What Does Faith Mean? Gibberish, Apparently

Andrew Sullivan offers this as his quote of the day, but it really should have fallen under his “poseur alert” category, which lampoons terrible writing that serves to obscure rather than offer anything meaningful. If Jesus fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, imagine how many he could serve with this gigantic word salad:

“Faith is sensitiveness to what transcends nature, knowledge and will, awareness of the ultimate, alertness to the holy dimension of all reality. Faith is a force in man, lying deeper than the stratum of reason and its nature cannot be defined in abstract, static terms. To have faith is not to infer the beyond from the wretched here, but to perceive the wonder that is here and to be stirred by the desire to integrate the self into the holy order of living. It is not a deduction but an intuition, not a form of knowledge, of being convinced without proof, but the attitude of mind toward ideas whose scope is wider than its own capacity to grasp.

Such alertness grows from the sense for the meaningful, for the marvel of matter, for the core of thoughts. It is begotten in passionate love for the significance of all reality, in devotion to the ultimate meaning which is only God. By our very existence we are in dire need of meaning, and anything that calls for meaning is always an allusion to Him. We live by the certainty that we are not dust in the wind, that our life is related to the ultimate, the meaning of all meanings. And the system of meanings that permeates the universe is like an endless flight of stairs. Even when the upper stairs are beyond our sight, we constantly rise toward the distant goal,” – Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The Holy Dimension,” in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays.

This is gibberish. It’s the kind of meaningless drivel that I have long referred to as religio-babble. It’s Deepok Chopra meets Marianne Williamson. It attempts to sound profound but it’s so incoherent that you can’t even say that it’s wrong.

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  • eric

    It [faith] is not a deduction but an intuition, not a form of knowledge

    Agreed.

  • jaybee

    Eric, don’t be so dismissive. Faith, being a form of not-knowledge, of course is not useful where knowledge is useful. But it might be that not-knowledge is useful in domains where knowledge is not applicable. Like … in things.

  • wreck

    This is a (painfully long) textbook example of “just making shit up”.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    It is… not a form of knowledge

    File this away and use it to rebut the stupid “ways of knowing” crap the next time it surfaces.

  • Sastra

    Faith is confusing facts with values and being both persistent and insistent about it.

    Read that passage from Heschel and try to imagine what someone who wants to be this kind of person would think of someone who doesn’t want to be that kind of person. I’d just feel so sorry for those people, the faith-less. I would remember dark, sad periods of my life when I too was like them and so I wouldn’t judge. I’ve transcended that need.

  • http://www.facebook.com/park.james.102 parkjames

    Isn’t faith just believing shit without evidence? That quote is just a bunch of gobbledygook.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Look, it’s really quite simple, Ed Brayton et al. We are born seeing agency, knowing causation and needing meaning. And when we don’t find that, we make it up. Words and thoughts called “God” are too important to be held down to mere human concepts like “is it so?”

    I mean, really, do I have to explain The Ultimate Truths to you every time?

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    To have faith is not to infer the beyond from the wretched here, but to perceive the wonder that is here and to be stirred by the desire to integrate the self into the holy order of living.

    That actually makes a bit of sense. The only problem is that most of the people who babble so much about “faith” are the ones who are LEAST perceptive of the true wonders that are here, and who want to do just about anything BUT “integrate the self into the holy order of living” — instead they’re busy trying to keep themselves separate from their real selves, and pretending their made-up worldview is a substitute for the real world that’s too wonky and messy for their liking.

    That’s why I gave up the Abrahamic path and became a Pagan instead: Pagans and their worldview are far better suited for accepting the wonders of the Universe as it is, without trying to push away all those parts of it — and those parts of ourselves — that don’t fit a simplistic, dualistic, escapist religious doctrine.

    But that’s not something I call “faith,” since it’s at least partly based on actual observation of real phenomena.

  • culuriel

    This whole thing boils down to “Faith is wishful thinking”.

