by Patrick Lee



Part 1. How Not To Answer The Evidentialist


Objection To Religious Belief




      A. Plantinga's Answer to the Evidentialist Objection




     The evidentialist objection to religious belief is:


     (1) One ought not to believe a proposition unless one has sufficient evidence for it.


     (2) There is not sufficient evidence for religious belief.


     (3) Therefore, one ought not to have religious belief.   . . .







  Part 2. How To Reply To Evidentialism




   A. The False Presupposition of the Evidentialist Objection




     The evidentialist objection presupposes several claims about  what is needed for a belief to be a proper act.  Of course the  evidentialist objector claims that religious belief is not  epistemically warranted.  While Plantinga and many other deny  this claim, I have argued that we should grant it to the  evidentialist, in this sense, that the absolute certainty of  Christian belief is not epistemically warranted. But  evidentialism also presupposes that one ought not to accept a  belief that is not epistemically warranted, in other words, that  to accept a belief that is not epistemically warranted is not  morally justified.  So the heart of the evidentialist argument  concerns moral justification. 


     The evidentialist norm for believing has been expressed in  various ways:  It is wrong to believe anything upon insufficient  evidence.  Or:  One ought to proportion one's belief in a  proposition to the degree of evidence which one has to support  that proposition.  Or:  One ought not to go beyond the evidence  in one's acts of believing.  (I think the word "evidence" here means  roughly what I used it to mean above, namely, something of which  one is aware which seems to indicate that a proposition is true  or likely to be true, and evidence in this sense need not be  propositional.)  These ways of expressing it come down to the  same thing, for what is meant is that evidence alone should be  determinative of what and how one believes.  Nothing else should  affect one's acts of believing except the relationship between  the proposition believed and the evidence one knows that supports  it.  


     However, what evidence is there for this Sola Evidentia  position?  After all, an act of believing is a moral act, and  moral acts typically relate to several human goods rather than  just one.  Why should this human act be motivated or influenced  by only one human good‑‑possession of truth‑‑while there seems  nothing morally wrong with other human acts being simultaneously  motivated and influenced by several human goods?      


     An example frequently discussed is a mountain climber who  has climbed to a dangerous spot from which he can escape only by  jumping across a wide chasm.  The evidence just on its own  indicates that it is only probable that he will make the jump  (I'll discuss the type of case where the available evidence goes  against one's belief in a moment).  But if he believes with  certainty he will make the jump then his chances are greatly  increased.  It does not seem immoral for him to induce in  himself, or to try to induce in himself, the belief that he will  make the jump.  Such an act does not seem to involve a disrespect  or a disregard for the basic good of possession of truth.  The  type of act involved here is:  accepting a proposition with  certainty (partly) for the sake of a good which the belief of  that proposition, together with its truth, if it turns out to be  true, will help or enable one to realize.      


     Another example, more closely analogous to religious belief,  is accepting a marriage proposal.  Suppose George proposes  marriage to Hilda.  He tells Hilda that he loves her, proposes  that they set up together a common life, and tells her of things  he has done for her‑‑that he has, for example, bought them a  house for the home they will make if she says yes.  So, Hilda  seems to have a choice.  She can accept what George says as true  and sincere and accept the proposal, or not.  She cannot,  obviously, prove that his proposal is sincere.  Let us suppose  George is not a villainous type, that there are signs that he is  a good and honest person; in other words, one would likely say  his claim is "credible," worthy to be believed.  Well, if Hilda  decides to accept, it is likely that she will have more certainty  in George than the evidence just by itself about him would  epistemically warrant.  But is there anything morally improper  about such belief or faith? 


     Religious belief is analogous to acceptance of a marriage  proposal.  Religious belief in the full sense, according to  Christians, is believing what God has communicated through the  words and deeds of prophets and of Jesus. Revelation is not merely  impersonal information or a set of speculative truths.  It is a  personal communication.  It reveals, in part, who God is, his  invitation and commitment to personal communion, and many of the  things he has done for us.[1]   To be sure, there is evidence, or  signs of credibility‑‑signs indicating that indeed it is God who  is speaking here.  Yet the Christian's act of acceptance, and the  certainty of that act, are motivated not just by that evidence or  "signs", but also by the desire for the personal communion  offered.[2]  Is such an act morally justified? 


