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Author Topic: Faith and reason.  (Read 2631 times)

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Offline HemingwayTopic starter

Faith and reason.
« on: October 03, 2012, 04:59:37 PM »
The following quote was originally posted in the Speak good of Muslims and those of any faith thread, but because we were getting off topic, with the permission of the other poster, I decided to create this thread. For context, see this post. I'm going to try to respond in a way that both addresses points previously made, and allows for other people to join in the debate. With that said, let's get started.

Emotions and feelings have a great deal to do with reality.  People live and die based on emotions.  Countries are toppled by what feelings they can invoke in another nationís populace and in their own people.  When confidence is high inside a nationís borders there is a surge of productivity and benefits to the economy and to social welfare.  The same goes for when there are good feelings and emotions inside the workplace.  Peopleís lifespans increase based on their emotions and feelings, their healing process in the hospital shortens if they are feeling good and have positive energy.  Emotions and feelings most certainly affect reality.  If atheists seek to foster change in the religious community, then caring about their emotions would have an effect on their progress.

Scientific scrutiny has upheld that belief does guide human interaction and assumption oils the machine of social welfare and government.  Research into authority figures (i.e. police officers, medical personnel, higher ranking soldiers) has shown the effectiveness of their presence simply because people feel a boost to confidence and a belief in the abilities of that figure.  Erwin Goffman did a great deal of research about social cues and interactions whereby belief in various symbols affected the interaction of two people.  Symbolism in society is another field that discusses how belief in various cues and objects affects people.  Institutions have the faith of people such as the Supreme Court.  Once judgment is based down from the Supreme Court, the majority of people accept that judgment.  They may not like the judgment, but they accept the judgment.

Here I think you're conflating belief in something tangible with faith in the supernatural, and feelings in general. I'm not denying that there's an emotional component to all of human existence, but I am denying that this component, if at odds with what we know or don't know, is reason enough to justify believing in something.

If we're going to get into "faith" in authority figures, then I think that, actually, skepticism is far more important for a well-functioning society. A Supreme Court can have the faith of the entire population and still be thoroughly corrupt, if no one questions that faith. By questioning, you force these institutions, or the economy, or whatever else you may have faith in, to prove itself. At that point, we're no longer talking about faith, but a justifiable belief.

With religious faith, there's no justification. Various religions ask you to take dubious answers to important questions purely on faith, and I don't see the value of it. Because I don't think certainty, in and of itself, has any value.

Also, stating that my points do not hold up to scrutiny and then contending that blind faith lead to economic collapse seems a poor choice.  Economy did fail through bad faith, but at the same time was created by faith and belief.  Credit and currency are two prime examples of this belief.  Faith has been betrayed in the recent economic collapse, leading to a great many reforms and restructures in an attempt to restore faith and confidence in the system.  Economics affects all aspects of society.

My point in bringing attention to your particular point about the economy was that it's an example of a situation where faith proved extremely dangerous. I didn't say that blind faith led to economic collapse, I said that blind faith and people willing to take advantage of it contributed to the economic collapse. Because, while there is a difference between religious faith and faith in something like a model for the economy, they're both examples of situations where faith ( I won't say "blind faith" again - all faith is blind by definition ) can prove to be misplaced.

As for the discussion on helpful and truth, we can end that discussion then I suppose.  In my opinion a useful and helpful tool does not lose value because the item does not work as people imagined. 

Sam Harris pointed out, at one point, that if the usefulness of a belief should be taken into account when deciding whether or not to believe in it, then we could just as easily make up our own religion right now which would surely be better than the ones we have. We could include things like commandments to protect the environment, to try hard to do well academically, and so on. And we'd get rid of every hateful, bigoted commandment that so many religions today have.
« Last Edit: October 03, 2012, 05:13:44 PM by Hemingway »

Offline Sabby

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #1 on: October 05, 2012, 11:46:37 AM »
This topic is still going on? o.O We're still humouring this? Having faith in something and logically concluding what something is are polar opposites, and one person disagreeing with this shouldn't be such an obstacle.

Just like a small minority of uneducated folks shouldn't drag scientific advancement to a stop just to humour their opinions as if they actually matter.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2012, 12:29:47 PM »
Having faith in something and logically concluding what something is are polar opposites

Um, no they aren't. Logic is a systematic process that can proceed from any premise -- scientific or otherwise -- and be used to validate all manner of things. The question is whether you accept the premises or not.

