Saturday, October 4, 2008

Check your brain at the door, please ... (Part 3)

One of the comments on the previous post prompted me to continue this "church sign" series on faith and reason. My friend, Psi, questions whether there can be any rational discussion of a linkage between faith and reason. Following is his question, and my response. 

Sorry Folks,

I am lost right at the beginning. I can't see any kind of mechanism or logical way in which faith can be a passing acquaintance with reason let alone a friend. Simply stating that it is a foundation simply seems to replace the word friend with the word foundation without explaining anything. Any chance of a 101 remedial class on this one for me?

Regards,
Psi


Hi Psi,

I'll try. When I used
friend, I had in mind the third or fourth dictionary definition, "a familiar or helpful thing.” So the question is, might faith be something helpful to reason? Thus, it was no great leap to move from "friend" to "foundation". Certainly a foundation is a very "helpful thing."

Now, the first definition of
faith is "complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” In that sense of the word, we all exercise faith every day of our lives. And without faith, our ability to reason would be quite limited. If I did not trust the findings of Einstein and Hubble, for instance, I would have no basis for the reasoned assumption that a Big Bang occurred about 13.7 billion years ago. If I did not exercise faith in history books and science, I would have no reason to believe anything happened prior to the year I was born and started taking my own notes. Faith is an absolutely essential stepping stone all along the pathway of reason.

Of course, I had in mind something more like the second definition of
faith, "strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof”. The rest of the post (and the WSJ essay) merely presented some evidence to suppose that faith is helpful to reason without attempting to establish a logical link. Apparently, the study cited demonstrated that people of faith are less likely to believe in superstitious and paranormal phenomena than the general public. On the face of it, that might suggest a more reality-based outlook, something I think we could agree is reasonable. (Tom, and others, have here suggested other valid explanations for this statistical trend. But also, in the comments, some suggested reasons why Christian faith might be helpful to reason.)

But let me pose this question to you: Assume (just for a moment!) that in back of this vast cosmos is an intelligent, personal, powerful being, God. If there is such a being, and I base my worldview upon the correct assumption that he exists, and you base your worldview upon the mistaken assumption that he does not, which of us will have the more "reasoned" approach to life and understanding.

Assuming it were true, believing in God could hardly be less reasonable than not believing. One person looks at certain evidence and draws the conclusion that there is a God, a step involving faith. Another person looks at the same evidence and draws the conclusion that are billions of universes, a step involving faith. 

For the sake of the discussion, let's assume this definition for
reason from my dictionary, "what is right, practical, or possible; common sense.” If person A draws a correct conclusion, and person B draws an incorrect conclusion, who has the foundation to exercise better reason? (I realize this entire argument can be turned around)

Comments, anyone?

27 comments:

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

Nice post.

Here we go then - hang on to your dictionary!

Re definition number one - faith in reason - sound of large penny dropping. OK 100% agree with this one.

Mind you I base this "faith" on huge amounts of empirical evidence that reason seems to work.

Re definition number two - let's call it the emperors tailors definition (subject to your forthcoming posting on the reasons for your belief) - I see that faith may be a friend or a foe to reason in this way of thinking. Just depending upon what particular belief that particular faith has of course.

Of course such beliefs also can conflict; One of my wife's students has missed a few weeks classes as he has been starving himself for Ramadan for the past month - so he has missed school and extra lessons alike - thanks to his faith.

Stepping back from specifics, it seems to me that you may as well say that umbrella's are sometimes a friend to reason and so are Jaffa Cakes. It doesn't really mean anything though does it?

That study was a BOS* as it did not control for biased selection, did not have a proper control group and UNBELIEVABLY did not count religious belief in the supernatural as er . . belief in the supernatural.

As to your question;

I don't agree.

Whichever of us has the most reasoned approach surely depends upon which of us has "reasoned our answer from the evidence". Otherwise someone deciding on their worldview by the random toss of a coin (or dare I say it simply going along with how they were brought up) can claim a reasoned approach when reason has never entered their head.

They might as well have covered a six sided dice with the following options;

Christian ( now roll the 100 sided dice to decide which type ), Muslim , Bhuddist, Hindu, Atheist, Agnostic.

. . . and then rolled it.

Just because you get the right answer does not mean you have the most reasoned approach.

Regards,

Psi

* good old Yorkshire saying - "bag of sh*te"

Psiloiordinary said...

I can also see that you are confusing "foundation" with "conclusion".

Don't put the cast before the horse.

Regards,

Psi

Psiloiordinary said...

OOPS

cart

No reference to musicals involving horses (Oklahoma?) intended;-)

Cliff Martin said...

I had visions of a horse about to break its leg.

Stephen Douglas said...

