Science And Faith

The following is my own over-simplified comparison of science and faith. I’m posting it for the purpose of generating conversation. Please substantiate your opinions with evidence and argumentation. I’m especially interested in hearing from those who think that faith is based on evidence. I hear this from time to time, but have never been able to tease out exactly the relationship between the two. Where does evidence end and faith begin? What principle warrants stepping beyond the evidence into faith?


SCIENCE-RELIGION


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45 thoughts on “Science And Faith

  1. Ben says:

    Hi Phil.

    Good to hear from you. I’m an agnostic, so I have no stake in this discussion at all. I’m just in it for fun. I believe it’s ok not to know for sure if there’s a higher power of some sort or not. I am fascinated by people on either extreme of the spectrum. Radicals.

    Science can explain many things, and yet here we are, the human species, ruling the planet with complete lack of rationality. I mean with what scientific knowledge we do have, why can’t we stop hunger and climate crises etc? Because we are irrational. Humans and nature and the universe itself can’t be explained by logic alone. Sure, gravity can be explained. Psychology, physics, biology, genetics, nanotechnology, abstract math, etc all analyze the laws that govern certain parts of of the knowable spectrum of our experiences, both material and non-material. And once understood, these laws and attributes we have found empirically and described (scientifically) can be put to use. For better or for worse. I believe in the value of science, in chances for betterment of the human condition & progress because of science, etc. I believe we should develop, support, & improve science.

    But science is just a tool. It is not a goal in and of itself. Science can explain natural laws, processes, etc, but it does not provide meaning in and of itself. Meaning is provided, if at all, by metaphysics.

    Which brings me to my other point – even though I do feel science is not the be-all and end-all (albeit being powerful, useful, and important, sometimes lifesaving), I think people who irrationally decry science as bad, evil, or as insupportable (for example when it contradicts religious dogma), people who are forcing schools to teach creationism rather than evolution, people who call others devils because of different sexual preferences or at times even due to political preferences (this is unthinkable to me!) – these kinds of people should be institutionalized! Fundamentalists scare me the same way Hitler scares me. I’m German, I know my history. Radicalism has no place in modern society. Or let’s just say it is destructive.

    Most radical thought is based on exclusion. Social as well as logical. Logical exclusion: A system of thought is created that may seem logical in isolation from external realities. Claims in the Bible about the beginnings of the human race work this way. They make sense if you didn’t know better. But we do know better. The problem is that the ‘knowing better’ destroys the logical integrity of the Bible. This can not be allowed, so the external reality of scientific achievements in the field of evolution, archeology, etc must be excluded from the system of thought adhered to by ‘pure’ Bible readers (who believe that nothing in the Bible is divergent from actual realities, i.e. just a metaphor). That’s logical exclusion.

    Social exclusion is simply the exclusion of people who believe anything outside of the small-minded, simplistic realms of thought adhered to by small-minded, simplistic people. How could a true, honest-to-god fundamentalist consort with liberal thinkers without becoming infected by some outrageously liberal thought? Difficult. Always being on the defensive must be tiring. Always having to accept somewhere deep inside that you’re talking illogically, that your mental constructs of reality are flawed, that your system of thoughts only survives by virtue of a kind of ‘logicide’, an extermination of thoughts that don’t suit you (much in the same way as genocide exterminates races that don’t suit you). So social exclusion is a consequence of logical exclusion.

    Anyway, I figure we can learn a lot, both in science and metaphysics (faith) – but we will never know everything. And there are no guarantees. The atom is the smallest particle? Well, it was, but only for a few years, until they found something smaller. The more you know, the more you know what you don’t know. Why not just accept that? Scared?

    My two questions, as food for thought are:

    1. (for fundamentalists) – Religion / faith is always a good thing? Show me liberal practicing genocide. Social and / or religious radicalism is always involved. Fundamentalism is a form of radicalism. Fundamentalism, in exclusion of true free and logical thought, always has destructive consequences in the end. Please: Keep your faith but accept science and build all truths into your faith, not only selective ones that happen to suit you and keep you from having to be self-critical. Or, alternatively: align yourself with great radical thinkers like bin Laden. (Just to be clear, this is not an anti-Islam statement. Christian and Jewish radicalism are just as dangerous and destructive.)

    2. (for pure scientists, who are sometimes radicals in their own right) – Seeing as science only explains, but fails to give meaning, what does give meaning?

    As you see, I’m happy as a non-radical agnostic. I have freedom of thought. I try to understand the knowable, and accept as real what can be empirically shown to be real. But I do not claim to understand the unknowable, or that what I can not see / test for is not there just because I can’t see it. And let’s face it, the reason why anyone would be foolish enough to even join this discussion is just because the unknowable is so titillating.

    ;-)

    Hope I’ve offended you all a whole lot,
    Love,
    Ben

    (I did notice I’m ranting more against radicalism in general than just the religious form of it, i.e. fundamentalism. But fundamentalism is a sort of radicalism, so all comments do apply to people for whom ‘faith’ overrides logic.)

  2. Ben says:

    Hi Phil.

    Glad to hear we agree. Please guys, somebody disagree, too ! ;-)

    Btw, metaphysics is not mentioned with the intent to equate it to faith, but rather in juxtaposition to science. Science does not attempt to find meaning, metaphysics does. Science merely describes and defines processes & laws – functionality. Metaphysics addresses questions science does not.

    But why mention metaphysics at all? One of the issues discussed as part of the discipline of metaphysics is faith. The second part of Aristotle’s ‘Metaphysics’ (in 3 parts) is “Natural Theology” and discusses the existence of the divine, questions about creation, etc. So faith is a sub-category to metaphysics, if you will. That’s all.

    Thanks for your comment, Phil and I agree – this point needed clarification.

    Brgds,
    Ben

    • Yes, if you follow the etymology of “metaphysics”, you’ll find that it has evolved from a very specific meaning to one imbued with vague and uncertain meaning.
      For this reason, most philosophers today avoid using the term since its meaning is too difficult to pin down.

      What is a Metaphysician?:
      A metaphysician is someone seeking to understand the substance of reality: why things exist at all and what it means to exist in the first place. Much of philosophy is an exercise in some form of metaphysics and we all have a metaphysical perspective because we all have some opinion about the nature of reality. Because everything in metaphysics is more controversial than other topics, there isn’t agreement among metaphysicians about what it is they are doing and what they are investigating.

      Source: http://atheism.about.com/od/philosophybranches/p/Metaphysics.htm

  3. Ben says:

    Hi Thanks, understood. My question: What would you call the discipline of thought that discusses the meaning of life?

    • “My question: What would you call the discipline of thought that discusses the meaning of life? ”

      Within my paradigm, we call it “existentialism”, though that term is also a bit vague. But existentialism concedes the idea that there is no objective meaning in life. Meaning is constructed upon the substrate of objective truth, but is constructed entirely of subjective values.

  4. Ben says:

    … and where are the comments from the people who actually disagree with you and me?!? I mean on the fundamental issues (not side issues like etymology.)

  5. Ben says:

    … i.e. meaning is not an objectifiable thing, right?

  6. Ben says:

    In a sense, I agree. We all find different meaning in life, and some find none. The major difference I see is that fundamentalists claim to have the right / obligation to prescribe this ‘meaning’ for others, whereas most liberal thinkers do not.

  7. Ben says:

    Ok – so all instances quoted by people who have a stake in making ‘unlikely coincidences’ look like voluntary acts of some higher order – what degree of improbability does it take for you before you consider the possibility that it’s not just chance?

  8. Ben says:

    Btw I just realized both “voluntary acts” and “higher order” are terms that are gonna lead us into a whole long messy discussion about terminology again. So let’s just say: Do you, with the limited amount of knowledge you have, completely rule out the possibility that events that seem guided by something other than chance actually are guided by anything other than chance?

    • No I don’t, though I think thinkers think things without thinking how their thinkers think. In other less alliterative words, humans tend to go around pointing out want seems to be amazing without assessing one enormous half of the equation. There is the thing deemed amazing, and the thing being amazed (the human brain). Simply because our brains see patterns does not mean those patterns necessarily have a supernatural cause. As one example, when people looked through the early telescopes at Mars, they were certain they saw canals on the planet, and “scientists” of all sorts wrote long speculative papers on the civilization that was most certainly there. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martian_canal)

      A proper assessment of the brain naturally leads us towards a healthy skepticism concerning notions of divine causation.

      If you are talking about the basic “laws” of nature, I give considerable credence to the idea that they may have a supernatural cause, though I do so skeptically (https://philstilwell.wordpress.com/2009/09/08/non-prescriptive-laws/).

      However, to say that there is something beyond chance that is individually guiding our lives seems to be quite contrary to what modern statistics and probability theory demonstrates. There seems to be nothing that happens to individuals that violates laws of probabilities. There seems to be no sign that there is ever a violation of material cause/effect.

  9. Paul Wallace says:

    Hi Phil. Thanks for your blog. I have enjoyed poking through it today.

    I think faith is based on something real. You ask for evidence? I don’t really have any that is external to myself and my community, none that I can point out and say, “any objective person can see that this is the case.” I understand the whole “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” thing, but again I don’t understand why, if this evidence is not clear and external and easily identified to the satisfaction of an outside observer, then it is not evidence or is somehow off-limits or not acceptable. Are you open to evidence that is not objective? Life is not a science, and it’s not clear to me that it should be treated as one. Let me know what you think.

    Yours,

    Paul, who is a Christian but not one that is going to pass out pamphlets or argue my way through life.

    • Hey Paul,

      I believe that those who assess life scientifically have more control over their lives, and consequently, more satisfaction than those who choose to live by faith.

      To the degree that we have evidence, to this degree we can keep our lives grounded on the same scientific methodology that has proven so productive over the past few years that science has flourished.

      Faith leads to poor decisions, and subsequent fatalistic rationalizations. It does not offer predictive power.

      Cheers, Phil

  10. Paul Wallace says:

    Thanks for the response, Phil. Let me make sure I understand you. You believe that:

    (1) Life is such that (a) one has control over it, and (b) the more control one has, the better

    (2) One’s world view is chosen by standing aloof above the fray of competing world views and allowing one’s reason eliminate all but the best, like a cautious consumer

    (3) Insofar as possible, life should be treated as a science

    (4) People who have religious faith make bad choices and fatalistic rationalizations

    Just making sure I hear you clearly before I repond.

