Thursday, February 3, 2011

How do you deal with your doubts?

My friend and pseudonymous author of "Confessions of God" JohnThomas Didymus asks me a question regarding my post focused on faith vs. evidence.
"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?"
This is a tough question to answer and often seems to be the stopping point for epistemology (the nature and scope of knowledge). I mean do I live in Chicago, Illinois or The Matrix?

What we say we know is predicated on certain basic facts which ultimately we need to accept otherwise we get to an infinite regress of "why?"

The heart of JT's question challenges this basicality and seems to challenge me to consider the nature of my doubts relative to how I come to my knowledge (subjectively speaking).

I of course concede that I am a novice of evidentialism where some sort of objective method must be practiced when considering claims otherwise we become subject to our intuition which, given subjective license, has shown itself to be a poor predictor of what is real.

Therefore I take faith-claims as poor evidence but JT challenges this in fairness by illustrating how my comfort with deduction demands a faith proposition in set-theory (the foundation for mathematics) due to set-theory's honest criticism (like Wittgenstein's critique of set-theory relative to infinities and thus its illusory nature).

I don't share JT's concern however when addressing the question of religious faith vs. testable evidence and my apparent "faith" in set theory.

Set theory works at a primitive level when cultural noise is included.

It simply is and is basically real.

2+2=4 has the same meaning across cultures but not necessarily across all religions as my friend Lady Atheist pointed out when she wrote me and said that 2+2=4 can mean,
"For Unitarian Universalists 2 + 2 = well, that depends on who's counting
For Mormons 2 + 2 = not enough wimmin
For Creationists, 2 + 2 = 22
For UFOlogists 2 + 2 = 42
For Scientologists 2 + 2 = 2384792.19827"
and so although deduction may depend upon faith in the subjective "realness" of set-theory; set-theory can't be twisted by the subjective popular or social response a set-theory believer has in it (or we would have to see Lady Atheist's illustration as computational rather than satirical.)

The question brings to the front for me the nature of doubt. It seems that there are at least two types of doubt when considering faith and what we know. There is emotional doubt and epistemic doubt.

Emotional doubt can use religion as a resolution of it (although the practice of certain theologies like my former Calvinist Christianity actually feeds the doubt due to concepts like sin) while epistemic doubt demands an analysis of data hygiene through methodological means like set-theory.

If one wants to assert that they have had a subjective experience with God and it has resolved their fear of death then it seems the subjective nature of this information offers resolution to a real emotional doubt and it can't be analyzed for its fact or fiction but, if the same person then seeks to extend this experience to an assertion that God is a triune being detailed in scripture, I can comfortably assess the data set of the bible (e.g. it's reliance on similar ancient Near Eastern myth for its narrative, its noted redaction, geographic dependence on discrete Christian tradition) and question the level of epistemic doubt still unresolved by this assertion.

I can further cross-reference the believer's assertion to the fact of a biblical God by inferring motivation due to psychology, anthropology or other sciences.

Subjectivity as JT so rightly challenges me is an essential property for all of our knowledge but how we understand it's meaning relative to the type of doubt it resolves helps indicate how trust-worthy it is.

I have no problem if someone wishes to assert that they know who god is but I do have a problem if they try to convince me that this knowledge is beyond doubt.


Enchanted Naturalist said...

Well said, Chuck. A popular tactic of religionists is to make the fallacious argument that since every belief is subject to doubt, religious beliefs are no less warranted than others. (The problem of induction is perhaps the most popular basis for this claim, with illustrations of the imperfections of the scientific method a close second.) I call this "the argument from equal uncertainty." The problem is that the logical conclusion of this argument is absolute philosophical skepticism, which is clearly light years away from theism. It roundly ignores the success of science and science-based reasoning, which theists themselves use perpetually as their primary mode of knowing anyway apart from their religious faith.

Chuck said...

Well said, EN. And not only do religionists use science-based reasoning as the default to their magical thinking they also depend on the products of science to survive. The argumentative question I pose when I get angry at the arrogance of religionists insisting on your well named "argument from equal uncertainty" is, "Why don't you do as the bible says and seek after anointment and blessing by elders as a first line therapy whenever you are ill?" They avail themselves of modern medicine and pharmaceuticals which can only work by restricting its epistemic focus and asserting both methodological and metaphysical naturalism. If they believer in the superiority of supernaturalism one would think they would always defer to it when facing an imminent threat to their existence, like illness, but they don't and what they wish to seem is not followed by their actions.