Hi, Psi!

Whichever of us has the most reasoned approach surely depends upon which of us has "reasoned our answer from the evidence".

That's a bit of a trick, though, isn't it? If you define "reasoned approach" by "only logic based upon empirically verifiable evidence" and "unreasonable superstition" as "any epistemology that refuses to ignore the possibility of less tangible factors" (i.e., considers faith not as an enemy but as a possible help), you've set the deck fairly well in your favor. You've presupposed the primacy (not to mention the possibility) of empirically verifiable evidence. What Cliff's trying to say is that if there were an empirically unverifiable being, one who presupposes what you have could not claim to be reasonable to dismiss the possibility out-of-hand as the materialist does. Until the materialist comes up with a way to prove that God cannot exist, his insistence a belief that He does exist is utter nonsense will ring a bit hollow.

You frequently point to examples of faith in action that you find ridiculous, such as your wife's student. Are these your conclusions or your foundations? You make them sound like evidence that faith is false, but in fact if the religion is true, they make perfect sense.

Cliff,
I had visions of a horse about to break its leg.

Don't they usually euthanize horses with broken legs? :D

Cliff Martin said...

Psi,

You see my faith as a conclusion. I see it as a foundation. And a strong foundation which enables me to think rationally and use healthy reason.

Do you recall how Einstein found it utterly remarkable that our universe displays so much order, if there is no “orderer”? My intellect is several orders of magnitude below Einstein’s and I do not profess to fully understand the surprise he expressed. But I sometimes wonder how many materialists have the intellectual where-with-all to track with Albert on this point. Theists have no trouble accepting a law-obeying, ordered, predictable universe. Einstein suggests that, short of posting a Creator, there is no reason we should expect this ordered reality. So to think scientifically, to think rationally, to use reason and logic in this universe while denying a Creator defies logic (or so I understand Einstein). An atheist may be successful in exercising healthy reason (as you do), but he does so through a leap of faith of which he may not even be aware!

So when I say that my belief offers a stable foundation for rational thought, I am suggesting that, for me, an ordered universe is exactly what I would expect. Einstein suggests that an atheist (if he understands physics deeply and is honest) should expect something quite different.

(I would contend -- though this may be a subject for another day -- that faith drove the scientific enterprise for many centuries. When most of mankind languished in superstitious beliefs, faith-filled men and women explored reality expecting to find law and order, rationality and predictability. If this is true, than reason has had no better friend through history than faith! Do you agree with this assessment?)

Romans 12:2 said...

Hi, I'm Bob. Neat post.

Cliff Martin said...

Welcome, Bob. Glad you dropped by!
~ Cliff

Psiloiordinary said...

Thanks for bobbing in.

Tom said...

That church sign generator is pretty fun! You should do one for each of your blog posting titles!

Your primary definition of faith is "based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof". In this light, faith and rationality are oil and water because beliefs not based on proof are, well, irrational.

Instead, let's substitute "faith" with "assumption". We draw conclusions based on our assumptions and such conclusions serve to alter our assumptions -- either grounding us deeper in our assumptions or modifying them. I assume Einstein worked out a lot of details and other physicists have refined and altered various aspects of his work. I don't know the details, but I trust the work and the process because the agenda is knowledge discovery, always pushing what can be known.

To assume that there is order to the universe, does not mandate a Creator. Evolution is fully capable of delivering patterns through its random processes. Science always assumes there is order. Otherwise, data couldn't be measured, predicted, understood, etc. The point is, we all find a system that makes some sort of sense based on our assumptions and when other assumptions are counter to ours, we recoil. We are obviously suspicious alternative assumptions, and rightfully so.

The argument, Stephen, that atheists have to prove that God does not exist makes no sense. He can not be proven to exist or not to exist. I'm surprised Psi didn't chime in with his Leprechaun argument. We can't prove that Leprechauns don't exist either. When people mandate proof for the non-existence of something, they act irrationally. Take for example the argument that Saddam Hussein had to provide proof that he did not have weapons of mass destruction. What a silly argument to wage war!

So, what we are dealing with is assumptions. Psi and I are assuming that life as we see it has arisen, percolates, and is enjoyable without a supernatural force. The Christian assumption is that the order and life as we see it is part of a master plan of which we humans are subjected to and invited to take part in. The assumptions and techniques we all use to fill in the gaps as we discover and explain order will describe the processes of nature, but unfortunately, cannot describe God. Is there anything but a God-of-the-gaps?

Cliff Martin said...

Tom writes, "Your primary definition of faith is "based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof". In this light, faith and rationality are oil and water because beliefs not based on proof are, well, irrational."

Tom!?!