    Paul

    • (1) Yes, we have a degree of control over our lives, and those who have more control of their lives are better capable of achieving their goals.
      (2) Approximating truth does not require assessing a list of ideologies. Truth is probably most closely approximated when individual propositions are assessed, and am ideology is carefully built from scratch.
      (3) The truth beneath our subjective lives should be assess scientifically, but our subjective lives should be enjoyed emotionally.
      (4) People reach religions beliefs based on a faulty disposition that MORE belief upon LESS evidence is blessed (John 20:29). This is the opposite of science which places MORE belief upon MORE evidence.
      Cheers.

  11. Paul Wallace says:

    Great. Thanks for the clarifications.

    (1) I agree with you, and if the essence of life was achieving goals, then I think I would be on board with you on the control issue. My understanding of Jesus’ life and ministry tells me that control is, for the most part, an illusion; and that giving up control is a virtue. We are probably at an impasse here.

    (2) I like this view of yours — it seems more organic, more like actual life. My own view is that we are basically *converted* to the most fundamental pieces of our world views, whether or not these pieces are religious in nature. And I think this conversion and what it looks like depend on how other people in our lives have hated us or loved us. Or how well we have loved or hated others. Upon *that* basis we lay the foundation of our world views, and then the organic process you describe builds on that. IMO.

    (3) I agree with you, actually, but I think that science (in the sense of detached, careful observation) and subjectivity are not mutually exclusive. Over the course of 42 years I have approached my faith with some degree of hard-headedness, much to the chagrin of some of my family and church friends. If you are interested, you may want to check out my blog entry, Behold the Void, on this issue. You need to read to the bottom to get the punchline about the “scientific approach” to faith.

    (4) I understand John 20:29 differently than you. Can one “see” or “understand” without seeing or understanding in the everyday, discursive use of these terms? Not all knowledge is scientific. Put another way, there is more to us humans than our intellects and our emotions. This “more” lies beneath our intellects and emotions and supports them and contains them, and it is on this deeper level that non-scientific knowledge (and I do mean *knowledge*) can be apprehended. I understand Jesus to be saying that we must be able to see on this level; he who has ears let him hear, he who has eyes let him see, etc. So here we have a difference in scriptural interpretation. And regarding your statement about predictive power, you will not hear me arguing against it. Again, if life’s essence was found in such power, I could not be a Christian. I think I’d just kill myself.

    One final thing to say: I can’t see for the life of me that “faith leads to poor decisions” is anything but a gross generalization. You may look to spectacular events like 9/11 or the Crusades to back you up, and that’s fine. You won’t hear me saying that religion had nothing to do with those (although they were mostly about something else). But if you could see and know the faithful people I see every week who live lives of full of unbelievable courage and hope because of their faith — and their name is legion — you may think otherwise.

    I just figured out that you’re an artist and that you live in Tokyo. Both very cool. I am a bit of an art fan myself, as is my wife. Our kids are subjected to visits to art museums every time we visit a new city, and here in Atlanta they go about once a month. They won’t know until they’re older that not everyone knows who Robert Motherwell is.

    Take care,

    Paul

    • Hey Paul,

      You said…

      And regarding your statement about predictive power, you will not hear me arguing against it. Again, if life’s essence was found in such power, I could not be a Christian. I think I’d just kill myself.

      Why do you think you’d kill yourself? Does have a purely objective foundation of our lives remove our subjective joys?


      And what evidence do you you have for this domain of spirituality you posit beneath our intellect and emotions?

      • Paul Wallace says:

        (1) First, I’m certainly jumping the gun, but just in case this conversation is going this way: I do not think there can be no morality apart from God. I know many Buddhists who do it easily. But religion is not primarily about morality. I do not “believe in God” because I need a basis for morality or because I need security from an unsafe world. (In fact, the one important thing that I have learned as a follower of Jesus is: there is no security, not in reason, not in religion, not in “God,” not in science, philosophy, money, or anything else. Security is an illusion.) I “believe in God” because something in me “believes.” I have found that I can’t *not* believe. Belief for me is not merely a matter of my rational choice. My belief in God *at root* has nothing to do with intellectual assent or agreeing with any stated proposition about God or the Bible or Jesus or whatever. My belief comes from my experience and the collective witness of others. past and present. Bit of a tangent; sorry.

        (2) You criticize faith because it does not lead to predictive power, which is true; it does not. But why is this bad? Why is “predictive power” necessary? Why is it an ultimate good?

        (3) The comment about killing myself was serious; I’m a cynic about many things. The essence of life is NOT found in power of any kind, including predictive power. If life were essentially about power and not about other things — hope, faith, love, etc. — I would find life on this planet intolerable. As whatshisface said to God in The Brothers Karamazov: If that is how the world is, “I respectfully return my ticket.”

        (4) You ask, “What evidence do you you have for this domain of spirituality you posit beneath our intellect and emotions?” I have (a) my interior experience, (b) my changed exterior life, (c) the changed lives of others, and (d) the voices of many, past and present, and not just Christians, who witness to the same vast domain of spirituality. If it is evidence you seek, that is what I have. Are you willing to investigate it thoroughly and with an open mind?

        (4) You ask, “Does having a purely objective foundation of our lives remove our subjective joys?” No. I can have joys — and sorrows — no matter how I approach life. But those joys and sorrows will be interpreted, and interpretation makes a huge difference. Also I find it difficult to separate my worldview — what I think is true — from my subjective joys and sorrows. I can’t bear that kind of split in my life. I can’t live that way.

        (5) Again, I ask: Why should life be treated as a problem to be solved? Why approach it with reason *alone*? we have other faculties. What evidence do you have that this is an effective way to approach life?

        • Hi Paul,

          Thanks for numbering the points. It makes it easier to respond.

          (1) You said…

          Belief for me is not merely a matter of my rational choice.

          My position is that any belief that is not warranted (based on rational choice) is headed away from truth. This is based on the history of science in which both methods have been tested. Irrational choices have not lead to the predictive power that in turn leads to greater advances in medicine an science. Rational choices do. Can you give an example where an irrational (or “non-rational’) choice has yielded predictive power? How else would you assess the value of choice if not by its success in the real world?

          (2) Predictive power reflects one’s approximation to truth. The stock market analyst who provides the highest returns is rightfully deemed the one with the most accurate algorithms that reflect the truth behind the markets. Can you imagine someone in the business world claiming to be a business guru who experiences bankruptcy after bankruptcy? When Einstein, in all confidence, predicted that the light from the stars would bend around the sun, he was demonstrating his approximation to truth. Any ideology that would dare belittle predictive power is not to be trusted as they can then make affirmations without need for substantiation. This is indeed “faith”, and this is indeed the deception behind non-rational belief systems.

          (3) I have love, but not unwarranted hope or faith. Am I not supposed to be enjoying life as much as I am? Once you remove unwarranted faith and hope from your life, you have a much firmer foundation for the full expression of your humanity in all it’s subjective and emotional colors.

          (4a) I have examined both my own “spiritual” experience, as well as the “spiritual’ experience of others. I’ve discovered that, upon scrutiny, anecdotal “testimonies” about the working of god in people’s lives dissipate into normal expected probabilities. When larger sample sizes of christians are compared to non-christians, there is clearly no experiential advantage that might be attributed to “answered prayer” or “righteous living”. The data proffered for the power of god equals the data we would expect if the very same god did not exist.

          (4b) I’m well-practiced in living 2 very distinct modes of life. When I philosophize, I do so with all the objective rigor I can muster. This occupies perhaps 40% of my life. When I choose to live as an emotional subjective creature in line with my human nature, I do so with all my heart as my friend will firmly attest. Once you have approximated objective truth, this informs your emotional explorations and allows you to maximize joys. I hope that you are not saying that such a two-mode approach to life is not possible. Could it be fear that prevents you from living fully in both domains of being?

          (5) Reason is the only appropriate foundation. It produces the predictive power that our emotions can then fearlessly and comfortably ride on. Any other modality that does not provide predictive power is impotent and useless. If a particular modality makes you feel good, yet does not provide predictive power, than you are forfeiting truth for comfort, and this can severely take away from the life you could have lived. The objective tool of reason provides predictive power that produces better decisions that maximize the subjective emotional joys in life. Subjectivity is optimized when grounded upon solid objectivity. Clearly define your world and your self, and you will have enormous predictive power that makes decision-making unquestionably more accurate, and life-living amazingly rich.

  12. Dwight Brown says:

    This discussion appears to be actually about forming a hasty generalization of an individual’s or group’s objectivity based on anecdotal evidence.

    Consider two “scientists” who approach there subjects from opposing goals:
    – A scientist who is intent on disproving the existence/probability of God.
    – A scientist who is intent on proving the existence/probability of God.

    Ultimately they both make critical assumptions, the first that God does not exist, the second that God does. Both assumptions will determine how evidence and data is collected and examined. It seems as though your assumption, Phil, is that due to the Faith of the second, his conclusions will be less accurate.

    So I think here “science” is assumed to be truly objective, with a person engaging in it required to be open to any possibility with no specific goal; however what a person’s critical assumptions are does not make them more or less open to possibilities that disagree with them.

    For science to work there must be objectivity, yet I suggest it is vary improbable an individual or group is truly objective, but rather subjective or mutually subjective. People seem, in general, to be very dishonest with themselves throughout life and to consider oneself truly objective requires the assumption you are not personally being affected by a subconsciously concealed bias.

    Everyone makes critical assumptions when coming to their conclusions, some produce MORE evidence then others, yet if the assumption becomes false, so too does the evidence. Evidence then can also become subjective.

    There is the tendency to create a false dichotomy between Science and Faith. This seems to be because Science requires evidence where Faith does not, however that does not make them mutually exclusive.

    • Sorry Dwight, but you’ve been fed a lie about the “assumptions” of science. The only assumption we need is the assumption of logical coherency that all who use language are committed to.

      Here are the steps when assessing the existence of any god.