The notion of "logic" or "reason" being separate from faith -- while a commonplace of gadflies like Sam Harris and encouraged by current faith organizations that try to undermine science -- is fallacious and historically inaccurate. The evolution of formal logic in Western thought (or Eastern thought, for that matter) was inextricably linked to theology and religion for most of history. The rise of Rationalism in post-Classical European thought was part and parcel of the rise of Scholasticism in the Catholic Church from the 9th century onwards; natural and religious philosophy were also linked in Islam during its medieval scientific revolution. Most of the earliest scientists were Churchmen or religious philosophers, and the Western scientific method itself as we know it stems from Medieval disputes between the mainstream Church (which affirmed the goodness of Creation and the worthiness of investigating it) with various heresies like Catharism (which like the earliest Christianity itself sought to denounce all "worldly" things).

Inconvenient details like this are typically forgotten by modern anti-science or fake-science movements like the Intelligent Designers, and also by their opponents (people like Harris or Hitchens or Dawkins) who imagine that the conversation about religion's role in society begins and ends in shouting matches and flame-wars with fundamentalists. I say a pox on all such ignorant twits*, theist and atheist alike. Any rhetorical project that has to falsify and/or ignore the full picture is part of the problem. (I say this as an atheist myself.)

[EDIT: Sorry if all the above comes across as pedantic. I was a History major at University; hard habit to break.]

(* Dawkins is not of course an "ignorant twit" as a science writer. But his writing on religion is shallow, of far more limited and polemical use than he seems to imagine it to be.)
« Last Edit: October 05, 2012, 12:39:33 PM by Cyrano Johnson »

Offline Sabby

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2012, 12:41:42 PM »
Once again, I'm at a loss for relevance... this whole debate is because it was proposed that faith and reason are the same, and that faith is equally as important. I don't see how something like that can be rationalized by "Well, if ya look at history, something something bad apples". My problem is the responses to this almost always fly off into these long exposition dumps, and don't get me wrong, they're informative, but unnecessary :/ It's a simple matter that requires a simple answer.

What is faith. What is reason. Now, compare.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #4 on: October 05, 2012, 12:52:32 PM »
It's a simple matter that requires a simple answer.

Well, the simple answer is that faith (confidence in a thing that can't be strictly proven) and reason (the mental powers concerned with forming conclusions, judgments, or inferences) are distinct but not mutually exclusive, and it's basically a mug's game to try to prove one "better" or more important than the other.

Why is it a mug's game? That's what the exposition dumps are for. You can't have an informed perspective on the simple answer if you're not willing to learn about how it plays out in the real world, and has done over time.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2012, 12:54:01 PM »
this whole debate is because it was proposed that faith and reason are the same, and that faith is equally as important. I don't see how something like that can be rationalized by "Well, if ya look at history, something something bad apples".

No idea what you're talking about here, by the way.
« Last Edit: October 05, 2012, 01:01:17 PM by Cyrano Johnson »

Offline Sabby

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2012, 01:06:55 PM »
Okay, this needs to be said, because people tiptoe around this line too much. Sometimes, there is a superior answer. I won't wear the kiddy gloves for that, but I won't dispute that faith has done good things. Faith in the world not being flat is what lead someone across the ocean :P But once against, we're not looking at that. We can look to history to see how the two have played out together and their contributions to society, but people have done many good things for reasoning that doesn't fly any more in the wake of better methodology.

There are situations where one side is just wrong. We can talk about a time when faith was a benefit to society, and why it was, but I'm concerned with right now, and I'm going to assume the opening poster is as well, unless they'd like to clarify. Right here, right now, in this day, in this age, in this world, reasoning and logic have a place of great importance, and faith does not.

I'm sorry, but unless someone has a BRILLIANT argument to the contrary, all that can be achieved in this discussion is reflection. And the reason I refuse to humour this is I see it everywhere, doing much more damage then good. When a topic shows up, whether it be abortion, gay rights, religion, stem cells, climate change, politics, all I see everyone do is drift back in time and pluck out old examples of when they were right, of when this was like this, and that like that. No one is interested in moving forward and changing things.

I am.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #7 on: October 05, 2012, 01:14:01 PM »
Okay, this needs to be said, because people tiptoe around this line too much. Sometimes, there is a superior answer.

Of course there is. I just gave it to you.

The way you move forward and change things usefully is to actually be informed, curious and honest about the world around you and how it got that way. For example, if your definition of science requires you to rule intuition (a component of faith, incidentally) as inferior, then what this means is you have no idea how science works or ever has worked, and your perspective on it isn't worthwhile.