Do you know your wife loves you? Ah, but can you prove it? Absolutely you cannot. So is every one who entertains a strong belief that their spouse loves them actually delusional, "irrational"? If you're consistent, your answer is yes. But we know better than that. That is because none of us requires empirical proof for everything we believe.

We each maintain a spectrum, or a continuum of varying levels of certainty for many things. Some things we consider possible, other things probable, other things almost certain, and we do this without proof. You and I could come up with dozens of beliefs that would fit into that spectrum at various points. Does this make us "irrational"?

I would like to know the answer to the questions you raise about Einstein’s observations. Certainly, at this point in human history, we all accept order in the universe as normal and expected. As you know, this was not always the case with our race. But it is now. And if I am not mistaken, it was generally accepted in Einstein’s day, as well. It was Einstein who objected and boldly declared that order should not be expected, that we should step back and ask why is there order, without any known enforcing agent of order? Can you tell me what has changed in the landscape since Einstein? Would he, today, slap himself and say, “Well, how silly of me! Of course there is order! My goodness, what was I thinking? Order requires no explanation.” Or would Einstein still make the same observation from his loftier intellectual plane? Interesting to think about. I do not know of anything that has been added to our understanding of mathematics or physics that would today drive Einstein to any other conclusion. But maybe someone else does. Tell me what it is that we know that Einstein did not?

I will have more to say on this when I post my reasons for faith.

Tom said...

Cliff,

I do use empirical evidence to support my wife's love for me. We test our love for each other daily in our own ways through actual material experience. I can do X and she will do Y. That may change with time where I get a Y' result, but love as action is entirely testable. Love as emotion is harder to vocalize, but do you think it is Cupid that makes our attraction feel magical, or do you think cultural and genetic factors are more at play? I cannot explain desire in mechanical terms, but my assumption is that it was not fate or magical powers that lead us into our relationship. It was through coincidence that we met, bringing our ideas of what we each sought for in a companion, which we would like to be most intimate with, who we imagined we would enjoy life with, and remain curious in each other. Perhaps it takes some of the romance out when you throw magic out of the picture, but boy did it feel like fireworks that night we met on the salsa dance floor!

Anyway, back to the issue. You are right, we cannot know everything. There are some things we will know very well and some things that we will not. We have to make assumptions to fill in the gaps. By its nature, I do not see how a supernatural can be "known" so to employ God as an argument, to me, is irrational. Alternatively, you have said that one can "know" God, so by that account, you might say that I am being irrational by negating the argument you take as a given. Because it cannot be proved either way perhaps puts us at an impasse, but that's somewhat to be expected! If you can elucidate how you know God, perhaps we can better understand each other.

Regarding Einstein, I do not know the work you are referring to where he says that the system predicts less order than we see. Can you direct me to it? My assumption is that the way chemistry works is similar to evolution -- that elements form fleeting and long term relationships with other elements, which in turn, form fleeting and long term relationships with other small molecules, which then form fleeting and long term relationships with larger molecules, etc. I do not know what scales Einstein was talking about, but biological evolution obviously worked such that patterns replicated themselves into extraordinarily complex systems, which is fairly unbelievable even for folks like Francis Collins that they could hardly imagine the system not needing a little extra help. I do not agree with those stances that assume supernatural pushes. Instead, I assume that some of the mechanisms giving rise to such order are not fully known yet. Much of my reasoning there is that once you assume a supernatural, then you have to work like a contortionist to make a theology fit -- especially if you want to put it into the box of Christianity! Ah, but that's the subject of many more postings, and why I'm here, Outside the Box!

Stephen Douglas said...

The argument, Stephen, that atheists have to prove that God does not exist makes no sense. He can not be proven to exist or not to exist. I'm surprised Psi didn't chime in with his Leprechaun argument. We can't prove that Leprechauns don't exist either. When people mandate proof for the non-existence of something, they act irrationally.

No, no, Tom, you're missing my point. Leprechauns, like invisible four-toothed underwater giraffes, are certainly not provable or disprovable. What I'm saying is not that they must therefore exist, but instead I agree with you that reason cannot make a ruling on such questions. Do you see that? Reason is incapable of determining whether the FSM, Q, or nothing at all runs the universe behind the scenes. Reason is inadequate for this task. That which is non-rational is only called "irrational" by those who (non-rationally) presuppose the supremacy of the material universe. Believing in leprechauns is not (usually) based in reason, and I doubt very many "rational" people believe in them nowadays, but the idea that leprechauns could exist is no more irrational than the presupposition that the material universe is all there is. "What I know of the world is material; therefore, all that I don't know is material." Even materialism fills in gaps.