     Moral justification primarily concerns basic human goods,  that is, aspects of human flourishing.  In acts of believing the  primary good involved‑‑although I will argue not the only good‑‑  is possession of truth, or a grasp upon reality.  I believe the  basic moral norm can be expressed in this way:  In all of one's  choices and acts of willing, one ought to respect all basic human  goods, including such goods as, human life, aesthetic experience,  friendship and society, and so on. 


     This position on morality is derived from Thomas Aquinas's  natural law theory, and has recently been articulated and  developed by Germain Grisez, Joseph Boyle and John Finnis.[3]  I  can briefly clarify this view by contrasting it with  consequentialism or utilitarianism.  Consequentialism is correct  in this sense that moral good is closely linked with the human  good or the fulfillment of the whole person.  But  consequentialism is incorrect in basing morality on the  production of goods or benefits rather than directly on how the  will is related to human goods.  The moral norm is not that we  should maximize human goods, which would justify suppressing a  particular human good for the sake of the consequences "in the  long run."  I do not think it morally right to choose to destroy  or suppress a human good for the sake of (what one thinks will  be) the balance of human goods in general.  Morality does depends  how one's action is related to human goods, but the important  relation is this:  one's choice or will should be directed to  human goods, and should remain open to all of them.  From this  basic principle several more specific moral norms follow.  For  example, one ought not to be deterred from pursuing human goods  by mere lethargy or laziness; one ought not to prefer the mere  experience or the mere appearance of a good to its reality; and  one ought not to choose to destroy, damage, or impede one good  for the sake of another.  One is not required to pursue all of  the basic human goods all of the time, but one is (morally)  required to respect them at all times. Perhaps the central  question concerning the ethics of belief, then, is:  what does  respect for the good of possession of truth require? 


     First, respect for this good seems to require that we pursue  it at least sometimes.  I would be less than honest if I said I  had a love for truth but never made any effort to pursue it. 


     Secondly, I think respect for this good also requires that we  never choose precisely against it, for example, by suppressing  truth for the sake of an ulterior end.        And, thirdly, respect for the good of possession of truth  requires that in any of our actions which could affect this good  (in ourselves and in others), we at least take it into account,  that is, that we not disregard this good.  An example of  disregarding the good of possession of truth is:  believing in  astrology because it makes me feel good, or even, believing in  God (or trying to induce belief in God in someone else) solely  because one thinks such belief makes people morally better. 


     Yet believing for the sake of a good other than truth need  not include any failure to pursue truth, any suppression of  truth, or disrespect for the good of possession of truth.  An  action that directly bears on one good may be chosen to promote  another good without slighting the good the action most directly  bears on.[4]  Therefore, believing for the sake of a good other  than truth need not be immoral. 


     In sum: (1) religious belief can be motivated by a hope for  the realization of a basic human good; (2) religious belief need  not include a negative attitude toward or a disregard for any  other instance of a human good.  From these points it follows  that religious belief could be, in the appropriate conditions, a  morally good act. More formally:


Every act which does not negate or disregard a basic  human good is a morally good act.


Some acts of religious belief do not negate or  disregard a basic human good.


Therefore, some acts of religious belief are morally  good acts.[5]


     Someone might object that my account leads to approving all  kinds of irrational acts.  Is not the person who believes in  astrology because it makes him feel good doing just what I have  described, believing for the sake of a good other than truth?  Is  not irrationality precisely allowing concerns other than that for  truth to take over? 


     In reply, first, saying that believing for the sake of a  good other than truth need not involve disrespect for truth does  not mean that every believing for the sake of a good other than  truth is respectful of truth and morally right.  If we reject the  evidentialist restriction on how concern for other goods can  influence one's actions in relation to truth, it does not follow  that we are left no restrictions at all on such influence.            Secondly, I have said that religious belief is analogous to  an act of accepting a proposition for the sake of a good which  the belief, together with the truth of the proposition, will help  one realize.   If the belief by itself were sufficient to bring  about the good one is seeking by believing then it seems that the  action would be immoral.  Believing in astrology because it makes  one feel good, or even, believing in God solely because such a  belief makes one more moral, are examples of doing that.  If the  belief by itself‑‑independently of the belief's truth‑‑were  sufficient to bring about the good one hoped for, then one's  choice to believe (or choice to do what leads to believing) would  include implicitly a willingness or consent to believe falsely.   This would violate the basic good of possession of truth.  But in  the type of act we are discussing there need be no implicit  consent to believe falsely. That is, no doubt there are acts of  religious belief that do involve a disregard for truth, or  insufficient regard for truth, but it is not necessary that every  act of religious belief do so. 


     Thirdly, I believe some degree of evidence is needed in  order for the act of belief to be a morally responsible act.  I  am not sure we can give an explicit criterion for determining how  much evidence is needed. But I think some degree of evidence is  required.  If, for example, the man who proposed marriage to  Hilda were known to be a J.R. Ewing type, then it would probably  be unreasonable for her to accept his proposal as sincere.  The  less evidence there is, then I think the more the other factors  in the situation must contribute to justifying (morally) a risk  with respect to the good of possession of truth.      


     Fourthly, we must remember that respect for the good of truth  requires at all times openness to evidence that may go to support  a view opposite the belief.  The will to bring it about that I  believe p does not excuse suppressing evidence for not‑p.  For  one thing, what looks like evidence for not‑p may turn out to be  evidence for some other proposition, or it may cause us to  understand more fully what it is we are understanding in the  proposition p.  It is well to remember here that our goal is not  simply to believe true propositions and refrain from believing  false ones, but to have a cognitive grasp upon the real, or to  have as accurate and complete a picture of what the real is as we  can.  The evidence for not‑p  may eventually serve to reveal  important aspects of the real other than what it first seems to  point to.  Because of that fact, and also because the evidence  itself is part of our possession of truth, it is never morally  permissible directly to suppress evidence.     


     What about believing when the available evidence, or rather  the balance of the available evidence, goes the other way?  I do  not think this is necessarily improper either.  One reason why is  that the available evidence may be misleading, and I do not see  that taking a second‑order view, so to speak, and holding that  the available evidence must be misleading is necessarily  disrespectful of truth.  In other words, it is difficult to  arrive at many universal rules implied by the respect due the  good of possession of truth (but there is at least one  exceptionless norm here‑‑the duty not to suppress truth).


      But a further point can be added.  There are three ways the  evidence and the situation could stack up.  (1) The evidence and  situation might be such that one ought not to believe.  (2) It  might be such that it is permissible for one to believe, but also  permissible for one not to believe.  And (3), as I shall argue in  more detail in a moment, the evidence and the situation might be  such that one positively ought to believe.  I think that the more  the evidence points in the opposite direction, the less likely it  is going to be that I positively ought to believe.  In other  words, in a situation where the available evidence does point one  way, it may be permissible to believe the opposite, but it is not  likely that one would be obliged to do so. 


     In any case, I do not think God has left us in a situation  where the available evidence does point in the direction opposite  religious belief.  In fact there are signs of credibility for  God's revelation.  Of course, what evidence is available to  reasonably intelligent and conscientious inquirers may not be  readily available to my next door neighbor, partly because I may  be too indifferent to speak to him or her about my belief and  partly because my life may fail to manifest any of the splendor  of the Christian Faith.  As Christians we have a responsibility  to help make the Faith credible.  Faith, as well as redemption  and sanctification, are communal.      


     My argument so far has been deductive.  I have appealed to  ethical principles to show that concern for a good other than  truth can morally justify certainty.  However, a confirming  argument can be added:  It seems that friendship, any friendship,  is a good that can be realized only by going beyond the evidence.   One does not have to be a dualist to see that crucial aspects of  the person, such as a person's commitments, are not directly seen  or experienced by other persons.  And yet it is especially with  these aspects of the person that one unites oneself in a  friendship.  In a friendship each friend not only cares for the  other for the other's sake, but also in some way chooses, freely  accepts, the friendship, i.e., the relationship, itself.  This  could not be so unless each friend accepted the other's (explicit  or implicit) claim to be a friend, the other's claim to care for  that friend.  But this caring, this resolve to be a friend, is an  aspect of the other person that cannot be directly experienced or  proved to exist.  In other words, reaching out to central aspects  of another self, in friendship, requires one to go beyond the  evidence, for the simple reason that central aspects of the self  are beyond the evidence.  One must be willing to accept, without  proof, that the other is sincere in his or her offer or claim of  friendship. 


     If this is true, then belief is not a necessary means toward  friendship, but a part of it.  Friendship is impossible without  belief, without accepting something upon insufficient evidence,  without an assent (acceptance of a proposition ast true) not  proportioned to the evidence.  Now, friendship is a morally good  thing.  Therefore belief, going beyond the evidence, which is  part of it, must also be morally permissible.  Or, to state the  argument differently, if the evidentialist objection against  religious belief were effective, it would also show that  friendship is immoral, which, I think, we can take to be a  reductio ad absurdum.   


     In sum, according to the evidentialist objection, a belief  must be epistemically warranted in order to be morally justified,  and the evidence for religious belief is not sufficient to  provide epistemic warrant for the degree of certainty  characteristic of religious belief. Plantinga denies that  evidence is needed for epistemic warrant and argues that belief  in God is epistemically warranted in the absence of any evidence  whatsoever.  Others argue that there is sufficient evidence to  render religious belief epistemically warranted.  I have sided,  however, with those who hold that it is incorrect to assume, as  the evidentialists do, that a belief must be epistemically  warranted in order to be morally justified.  And I argue that  concern for a good which the belief plus the belief's truth would  help one realize can supplement evidence in order to morally  justify certainty.




         B. Why Reasons Are Needed For Religious Belief



     I have said that evidence is needed for the belief to be  reasonable. But one might question this.  Why are reasons needed  at all for religious belief?  Why not just say that concern for a  good other than truth can by itself morally justify a belief?   


     Whenever one acts one ought to be concerned with how one's  action is related to the various goods that will be affected by  one's action.  Epistemic warrant is secondary.  The purpose of  epistemic warrant is solely to ensure that one is more likely to  possess more of the truth than one would if one's beliefs were  not epistemically warranted.  So, in every act of belief‑‑an  action which necessarily bears on the good of possession of  truth‑‑one ought to be concerned with how one's action affects  the good of possession of truth. Therefore, if one stops and asks  oneself whether one's religious belief is a good thing, then one  morally ought to examine or consider how that belief is related  to the good of possession of truth before one accepts or  continues to accept it.  That is, one morally ought to consider  how likely it is that this belief is true.  So if one considered  whether one's religious belief is a good thing, but failed to  examine how this belief is likely to be related to truth, that  is, if one failed to consider the evidence, then one would act  without sufficient regard for the good of possession of truth.   For this reason, for those who reflect on their religious belief,  to believe in the absence of reasons or evidence seems  objectively immoral. 


     What about someone who does not reflect on his religious  belief, someone who believes spontaneously, without asking  himself whether his religious belief is a good thing‑‑for  example, a child?  Is such belief objectively immoral or  improper?  I believe the answer to this question is no, for there  does not seem to be any general moral duty to scrutinize every  spontaneous choice, and I see no special ground for there being  such a duty in the area of choices which which involve how one is  related to the good of possession of truth.  So, for those who  reflect on their religious belief evidence is necessary.




     C. How Evidence or Reasons Function In Religious Belief




     The main function of evidence or reasons in religious belief  is not to show the truth of what is believed‑‑for then faith  would not be required.  Nor is the main function of reasons even  to show the truth of the factual proposition that God has spoken.   Rather, the main function of reasons in religious belief is to  show the truth of the moral proposition that I ought to believe. 


     Suppose a young man has just been in a serious motorcycle  accident and almost killed.  He is lying in the hospital bed with  his head bandaged so that he can only see dimly and hear vaguely.   Suppose also that the hospital authorities have informed him that  his treatment will be discontinued unless he proves himself able  to pay the bill, and he cannot do that.  Further, the boy was  estranged from his family a few years back; he left home, say,  after a heated argument with his parents.  While he is lying in  the hospital bed a man comes into his room, claims to be his  brother, and claims to have a message from their father, that the  father is in town and would like to visit the boy and receive the  boy back into the family.


     Since the boy cannnot see or hear well, it is not  immediately evident that the person speaking to him really is who  he says he is.  Maybe, the boy reflects, the man is really a doctor  trying to make him feel good before he dies.  So, it seems that  the boy has a choice; he can believe the claim or not.<22>  What  should the boy do? 


     Perhaps he would listen to the alleged brother very  carefully.  Perhaps he would investigate him and what he says, to  determine as well as he could whether he acts like his brother  would act, whether he does and says just the kinds of things his  brother would say and do.  Similarly, people looking into the  Christian claim should look at Jesus, his deeds, and his teaching  to see whether Jesus does indeed act like a messenger from God,  and whether he does and says the things that only a messenger of  God would and could do.


