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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Theology in Hades: Explaining Faith to Loftus and Pearse.

Do you know the story of Sisyphus?  He was a real fink of a king, who killed and tricked and seduced mortals, then also tricked the God of Death and locked him in hell.  (So he couldn't come out, and collect the newly dead.  Men would thus fight in wars, and no one would die.)  The gods punished this duplicitous tyrant by making him roll a stone up a hill in Hades.  Every time the stone almost reached the lip of the hill, it rolled back down again, and Sisyphus would have to start again from square one. 

That is what it can feel like, explaining what Christians mean by "faith," to some atheists. 
Heaven knows I've tried.  Faith and Reason was the subject of chapters in two of my books, beginning with Jesus and the Religions of Man in 2000.  Don't want to buy a book?  I examined what dozens of great Christian thinkers from the 2nd Century to the 21st said about faith and reason, and wrote up an anthology of their insights, posting it on-line.  ('Faith and Reason,' at christthetao.com.)  When Victor Stenger criticized my take on faith, both in the Huffington Post and in one of his books, I responded pretty patiently on Amazon. 

And what does the Bible teach about faith and reason?  When Dawkins and PZ Myers and friends put on the "Reason Rally" in DC a few weeks ago, a dozen Christian writers put together a book called True Reason, explaining how Christian Faith really relates to Reason -- like two wings on a single bird, as Pope John Paul II put it.  We were pretty much all in agreement.  One of the chapters I wrote examined what the New Testament says about the subject.  

From all this discussion, it seems clear that:

* By faith, Christians generally do NOT mean "believing without reason, or in the teeth of the evidence."  Christian faith affirms reason.  It claims to make sense.  It claims to be supported by the facts.  This is clearly true in the NT, and to great Christian thinkers down through the centuries, as well. 

* My own definition of faith, subject to discussion, is "Holding firmly to, and acting on, what you have good reason to believe is so, in the face of difficulties."  This definition fits (I think) what the Bible and most Christian tradition has said on the subject. 

* Religious faith is part of a four-step continuum in how people come to know things.  We trust in our minds, our sense, other people, and God.   Each level of trust involves faith and reason, working together.  Without faith, in this Christian sense, it is impossible to do taxes, mow the lawn, burp a baby, or get on a bus.  In fact, the lower levels of faith can only tell us a few things about the world, while higher levels reveal the really big truths.  

* The opposite of faith is not reason, it is one or another form of madness.  The lunatic who thinks he is a poached egg, has lost the ability to rightly trust his own senses.  A paranoid person has not lost his reason, he has lost his ability to reasonably trust people.  An atheist is not someone who is more reasonable than the norm, she is someone who has lost or disabled her natural, healthy ability to trust God. 

* Admittedly, it is possible to believe wrongly.   In religion, misplaced trust is what Christians call "idolatry," "superstition," or "following a false prophet."  In business, it's called "getting shafted."  In love, it's called "adultery," or "shacking up with a loser."  In politics, it's called "voting Democratic."  (Sorry, my right hand pecked that one out while I was planning the next paragraph.)

That is why faith requires reason, and reason demands faith.  Not only are the two not enemies, they are the closest of lovers.

* But many atheists continue to hold to their own idea of what Christian faith 'really' means, "not only without (much) evidence, but in the teeth of the evidence."

John Loftus and his buddies at Debunking Christianity have been taking shots at me the last few days on this subject.  This is not because I'm the only one to make this point.  My error seems to be an excess (strangely enough) of patience.  I keep pushing that stone of truth up the hill of unbelief, trying to overcome this Nietzschean "will to believe" that Christian faith defends irrationality, by pure force of evidence and reason.  But the other side has invested too many books in spreading the Great 21st Century Power-Meme.  Reality must not reach the reasoning faculties at the top of their necks!

But let's try again.  After all, it's only a rock.  It's only a hill.  One more time, for the Gipper.

This time, I'm responding to a fellow named Johnathan Pearse, whom Loftus has posted as a guest blogger.  As usual, his comments are in dark green, mine in light black.   

* * * * * ** * * * **

Written by Johnathan Pearse

David: Part of the problem is that you are extracting these issues from their real world application and in a sense making them irrelevant.

I didn't notice that I was doing that.  Certainly, no subject is more relevant to life in the real world.     

Let's apply the faith vs reason to real life instances:

1. Do you have faith that unicorns exist?
2. Do you have faith that heaven exists?
3. Do you have faith that gravity will cause this pen to drop?
4. Do you have faith that intercessory prayer works?


This seems a confusing way to start.  Jonathan is asking if I have something that he has not defined yet.  Is he assuming the Christian meaning of faith, or the meaning skeptics commonly try to project on Christians?

Anyway, I'm surprised that when Jonathan looks for "real world" examples, unicorns are the first thing that come to mind.  Why not, say, elm trees?  Or the World Series?  Or the Force of Gravity? 

But then, Jon brings in gravity with (3).  His other two examples are disputed Christian claims about reality.  So apparently he wants to contrast these disputed Christian claims with an example that everyone accepts, and another example that everyone denies.  All right, let's see what develops.        

I presume the answer to the first question is no and second is yes. The third would also be yes.

It would be better to ask rather than presume.  But again, let's play along. 

What is the difference between 1 and 2? As mentioned earlier, it is evidence. Now some of this may be personal experience, but it is still experienced by you, the sensory animal.

Now I'm confused again. This "sensory animal" has had no personal experience of either heaven or of unicorns.  So this would seem to be something that the two have in common. 

The real differences between heaven and unicorns, for me, is that (a) I don't really care about unicorns, which for all I know frolic gaily on planets in twelve other galaxies; (b) people who seem to know something about God and other worlds, and who have died and come back from death, like Jesus, tell me there is such a place as heaven; (b) there seems to be some experiential evidence for life outside of the body.  But I have made claims about neither phenomena, nor am I prepared at the moment to back them up. 