So you're absolutely correct that there's a right and wrong answer. Yours is wrong. (Or to put it more accurately, there are many possible wrong answers to this question, and yours is one of them.)
« Last Edit: October 05, 2012, 01:15:29 PM by Cyrano Johnson »

Offline Sabby

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #8 on: October 05, 2012, 01:27:39 PM »
Did you hear me say perspective is not needed to formulate solutions? Did you hear me say intuition is unimportant? Am I suggestion a world without unfounded ideas is a good thing?

If your hearing any of that, then there's a huge miscommunication here. I've been way too active on the Politics boards the last few days, and my brain is pretty much sizzling in it's skull right now from over use -.- I'm going to just stop posting for a few days, because I'm clearly not conveying my points as well as I should be and I have no desire to get in trouble.

Have fun guys.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #9 on: October 05, 2012, 01:33:14 PM »
Well, sorry if I'm misconstruing your position. Have a nice day.

Online Stattick

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2012, 02:05:40 PM »
It's a simple matter that requires a simple answer.

And that way lies fundamentalism.

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2012, 06:00:50 PM »
Goedel's First Incompleteness Theorem states that there are true statements that cannot be proven.  What do we call it when we believe there is truth without the ability to prove it?  And yet, Reason still holds firm.

Offline HemingwayTopic starter

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #12 on: October 05, 2012, 07:31:15 PM »
Goedel's First Incompleteness Theorem states that there are true statements that cannot be proven.  What do we call it when we believe there is truth without the ability to prove it?  And yet, Reason still holds firm.

It's obvious, more or less, that there are certain things that are true that we can't prove right now. The intellectually honest thing to do is still to withhold judgment until such a time as we can prove them. Because without that evidence, you can't tell which things belong in the category of true but unproven, and which are simply untrue.

There's also an important distinction between things we can't prove to be true, but which produce consistent results as though they were, and things which have to be taken exclusively on faith and for which there is no test. Religious faith definitely belongs in the latter category, as religion contains many loopholes and explanations for why tests don't work.

Online Stattick

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #13 on: October 05, 2012, 09:17:59 PM »
I can't prove anything other than I'm thinking right now at this minute. I can't even prove that my life existed before this very minute, and that everything that I think I remember actually happened. I take it on faith that my memories are real, that the things that I see and hear aren't illusion, and that I actually exist in this fleshy shell that I perceive. It is a matter of faith that the world as I perceive it is real.

Offline HemingwayTopic starter

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #14 on: October 06, 2012, 07:44:53 AM »
I can't prove anything other than I'm thinking right now at this minute. I can't even prove that my life existed before this very minute, and that everything that I think I remember actually happened. I take it on faith that my memories are real, that the things that I see and hear aren't illusion, and that I actually exist in this fleshy shell that I perceive. It is a matter of faith that the world as I perceive it is real.

It's not really, though. The world behaves predictably. It conforms, more or less, with what we think we know about it. We can't prove that it's real, exactly, but we can test our assumptions about it. Of course we might be living in the Matrix, or in Plato's cave, but I think old Occam can help us here. Which requires fewer assumptions: That the world as we see it is real, or that it's an elaborate illusion set up by someone else in order to trick us?

The bottom line, though, is still that even if you can't prove that everything around you is real, you have reasons to believe it. Those reasons aren't perfect, but they're still far better than the basis on which we're asked to accept religious faith. You can't arrive at religious faith - not a specific faith - without being told or having read about it. You can't test whether the claims are true or not, because if your test fails, then it's simply that god moves in mysterious ways, or your faith is being tested. It's not supported by anything but it's own self-contradictory texts and traditions, and a lot of excuses for these.

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #15 on: October 06, 2012, 11:40:56 AM »
Actually, I'd have to say that most religions arose as spontaneous explanations for the unexplained.  From the day that the first caveman saw lightning come from the sky, felt an earthquake or eruption, saw fire spring from hitting two rocks together, or saw a plant grow in a patch of barren dirt.  Deity names would have arisen through discussion, but not the superstitious awe.

Offline HemingwayTopic starter

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #16 on: October 06, 2012, 01:06:13 PM »
I was going to quote parts of a video I'm going to link below, because it deals with concepts of faith, reason and proof. There is, however, so much interesting information in it, that I think that I think it would be worth watching for anyone who's looking for something to do that isn't a complete waste of their time:

Setting Prometheus Free


Online Stattick

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #17 on: October 07, 2012, 03:02:06 AM »
It's not really, though. The world behaves predictably. It conforms, more or less, with what we think we know about it. We can't prove that it's real, exactly, but we can test our assumptions about it.