What I am saying is that, because reason has gaps in its descriptive power, so-called rational people cannot claim the sufficiency of pure reason and snickeringly deride everything not testable by empirical means to be hogwash. Those who do can scarcely keep their disdain contained, even when trying to be civil. In fact, it's not exactly "reasonable" to have emotion one way or another about any particular belief system.

I am a Christian because it gives objective meaning to the universe; I assume the need for objective meaning based on a very natural impulse present in our species as far back as recorded history takes us. Evolution was what bred in that presupposition; I see no need to replace the fully functional yet still consciously faith-based system I've found with one that claims absolute knowledge of the unknowable.

What I'm driving at is not an argument for theism by any means. It's a call for humility. Atheists claim to be so not because they have knowledge that disproves theism, but because they have no personal knowledge suggesting it. Frankly, I get tired of having my complex faith system ridiculed by those who claim to be enlightened by an admitted absence of knowledge.

Cliff Martin said...

Tom,

So, let me see if I get this right. Your “material” experiences shared with your wife leave you with “empirical” evidence to “support” your wife’s love.

[Now, I must be careful. I love successful marriages, and I fully trust yours is one, and it is not my intent to disparage your marriage, or anyone’s. Congratulations!!!]

Could you submit evidence to me of an empirical nature that would be capable of proving to me her love for you? The evidence you accept as empirical could not prove anything to a third party. Which is, of course, my point exactly. Do you see how it is that the stronger your assurance of her love based upon your experience, the more you make my case. Because a believer with years of confirming experiences can be equally certain of not only God’s existence, but of his personal involvement in his life.

This is, of course, why trust plays such an important role in marriage. Mutual trust is the foundation of a marriage relationship. We use the term “trust” precisely because there exists no proof of love. Lots of evidence, yes. Enough evidence to build strong trust! But no proof.

I will never prove God’s existence to you. No evidence exists that rises to the level of proof. But my level of certainty based upon experience is very high. In the same way, you cannot prove to me your wife’s love. There is no evidence that rises to the level of proof. But your level of certainty based upon experience is, as you tell me, very high. And I believe you!

In the post I am currently composing, I will offer some of the more objective lines of evidence, “empirical” evidence, and logical reasoning that lend to my assurance of God. Among those will be the Einstein quotes you asked for. I will offer plenty of evidence ... but no proof. From my perspective, the evidence is of a caliber strong enough to merit a skeptic’s open-minded search for God. But that is all it can do.

Tom said...

Thanks for the response, Stephen. And really, I hope that you, Cliff, and other Christian readers do not think that I am ridiculing your stance. My point from the last comment is largely to say that from my set of assumptions, the use of God, for me, as an atheist, is irrational. I can understand, in principle, from your set of assumptions, that the non-use of God for you would also be irrational. It is difficult, however, even being a former believer, for me to empathize with your stance. But as you request, you want humility. I will try to give you that as well as my honesty.

So, I understood your response, Stephen, until the last paragraph. Can you clarify before I respond further?

Stephen Douglas said...

Tom,

You've never shown yourself to be arrogantly dismissive as many other atheists have, and for that I am most appreciative.

Here's the last paragraph of my last comment clarified and reworked. Hopefully it makes more sense this time.

Atheists do not usually claim that they are atheists because of some knowledge that fundamentally and logically disproves theism; rather, in general they say that they are atheists because they have no knowledge suggesting theism to be a valid conclusion. My complex and rationally developed faith system - Christianity - does not deserve to be ridiculed by people who (paradoxically) claim to be informed by an admitted absence of knowledge. Until atheists have evidence that makes Christianity objectively and logically untenable, there should be none among them that sneer at faith like mine that is subject to and consistent with reason and not contradictory to it.

Any better?

Thanks,
Stephen

Cliff Martin said...

Tom,

I heartily concur with Stephen. I have always appreciated your candor, graciousness, humility and honesty.

And to clarify my own intent in the last few comments. I am not attempting here to build a case for theism, nor to equate belief in love’s existence in a marriage to belief in God’s existence (though there are some interesting parallels). Rather, I was responding to your earlier statement, faith and rationality are oil and water because beliefs not based on proof are, well, irrational, a statement which I find, well, irrational. Do you stand by it?

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi all,

Sorry for the delay - just been travelling back in time through past life regression and discovered the ultimate truth behind everything and the creators final message to her creation;

"We apologise for the inconvenience".

- - -

Ok let's try to keep this brief (stop sniggering at the back there Tom);

Stephen,

No trick. You are the one making a presupposition about the universe. My own modest claim - that being rational and looking at the evidence seems to work is at least based upon tons of evidence that it seems to work.

Change "intangible" to "undetectable" in your reply - that is my claim - if it is wrong then show me the evidence.

