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Why “these beliefs work for me” is not enough October 6, 2010

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I get into a lot of arguments with people.  Sometimes, the argument gets ugly, and sometimes it is not.  I’m just one of those people that cares about what is true, and so when someone says something I find to be unjustified or that I  have reasons to disagree with, I often say something.

This often leads to me being called “closed minded,” arrogant, etc.

Just in the last couple of days I have had an email correspondence which started on a polyamory discussion list with someone who seems to consider himself spiritual, and who commented that he has become more serene since he stopped arguing with religious people (it was this and some other things I’ve been annoyed by that led to yesterdays blog about spiritual but not religious people).

I was offended by a comment he made, and tried to explain why I was offended, but it didn’t stick for him.

In any case, I wrote him back late last night, and thought some of the points I made would be relevant to people that might run into this blog.

With no further yapping on my part, here is the entire email:

I am quite aware that your email was not about me.  I was replying to the content that I disagreed with.  My offense at your comment needs some unpacking for you to understand why I was offended.  I’ll get to that at the end of this email.

First I want to say that I notice among many people, in fact this seems to be common wisdom, an unspoken assumption about beliefs.  There seems to be a notion that there is an automatic validity to a belief simply because it works for people, or simply because they have it.  Yes, people rely on things, but I don’t believe it is enough to say that they rely on it and therefore it’s not my place to judge it or even to comment on it.  After all, people have a right to their beliefs, right?

I believe this idea is wrong-headed.  And, more importantly, I don’t think it’s true just because I believe it.  This speaks to the unspoken assumption above.  I have this belief for reasons, not just because it works for me.  This is the crux of the issue for me; I think that people’s beliefs should be justified rationally, or they are not worthy of respect by anyone else.  Of course people have a right to their beliefs, but they don’t have the right to not have their ideas criticized.

An acquaintance and personal favorite leader in the atheist community has become known for asking “What do you believe, and why do you believe it?”  I think this is an important question, and I think that in the attempt to be tolerant, diverse, and respectful this question often gets left behind in the cultural maelstrom (especially in liberal circles).

You said:

Just because you “vehemently view spirituality as meaningless” doesn’t mean that it is. In fact its one of the biggest driving forces in the human experience for many. The fact that you got so offended may suggest that its not quite as meaningless to you as you say.

This, I believe, is a symptom of the problem.  It’s not merely that I believe this, I believe this for reasons.  I am not merely asserting it and saying that it’s true.  It’s not that this idea works for me, it’s that I think it can be defended rationally.  But you didn’t address the content of the claim at all.  I find that to be fascinating, because I would hope that a claim I make would not merely be swept aside with the broom of ad populum, but rather challenged.  Why wasn’t it challenged?

Your comment was not a challenge as to the merit of the proposition or to content therein, but rather to whether it was an idea that worked for people.  The fact that it is a driving force for people has absolutely nothing to do with its validity.  Truth is not determined by what ideas people like, and it is truth that I am interested in.  I am offended by the apparent shrugging off of pursuits of truth in the name of mere pragmatism.  These issues are questionable, investigatable, and conclusions can be drawn with good evidence.  The fact that people use these ideas in their lives does not make them immune to the criticism that can be provided.

I believe that they are physical events in the brain too but who’s to say that our brains weren’t wired like that in order to produce that spiritual experience by a creator? I believe that science and spirituality should be joined at the hip instead of being in opposition and I think fortunately things are headed in that direction.

I cannot [dis]prove that such a creator exists who created our brains such.  But I see no cause to believe it.  What if the world were created by an invisible pink unicorn, a flying spaghetti monster, or blue dwarfs that currently live in my closet?  I can’t disprove those ideas either, but why should I believe any of them?  The issue is not whether I can disprove the idea of such a creator, the question is what evidence is there for belief in such a thing?  What would compel me to believe it? My whims and what works for my life are not relevant here.

Until there is some reason to believe so, it is rational to not believe.  It’s called the null hypothesis.  Do you believe in the dwarfs in my closet?  if not, why not?  Who is to say they don’t exist? I’m betting you don’t believe in them, and I don’t consider it respectful to say “hey, whatever works for you.”  I find this condescending and disrespectful of my ability to think critically and take criticism.   If I believe something you find unjustified, why would you pretend otherwise and merely shrug it off? That’s how we treat children, not adults.  Our beliefs affect the decisions we make, and unjustified beliefs often lead to decisions that affect the world around us.