     The boy might scrutinize the alleged brother's message to  see if it is the sort of message his father would give, whether,  perhaps, it reveals things only his father would know, whether,  that is, it has the marks or signs of really being a message from  his father.  Likewise, people can investigate Christian teaching  and ask whether it has signs of having a divine origin.   


     Suppose that in the boy's case the evidence is not  sufficient to compel the boy's assent.  Suppose that the evidence  by itself does not warrant absolute certainty, but, say, only a  high degree of probability.  Nevertheless, at some point there  might be enough evidence so that the boy ought to accept the  claim.  The basic goods of friendship (with his father) and  health (his own) could require this; that is, there could be  situations in which anyone who has a love for these goods would  accept the claim.  The boy ought not to demand absolute proof  before he accepts the claim made by the (alleged) brother.  Were  he to do so, this would indicate an ungracious or impious  attitude toward his father and perhaps an insufficient regard for  his own health.


     Similarly, at some point the evidence for the Christian  claim might be such that it does not provide epistemic warrant  for absolute certainty, but is enough so that one morally ought  to accept the proposal as certainly true.  Just as in the boy's  situation, so here, to demand absolute proof, to demand proof  that would be proportionate to the assent asked of one, is  lacking in the virtues of gratitude and piety, and perhaps an  intelligent concern for one's ultimate welfare. And this shows  how evidence or reasons function. They function, not to show with  absolute certainty the theoretical proposition that the claim is  a fact, but to show the moral proposition that I ought to  believe. Without such reasons or signs of credibility it may  still be permissible to believe.  But it seems that reasons or  signs of credibility are needed to put one in a situation where  one morally ought to believe.


     It is worth remembering that someone may have reasons for  believing something without being able to articulate those  reasons.  The reasons for holding that God has indeed spoken, the  signs of credibility, need not be the same as what one may read  in an apologetics book.  The sublimity and evident sanctity of  Christian doctrine, of the liturgy, and of the Church (or members  of the Church), these are signs indicating that the gospel is  God's message and that the Church has a divine origin and  guidance. 


     One's ability to see this sublimity or more‑than‑human  quality is aided, or perhaps in most cases, made possible, by  divine help, i.e., divine grace.  The recognition of beauty and  the recognition of generosity in other people require an ability  or "sense" on the part of the subject.  An art critic sees beauty  in a painting where others without his "aesthetic sense" will see  only paint on a canvas.  Someone who has no generosity himself is  typically unable to see generosity in others, so that such a  person continually asks, "What's that person's angle?"  The  beauty and generosity are really there, only they require an  ability or sense on the part of the subject to be recognized.             In a similar way, the presence of the Holy Spirit in a human  person enables her to recognize the sublime and the holy, or  really, the divine, in the words and deeds of the prophets and of  Jesus, handed on to us in the Church.  Thus, of the Good  Shepherd, Jesus says that he calls his own sheep by name and the  sheep hear his voice, "And the sheep follow him because they know  his voice.  But a stranger they will not follow, but will flee  from him because they do not know the voice of strangers."   <Jn, 10:4‑6>



     In sum, I have argued that Plantinga's account of epistemic  warrant is mistaken or incomplete, and have argued for an  internalist constraint upon the circumstances that provide  epistemic warrant.  Second, with this stricter or narrower view  of epistemic warrant, I argued that we should probably  grant that the certainty of Christian belief does not have  epistemic warrant (although it is not irrational either).  Third,  I argued that the certainty of Christian belief is morally  justified, because it is morally proper to believe partly for the  sake of a good other than possession of truth, in the case of  Christian belief, for the sake of the personal communion offered.   Fourth, I argued that to be morally justified, the religious  belief of reflective believers must have evidence or reasons, for  only then does such an act of belief have the morally required  regard for the basic good of possession of truth.  And, fifth, I  argued that the function that reasons or evidence play in a  reasonable act of faith is to make it clear to oneself that one's  act of belief is a morally responsible act, or that one morally  ought to believe.

[1] See Germain Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus, I,  Christian Moral Principles (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press,  1983, chapter 20.