But if god is a ham sandwhich then your claims are false - see - we can all play that game.

Then again can I point out that you are both using rational argument in your comments - so it's slightly rich of you to try to deny it to me in mine - I simply claim your logic is swinging free in the wind and is not supported by evidence.

You can easily prove me wrong in this regard.

Cliff,

Quote mining Einstein as a vague argument from authority also doesn't equal evidence. Sorry.

You are very honest claiming that your faith is your foundation. This is pure and simple presuppositionalism. Circular logic or begging the question, in other words.

I prefer uncertainty and some current guesses based on evidence.

I don't "expect" anything of the universe - this is the crucial point. We (atheists/agnostics) don't expect, we look and try to find out.

Hi Tom,

As usual I agree with what you say - mostly - this time I can disagree with something. (Hurray I hear you all say) But it is only your tone. (boo)

You make it sound like the two "assumptions" are equally valid. One assumption is actually not an assumption - it is in accord with loads of evidence. The other one doesn't seem to be but I await Cliff's evidence with interest.

Cliff,

Proof? Not this one again! It is religion which claims absolute proof, mathematics which claims logical proof and science which is happy to be shown to be wrong and to have to change it's mind as new evidence comes in. You seem to have it the other way round. I am not asking you for proof of your god - just some kind of evidence pointing in that direction. Anything at all that is not ambiguous.

Yes I think i can show you that my wife loves me, I can provide video and photographic evidence, back it up with witness statements, financial records etc. I think we could also organise physical tests which might give more evidence to support my claim.

Now let's both just step back a minute and compare those two claims again - mine that my wife loves me, and yours that you know who created the universe and why, and also how I should live my life, and that you have the knowledge to judge other people and make judgements about how they should live their lives.

Now then. Not really comparable claims are they? I think any rational person would want perhaps a bit more evidence for your claim than for mine.

Feel free to fill this hole in the debate any time.

Stephen,

The fact that reason and evidence can not prove that anything odd you care to name does not exist gets you no further in your claim that your god exists. You can demand respect all you want. Providing supporting evidence might help you better.

So yes I can claim that I think a claim with no evidence is hogwash if I want. But I reserve the right to be wrong. In fact I go further than that. I spend a lot of time trying to learn things and find things out. I spend time and effort trying to be wrong i.e. learn something new. In fact I go to the extraordinary lengths of asking people making claims to show me their evidence. Sometimes I have been known to do this politely but persistently for months on end.

Perhaps you could substantiate your claim that science claims absolute knowledge of the unknowable. Some quotes would be nice.

Perhaps you claim equal respect for any belief at all? If not then what characteristics of your faith deserve respect that others don't have.

You see, from where I stand, your faith is just one amongst thousands making such claims. How am I to differentiate between them without evidence?

Regards to all,

Psi

Stephen Douglas said...

The fact that reason and evidence can not prove that anything odd you care to name does not exist gets you no further in your claim that your god exists. You can demand respect all you want. Providing supporting evidence might help you better.

You mistake my aim: I'm not arguing for God's existence. Please re-read my last comment to Tom.

So yes I can claim that I think a claim with no evidence is hogwash if I want.

Yes, Psi, you certain can think my claim is hogwash. But would it be fair of me to go on all sorts of forums and state that your belief that your wife loves you is hogwash? I certainly can do it, given that I don't have any evidence that can't be explained in another way. But I doubt you'd like it very much; at any rate, I wouldn't like it, and I think it not an extraordinary imposition to ask you not to be so strident in doing so of my theism, especially given other atheists' commitment to civility. A lack of requisite humility is one of the unfortunate by-products of the modern era's addiction to becoming sure and right about everything. Thank God for post-modernism! :-D

But I reserve the right to be wrong. In fact I go further than that. I spend a lot of time trying to learn things and find things out.

As any rational person does. I'll warrant, however, that you never did this with leprechauns or the prospect of a divine ham sandwich. At least Christianity should get a little credit for being credible enough to deserve more attention! ;-)

But here again, see what you're doing. The rationalists remain benighted by their own rationality: "If I don't see any evidence, it's laughably ridiculous and worthy of sarcastic diatribes." You refuse to justify the primacy you give your observation. The reason theists do not give you evidence is that you are only accepting scientific or logical evidence. The fact that the universe makes infinitely more sense to me when I posit teleology means nothing to you, just as your unsubstantiable (but no less certain) conviction of your wife's amour cannot be demonstrated to me. It would be unreasonable for me to expect such from you.

Perhaps you could substantiate your claim that science claims absolute knowledge of the unknowable. Some quotes would be nice.