As for science and spirituality, they are not necessarily at odds.  The simple fact is that they are at odds through investigation, that is by accident of the beliefs of spiritual people not standing up to scrutiny.  And when they are not at odds with science, the thing stops being called spiritual but is then called part of the confirmations of science.  It is like the difference between medical science and alternative medicine; when it works, it’s simply called science and no longer is alternative.  The claims of spiritualism have been tested and have failed repeatedly.  There is no counter-example I have ever seen to this claim.  Look into James Randi’s million dollar challenge.  The fact that nobody has won it is telling.

And no, things are not headed in the direction of science and spirituality being reconcilable.  Despite what morons like Deepak Chopra and the other goons at HuffPo say, there is most definitely a distance between them.  Some, like the Templeton foundation, will seem to say otherwise, but the arguments are spurious.  If you are curious about ths issue, I suggest the JREF (linked above), the Paryngula blog, or the general skeptics community (say the skepchicks blog).

I’m not a religious scholar by a long shot. All I know is my own personal experience. And I know that I became a much more serene person when I stopped vehemently opposing religious people (still struggle with Fox news types). They aren’t all the same.

I am a student of the philosophy of religion.  In fact, that is what I have my MA in.  This does not make me right, but it implies I have spent considerable time thinking about these things. But that does not matter….  I have experiences too.  I used to wonder if they were spiritual in nature, but then I seriously investigated this question, and found that such an explanation is not rationally warranted.  It is not enough to say that you have a different conclusion, you need to demonstrate why or I have no reason to respect your ideas.

The fact that you became more serene person when you stopped opposing religious people says nothing for the validity of whatever spiritual ideas you took on since then.  When a person changes through experience with a new religion, spiritual tradition, etc it does not imply that the ideas they adopted did the changing or that those ideas are true.  That’s simply a tremendously bad argument.  And of course they are not all the same, although there are often common characteristics among them.

There are plenty of good, strong, intelligent people who believe in a higher power on this planet. To paint them all with the same broad stroke is as close minded as a fundamentalist is about non-fundamentalists.

I have never done this.  I am very aware that people who believe such things vary greatly, and I try as much as possible to try and address what they specifically claim and address those claims.  What I am saying is that insofar as a person accepts faith as a strength, I think that it points to a problem.  People use faith in many ways, for many beliefs, and with different temperaments.  But we have to step back and ask what faith is.  It is belief in something despite a lack of evidence or in the face of contradictory evidence.  If there were evidence, there would be no need for faith, because there would be reasons to believe.  personal, internal experiences are not enough for other people, and they do not provide evidence that you have not misinterpreted your experience and attributed it to something imaginary rather than a more mundane and material explanation.  Until someone gives reasons to believe in spiritual ideas, people have to rely on faith and problematic personal experiences.

This is incontrovertibly a weak position to be in intellectually and rationally.  If it isn’t, please explain why it isn’t.

My view is not closed minded, it is considered and measured.  I think that believing in things for which their is no, or at least poor, evidence is not an intellectual, personal, or social strength.  How is that closed minded?

Finally, why was I offended.  I was offended because we atheists are tired of hearing that things like morality, personal strength, and wisdom come from divine or spiritual sources.  It implies that those who don’t believe in such things cannot be moral, strong, or wise.  By associating spirituality with good attributes, you imply that people like me are not capable of it.  If I were to say that all the people I know who are strong, wise, and good were atheists and that atheism is the key to being like those people, would you not take offense at the implication inherent to this?

This is simple discrimination of people who don’t believe in the kinds of things you believe.  It is based on faulty assumptions and poor logical thinking, and it leads to real discrimination, demonization, and distrust of atheists.  Recent studies have shown atheists to be the least trusted group in America (even below Muslims).  I’m offended because you essentially claimed that an atheist cannot be a good person.  I doubt this was your intent, but it is the result nonetheless.  I’m just trying to give you a touch of consciousness-raising about discrimination against atheists and its unseen sources in common wisdom, as evidenced by your comment.  You are doing actual harm to real people, probably unintentionally, by promoting a meme that is simply false.

Please understand that I’m trying to communicate in good…faith.  I’m not attacking you, I’m trying to get you to understand where I’m coming from.

His reply was to say “You’re right” and then to sign off.  I can’t help but feel patronized with an intent to discontinue conversation.

Meh….

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Comments»

1. Dennis Rockingham - October 6, 2010

You have FAITH in reason, so I would not knock faith as hard you do lest you open yourself to charges of hypocrisy. Even if you claim “well reason has worked in aiding me/society to accomplish a,b,c…) then you still have unjustified faith in the uniformity of nature or similar metaphysical principle.

As for justification there simply are no such things as “good reasons” in an epistemological sense (psychology is another matter) to believe anything above the observational level, for such alleged “good reasons” always beg the question at issue.

