Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Tristan Vick: "Marshall, Go Kill Yourself!"

A zombie author (well, an author about zombies) named Tristan Vick earlier this year apparently told me to "go kill myself."  In one way this makes perfect sense, since it is no doubt in his best commercial interest to have as many dead people out and about as possible.  This came as the punch-line in what he apparently regarded as an argument (more a ghost than a zombie in terms of its visibility to mortals), or else perhaps a joke. 

But silly me, I can't find much of either.  Just to make sure, I'll quote almost the whole thing, and let you tell me whether I should laugh or cry at where the minds of foolish young atheists have gone, since that Zombie Apocalypse known as the New Atheism first dawned:

I'm sorry, I haven't written a blog in quite a while. I've been too busy publishing books and stuff. 
But I thought I would write a not so meaningful post mocking a sophist Christian. Not because he's Christian, but because he's sophist. I hate sophists.

Mike D. over at the A-Unicornist pointed out recently that the Christian theologian/apologist/whatever David Marshall recently wrote this:

"Genuine faith in the Christian sense is that act of mind and will by which we discover all that we ever can come to know. Faith means trusting, and holding firmly to, what we have good reason to believe is true, in the face of trial. In that sense, no science, no history, not even the most platitudinous reasoning, would be possible without faith."
At first I was like...

But then I remembered that I am actually good at thinking. And so I re-read it, since that usually brings to light the parts that confuse me, and then I was like...

Cuz you know, when you actually stop to think about it, the whole thing makes almost no sense, except that Marshall uses colorful philosophical language to sound all important and stuff. As you can clearly see, that's sophism if there ever was any. 
My pal Jesus has a message for David Marshall...
"Go Kill Yourself." 

Mind you, I would never ask anybody to kill themselves. Well, maybe not never. But it's totally not me. Jesus wants it. He said so.
Now as a card-carrying "sophist," how should I interpret this rebuke from someone who, unlike myself, is capable of "actually thinking?"   A few possibilities trickle into my benighted brain: 
(1) Rational thought begins by taking random snippets of verbiage out of context from friendly Gnu blogs, and making no effort to look up or understand the original. 
(2) If you don't understand something, make shocked faces, then advise the person whose words you don't understand to go kill themselves. 
(3) Don't ask questions, like Socrates or Confucius, because that would be way, way too much trouble.  And of course, sophists would never bother to answer a sincere question. 
(4) It is hilarious if you can work in a blasphemy about Jesus along the way. 
(5) Who needs an Argument from Personal Incredulity, when a mere expression of befuddlement will do? 
(6) Random thought: the zombie genre sure has come down in the world, since The Omega Man.  Other than the Will Smith remake, and a cameo by Bill Murray in Zombieland, it's became a, well, empty wasteland out there.  Good thing this guy lives in Japan. 
(7) Finally, the first stanza of a not-so-random G. K. Chesterton poem, the last line of which may however disappoint Mr. Vick:

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbors–on the wall–
Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”
The strangest whim has seized me. . . .
After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.


Brian Barrington said...

Your position on faith is based on a kind of ambiguity. Let’s focus on the arguments you use: humans believe in the existence of the external world and in other minds – and those beliefs are based upon faith. What do you mean by that? Well, what you seem to mean is that they cannot prove by argument or evidence (i.e. by “theoretical reason”) that the external world exists or that other minds exist.Therefore people accept these beliefs upon faith and trust, rather than upon (theoretical) reason per se i.e. they have good practical reasons to believe these things (e.g. psychological, emotional, social, political and moral reasons to believe something), even though the theoretical reasons do not on their own justify believing them. And then you extend this argument to God: people cannot prove by reason or evidence that God exists but they have good practical reasons to believe in God.

Well, is that what your argument is? Sometimes it seems that this is what you mean, but other times what you seem to mean is this: the evidence and arguments on their own lead one to believe in God, and faith is just holding on to that belief at all times in the face of “trials”. But if the evidence and arguments lead you to believe it then what “trials” are we talking about here? Maybe you mean continuing to believe it even when you are being persecuted or ridiculed for believing it, or something like that? OK, but where does that leave the arguments about the external world and other minds? We might say that the evidence and arguments lead one, all things considered, to believe in the existence of the external world and in the existence of other minds, and that the “faith” bit means holding fast to those beliefs in the face of trials. But what “trials” are we talking about here? Nobody is persecuted for believing in the existence of other minds or for believing in the external world.

