Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why "faith" once one understands "evidence"?

Dr. Coyne has a great post at his blog "Why Evolution is True" where he criticizes a recent column by The Templeton Foundation (religious think-tank) supported Elaine Ecklund and her hypothesis that Ph.Ds are more religious than observations suggest (even observations one would derive from her data and methodology if they weren't being financed by an institution whose purpose is to defend and promote religion).

Readers of this blog know that I used to identify as a Christian but that was before I engaged atheist arguments or understood how science worked.

My last two years have led me to see that my religious assertions were not real because they relied too much on emotional pleading rather than testable data.

I've come to see that the religion I once asserted could offer emotional uplift but that phenomenon was more in line with aesthetics.

It might have an ontological interest (the branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being) but had no physical reality and therefore the moral conclusions that it claimed were mercurial and self-focused.

It stopped working when I found myself in dialogue with people using their religion like a ventriloquist's dummy to assert whatever emotional bias they might prefer. This sometimes could be wonderful like my friends who spend their time serving the poor or it could be awful when powerful and privileged people argued for things like "Biblical Capitalism" or how Jesus would support George Bush and his pro-war stance.

My doubts with my cultural religion have led me to doubt all religious assertions because I've not seen how any supernatural claims operate as real.

They aren't any more real than one's preference for the uplift found in an artistic genre or culinary category.

I am okay with that if folks want to share their experience with their imagined worlds but no longer find experimental supernaturalism as anything more than an act of imagination and therefore it is dangerous because it is a disconnection from reality.

It can't help us understand what it means to be a living human being in a physical world that demands we cooperate and make choices to sustain life because it defers to a realm that is subjective in its foundation rooted in qualities that can't be observed in an independent frame outside of the person asserting the necessary qualities.

An open question that I'd love to get a response -- why is there an insistence (like Ecklund's) to demand empiricists concern themselves with supernatural assertions?

When one has moved passed a faith-based way of knowing for the more testable world of empiricism (evidence) is it fair to dismiss faith's validity? Why? Why not?

What benefit does religious faith (defined here as a belief that invisible/non-material forces affect reality) have for someone who understands and is curious about how observable phenomenon affect reality?


Chuck said...

This from a blog reader:

Interesting stuff here.

Oh, Boy. I don't believe that scientific evidence and faith are mutually exclusive. In fact, the Dalai Lama, quoting from the Buddha, I believe, always says, as do the Vedas of Hinduism, that in light of scientific evidence to the contrary regarding a belief, the belief must be replaced by the science.
How ridiculous an idea is it that some embodiment of an anthropological deity created the world and man and beasts and all that. And even more ridiculous that Jesus was of a virgin birth, the only son of God, and therefore THE Messiah. How absurd to think that there is an imaginary friend people called "God" who actually has the time and energy to oversee and manage our petty lives.
In Mahayana Buddhism, there is the tenet that everything out in the world is merely a projection of our mind, based on past concepts and experiences, and how we have treated others in the past (karma). This includes our own mind and its perception. So no God exists, self-existently, on its own, unchangeably. God exists only if one has the karma to have a perception of god and what the nature of that god is is entirely dependent upon one's karma and perceptions. I do not need empirical evidence that my perception of god exists because it is MY perception. I also have perceptions of science which over rule and magical religious beliefs. I believe that god is the force for good, the highest thoughts of which we are capable, the existence of something divine within each of us.

Chuck said...