      1. Determine which god is being posited.
      2. Determine whether the god being posited is logically coherent.
        • Does the god posited claim to be loving and “slow to anger”, then become so impatiently wrathful upon the very first offense of humans that he damns then to eternal torture?
        • Does the god posited claim that a 3-day death of his “son” pays the price of eternal torture for the offender?
        • Does the god posited make the personal acceptance of his son a requirement for salvation, then let much of the world die without knowledge of this fact?
        • Does the god posited claim to offer an absolute morality, then suddenly decide that slavery, polygamy, genocide and men taking women as booty of war to be suddenly immoral after years of complicity in these actions?
        • Does the god posited claim to be omnipotent, then find himself impotent against chariot of iron?
        • Does the god in question claim the bible to be inerrant, then have one of the “inspired” writers take another writer completely out of context? (Hosea 11;1)
        • Does the god posited suggest that believing MORE upon LESS evidence is “blessed”?

        If the answer is yes to even one of the questions above, the god posited is as illogical as a square triangle, and deserves no further consideration.

      3. Determine whether the god being posited can be distinguished from an imaginary god.
        • Does the god posited make any promises that can be tested?
        • Can the god posited affect the material causal chain in a way that can be tested?

        Unless the answer is “yes” to any of the sub-questions above, there is no sense in continuing, and belief in such a god is foolish as he is either impotent or non-existent.

      4. If there is a way to test the claims of the god posited, apply the test to a sufficient sample size within a properly designed experiment to determine whether the results are statistically significant and above placebo.
      5. Determine what channel of communication the god posited has dispatched for clear communication to humans. This can be done by assessing the agreement among those claiming to be in contact with such a god through that particular channel.
      6. Determine whether any “personal” relationship with the god posited is merely psychogenic. This can be done by assessing the predictive power of believers. It is this predictive power that places science above any god-belief posited to date.

      When it comes to science, you’ll find that objectivity is a central goal. For this reason, ideas and theories that emerge from subjectivity must be vetted in a community of scientists that reduce any subjective influence to a minimum. Have scientists been able to achieve this through the methods of peer review, blinded studies and the like? Look at the technologies we use every day, and consider their exponential growth since the introduction of rigorous objective filters into the scientific method.

      Here is the dichotomy between science and faith.

      • Faith places MORE belief upon LESS evidence.
      • Science places MORE belief upon MORE evidence.

      These opposite concepts cannot be coherently held in a unified epistemic disposition.

      Placing MORE belief where there is LESS evidence is always wrong as is suddenly proclaimed by the ordinarily credulous religious when someone among them defects to the “wrong” religion.

      You’re just attempting to co-opt the successes of science, and dishonestly claim scientists also have “faith”. This belies an ignorance of science, scientists and the scientific methodology that has yielded predictive successes far beyond what any religion has provided in any domain of knowledge.

      Read this link for a primer on how scientific methodology was first applied, then absurdly dismissed out-of-hand due to “faith” in an incoherent holy book.

  13. Paul Wallace says:

    Phil, you wrote above to Dwight:

    You’re just attempting to co-opt the successes of science, and dishonestly claim scientists also have “faith”.

    Do you mean by this that scientists cannot have faith? Just trying to clear it up for myself.

    Paul

    • Good point. I should have made that clear.

      Scientist who base their research on “faith” will not prosper in science. If they want to “compartmentalize” and employ reason in their research and “faith” in their subjective lives, the cognitive dissonance is theirs to live with. This is clearly done by many scientists. However, “faith” is rarely seen employed in statistical analysis and the design of experiments. As soon as an unsubstantiated hypothesis is believed with the absolutism of theistic “faith”, the scientist is no longer doing science.

  14. Paul Wallace says:

    Phil, thanks for the response. I have made comments below. My name tells you which mine are. I don’t have a lot of formatting capabilities on my end of this. (Can I put html tags in my comments?)

    (1) My position is that any belief that is not warranted (based on rational choice) is headed away from truth. This is based on the history of science in which both methods have been tested. Irrational choices have not lead to the predictive power that in turn leads to greater advances in medicine an science. Rational choices do. Can you give an example where an irrational (or “non-rational’) choice has yielded predictive power? How else would you assess the value of choice if not by its success in the real world?

    Paul says: Why is it necessarily true that the approaches that work well in science will work well everywhere? If all you have is a hammer, every job looks like a nail, etc. And my non-rational choice to leave a tenured faculty position teaching a subject I love to bright college students in a wonderful professional environment, have four pain-in-the-ass yard sales, move my family, including my pregnant-for-the-third-time wife, so I could begin a three-year seminary program so I could get a job doing God-knows-what, and live FAR beneath the level my family was accustomed to: This choice has had wonderful benefits and will have wonderful benefits, but they’re not visible. Yet.

    (2) Predictive power reflects one’s approximation to truth. The stock market analyst who provides the highest returns is rightfully deemed the one with the most accurate algorithms that reflect the truth behind the markets. Can you imagine someone in the business world claiming to be a business guru who experiences bankruptcy after bankruptcy? When Einstein, in all confidence, predicted that the light from the stars would bend around the sun, he was demonstrating his approximation to truth. Any ideology that would dare belittle predictive power is not to be trusted as they can then make affirmations without need for substantiation. This is indeed “faith”, and this is indeed the deception behind non-rational belief systems.

    Paul says: Again, predictive power is important in the sciences and in business and in economics; I know enough about the history of physics and astronomy and the philosophy of science to know this. But how does predictive power play out in your daily life? I’m really just curious. I should also add that I use as much of my rational power as possible when making decisions. I consider rationality to be a wonderful tool. But reason does not rule my decisions in every case. Again, I use my intellect in conjunction with my deeper spiritual faculty. Sometimes that faculty trumps all else, but that’s a fairly uncommon event. More often than not the two are in sync.

    (3) I have love, but not unwarranted hope or faith. Am I not supposed to be enjoying life as much as I am? Once you remove unwarranted faith and hope from your life, you have a much firmer foundation for the full expression of your humanity in all it’s subjective and emotional colors.

    Paul says: I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. How do faith and hope dampen one’s enjoyment of life? And is “enjoyment of life” your ultimate goal? I’m not saying that enjoyment of life is not a good thing; Jesus ate and drank and laughed with the best of them. But that was not his ultimate telos. And it is not mine.

    (4a) I have examined both my own “spiritual” experience, as well as the “spiritual’ experience of others. I’ve discovered that, upon scrutiny, anecdotal “testimonies” about the working of god in people’s lives dissipate into normal expected probabilities. When larger sample sizes of christians are compared to non-christians, there is clearly no experiential advantage that might be attributed to “answered prayer” or “righteous living”. The data proffered for the power of god equals the data we would expect if the very same god did not exist.

    Paul says: I like what you say here, and I will not presume to question the earnestness or thoroughness with which you have examined these things. Nor will I question the statistical results. But I would like to know how the statisticians defined “answered prayer” and (especially) “righteous living.” If my own life were tested by a model that defined “righteous living” by the same standards as those used by some Christians I know, the conclusion would be: I’m riding the Hell Train, first class.

    (4b) I’m well-practiced in living 2 very distinct modes of life. When I philosophize, I do so with all the objective rigor I can muster. This occupies perhaps 40% of my life. When I choose to live as an emotional subjective creature in line with my human nature, I do so with all my heart as my friend will firmly attest. Once you have approximated objective truth, this informs your emotional explorations and allows you to maximize joys. I hope that you are not saying that such a two-mode approach to life is not possible. Could it be fear that prevents you from living fully in both domains of being?

    Paul says: Your all-out quality in both modes is enviable. And I think your website and Facebook photos also attest to that same quality :-) But I suspect that the same love of and respect for life drive both of your modes. I see them as two faces of the same personality. And what I can’t do is believe one thing at some times, and act at other times as if I believe something else. I’m not saying you do that; it just appears to me that that may be the case. And as far as fear preventing me from living fully, you may be right. Fear has ruled, and continues to rule, broad swaths of my life.

    Does anything contextualize your rationalism? Or is it, what you see is what you get?

    (5) Reason is the only appropriate foundation. It produces the predictive power that our emotions can then fearlessly and comfortably ride on. Any other modality that does not provide predictive power is impotent and useless. If a particular modality makes you feel good, yet does not provide predictive power, than you are forfeiting truth for comfort, and this can severely take away from the life you could have lived. The objective tool of reason provides predictive power that produces better decisions that maximize the subjective emotional joys in life. Subjectivity is optimized when grounded upon solid objectivity. Clearly define your world and your self, and you will have enormous predictive power that makes decision-making unquestionably more accurate, and life-living amazingly rich.

    Paul says: Here I have lots to say, but I have said some of it already. One is, religious faith (for me) is not an opiate. Usually it’s a pain in the butt. It makes me do things I don’t really want to do: get up and get the family to church on Sunday mornings; give up hope in *everything* I want to cling to; examine myself relentlessly; be painfully aware, almost all the time, of my status as a creature and of my essential nothingness. Also, reason may be the only appropriate foundation, unless there’s a better, truer one.

    Let me know what you think. I’m enjoying our discussion.

    Paul

    • (1) My position is that any belief that is not warranted (based on rational choice) is headed away from truth. This is based on the history of science in which both methods have been tested. Irrational choices have not lead to the predictive power that in turn leads to greater advances in medicine an science. Rational choices do. Can you give an example where an irrational (or “non-rational’) choice has yielded predictive power? How else would you assess the value of choice if not by its success in the real world?

      Paul says: Why is it necessarily true that the approaches that work well in science will work well everywhere? If all you have is a hammer, every job looks like a nail, etc. And my non-rational choice to leave a tenured faculty position teaching a subject I love to bright college students in a wonderful professional environment, have four pain-in-the-ass yard sales, move my family, including my pregnant-for-the-third-time wife, so I could begin a three-year seminary program so I could get a job doing God-knows-what, and live FAR beneath the level my family was accustomed to: This choice has had wonderful benefits and will have wonderful benefits, but they’re not visible. Yet.

      If there is another channel to truth other than the scientific method, it will work. Can there be another measure of truth other than predictive power? What does it mean to have a valid channel of truth that does not yield predictive power? This seems nonsensical to me.