And as for the philosophy behind the “What works for me” attitude we can turn pace Miller to Plato, from the Meno:

SOCRATES: But when we said that a man cannot be a good guide unless he
have knowledge (phrhonesis), this we were wrong.

MENO: What do you mean by the word ‘right’?

SOCRATES: I will explain. If a man knew the way to Larisa, or anywhere
else, and went to the place and led others thither, would he not be a right
and good guide?

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And a person who had a right opinion about the way, but had
never been and did not know, might be a good guide also, might he not?

MENO: Certainly.

SOCRATES: And while he has true opinion about that which the other knows,
he will be just as good a guide if he thinks the truth, as he who knows the
truth?

MENO: Exactly.

SOCRATES: Then true opinion is as good a guide to correct action as
knowledge; and that was the point which we omitted in our speculation about
the nature of virtue, when we said that knowledge only is the guide of
right action; whereas there is also right opinion.

MENO: True.

When people claim that “it works for me” they are typically saying that this or that suite of beliefs even if not based on “true knowledge” has allowed them to attain certain goals in their lives (serenity, happiness etc.)

Just because one of your goals is a consistent and rigorous epistemology (which judging by your arguments with Dr. Gutting you fall short of) it does not follow that there are no other systems of belief that allow others with different sets of problems or desires to best accomplish what they need.

The physicist needs to be able to predict the outcome of a quantum-level experiment and will reject notions of consciousness or spiritual influence unless they have explanatory power. The mystic however finding fulfillment in an an enchanted universe need not accept this view.

Two final points. It makes little sense to be offended by something that you don’t believe intended as an offense. And while the silly theories of Deepak Chopra will not be inducted into the body of science any time time soon, the use of mental imaging to understand thoughts and feelings as well as the connections between emotions, logic, and judgment are burgeoning fields within neuroscience.

Cheers

2. shaunphilly - October 7, 2010

I do not have faith in reason. That is an egregious equivocation fallacy.

Accepting that the feeling I’m having right now is the Holy Spirit is not like the belief that 2+2=4 or even that the sun will “rise” in the morning tomorrow. Reason is accepted because it allows us to achieve actual predictive methodologies that also help us build real things. Faith is that which people fall back to when they cannot use this method to support that which they want to believe.

There is a distinction between faith, which is unjustified belief, and a reasonable expectation, which is justified. My acceptance of things like the laws of motion, uniformity of logical rules, etc are not beliefs in the sense that a belief in the Holy Spirit is a belief.

For example, I don’t have faith that a friend will come through for me if I need them to pick me up from the airport, I have a reasonable expectation that they will based upon experience. But the belief in something like the Trinity, which believers admit they don’t understand, cannot be based upon experience. Their claims that they have experiences I don’t doubt, but what is their justification for their interpretation of their experience was from some god that supports their belief in the Trinity, magick, etc? My belief in my friend is based upon interactive experience, and the spiritual person cannot say the same for the same reasons.

No good reasons in the epistemological sense? You’ve drank too much postmodern Kool-Aid, my friend. If you truly believe this to be true, then the whole ediface of philosophy crumbles, and we might as well give up trying to do anything. Because if there is no way to tell the difference between truth and falsity, then we cannot accomplish anything. Except that we do, and the methods by wich we accomplish things is related to the method of finding what is true, even if it is not in an absolute sense.

And as far as Plato is concerned, you can talk about the distinction between knowledge and true belief all you like, but the simple fact is that one who believes in things like a soul cannot demonstrate their belief with good evidence, and so it falls under neither cataegory, due to the lack of reasons to believe.

Let’s try this. I believe that the Loch Ness Monster really exists. Do you believe so? Do you believe I am justified in my belief?

Nobody needs to accept a view, but if they want to actually accomplish things and be taken seriously by people who do, they will simply be laughed out of rooms. The mystic of which you speak may not have use for physics, but that does not imply that his view has any truth-value, only that he’s not using that particular knowledge. His fulfillment, if he tries to project it onto other people and into larger truths, will ultimately fail as a philosophical perspective.

That’s why it isn’t enough to have it be true for him; his belief is either justified or is not. My Loch Ness monster belief may make me feel better in general, but if I try to apply this to other things in my life, eventually my belief and my methods for believing will run into walls of reality. And if I stick to my guns I will do things like support intelligent design, believe in quack medicine, and buy magnetic bracelets to help with my circulation problems. If I don’t practice good skeptical methods in little things just because they work in making me feel good in one area, I will not have those tools for other things.

