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Author Topic: Faith and reason.  (Read 2641 times)

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Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #50 on: October 08, 2012, 07:45:56 PM »
I will concede this point - and this entire debate - if you can point me to a single Catholic scientist who arrived at his conclusion through faith.

Will you concede it at the point where you can point to someone whose inquiry would never have started without his faith? Because that actually seems the more important threshold.

Offline HemingwayTopic starter

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #51 on: October 08, 2012, 08:34:54 PM »
Ummm... you really don't see that that's just restating the same thing? Because that's certainly how it looks to me, and if you're seeing an "obvious" distinction there, you're right, I'm not grokking it. Please explain.

When you say there's a point where faith ends and reason begins, that implies a sort of duality, or a sort of scale with faith on one end and reason on the other. It implies that they're opposites, or at least that they somehow belong to the same category. It seems to suggest that you either have faith or reason, which is not what I believe ( I get the distinct impression that this is what people think I believe ).

Consider the opposite, too. It's not my view that reason is doubt. I think doubt is an essential part of reason. It's impossible to reason, to be analytical, to be logical and rational, without doubting. I think that's self-evident, and I know I'll be corrected if I'm wrong. If, then, you take out that essential part - which is what it means to take something on faith - then what you're left with is not reason. You're not making that decision - the decision to believe - on the basis of reason.

Why? Deductive reasoning isn't qualitatively any different from inductive reasoning as regards its relationship to experimental proof.

I'm not sure why you seized on this. I made the distinction only because with deductive reasoning, assuming your premises are true, the conclusion follows by logical necessity. With inductive reasoning, even if all your premises are valid, you may still end up with the wrong conclusion. I simply wanted to make the point that if you do end up with the wrong conclusion, and you don't know it's wrong, and as a result you believe in something that isn't true, that isn't faith.

On a side note: I feel, at this point, that the debate is only tangentially connected to my original contention. I think a sort of refocusing may be necessary, but I haven't the energy for that now. At any rate, I won't have it said that I duck questions, so I'll naturally address any counter-arguments to what I've said so far.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #52 on: October 08, 2012, 09:30:19 PM »
When you say there's a point where faith ends and reason begins, that implies a sort of duality, or a sort of scale with faith on one end and reason on the other.

But proposing that faith is the point where you "abandon" reason is exactly this. (It doesn't suggest that a person has one and not the other; it does suggest that enacting reason is an act separate from faith, which is a suggestion of a bright line where one ends and the other begins.)

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It's impossible to reason, to be analytical, to be logical and rational, without doubting. I think that's self-evident, and I know I'll be corrected if I'm wrong.

In fact I don't think this is necessarily the case,  though I can't be definitive about it. Can we know that Parmenides or Zeno had no doubt when they formulated the logical argument for the changelessness of the cosmos? No. On the other hand, doubt plays no necessary part in the proceedings. Likewise, where Gregory the Great decided to accept a proposition of faith, we cannot reliably conclude that he did so without doubt, and faith is not of course the absence of doubt. (Indeed it's a very mainstream contention in Christian theology that faith untested by doubt is meaningless; that's what the myth of the temptation of Christ is about.)

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If, then, you take out that essential part - which is what it means to take something on faith

No. Removal of doubt is not what it means to take something on faith. Taking something on faith means you believe it in spite of doubt, or because you believe you have good reason to weigh faith more heavily than doubt.

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I'm not sure why you seized on this. I made the distinction only because with deductive reasoning, assuming your premises are true, the conclusion follows by logical necessity.

But this has nothing to do with the distinction I was talking about. Your premises can be supplied as easily by mythology or personal inclination as by "reason." I seized on this because this argument made it seem to me that you don't understand what reasoning is or what its parameters are, or what the distinction between scientific and logical reasoning is. And I still think you don't understand those distinctions.

Having said that, I think there is a useful refocusing possible here, because again, what I think you're aiming at is not at all a distinction between faith and reason, but rather a (much more supportible) distinction between science and dogma.