  • hunter

    Well, no — that’s not “faith.” I’m not sure what it is, but it’s not faith. Faith is trust in whatever or whoever you trust in with no basis. It’s belief — it doesn’t have an independent existence.

    And as a footnote, Sullivan never struck me as a particularly deep thinker. I can see where he would be impressed by something like this.

  • garnetstar

    Wow. I thought that Karen Armstrong was the all-time winner in using the maximum number of words to say nothing at all, but this may supplant her.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Raging Bee “That’s why I gave up the Abrahamic path and became a Pagan instead: Pagans and their worldview are far better suited for accepting the wonders of the Universe as it is, without trying to push away all those parts of it — and those parts of ourselves — that don’t fit a simplistic, dualistic, escapist religious doctrine.”

    Go rub some moss on yourself, hippie!

  • a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    The only appropriate response: Point and laugh.

  • eric

    And the system of meanings that permeates the universe is like an endless flight of stairs.

    Yes, yes! Why, its like the stores are all closed, but with a word we can get what we came for.

  • wreck

    @ eric #14:

    I thought I felt a bustle in my hedgerow. Brought on no doubt from this sophitimacated theolojism.

  • wscott

    I like a lot of Sullivan’s writing. But I long ago learned to just skip over his posts on religion & faith, not because I disagree with him but because I never found he had much interesting to say. Most of them come across to me as “OK, I know it’s really all bullshit, but it makes me feel better to keep believing so I’m gonna.” Which is his right and all, but doesn’t leave much room for an interesting discussion.

    .

    As for this specific quote, I do find it pretty offensive when theists claim that because THEY find meaning in X, and I don’t believe in X, therefore my life must have no meaning. Fuck that condescending shit!

    .

    @ parkjames #6: No, faith is also believing stuff in the face of contrary evidence…

  • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    Ed:

    … you can’t even say that it’s wrong.

    Heschel:

    We live by the certainty that we are not dust in the wind, that our life is related to the ultimate, the meaning of all meanings.

    “Certainty”? Okay, I’ll say it: it’s wrong.

  • John Horstman

    @eric #14: If I’m not mistaken, that stairway lies on the whispering wind.

  • DaveL

    Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The Holy Dimension,” in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity Crap You Spout at Parties to Score WIth Freshman Girls: Essays.

    Fixed.

  • jaybee

    Just like in some situations where xkcd is the mandatory response, sometimes Richard Feyman has to be quoted:

    I have a friend who’s an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don’t agree with. He’ll hold up a flower and say, “Look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. But then he’ll say, “I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull.” I think he’s kind of nutty. … There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.

    If you prefer to hear the charming Feynman relate the tale himself, more completely:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEwUwWh5Xs4&t=26s

    Heschel, and apparently Sullivan, value Meaning over Truth. If Meaning can’t be found legitimately, then their response is to make it up.

  • http://umlud.blogspot.com umlud

    You actually read the Dish on Sunday? It’s pretty much the only day that I don’t read it. And other atheists have commented on this point to Sully. He recently posted this “Atheist’s Week of Dish”:

    “Monday: Man, these guys work hard.

    Tuesday: Pretty good opinion piece.

    Wednesday: Wow, that was an amazing amount of great content.

    Thursday: Sully’s a great fucking editor.

    Friday: Okay, that really made me think.

    Saturday: Totally worth the subscription.

    Sunday: Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

    Pretty much sums me up.

  • abb3w

    Flowery drivel, and incompetent fumbling, but I think there’s some underlying validity in so far as it tries to describe what people think is going on in their heads — though that isn’t the same thing as describing reality. Contrast, from Dale Cannon’s book “Six Ways of Being Religious”:

    Being religious, being characterized by the quality that distinguishes what people readily identify as religious — namely, the sacred — such phenomena have something to do with what is felt by participants (at least moderately sincere human participants) and the mundane sphere of everyday life. These phenomena somehow refer participants to, and orient them with respect to, something that to their imagination lies beyond appearances, beyond what meets the eye and ear. For participants a religious phenomenon bears upon the ultimate conditions of life, upon the really real, upon that beyond which no further or higher appeal can be imagined, upon ultimate authority or cosmic bedrock, as it were, upon the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of things, and, as well, upon what is of ultimate importance — that is, the source of meaningful order, purpose, and value in life, and in consequence, direction as to how life ought be lived.