Let us look at 3. I have empirical and tested rational evidence that at every moment previously, the pen has fallen. using a method such as the scientific method I can establish that there is 'proof' that the pen will fall. It is not infallible (see the Problem of Induction) of course, but all it needs (to) be is reliable.

The only reason I think Jonathan may have a pen, is he says he has one.  He may just be illustrating his argument with a hypothetical claim.  And I don't know the man, and am in no position to evaluate the possibility that he would make up a pen for the empty pleasure of deceiving gullible and random surfers of the net.  Stranger things have happened.

But notice the kinds of faith he is exhibiting or asking us to exhibit, in these few comments.  He is, in fact, neatly displaying all three of the lower forms of faith, in one paragraph. 

First, he appeals to his own memory, one of his cognitive faculties.  "I have tested.  The pen has fallen." 

His simple trust in his own memory seems rather naive.  How has he tested his memory?  Even by answering THAT question, Jonathan must appeal again to his own memory to access whatever he claims to know about the past, which is the issue in doubt.  I, for one, cannot claim to have any knowledge even of the physical properties of my own brain that stores memories of past events -- still less to have any 'scientific' proof that a given memory is accurate. 

Second, he implicitly appeals to the accuracy of his senses.  He held the pen in his fingers, presumably, tactily sensing friction and pressure gradiants.  He felt his fingers open, saw a blurry movement downwards, heard a slight "bonk" as it struck the carpet, then a slighter bonk as it bounced and hit again, then watched it roll left.  Three senses, organs of sight, sound, and feeling, vastly complex neural networks interpreting data imported along three nerves through the skull, tell him, "I saw the pen fall," like a Rube Goldberg machine with hundreds of parts that all need to work for us to "see" "hear" and "touch" -- all of which Jon takes on faith, it seems without the simplest or most basic question raised. 

And we Christians are alleged to be na├»ve. 

Third, he is telling us what he (allegedly) experienced, asking us to trust, not our own minds and senses, but some person (computer program?  MENSA canine?  ghost?) we 'meet' in the most tenuous sense 'on the Internet,' wherever that is.  One hopes he is telling the truth.  One hope he exists.  Perhaps someone else on Debunking Christianity can vouch for his character?   Someone who is not a sock puppet?  Someone who is herself trustworthy?  If Debunking Christianity is a real site, with real persons behind it -- whatever a "person" is? 

As it happens, I do think it is reasonable to have faith in these three sources of knowledge -- mind, senses, people -- but not such credulous faith.  One should ask a few questions, first.  All three sources of information must be double-checked, and not all are always equally worthy of trust. 

But I think it more likely than not, that a pen really did fall.  And I think it more likely than not, that we live in a world in which pens usually fall, when no other force counters gravity, and when God fails (for reasons of his own) to do a miracle.  I believe that based on a vast series of inferences and remembered experiences, implicitly tied at every step to reasonable faith. 

Looking at point 4, we know that, from testing it scientifically (which is a reliable method for attaining knowledge), (that) intercessory prayer does not work.

Actually, I don't know that prayer doesn't work.  Neither do I know, from testing him not scientifically, but historically, that Jonathan usually tells the truth about his own experiments.  Let us hope that he does. 

Nor, of course, is it even possible to make a valid generalization like "prayer doesn't work."  Suppose it "works" sometimes, but not other times?  Suppose God chooses to answer some prayers, but not the ones Jon thinks he knows about? 

Nor, even if we admit (leaping like a frog over many difficult issues) that "scientific testing" (whatever that is) is "reliable," what does that mean?  Does it mean scientific testing always works?  That like the Genie in the Lamp, it can answer any question we ask? 

Obviously science is not an anthropomorphic, wonder-working genie.  I doubt there is any "scientific" way of proving that "Jonathan never lies," for instance.  One might test him in a laboratory for thirty years, and he might play along, knowing that he is being tested -- then cheat on his taxes when no one is watching.  There is no "scientific" way of proving otherwise.  There are only historical trends, and psychological inferences.  You may think you know the man.  You may know he would do no such thing.  But that's not "science." 

So even if scientific testing is valid, obviously it is not the only valid way of testing things, nor is it omnicompetent. 

Is prayer more like dropping a pen, or like getting to know a person?  If prayer involves communication with a sentient being -- God -- and if that Being is wiser than we are, then the answer is obvious.  One CANNOT "test" God like one can gravity, by dropping a pen.  One can't even test Jonathan so easily.  That doesn't mean one can't learn whether God, or Jon, is trustworthy.  One can only think prayer is that easily disproven, by conflating "scientific evidence" with all kinds of reasoning, which is a very unreasonable thing to do. 

But if your answer to 4 was yes, then your faith is despite the evidence, which brings us back to our original issue with faith vs reason. There is no evidence, but presupposition in the truth value of the claim that prayer works.

Jonathan is being terribly presumptuous.  How does he know I haven't seen God answer prayer in remarkable ways?  He is saying "there is no evidence," without having the slightest idea of why I, or other Christians, believe.  In fact, Michael Shermer's extensive poll on why people believe, and my own more narrowly focused poll, show that faith generally IS tied to what the believer sees as good evidence. 

For heaven, we know that the idea evolved such that it did not exist within the OT. The soul was an idea stolen from the Greeks of the Selucid Empire as they gave the Jews a hard time . . . It is far simpler (Ockham's Razor) and logically and scientifically consistent to posit that heaven does not exist. Since you are the one declaring in the affirmative, then the burden of proof is on you.

This argument seems even more presumptuous.  Jonathan seems to have simply forgotten (and now one wonders about those cognitive faculties we have been discussing) that he introduced the idea of heaven.  I didn't say anything about it, nor have I argued that it exists.  (What would I know about the subject?  Ask Jesus, not me.) 