People’s beliefs in souls, gods, etc influence what other types of things they believe, and therefore how they behave and what decisions they make. This affects who gets elected, the policies they support, and therefore the world we live in. Beliefs have consequences. We need reality-based people, not fantasy-drunken fools. And if you don’t even think there is a difference, or that there are good reasons to believe one way or the other, then you are living in a fantasy world.

3. Dennis Rockingham - October 7, 2010

Well you have said a lot but not much

First you essentially agree that you do have “faith” in reason as “Reason is accepted because it allows us to achieve actual predictive methodologies that also help us build real things.” I wrote “Even if you claim “well reason has worked in aiding me/society to accomplish a,b,c…) then you still have unjustified faith in the uniformity of nature or similar metaphysical principle.” So I’ve preemtively dealt with that “criticism.”

Is reason the only organon of useful construction? (think of the social insects), Do they have “predictive methodologies” that help help them build real things?

You continue into a whole other space of NONSENSE. For example what constitutes “unjustified” belief? You are a justificationist and that is almost as wrong as being a theist or Loch Ness monsterist etc.

I don’t believe in the loch ness monster so its wrong to use that as a criticism of me. Nor have I offered a subjective notion of “truth” or “reality” so your remarks are impotent.

On Beliefs:

Do you “believe” you are an atheist? or do you KNOW it? What is belief and how is it different from expectation?

If I place money on a single number on a roulette wheel should I believe I will lose, or expect I will lose, how are they distinct?

4. Dennis Rockingham - October 7, 2010

Well you have said a lot but not much

First you essentially agree that you do have “faith” in reason as “Reason is accepted because it allows us to achieve actual predictive methodologies that also help us build real things.” I wrote “Even if you claim “well reason has worked in aiding me/society to accomplish a,b,c…) then you still have unjustified faith in the uniformity of nature or similar metaphysical principle.” So I’ve preemptively dealt with that “criticism.”

Is reason the only organon of useful construction? (think of the social insects), Do they have “predictive methodologies” that help help them build real things?

You continue into a whole other space of NONSENSE. For example what constitutes “unjustified” belief? You are a justificationist and that is almost as wrong as being a theist or Loch Ness monsterist etc.

I don’t believe in the loch ness monster so its wrong to use that as a criticism of me. Nor have I offered a subjective notion of “truth” or “reality” so your remarks are impotent.

On Beliefs:

Do you “believe” you are an atheist? or do you KNOW it? What is belief and how is it different from expectation?

If I place money on a single number on a roulette wheel should I believe I will lose, or expect I will lose, how are they distinct?

5. shaunphilly - October 12, 2010

If nature is not uniform, then all attempts at figuring the universe out are absurd. It would imply we could never trust any experiment, ever, because there would be no basis to assume that it could be repeated or speak to anything besides that specific result.

The uniformity we seem to observe points to it being true, but as anyone who has read Hume knows, it may not be universal. But I see every indication that it is universal, and no reason to conclude that a kind of metaphyical nihilism or some sort of universal whim-generator exists.

What mechanism of the universe would have things non-universal? Would that not imply a causal agent that decides, perhaps on whims, that this time when you drop the rock it will go up?

It seems to me that the baseline assumption would have to be that things will behave as they do, all other things being equal, because to assume that it will not is unparsimonious; it would imply the existence of something that is not observed, explains nothing, etc.

To accept the universality of which you speak is not faith because there is experience, and thus evidence, to support, it. But further, I want to point out a fundamental category error you are making. Reason and logic are tools to see if the data we have coheres. Faith is the noise people make when the data does not cohere with other data; when the ideas they want to believe do not cohere with data from observations elsewhere (via reason). Reason is not an idea or conclusion to use reason on, it merely is a set of tools to apply to ideas.

I know I’m an atheist. If I can say I know anything, it is what I believe. I don’t have to apply the same epistemological tools to things which are part of my conscious experience for the same reason that I don’t have to justify my tools of reason with my tools of reason.

I know what I believe because to believe something is as intimate an experience as one can have, consciously. It is literally part of what makes up a person, qua personhood. That belief may change via reflection, but at any given moment the belief is undoubtable (because if it were doubted, the doubt changes the phenomenon). Similarly, reason is the tools that you are using. It is self-demonstrable that it works. 2+2=4, right? If somehow this is false, then it would imply that every thought we could have would be untrustworthy.

Then we could not communicate, and any attempt to think or do anything leans towards absurdity. Which means there would be no point in saying anything.

Which would imply no belief could be justified, ever. If you want to live in that nihilistic hole, by all means….

6. Dennis Rockingham - October 14, 2010

You have once again said a lot but not much.