      (2) Predictive power reflects one’s approximation to truth. The stock market analyst who provides the highest returns is rightfully deemed the one with the most accurate algorithms that reflect the truth behind the markets. Can you imagine someone in the business world claiming to be a business guru who experiences bankruptcy after bankruptcy? When Einstein, in all confidence, predicted that the light from the stars would bend around the sun, he was demonstrating his approximation to truth. Any ideology that would dare belittle predictive power is not to be trusted as they can then make affirmations without need for substantiation. This is indeed “faith”, and this is indeed the deception behind non-rational belief systems.

      Paul says: Again, predictive power is important in the sciences and in business and in economics; I know enough about the history of physics and astronomy and the philosophy of science to know this. But how does predictive power play out in your daily life? I’m really just curious. I should also add that I use as much of my rational power as possible when making decisions. I consider rationality to be a wonderful tool. But reason does not rule my decisions in every case. Again, I use my intellect in conjunction with my deeper spiritual faculty. Sometimes that faculty trumps all else, but that’s a fairly uncommon event. More often than not the two are in sync.

      For example, when I meet a new friend, I don’t assume that they are a “sinner” with a natural predisposition to evil as the bible states. I believe, based on my inductive analysis of my experience with other new friends throughout my life, that they will be quite nice and will rarely turn out to be more evil than I can endure. This is why I go out of my way to meet new people I see by themselves in coffee shops and clubs. Does that answer your question?

      (3) I have love, but not unwarranted hope or faith. Am I not supposed to be enjoying life as much as I am? Once you remove unwarranted faith and hope from your life, you have a much firmer foundation for the full expression of your humanity in all it’s subjective and emotional colors.

      Paul says: I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. How do faith and hope dampen one’s enjoyment of life? And is “enjoyment of life” your ultimate goal? I’m not saying that enjoyment of life is not a good thing; Jesus ate and drank and laughed with the best of them. But that was not his ultimate telos. And it is not mine.

      The very definitions of faith and hope denote a divergence from the degree of evidence available. They are emotions. Living life on emotions most commonly results in poor decisions and ultimately more pain than necessary. Yes, enjoying life is my ultimate goal. This is not a shallow hedonism, but rather encompasses all the emotions at every depth of existence.

      (4a) I have examined both my own “spiritual” experience, as well as the “spiritual’ experience of others. I’ve discovered that, upon scrutiny, anecdotal “testimonies” about the working of god in people’s lives dissipate into normal expected probabilities. When larger sample sizes of christians are compared to non-christians, there is clearly no experiential advantage that might be attributed to “answered prayer” or “righteous living”. The data proffered for the power of god equals the data we would expect if the very same god did not exist.

      Paul says: I like what you say here, and I will not presume to question the earnestness or thoroughness with which you have examined these things. Nor will I question the statistical results. But I would like to know how the statisticians defined “answered prayer” and (especially) “righteous living.” If my own life were tested by a model that defined “righteous living” by the same standards as those used by some Christians I know, the conclusion would be: I’m riding the Hell Train, first class.

      Before looking at actual studies, I think it is important to get a commitment from you on the feasibility of such a study on prayer or “righteous living”. Do you think such a study is possible? Why or why not? Such a study can go either way. I am definitely willing to look closely at any study that yields a significant result either direction. Are you?

      (4b) I’m well-practiced in living 2 very distinct modes of life. When I philosophize, I do so with all the objective rigor I can muster. This occupies perhaps 40% of my life. When I choose to live as an emotional subjective creature in line with my human nature, I do so with all my heart as my friend will firmly attest. Once you have approximated objective truth, this informs your emotional explorations and allows you to maximize joys. I hope that you are not saying that such a two-mode approach to life is not possible. Could it be fear that prevents you from living fully in both domains of being?

      Paul says: Your all-out quality in both modes is enviable. And I think your website and Facebook photos also attest to that same quality :-) But I suspect that the same love of and respect for life drive both of your modes. I see them as two faces of the same personality. And what I can’t do is believe one thing at some times, and act at other times as if I believe something else. I’m not saying you do that; it just appears to me that that may be the case. And as far as fear preventing me from living fully, you may be right. Fear has ruled, and continues to rule, broad swaths of my life.

      Does anything contextualize your rationalism? Or is it, what you see is what you get?

      I view life as the only game in town. I could lament my objective lack of free will or my lack of a soul, but I’d rather spend my life enjoying the game. What other option do I have? And the game is truly amazing. Wanting life to be more than a subjective game does not make it so. But my human subjectivity far exceeds by objective contemplations in terms of joys…well, I must admit, understanding life through my objective mind is itself a very immense pleasure. So I choose to enjoy both. Yeehaw!

      (5) Reason is the only appropriate foundation. It produces the predictive power that our emotions can then fearlessly and comfortably ride on. Any other modality that does not provide predictive power is impotent and useless. If a particular modality makes you feel good, yet does not provide predictive power, than you are forfeiting truth for comfort, and this can severely take away from the life you could have lived. The objective tool of reason provides predictive power that produces better decisions that maximize the subjective emotional joys in life. Subjectivity is optimized when grounded upon solid objectivity. Clearly define your world and your self, and you will have enormous predictive power that makes decision-making unquestionably more accurate, and life-living amazingly rich.

      Paul says: Here I have lots to say, but I have said some of it already. One is, religious faith (for me) is not an opiate. Usually it’s a pain in the butt. It makes me do things I don’t really want to do: get up and get the family to church on Sunday mornings; give up hope in *everything* I want to cling to; examine myself relentlessly; be painfully aware, almost all the time, of my status as a creature and of my essential nothingness. Also, reason may be the only appropriate foundation, unless there’s a better, truer one.

      I can only suggest that, the chemicals that encourage the sensation of being in love make the “addict” decide that no mountain is too high nor ocean too wide to keep them from the object of their love. This does not require the object of their love to be reciprocating or even real. Reason is necessary to first assess the existence and nature of the object of love. Only then can we enjoy our illusion of being in love in confidence that we have optimized the outcome. So hardship based on an emotional choice does not validate the underlying beliefs. The fact that you feel like your faith makes you choose tedious activities that keep you out of trouble speaks nothing to the veracity of its object. I like your commitment to reason. I believe this will eventually lead you out of your faith. Then we’ll have even more in common! I’m looking forward to it! ;)

      I also am enjoying the dialog.

      Cheers, Phil

      • Paul Wallace says:

        OK Phil, here we go!

        Phil >>> I like your commitment to reason. I believe this will eventually lead you out of your faith. Then we’ll have even more in common! I’m looking forward to it! ;)

        Paul > What ho! An atheist and a proselytizer?! I have stumbled upon true goodness! Let us now reason together…

        Phil >>> What does it mean to have a valid channel of truth that does not yield predictive power?

        Paul > I believe we have had some trouble with the term “predictive power.” I have used it for decades, but only within the physical sciences. Applying beyond that arena has never occurred to me. I think I see what you’re getting at. I will see if I can wrap my head around your broader use of the term and use it accordingly.

        Phil >>> For example, when I meet a new friend, I don’t assume that they are a “sinner” with a natural predisposition to evil as the bible states. I believe, based on my inductive analysis of my experience with other new friends throughout my life, that they will be quite nice and will rarely turn out to be more evil than I can endure. This is why I go out of my way to meet new people I see by themselves in coffee shops and clubs. Does that answer your question?

        Paul > Yes. And perhaps I have stumbled upon something important here. Science, especially things like quantum mechanics and relativity, have taught me an important lesson: The physical world is not as it seems. My religious faith has shown me the same thing, but on a broader and deeper scale, and containing the personal. I do not believe, as many Christians do, that we are all “sinners,” but I do believe that we resist — sometimes to the death — seeing others and ourselves with clear vision. Fear of seeing clearly leads to what is called “sin.” But I do not believe that we are *fundamentally* sinful. I think something more radical than this: I think that “I,” that is, what I refer to in the first person singular, has no true essence. There’s nothing of “me” at the center of the onion. I am nothing “of my own.”

        So what does this have to do with predictive power? This “spiritual” way of looking at things has changed my world so much that what I call “predictive power” is different than what many others may call predictive power. I guess all I’m saying is that I predict different things. For example, I predict that death — in the spiritual, emotional, intellectual meanings of the word — will bring spiritual, emotional, and intellectual life. For me, the way up is down. I predict that total surrender is the best way to “win,” and I predict that giving up my search for identity and security is the only way to know myself and live with confidence. What looks like resignation to others is, for me, the beginning of actual joy. I predict that giving up reason as a god will lead one to think more clearly. Etcetera.

        Maybe that helps, and maybe it muddies the waters a bit. Not sure.

        Phil >>> The very definitions of faith and hope denote a divergence from the degree of evidence available. They are emotions.

        Paul > Now I see what’s happening here. To me these are NOT emotions. I’m afraid that part of the problem has been — as it so often is — about language. Although I spent a number of years outside of Christianity as a self-described “pagan-agnostic,” I grew up within a Christian community and I have been part of such a community for two decades since I returned to the fold. And for Christians, faith and hope are very much more than emotions. For example, faith is, to me, much closer to reason than it is to emotion. My emotions, as important as they are, sometimes toss me back and forth and threaten to make life very tedious. My faith is what tells my emotions when to get off the bus. My faith has kept me sane over the last four years of terrible emotional ups and downs.

        I would like to know how you define love, and how for you it is not an emotion, but that mat be for later.

        Phil >>> Enjoying life is my ultimate goal. This is not shallow hedonism, but rather encompasses all the emotions at every depth of existence.

        Paul > No judgment here, but I suspect that there may come some point in your life when “enjoying life” will not be enough to get you through. I know enough about you to know that you’ve come through terrible personal crises in good shape, and I’m NOT making light of those troubles (believe me, it’s no joke for me — my parents divorced when I was 5). But my personal opinion is that we are made for more. I am a member of a 12-step group — clean and sober for almost seven years (!) — and I see guys every week who are absolutely broken. “Enjoying life” is a bad joke for them, and the *only* hope they have is total reliance on something bigger than themselves. Reason, willpower, knowledge? For these folks at the bottom of their lives, many suicidal, these are total liabilities.

        Phil >>> I am definitely willing to look closely at any study that yields a significant result either direction. Are you?

