and watch him write "Hamlet." As such, I do not have any direct personal evidence to corroborate or refute the proposition that Shakespeare wrote "Hamlet." My belief that Shakespeare wrote "Hamlet" was based solely on testimonial evidence.

I call evidence "personal" because, while I believe that there is in fact an objective reality, how individuals view that objective reality is subjective and therefore very often different. Let me give an example of what I mean by "subjective" and "personal."

Some years after initially believing that Shakespeare wrote "Hamlet," I learned that there are people who believe that Shakespeare did not write "Hamlet." After all, some of their argument goes, how could an ill-educated actor from a backwater country town have written all of "Shakespeare's plays"? It must have been someone else, like Ben Jonson or Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe, but certainly not William Shakespeare. People who have this belief have various other reasons (i.e., evidence) to support their belief. I have to admit that I have not studied all of those reasons, but I did recently listen to a biography of William Shakespeare, and the author of that biography is convinced that William Shakespeare did write all of "Shakespeare's plays." He offers some convincing (at least to me) evidence (e.g., some of the plays refer to people and places in Stratford that Londoners like Jonson, Bacon, and Marlowe simply would not know). This additional (testimonial) evidence reinforces my belief that Shakespeare wrote "Shakespeare's plays."

And yet there are literary experts and Elizabethan historians, who know a whole lot more about this subject than I do, who believe otherwise. Undoubtedly, they have evidence that is not in my possession, but they also probably have some of the same evidence that I have and yet that evidence does not lead them to have the same belief that I have. Apparently, the weight that their minds (personally, subjectively) assign to that evidence is different from the weight that my mind (personally, subjectively) assigns to that same evidence.

And, yet, to me, the psychological process (i.e., involuntary subjective evidence weighing) by which they arrive at their belief is the same psychological process (i.e., involuntary subjective evidence weighing) by which I arrive at the opposite belief. (I say "involuntary" because we do not choose our beliefs; they occur automatically based on the weights that our minds (automatically) assign to the evidence in our possession.) If I were to study more about this subject and learn all of the other evidence that they have to support their belief, I too might come to share their belief. If that were to happen, it would be via the same psychological process (i.e., involuntary subjective evidence weighing) that currently leads me to have the opposite belief. The reason that my belief would change is because I would have a different set of evidence in my possession and/or my mind would assign different (probative) weights to the same evidence that I currently have.

All of the beliefs that we have as individuals, whether they are "secular beliefs" about who wrote Hamlet and whether E=mc^2 or they are "religious beliefs" about whether God exists are arrived at via the same psychological process: involuntary subjective evidence weighing.

People like John Loftus who at one time believed that God exists then later believed that God does not exist did not change the way that they arrive at beliefs. Their beliefs changed, yes, the evidence in their possession changed, yes, but not the way, not the psychological process, by which they arrive at beliefs. That always remains the same: involuntary subjective evidence weighing.

That, my friends, is the point that I was only beginning to make when John Loftus copied my email into this blog. Now, if you want to disagree with me, I hope that you will disagree with the point that I am making, not some other point that I am not making. In the "mortal" words of the world-renowned General Relativist John Loftus, "Let the debates begin."
My two quick responses:

So, Steve, you read my book and you still don't understand, eh? All you must do is to think exclusively in terms of probabilities about such matters. The trained historian is a prime example of an outsider who looks for sufficient evidence before concluding anything. Listen, before you can offer a critique of the OTF you must be able to read with comprehension. Your faith makes you stupid, sorry.

Look Steve, we believe the things we were told by our parents. So we believe things that are false. This is noncontroversial. How do you propose we test them other than with objective evidence? I am all ears on this. We also accept the consensus of historians. If there are disputes between peers we would be reasonable to withhold our own judgments. It's that simple. But punting to private subjective experiences to leap over the evidence is delusional. Doubt is the adult attitude. You really didn't read my book even though you saw the words on each page, did you?

In other words, to quote the Gospel of Matthew: "Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand."