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International Baccalaureate

TOK essay

4. To what extent do we need evidence to support our beliefs in different areas of knowledge?

Word Count: 1,580 words

Mercedes College November 2010

Beliefs are based on what we already know and what we assume to be true. However, that does not mean what we believe is actually true. I do not think that beliefs presume the same level of evidence as truth, because people carry out extensive tests to determine the truth of various statements, whereas beliefs may be based on opinion when concrete evidence is unobtainable. If we make a knowledge statement which we claim is true, others sometimes may require hard evidence to accept it. If we make a belief statement that we claim is true, sometimes there is no or little hard evidence to offer to others.

Different areas need different levels of evidence for beliefs. If we assume the given question requires a positive response, it will mean all areas need the same level of evidence for beliefs. Therefore, authority could supply the evidence needed for beliefs. However, less authority is needed for some beliefs compared to others. For example, with superstitions, basically no evidence is needed other than from authority. I am a bit superstitious. Why I believe in some ideas without scientific evidence or proof is because I have had the concept of good and bad fortune impressed upon me by my family, particularly the importance of luck when I was growing up. Even though I have learned that there is not any scientific evidence to support luck and it does not work sometimes, I still believe in luck. For example, on the first day of the Chinese New Year, the first bite at lunch must be vegetable and that means respecting Bodhisattva, and then we will be blessed for the year. Although I did not have lunch with my family this Chinese New Year, my first bite of the year was still vegetable, for blessing. In this case, I do have evidence to support my belief because I feel I am blessed every year; however, even without hard evidence to support my belief, there is still some reason or evidence for me to believe. On the other hand, my grandmother believes that 8 is a lucky number. I do not believe in lucky numbers, because the concept never works for me, but her superstitious belief could be lucky for her.

In court cases, we require both hard and soft evidence to support claims. When the consequence involves a persons life, such as execution, which is a legal

punishment in some places, then we need a lot of evidence to believe the prisoner is guilty and judge whether or not he or she deserves the death penalty. Hard evidence consists of details that can be independently verified. Soft evidence is circumstantial. There are ethical issues involved in the justice system since the court usually does not want to produce an unjust decision. Lawyers use language plus the testimony of witnesses to persuade the court. Both prosecutors and defence lawyers can manipulate language to arouse emotions, but the case itself should be judged on facts alone to assess either guilt or innocence. These two examples of superstition and legal cases show that different areas need different levels of evidence to support beliefs. The amount of evidence needed depends on the source of the claim. If a scientific claim is expressed by either a science teacher, a friend who is good at science, a science expert or a politician, I will require a different amount of evidence to believe the claim. By ranking, I would find it easiest to believe the claim produced by the expert once it makes sense to me, because I believe that an expert must have done a lot of research and experiments to pronounce the claim. Next would be the science teacher because I believe the teacher has a certain level of scientific knowledge but less than the expert, and then comes my friend because I know my friend more than the politician, also I do not know how much scientific knowledge the politician has, therefore, I would ask the politician for the most evidence to prove the claim or just disbelieve it. Thus, the extent to which we need evidence to support our beliefs within a knowledge area can vary. However, if the same four people expressed an art claim, I would not be able to rank them. I believe everyone has their own opinions about the arts, because ways of knowing provide an important, individual role in judgement and therefore beliefs in the arts area.

If we consider the arts, how do we know whether an artwork is good or not? My beliefs rely more on visual perception, than the logic I use in understanding science or the law. However, I still use reasoning in my response to Art. When I was younger, I studied visual art. The teacher told me how to judge a work. So, when I first see a painting, I ask what do I see? and the result depends on what mood I

am in. Also, if I see some bright colours, I might feel delighted; but if I see some dark colours, I might feel gloomy. Next I would ask how are the colours working together? or how is the work organized? I would analyse how the line, shape, colour and value match and consider the principle elements such as proportion, balance, emphasis and pattern. Then I would ask, what did the artist want to express? or what was happening during the time the painting was drawn? This could affect my feelings, which could be backed up by observation, or by learning about the artist and his or her background. Finally, I could ask, what do I think of the work? and I would have a conclusion about the painting. Whether I think it is good or bad, I have evidence to support my belief. Although that might be different for everyone else, my conclusion is still based on my interpretation and my feelings and this is the supporting evidence for my beliefs. However, I would need less evidence to believe other peoples claims because I accept that everyone has their own way to see the arts, because their beliefs and their background would affect how they perceive particular artworks.

I think that culture and age affect the amount of evidence required for a belief. In my Chinese background, we burn paper offerings which represent money, clothes, furniture, food, etc. for our ancestors, Gods and the death ghosts during funeral ceremonies, in Chinese Traditional Festivals, and on the anniversary of the death of the dead person. It is very common in Asian countries; however, westerners do not believe that burnt paper offerings can influence ghosts since they do not have that culture, even if they believe in ghosts. Here, what I believe is different from what the westerners believe and what I do for the ghosts is different from what they do. When people have passed away, we burn the paper offerings to them; we think it is an obligation and a tradition that we have to do otherwise it would mean that we do not respect them. I honestly do not know if they will get the money, but my family and I still follow the tradition otherwise I would not feel right. On the other hand, in respect to ethics, every thinking human knows that hurting others is not good since the sense of justice and rationality is practically universal. I have been told about not hurting others since I was little; the reason given was that I did not want to be hurt either. Therefore, in general, people believe in this claim that harming others is

wrong. However, there are always some exceptions, such as in the case of psychopaths who hurt other people. In addition, when I was younger I could easily believe what adults said because I thought adults must know everything. The evidence was that every time I asked a question, they could answer and I believed they were right. However later, when I found out what I knew and they did not know and they made mistakes, I did not believe fully what they said and I would require more evidence to prove what they stated as knowledge claims.

Due to the fact that I am growing up, depending on the beliefs, sometimes I need more evidence for my beliefs the more I know, but sometimes less. If the claim fits with what I know, I will require less evidence, like the situation when I was little. I thought my parents knew everything so I did not doubt them. In a similar way, I used to believe what my teachers told me, but now I question their knowledge claims and need more evidence to support my beliefs in the truth of their knowledge. Currently, I have chemistry background knowledge but not physics, so in comparison, I will require less evidence for chemistry than physics based beliefs or claims. However, if the claim conflicts with what I know, I will require more evidence to make me believe it.

Thus, we need hard and/or soft evidence to support our beliefs in different areas of knowledge. Therefore, there is always some evidence behind our beliefs, whether it requires a lot or just a little bit, which depends on the belief. However, the extent to which we need evidence for our beliefs within each area of knowledge also varies, because sometimes we accept the facts or opinions of others without proving them ourselves.