    Heschel’s rant looks like epistemology, with a side of is-ought (and ought-associated concepts like “purpose”) plus a garnish of (non-parsimonious) dualism, and perhaps the faintest hint of “Cantor’s Paradox” epic fail. Oh, and a massive amount of underwarranted certitude.

  • abb3w

    I’ll also note, much of scientific humanist atheism also can be framed in these terms; the difference being that “mundane” refers more to what would be thought of as “naive” or “folk” conceptions of reality, with the “ultimate” reality being the underlying “real world” of the properties that science attempts to infer from empirical (experimental) phenomena.

    “The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific ‘truth’. But what is the source of knowledge? Where do the laws that are to be tested come from? Experiment, itself, helps to produce these laws, in the sense that it gives us hints. But also needed is imagination to create from these hints the great generalizations — to guess at the wonderful, simple, but very strange patterns beneath them all, and then to experiment to check again whether we have made the right guess.

    The tricky bit goes in getting from science, and dealing with how the universe “is”, and the shamanic mediation (aka engineering) for shaping the world into how it “ought” to be.

  • Scott Hanley

    it really should have fallen under his “poseur alert” category

    That’s what makes me laugh every Sunday — his complete obliviousness to puffery that, every other day of the week, he disdains. It’s the functional equivalent of Star Trek technobabble – “I have no idea what this could possibly mean, but the story won’t work if I’m limited to reality, so here goes.”

    It’s fine when you admit it’s a story, but pretty silly when you have to start invoking realities beyond all knowledge and whatnot.

  • Sastra

    Scott Hanley #24 wrote:

    It’s fine when you admit it’s a story, but pretty silly when you have to start invoking realities beyond all knowledge and whatnot.

    Now that’s the sort of wisdom which transcends theology, lying deep in the stratum of alertness and integrating the self into the natural order of living beyond the scope of faith’s capacity to grasp.

    I think that comes with peanuts and a prize.

  • alexmcdonald

    Look, it’s really quite simple, Ed Brayton et al. We are born seeing agency, knowing causation and needing meaning. And when we don’t find that, we make it up. Words and thoughts called “God” are too important to be held down to mere human concepts like “is it so?”

    I mean, really, do I have to explain The Ultimate Truths to you every time?

    Modus, stop winning all the internets. Some of us would like to get one now and again.

  • conrod

    Give me three bottles of a nice red and I’d think this amazingly deep and meaningful. Currently just into my second and thinking what beautiful sh*t.

  • dhall

    #18 – John Horstman – And I think she’s buying that stairway too . . .

  • Michael Heath

    One of Hollywood’s and the sports entertainment industry’s great sins is promoting faith as feature rather than a bug.

    Another of their faults, which is also promoted by conservative Christians, is the idea that beauty requires ignorance faith, where knowing shit instead kills the beauty. Having been exposed to both, it’s not only untrue, but idiotically so.

    I appreciated jaybee quoting Richard Feynman. My favorite though slightly tangential quote comes from Darwin at the conclusion of . . . Origin of Species . . . ; though like Thomas Jefferson Darwin is also limited by being a human of his time:

    It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to “on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

    Excerpt From: Charles Darwin. “On the Origin of Species.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/2L2Kx.l

  • Michael Heath

    Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.

  • LightningRose

    MO @12

    “Go rub some moss on yourself, hippie!”

    Apply directly to the forehead.