        Paul > I will admit to being a skeptic about such studies, but the skepticism springs not from fear but from an over-refined sense of what good science is and is not. (We physicists tend to be a little snobby on this.) I am skeptical about such studies for scientific reasons, is what I mean. And no study can be more damning to my faith than the statistic — which I believe because its terms and conditions seem to be decently defined — that Christians have a significantly higher divorce rate than the general public. That is a shame. I can’t even talk about it without despairing. One would think that the community context of churches ALONE would be enough to help Christians keep their relationships aright. But no.

        That being said, if you could point me toward any recent studies, I’d be grateful. I’ll do my best to recognize good data when I see it!

        Phil >>> I view life as the only game in town. I could lament my objective lack of free will or my lack of a soul, but I’d rather spend my life enjoying the game. What other option do I have? And the game is truly amazing. Wanting life to be more than a subjective game does not make it so. But my human subjectivity far exceeds by objective contemplations in terms of joys…well, I must admit, understanding life through my objective mind is itself a very immense pleasure. So I choose to enjoy both. Yeehaw!

        Paul > Yes, the game is amazing. I agree without reservation!

        What I really love about science is that when things are going well, everything’s on the table. No whiff of agendas. WYSIWYG. So I envy you in some ways your approach that life is the only game in town. There’s a novel called Cold Mountain and it’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read. There’s a character — he’s a pastor, of course — who thinks that everything is about something else, but the protagonist — his name is Inman — understands life and the natural world to be just as it appears, without all the higher claptrap. Inman thinks the pastor is tragically disconnected. I envy Inman his perspective, but try as I might I can’t make it work in my own life. I am envious of you that it works so well in yours. And I mean this. I envy my Buddhist friends for the same reason.

        Phil >>> The fact that you feel like your faith makes you choose tedious activities that keep you out of trouble speaks nothing to the veracity of its object.

        Paul > I agree, although “keep me out of trouble” may be the wrong phrase. The things I think are tedious, the things I don’t want to do, do not keep me out of trouble. Often they lead to trouble. But, importantly and paradoxically, they ALWAYS lead to a life of community and freedom for me. This is a small facet of “the way up is down” that I mentioned before.

        Phil >>> I like your commitment to reason. I believe this will eventually lead you out of your faith. Then we’ll have even more in common! I’m looking forward to it! ;)

        Paul > My own thinking on this is that reason *alone* can’t lead me out of my faith. It’s just not persuasive enough for me. There is a place within us that is beyond reason. My experience is that, when you really work it, reason eventually gives out. It’s an important tool, nothing more. My commitment to reason may not be as impressive as you seem to think!

        As you were,

        Paul

        • Phil >>> What does it mean to have a valid channel of truth that does not yield predictive power?

          Paul > I believe we have had some trouble with the term “predictive power.” I have used it for decades, but only within the physical sciences. Applying beyond that arena has never occurred to me. I think I see what you’re getting at. I will see if I can wrap my head around your broader use of the term and use it accordingly.

          I’m not sure how any individual could make a claim to have superior knowledge in any domain, yet not be able to make superior predictions.
          If it all ends at “belief” without the validation of demonstrable predictive power, how could one ever say any belief is superior to any other?

          Phil >>> For example, when I meet a new friend, I don’t assume that they are a “sinner” with a natural predisposition to evil as the bible states. I believe, based on my inductive analysis of my experience with other new friends throughout my life, that they will be quite nice and will rarely turn out to be more evil than I can endure. This is why I go out of my way to meet new people I see by themselves in coffee shops and clubs. Does that answer your question?

          Paul > Yes. And perhaps I have stumbled upon something important here. Science, especially things like quantum mechanics and relativity, have taught me an important lesson: The physical world is not as it seems. My religious faith has shown me the same thing, but on a broader and deeper scale, and containing the personal. I do not believe, as many Christians do, that we are all “sinners,” but I do believe that we resist — sometimes to the death — seeing others and ourselves with clear vision. Fear of seeing clearly leads to what is called “sin.” But I do not believe that we are *fundamentally* sinful. I think something more radical than this: I think that “I,” that is, what I refer to in the first person singular, has no true essence. There’s nothing of “me” at the center of the onion. I am nothing “of my own.”

          But to say that nothing in the world appears to our senses as it actually is (its qualia), seems like an attempt to say there is no way we can assess our epistemic proximity to metaphysical reality through a study of reality’s “shadows” which are quite measurable. And it is here that predictive power allows us to test our “shadow-derived” hypotheses of the underlying substrate of reality.
          And I’m a bit surprised at your statement that we are not all fundamentally sinful. What of all the bible verses that seem to strongly state we are fundamentally sinful? Do you believe in the inerrancy of scripture? And if the fact that there is no real entity behind the “I” of subjectivity is true, don’t you think the “word of truth” would have made mention of this rather critical fact?

          So what does this have to do with predictive power? This “spiritual” way of looking at things has changed my world so much that what I call “predictive power” is different than what many others may call predictive power. I guess all I’m saying is that I predict different things. For example, I predict that death — in the spiritual, emotional, intellectual meanings of the word — will bring spiritual, emotional, and intellectual life. For me, the way up is down. I predict that total surrender is the best way to “win,” and I predict that giving up my search for identity and security is the only way to know myself and live with confidence. What looks like resignation to others is, for me, the beginning of actual joy. I predict that giving up reason as a god will lead one to think more clearly. Etcetera..

          To the degree that the “joy” you are referring to is manifest in real life, to this degree it can be tested to see whether the surrender of self to faith in some particular “savior” makes one more joyful.
          But this would be only the first step. If this surrendering of the self to faith makes one more joyful, then the next step is to see whether there is any necessary relationship between the concept of the object of the surrender and the actual existence of that object of surrender. I’m going to suggest, based on what I’ve seen across diametrically opposed religions, that the increased joy derived from the surrender of self to faith in some “savior” does not require that the “savior” is real.
          I’m only interested in what is real, not was makes us feel good.

          Phil >>> The very definitions of faith and hope denote a divergence from the degree of evidence available. They are emotions.

          Paul > Now I see what’s happening here. To me these are NOT emotions. I’m afraid that part of the problem has been — as it so often is — about language. Although I spent a number of years outside of Christianity as a self-described “pagan-agnostic,” I grew up within a Christian community and I have been part of such a community for two decades since I returned to the fold. And for Christians, faith and hope are very much more than emotions. For example, faith is, to me, much closer to reason than it is to emotion. My emotions, as important as they are, sometimes toss me back and forth and threaten to make life very tedious. My faith is what tells my emotions when to get off the bus. My faith has kept me sane over the last four years of terrible emotional ups and downs.

          I’m going to strongly suggest that belief, to the degree that it does not map to evidence, is emotional. “Faith” as it is traditionally defined (sola fide), consciously and intentionally exceeds the evidence. This is the unwarranted emotion of confidence. If you are suggesting that faith is anything other than an emotion, please provide a rigorous definition and explanation of how this is possible. Also explain what justifies your divergence from the commonly held notion of faith. And does not the biblical quote “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief” show that faith can be nothing other than an emotion?
          And how can hope be anything other than an emotion?

          Phil >>> Enjoying life is my ultimate goal. This is not shallow hedonism, but rather encompasses all the emotions at every depth of existence,

          Paul > No judgment here, but I suspect that there may come some point in your life when “enjoying life” will not be enough to get you through. I know enough about you to know that you’ve come through terrible personal crises in good shape, and I’m NOT making light of those troubles (believe me, it’s no joke for me — my parents divorced when I was 5). But my personal opinion is that we are made for more. I am a member of a 12-step group — clean and sober for almost seven years (!) — and I see guys every week who are absolutely broken. “Enjoying life” is a bad joke for them, and the *only* hope they have is total reliance on something bigger than themselves. Reason, willpower, knowledge? For these folks at the bottom of their lives, many suicidal, these are total liabilities.

          If I ever reach a point of despair, this despair will say nothing about the validity of my beliefs. If truth is the goal, emotional human responses to any truths unveiled have no validity in the analysis. Myths provide comfort. This is undeniable. This does not interest me. Truth does.

          Phil >>> I am definitely willing to look closely at any study that yields a significant result either direction. Are you?

          Paul > I will admit to being a skeptic about such studies, but the skepticism springs not from fear but from an over-refined sense of what good science is and is not. (We physicists tend to be a little snobby on this.) I am skeptical about such studies for scientific reasons, is what I mean. And no study can be more damning to my faith than the statistic — which I believe because its terms and conditions seem to be decently defined — that Christians have a significantly higher divorce rate than the general public. That is a shame. I can’t even talk about it without despairing. One would think that the community context of churches ALONE would be enough to help Christians keep their relationships aright. But no.

          I’m with you on appropriate skepticism when it comes to research. But I here want to focus on your belief that your faith provides testable results due to the reality of its object, and your commitment to follow the indications of any such tests. What biblical promises have been given to christians? How do we assess the fulfillment of those promises?
          And, yes, I believe that when the bible says “by their fruits ye shall know them”, it is saying that christians will have lives that match biblical standards to a degree that exceeds the general population and other non-christian populations such as found in Japan. If christians’ bodies are the “temple of the holy spirit”, you should find less obesity among them than in the general population. If godliness can be assessed by comparing crime rates, you’ll have to concede that a sufficiently large sample of evangelicals, for example, should have a lower crime rate than found in the general population of Japan. Or are there no such promises given christians?

          Phil >>> I view life as the only game in town. I could lament my objective lack of free will or my lack of a soul, but I’d rather spend my life enjoying the game. What other option do I have? And the game is truly amazing. Wanting life to be more than a subjective game does not make it so. But my human subjectivity far exceeds by objective contemplations in terms of joys…well, I must admit, understanding life through my objective mind is itself a very immense pleasure. So I choose to enjoy both. Yeehaw!

          Paul > Yes, the game is amazing. I agree without reservation!

          What I really love about science is that when things are going well, everything’s on the table. No whiff of agendas. WYSIWYG. So I envy you in some ways your approach that life is the only game in town. There’s a novel called Cold Mountain and it’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read. There’s a character — he’s a pastor, of course — who thinks that everything is about something else, but the protagonist — his name is Inman — understands life and the natural world to be just as it appears, without all the higher claptrap. Inman thinks the pastor is tragically disconnected. I envy Inman his perspective, but try as I might I can’t make it work in my own life. I am envious of you that it works so well in yours. And I mean this. I envy my Buddhist friends for the same reason.

