Thursday, June 28, 2007

Faith: Definition Creep

It seems that there are still plenty of people who want to argue that there is no difference between atheism and theism with regards to the requirement and nature of faith.
Sometimes this seems to be due to a naive conception of atheism that claims absolute knowledge of the non existence of god. There are very few atheists who actually think this way in my experience though. Another common reason is the collection of arguments regarding extreme scepticism and the foundations of knowledge. It is argued that we must have faith in, say, the Uniformity of Nature in order to live our lives. Well, an argument can be put for that but it seems to rest on an equivocation to me. Faith in this sense does not seem to bear much of a resemblance to the kind of faith required to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

20 comments:

ephphatha said...

"Faith" is a slippery word these days. Most people seem to take it to mean a belief that's unjustified or that can't be demonstrated by proofs, evidence, or arguments. It's sort of an arbitrary belief. In that case, if you're a foundationalist, all belief systems require faith because they're all built on unprovable foundations.

If faith means "trust in that which you think is true," then I don't think atheism requires faith in the same way that theism does. This is what I understand the Biblical meaning of faith to be.

Some people seem to take "faith" to mean "belief in something that's hard to believe." Then they'll say atheism takes faith because in light of the strong arguments for theism, atheism seems unlikely.

Psiomniac said...

I agree it is slippery.

Atheists are often puzzled as to why ongoing trust in the face of contrary evidence might be regarded as a virtue. I think it taps into fundamental emotions regarding loyalty and kinship though, which could be adaptive if you think about it.

Some people seem to take "faith" to mean "belief in something that's hard to believe." Then they'll say atheism takes faith because in light of the strong arguments for theism, atheism seems unlikely.

That might shed light on some of the comments from theists that I have read recently.

On the side of the angels said...

show me some contrary evidence,
prove to me there is no real morality other than social contract; show me that altruism and martyrdom for a cause or another's life is a 'genetic misfiring' and I will fall on my knees before you...
prove to me there is no God, no beyond, no purpose or meaning within existence...prove to me all is futile, prove that you are more rational than I...

you persist in stating 'evidence' to the contrary of my belief - your evidence is founded upon pre-supposition upon fallacy upon antinomy upon presumption upon intellectual mendacity upon delusion upon jumping from an is to an ought...

you simply do not believe there is a God - there is no other way of stating it.

Psiomniac said...

onthesideoftheangels,

show me some contrary evidence,

There is plenty out there. Are you pretending to have missed it?

prove to me there is no real morality other than social contract
I don't believe that.

show me that altruism and martyrdom for a cause or another's life is a 'genetic misfiring' and I will fall on my knees before you...
I don't think 'genetic misfire' is a helpful term in our discussion. I think Dawkins uses it but again I doubt that you have been totally unaware of the different evolutionary models of altruism. Martyrdom would have to be tackled more on a sociological and psychological level I reckon.

prove to me there is no God, no beyond, no purpose or meaning within existence...prove to me all is futile, prove that you are more rational than I...
I can't prove those things but by this comment I supply evidence for the hypothesis that I am more rational than you, since I demonstrate hereby a better grasp of the proper application of the concept of proof.
I have been arguing with Paul that I think there is meaning within existence.

you persist in stating 'evidence' to the contrary of my belief -
I think evidence and reason are the best tools to use to try to find out about the world. They might not be good for writing poetry but you seem to adopt the approach of using the tools of poetry to investigate truth and then criticize the likes of me for how unpoetical our methods are. I think that approach is flawed.

your evidence is founded upon pre-supposition upon fallacy upon antinomy upon presumption
Can you demonstrate that this is so?

intellectual mendacity upon delusion
I say old chap, steady on. Cup of tea?

upon jumping from an is to an ought...
I haven't done that as far as I know. Feel free to make an attempt to demonstrate otherwise.

you simply do not believe there is a God - there is no other way of stating it.
Shucks, you got me bang to rights and no mistake. Can I ask for some other offenses to be taken into account?
Ok, I don't believe in Thor, Poseidon, Apollo, Shiva, Hat the Vulture Headed God of Unexpected Guests, Horus......and so on.