For example this statement: “If nature is not uniform, then all attempts at figuring the universe out are absurd”

For one thing nature MIGHT be variegated (as is the surface of the Earth)that doesn’t mean no useful information may be obtained about it.Even the most chaotic systems exhibit short term regularities. And it mat turn out that nature IS uniform, I’m just declaring or assuming it.

More importantly we may as a METHODOLOGICAL rule, not an EPISTEMOLOGICAL one, require all scientific laws to be invariant with respect to space and time.

“The uniformity we seem to observe points to it being true”

Uniformity does not point to things “being true” you might have lost the lottery every week for the last ten years that does not in ANY WAY or even IMPLY you will lose this week.

“What mechanism of the universe would have things non-universal?”

Who knows, who cares?

“Would that not imply a causal agent that decides, perhaps on whims, that this time when you drop the rock it will go up?”

No it doesn’t I have not seen a more perfect example of a non sequitur in a long while. Perhaps the universe is ever so slightly more chaotic than we think or perhaps physical laws evolve over time or…

“To accept the universality of which you speak”

I don’t speak of any UNIVERSALITY quite the contrary. You seem to be using stock answers against me. Try to think for yourself.

“Reason and logic are tools to see if the data we have coheres.”

No. Data does not precede logic and reason-EVER.

“Faith is the noise people make when the data does not cohere with other data; when the ideas they want to believe do not cohere with data from observations elsewhere (via reason). ”

No. I didn’t mention faith ANYWHERE in comments save where I was quoting or referring to you. STOP with the stock responses!

You have a rather childish way of thinking about things. I assume you are a teen. A bright teen at that. But if you wish to understand the world you need to stop regurgitating what you have read from established bloggers, and dare I say it!? Think for yourself!

7. shaunphilly - October 14, 2010

“No. I didn’t mention faith ANYWHERE in comments save where I was quoting or referring to you. STOP with the stock responses!”

your first sentence to me was to say that I have faith in reason. Was that quoting or referring to me? Because if it is it is not representative of anything I have said here.

One simply cannot have faith in reason and logic.T That would be clear equivocation. I am in my 30’s, have a MA in philosophy, and your arguments are not convincing. Stop trying to talk down to me, because it’s only amusing me.

My responses are not stock. I don’t repeat what others say, this issue is something I have studied and written about at the graduate level.

Data does not precede logic or reason? So, when I see something the information does not precede any analysis of it? I would like to hear a parsing of that, because while there is an argument to be made there, I have not heard anything except an assertion.

8. Dennis Rockingham - October 15, 2010

“your first sentence to me was to say that I have faith in reason. Was that quoting or referring to me?”

T’was both. And I clearly stipulated “save where I was quoting or referring to you”

I never have suggested nor intended to argue for or against faith, YOU have argued against while still holding fast to faith in reason, uniformity of nature and so on. Note I never suggested its wrong to have faith in reason, uniformity of nature etc. your reasoning needs some fine tuning.

Your alleged credentials are irreverent (For one thing, I hear America gives out “charity” degrees), a bad argument is a bad argument regardless of the fact a 30 something with an MA in philosophy is making it. If you truly have an MA in philosophy you should know Argumentum ad Verecundiam is irrelevant. Do They make philosophy majors study Latin & Greek in America anymore?

“I don’t repeat what others say”

Yes you do quite reflexively I would say. That’s why you and Dr. Gutting misunderstood each other. You both failed to take account of the nuances of each other’s arguments because you were both so ready to dismiss the other with stock responses. You’ve done the same to me.

“Data does not precede logic or reason? So, when I see something the information does not precede any analysis of it?”

I would hardly regard immediate sense-impressions that one might share with a cockroach as “data.” Nor would I regard the visions of the schizophrenic or a hallucinating drug addict as data. Data are facts, statistics etc. Data qua data requires organization and that presupposes an organizational scheme as designated in some way by reason.

This is not an assertion, perhaps it relies to an uncomfortable degree on definitions, but for someone like you who seems never to have left the first half of the 20th century in his understanding of philosophy (maybe when you get your PhD you will understand ;))should be quite acceptable.

To get back to the topic of your post I leave you with this from one of the founders of the sceptic’s movement who is recently deceased Martin Gardener:

“”People think that if you don’t believe Uri Geller can bend spoons then you must be an atheist. But I think these are two different things. I call myself a philosophical theist in the tradition of Kant, Charles Peirce, William James, and especially Miguel Unamuno, one of my favorite philosophers. As a fideist I don’t think there are any arguments that prove the existence of God or the immortality of the soul. Even more than that, I agree with Unamuno that the atheists have the better arguments. So it is a case of quixotic emotional belief that is really against the evidence and against the odds. The classic essay in defense of fideism is William James’ The Will to Believe. James’ argument, in essence, is that if you have strong emotional reasons for a metaphysical belief, and it is not strongly contradicted by science or logical reasons, then you have a right to make a leap of faith if it provides sufficient satisfaction.