  • http://www.clanfield.net janiceintoronto

    Sounds like it was generated by a jargon generating program. There are a few really good ones out there that actually rival Deepoks best.

  • had3

    Faith = gullible.

  • anubisprime

    Or…

    Faith = ‘How can I twist it for optimal personal gain’

  • dingojack

    RE ## 33&34 – ‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings…

    Dingo

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    Faith is sensitiveness to what transcends nature

    No such thing as supernatural. “Supernatural” is a bullshit concept which only serves to confuse us, and to support the idiotic idea that is NOMA.

    awareness of the ultimate

    Impossible. You can never know if you sense ultimate reality. There might be another turtle behind it. It might be a neverending stack of turtles.

    but the attitude of mind toward ideas whose scope is wider than its own capacity to grasp

    If you cannot grasp it, then that sounds like it’s time to say “I don’t know”.

    PS: Another example of a confusing drive-by by dingo. Does anyone ever understand what he’s trying to say?

  • eric

    PS: Another example of a confusing drive-by by dingo. Does anyone ever understand what he’s trying to say?

    Well, you could try reading the thread before insulting people.

  • dingojack

    Oooh look, yet another EL reading comprehension fail… how surprising!

    😉 Dingo

  • Kermit Sansoo

    My first philosophy professor would have called this “Effing the ineffable…”

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    If I’m not mistaken, that stairway lies on the whispering wind.

    How far can anyone get on a stairway that’s that badly built?

    Sounds like it was generated by a jargon generating program. There are a few really good ones out there that actually rival Deepoks best.

    Do they rival Yes lyrics? Nothing but old-school jargon for me — Yes lyrics, God-Soap labels, William F. Buckley, and Pentagon word-salad about our “progress” in Vietnam. You want jargon? You young punks need to learn from the old masters.

  • dingojack

    RB – ooh like:

    Sparkling trees of silver foam

    Cast shadows soft in winter home

    Swaying branches breaking sound

    Lonely forests trembling ground

    Masquerading leaves of blue

    Run circles round the morning dew

    Patterns understood by you

    Reaching out beyond and before

    Time like gold dust brings mind down

    To levels hidden underground

    Say a few words to the wind

    That’s all thats left of winters friend

    Reaching the snow in the days of the cold

    Casting a spell out of Ice

    Now that you’re gone the summers too long

    And it seems like the end of my life

    Beyond and before”.

    😉 Dingo

  • Al Dente

    If I’m not mistaken, that stairway lies on the whispering wind.

    Yesterday upon the stair

    I met a man who wasn’t there

    He wasn’t there again today

    I wish, I wish he’d go away

  • DaveL

    If you cannot grasp it, then that sounds like it’s time to say “I don’t know”.

    Basically, what he seems to be saying is that pretending to understand things you can’t ever understand is somehow a deeper way of appreciating that there are things beyond your understanding. Yeah, I don’t buy it either.

  • jonathangray

    This is gibberish.

    Indeed.

    Faith is an act of the will which confirms what an act of the intelligence has determined to be true. As such, it is a bulwark against emotionalism.

    “If the Ordnance Map tells me that it is eleven miles to Wookey Hole then, my mood of lassitude as I walk through the rain at night making it feel like thirty, I use the Will and say: ‘No. My intelligence has been convinced and I compel myself to use it against my mood. It is eleven and though I feel in the depth of my being to have gone twenty miles and more, I know it is not yet eleven I have gone’.” – Belloc

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Faith is an act of the will which confirms what an act of the intelligence has determined to be true. As such, it is a bulwark against emotionalism.

    That’s one of the most intelligent things jonathangray has ever said here. And it’s still horseshit: first, he’s describing DECISION, not faith, and there’s a huge difference between those two things; and second, INTELLIGENCE is the “bulwark against emotionalism” — faith is utterly ineffective against emotionalism, and exacerbates it far more often than not.

  • jonathangray

    abb3w quoting Feynman

    The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific ‘truth’.