Prior comment continued

I believe the moral tenets that work universally are those prescribed in the Yamas of Yoga Philosophy:
1. Non-harming
2. Truthfulness
3. Non-stealing
4. Chastity (in enunciates this means sexual abstinence, for the "householder" it means not sleeping with other people's mates or spouses)
5. Non-grasping
The Niyamas are:
1. Cleanliness (of thought, body, and speech)
2. Contentment
3, Undertaking difficult practices for spiritual gain
4. Study of Scripture (all kinds)
5. worship of God. (This "God" can be one's teacher, or the philosophies themselves - not a self-existent, unchanging, superhuman embodiment of some entity - though not precluding that for those for whom that concept works.)
I love science and I love rationality. The irrationality inherent in most religious practices drives me crazy because for many people there is no room for discussion. (My aunt used to have a sign on her front door that said, "The Bible says it, I believe it, and that's that" - absurd and close-minded.)People use religion and their imaginary friend so that they do not have to think for themselves, take responsibility for their actions, make difficult choices, and carry the consequences of their actions. Buddhism teaches the opposite of ALL of that. So I have faith in something higher than our usual monkey minds, out minds that flit from one thought to another, usually thoughts of little or no consequence and often of negativity. I have faith that within each of us lies unlimited potential for goodness, love, and magnificence. When I pray, I pray that I might live better so as to increase those qualities in myself and I think I am praying to my Higher Consciousness, which for shorthand I call "god".
Albert Einstein, one of the smarter scientist of all time, said this: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."
If scientists did not have faith in something, they would never try to prove anything through their own science. They have faith in their science. Atheists have faith that there is no god. There is a difference between faith and blindly following ideas of a god and a text or texts and a son of god in order not to have to be responsible.
I think the ultimate faith in god is to be kind to others and to help as many people as you can in your lifetime to be happier and to ease their suffering. And that's it. No hocus pocus. Just that. That's my faith...that that will bring me happiness and fulfillment in this lifetime and after (whatever that may be).

Chuck said...

The two above comments were from my friend Kate who is a practicing Buddhist and, I think, aptly get to the validity of substance dualism, namely the question of qualia (the subjective quality of conscious experience.

Two things I'd like to ask, why must one claiming atheism be defined as a person with faith in the non-existence of god? I am an atheist but this does not propose any faith that god does not exist, it only proposes that the evidence thus far presented does not conform to reality. I would defer to a deist opinion of god because any non-existant type of assertion is self-refuting due to one's inability to prove a negative. In fact, I would even grant an ontological god-concept (there might be a god) but thus far no epistemological god-concept (the knowledgeable scope of this possibility) seems valid.

Thanks Kate for kicking us off with great insight.

PS Einstein also wrote, "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this."

Chuck said...

Another comment from a friend:

I take my spiritual feelings, commitments and ideas seriously, and don't find them in conflict with the realm of science, fact and evidence. My spirituality is intensely intimate, and I like to believe that the more we understand through the lens of science, the more I marvel at what forces might also be moving around and through that which we understand, and might even have set it all in motion.

I often look at it like this: When we fall in love -- against all logic, practicality and, many scientists would tell us, natural behavior -- we embrace a belief system that defies rational thinking. It becomes a primary organizing principle, something which gives us reason to live and, if need be, die. That's a beautiful and profound thing. It's also illogical, right? But who cares. Is there anyone in the world that could convince you that Jackie and Griffin aren't worth it? Not a chance in this world or any other.

Now if one of these days I get half as lucky as you, I'll feel the same way about She-Who-Is-Crazy-Enough-To-Marry-Me and any amazing people we'd be fortunate enough to create or adopt.

So are you the luckiest (and rightest) guy in the world, or am I?

Chuck said...

Prior comment continued

And are either of us doing anything remotely practical (and I exclude the argument that we're just carrying out the evolutionary imperative -- nature has shown us that there are better ways to do that than monogamy and having only the number of kids one finds affordable and/or convenient)?

You and I would find each other's good fortune delightful, I'm sure, but if I started telling you that you'd made a mistake deciding that Jackie was The One -- clearly SWICETMM is the better choice, and I should know because I made it -- well then, I'd be one obnoxious SOB. If I told you that Griffin couldn't hold a candle to my progeny -- and clearly, that would have to be the case, right?, because they are my genes after all -- well I shudder to think what might happen to me. :-)

At that point I cease to become a man in love and I transform into He Who Must Be Ignored. I would be an obnoxious, self-reinforcing, self-aggrandizing prick. Right and wrong don't even enter to something like this -- and here I would be, making it about right vs. wrong, sound vs. poor judgment.

This, to me, is the heart of the problem with organized religion. It's not passive enough -- in the Yoda way, not the wimpy way. Being content in love and community isn't enough for this people -- being right is more important than being good. They become harder to ignore of course, because unlike me and my obnoxious family, those folks have enough people to develop a mob mentality. Members of the Obnoxious Clan might be a bunch a jags, but members of that organized religion might find themselves becoming members of some kind of Obnoxious Klan, to take advantage of a provocative letter change.