He also seems to be committing the popular genetic fallacy -- the reality of heaven is refuted by showing (he thinks) that its origin is somehow disreputable.  Anyway, the ancient Chinese poet famously said, "King Wen is in Heaven," sentiments the ancient Indians shared.  So no, the Greeks did not invent the idea of the soul.  Even to commit the genetic fallacy in a serious way, Jonathan needs to dig deeper, historically, and maybe swerve into anthropology, as well. 

Jonathan goes on (also very presumptuously) to make wild guesses about the source for those beliefs in heaven that I never so much as mentioned.  This is exactly why faith, of the blind, credulous sort atheists far too often make us of (having defined themselves as rational without bothering to learn how to be rational), needs to be closely examined with careful critical thinking.   

Jonathan goes on to compare Christian faith to crossing a road with a blindfold on:  

You, David, might say that in the first instance (ie, crossing a busy street blindfolded -- DM), God might save you. But even that has to be based on prior empirical experiences of God existing, of him stepping in on your behalf. Otherwise your faith would be entirely unwarranted (such as faith in Pegasus flying down and picking you up). Even that faith has a rational basis.

Now I'm really confused.  Jonathan seems, now, to have hopped over to our side of the argument. 

"Even that faith has a rational basis?"  Yes, that's what we've been telling you. 

As for crossing roads with blindfolds on, I do NOT do that, precisely because of my faith in Jesus.  Jesus quite famously declined to jump off the temple, in the hopes that God would save him from dashing his feet agains the rocks: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test," he told the temptor. 

What did that mean?  That God provides no evidence, no warrant for belief?  Not at all. Jesus also fed the 5000, healed the blind, and raised the dead, and told his disciples that these were all "signs" to bring people to faith. 

But Jesus had a more sophisticated understanding of what human beings are, and what it means to believe.  Yes, God gives us "reasons to believe."  But in his way, and according to his rules, not just when we demand them, like dropping a pen on the ground.  Faith is not, ultimately, the testing of God, but the testing of us human beings -- holding onto to what we have good reason to believe is true, even in the face of difficulties. 

That's because Christian faith involves a relationship with Someone greater than ourselves.  That's how faith works: you trust your mind and your senses, then you trust your teacher, your Mom, people who write Wikipedia and journal articles, and expand your knowledge base precisely because these are sentient human beings at or above your own level of knowledge, and therefore not predictable, like a falling pen. 

By definition, God is in control of our relationship, if it is real.  We can't force Him to do what we want, as if he were our puppy dog.  That would not be "scientific," it would be presumptuous. 

A word I seem to remember using in this post already. 

Jonathan should read Jesus and the Religions of Man.  Neither he, nor John, has really shown any sign yet of coming to grips with any of my real arguments about Faith and Reason.  Most of these errors could have been avoided, by doing a little homework, first.   

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference, in a real life context, of the difference between faith and reason. Faith is the gap left in the justifiable belief jar which is left by evidence.  Of course, the simple way of looking at it is this: Ask yourself why you have faith in anything; faith in God.  I can guarantee, of course, that you would have a reason. It is not faith in a void. It is faith (albeit poorly) based on rational evidence.

In closing, Jonathan jumps back and forth between the two sides of the argument, again, and seems to come down on our side.  Yes, Faith is "based on rational evidence."  Whether it's good evidence or bad evidence, should be the real argument between Christians and atheists.  They should stop distracting us from the real issues, by putting silly words in our mouths, then refusing to read, and think about, what we actually say about True Reason. 

56 comments:

Brian Barrington said...

“That's how faith works: you trust your mind and your senses, then you trust your teacher, your Mom, people who write Wikipedia and journal articles, and expand your knowledge base precisely because these are sentient human beings at or above your own level of knowledge, and therefore not predictable, like a falling pen.”

I can see and touch and hear other people. I might doubt the evidence of my senses, but at least I have that evidence, all of the time, every day, without fail. In the case of faeries, unicorns, leprachauns, demons, deities and a theistic God, I do not even have that evidence – I cannot sensorially see or touch or hear faeries, unicorns, leprachauns, demons, deities or a theistic God. Thus, there is a massive difference between believing in the existence of other people or trees or cars or other things of that sort, and believing in faeries or gods or things of that sort.

“The opposite of faith is not reason, it is one or another form of madness. The lunatic who thinks he is a poached egg, has lost the ability to rightly trust his own senses. A paranoid person has not lost his reason, he has lost his ability to reasonably trust people. An atheist is not someone who is more reasonable than the norm, she is someone who has lost or disabled her natural, healthy ability to trust God”.

Unless there is evidence that non-theists ar more disabled, less able to function in the world, more looney or less healthy than theists then claims like this do not stand up. At the very least, there are plenty of non-theists who function perfectly well, who are happy and who are not in the least bit looney, so the final step in your above paragraph is not valid. You would need to show that atheism is a “form of madness” in order to justify your claim.

Faith is “holding onto to what we have good reason to believe is true, even in the face of difficulties.”

The reason it is “difficult” to hold on to Christian belief, for example, is because there is not sufficient empirical evidence to on its own justify believing it. If there were sufficient evidence, believing it would not require faith. People do NOT tend to experience the same “difficulties” in “holding on” to their belief in the existence of other people, trees, cars and so forth.

The word “faith” is actually used to describe belief in something even if the evidence alone does not justify believing in it. You implicitly admit this yourself when you say that we have “faith” in our senses, minds etc. What you mean by that is that our belief in these things is not purely based on evidence or proof. And you also implictly admit that believing some things requires a lot more faith than believing others when you talk about “lower levels of faith”and compare them with “higher levels of faith” (which are less justified by evidence than the lower levels of faith). We have better empirical evidence for the existence of cars, trees and other people than we do for the existence of gods, faeries etc. You might say that the empirical evidence even for people, cars and so on can be doubted. Well yeah, but if someone rejects empirical evidence then, of course, all empirical evidence goes out the window – including any empirical reason for believing in a theistic God or any other Christian belief, which means we would have even less reason to believe these claims.