Who said anything about science? Science does nothing of the sort. Atheists, however, do. The ubiquity of such statements to that effect and indeed the very definition of "atheist" necessitate no citation: atheists are only "atheists" rather than "agnostics" because they claim to be sure (knowledge) that there is no god (the unknowable). For this reason, I find more respect for and from agnostics than I find in my dealings with atheists.

Perhaps you claim equal respect for any belief at all? If not then what characteristics of your faith deserve respect that others don't have.

You know, I'm pretty sure there have been a few books written on this topic. I hesitate to write another one here in Cliff's comment section. ;-) But surely even you don't deny that Christianity has proved more compatible with the rational world than most other religions, given the number of genius scientific minds who have been devout Christians as opposed to most other religions. Again, this isn't an argument for theism or Christianity, but against the notion that Christianity is anti-rational. Sure, there are anti-rational Christians, just as there are no doubt anti-rational atheists. But as Cliff is devoted to demonstrating, the internal philosophy of Christianity is quite compatible with living life in a rational manner.

You see, from where I stand, your faith is just one amongst thousands making such claims. How am I to differentiate between them without evidence?

There is no proof, Psi. But there are definitely indications for where to start looking. It would seem that the most dynamic and positively impactful religious beliefs should be given higher ranking, especially when the religious beliefs responsible always predicted such advancements. For instance, defenses of the idea that Judaism is responsible for modern civilization are many and well-known; Christianity is the heir to Judaism and has made its own contributions as well. The Judeo-Christian faith was founded on societal structure and social concern; it has proved able to propagate and institute these ideals. Once again, not an argument for the validity of Judaism or Christianity, but definitely a suggestion that one looking into religion should not take lightly.

Cheers,
Stephen

Tom said...

Cliff, were you really blogging at 4:45 this morning?

Regarding the correlation between our spousal relationships and a personal God, the proof for my wife's love for me is that it is falsifiable by a third party. A third party can provide evidence that she loves someone else, or spends too much time at work, or that she is always griping about me, even when I see only adoration.

What is problematic with subjective conviction and experiences based on that conviction, is that it is not falsifiable. That is really frustrating when this is labeled as the mode of attaining ultimate truth. How can ultimate, objective truth be attained through such subjectivity? It's just too Zen for me to swallow.

Many people believe in ghosts, UFO's, and God speaking to them. These subjective experiences cannot be falsified. I can only say that I doubt them because I have not seen any evidence. So, Stephen, you are right with your description that atheists and agnostics are unbelievers because they do not have such evidence, or have not been granted such objective truth. There comes a point, however, when one can say "hogwash" and take an affirmative stance. (While I always seek the gray, I find substantiated convictions more respectable than the Laodicean mode of being here nor there). And while UFO seekers may help drive telescope and photography technologies for other uses in science, this does not legitimize the belief.

Cliff, regarding my quote: Your primary definition of faith is "based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof". In this light, faith and rationality are oil and water because beliefs not based on proof are, well, irrational. Do I stand by it? Well, I don't have "spiritual apprehension". If I rephrase the statement "based on subjective experience rather than objective proof", then it would be irrational. If I rephrase the statement "based on subjective experience in the absence of objective proof" then it would be rational.

Pete said...

Hmmm, I am sorry if this is a bit cynical.

What Cliff's trying to say is that if there were an empirically unverifiable being

Since when was God supposed to be empirically unverifiable? Within the story presented in the Old Testament it seemed God was eager to empirically demonstrate His existence and primalcy (insert Elijah story and holy flames coming from the sky to consume alter and water alike). He spread a sea apart so that there were walls of water on each side (at least according to the P version). He commanded sole worship and obedience and then promised bountiful years of wealth if there was compliance and years of sword and famine if not (is this not a verifiable cause and effect, obey and prosper, disobey and go to poverty?). He spoke audibly to well over three million people. And let us not forget the acts of Jesus himself. Jesus repeatedly did miraculous in order to demonstrate who He was (ie, He was from above).

It seems God himself knew we needed and was willing to provide empirical evidence that He was the only True God, so when did we slip into thinking that God was unverifiable. And yet, I admit a great deal of frustration that upon attempting to witness I no longer have such empirical proof but must resort to the stories written ages ago. And so while I feel I have met God and talk to Him personally, my only real hope is that God will also introduce Himself to said whitnessee, because God's MO seems to have changed at making His presence obvious around us. Indeed, at least in several cases listed above us non-charismatics are careful to point out it is no longer true, ie the health and wealth gospel that faith and obedience would bring sure wealth, despite the clear text that documents God promise of this for the Israelites of the past.

Do you know your wife loves you? Ah, but can you prove it?