    “The test of all knowledge is experiment.” That’s a truth claim, and the “all” implies there is no truth other than the “scientific ‘truth'” derived from experiment. But if that is so, the claim that “the test of all knowledge is experiment.” must itself be verifiable by experimental scientific method. Good luck with that.

    But what is the source of knowledge? Where do the laws that are to be tested come from? Experiment, itself, helps to produce these laws, in the sense that it gives us hints. But also needed is imagination to create from these hints the great generalizations — to guess at the wonderful, simple, but very strange patterns beneath them all, and then to experiment to check again whether we have made the right guess.

    The question “where do the laws that are to be tested come from? is here left unanswered. As Feynman says, the hints derived from experiments and the inspired imaginative guesses which are in turn confirmed by further experiments are how we come to know these laws and underlying pattens — they do not tell us why they exist in the first place.

  • DaveL

    But if that is so, the claim that “the test of all knowledge is experiment.” must itself be verifiable by experimental scientific method. Good luck with that.

    But we have, and we we continue to. The world is full of societies with different epistemologies. So far the one based on experiment is the one that’s given us abundant food, low infant mortality, long life spans, widespread education, efficient transportation and communication, you name it. Epistemologies based on faith and dogma, in the thousands of years they’ve held supremacy in the world, have failed to accomplish a tiny fraction of that.

    The question “where do the laws that are to be tested come from? is here left unanswered.

    That science has not answered all questions does not in the least imply that faith has answered any of them.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    Well, you could try reading the thread before insulting people.

    I did. I still have no idea what he’s saying.

  • jonathangray

    Raging Bee:

    he’s describing DECISION, not faith, and there’s a huge difference between those two things; and second, INTELLIGENCE is the “bulwark against emotionalism” — faith is utterly ineffective against emotionalism, and exacerbates it far more often than not.

    In traditional Christianity (as opposed to popular usage), faith is precisely the decision to adhere to what the intellect has determined — if faith were not a volitional act, it would make no sense to class it as one of the virtues.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    But if that is so, the claim that “the test of all knowledge is experiment.” must itself be verifiable by experimental scientific method. Good luck with that.

    Where have you been? The claim has proven true in every instance where it’s been tested: knowledge gained through experiment is proven to be reliable.

    The question “where do the laws that are to be tested come from? is here left unanswered.

    And what claims, exactly, is that supposed to invalidate?

    As Feynman says, the hints derived from experiments and the inspired imaginative guesses which are in turn confirmed by further experiments are how we come to know these laws and underlying patterns — they do not tell us why they exist in the first place.

    First, sometimes experiments do indeed tell us where certain natural laws “come from.” And second, so what? That claim of yours (a rather insubstantial claim, I might add) doesn’t make any of our knowledge less valid or reliable.

    Seriously, gray, your lame attempts to discredit all knowledge based on rational enquiry are what we call “obscurantism:” a deliberate attempt to manipulate people into thinking we can’t use our own minds to any good effect; and to thus force people to depend on bogus religious “authorities” and other such charlatans to do all our thinking for us. That’s been tried before, and it never ends well for anyone other than the charlatans.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    In traditional Christianity (as opposed to popular usage)…

    When “traditional Christianity” uses a word, it means what “traditional Christianity” says it means, no more and no less (subject to change without notice). And if “traditional Christianity” says something that is wrong, it gets to redefine its words so that whatever it says is always right.

    And BTW, gray, this amorphous entity you call “traditional Christianity” does not use the word the way any Christian person I’ve met uses it. In fact, every time I hear the word used, by Christians or non-Christians, it means “believing in something without asking for any evidence or proof,” REAGARDLESS of what the intellect says. Your attempt to redefine such a commonly-used word is a form of lying.

  • jonathangray

    DaveL:

    But if that is so, the claim that “the test of all knowledge is experiment.” must itself be verifiable by experimental scientific method. Good luck with that.