Rhology said...

Go on, atheist. Give me evidence that evidence is a good way to discover truth.

Oh, you say that you'd then be begging the question? Then you sorta take that on faith, don't you?

Good article, David.

Brian Barrington said...

Rhology,

Perhaps evidence is not a good way to discover truth (although it seems to be the only available way we have).

But if you choose to disregard evidence when deciding what to believe, then your beliefs are based on faith. And if your beliefs are based on faith rather than evidence, then you can arbitrarily choose to believe anything you want – faeries, Ancient Greek gods, the Koran, Scientology, Mormonism – go for it! Anything goes …

Best Wishes, The Local Atheist.

Rhology said...

But if you choose to disregard evidence when deciding what to believe, then your beliefs are based on faith

And isn't that what you do when you choose to believe that evidence is a good way to discover truth? You can't bring forth evidence of that, can you?
And if your beliefs are based on faith rather than evidence, then you can arbitrarily choose to believe anything you want – faeries, Ancient Greek gods, the Koran, Scientology, Mormonism – go for it! Anything goes!

Best Wishes, The Local Mirror

Brian Barrington said...

Well, it is not clear that there is no evidence that evidence is a good way to discover truth - beliefs based on evidence often enable us to make accurate predictions about what will happen i.e they have predictive power. Beliefs not based on evidence do not enable us to make accurate predictions about what will happen. That is good evidence that beliefs based on evidence correspond to reality. In other words, it is evidence that evidence is a good way to discover truth.

But maybe this evidence that evidence is a good way to discover truth is not conclusive to you? Maybe so – if so, then we can all arbitrarily believe anything we want and there is no point in discussing anything.

Rhology said...

beliefs based on evidence often enable us to make accurate predictions about what will happen i.e they have predictive power

What's your evidence for that?


Beliefs not based on evidence do not enable us to make accurate predictions about what will happen

You mean like the belief (which is not based on evidence) that evidence is a good way to discover truth?
I'm not sure you've stopped to think this through.


if so, then we can all arbitrarily believe anything we want and there is no point in discussing anything.

Or, Christianity is true.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: Of course you can touch and hear other people, but you can't directly intuit them. Nor can you touch and hear the country of Bhutan, presumably. Even if you fly there, you can't touch and hear the Bhutan-ness of Bhutan -- it's just another bunch of mountains and trees, they don't come with nametags. That it's Bhutan, you depend on a higher level of faith -- testimony of other people.

So there's a hierarchy of epistemologies. It adds nothing to belabor the fact that different truths are discerned in different ways. Wisdom is justified by all of her children, as Jesus put it.

"Unless there is evidence that non-theists ar more disabled, less able to function in the world, more looney or less healthy than theists then claims like this do not stand up."

There is such evidence. Take a peak at Patrick Glynn's book, God, the Evidence. Also Arthur Brooks, Who Really Cares.

"At the very least, there are plenty of non-theists who function perfectly well, who are happy and who are not in the least bit looney, so the final step in your above paragraph is not valid. You would need to show that atheism is a “form of madness” in order to justify your claim."

Now I know this may sound like begging the question. But madness involves not functioning in relation to those things one is nutty about. A paranoid can't trust other people, that doesn't mean she can't trust her own eyes. (Though that might happen, too, once you start going down this road.) So one should not expect spiritual madness in all its forms (not just atheism) to manifest itself exactly the same as ordinary paranoia.

Read the funny, obscene review of Paradise Lost on Amazon, by a person calling himself "Lucifer." One of many examples.

"The reason it is “difficult” to hold on to Christian belief . . . "

Wait. You're misquoting me. I didn't say it is difficult to hold on to Christian belief -- for billions of people, it hasn't been, rather difficult to hold on to atheism.

Of course there's plenty of evidence.

"The word “faith” is actually used to describe belief in something even if the evidence alone does not justify believing in it. You implicitly admit this yourself when you say that we have “faith” in our senses, minds etc. What you mean by that is that our belief in these things is not purely based on evidence or proof. And you also implictly admit that believing some things requires a lot more faith than believing others when you talk about “lower levels of faith”and compare them with “higher levels of faith” (which are less justified by evidence than the lower levels of faith). We have better empirical evidence for the existence of cars, trees and other people than we do for the existence of gods, faeries etc. You might say that the empirical evidence even for people, cars and so on can be doubted. Well yeah, but if someone rejects empirical evidence then, of course, all empirical evidence goes out the window – including any empirical reason for believing in a theistic God or any other Christian belief, which means we would have even less reason to believe these claims."

Yes, but I'm not recommending that you reject empirical evidence, and neither are Christian in general.

In some ways, religious faith is the fourth level of faith. In others, as Descartes recognized, he might also be the most basic and the first. I have not decided between these two views: perhaps both are correct.

Brian Barrington said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Barrington said...

Rhology,

“What's your evidence for that [i.e. that beliefs based on evidence often enable us to make accurate predictions about what will happen i.e they have predictive power]?”.

Are you saying that there are no beliefs we have that have predictive power? Is that really your position? I’m not sure you have thought this true yourself. How about this: I predict the sun will rise tomorrow based on the available empirical evidence. It may not rise tomorrow, in which case that will disprove many of my beliefs. So let’s see what happens, shall we?

I say, "if so, then we can all arbitrarily believe anything we want and there is no point in discussing anything".

Your reply, ”Or, Christianity is true.”

Oh dear. This must be one of the most comically absurd non-sequiturs I have ever had the misfortune to come across.

Rhology said...