I think this is a poor example. As Tom has already written, I have very good evidence that my wife loves me. She demonstrates her love in the way I am treated and the way we respond to each other. Can I prove it? To what satisfaction and who cares? If we have a relationship and we both benefit from each other's “love” however defined, I am not much concerned with the epistemological reality to know if she really loves me. And I would be THRILLED if I had the same sort of interaction from God that demonstrated His work in Oct of 2008. Even then I couldn't prove it, even if I saw His face in the clouds, as it might be a holographic image from aliens. But surely that would be orders of magnitudes better then what I have now, where it is near indistinguishable from a reality where God doesn't exist.

Let me give an example and my wife gets to hang around as a character. My wife has trouble sleeping some nights, she wakes up and then will be awake for nearly the whole night. This leads to a very tired and grumpy wife the next day, a sheer disadvantage to my two children. Several nights ago we had one of those episodes. She had already taken (over the counter) sleeping pills, and a gentle back and hair rub from me did little, and out of human options I turned to supernatural help. I asked God to put her to sleep. She didn't. I don't know how much later she was up, probably four or five hours. In the ideal, I would hope she would be asleep even before I turned over to check. If she fell asleep at varying amounts of time after the prayer from tens of minutes to hours, I wouldn't know how to distinguish that from God supernatural work to what might happen on its own, as she usually eventually falls asleep. So why didn't my wife fall asleep, ie why didn't God “answer” that prayer. Well we can roll out many apologetics, He might have well answered it with a firm no, maybe He doesn't want Her to sleep. Or maybe we can say God had already set in motion the normal operations of the world which often grants us sleep but often makes us struggle with the result of a sinful imperfect existence. But I can't help but notice that all of these answers were indistinguishable from whether I was just talking to myself. And here is the sad part of the story, it solidified something I have come to realize. It doesn't much matter which apologetic line I insert to explain this out, if God does not intend to act supernaturally in this regard I have really no reason to ask. Or even better, I can ask away, but I need to be a little more proactive with assuming I am on my own and seeking other solutions. Like perhaps a real prescription sleeping pill (not my first choice) or perhaps counseling to see if we are dealing with issues of anxiety. This isn't a proclamation that there isn't a God or even the Christian God, only that when it comes to insomnia it doesn't much matter.

I can somewhat take the guilt when I am chided by Christians that I would have doubt and expect “a sign” (isn't that what the Jews demanded and were denied). Maybe God is very displeased with me over all of this. But I can't in any way put judgment on non-believers who ask me for some sort of evidence that my claims to a supernatural story is any different then that of other religions, especially when my usual MO evidence, a text written over a thousand years, seems highly suspect at times. It doesn't have the origin of the earth or species correct. And we EC's are perhaps right to point out maybe it was never supposed to document that history, but if so God wasn't in such a hurry to mention that to us as we in the last twenty years seem the first in 3000 years of God's people to notice. I don't want anyone to experience God's judgment and if the only way that is possible is that if every one repents of wrong doing and accepts the mercy offered via Jesus and His work, then that is what I want for everyone. So I often beg, yes beg that God would reveal himself to each and every person and transform their heart. And if it is up to me, to go to these people and tell them, then my next prayer is just as clear, “Come Back!” make yourself real again so that at least everyone who rejects you will know you even exist!

Cliff Martin said...

Yes, Tom, I was blogging at 4:45 am yesterday. Couldn't sleep. Anyway, so much to respond to, so little time. I am with my family vacationing in Central Oregon, so I will only respond to a couple of points, hopefully to bring clarity ...

Does the Marital Love Analogy work?

I agree that this analogy breaks down on some levels. But the differences that both Tom and Pete mention are just differences in degrees of evidence. Sure, the evidence may be stronger, but the evidence of another’s love for me can never rise to the level of proof which atheists typically demand of theists. Tom maintains that his theory of his wife’s love is falsifiable; true, but only if certain conditions are met, if she is indiscreet. It is not falisfiable in any absolute sense. He could live an entire life time under the illusion of her love if she were able to maintain the ruse. The point of all of this should be quite clear. All of us maintain personal convictions for which absolute proof is impossible. And some of those convictions are so important that we would stake our lives upon them, even without proof. So the constant drumbeat that Christians are delusional or irrational should be set aside. Just as I cannot get inside Tom’s brain to evaluate if his conviction that his wife loves him amounts to anything other than delusion, so he cannot evaluate whether my personal subjective beliefs about God are irrational. We both have evidence which we find satisfying.

Am I trying to prove God’s existence?