So, by faith do you mean (a) “Believing in something for good practical reasons, even when the evidence and arguments on their own would not lead you to believe it” or do you mean (b) “Persisting (in the face of persecution or ridicule etc.) with believing something that the evidence and arguments on their own would themselves lead you to believe”?

If the evidence, arguments and proofs on their own would lead you to believe something then there are few if any “trials” involved in continuing to believe it, adn therefore little or no faith is required to believe. For example, people “hold firm” to the belief that 1+1=2 and they have “good reasons” to believe this – but we would not speak of people having “faith” that 1+1=2.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: An interesting challenge.

First of all, let's put the definition I've been using squarely on the table -- you refer to it:

"Faith means 'Holding to and acting upon what you have good reason to believe is true.'"

I've since refined that to add the existential element you refer to above, something like:

"Holding firmly and acting on what you have good reason to believe is true, (even) in the face of trials."

So I mean (b) above, in all cases.

In one way, your objection might be answered by adding the word "even," as I do here. I don't remember if I have used that word in previous formulations, but it might be useful.

But I would also challenge your assumption that the "lower forms of faith" are not normally tried.

Obviously, our faith in other human beings is often tried: in a child, in a spouse. Even on the level of dry empirical science, some suspicion or paranoia may creep into my mind as I read a medical journal -- and there are quacks and frauds in science -- so faith means judicious trust in those one has reason to trust. Trials need not involve actual persecution, I'm using the word more broadly than that.

What about faith in my own senses, and my own mind?

Well, suppose I've just watched Matrix? The movie has deeply moved me: it has planted a doubt in my mind that the world around me is real. I can't disprove those doubts, and they suggest strange fears to me. But I know it is more reasonable to suppose the physical world is real, and by act of faith thrust those doubts to the back of my mind, or laugh them off.

Of course one can also entertain doubts about one's own sanity. Sometimes those doubts might even be reasonable -- "am I losing my memory?" So faith does not mean blind trust in one's cognitive powers, but it does sometimes take an act of will and of trust that takes more than just reason. (And while I have questioned the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, I do sometimes wonder how much I would trust even my own brain, if there were no God to "back it up," as one might say.)

Brian Barrington said...

As far as I can work out, your view is that reason (i.e. evidence and argument) decides what is to be believed - then faith is required to overcome irrational personal doubts concerning what reason has determined should be believed. But there is a problem with this: if the doubts are irrational then it would seem that reason (i.e. evidence and argument) is actually all that is required to overcome those doubts, and there is no need for faith at all. On the other hand, if the doubts are rational, then reason alone (i.e. arguments and evidence alone) will not be enough to overcome the doubts – so we then either need to abandon the belief OR something else apart from evidence and argument will be required in order to justify holding on to the belief - like faith, for example :-)

David B Marshall said...

You seem to assume we are robots.

Brian Barrington said...

Your point seems to be that if we were rational all the time then we would not need faith. But because we are not rational all the time we need faith. For example, when you reflect on the evidence and arguments you can see that reason tells you that other minds exist and that God exists and so on. But then you go out and do something and get caught up in your activities and forget all the arguments and evidence, so reason alone cannot sustain you in believing these things all the time – so we also need faith, since our reason is weak. Is that what you mean?

David B Marshall said...

Not exactly. An act of existential trust and commitment is more than mere reason. The usual example is, you may believe the airplane is flightworthy, but to get on board and strap yourself in, that takes faith in addition to reason.

Even if reason were perfect, in a risky world, as human beings, we would still need faith, because the choice to depend or rely on is inherently risky. Jesus made this point well with his parable of the three stewards, one of whom did not trust his boss, or perhaps the markets, and buried the money given him to invest in the ground, rather than in the stock market.