Offline HemingwayTopic starter

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #53 on: October 09, 2012, 07:53:39 AM »
But this has nothing to do with the distinction I was talking about. Your premises can be supplied as easily by mythology or personal inclination as by "reason." I seized on this because this argument made it seem to me that you don't understand what reasoning is or what its parameters are, or what the distinction between scientific and logical reasoning is. And I still think you don't understand those distinctions.

I can't let this go unanswered. Let me assure you I do know, and I think I made it quite clear. I'm not going to try once again to convince you, so I'll simply leave it there for people to decide for themselves.

Having said that, I think there is a useful refocusing possible here, because again, what I think you're aiming at is not at all a distinction between faith and reason, but rather a (much more supportible) distinction between science and dogma.

No. I think the problem is we don't agree on what reason is and is not, and I should have narrowed it down and described exactly what I meant earlier on. I must insist on keeping faith, however, and I must insist on using the specific definition I provided. Here in another version, which sums up the view I've been trying to get across over my last few posts:

Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.

By faith, I do not mean any of the following:

1.  Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
3.  Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one's supporters.
4.  often Faith Christianity The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will.
5.  The body of dogma of a religion: the Muslim faith.
6.  A set of principles or beliefs.

What it means, quite simply, is that by taking something on faith - by accepting something based on insufficient or bad evidence - you're being unscientific, let's say. You're acting contrary to the type of scientific skepticism for instance Carl Sagan advocated, where, in the absence of evidence, you withhold judgment until the evidence is in. I want to make it very clear that I'm not saying reason and science are the same thing. My main contention was always ( I may have to take the blame for not making this clear, as I think I said this in the thread I linked to in the opening post, but made no mention of it here ) that faith is not always harmful, but has the potential to be. Faith is not a virtue. It's something we'd be better off without. Here's another Carl Sagan quote, which sums up why I think this is the case:

Quote from: Carl Sagan
“Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking; a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility.

If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then, we are up for grabs for the next charlatan (political or religious) who comes rambling along.”

This includes religious faith, but it extends far beyond it. It involves being skeptical of anyone who claims to know something for which there is no evidence or proof, to doubt any claim that can't be sufficiently backed up. This includes when state leaders claim we need to invade a country because this country poses an existential threat to us. It also includes doubting peddlers of miraculous "alternative medicine". If you buy some product which has no effect but claims to be able to cure some illness or another, then, at worst, you could be risking your life. That's not a hypothetical situation, either, as I'm sure people are well aware. Because people are suckers, and I'd rather they weren't. I'd feel safer if they weren't.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #54 on: October 09, 2012, 12:55:09 PM »
I must insist on keeping faith, however, and I must insist on using the specific definition I provided.

Except you're misusing that definition, and seem as thoroughly confused about it as you appear to me to be about "reason."

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What it means, quite simply, is that by taking something on faith - by accepting something based on insufficient or bad evidence - you're being unscientific, let's say. You're acting contrary to the type of scientific skepticism for instance Carl Sagan advocated, where, in the absence of evidence, you withhold judgment until the evidence is in.

First of all, this is basically just a restatement of your earlier contentions that faith is the absence of doubt and that faith is the "abandonment" of reason. It's just as silly and factually inaccurate as those earlier statements, and for the same reasons. Faith does not in fact require the absence of doubt, nor does the acceptance of a faith proposition automatically mean it is uncritically accepted in perpetuity. Faith is, as I've already said, simply the backdrop of non-rational propositions against which reason works (this usage of the term is, BTW, perfectly in agreement with the defintion you keep insisting on, something you seem not to have noticed). Strictly-speaking there is no act of reasoning that doesn't start from a faith proposition, even if that proposition is as basic as "there is an objective reality to investigate." And again as I've already said, a great deal of the history of science and of rational philosophy is actually to be found in the pursuit or support of what at first appear to be irrational propositions... including but of course far from limited to propositions of religious belief. Faith and reason are fundamentally intertwined, neither mutually exclusive nor separate, as much as you would like them to be. That's just a fact.