          I have much more control over my life now that I don’t believe I have a god I can lean on. It’s a cliche, but true nonetheless; god-belief is a crutch.

          Phil >>> I like your commitment to reason. I believe this will eventually lead you out of your faith. Then we’ll have even more in common! I’m looking forward to it! ;)

          Paul > My own thinking on this is that reason *alone* can’t lead me out of my faith. It’s just not persuasive enough for me. There is a place within us that is beyond reason. My experience is that, when you really work it, reason eventually gives out. It’s an important tool, nothing more. My commitment to reason may not be as impressive as you seem to think!

          It seems to me that anything beyond reason falls into the category of emotions, and is thereby a faulty filter of truth. If you do not think this is true, could you provide a rigorous explanation?

  15. Dwight Brown says:

    Phil, you’re reply is unfortunately itself riddled with assumptions.

    Let me first clarify that after out previous discussion I realized my own perception of “Faith” was different from that of many others. Whereas most related Faith to ‘strong belief in the super natural’, I myself looked at it as belief in anything without empirical evidence or belief that is simply subjective. This seems more accurately defined as an assumption, critical or otherwise. Henceforth I will (attempt) to keep usage of the word “Faith” delegated to the spiritual.

    I am not attempting to co-opt scientific “successes” with Faith. I firmly believe successes do and continue to occur without faith, and some (few) without little or no critical assumptions necessary (applied or not).

    Your examples for assessing the existence of god (obviously skewed towards biblical-only examples) makes it’s own obvious assumptions that I would only expect from the standard “Christian believer”, perhaps unsurprising given your past.

    1) You assume the Bible is “God’s Word”; presumably because ‘it says so’

    2) You assume that all books within it are intended, by God, to be grouped together, and thus determine if there is a contradiction or falsity discovered, it is all falsified.

    3) You assume understanding based on your (or others) interpretation of an ancient collection of books, written in a time we can only piece together, through anecdotal evidence, what the culture was like, often translated and re-translated (such as the Septuagint) and in a dialect no longer spoken.

    4) Ultimately you assume the validity of the evidence while subsequently using that assumption to invalidate the same evidence. It is illogical to take what someone says about someone or some thing, and based on that anecdotal evidence determine the subject does not exist.

    You seem to make the same mistakes most believers make, and use their own illogic against them. Likely this has brought you success which has encouraged you to believe it must be accurate.

    Based on your proposal a more accurate conclusion would be that the evidence is questionable and that there exists some disconnect between the various texts, translations, and interpretations; and thusly cannot be accurately used to come to a conclusion.

    But instead of realizing you evidence is inadequate, you are, ironically, choosing to believe MORE on LESS evidence on this subject.

    This brings me back to your straw-man dichotomy of Science and Faith which abuses logic.

    You suggest that because:
    – “Faith places MORE belief upon LESS evidence.”
    that it is also true that:
    – “Faith places LESS belief upon MORE evidence.”

    This is a logical fallacy. There is simply a lower base requirement of evidence in your examples.

    • Dwight,

      You said…

      Phil, you’re reply is unfortunately itself riddled with assumptions.

      1) You assume the Bible is “God’s Word”; presumably because ‘it says so’

      I really want to give you the benefit of the doubt here, but either you are completely ignorant of both common logical devices and what I’ve clearly stated believe, or you are intentionally and dishonestly attempting to equate an “arugmentum ad absurdum” argument with an assumption held in belief.

      I don’t want to say you are dishonest (the next time I see you do this I will), so I’m forced to school you in the basic logic that you should learn before posting on a site dedicated to rationality.

      Take a look at this example.

      Dwight: Because god exists, there is an objective unchanging moral standard.
      Phil: If god exists, and if this god has given us an objective immutable moral standard, and if this same god has mutated in his moral stance on slavery, then you have the absurdity of a mutating immutable moral standard.

      This can be simplified by…

      Dwight: Because X, then Y.
      Phil: If X, then not X.

      This device of logicians that I employed is a conditional statement and is called argumentum ad absurdum.

      You made the assumption X.
      I then took the assumption you made and hold to arrive at a conclusion that is internally inconsistent with your beliefs.

      Let me ask, having read much on my beliefs, did you really think I believe the bible is “God’s Word”? Have I not been clear I don’t believe in a god? Are you just being silly? Are you intentionally attempting to misrepresent my beliefs? Do you have anything to contribute without misrepresenting what I believe.

      Don’t post here again until you either rid yourself of mendacity, or learn the basics of logical argumentation.

      And it is Jesus (Don’t even think about dishonestly claiming I am admitting the biblically defined Jesus is real) who blessed those who believed more upon less evidence in John 20:29. Jesus inverted the proper relationship between evidence and belief. I don’t have to introduce the related proposition “Faith places LESS belief upon MORE evidence” as you wrongly claimed I have. The formulation Jesus gave is clearly absurd. We can stop there.

      • Dwight Brown says:

        Obviously you do not believe the Bible is “God’s Word” in earnest, I am simply referring to how you state your evidence in refuting the existence of God in your examples. They make the assumptions listed, which is absurd given your stated stance on the subject.

        Your entire argument is based on what is in the Bible and attributing excerpts from it to whom you want, again based on what the Bible says. You employ circular logic to support your conclusion.

        You can not disprove God using the Bible, you can only dismiss the Bible itself. If you want to disprove the existence of a posited god, you can’t use their own “holy books” as your evidence unless you have first validated their reliability. What validates these books besides anecdotal evidence that you already dismiss?

        • Dwight.

          Do not post on this site anymore until you learn what an argumentum ad absurdum is and make a clear statement indicating that you have learn such. I’m serious. You’re just embarrassing yourself. We don’t need your foolishness on this site. Do some simple research. Here’s a start; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_absurdum

          Here’s another simple example you should be able to understand.

          Granting that Santa visits every home of every child in the world on Christmas eve, he would have to travel at a speed that would incinerate both him and the sleigh.

          Note that I don’t have to believe in Santa, nor provide evidence for Santa for this argument to work. I don’t need to believe in the bible, nor demonstrate it veracity before I employ the assumption of its veracity that christians have made to demonstrate its incoherency. Shame on you.

          Now I really do suspect you are simply a liar. How can you not have encountered nor understood this common device in logical argumentation?

        • Dwight’s last comment was deleted due to his inability to follow my request.

          For those who’d like another example of “argumentum ad absurdum”, consider the 3 following statements I made today.

          1: I never tell a lie.
          2: I was born in 1980.
          3: I am 49 years old.

          Do you have to know the truth value of either #2 and #3 before you can dismiss #1 as false?

          Nope.

          Do I need to believe, much less prove, #1 before I can assess the internal (in)coherency of the triad of statements?

          Nope.

          Likewise with any book that claims inerrancy and contains contradictory statements.

          Very simple.

  16. Paul Wallace says:

    Hi Phil. Thanks for the quick reply.

    Phil > But to say that nothing in the world appears to our senses as it actually is (its qualia), seems like an attempt to say there is no way we can assess our epistemic proximity to metaphysical reality through a study of reality’s “shadows” which are quite measurable.

    Paul >>> I did not say that *nothing* is as it appears. If I did imply this, I certainly didn’t mean to. As an illustration, Newton’s laws work very well so long as one is confined to certain scales of time and space. But they fail once you go beyond that; at this point they are seen as a special case of more comprehensive laws that predict not only what appears to be the case, but a host of larger, deeper, and counter-intuitive phenomena: the uncertainty principle, quantum nonlocality, time dilation. One finds that the rabbit hole is quite deep, in other words. Surfaces are real, yes, but they are not the only thing, and, IMO, they are not the main thing. And they are far from the most interesting thing.

    Phil > And I’m a bit surprised at your statement that we are not all fundamentally sinful. What of all the bible verses that seem to strongly state we are fundamentally sinful? Do you believe in the inerrancy of scripture? And if the fact that there is no real entity behind the “I” of subjectivity is true, don’t you think the “word of truth” would have made mention of this rather critical fact?

    Paul >> No, I don’t believe in the inerrancy of scripture. And of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of practicing Christians that I personally know and have known, none of them hold to inerrancy (and a large fraction do not hold to infallibility). Well, maybe a couple, but no more than I could count with one hand. Fundamentalists, despite their persistent presence in the press, are a distinct minority. I do not base my belief on the Bible alone. It is a resource of first rank, it has spoken to me — not literally — hundreds of times, and without it I would be lost at sea. And when I do read it I do not read it literally. Doing so is not possible. I base my belief largely on experience. It may be Christians are a much more diverse lot that you thought!

    On the “fundamentally sinful” thing, on the other hand, I probably hold a minority opinion. I think the case is more extreme than that being “sinful”; I think that we do not even exist as individual essences. And in this point I am *definitely* in the minority of Christians; this, in fact, is a — perhaps *the* — central tenet of Buddhism, a tenet they call “emptiness.” On my blog I have made much of the great influence Buddhism — especially emptiness — has had on my life. It would be easier of I could ignore it, but I can’t. It strikes me as too true to be ignored. And despite what Christianity may seem to be on the outside, it is NOT about believing certain things or toeing the party line. It is about allowing one’s life to be conformed to the life (and death) of Jesus. It is about following him. Jesus said “follow me”; he did not say to his disciples, “give this checklist of beliefs a good look-over and if you can sign off on it, you’re golden.” He did not insist on a set of statements that one must agree with.

    You may say, How can I know Jesus apart from the Bible? Well, I think you *can* know Jesus apart from the Bible, but that’s a long and winding road. We would need to get through a lot more of the basics of faith before that conversation could bear fruit. So, how can I pick and choose the scriptures that I like? Well, I don’t know, but everyone does it, including those who argue against the Bible’s (literal and non-literal) veracity. And while I do it, I do try to keep the parts I don’t like or understand in my sights, though, and I try to remember that they are there. They provide a nice necessary tension. But faith is basically about picking the holes you can live with, and I don’t spend my life in anxiety about squaring up the Bible with itself.

    Phil > I’m only interested in what is real, not was makes us feel good.