    But we have, and we we continue to. The world is full of societies with different epistemologies. So far the one based on experiment is the one that’s given us abundant food, low infant mortality, long life spans, widespread education, efficient transportation and communication, you name it. Epistemologies based on faith and dogma, in the thousands of years they’ve held supremacy in the world, have failed to accomplish a tiny fraction of that.

    The question is whether it is ever reasonable to believe in something for which no scientific evidence can or could be produced. The scientifically minded atheist insists: “No proposition should be believed if it is not supported by scientific evidence and if it cannot be tested by scientific method.” But if that proposition is true, it must – according to its own criteria – be supported by scientific evidence and testable by scientific method. So refer me to the experimental data and I’ll accept it as true, otherwise you’re just begging the question.

    In fact, we know there are propositions which cannot be demonstrated by scientific method but which we nevertheless know to be true — logical and mathematical truths. We do not turn to scientific method to provide experimental evidence for the truth of “2+2=4” or “the interior angles of a triangle always add up to 180°”. We know with absolute certainty that they are true because they are axiomatic (true by definition), not because the lab results are in. We don’t see teams of white-coated researchers armed with protractors checking large numbers of triangles to see if the ‘Euclidean hypothesis’ can be upgraded to the ‘Euclidean theory’. An anomalous fossil could falsify the theory of evolution tomorrow; there could never be an anomalous result that would falsify 2+2=4.

    Of course science accepts the core axioms of logic and mathematics to be true by definition; otherwise it would be dysfunctional. In this sense, one could say that scientific method is not so much an epistemology as a procedure that makes certain epistemological presuppositions.

    And if science accepts the core axioms of logic and mathematics, then it accepts the existence of a part of reality that is not and cannot be grasped merely by the application of scientific method. Therefore, I don’t see how it can dogmatically assert the omnicompetence of scientific method and dismiss religious claims on the a priori grounds that there is no scientific evidence for them or that they are intrinsically unverifiable by scientific method. That’s a bit like someone with a metal detector asserting wood does not exist because his device cannot detect any wooden artifacts.

  • jonathangray

    Raging Bee:

    The claim has proven true in every instance where it’s been tested: knowledge gained through experiment is proven to be reliable.

    The claim at issue isn’t “knowledge gained through experiment is reliable”; it is “there is no knowledge other than that gained through experiment.”

    And what claims, exactly, is that supposed to invalidate?

    That scientific method can explain the totality of reality.

    First, sometimes experiments do indeed tell us where certain natural laws “come from.”

    Can you provide an example?

    And second, so what? That claim of yours (a rather insubstantial claim, I might add) doesn’t make any of our knowledge less valid or reliable.

    No, but it renders questionable whether that type of knowledge constitutes the whole of reality.

    your lame attempts to discredit all knowledge based on rational enquiry are what we call “obscurantism:”

    I’m not trying to discredit knowledge based on rational enquiry. I’m arguing that knowledge based on rational enquiry does not begin and end with the empirical findings of scientific method.

  • DaveL

    So refer me to the experimental data and I’ll accept it as true, otherwise you’re just begging the question.

    I believe I just did.

    In fact, we know there are propositions which cannot be demonstrated by scientific method but which we nevertheless know to be true — logical and mathematical truths. We do not turn to scientific method to provide experimental evidence for the truth of “2+2=4″ or “the interior angles of a triangle always add up to 180°”.

    You’re mistaking statements in formal systems for descriptions of the real world. Formal systems can decide anything to be “true” if they so define it, and whether that description turns out to be useful for describing the world, and to what purpose, depends very much on experimental verification. They don’t even actually have to be internally consistent, it’s just that the ones we find useful generally are.

    It turns out that, on curved surfaces, the angles of a triangle do not generally sum to 180 degrees. In the field GF(3), 2+2=1.