As do the majority of my dreams. Predictability, conformation to expectation, and any other metric by which you can measure the world can all easily be an illusion. It doesn't require a conspiracy, or outside system to contain it either. The system of illusion can be the very mind itself - dreams, insanity, and misconceptions generally cannot be seen by the subject under their influence. It's why it's so hard to get schizophrenics or bipolar patients  to take their meds - from their vantage, they're not sick. Instead, crazy people are trying to force them to take something to force a change in their very thoughts and personalities. It's no wonder they resist. The point is, you cannot know whether the world that you perceive is real. At this very moment, I could be a schizo, twitching his fingers on an old typewriter, looking at a dead, unplugged television screen, and thinking that I'm having a nice chat with people all across the world. Any minute, people in white suits could come bursting in to capture me, take me to some hospital somewhere, and force me to take meds that will force this reality to dissolve away like a dream. I don't think that's going to happen, and I work under the assumption that what I perceive is real, but it's a matter of faith. It's also a matter of faith that when I go to sleep, that I'll eventually wake up; I have no proof that I will, but I believe that I won't die when I drift off to sleep.

Offline Sabby

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #18 on: October 07, 2012, 03:37:53 AM »
2 men, A and B. They have never met. They do not know there is another man. They are both put in lead rooms and monitored. There is a table in each room with an apple on it. A third man is watching, C. He can only see the table. 10 people, D Group, are seperated. They do not know of each other, and do not know the experiment. They can only hear C's testimony. C does not know that D Group is listening to him.

A and B are told to interact with the apple. They bite, crush, throw, drop, bruise and generally manipulate apple after apple. C recounts the events. D Group consistency recounts C's commentary.

After such an experiment, would you still take it on faith that the physical world works the way it does? Even if it could be an illusion in your mind, you have never and will never meet any member of D Group and they will go on to live their lives, never touching any element of this experiment. All parts of the experiment are completely isolated from each other.

For it to be an illusion, you would have to be conjuring the entirety of reality.


Offline HemingwayTopic starter

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #19 on: October 07, 2012, 07:15:11 AM »
As do the majority of my dreams. Predictability, conformation to expectation, and any other metric by which you can measure the world can all easily be an illusion. It doesn't require a conspiracy, or outside system to contain it either. The system of illusion can be the very mind itself - dreams, insanity, and misconceptions generally cannot be seen by the subject under their influence. It's why it's so hard to get schizophrenics or bipolar patients  to take their meds - from their vantage, they're not sick. Instead, crazy people are trying to force them to take something to force a change in their very thoughts and personalities. It's no wonder they resist. The point is, you cannot know whether the world that you perceive is real.

Yes - and? I'll be the first to admit that what you've just said is true - it's an argument I often use myself, but against the validity of personal religious experience.

What does it imply for our use of faith and reason, though? Only that we should be even more skeptical.

Unless, of course, you're arguing that religious faith is a mental illness and ought to be treated as such, which I think would be controversial.

It's also a matter of faith that when I go to sleep, that I'll eventually wake up; I have no proof that I will, but I believe that I won't die when I drift off to sleep.

You believe it, but not on faith. You believe it based on the weight of the evidence, of past experiences going to sleep and waking up. A. C. Grayling, in the video I linked above, uses an example of going into the rain without an umbrella, because you're not certain that you're going to get wet. Your every experience with the rain tells you that you'll get wet, but then you've only done that so many times, and it could, for all you know, simply be a coincidence. But if you went into the rain thinking that, you wouldn't be, I believe as he puts it, proportioning your belief to the evidence.

Offline Ryuka Tana

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #20 on: October 07, 2012, 07:24:42 AM »
It's not really, though. The world behaves predictably. It conforms, more or less, with what we think we know about it. We can't prove that it's real, exactly, but we can test our assumptions about it. Of course we might be living in the Matrix, or in Plato's cave, but I think old Occam can help us here. Which requires fewer assumptions: That the world as we see it is real, or that it's an elaborate illusion set up by someone else in order to trick us?

The bottom line, though, is still that even if you can't prove that everything around you is real, you have reasons to believe it. Those reasons aren't perfect, but they're still far better than the basis on which we're asked to accept religious faith. You can't arrive at religious faith - not a specific faith - without being told or having read about it. You can't test whether the claims are true or not, because if your test fails, then it's simply that god moves in mysterious ways, or your faith is being tested. It's not supported by anything but it's own self-contradictory texts and traditions, and a lot of excuses for these.