Are you saying that there are no beliefs we have that have predictive power?

If atheistic naturalism is true, I'm suggesting there's no way to know either way. You can have faith, sure, but that puts you in the same place as you think I am.


I predict the sun will rise tomorrow based on the available empirical evidence. It may not rise tomorrow, in which case that will disprove many of my beliefs. So let’s see what happens, shall we?

And you know the sun rose today... how?



Oh dear. This must be one of the most comically absurd non-sequiturs I have ever had the misfortune to come across.

It sounds like this is your first time to run across someone who is prepared to point out that consistency is a necessary attribute of a true worldview.

Brian Barrington said...

I saw the sun rise, and saw it set last night. Now, we might say that my belief in the existence of other people, trees, the sun, cars etc. is ultimately based on faith, since I can doubt my senses. But even this is debatable - I directly, sensorially experience THE PHENOMENA of people, trees, the sun and cars – so I cannot coherently doubt that they exist as sensory phenomena – one might debate whether the things I am sensorially experiencing are ultimately physical or mental, or exist separately from my own perception of them, but not that I am sensorially experiencing them as phenomena. In contrast, I do not sensorially experience fairies, deities etc.

In fact, to return to David’s point, the inability to tell the difference between people, cars and trees on the one hand, and faeries, demons and deities on the other hand, is arguably the real form of madness and lunacy here. Even the vast majority of religious people recognise the difference between these two types of things, which is why they can have supernatural beliefs and still remain sane. If people start not being able to tell the difference between the two then they have lost their grasp of reality and have, in fact, gone mad. And the supernatural beliefs require more faith than the natural beliefs, since the empirical evidence for the former is not as good as the empirical evidence for the latter.

Rhology said...

I saw the sun rise, and saw it set last night

What is your evidence that you saw the sun rise this morning?


we might say that my belief in the existence of other people, trees, the sun, cars etc. is ultimately based on faith

No "might" about it. That's exactly what I'm saying.



since I can doubt my senses.

Not only "can", but "have no reason not to, outside of blind faith".
So, let's try that again.
Now, we must say (on pain of intellecual dishonesty) that your belief in the existence of other people, trees, the sun, cars etc. is ultimately based on faith, since you have no reason not to, outside of blind faith, doubt your senses.
There, that's much better.



I cannot coherently doubt that they exist as sensory phenomena

And yet that's not what you believe they are. You don't act like they are that. You act like they are really other entities.
And yes, you can and must doubt that. So, let's try again:
You have no reason not to doubt, outside of blind faith, that they exist as sensory phenomena, since you have no reason not to doubt, outside of blind faith, that your senses function correctly at all.

Again, that's much better.


I do not sensorially experience fairies, deities etc.

What is your evidence that you have not experienced Jesus?



And the supernatural beliefs require more faith than the natural beliefs, since the empirical evidence for the former is not as good as the empirical evidence for the latter.

Until you deal with what you and I have been discussing, this sentence has no meaning.

Johnny P said...

Please see the critique of this post in the OP, found here:

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/explaining-faith-so-that-even-david.html

And also a further thread with remaining unanswered points here from which the post originally came:
http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/less-evidence-you-havethe-more-faith.html

Jonathan MS Pearce

David B Marshall said...

Johnny: Debunking Christianity UK? Now I'm confused. Loftus is in Indiana still, I think. Does he have a British outlet?

Thanks for letting us know; I'll take a look. Maybe do some work first, though.

David B Marshall said...

Noiln: These forums are for conversations, and you sound like you just want to advertize some posts. Linking is fine, as long as the site is legit, and it's part of a conversation. That's why you're not appearing at the moment.

Johnny P said...

All I've done is link to John's site! I am UK based so maybe it redirects to a UK server?

Brian Barrington said...

Rhology,

It is not obvious that rejection of solipsism is based on blind faith alone. If I am all that exists (solipsism) then I would have complete control over the contents of my consciousness, since nothing aside from myself would exist, so all the contents of my consciousness would be produced by me, of my own volition. And yet, I do NOT have complete control over the contents of my consciousness, which indicates that many of the contents of my consciousness come from outside of me. That is evidence against solipsism. As to whether what exists outside me is “physical” or “mental” – that is a different question.

But it may be the case this evidence against solipsism is not conclusive and that all (non-tautological) belief is based in some way on faith (i.e. not based on evidence alone), in the sense that it can be coherently doubted. I never claimed otherwise. I just disputed David’s definition of faith, and also indicated that in my view some beliefs require more faith than others, since there is more evidence for some beliefs than for others.

“What is your evidence that you have not experienced Jesus?”

What is your evidence that you have not experience the tooth fairy or the Eater Bunny? I have no evidence that I have “experienced Jesus”.

David B Marshall said...

Johhny: I have no idea how that witchcraft works.

Your thumbnail shows someone snowboarding with big mountains behind him. That doesn't look much like the UK! I was just up at Mt. Baker with my boys; being old-fashioned, we used skis, but looks like fun.

Brian Barrington said...

Rhology,

You say, “So, let's try again: You have no reason not to doubt, outside of blind faith, that they exist as sensory phenomena, since you have no reason not to doubt, outside of blind faith, that your senses function correctly at all. Again, that's much better.”

Well, no. That’s not much better. The point is that I can NOT coherently doubt that they exist as phenomena in my consciousness. The question is – can I know for sure that they exist outside my consciousness? Well, my position on that would be: I think there are reasons and evidence that they DO exist outside my consciousness (see my previous post), but not enough to know with absolute certainty that they do.

Rhology said...

If I am all that exists (solipsism) then I would have complete control over the contents of my consciousness

1) How do you know that?
2) How do you know you don't? Maybe you just haven't discovered how to tweak your control yet.


I never claimed otherwise.

Actually, just in the last few comments directed to me you were claiming all sorts of things. Now it would seem you're backpedaling.