On the side of the angels said...

the emphasis was on the believing dude...it's a belief !
Cup of tea ?
making coffee as I type [long extremities]
I have statues of about 60 egyptian gods on my bookcases [horus' head fell off] but I would love to know why you don't believe in these ? Nor in Shiva, Thor [isn't there some crude joke involved in that one?] Poseidon, don't mock poor shelley winter's death dude - she died so that others might live - and never got to Israel to see her grandkids! [wink!] as for Apollo ? Battlestar Galactica has no greater captain...

I have a soft spot for divinities [suppose Loki is your fave ? JOKE!]
but hesiod's theogony aside, don't you think Xenophanes of Colophon had a point ?

Psiomniac said...

Poseidon, don't mock poor shelley winter's death dude
Snork! (As they say in Mustardland.)

suppose Loki is your fave ?
The 'contriver of all fraud?' Moi?

don't you think Xenophanes of Colophon had a point ?
Well which? Insofar as he says anthropomorphising deities is a mistake, yes, if you interpret him as a monotheist well I've always though monotheism was a retrograde step.
Or did you mean that he thought that there were beneficial social functions to the telling of stories about gods?

On the side of the angels said...

Ah but Trinitarian Monotheism has all the benefits , maintains all the love, instills the hope and gives the rationale to the to apeiron.
I don't suggest xenophanes was a monotheist, but henotheistically getting there....

Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad tales upon the death of gods? Ah Cocteau is alive and well and strumming his instrument... you'll have us all in tears...as to whether I mean Jean or Claude i'm pleading the fifth...

Psiomniac said...

Ah but Trinitarian Monotheism has all the benefits , maintains all the love, instills the hope and gives the rationale to the to apeiron.
I hope you will forgive my continued scepticism about that.

as to whether I mean Jean or Claude i'm pleading the fifth...
Ha ha well I know which I'm betting on.

On the side of the angels said...

I forgive you...

Psiomniac said...

Thanks.

On the side of the angels said...

I said that I forgave you, not that I excused you...

I concur that Judaic and Islamic monotheisms are irrational; but we've got a way round it that somehow seems to fit in all the loopholes - pretty amazing piece of philosophical induction from a palestinian artisan don't you think ? even if you don't believe him you must concur it's a work of philosophical genius...

Psiomniac said...

even if you don't believe him you must concur it's a work of philosophical genius...
I suspect the religious genius was the apostle Paul. Although I admit he had good raw material to work with.

On the side of the angels said...

a man who conspires in the systemic arrest, imprisonment and slaughter of Christians somehow becomes it's most pronounced missionary ?
don't you think it's a bit weird ? surely he must have believed in the stuff ? you're kind of alleging he had very little to believe in and invented most of it?

doesn't make much sense dude...

Psiomniac said...

Ah but it does. Or at least, it is not by any means outside the parameters of human behaviour that we observe. Zealots sometimes undergo a kind of tipping point conversion. Afterwards, true to their nature, they are still zealots but the predicates have changed.

On the side of the angels said...

Does a Zealot write the way Paul did ?

Psiomniac said...

Does a Zealot write the way Paul did ?
Well Paul did. Not all zealots have writing skill.

On the side of the angels said...

I meant could you imagine any victim of zealotry who could write with a warmth, sincerity , affability and deepfelt charity and personality as Paul did?

...as well you knew !
do you have to take everything put before you in two ways and choose the most inscrutable as the normative?

Psiomniac said...

I meant could you imagine any victim of zealotry who could write with a warmth, sincerity , affability and deepfelt charity and personality as Paul did?
Sorry, but I think those qualities you see in Paul are very much in the eye of the beholder. But even if I grant them, the answer to your question is 'yes'.

On the side of the angels said...

the eye of the beholder ?
have you looked at all the quotes on my column ?
how about reading the guy a little more ; before you presume he's some misogynistic sexually frustrated bigot who thinks the cold is God's way of telling us to burn more homosexuals?

Psiomniac said...

You assume perhaps that I have judged Paul in this way. I don't think that is true. 'Zealot' is a value laden term it is true, but at its heart it refers to somebody who is convinced about core principles and follows them to their conclusion. The story of Paul is about somebody who has this character trait and who changes their mind about which principles they believe in. It is clear that time sifts into obscurity those about whom this is true, if they have no big ideas and communication skill with which to make their mark on history.