To address some of the meta-stuff beyond that basic issue: The Demon-Haunted World was a lovely book and all, but basically any time you take a limited polemic like it too seriously and imagine it to apply too widely, you will get into trouble. Carl Sagan was great at explaining the nuts and bolts of how scientific investigation and skepticism should work, and is of course correct: faith propositions should be examined skeptically (not an idea that is exactly new to me, if you've paid any attention to what I've written up-thread). However, the man was not a philosopher. He was not good at confronting and accounting for what in fact has historically been a fairly important role of faith in science, which is something pretty important to be able to account for if you're going to have an informed opinion about faith and reason. And you cannot ultimately rely on polemics from the trenches of America's culture wars as a complete guide to vastly complicated issues like this.

Most of all, the ideal of a world where science could work untouched and unimpeded by all that messy "faith" stuff is an unrealistic fantasy that disregards both human nature and the actual workings of real-life science. If in the West we had had to wait for a "science" produced in 100% pure faith-free fashion, we would still be in the Dark Ages at best, since our scientific tradition was a creation of faith at its root. Neither faith or skepticism is inherently a "virtue" -- such things are just tools, and can be used to good or bad account -- but nevertheless I think most of us would agree that having science at our disposal is something of a result. To want to impeach faith with the responsiblity for its role in charlatanism and evil while being squeamish and evasive about admitting its countervailing role in more positive phenomena like the discovery of the scientific method is to falsify and deny the facts. It's dishonest, and any skepticism really worth its salt should be concerned with avoiding that kind of dishonesty.
« Last Edit: October 09, 2012, 01:03:09 PM by Cyrano Johnson »

Offline HemingwayTopic starter

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #55 on: October 09, 2012, 02:14:16 PM »
It's just as silly and factually inaccurate as those earlier statements, and for the same reasons.

Between statements like this, your general condescending attitude, and your tendency to declare things wrong without explaining how or why, I'm starting to suspect that you have no real interesting in an actual discussion. If calling my statements "silly" is the level of maturity I can expect from you, I have no interest in continuing this supposed discussion.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #56 on: October 09, 2012, 04:34:46 PM »
If calling my statements "silly" is the level of maturity I can expect from you, I have no interest in continuing this supposed discussion.

You may certainly execute The Flounce at your discretion. Although I find your reaction to the word "silly" rather over-the-top and, well.... a bit silly... I'm really not trying to be condescending. If I'm coming across this way, it's just frustrating to explain the same thing several different ways and then have someone essentially just repeat the same thing back at you, or worse to be told that I have a:

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tendency to declare things wrong without explaining how or why

Which, since I have explained extremely clearly how and why... yeah. Just not that impressive, sorry.
« Last Edit: October 09, 2012, 04:43:26 PM by Cyrano Johnson »

Offline HemingwayTopic starter

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #57 on: October 09, 2012, 05:55:16 PM »
You may certainly execute The Flounce at your discretion. Although I find your reaction to the word "silly" rather over-the-top and, well.... a bit silly... I'm really not trying to be condescending. If I'm coming across this way, it's just frustrating to explain the same thing several different ways and then have someone essentially just repeat the same thing back at you, or worse to be told that I have a:

I have been repeating myself, because you've been, in my view, consistently missing the central point I've been trying to get across. Your attitude is condescending because, in my view, you've taken the attitude that this is not a result of us talking about two different things, but rather I'm wrong and you're trying to correct me, and I'm silly and refuse to listen. Which is precisely why I've been rephrasing and rewording my arguments.

But I think, maybe, I see a possibility here to avoid confusion.

Ignore religious faith. I want to stress that I haven't conceded anything with regards to religious. I made it very clear, right from the start, that I'm not talking strictly about religious faith, so forget about that. We're now talking about faith in political leaders, or in alternative medicine, or the promises of astrology. We're talking, regardless of your continued insistence that faith is "belief in spite of doubt", about belief unsupported by facts - or even opposed by facts.

I'll even provide the cultural context I'm talking about this from. Because here, where I live, religion is not actually a big issue. Homeopathy, healing, and other forms of quackery, as well as various claims of psychic abilities, those are. There is no evidence that any of them work. There is, in fact, a lot of evidence suggesting they don't work, at least no more than normal placebo. Well, when someone, knowing that, still believes that these treatment forms have an effect, that's faith. Or that's the type of faith I'm talking about. It's belief without evidence, belief that isn't justified in any way, other than through wishful thinking.