    Paul >>> I too am only interested in what is real. Surely it is possible that reality, when faced squarely, makes us feel good. But I really don’t claim that reality does this. Well, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. Emotions have little to do with it.

    Let me be clear: I love all of the world great faiths, but I am in love with my own. I do not think that all other faiths are “wrong” and mine is “right.” That’s just silly. Yes, there are obvious differences between them; it would be intellectually dishonest to say otherwise. But I am more interested in what makes them similar. And you will never hear me say that Christianity is a universal religion, that you must “accept Jesus as your savior to go to heaven.” It is a peculiar faith and is culturally conditioned to a large degree. But that DOES NOT mean that it does not point to something really, really real. Religion, as I see it, is a response to what is really real, and at its best it functions as a pointer in the direction of the real. One of the greatest missteps religious people take is mistaking the sign (religion’s outward manifestations) for the signified (ultimate reality, what I and other Christians call “God”).

    Phil > I’m going to strongly suggest that belief, to the degree that it does not map to evidence, is emotional. “Faith” as it is traditionally defined (sola fide), consciously and intentionally exceeds the evidence. This is the unwarranted emotion of confidence. If you are suggesting that faith is anything other than an emotion, please provide a rigorous definition and explanation of how this is possible.

    Paul >>> No, I won’t do that. I’m not interested in doing it. I did not arrive at faith because reason led me to it; see my story here. Sola fide is a distinctly Protestant concept that has to do with justification. It is normally opposed to justification by works and has nothing to do with evidence or the lack of it.

    Phil > Also explain what justifies your divergence from the commonly held notion of faith. And does not the biblical quote “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief” show that faith can be nothing other than an emotion?

    Paul >>> Not sure how that quote relates to faith being an emotion. It may have been said while the speaker was feeling great emotion, but that does not mean that faith is an emotion. The spiritual aspect of life is central and it *contains* the emotions. Spiritual insight is often accompanied by emotional reactions, but emotion is not the essence of such insights.

    Phil > Myths provide comfort. This is undeniable. This does not interest me. Truth does.

    Paul >>> Perhaps myths provide access to a level of truth that cannot be reached by reason alone. And again, perhaps reality provides comfort. Why not?

    Phil > It seems to me that anything beyond reason falls into the category of emotions, and is thereby a faulty filter of truth. If you do not think this is true, could you provide a rigorous explanation?

    Paul >>> Again, no I can’t, not that will satisfy you. By your witness, you have already looked at the evidence I have supplied: my internal and external life, the internal and external lives of others. And you have decided that the data do not warrant faith. That is a fine conclusion, so long as one insists on seeing the world through lenses of reason alone. If I decided to live my life in this way, I would not be a Christian either.

    What you do and what I do are fundamentally different: You are trying to argue against the efficacy — reasonableness? — of faith, and I am trying to paint you a picture. I have lost my faith in the power of reason alone to make significant changes in my life. I used to have such faith, but I lost it. It was a great step forward.

    Phil > I have much more control over my life now that I don’t believe I have a god I can lean on.

    Paul >>> Control is an illusion. I’m sorry, but I think this is true.

    Phil > It’s a cliche, but true nonetheless; god-belief is a crutch.

    Paul >>> I’m thinking that perhaps this dialogue has run its course. We know each other now, and I am grateful for that. I look forward to further discussions with you and I will keep your feed on psnt.net. But I think that this conversation has gone as far as it can. You value control; I say it is an illusion. You say that my faith is a crutch; I say that I have staked my life on something that may turn out to be completely wrong. I may be wrong. My “religious experiences” may be all sound and fury, signifying nothing. And yet I have surrendered to them and they have changed my life. Yet I may be completely wrong. I have lain awake at night wondering about this. So has my wife. More than once.

    I can’t see for the life of me how such uncertainty can be a crutch of any kind.

    Your friend,

    Paul

    • Hey Paul,

      1. Can you explain what you mean when you say control is an illusion. When I strengthen my mind and body, and make other decisions that maximize my ability to move the world to fall more in line with my desires and will, is this not control?

      2. The efficacy of my beliefs as made manifest by their predictive power is what makes my beliefs superior to beliefs based on whim or emotions. You seem to be saying that there is something else that can give warrant to beliefs. Can you expound?

      3. You say you have “lost faith” in reason alone to effect changes in your life. What was reason supplemented with, and how do you assess it’s efficacy to change your life in contrast to reason alone?

      4. You say the “surface” of reality is not the important thing. What is the most important thing, and how do we know it is and come to know what it is?

      Cheers, Phil

      • Paul Wallace says:

        Phil, here’s the deal.

        Eight years ago, I was an addict and at one of the lowest points of my life. Without getting into the details, I can summarize my predicament using a few bullets:

        * I was always angry, regularly snapping at my wife and children. I can make a nice long list of things I destroyed out of anger: a car stereo, an iron, a wall, a glass shower door (this last one gave me 30 stitches), numerous childrens’ toys, etc.

        * I lived inside a bubble, emotionally isolated from everyone. And if anyone tried to get too close and push themselves into my bubble, I responded with anger and sarcasm and withdrawal.

        * I had tried for 15 years to break my habit with reason, knowledge, self-knowledge, willpower, confession (to my wife and friends), psychotherapy, and prayer. And probably lots of other things. In the long term, though, none of this did anything to make the problem go away. My utmost efforts were worse than useless.

        * I lied constantly to my wife and others (including colleagues and deans) so that I could be alone with my fix. My entire life was centered around those lonely but blissful — so I thought — hours.

        * Willpower, “knowing the answer,” and knowledge were total liabilities. The more I tried to control the addiction, the more out-of-control it got.

        * Probably more lousy crap that I can’t think of at the moment. My life was out of control, and no one really knew it but me. Not even my wife, who know a little about it but not nearly everything.

        In any case, through a chain of happy circumstances, I joined a 12-step group in January 2004 and have been clean and sober ever since. It has not been easy. At times, even in sobriety, I have been suicidal. But the first three of the 12 steps are

        1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable

        2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

        3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

        In step 3, God can be anything from the group itself to a vague “life-force” to the Christian God to Brahman. The important thing is that it must be bigger than the individual who is surrendering. I know several who started out believing in the group itself; all of these have moved on to believe in something bigger.

        It was in the 12-step group that I began to understand what faith actually meant, and now I think I can answer your four questions.

        Phil >>> 1. Can you explain what you mean when you say control is an illusion. When I strengthen my mind and body, and make other decisions that maximize my ability to move the world to fall more in line with my desires and will, is this not control?

        Paul > I have found that what is true for my addiction is true for life as a whole; this is because 12-step programs are not about “the problem” — drugs, booze, sex, gambling, whatever — but are about life itself. One can’t recover without undergoing a wholesale life change. And surrender is the key to that change. As I am learning to let go of my control over my habit, so I am learning to let go of a lot more in life. I think that the more one can let go of things — all kinds of things — the better life gets. I could expound on this but that may be for another day.

        Phil >>> 2. The efficacy of my beliefs as made manifest by their predictive power is what makes my beliefs superior to beliefs based on whim or emotions. You seem to be saying that there is something else that can give warrant to beliefs. Can you expound?

        Paul > My changed life gives my beliefs warrant — after 15 years of doing my damnedest to fix myself with knowledge and self-control — the one thing that worked was letting go of the steering wheel.

        Phil >>> 3. You say you have “lost faith” in reason alone to effect changes in your life. What was reason supplemented with, and how do you assess it’s efficacy to change your life in contrast to reason alone?

        How do I assess the efficacy of faith to change my life? I’ll tell you: I’m alive, not in jail, still married. Before I began recovery I had a recurrent nightmare of being an 85-year old man, sitting in a closet alone with my fix. I don’t have that dream anymore.

        Phil >>> 4. You say the “surface” of reality is not the important thing. What is the most important thing, and how do we know it is and come to know what it is?

        I came to know (in the sense of experiential, not discursive knowledge) about the most important things — God, hope, faith, love — through losing all hope in my ability to control my life its outcomes.

        And I know many other people who can tell similar stories. Many of them were much worse off than I was when I started, almost seven years ago. This seems to be a pretty good case of predictive power. That predictive power is why 12-step groups are still around, almost 100 years after they began.

        This is the real story. The hardest part is having to admit — over and over — that I’m a f**kup and to really embrace that fact. I still go to meetings every Saturday and I still have a sponsor and I still serve on committees, etc. because I will never be fixed. I don’t graduate. This is my life.

        Hope you’re well.

        Your friend,

        Paul

        • Hey Paul,

          While I acknowledge that your experience of a changed life is significant to you, it is a single data point in an assessment of whether there is any reason to believe the change is not mere placebo and falls within normal expectations in a material world. I have too many friends from too many diametrically opposed religions claiming that their own particular god-belief delivered them from their foibles. The all can’t be right, but they all can be wrong. I’m suggesting that the lack of any one particular religion to exceed what is statistically expected in a material world in terms of changed lives is indeed evidence of the lack of true efficacy and the existence of the object of their faith. Faith, when viewed statistically, has produced no effect above placebo, and has not resulted in the discovery of truth. This discovery of truth is my goal. I don’t want my behavior modification to be based on myth.

          Phil >>> 1. Can you explain what you mean when you say control is an illusion. When I strengthen my mind and body, and make other decisions that maximize my ability to move the world to fall more in line with my desires and will, is this not control?

          Paul > I have found that what is true for my addiction is true for life as a whole; this is because 12-step programs are not about “the problem” — drugs, booze, sex, gambling, whatever — but are about life itself. One can’t recover without undergoing a wholesale life change. And surrender is the key to that change. As I am learning to let go of my control over my habit, so I am learning to let go of a lot more in life. I think that the more one can let go of things — all kinds of things — the better life gets. I could expound on this but that may be for another day.

          A change in thinking will always have some effect on behavior. If I am addicted to chocolate, and then come to belief that eating chocolate will eventually turn me into a chocolate bunny, that belief will deliver me from the debauchery of chocolate addiction. Arbitrary belief does not take us in the direction of truth. Only reason and the warrant of evidence takes us to truth.

          Phil >>> 2. The efficacy of my beliefs as made manifest by their predictive power is what makes my beliefs superior to beliefs based on whim or emotions. You seem to be saying that there is something else that can give warrant to beliefs. Can you expound?