“What is your evidence that you have not experienced Jesus?”
What is your evidence that you have not experience the tooth fairy or the Ea(s)ter Bunny?


My evidence is based in my worldview, and my answer will be consistent with my presuppositions.
I can know with certainty that these do not exist, for fairies don't exist, and bunnies don't lay chocolate eggs.
Your turn - give me an answer that is consistent with your presuppositions and doesn't involve mere assertions like what you've given me just now, that you have no evidence taht you've experienced Jesus. that's merely a naked assertion. Try again.



The point is that I can NOT coherently doubt that they exist as phenomena in my consciousness.

You ASSERT such, but you need to SHOW it.


can I know for sure that they exist outside my consciousness?

I contend you can't. Please give me a reason to think I am mistaken in this contention.


I think there are reasons and evidence that they DO exist outside my consciousness

Whoopie. I bet you've been wrong a few times in your life. How do you know you're not wrong this time?


but not enough to know with absolute certainty that they do.

So why assume they do, rather than assuming that they do not?

Brian Barrington said...

“Now it would seem you're backpedaling.”

Where am I backpeddling on anything?

“Whoopie. I bet you've been wrong a few times in your life. How do you know you're not wrong this time?”

Yes, as I have already said, I could be wrong about this.

“So why assume they do, rather than assuming that they do not?”

Because if I was all that existed then I would be able to make the cow jump over the moon, and turn the rivers red. And I can’t do that. I do not have control over the contents of my consciousness, which indicates strongly that they come from outside me, and therefore that I am not all that exists. But, yeah, it’s conceivable I could be wrong about that. Well, there you go. So be it.

Rhology said...

It sounds like you don't know that you know much of anything, Brian.

You have faith. Lots of it. You've already admitted it. The question is: Will you admit it to yourself?

Brian Barrington said...

I don’t know much with absolute certainty. Either do you. The question is, will you admit that to yourself?

I attempt to proportion my beliefs to the evidence. The question is, do you attempt to proportion your belief to the evidence? The answer is: you don’t. The next question is, are you prepared to admit that to yourself?

Rhology said...

I don’t know much with absolute certainty. Either do you.

Whoa whoa whoa. We're talking about YOUR worldview.
*I* know plenty of things for certain. It is 100% consistent with my worldview that I can know things for certain, b/c God reveals things such that we can know them for certain.

But on *YOUR* worldview, we've just discussed how you can't know anything for certain. Don't jump the fence into my worldview without giving fair warning.

Brian Barrington said...

I said that I don’t know much with absolute certainty.

You say you think you know lots of things with absolute certainty – because you believe, or say you believe, that God reveals things to you, and that all the things supposedly revealed to you are true – but you don’t know that with 100% certainty, or even any degree of certainty at all.

You just refuse to admit that to yourself.

Rhology said...

that all the things supposedly revealed to you are true – but you don’t know that with 100% certainty, or even any degree of certainty at all.

Yes I do.
Stop a moment and listen to yourself. You don't know anything with certainty, and you want to tell me what *I* know with certainty? Please.

You also appear to be unfamiliar with what an internal critique is.

Brian Barrington said...

Yeah, I don’t know with absolute certainty that anyone who claims to have had stuff revealed to them from God is wrong. But I don’t have any reason at all to believe you. Lot’s of people think truths have been revealed to them. To take a couple of examples, fanatical Muslims and Mormons believe that God reveals things to them with absolute certainty – they are as certain as you are that they know the truth. And yet what they believe is different to what you believe. They don’t believe in the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection. You do. They believe in the Koran and the Book of Mormon, you “believe” in the Christian Bible. Why should I trust you more than them, since you are all equally certain of yourselves, unless you have better evidence than they do?

Most likely, you’re all wrong, and you just won’t admit it to yourselves.

Rhology said...

But I don’t have any reason at all to believe you.

You also don't have any reason not to believe me. You don't know what the default is, b/c you don't know anything.
So the reason you're negatively inclined against Christianity is nothing more than personal bias, but not reasoning.
If you were to be consistent, you'd shrug at literally everything.


Why should I trust you more than them

If atheistic naturalism is true, it doesn't matter whether you trust me more than then, trust no one, or trust everyone. It literally makes no difference, and you can't know whether it makes any difference since you can't know anything.


Most likely, you’re all wrong, and you just won’t admit it to yourselves.

Just another faith-full statement from a guy who has already admitted he doesn't know anything but doesn't want to live consistently with his own worldview.

Brian Barrington said...

You haven’t explained why you are 100% sure you are right. You haven’t offered any evidence why you should be believed over anyone else. I’m no more biased against Christianity than I am against Mormonism or Islam or Scientology. But you are just coming across as a kind of crazy person who says “it must be true because I believe it”. No evidence. No reasons. No argumentation. Frankly, it’s pathetic. Have you anything more than that to offer?

Rhology said...

You haven’t explained why you are 100% sure you are right.

God revealed it. He can reveal things such that we can know them for certain.


You haven’t offered any evidence why you should be believed over anyone else.

I know. That hasn't been my intent in this conversation. I've been busily showing you how your worldview is totally bankrupt.


But you are just coming across as a kind of crazy person who says “it must be true because I believe it”

You haven't even asked me why I believe what I believe.
And YOU are the crazy one here. All these contradictions you're offering - it's amazing. On the one hand you agree you can't know anything, then in the next breath you're acting like you can know things. Make up your mind, be consistent.

It's kind of sad that you seem not to have even grasped what we're talking about yet.

Brian Barrington said...

I said I don’t know much with absolute certainty. But I try to proportion my belief to the evidence, in the absence of any coherent or sensible alternative. What is inconsistent about that? The only alternative you have so far offered is blind faith – totally arbitrary faith, in one particular alleged “revelation”. And I’m the crazy one?