"Occam's Razor... The simplest answer. Tell a 5-year-old about Evolution and all the minute details about it... Then tell him 'God did it', and see which one he grasps better. Occam hasn't got shit on philosophy and faith. The concept of existence itself drives men to madness, and fact is, because nothing can be proven untrue, so too can nothing be proven 100% true. If an omnipotent God exists, you can't say that all things only happen consistently because that God acts consistently (at least when observed). Of course, then, what if schizophrenic people are seeing real things because God's consistency isn't consistent?"

"If you're here to have a philosophical debate that ends with someone being right, you should stop. That just isn't the point of philosophy or this kind of debate."

"I don't have anything more to say on the subject, as, like Sabby, I'm burnt out on these topics, so I don't know if I'll be back here to continue. Hell, I'm tired, I don't even know how much of what I said makes the kind of sense I wanted it to make."
« Last Edit: October 07, 2012, 07:25:54 AM by Ryuka Tana »

Offline HemingwayTopic starter

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #21 on: October 07, 2012, 08:06:37 AM »
"Occam's Razor... The simplest answer. Tell a 5-year-old about Evolution and all the minute details about it... Then tell him 'God did it', and see which one he grasps better. Occam hasn't got shit on philosophy and faith.

You're misrepresenting Occam's razor, though, which isn't the best starting point you could ask for. It doesn't call for the "simplest" hypothesis to be assumed true, but the one requiring fewer assumptions. If you can get a child to understand that distinction, then you can also make them understand that the naturalistic view of the universe is a more plausible explanation than god or gods, or any sort of explanation that requires a complex, supernatural entity.

As to the rest of your post, I honestly don't understand what you're trying to say, certainly not in relation to the post you quoted.

I should like to correct you on what you say about proof, though. It's true, as a matter of intellectual honesty, that we can't prove anything to be an eternally unchanging and absolute truth. We can prove specific claims false, however. Unless - and this is the critical part - they're religious claims. Because religious claims have built into them explanations for why they can't be tested. If they can't be tested, they can't be proven wrong. If a hypothesis can't be proven wrong - that is to say that it can't be falsified - it's worthless as an explanation.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #22 on: October 07, 2012, 02:19:49 PM »
Hemingway is right about Ockham's Razor, which in fact states that the simplest argument that explains the evidence is usually the preferable one.

This of course has nothing to do with whether "faith" and "reason" are distinct entities; that's still just a basic category error AFAICS.

Offline doodasaurus

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #23 on: October 07, 2012, 11:39:26 PM »
I'm gonna toss in here and say the only reason people talk about this is religious people play a word trick with "faith".

Faith means different things.  One of them is trust in something.  Another is belief in things unseen.  It even means loyalty (I'm faithful to my wife) and resemblance (it's faithful to the original).  But the two that are in play when religious people try to conflate faith and reason are 1. faith as trust in something and 2. a belief in things unseen.

Well, the common reason people have faith in something or someone is observation and experience.  I have faith my wife will go to work tomorrow -- I know she works tomorrow, I know she has a lot of work to do tomorrow and long observation of her habits has taught me that she is a good worker.  Thus: faith.  But faith based in observation and experience.  It's very *reasonable*.

This is not the same as religious faith, which is simply an inordinate trust in authority.  But if you conflate faith born of experience (a kind of reason) with belief in things unseen, you can do this tricky bit of work and say that because scientific materialists have faith in science it's a faith like religious people have in their gods.

But it's just a rhetorical trick and a dishonest one at that.  Despite their manipulations, much of "faith" is reason, just not belief in things unseen.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #24 on: October 08, 2012, 11:06:30 AM »
This is not the same as religious faith, which is simply an inordinate trust in authority.

Rather ironic that this occurs in a post accusing the religious of "rhetorical tricks." This looks rather like one of those to me.

Look, faith and reason are not distinct entities because reason rarely proceeds from purely "reasonable" premises. The history of reason in the real, actual world is not an orderly philosophy seminar filled with grey and cautious men and women carefully avoiding getting any of that dirty "faith" on their Eggos.  A great deal of the history of science and philosophy is the history of intuitive leaps, of following the gut, of inspiration and emotion and the instinct of being right about something, and following a particular line of investigation that at first seems hopeless or completely crazy. All of those irrational phenomena are frequently entangled with faith -- be it "spiritual," religious, or even just secular and poetic -- and much of the history of reason was explicitly shaped and motivated by questions of faith and yes, of religion too.

You can be a rationalist, and a partisan of science, without trying to deny or falsify or squirm your way out of any of this. But of course you have to accept a mentality where you're not on one Team and "faith" is on the other Team and you're trying to score points on them.