I don't have any problem whatsoever with people's belief systems, but I think they're private, intimate, fragile, tender and precious things. I would wish that organized religious institutions would provide people who find themselves aligned an opportunity to sit together, smile, and think, isn't it nice we've all come to this nice place? It'd be like a neighborhood picnic for the soul. That'd be lovely -- passive in the right way. Where it gets ugly is when it turns into a White Sox v Cubs, Yankees-Red Sox, Bears-Packers brawl on steroid, meth and sacramental alcohol. Which is, of course, how it usually happens. There's never been a group of human beings, no matter how small or oppressed, that didn't find a way to turn something communal into something violent -- transforming The Lord into The Lord Of The Flies.

That said, just because they reduce spiritual claims and ideals to very human bickering and street fights, that doesn't make them right, nor does it make a spiritually-based organizing principle I might find meaningful any less meaningful. Chuck, Jackie and Griffin are still amazing, beautiful and soulful, even if my rotten gaggle isn't.

I don't know how far off the mark I've rambled, but that's what came to mind for me.

Thanks for sharing!

Dave Raffensperger said...

Thanks for inviting comments from friends here! I'm not typically a big blog-follower, but I'll sign myself up to follow yours though may not always get to it.

Anyway, you said in the initial post "When one has moved passed a faith-based way of knowing for the more testable world of empiricism (evidence) is it fair to dismiss faith's validity? Why? Why not?"

Well, I would challenge the dichotomy between evidence and faith. I think of "faith" as sort of a buzzword of sorts that can end up meaning different things to different people in different contexts.

I would prefer to think of all of our beliefs as falling into two broad categories (this is loosely based on my limited readings and understandings of Alvin Plantinga but I confess that I may be using terms differently than him and may have a different understand of some

Anyway, I would put the categories as follows.

As the first category, we have "basic" beliefs that are really our core, foundational presuppositions. These are beliefs that we believe but have no evidence for in the form of other beliefs. I would argue that we must have such "foundational" beliefs because the other alternative seems to me to be an infinite regress of "I believe X1 because X2 because X3 ... ad infinitum".

Really we get to a point that we say "I believe X" and that is a core presupposition of your worldview. That doesn't necessarily mean that it is arbitrary, and I think there can be and are justification for such beliefs, but they aren't in the form of other propositional beliefs.

Then of course, the second category we have things that we "believe based on evidence", that is, I believe that the earth is round because I read about it from reputable sources, and they believe it because they observed certain things, etc.

Dave Raffensperger said...

Now of course there are many worldviews out there, but consider two examples that I at least have thought about (I confess some level of ignorance about Bhuddism for instance but would like to continue to learn more). Take the biblical Christian worldview (now of course there are variants of this, and you might argue that it's all arbitrary, etc. how you interpret things, but for sake of argument, let's assume there is a coherent Christian worldview). I would say that the "basic" presuppositions related to epistemology would be something along the lines of:

An all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing God exists who created the universe and human beings. He gave humans the ability to, in general, correctly understand the physical universe through observations and gave that universe a regularity so that the observations can indeed lead to inferences about the future or other spatial areas (general uniformity). God also revealed details about himself and the commandments to people through prophets (Moses, OT Prophets) and eventually through Jesus. He preserved these revelations in our Bible today.

OK, now - I would say that such a set of assumptions is sort of an epistemological "floor" that other things in the Christian worldview stand on top of. So, e.g. my belief in a specific doctrine would be based on making Scriptural arguments for it, my belief that electrons in far away galaxies hvae similar properties to the ones I learned about (and observed) in physics class here on earth several years ago. Now, I would argue that the "justification" for such presuppositions isn't ultimately in the form of other beliefs, though those might support it like thus and such is evidence of design, or this is evidence of the resurrection (though I think some of that is reasonable), I would say that God himself actually reveals himself to people and sort of directly gives them this knowledge. Now of course that sounds pretty weird, but it could be done in subtler ways like a perception of God as the creator when seeing nature, a perception of Jesus as the true Messiah when reading the gospel of Matthew, etc.

I would argue that an epistemological "foundation" for the naturalistic worldview would be something like this:

A universe exists that is totally material, it is uniform (similar in different parts spatially and temporally) and through natural processes humans came to exist (not guided or designed by any outside intelligence). The natural processes were such that the human perceptions of the natural world are more or less accurate, and because of the uniformity of the universe, such perceptions can indeed be used to form true inferences that apply to other places and times.

Now, I would argue that you can't really give any "evidence" for something like the statement above. It is really a foundational statement. It is necessary to believe something like that logically prior to making judgments and inferences based on evidence. I would argue that a believer in such a worldview also accepts such a statement as just bare knowledge that nature has given to him or her. They were just born believing it. Things like the reliability of our perceptions and the real existence of the physical world and the uniformity of it have to be just accepted before evidence can come into play, and I would see this as just an experience that people have to believe these things.