          Paul > My changed life gives my beliefs warrant — after 15 years of doing my damnedest to fix myself with knowledge and self-control — the one thing that worked was letting go of the steering wheel.

          As I mentioned above, a single data point is a single data point. It is a start, granted, but is insufficient to draw any conclusions. It sounds like you have already read studies that have employed large sample sizes or data bases to assess divorce among evangelicals. This is proper science, and from this we can draw proper inferences. Citing a single data point, even if it is your own point, is to abandon the scientific method.

          Phil >>> 3. You say you have “lost faith” in reason alone to effect changes in your life. What was reason supplemented with, and how do you assess it’s efficacy to change your life in contrast to reason alone?

          How do I assess the efficacy of faith to change my life? I’ll tell you: I’m alive, not in jail, still married. Before I began recovery I had a recurrent nightmare of being an 85-year old man, sitting in a closet alone with my fix. I don’t have that dream anymore.

          Single data point. I hear similar reports of “divine” intervention from my Muslim and Hindu friends. If you can show how your faith produces behaviors superior to the behaviors of the faithful of other religions, only then will you have my attention.

          Phil >>> 4. You say the “surface” of reality is not the important thing. What is the most important thing, and how do we know it is and come to know what it is?

          I came to know (in the sense of experiential, not discursive knowledge) about the most important things — God, hope, faith, love — through losing all hope in my ability to control my life its outcomes.

          And I know many other people who can tell similar stories. Many of them were much worse off than I was when I started, almost seven years ago. This seems to be a pretty good case of predictive power. That predictive power is why 12-step groups are still around, almost 100 years after they began.

          This is the real story. The hardest part is having to admit — over and over — that I’m a f**kup and to really embrace that fact. I still go to meetings every Saturday and I still have a sponsor and I still serve on committees, etc. because I will never be fixed. I don’t graduate. This is my life.

          I’ll pay close attention to any well-designed and statistically significant study that demonstrates the efficacy of a particular belief system. I will then need to determine whether the changed behaviors were due to placebo, and whether there must have been supernatural intervention. Anecdotal testimonies do not get us there. The popularity of a religion or 12-step group does not get us there. Our own experience does not get us there.
          However, there is no reason to believe that the material effects of a genuine god could not be shown to be statistically significant and beyond placebo. I await the evidence, a bit skeptical, but admitting the possibility. But you’ll not find me believing until the evidence has arrived.

          5. You also claimed in you last post that will-power was a liability in your life. How could this be so?

  17. Paul Wallace says:

    Phil,

    I am not the only one who can tell such a story. I know hundreds of people who can tell similar tales, and have read the stories of many from the past who can do the same. Hundreds of thousands of people have recovered in AA and other 12-step groups over the last 100 years. So for me it’s not really a single data point. So I for one don’t need to see a study on the efficacy of faith for changing lives. I just don’t see the point in studying proofs for the ocean’s existence when I have swam in it.

    And I am NOT claiming that only the “Christian God” can do this. I have friends who have recovered who talk about God but are not Christians (or Hundus or Muslims). I also have friends who are Buddhist and Muslim who have recovered. I suspect that God functions as God regardless of what name God is called by. But until an addict calls on God by a name, in general they do not find peace and recovery.

    I have nothing else to say about the evidence for the efficacy of faith. This is all I have.

    Yours,

    Paul

    • I’d highly advise you to conduct or at least fund a study on the changed lives of those who turned to some god or other. Given the number of christian scientists out there, I’m surprised such a study has not already been attempted given the immense boost it would give christianity once the power of god has been demonstrated. Comparing a large sample of christians to an equal sample of random Japanese might be very informative. You could test things such as the ability to overcome addictions such as smoking, the ability to restrain yourself from making your god your belly (Philippians 3:19) as marked by obesity, the number of arrests or incarcerations, and the comparative number of divorces. Your theory of needing to submit to a higher power would not allow atheistic Japanese to have will-power that exceeds that of christians.

      Sorry for the sarcastic tone…I couldn’t resist. ;)

  18. Paul Wallace says:

    Sorry to keep adding on like this! It is a symptom of my busy life; my wife started a new job a week ago and I started my last semester in seminary yesterday. And the kids are also in school now (but not the baby, of course).

    Phil wrote: If I am addicted to chocolate, and then come to belief that eating chocolate will eventually turn me into a chocolate bunny, that belief will deliver me from the debauchery of chocolate addiction.

    This is not true. If you are an addict, this will not work. If the promise of death or prison time or public humiliation will not change an addict’s behavior, how will the chocolate bunny thing? You do not seem to understand that addicts do not act reasonably. In fact, it often happens that the worse the consequences — disease, loss of family, job — the more thrill one gets out of the fix. Many addicts seek punishment. Many addicts want to die. I surely did.

    Your friend,

    Paul

    • Paul, I know far too many former smokers who gave up the addiction after faced with negative news about their health. Here in Japan I’ve seen too many Japanese men quit cold-turkey just before becoming fathers as their love for their children trumped their body’s craving for nicotine.

      It is will-power with the backing of possible negative consequences that has cured many addicts for a wide variety of addictions, including alcoholism.

      However, negative consequences have little effect if there is no self-esteem. Why protect yourself if you despise yourself? In christian societies there is an inherent self-deprecating concept called “sin”. Children are taught they are worthless sinners, and therefore they have no motivation to make choices that would prolong their “worthless” lives.

      Your route was to give yourself value by associating yourself with a god. This also can give one motivation to change, but speaks nothing to the existence of the god chosen.

      • Paul Wallace says:

        Phil > Paul, I know far too many former smokers who gave up the addiction after faced with negative news about their health. Here in Japan I’ve seen too many Japanese men quit cold-turkey just before becoming fathers as their love for their children trumped their body’s craving for nicotine.

        Paul >>> I did not say that no one cannot stop any habit without consciously submitting to a higher power. After 25 years, my stepfather quit smoking on his own; after 15 years, my sister did the same (with great support from her family and friends). But like everything else there are gradations of addiction and there are gradations of personal willpower. It is not the case that all habits are created equal or that all temperaments are equally equipped to handle them.

        Have you seen “Requiem for a Dream”? If you want to know what bad addictions are like, I suggest you watch it. It’s a good reflection of parts of my life and lives of others I know and love. I assure you the film is not an over-statement of the case. And after watching the movie, do some honest and face-to-face investigation into the lives of recovering heroin addicts. Or recovering sex addicts. Or recovering crack addicts. Look them in the eye and listen to their stories. Then you may just lose your belief that recovery is always a matter of willpower and negative consequences.

        Phil > It is will-power with the backing of possible negative consequences that has cured many addicts for a wide variety of addictions, including alcoholism.

        Paul >>> That is true. I’m just saying that in many other cases willpower and threats of consequences do nothing at all. In fact, they can make things worse. As in my case and the others in my program. Think I just didn’t try hard enough? That’s just a bad joke. It was trying to do it on my own that brought me to my knees. And many people share my story.

        Phil > However, negative consequences have little effect if there is no self-esteem. Why protect yourself if you despise yourself? In christian societies there is an inherent self-deprecating concept called “sin”. Children are taught they are worthless sinners, and therefore they have no motivation to make choices that would prolong their “worthless” lives. Your route was to give yourself value by associating yourself with a god.

        Paul >>> Damn, Phil. Please don’t psychoanalyze me.

        First, I was loved freely and without condition at home and at church. There was no sinner-talk at church or at home. No talk of hell, no fear-of-God stuff. So my self-hatred was US society’s fault? Sorry, I’m just not buying that.

        Second, this is not a new idea for me. You may be right! Yes, maybe I am covering myself and this big mean world with a nice fluffy security blanket. Maybe the whole thing is a put-on. I’m not so stupid as to not know this, and to admit it. It’s just that I’m betting otherwise; what little I know and have experienced of God has little to do with comfort. So I’m thinking that that theory is just not good enough. But if it is, then it’s working for me, who is admittedly a small and needful creature.

        But please give me a little credit. Personally I am finding it increasingly difficult to have a fruitful and civil conversation with someone who disrespects me so much.

        Yours,

        Paul

        • Sorry, Paul. I mean no disrespect. I also had my own addictions that nearly destroyed my life. That was back when I was fully submitted to Jesus. I just managed to conquer my addictions by realizing that, ultimately, it would be me alone to do so. I not only did not need god, I needed to shake off the god-myth I had before I could take control. It worked. I pay attention to what works.

          But my story also is anecdotal; a single data point. I pay much more attention to real statistical studies as they eliminate the salient emotions that come with personal stories. This is the only real evidence worth looking at. It will be through the scientific method that I am convinced of anything since all else but the scientific method has failed over thousands of years to yield truth that works as demonstrated by non-anecdotal evidence.

          I respect you. I employ the tone I do to, as quickly as possible, strip away non-rigorous arguments as they annoy me. I’m grumpy in this respect. Forgive me. -phil

  19. Paul Wallace says:

    Thank you for your generous response, Phil. And for your honesty. Apology accepted. I am simply at a point in my life where personal stories and religious language — call it myth if you like, but true myth — have more effect on me than data. Your admission — just now — that you have had your addictions and were once submitted to Jesus tells me more about you and your point of view than argument you have supplied to me thus far.

    I love data in the spheres of physical and life sciences, and I recognize that data are useful in the world of sociology (one of my best friends is a hotshot number-crunching sociologist at UT-Austin). But data just do not interest me in the sociological context. And at 42, I’m starting to get a sense of the scale of life. and I am at a point in my life where I will celebrate and pay attention to what interests me. Perhaps you are the same, in a way.

    Myth interests me because I believe it speaks to a profound level of truth, a level that cannot be contained by words or investigated by scientific instruments. You have no interest in that. I understand and respect that. You are interested in the hard data of life. I am not. What’s more, I just can’t get myself to the point where I *am* interested.

    Of course we have our differences. I think we’ve covered them fairly well! What we may have in common is a love of the truth. I hear it in your words, and I assure you I carry it with me as well. Everywhere I go.

    Speaking of going, I need to run. I’m taking a class on Kierkegaard and its first session starts in 15 minutes on the other side of campus.

    Yours,

    Paul

  20. […] Science And Faith September 200944 comments […]

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