LadyAtheist said...

shucks, I got quoted!

All their rationalizing wraps up one central reality for them, which you hit on: religion is emotional, not factual. Calling it "subjective" is an attempt to elevate it from its amygdala-based fear of death, ostracism, starvation, and any other threat to existence. They prove evolution by their fears, not religion. Religion is merely a salve to keep fear from overwhelming their ability to go on with daily life.

Atheism is tough. We have to face our own mortality, the death of loved ones, and injustices of the world in a way that believers lack the courage to do.

Depending on the layers of rationalization they've built up, it can sometimes take awhile to get them to admit it, but it comes down to this: they believe because it gives them comfort. It doesn't really matter to them if it's true.

Chuck said...

Lady A,

Not only did I quote you, I blog-rolled you too. I'm sorry I haven't kept up with your writing as much I could have. Thanks for reading and commenting here.

LadyAtheist said...

heh Now that a few people are reading my blog I feel obligated to write more! You can skip the one on abortion. It was red meat for the Christian trolls :-p

johnthomas didymus said...

The central problem from your perspective appears to be the question of faith in the existence of God(God with a BIG G). But of course this is understandable. You are a Westerner raised up in a culture which assumes that it is either the JEHOVISTIC BIG G of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or nothing. The theistic problem, however, is not essential nor is it the central question in the problem of religious faith.

The BIG G with hypertrophied Ego in the skies is largely recondite notion(Buddhism does not even raise the question of divine egos, and many so called primitive cultures do not even recognize one, yet their systems are termed "religion" by sociologists and anthropologists).

The large scale patterns have led anthropologists to recognize that religious behavior is not about faith in God THE Father IN HEAVEN, as much as it is about the "ontological anxiety" of the individual, and the seeker's quest for ontological certainty and security which Tillich terms "courage to be"(i.e. faith).

The question of the BIG G in the skies which dominates occidental thought unfortunately distracts from the primary self-oriented ontological crisis with which the individual is obsessed and which provokes the Homeric ontological self-quest.

you might have noticee that my argument directed itself at the so-called hard problem of conscious( i.e. the phenomenal consciousness with its underlying primary experiential data of self-referential awareness and not at the question of the existence of god or of the truth of religious dogmas all which Tillich identifies as distracting symbolisms of the core psycho-affective ontological issues in human religious behavior).

Humanists have rightly pointed out(and I am a humanist in philosophical orientation, more precisely Transhumanist)that religion tells us nothing about God, but a whole damn lot about man in his obsession with coming to faith with regard to the problem of self-reality(as opposed to the physicalist position that subjective being is cognitive illusion--Dennet, for instance)

Weston LA Barre in his "Ghost Dance"(a book i strongly recommended as primer for insight into the psycho-biological roots of human religiosity) points out that God is the sentient state self-experience of the prophet projected into the skies. The prophet'S FAITH IN TH EXISTENCE God derives from his own ontological self-certainty as a subjective being: but unfortunately in the process of cultural translation of his solipsistic self-pre-occupation, he projects the sacred core aspect of his own being into the skyey realms, and thus, when he asserts the existence of God he merely asserts his own subjective ontological self-certainty in a terribly confused way.

Mircea Eliade recognized this misplacement of reference in the Moses encounter with God in the burning bush: what Moses encountered(according to Eliade)in the solitude of desert retreat was himself as ontologically fulfilled person in the subjective realm. Rene Descartes had a similar experience when he asserted: Corgito ergo sum: I Think therefore I am. The Hindu yogi in transcendental meditation finds the "GOD WIHTIN" in solipsistic introspection.

Rudolf Otto in his IDEA OF THE HOLY recognized this fact when he held that religion is our psycho-affective predisposition to the utterly private subjective aspect of our being and Salman Rushdie extends this insight in his SATANIC VERSES to point out that GOD and the PROPHET uttering the prophetic word seem always indistinguishable, because ultimately, for the prophetic-shamanic-vatic personality GOD is merely the socially approved term legitimizing his solipsistic-autistic self-preoccupation.

Chuck said...


There is nothing in your comment I disagree with (save for the inference that Moses actually existed).

Your mind is a fun playground.

johnthomas didymus said...

and is that supposed to be a compliment!!!!!!!!?

johnthomas didymus said...

and well really i wouldn't want to vouch for Moses' existence either--just can't care to find time conjecturing on what i consider a dead problem

Chuck said...


Yep, it was a meant as a compliment. I find it fun when I am challenged to think.