It makes the atheists furious when you take this position because they can no more argue with you than they can argue over whether you like the taste of beer or not. To me it is entirely an emotional thing.””

Fideism worked for Gardner. Then again Argumentum ad Verecundiam!

9. shaunphilly - October 15, 2010

I didn’t give credentials to make my point. I did so to clarify who I am, rather than some teenager.

I think we are using faith in different ways, because how I understand the concept would make it impossible, deductively, to have faith in reason. That’s why I was charging you with an equivocation fallacy.

Is the “faith” that people resort to in finding no good reason to believe in god the same concept as the acceptance of the validity if reason and logic? I do not think so.

Ever have a conversation with a theist who, upon being shown that every evidence or reason to believe is fallacious finally says “Well, it’s faith””? They believe despite any reason. They have no REASON, no LOGIC, no evidence to believe. If they did have such, they would not resort to this noise of “faith,” would they.

Are you to tell me that this resorting to belief after being shown their lack of reasons is the same as accepting 2+2=4?

I’m sorry, but seems philosophically sophomoric.

10. Dennis Rockingham - October 15, 2010

I questioned your age and accused you of using stock responses because you have made several statements that are unsupportable and these statements under gird your argument on this topic.

For example you wrote recently “one can’t prove a negative” this is flat out false, no logician would agree with you and if you have a degree philosophy you should know this rather than use it as stock response.

You also have some odd notions about “belief” as when you wrote that “Belief is digital; one either holds a belief or they do not.” This is also flat out false.

Do you believe I’m wearing a blue shirt right now? You “do not know”; it would foolish of you to have a belief about what color shirt I’m wearing. But not only is there the option of not knowing what to believe (which is NOT the same as going back and forth between belief and disbelief) belief is analogue or at the very least not binary (which you seem to equate with digital) for people can have degrees of belief or disbelief.

You also seem to hold that people can disbelieve (though not believe) two claims at least one of which must be true. The flaw here is subtle and important and goes to the heart of your disagreement with Dr. Gutting. You cannot disbelieve two competing binary claims (God exists/doesn’t exist) but you can be unpersuaded by the arguments for both sides. It was Gutting’s point that atheists have not really engaged the arguments of the theists he cites.

Now back to your stock responses you wrote “I think we are using faith in different ways, because how I understand the concept would make it impossible, deductively, to have faith in reason.”

But you DO have FAITH IN REASON.

1. Rationality is not self-contained, you have to take some leap of faith that using evidence and deduction is getting you nearer to the truth but citing there is evidence that shows you seem to be getting nearer to the truth is circular.

2. You have to take on faith what you see more or less corresponds with reality and dismiss solipsism, the brain in the vat, Descartes’ demon etc.

3. You clearly believe on faith that virtually ALL other people would be better off using your (somewhat flawed) method of reason in their lives.

This last one seems to be the point of your post, reason’s equivalent of “belief in belief.” -“the reason for reason”

I don’t know why you brought up biblical fundamentalists if you want to talk about them we can your post however was about new agey type folks.

“Is the “faith” that people resort to in finding no good reason to believe in god the same concept as the acceptance of the validity if reason and logic?”

There are no “good reasons” to believe ANYTHING above the observational level (2+2 = 4 is quite observational) to believe otherwise is philosophically sophomoric. Reason does not rely on reasons

But what count as “good reasons” for the believers are often of the “what works for me” variety. Their lives are enriched by their beliefs and they fill some emotional needs, why would these not be good reasons for someone who accepts good reasons like yourself?

11. shaunphilly - October 18, 2010

I don’t think it is intentional, but I feel there is some disingenuousness on your part. Let me try and explain.

The “one cannot prove a negative” is indeed used commonly and thus can be viewed as “stock” if you prefer that term. However, this statement will have a different meaning for a logician and for a scientist.

I am not particularly interested in formal logic, mathematics, etc. I am more interested in the scientific method, empricism, etc. Thus, when I say that one cannot prove a negative, I am not talking about logic, per se, but about evidence.

What I am talking about is a short-hand phrase that points to something more like the following;

One cannot provide conclusive evidence for something not existing. If somethng is said not to exist, unless the thing described is logically impossible, it may possibly exist. And, of course, if the existence of something should be demonstrated by something else which is lacking, that lends credibility for lacking belief in said thing (as Victor Stenger has argued), although to prove that it does not exist is a further step. Those possibilities branch too quickly to sum up here.