David B Marshall said...

I don't think either of you are "crazy," just the usual on-line touchiness. A question that might move things forward, is what do you believe, Rhology, and why? Also, given the fact that sometimes people say they have heard from God, and we all agree they sometimes haven't, what's the basis for your confidence? Actually that's three questions.

Rhology said...

Hi David,

I've got a whole blog on what I believe and why. :-) It'd be a lot of typing to do all that.


what's the basis for your confidence?

The impossibility of the contrary. If it weren't true, for example, atheistic naturalism might be true and we wouldn't know anything, and it wouldn't matter.

Johnny P said...

Rhology

i suggest joining in the debate at Dc where you can discuss the pertinent points to the whole discussion.

It's all about justified beliefs. These are made up of faith and rational evidence. Faith is what is required to fill any gap left by rational evidence. So in the case of say gravity, evidence fills most of that jar until one comes to the Problem of Induction. One needs just a drop of faith to overcome that. On a practical and pragmatic basis, that faith only exists as a nominal notion. In reality, we never express it even realise we use it.

A faith based belief has a greater proportion of faith to rational evidence. In other words, there is little evidence, so one either fills it with faith of multiplies the value of evidence by the spurious factor of faith.

Rhology said...

Faith is what is required to fill any gap left by rational evidence.

And you have faith that evidence is a good way to discover truth. Right?
And so that belief has a greater proportion of faith to rational evidence. Right?

Brian Barrington said...

As has already been pointed out to you, beliefs based on evidence often enable us to make accurate predictions about phenomena. That is evidence that those beliefs based on evidence correspond to reality. Such beliefs requires less faith than a belief without evidence, or with less evidence.

But according to you, that’s not the case. Everything has to be accepted on blind faith, which would mean that all beliefs are equally unlikely. But from this position you somehow arrive the opposite position where you are 100% certain that what you happen to believe is 100% right., apparently because “God” told you or told someone else.

Well, that’s almost the definition of craziness.

Rhology said...

Everything has to be accepted on blind faith, which would mean that all beliefs are equally unlikely

You've misunderstood.
Everything has to be accepted on blind faith IF ATHEISTIC NATURALISM IS TRUE, which would mean that all beliefs are equally unlikely IF ATHEISTIC NATURALISM IS TRUE.
Fortunately, atheistic naturalism is NOT true.

I know you disagree, but you've already conceded the point. You're just unwilling to admit it or are too dull to see it.

David B Marshall said...

Johhny: The issue isn't what atheists like yourself define faith as, it's how Christians define the word. You can blather on all you like in your fantasies: they are of no moment, since you are simply projecting your own fideism on us.

Brian Barrington said...

All I said was that there are very few things that I know with absolute certainty. That does not mean that some beliefs don't have better evidence for them than others.

But then you are 100% certain that what you believe is 100% correct, given your direct line to "God" and all. That kind of certainty is the mark of a fanatic, and it makes discussion with you a bit pointless.

Rhology said...

That does not mean that some beliefs don't have better evidence for them than others.

What is your evidence for this statement?


But then you are 100% certain that what you believe is 100% correct, given your direct line to "God" and all.

1) Are you 100% sure that's true?
2) I'm only certain about certain things, fundamental things like that God exists and is a necessary being, that truth exists, etc.
And it's not "my" direct line to God. The Bible is a best-seller. Easy to find and purchase or even get for free.


That kind of certainty is the mark of a fanatic, and it makes discussion with you a bit pointless.

If atheistic naturalism is true, it doesn't matter whether you I'm a fanatic. It literally makes no difference, and you can't know whether it makes any difference since you can't know anything.

Rhology said...

whether *I'm* a fanatic.

Johnny P said...

Rhology:

Which is why I directed you to the main discussion. You would not have asked that had you read it.

David:
I would direct you to the DC pieces which also explain your issues there.

In simple terms, since your definition is not a dictionary or accepted definition, it is not faith. You should call it something else, coz it ain't faith. And that doesn't even end the problems, because your definition is still incoherent.

Again, the DC posts are far more substantial than here.

Johnny P said...

Rhology and David:

it is this simple. You are using a definition of a word (aside from the internal logical incoherency of your definition) which is outside the normal and accepted definition .Not just in normal dictionaries, but in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

In order for you to do this, by your own admission, you are redefining the meaning away from the commonly understood definition.

In so doing, every time you use the term faith in a (logical) argument you are committing the fallacy of equivocation.

Thus every time you use the term faith your argument are fallacious and invalid.

This is not up for debate. This is just how it is. Either admit faith is not what you say it is, all call your definition something else (like Schmaith).

Once you understand this, you can then deal with the myriad of other problems, most of which I have pointed out, that you have with your new concept.

Also, this will be my last post here (I'm sure you're upset!) as I can't deal with filling in another Captcha field. ;)

Rhology said...

In order for you to do this, by your own admission, you are redefining the meaning away from the commonly understood definition.

Oh n035!!!1
David dealt with that very issue in his article, explaining why the definition needs to be better understood than what Johnny P has demonstrated. Half of any debate is definition of terms, anyway. I see no reason to apologise for explaining my position and then calling opponents out on strawmen they erect. That's not our problem; it's yours.


every time you use the term faith in a (logical) argument you are committing the fallacy of equivocation.

Not since we define it the way we do. You've shown an inconsistency when using YOUR definition, but not when using David's.



This is not up for debate. This is just how it is.

Spoken like a true apparatchik. Run along now and let the grownups talk.

Johnny P said...

Such immature ad hominem attacks have no place in philosophical debate. Please refrain.

Rhology said...

Ah, but statements like "This is not up for debate. This is just how it is" have a lofty and exalted place in philosophical debate, do they?

Nope. Please refrain.

Johnny P said...