Thus to me, the empiricist worldview does make assumptions that cannot be proven based on other beliefs (otherwiser, again, remember the infinite regress), and in the end it differs from the Chrsitain worldview not fundamentally ("faith" versus "evidence"), but rather as a matter of what the initial epistemological starting point is (one includes special revelation from God, one doesn't), but both must make assumptions not based on evidence just to get things off the ground.


Vinny said...

[R]eligions can satisfy profound emotional needs, many of them fundamental. And now I would add that no-one really knows whether these satisfactions can be relinquished without dire consequences . . . .

Here is an analogy to explain what I mean. Most insects are pests, but we know that their eradication would disrupt the eco-systems that sustain us, and ultimately make the world uninhabitable.

Similarly, religion may be noxious, but perhaps, for all we know, a world without religion would be a much worse place than it is today.

From Would the world really be better without religion?

Chuck said...

All I can say is that moving my perspective from religious de-bunker to religious skeptic is a much more interesting place to dwell. Thanks for all the comments so far. Please keep them coming and invite other friends to post their insights.

Chuck said...

Another post from a friend. This is my buddy Paul.

Wow, all these people leaving comments are real smarties. I am intimidated, for real. Thanks for posting what you did, and thanks for the invite to comment on your blog! I appreciate that you are interested in what other people think. I am not an apologist, not a philosopher and am definitely one who hides from even the hints of arguments of any kind as often as possible, even the kind that could be classified as, "Healthy discourse." I guess all I can offer is some of my personal thoughts and feelings, which could easily be dismantled, I'm certain, by any philosopher who wanted to do it. I'm sure those types are so good at what they do that they could logically prove I don't even exist, let alone possess the ability to have a thought or a feeling.

Chuck said...

Prior Comment Continued

Anywho...I'm a skeptic. If a person tells me something that sounds a little fantastical, I tend to say, "Now, wait a minute..." If somebody tells me a story and they finish that story with something like, "For reals!" my brain goes, "That means it didn't happen, you big fat liar," and then I feel bad for that person and his need to tell lies.
I'm also a Christian person and my Christianity is really important to me. I think you said something like you don't have a problem with religion if somebody is pretending there is a God and uses that pretend God as a reason to do good. I suppose my response to that particular sentiment is I don't think God is pretend, but I can't give you empirical evidence of His existence, so to the strict empiricist whose empiricism is as revered as a god, God will continue to be pretend and there's not a ton I can do about it. Neither do I put much stock in the sometimes common Christian excuse for entering into Christianity, "It's just how it is," a la your aunt's welcome sign. To me that seems like a pretty shallow reason to be much of anything. (e.g. "Why are you a Cubs fan, Paul?" "Because I hate myself and love misery." That's be at least a reason of more depth than, "I'm a Cubs fan because I'm a Cubs fan.") I recognize and fully accept that I cannot prove God in the evidence-based sense. I'm not certain I could follow a God I could prove, in that sense. That'd mean I'd have some ability to figure Him out in some way, some ability to make His existence in some way common to mine, and now this is where it gets really personal, I'm quite sure I don't want to have a God who smacks of me. I want a God who is entirely unlike me, who is a hell of a lot better than me, to understate. Now, I know God took human form in Jesus and walked around the Middle East and was hungry like me and was thirsty like me and was tired like me. Okay I get it, but He is still a hell of a lot better than me, and my humanity and Jesus' humanity were also entirely different, and the fact that I believe in Him hinges on that significant difference, that I respond to those triggers, the HALT stuff, by hurting other people and hurting myself and His response to those things was the model of an absolute ideal. From what I know.

I think the reason I can be a Christian and can be a skeptic at the same time has something to do with imagination and the ability to imagine that other realities could exist outside my ability to perceive them with my senses and verify them mathematically. (I'm not sure how Christians who don't have that ability can survive comfortably. I bet that's why so many of them are so grumpy all the time.) Please understand that I DO NOT mean to say that Christianity is imaginary and I'm cool with that. I'm no more cool with that then I am saying that because I imagined a friend named Huey when I was two years old, Huey is alive and well somewhere. What I do mean to say is that in order to perceive the reality of God (as best I can with my finite brain)and what He presents to the world, I have to have the ability to accept that reality might be more than what I can logically sense and logically intuit. I get that. That's logical to me and I'm very willing to stake my faith on that. I'm keenly aware of the failure of my own senses and humanity's collective sensual failure. (Sensual in this case is not "feelings" but "ascertained from what is observed.")