    As I said, the fact that not everything has been answered by science, or even COULD be answered by science, does not imply that religious claims have answered ANY of them. In the long history of religions, how have any ever demonstrated their knowledge? Certainly not in any improvement of the human condition, and certainly not in any convergence towards uniformity on any given topic.

  • jonathangray

    Raging Bee:

    And BTW, gray, this amorphous entity you call “traditional Christianity” does not use the word the way any Christian person I’ve met uses it. In fact, every time I hear the word used, by Christians or non-Christians, it means “believing in something without asking for any evidence or proof,” REAGARDLESS of what the intellect says. Your attempt to redefine such a commonly-used word is a form of lying.

    Your attempt to limit the definition of a word to your personal experiences of its use is a form of provincialism. Ditto for attempting to limit definitions to common usage — “realism” and “idealism” in everyday speech mean something very different to what they mean in philosophy.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    The scientifically minded atheist insists: “No proposition should be believed if it is not supported by scientific evidence and if it cannot be tested by scientific method.” But if that proposition is true, it must – according to its own criteria – be supported by scientific evidence and testable by scientific method.

    Has anyone made any real attempt to DISPROVE that proposition?

    We do not turn to scientific method to provide experimental evidence for the truth of “2+2=4″ or “the interior angles of a triangle always add up to 180°”. We know with absolute certainty that they are true because they are axiomatic (true by definition), not because the lab results are in.

    Yes, actually, we do rely on evidence to prove such truths: we OBSERVE that such abstract concepts as arithmetic and trigonometry have real-world uses, and that contrary propositions do not; and that certain real-world questions and events cannot be explained without recourse to such concepts.

    Of course science accepts the core axioms of logic and mathematics to be true by definition; otherwise it would be dysfunctional.

    They’re not true “by definition,” they’re true because they work in the real world. This is something we OBSERVE, not something we arbitrarily believe in without evidence. So yes, the scientific method is indeed based on observations, not on “epistemological presuppositions.” Your blathering is yet another rewording of that tired old “presuppositional bias” bullshit we heard from the creationists. Tell me honestly, gray, did you read that argument in a James Blish novel? That’s where I first encountered it, and it sounded convincing at first…until I spent a few more years learning how science and observation actually work.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Your attempt to limit the definition of a word to your personal experiences of its use is a form of provincialism.

    Excuse me, asshole, but this is my personal experiences of how other people use the word. That’s not just me.

    Ditto for attempting to limit definitions to common usage — “realism” and “idealism” in everyday speech mean something very different to what they mean in philosophy.

    Fuck philosophy — this argument about “faith” is for the general public’s consumption, and it’s not just philosophers participating in it; so you either use the general public’s definition of the word, or you’re just plain lying. That’s how words are supposed to work: either we’re all agreed on what each word means — no exceptions — or the word has no meaning and is useless for mutual understanding. You don’t get to say “I’m using the word differently” — if you want to express a different meaning, use a different word!

  • Sastra

    jonathongray#44 wrote:

    Faith is an act of the will which confirms what an act of the intelligence has determined to be true. As such, it is a bulwark against emotionalism.

    What a very poor and self-serving definition of “faith” that is. A religious ‘leap of faith’ would throw out the map, the measurements, the experiments, the observation, the consensus — and ‘transcend nature’ in order to trust the still small voice deep within which whispers “My dear child, you have gone at least 30 miles — no, a hundred.”

    Find more appropriate analogies. And better definitions.

  • jonathangray

    DaveL:

    I believe I just did.

    Examples of how science-enabled technology has been remarkably successful at manipulating nature for human convenience prove nothing except that science-enabled technology is remarkably successful at manipulating nature for human convenience. Science works — no argument. Doesn’t prove the only work is science work.

    You’re mistaking statements in formal systems for descriptions of the real world. Formal systems can decide anything to be “true” if they so define it, and whether that description turns out to be useful for describing the world, and to what purpose, depends very much on experimental verification.