Furthermore, don't presume to tell me the frame of the debate, since it has been going on elsewhere for several days and David and I have set that frame. I suggest you read it, and then read up on it.

Johnny P said...

SEP:

"Faith seems to involve some kind of venture, even if talk of a ‘leap of faith’ may not be wholly apt. It is thus widely held that faith goes beyond what is ordinarily reasonable, in the sense that it involves accepting what cannot be established as true through the proper exercise of our naturally endowed human cognitive faculties—and this may be held to be an essential feature of faith."

David B Marshall said...

Johnny: "In simple terms, since your definition is not a dictionary or accepted definition, it is not faith. You should call it something else, coz it ain't faith."

Poppycock. I'm a scholar. When you do scholarship, you don't just accept definitions for key terms ready-made from the dictionary. You do what I've done -- study the history of the word, how important scholars have defined it, how it is commonly used.

Anyway, my use of the term is in agreement with some dictionary definitions -- as if that mattered, compared to OT, NT and 2000 years of Christian usage.

"Again, the DC posts are far more substantial than here."

Hardly. I'll take Brian and Dr. H as serious critics over anyone at DC, and we've had some great visitors, from time to time. DC is of course a much older and better-known site: what I think John does best, is raise good questions, whether or not he can answer them.

But when I have time, I'll take a look at what people have been saying.

Brian Barrington said...

Well Rhology , we've both stated our positions so I will conclude by just adding a few general thoughts. 

Uncertainty is the  human condition. As humans that is the situation in which we find ourselves. It requires courage, honesty and wisdom to accept that. Socrates expressed this well when he said that all he knew is that he knew nothing. A wise man once remarked that we do not know enough in order to be dogmatists, but we do know just enough to avoid being radical sceptics. Finding the balance between these two extreme positions (dogmatism and scepticism) involves walking a fine line - the correct balance constitutes genuine human wisdom, and attempting to find that balance is the work of a life-time.

Some people can't cope with the reality of the human condition, with the fact that there are so few certainties, so they seek refuge by attempting to embrace false certainty. For them all there is are the two extreme alternatives  - the only alternatives are total scepticism, or fanatical, certain dogmatism consisting of the unquestioning acceptance of some authority. For them, there is no Golden Mean, no Middle Path. 

I can respect David's faith because it is a thoughtful, questioning faith - even when i disagree with him, I think it is a genuine attempt to find that Golden Mean between scepticism and dogmatism. There is a kind of Christianity that does this and it the best kind. So let's end with a quote from a Christian genius: 

"To leave the mean is to abandon humanity. The greatness of the human soul consists in knowing how to preserve the mean. So far from greatness consisting in leaving it, it consists in not leaving it ... Nature confounds the sceptics and reason confounds the dogmatists. What then will become of you, man, seeking to discover your true condition?  You cannot avoid one of these sects, nor adhere to one of them ...  We perceive an image of truth and possess only a lie. Incapable of absolute ignorance and of certain knowledge." - Pascal

Johnny P said...

"Hardly. I'll take Brian and Dr. H as serious critics over anyone at DC, and we've had some great visitors, from time to time. DC is of course a much older and better-known site: what I think John does best, is raise good questions, whether or not he can answer them."

i am not passing any comment about this site, don't get me wrong. I am simply saying that there are many more substantive posts on that thread than here by the people (ie me!) actually involved in the debate. And it doesn't have Captcha

Edward T. Babinski said...

David, Arguing about "faith" gets one nowhere. Arguing about "reason" gets one nowhere.

All one can argue about are SPECIFIC beliefs, and SPECIFIC philosophical or historical arguments.

Edward T. Babinski said...

I'd add to that, namely that you can't make someone love everything you love or hate everything you hate. Everyone does not love the same books or even the same passages and characters in the same book. Nor the same music, the same flowers, the same church services, the same denominations, the same religion.

And, lacking the same education and the same experience, its easy to see how people's views on philosophy and religion naturally come to differ.

It's also easy to see how religions divide and sub-divide, and how some branches thrive while others wither , very Darwinian.

David B Marshall said...

Good to hear from you, Ed.

Some would say, arguing at all gets one nowhere. But if one is going to argue -- reason, debate, think -- epistemology is an honorable and I think profitable branch of inquiry.

If you're looking for Darwinian survival of the fittest, nothing beats some denominations of atheism. Those Stalinists and Trostyites, Maoists and "capitalist roaders," Objectivists and Freudians and socialists-turned fascists, could make the most ruthless Medievals look pretty primitive, when it came to competition.

But still, something has to be true, and the goal of argumentation should be to find out what that something is.

Johnny P said...

But the mere statement "something has to be true" assumes an awful lot, philosophically.

How do you arrive at that truth? What is that truth? Is it rationally derived, a priori? Empirically, a posteriori? Is it transcendental in a Kantian sense, synthesising the dichotomy? Subjective in a postmodernist sense? Hegelian? Heideggerian? And so on.

Can we, indeed, even access an objective truth from within our subjective sense-perceptions?

Philosophers sit on every side of these divides.

AND THEN you have 32,000 different denominations, 32,000 other, different truth claims.

David B Marshall said...

Johnny: "But the mere statement "something has to be true" assumes an awful lot, philosophically."

Yet that "awful lot" is entailed by this very sentence. Either it is true, in which case something both is and therefore has to be true, or it is false, in which case, again, something else has to be true -- its falsity. So no, I don't think I'm going out on any kind of limb, here.

"Can we, indeed, even access an objective truth from within our subjective sense-perceptions?"

Who cares? I didn't say anything about our "sense perceptions" -- which, by the way, you happen to be using, and trusting, right now, so what are you on about?

"Philosophers sit on every side of these divides."

Assuming, that is, our sense perceptions are accurate.

"AND THEN you have 32,000 different denominations, 32,000 other, different truth claims."

Not really. Not fundamentally.