That's what I got. Not sure if you can use it. Hey, I know we keep saying, "We have to get together soon," but let's actually get together. What's your schedule like in the next couple weeks. Feel free to answer that via email and/or facebook as opposed to a public blog post response.

friars said...

For me... i have no truck with the bible as a divine book from god. it is one of many acts of creation that adds to my journey of discovery. imagination. a striving for something beyond what can be touched or observed. if i relied only on what i could scientifically explain i don't think i would be able to create or experience love... these things are not rational. i have a strong desire to explore the unexplainable, what lorca called Duende... "the search for the pain which has no explanation." for me, it is always about searching. as soon as i say to myself "i have found an absolute answer" that is when i have stopped searching and stopped growing. if i dwelt only in rational thought i would be quite boring... i would have nothing to create. i add her a link ( ) a wonderful lecture from Nick Cave... it's not too lengthy and is worth a read. god is in our imagination and i find that to be a beautiful place. without a concept of god we could never have this wonderful catharsis:

--much love, joel

Brad Haggard said...

Chuck, I thought I'd leave some of my musings here, nothing that I'd consider and argument, though.

I'm really convinced that the dichotomy between faith and evidence (or science) is wholly artificial. I think it comes on one side from the nature of science and on the other from our epistemological position.

From the science side, there just isn't enough peer-reviewed information to make completely sweeping claims. One always has to step outside of the strictly experimental to make claims about reality or policy. But that's ok, because the power of science is its limited scope. When you limit your scope, you can actually look at things like causation. That focus and an elevation of natural curiosity is what I think is science's main contribution to the world today. When you link it up with engineering and industry, you get the standard of living increases we see today.

But you do need some logic and philosophy to get there, first. So I don't think anyone could ever truly say they are living only on "the evidence".

This is also true because "the evidence" now is a body of knowledge so vast (even given science's limited scope) that no one person can master it all. At best, one can hope to be a top specialist in a given field. And so while a trained classicist scholar can give authoritative opinions about Homer, and even extend that authority in limited means to other areas, he can't simply opine authoritatively on the explanatory value of sterile neutrinos for the standard model of Big Bang cosmology. It's just too much.

What really interests me now, though, is just how our state of being affects how we perceive reality. I was really interested to hear Roger Penrose talk on an "Unbelievable" radio show about how the more physicists try to define what exactly matter is, the more they have to rely on mathematics and not experiment or observation. But then, what is our only access to mathematics? Our minds. So in a real way, our subjective experience is everything.

Various psychological disorders change the way we perceive reality (take body dysmorphia, for example). One person literally doesn't see the same thing that another sees. But even more astounding to me is that we can change those perceptions in our head through "thinking the right thoughts", a.k.a. cognitive/behavioral therapy. Our perceptions are based on brain chemistry, but our thought life can actually change that brain chemistry.

So I'm back at the 3000 year old question in philosophy: how do you bridge the gap between our subjective experience of the world and the actual world outside of us (if it really is there in the first place)?

Well, I'm not sure there is a strong answer for this, and to me it opens the door for intuitions (such as moral intuitions) to be as valid as empirical stimuli. I'm not sure at this point how we would parse them out, which in the end would blur the traditional line between faith and evidence.

Perhaps a commitment to public dialogue is the real key. That's the only way to know that what you're talking about is real, public verification.

Does my "faith" stand up to public scrutiny? Mostly I think it does, but I have had to toss some weak ideas and put others into an "unconfirmed" box. But one idea that I have completely jettisoned is verificationism.

Hope this is interesting, because it is to me, which is why this ramble is so long. Take care of your little Spartan!

atimetorend said...

"What benefit does religious faith (defined here as a belief that invisible/non-material forces affect reality) have for someone who understands and is curious about how observable phenomenon affect reality?"

A relief from existential fear (I don't want to die, and I don't want to be separated from my loved ones). A comfort found in the belief that "things will turn out for the best," rather than contemplating the possibility that they won't, that things are going horribly wrong, and that I can't fix them.

Are those overall benefits if the belief is not real? I tend to think not, but that is largely based on the fact that I *cannot* believe things which I think are false, and I *do not* want to try to.

