RE: MD On Faith

From: Scott Roberts (
Date: Tue Oct 05 2004 - 19:25:53 BST

  • Next message: Chuck Roghair: "RE: MD On Faith"

    Chuck et al,

    You raise a great many issues here, and it is hard to know what to address
    and what to leave out. To your seminarian friend I would recommend looking
    into pragmatism, where the whole mind-set of faith *versus* reason is
    somewhat (though not entirely) mitigated. I would also recommend this essay
    on Peirce's essay on a "Neglected Argument for the Existence of God".
    (Peirce's essay itself is well-nigh incomprehensible without a lot of
    background work in Peirce's thought in general).

    Aquinas' view (and that of the Catholic Church today) was that (a) the
    doctrines of faith are compatible with reason, but (b) some of them (like
    the Trinity) are not accessible by reason alone. Lessing held the view that
    "revelations were not rational when revealed, but were revealed so that
    they may become rational" (something like that), and this is the basis of
    the old Augustinian maxim: faith seeking understanding.

    But of course, the problem in this day and age is: which faith. I recommend
    Peter Berger's book "The Heretical Imperative" on this topic.When everyone
    around you had the same faith, this was not a problem. Now it is. Hence I
    think there is no way to absolutely justify one faith over another (though
    I think reason can do some filtering). This does not mean that it is
    irrational to be a Christian (or a Buddhist, or an atheist). That's where
    pragmatism comes in. It involves dropping the idea of faith as a set of
    propositions to believe in, and replace it with a general framework by
    which one lives (makes moral choices, how one reacts to adversity, and so
    forth). What is irrational is to claim that one has adopted such a
    framework, and then act in opposition to it. (This is why no one can be a
    solipsist or a determinist). That is what makes George W. Bush irrational.
    Or that is the charitable view. He may just be hypocritical. He claims that
    Jesus is his favorite philosopher, and then acts as if the Sermon on the
    Mount didn't exist. (This does not imply, BTW, that the wars in Afghanistan
    and Iraq were wrong. That question is one for Giants to work out, that is,
    it is a question belonging to the social order.)

    Very few Christians are rational. St. Francis, maybe, at times. But one of
    the virtues of Christianity is that it recognizes this, calling it Original
    Sin. Unfortunately, this has mostly been taken in a socially moral sense,
    that we just can't help being bad. While not overlooking this, I think it
    would be a big improvement if we take it in an intellectual sense. Call it
    Original Irrationality, or Original Insanity. If God (or the Godhead) is
    Real, yet we don't experience that Reality, then we are out of touch with
    Reality, which is Insanity. (As for the evidence of Insanity, look around
    you. Atheists are just as insane as religious folk). Taking it in this
    intellectual sense, then, our primary moral duty is to work on our
    rationality. That means bringing all our beliefs out in the open and
    questioning them. A faith that can't stand up to that questioning is a bad
    one. To not question one's faith is immoral.

    Science has nothing to do with faith. Scientism, or scientific materialism,
    does. No scientist worthy of the name believes in the Big Bang. It is a
    hypothesis, one that most cosmologists feel is the best hypothesis we have
    to account for the data. It serves until something better comes along, or
    until a new fact contradicts it. (Actually, I do not accept that the
    universe started with the Big Bang, since I do not assume that physical law
    has remained constant. But I would agree that if physical law remains
    constant, then the Big Bang hypothesis best accounts for the data.)

    Now the question in my mind is whether one can drop faith entirely, and
    instead treat religious inquiry as a matter of formulation, dispute, and
    refinement of hypotheses. For most people, this just wouldn't work, but I
    think it can work for the philosophically minded. This would not turn
    religion into science, since there is no experimental way to test
    hypotheses, other than on oneself (e.g,.by meditating). But that is not a
    repeatable experiment. This is something I am still puzzling over.

    > Faith
    > Faith is a process. In order for there to be faith, there must be a
    > subject/object duality. Also, faith may be divided into "rational"
    > faith and "irrational" faith

    Might be better to say "consistent" and "inconsistent" (Biblical inerrancy
    is an inconsistent faith). Also one can divide into better and worse faiths
    on pragmatic grounds, though this is not easy.

    > While the subject requires consciousness, the object need only be real
    > or true according to the subject's belief system.
    > I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow. I am the subject, the
    > sun is the object. My faith in tomorrow is based on my experience of a
    > thousand yesterdays. Rational.

    Why call it faith? One has made an inductive generalization. One can make
    plans that will succeed only if the sun does rise tomorrow. It is a very
    safe bet that it will. If it doesn't, that doesn't mean one's faith has
    been shattered. It means some extremely surprising physical event has
    occurred (like the earth's being demolished to make a hyperspatial bypass).