No, not here, not anywhere. All of these lines of reasoning are only intended to counter the assertion that Christian faith is irrational. And I am attempting to offer a clear delineation between “evidence” and “poof”. Many unprovable constructs can, nevertheless, be backed by evidence which can range from weak to strong, which would correspond to Mike Gene’s “Inductive Gradualism”: impossible > possible > plausible > probable > certain. My friend Psi is constantly proclaiming that the existence of God has no evidence. I am composing a post which will offer objective evidence. I am hoping only to accomplish one thing: Psi will stop denying that any evidence exists, and instead maintain what we all agree upon already: There exists no proof.

Cliff Martin said...

By the way, Stephen. Psi really is no bully. He's a big fuzzy teddy bear, who sometimes gets a little gruff in his attacks upon belief. To the extent that he helps me keep my toes on the line, and helps me to be honest and exercise my reason, I appreciate the hard lines he drives.

Psiloiordinary said...

Another gap in comments folks. Sorry - I had to go into hospital to have my stomach pumped - I forgot to take my Homeopathic sleeping pills and therefore had a major overdose.

:-)

Hi Stephen,

I think / hope that we can get along. You said;

"Yes, Psi, you certain can think my claim is hogwash. But would it be fair of me to go on all sorts of forums and state that your belief that your wife loves you is hogwash? "

First of all I haven't - but I do keep asking for evidence.
Second of all I don't want to live in a world where I can't demonstrate a lack of respect for your beliefs, or where you can't do the same for mine for that matter.
Third of all I have pretty conclusive evidence that I would guess would convince 99 our of 100 people that my wife loves me. You have simply stated that you have none.
Therefore in most libel courts I think I would have a better case than you ;-)

I do reserve the right to be wrong about leprechauns and supernaturally endowed ham sandwhiches - I reserve the right to be wrong about everything.

I don't think christianity is any more credible than other religions. In fact I am pretty sure that your particular god doesn't exist ( at least as far as most christians define god because this does seem to define him out of existence imho - we did a thread on Epicurus didn't we?). I am much less sure that there is no god.

I am indeed benighted by rationalism and proud of it!

Yes I do think that the right for folks to say something is ridiculous and to be sarcastic about it is an important thing. In a very important way it is one of the most important things in the world. You can be sarcastic about rational thought if you like - I don't really mind - but I will contonue to point to your lack of evidence and to ask for some.

You said; "The fact that the universe makes infinitely more sense to me when I posit teleology means nothing to you, just as your unsubstantiable (but no less certain) conviction of your wife's amour cannot be demonstrated to me. It would be unreasonable for me to expect such from you."

You are simply using the argument from personal incredulity here. This is a naked logical fallacy - phoar.

I say again that I do have loads of evidence to support this and that it would be accepted by 99 out of 100 folks. Sorry but I don't accept that this in any way can be equated to a claim with no evidence to support it.

Science & religion is the usual topic of conversation here. Sorry if that was not clear in my comments.

Once again your claims about the claims of atheists (myself and Tom I presume for starters) only show that you have missed a lot of previous discussion here ( but that's fine - you may in fact have been doing something useful while we were all prattling on after all)- FYI none of us here on the godless side of things claims that we can prove there is no god - then again I'm not sure any other atheists claim that either - can you point us to such claims?

I just finished reading a history of science by John Gribbin. I recommend it to you. Perhaps then you would stop making this kind of claim about Christianity.

You may as well claim the large number of people with dark hair who have been scientific geniuses. You are confusing correlation with causation. Or do you have any evidence to support this claim?

How did christianity predict scientific advances?

I ask for evidence and you reply - "There is no proof, Psi."

That was evidence I asked for not proof - take your time.

Cheers to you to,

Psi

;-)

Psiloiordinary said...

that is odd. I posted the above comment about thirty mind before cliffs two comments. Please it in that context.

Grrrr ding*

Sorry if I appear rough or blunt. Cliff has me down to a t. I am just an old softy really.

Religion just really never did play any part in my life at all and so what seems just a simple comment may seem insensitive. And it is - but I am am just aseeker after truth and not outvto upset folks.

Cliff I really hope your up comming post does what you hope. I will be nice to move the discussion on.

I really mean that.

Just off to get my chakras rebalanced. ;-)

Psi

* twinkle of reflected light from canine tooth

Psiloiordinary said...

Sorry for typos.

Blame Steve jobs and iPod touch keyboard plus a pint of Bishops Finger*.


Psi

* proper beer

Pete said...

I am composing a post which will offer objective evidence.

I very much look forward to reading this.

For me, I find the most support from the passion and conviction of the new testament writers. I have a hard time believing it is all completely fabricated and/or good strong whiskey was universally shared. I don't know why God seems so distant now (for me, everyone else in my church seems to be having a dandy old time) but I try to press on in faith, in this case defined as belief without evidence. I prefer to avoid that angle, focuses more on dependence and trust; but I don't have that luxury at the moment.