There, of course, I make reference to where something can be said to not exist–something that is logically impossible. And there are other rabbit holes we could go down in that direction, but they are not immediately relevant.

But what are we talking about here? God? What is that? I don’t know, but I have some vague ideas based upon some theology I’ve studied and what theists tell me. The simple fact is that unless someone gives me a clear and logically inconsistant definition of their god, I cannot claim conclusively that it does not exist.

The answer is not so-much “stock” as it is short-hand. A familiarity, which I have, with the atheist community would make that clear. And, in fact, I am not quoting others so much as I am one of many who have helped shaped what that community is, having been a part of it since early 2002.

Concerning the digital quality of belief…

Sure, there are degrees of belief, but either you believe something or you don’t. You can claim that this is simply false, but I don’t think the argument that there are degrees ofbelief even touches this, let alone disputes it.

One issue here is the extraordinary character of a claim. I’m able to believe you are wearing a blue shirt quite easily because it’s an easy thing to do. I don’t, in fact, know it, but I either believe it or I don’t. I may not have good reasons to believe it or not, but I can’t help the fact that my mind makes a judgment to believe it or it does not. I, currently, lack belief that you were wearing a blue shirt when you typed that sentence. I don’t care if I’m wrong, either. Had you claimed to be levitating, my certainty about that lack of belief would be much stronger.

The degrees speak to my certainty of my belief/disbelief. (Thus, the analogy of “digital” of belief is not exact, even if it often comes close). I may know you well, know you wear blue shirts frequently, and trust you. Therefore, my belief (if it were so) of what you wore would be stronger. In this case, I don’t have motivation to trust you or distrust you, but unless I actually believe it, I don’t. I don’t.

“You also seem to hold that people can disbelieve (though not believe) two claims at least one of which must be true. The flaw here is subtle and important and goes to the heart of your disagreement with Dr. Gutting. You cannot disbelieve two competing binary claims (God exists/doesn’t exist) but you can be unpersuaded by the arguments for both sides. It was Gutting’s point that atheists have not really engaged the arguments of the theists he cites.

The digital nature of this is not between two separate beliefs, but between accepting a claim and not accepting it. I think this is what’s tripping you up.

Yes, ultimately one must be true. Here’s where I sit (metaphorically). I am not convinced that a god exists. But I recognize that this does not imply that one does not exist. (I would hope a fair theist would admit that while they do believe in a god, it does not mean that one does exist.).

There is a subtle category error in your paragraph above. There is a difference between a belief and a claim. There is a distinction between what I accept as true and what I am proposing. I do not believe there is a god, but I don’t think this lack of belief warrants the claim that one does not exist. I am not willing to be that arrogant.

I don’t think my lack of being convinced justifies a universal statement, and I believe that people whom go farther to claim there is no god are stretching beyond their epistemological reach, even if I want to agree with them (and often do). But I have to keep reminding myself that I am not justified to make such announcements, even if I feel that way often. I don’t know if there is a god, and I often believe there is no god. I simply don’t have sufficient justification to believe either, and this implies I lack belief either way.

(this is what is usually called ‘agnosticism’ but I’ve written about that before. I am an agnostic, I also am just honest and understand that “atheist” simply means not being a theist.)

I do believe that, unless there is other evidence I have not seen, others are not justified in their belief in a god. But I would have to hear their particular definition, reasons, etc, to make specific judgments.

Concerning faith in reason…

I’m sorry, but you are just talking nonsense. What you are decribing is NOT faith. It is an equivocation with something like ‘reasonable expectation” or something like that. You have repeatedly failed to see the difference between believing in something despite any evidence or reason (or in spite of opposing evidence or reasons) and accepting the consistency, even if that consistency cannot be projected with absolute certainty beyond epistemological nihilism, of being able to verify things through empirical and logical means.

There may be no “good reasons” to believe things above the observational level (a claim I don’t accept), but at least there are reasons. When there are NO reasons (as in zero, zilch, nada, null, etc), then you have faith. If you cannot see the difference between those things, then I don’t know how to continue.

And if you mean to imply that maybe the faith in god are also just as good/bad as reasons for believing in something else (say, thermodynamics), then please support this with evidence.

Do you believe in a god? Why? If you have reasons, then you are not believing based upon faith. Even Luther the whole Reformed theology are honest enough to admit that faith is the enemy of reason.

12. Dennis Rockingham - October 19, 2010

“The answer is not so-much “stock” as it is short-hand”

That may be so but its still wrong. In brief you can phrase any statement as a double negative and if you can’t prove a negative you can’t prove anything.