"...moving my perspective from religious de-bunker to religious skeptic"
I am guessing I know what you mean by that, and it sounds sensible, but would be curious to hear your explanation.

atimetorend said...

And I like the quote Vinny added:
"Similarly, religion may be noxious, but perhaps, for all we know, a world without religion would be a much worse place than it is today."
I think though unknowable, that could quite likely be true. If it is true, I just hope to buck the trend personally. :^)

Chuck said...


Check out the blog, I am going to write about what I mean from moving to a skeptic from a de-bunker.

Chuck said...

Another comment from a friend:

I can only agree with you that I don't have the 'proof' that you want to support Christ's Resurrection (primary basis of my faith), but the proof I do have is plenty for me... (my personal faith experience and the evidence of the early church, original followers, etc.)

Certainly, the older I get and the more I live, the more questions I have... But my faith doesn't demand that I have all the answers. I am content that the one that I've placed my trust in, does. For some, that's not enough. For me, and many others like me, it is.

Not having all the answers, makes God, God to me. If I have all the answers, then I'm God. I don't want the job. : )

This is far from the answer that perhaps you want and are looking for, but it's at the tip of my iceberg and ministry calls... Hope I'm in the 'wonderful' group that does things for the poor and blesses humanity.

PS - Those photos you keep sending of your son tell me there's a God. And that God is good. : ) That parental love helps me understand how God loves me. (even though he allows suffering, etc.)

Vicki said...

I haven't thought my answer through entirely, but wanted to respond while the discussion was still ongoing. So, I hope you'll forgive any meanderings or holes in my logic...

Like your other readers, I don't find faith and evidence to be mutually exclusive. Of course, that is because my personally constructed definition of faith is flexible enough to accommodate scientific explanations for phenomena previously attributed to God.

Actually, I'm not sure I am entirely comfortable with the word "faith." My interpretation of faith suggests reliance. I don't rely on my Higher Power/God. I don't pray. I don't believe prayer has any value at all. If I did, I'd have to wonder why God forsakes whole groups of people, say...why He/She would send the Haitian people an earthquake and then respond to their fervent prayers (most Haitians, I believe, are devout Catholics and so I'm making an assumption that they were praying fervently to be delivered from the disaster) with a cholera outbreak. I might have to draw conclusions about how God felt about the Haitian people and that would be the kind of person I don't a bigot...sort of like Pat Robertson.

So, if I don't have "faith," the question remains, what do I believe, why do I believe it and what good does that belief system serve?

I believe in a Higher Power, in God, and I am a Christian. I self-identify as a Cafeteria Catholic, although I think I'd be hard pressed to justify the latter given how little of Catholic theology/dogma, I actually buy into. I'd say my lingering associations with Catholicism have little to do with religious belief and everything to do with aesthetics (love that Gregorian chant and those medieval triptychs), the soothing quality of the Mass (meditation would do as much, I guess) and my admiration of the IHM sisters and their contributions to social justice causes. I also think it's because I was very much a participant in Catholicism for many years (although still as a cafeteria version) and the association preserves connections to people I still know and love. However, I'm reconsidering.

Christianity? I'm sure no apologist. My self identification as a Christian has everything to do with fear. I won't even allow myself to think about the whole Easter story becauseI know what my logical mind would do to it. How's that for transparency? I do believe I have benefitted as a person from Christian teachings, as they were presented to me. I believe they were the foundation for my predisposition toward social justice and have provided me with a decent moral compass. I also agree with the author of the article you linked...I think there is a cultural aspect to self identifying as Christian, Jewish, Muslim, whatever, that's comfortable.

So, the only thing left is my concept of a Higher Power, its relevance; its purpose. I'm still struggling with these questions, quite frankly. As a core proposition, I accept your thesis that "ontological god-concept (there might be a god) but thus far no epistemological god-concept (the knowledgeable scope of this possibility) seems valid." I accept this based on prior experience where so many things that seemed unknowable in the centuries/decades past (due to limits in human knowledge) are now known. That they are known today is because people were willing to form ideas/hypotheses about the unknown...hypotheses that were seen as irrational and sometimes fearful and relentlessly try to find tests/answers. Proving the existence of God is the ultimate exercise in reaching out with the imagination in order to find the test/answer. Perhaps there is a way to extend human intelligence or to see other dimensions.
To be continued...

