Bill Vallicella on Islamist Beliefs and Islamist Actions
My metaphysical friend, Bill Vallicella, has posted an excellent reflection on Professor Scott Atran's 'belief' that Islamist beliefs have no effect on Islamist actions, assuming that Atran's views have been adequately reported (and if one is doubtful, Bill adds, "substitute 'Atran*' for 'Atran'"). Whatever the resolution of that issue, here is Bill's analysis:
If we are to be as charitable to Atran as possible, we would have to say that he holds his strange view because he himself does not believe in the Muslim paradise and he cannot imagine anyone else really believing in it either. So Muslims who profess to believe in Paradise with its black-eyed virgins, etc. are merely mouthing phrases. What makes this preposterous is that Atran ignores the best evidence one could have as to what a person believes, namely, the person's overt behavior taken in the context of his verbal avowals. Belief is linked to action. If I believe I have a flat tire, I will pull over and investigate. If I say 'We have a flat tire" but keep on driving, then you know that I don't really believe that we have a flat tire.Whatever Atran's views might actually be (and see this), Bill's analysis of the link between belief and action is significant, especially in the context of the rest of his post.
Same with the Muslim terrorist. If he invokes the greatness of his god while decapitating someone, then that is the best possible evidence that he believes in the existence of his god and what that god guarantees to the faithful, namely, an endless supply of post-mortem carnal delights. This is particularly clear in the case of jihadis such as suicide bombers. The verbal avowals indicate the content of the belief while the action indicates that the content is believed.
Not that I think Bill's position irrefutable: Islamists might be suffering from what the Left used to call "false consciousness," thinking they believe what they really don't believe. Indeed, this is the Left's view on Islamists.
But I know from experience that religious belief is real, regardless whether that belief corresponds to any real thing, and religious belief is a powerful motivator of action.
Update: Some statements by Islamists on paradise as motivation for martyrdom.