You could apply the same to various forms of extreme patriotism, where facts are no impediment to support for the action's of a person's country.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #58 on: October 09, 2012, 06:21:50 PM »
I have been repeating myself, because you've been, in my view, consistently missing the central point I've been trying to get across.

Well, what I'm trying to tell you is that there's more to the issue than the "central point" you're concerned with. I'm sorry if it offends you that I think you're wrong, but... you know, sometimes, we're wrong. It happens to the best of us. That I think you're mistaken doesn't mean I'm trying to be a dick, it just means I think you're mistaken.

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I made it very clear, right from the start, that I'm not talking strictly about religious faith

Yeah, you know, so have I. Multiple times. So... that's not very promising.

I've also specifically addressed the question of quackery and charlatanism. Yes you should be skeptical about these things, yes they should be subject to scrutiny, and no skepticism about these particular issues does not amount to the entirety of the debate about Faith and Reason, and yes it is misleading to pretend otherwise. I've expended enough words on this in the thread above that I see no need to repeat them here; maybe go back and have a look at some of my posts when you're a little less pissed at me. If such a time should come.

Offline HemingwayTopic starter

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #59 on: October 09, 2012, 06:51:34 PM »
I've also specifically addressed the question of quackery and charlatanism. Yes you should be skeptical about these things, yes they should be subject to scrutiny, and no skepticism about these particular issues does not amount to the entirety of the debate about Faith and Reason, and yes it is misleading to pretend otherwise. I've expended enough words on this in the thread above that I see no need to repeat them here; maybe go back and have a look at some of my posts when you're a little less pissed at me. If such a time should come.

It's such a good thing, then, that I've never made such a claim, or pretended that was a case. I'd hate to be dishonest.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #60 on: October 09, 2012, 06:54:22 PM »
It's such a good thing, then, that I've never made such a claim, or pretended that was a case. I'd hate to be dishonest.

Alrighty then.

Offline doodasaurus

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #61 on: October 09, 2012, 06:55:07 PM »
It's such a good thing, then, that I've never made such a claim, or pretended that was a case. I'd hate to be dishonest.

Yeah, he did the same thing to me.  I was wondering how long you were gonna hang in there.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #62 on: October 09, 2012, 06:59:47 PM »
Yeah, he did the same thing to me.  I was wondering how long you were gonna hang in there.

The Mitt Romney school of debate means never having to own up to what you actually said. Must be nice!

Offline Oniya

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #63 on: October 09, 2012, 07:07:30 PM »
*ahem*  Let's keep things civil.  Dropping unrelated and barbed comments does not fall under most definitions of civil.

Offline doodasaurus

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #64 on: October 09, 2012, 07:20:31 PM »
Oniya, this conversation stopped being civil for me when Cyrano put words in my mouth.  I'm a grown up.  It wasn't that he disagreed with me that I minded.  I wasn't real thrilled with the fashion that took, that way that some people of of decontextualizing an argument while ignoring intervening hypotheses and mitigating factors, but whatever.  But the moment that he told me I'd said something I most definitely did not say, the conversation got uncivil.

I actually prefer open hostility, though.  I figured he was that kind of dude and now I know for sure.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #65 on: October 09, 2012, 07:23:29 PM »
I'm not buying it, but doodasaurus is of course welcome to PM me and get specific about what words I'm supposed to have put in his mouth if it's really that much of a problem for him.

Offline Beguile's Mistress

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #66 on: October 09, 2012, 07:54:19 PM »
It makes no difference who threw the first rock.  Both of you stop it now.  Disrespect and incivility is not permitted.  If you'd like I can make it an official Staff warning.
« Last Edit: October 09, 2012, 08:01:39 PM by Beguile's Mistress »

Offline doodasaurus

Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #67 on: October 09, 2012, 08:02:46 PM »
Forgive me, you are right.  I should have remained silent.  Two wrongs don't make a right and I should have remembered that without having to be told.

Offline Cyrano Johnson

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Re: Faith and reason.
« Reply #68 on: October 09, 2012, 09:40:39 PM »
It makes no difference who threw the first rock.  Both of you stop it now.  Disrespect and incivility is not permitted.  If you'd like I can make it an official Staff warning.

So noted. Sorry about the mess.