Vicki said...

In terms of benefit, when I think of relinquishing my belief in God, I begin to feel a void and a bleakness (and fear). I'm not sure why. I think it might have something to do with the idea of God being one's Higher Consciousness that your friend, Kate, so eloquently described. Further, although I am logical, I'm not uncomfortable with the irrational, unexplainable. As your friend, Paul, I believe, pointed out...what epistemology explains our knowledge of the existence of what we call love? willingness to live with the irrational, positive, but unexplainable possibility of a God I can't prove exists doesn't prevent me from saying, "Oh, cool..tell me more...let me see how this works" and spending my paycheck on new books when science finds an explanation for something previously explained in supernatural terms.

It seems to me that the problem of coexistence between "faith" and evidence or belief and science arises when the epistemology supporting that faith is a conservative fundamentalist view of a Bible (or other text) and as you have said to me before, the data set believers are willing to consider is limited by their bias. I don't think the belief systems of those who have posted here fall into that category.

As I said, these are just some preliminary thoughts...not a formal argument.

johnthomas didymus said...

i think there is a problem here with maintaining a strict dichotomy of faith and what is termed "empirical evidence."

We sometimes talk of the irresolvable paradoxes of theology and forget that the paradoxes of mathematical set theory are equally irresolvable(as Cantor showed in his mathematics of infinite sets to the consternation of mathematicians). Yet, set theory continues to be taught in schools in the abiding faith that one day axiomatic set theorists will resolve our intuitional notion of sets and at last lay firm epistemological grounds for the entire edifice of mathematical science we have erected in six thousands years of history. Mathematicians will admit that we do not yet have even a clear vision of how an epistemologically sound axiomatic theory of sets might look like, yet no mathematician doubts the "truth" of the mathematical analytic argument that 2+2=4. This is faith; reasonable faith, though, for If we insist on coming to empirical veracity about everything before we proceed with building our lives we would never make a start.

Faith is reasonable when it en-courages us to make reasonable even if unverifiable assumptions of "truth" allowing us to proceed "dirty handed" in the hope that even if we finally find that we were mistaken in our first assumptions we might still be able to make patch-up emendations to our world-view and proceed with our lives optimistically undaunted.

Much of progress in the history of science is based on the faith assumption that the human mind is equipped to make epistemologically valid conclusions from observations. We really have no proof of this, yet we must assume it in the circumstances we find ourselves and proceed in faith that we are right in hazarding a guess.

It might be difficult to appreciate that at the root of religious conviction is a similar exercise of faith: that human life has a meaning in consonance with human aesthetic preferences. This is chutzpah, I agree, but human sentience will have it no other way. We either must make aesthetically pleasing meaning of our existence or the fact of being itself becomes a burden, an exceptionally pernicious practical joke some really mean demons out there are playing on us.

johnthomas didymus said...

Allow me to ask you a question, friend. In what way do you conceive of the reality of your own existence in its subjective dimensions?

I ask this question, firstly because religious faith stems from our common intuitional certainty with regard to the reality of our being in its subjective well-spring and, secondly because I find it difficult to understand the empiricist denigration of subjective evidence(i am not yet arguing in favor of or against subjective evidence, whatever it means!). Our empirical sense-perceptions of reality proceed from a subjective source. God ingots do not make empirical observations of reality in-spite of their pre-eminently solid objective-empirical existence; only humans with subjective existence make empirical observations. Yet the entirety of empiricist thought is build on the strange assumption that we can deny the subjective apparatus that presents reality to us in phenomenal consciousness states yet aver the truth of the objective conclusions we make from the function of our subjective apparatus! This is confused thinking to me! We wouldn't be asking the most advanced questions we ask in our philosophical theories of knowledge (epistemology) if we weren't subjective beings in the first place. Lumps of metal don't pose ontological questions we humans worry about to themselves basically because of a singular lack of subjective innerness which predisposes us humans to raising such questions and discussing it among ourselves. Robotic A.I. will never venture spontaneously into metaphysical ontology independent of the ends of their subjective human programmers. It seems to me that the first objective question to ask about our experience of reality is with regard to the subjective apparatus which presents the reality we seek to master empirically to us. The philosophies we construct collapse into meaninglessness if genuine grounds can be established to raise questions about the veracity of our subjective experience of being and the whole out there.

johnthomas didymus said...

please "God ingots" in the last comment should read GOLD INGOTS!!! And