More importantly the inductive assumptions you’re making apply equally well to most positive statements. Rather than take this much further afield I recommend you read this:

http://departments.bloomu.edu/philosophy/pages/content/hales/articlepdf/proveanegative.pdf

It needs some tightening and is not entirely apt in this case but at least it demonstrates that your “short hand” leaves much to be desired.

“Sure, there are degrees of belief, but either you believe something or you don’t.”

This is not true, for a lesson on this I refer you to the first minute or so of the video in your latest post. There is at least a third category: INDETERMINACY

“There is a subtle category error in your paragraph above. There is a difference between a belief and a claim.”

That was precisely my point. You can disbelieve both the theist who claims “God exists!” and disbelieve the “strong atheist” who claims “God does not exist!”, but only in so far as you are really suggesting you are not convinced by either of their ARGUMENTS. You cannot disbelieve there is a God AND disbelieve there is no God. YOU have made the category error.

You said when the theist says “God exists!” You respond “I don’t believe you.” What do you say to the strong atheist vis a vis yourself? When you say “I lack belief either way” this contradicts “either you believe something or you don’t.”

If you lack belief either way you may as well call yourself an agnostic even if etymologically agnosticism is related more to knowledge than belief; you don’t believe you can prove negatives or that people can form logically consistent concepts of God. It would seem knowledge of this subject is impossible for you (at least difficult to come by) given your premises.

Gutting’s point was that atheists do not engage modern philosophical theists enough to even be aware of their arguments much less be able to criticize them.

“What you are decribing is NOT faith. It is an equivocation with something like ‘reasonable expectation” or something like that.”

No, not at all. First of all few people of faith would claim they have NO evidence to support their claims. Their evidence may be very bad and their logic deeply flawed but those are reasons. Emotion also plays a strong role and they may cite many others.

It is unfortunate you are disinterested in logic and mathematics. They are most sacred subjects But why then do you feel comfortable making statements like “something can be said to not exist–something that is logically impossible”

Could logic not be a flawed and limited tool? What of the areas of debate within logic itself, what’s your position on say the axiom of choice? How many of the 46,656 types of bayesianism do you accept if any?

When you reject the claim “there are no “good reasons” to believe in things above the observational level” you are committed to believing in things which are not established. For only if the evidence logically entails a hypothesis could said evidence be a ‘good reason’ to accept a hypothesis as true.

“And if you mean to imply that maybe the faith in god are also just as good/bad as reasons for believing in something else (say, thermodynamics), then please support this with evidence.”

I haven’t said really anything about faith in god. You seem to like to push people into stereotypical holes to give them rehearsed arguments. Were we not talking about ‘what works’ for mystics, not faith?

I don’t have faith in god OR thermodynamics. Not only do we know that some of the standard theory must be incorrect but even the philosophy behind statistical mechanics is open to question: The frequency interpretation vs propensity theory, vs single-case probability etc.

In the 19th century physicists might have believed in Newton’s theory, alas it’s not true. And we know now General Relativity is not true either.

Things may be truth-like and the evidence suggests General Relativity is more truth-like than Newton’s theory but we know it’s not TRUE.

As a believer in good reasons and one who has not yet abandoned epistemology for methodology you have accepted (on faith?) probable truth. So on that I will leave you with this dictum that forms one of the pillars of true scepticism:

“Certain truth deductively implies truth; but this implication dissolves when certainty is diluted to probability. Certain truth may be truth attained with certainty, but because what is probably true need not be true – probable truth is not truth attained with probability. The connection between truth and probable truth, is no firmer than that between truth and rumored truth, or between truth and EX CATHEDRA truth; or indeed, between truth and improbable truth. That is to say there is no logical connection at all”

13. shaunphilly - October 19, 2010

you are not listening.

I’m done here.

14. Truth and honesty as indicators of respectibility « The atheist, polyamorous, skeptic - November 5, 2011

[…] implication is that I do not respect the idea that an opinion or view “works for me” as being sufficient to accept it as true.  I actually care what is really true, not merely […]

15. Greta Christina, subjective irrationality, and NOMA « The atheist, polyamorous, skeptic - December 31, 2011

[…] OK, I’m with her so far.  I still have that annoying tingling about the clean split between the subjective/objective which has been hinted at, but that is not a mortal sin here so I am overlooking it, at this point.  However, that shakiness because a low rumbling with the next paragraph. But not all questions are questions about the external, non-subjective world. Some questions are subjective. The answers aren’t the same for everybody. If you enjoy drinking/ sports/ fashion/ pets, then you do. If it’s true for you, then it’s true. [my emphasis, also cf an older post of mine] […]


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