    > George W. Bush has faith that "God is on our side!" in the U.S. led
    > coalition occupation of Iraq. George W. Bush is the subject, God is
    > the object. His faith is based on, I don't know, what Pat Robertson
    > tells him or what he finds stuck to the bottom of his shoe at the end
    > of the day, or what Rummie and Dickie C. say. Irrational and scary.
    > As the sun has risen every day I can remember and every day before that
    > as far as I know, this is a rational faith.
    > As far as George W. Bush's belief in an omnipotent, all-benevolent
    > creator who has taken up America's illegal, imperialistic agenda to
    > kill arabs and dominate world oil caches, well, let's just say I think
    > that's irrational.
    > So there is "rational faith" and "irrational faith." Capisce?

    No. You are comparing, not apples and oranges, but rocks and social Giants.
    The data for making the bet that the sun will rise tomorrow is simple and
    straightforward. The data required to make the decision to go to war or not
    is hugely complex. Your assumption that Bush made it on religious grounds
    is highly doubtful. He may be (hypocritically) pandering for support in his
    decision from the religous right, but that just adds to the complexity in
    trying to judge the issues involved. If you want to make a philosophical
    point about faith, I would advise leaving a highly-charged contemporary
    political issue out of it.

    > Faith in science is rational and convenient. Faith in God is
    > irrational and inconvenient and, if you ask me, also scary.

    Depends on the concepts one has floating about the word 'God'. Do you think
    faith in the message of the Sermon on the Mount (the Luke version, which
    leaves out hell) is irrational or scary? I don't. It is, however, very
    inconvenient, as it obliges us to act in ways we very unaccustomed to.

    > Scientific Validity
    > Your old roommate was wrong: one cannot use science to prove science to
    > be true. I won't even maintain that science is true, only convenient
    > at the moment to describe what's happening as God was convenient (more
    > convenient, at least) in Biblical times. Biblical times was a long
    > time ago. Before a lot of scientific evolution, discovery and
    > explanation.

    Science is the business of formulating hypotheses and testing them. It
    works well on the inorganic realm. It does poorly in the biological and
    social realms. One can leave all the concerns about 'faith', 'truth', and
    'belief' aside, and still do science.

    > Gravity is a good example. The law of gravity didn't exist before Sir
    > Isac Newton came along to write it. This is also, of course, an
    > example of the way in which the power of reason can be applied to
    > create knowledge. Newton was able to theorise the relationship between
    > two bodies (the earth and an apple) by suggesting it was based on the
    > presence of a hidden, unobservable, force. He was, furthermore, able to
    > test this theory and demonstrate its reliability and validity over
    > time, in every known case. The law of gravity is made up of words that
    > describe a phenomenon.
    > Can you make an equally persuasive argument for God based of
    > "irrational faith." Send me the results of your test; describe your
    > reliability standards; help me to understand the validity of entire
    > thing.

    I do not approach questions about God with science. It doesn't work to do
    so. I also do not approach questions about love, reason, war, happiness,
    morality. etc. with science, for the same reason.

    > All I know is that I was born with blood on my hands and then I must
    > have this irrational, inconvenient, faith. There's no testing,
    > reliability or validity. "No questions, just believe."

    Now that you are a reasoning adult, you have other options.

    > Stephen Hawking didn't say "just believe." Stephen Hawking said "I'm a
    > lot smarter than you; that's obvious. After a shit- load of intense
    > thought and hard work, I think I've got this figured out; I believe
    > this, and here's why..."

    Replace "I believe this" with "I accept this as a working hypothesis".

    > Causation:
    > Causation is an illusion. Microscopic particles do not adhere to the
    > laws of causation; sub-atomic particles in fact appear and disappear
    > without rhyme or reason. Science has shattered causation, it exists
    > only on a social level–in people's heads.

    Causation is a manner of speaking. It still is practical to say "Malaria is
    caused by being stung by infected mosquitoes". I think you are referring to

    > "Just Believe"
    > My problem with the sign on the wall in Cecilia's preschool classroom
    > is not so much what is said, but what is implied.
    > "Don't ask questions, just believe."

    Very immoral, I agree.

    > Nietszche, that cranky bitch, when he said "God is dead," I think that
    > was wishful thinking. God is the enemy of genuine mystical experience.

    John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila were not genuine mystics? For a
    contemporary Catholic mystic who does not deny God, I recommend Bernadette
    Roberts (no relation). See her "The Experience of No-Self".

    > The Godhead, or getting beyond the illusions of duality and symbols,
    > seeing that everything is one and that matter isn't real–that's God.

    The MOQ does not deny the reality of matter. It does redescribe it, though,
    as static patterns of inorganic and biological value.

    > Faith doesn't enter the equation, where "God" is concerned. I am God;
    > the apriori me, I mean, that guy, him, me, I, am God. Faith is moot.
    > The self is it, after all.

    The MOQ might disagree on that last point ("the self is it"), though this
    is a contentious issue. One of those "one can look at it this way or that
    way" kind of things.

    - Scott

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