There is a disanalogy with cases of human belief or  faith which troubles some people.  In other cases of belief or  faith it is usually obvious that the one to be believed is indeed  speaking, while what is not obvious is that the one believed is  honest or knowledgeable. In religious belief it is just the  reverse‑‑what is not obvious is that the one to be believed is  speaking.  It is not God's veracity that nonbelievers principally  doubt, but that God has spoken at all.  Nevertheless, in both  cases one's act of believing goes beyond the evidence:  in  religious belief one's certainty goes beyond the evidence  regarding whether God has spoken, but in belief of a human person  one's belief goes beyond the evidence regarding the veracity of  the speaker.  So this disanalogy between religious belief and  most other instances of belief cannot reasonably be a basis for  deriding religious belief.  In any case, we are primarily  interested in the act of accepting that God has spoken, even  though the believer accepts both that God has spoken and that  what he says is true in a single act.  For more on this, see my  "Reasons and Religious Belief," Faith and Philosophy, 6 (1989),  pp. 19‑34.   


[2] The situation is more complicated than what I have just  said indicates.  One is accepting the Christian claim not only  for the sake of personal communion offered but also for the sake  of possessing truth.  Everyone knows that there is a sense in  which to understand Christianity well one must live it.  If  Christianity is true then there is a whole world of truth that  can be delved into and appreciated only by someone who lives the  Christian life.  Hence the good of possession of truth itself can  call for assenting to propositions with more certainty than the  evidence by itself would seem to warrant.  It is as if there were  a hypothesis that could only be tested by someone who believed in  it 100 percent.  Suppose to test a hypothesis in biology one had  to live many years on an isolated island, but that to survive on  the island one had to believe the hypothesis with absolute  certainty.  The analogy is not exact, but the point is that there  is, as it were, a short‑run view of possession of truth and a  long‑run view.  One's commitment to Christianity is motivated not  only by the desire for the personal communion offered but also by  the desire for truth, truth not in the narrow sense of this or  that proposition conforming to reality, but truth in the sense of  as deep and complete and true a picture of reality as possible.  


[3] Cf. Germain Grisez and Russell Shaw, Beyond the New  Morality, 3rd edition (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University, 1988);  John Finnis, Joseph Boyle, Germain Grisez, Nuclear Deterrence,  Morality and Realism (Oxford: Claredon, 1987), pp. 175‑197. 

[4] Perhaps the ethics of belief can be clarified by comparing  it with the ethics of sex, although of course there are also  important differences.  The sexual power is naturally oriented to  the procreative good, while the cognitive power is naturally  oriented to the possession of truth.  But just as it does not  follow that the sexual power must be used only for procreation  (noone argues this) so also it does not follow that one's  cognitive acts, one's acts of believing, must be influenced only  by the goal of truth.  What follows is that all of the basic  goods that could be affected by the action carrying out one's  choice must be respected.  Just as one ought not to negate the


procreative good, so one ought not to negate the good of  possession of truth. 


     But just as the choice to engage in sex for the sake of  expressing marital communion is morally good if it is a choice  that does not disregard the procreative good; so it would seem  that the choice to believe for the sake of a basic good which the  belief, together with the truth of the belief, will help one  realize, could in some instances be morally good, i.e., in those  instances where truth is not disregarded.  In neither case does  there seem to be a choice to impede or destroy an instance of a  basic good; in neither case does it seem necessary that one  disregard an instance of a basic good. The two cases seem to be  similar in this respect.


     Yet there is this significant disanalogy.  In sex, failing  to procreate is only not realizing a good that could have been  realized.  With the intellect, if one's belief fails to attain  truth, it is false, which means one's cognitive grasp upon  reality is harmed (in an important matter) instead of simply not  being realized.  For this reason, while one need not intend or  try to bring it about in every sexual act that conception result  (it is enought that one's sexual act be open to conception, I  would argue); in every act of belief one ought to hope, and if  necessary make an effort to bring it about, that one's belief is  true.  Still, in both cases there seems to nothing wrong in one's  act being influenced simultaneously by more than one good. 


[5] I believe it is easy to see in such a case how someone  can have a choice bearing on his belief even though it is not a  bare choice to believe or to disbelieve.  It is easy to imagine  someone in the situation described having a choice to let the  evidence he sees move him to assent (or dissent), to continue the  inquiry, or to dismiss the claim on the grounds of lack of  evidence.