    It seems to me that experimental method only “verifies” the truth of the proposition 2+2=4 in the sense that it demonstrates how reality necessarily instantiates the proposition — not in the sense that it provides evidence that leads us to accept an abstract formal proposition as most likely true, or useful. We know 2+2=4 with a certainty beyond any scientific hypothesis. To be sure, one can observe this truth in countless real-world instantiations; one can even say that this truth could not have been humanly formulated without the possibility of such observations; but we do not test it scientifically to arrive at a provisional assessment of its useful approximation to whatever reality is.

    As I said, the fact that not everything has been answered by science, or even COULD be answered by science, does not imply that religious claims have answered ANY of them.

    I’m not saying it does imply that.

    In the long history of religions, how have any ever demonstrated their knowledge?

    Good question. : )

    Certainly not in any improvement of the human condition,

    Even if that were true (and I don’t think it is), I don’t see that a religion’s lack of ability to improve the human condition (however that is defined) would necessarily constitute a demonstration of its untruth.

    and certainly not in any convergence towards uniformity on any given topic.

    Not sure what you mean here.

  • jonathangray

    Raging Bee:

    Fuck philosophy — this argument about “faith” is for the general public’s consumption, and it’s not just philosophers participating in it; so you either use the general public’s definition of the word, or you’re just plain lying. That’s how words are supposed to work: either we’re all agreed on what each word means — no exceptions — or the word has no meaning and is useless for mutual understanding. You don’t get to say “I’m using the word differently” — if you want to express a different meaning, use a different word!

    “You shouldn’t say things like that — it could confuse a stupid person.” – Peter Cook

  • jonathangray

    Sastra:

    A religious ‘leap of faith’ would throw out the map, the measurements, the experiments, the observation, the consensus — and ‘transcend nature’ in order to trust the still small voice deep within

    I don’t see why faith would need to throw out any measurements, experiments and observations. And if it insists on transcending nature, it might have good reasons for doing so — even if they were whispered by an inner voice …

  • Al Dente

    Faith means “I have no evidence for what I really want to believe, so I’ll indulge in wishful thinking.” If goddists actually had evidence for the existence of gods (that’s any gods, not just jonathangray’s favorite pet deities) then they would toss faith away and go with the evidence. But since evidence is completely and totally lacking, they have to fall back on “gee, I really want gods to exist so I’ll just pretend they do.” Their religious masters have told them so loudly and for so long that faith is a good thing that the goddist rank and file have come to believe that lying to themselves is a reasonable thing to do.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Examples of how science-enabled technology has been remarkably successful at manipulating nature for human convenience prove nothing except that science-enabled technology is remarkably successful at manipulating nature for human convenience. Science works — no argument. Doesn’t prove the only work is science work.

    You got anything that works even half as well? Your failure to provide examples, even after thousands of years of religious blithering, DOES prove “the only work is science work.” That’s the standard default basis of all our decisions, and we don’t have to prove it — you have to disprove it.

    “You shouldn’t say things like that — it could confuse a stupid person.” – Peter Cook

    Your failure to address my comment is noted. As is your failure to come up with words of your own.

    To be sure, one can observe this truth in countless real-world instantiations; one can even say that this truth could not have been humanly formulated without the possibility of such observations; but we do not test it scientifically to arrive at a provisional assessment of its useful approximation to whatever reality is.

    Whenever we use the abstract mathematical proposition to explain or predict something in the real world, and the explanation or prediction works, that’s a scientific test of the abstract proposition. And the usefulness of mathematical propositions in the real world is the proof that they are true: the observation of how things work in reality comes first, the abstract propositions are based on the said observations.

    Seriously, gray, we all know what you’re trying to pull — you’re trying to pretend science and reason aren’t based on anything in the real world. And you need to understand that we’ve heard it all before, and it’s not fooling us. So stop wasting your energy with this stupid con-game and go to bed.

  • escuerd

    It seems to me that experimental method only “verifies” the truth of the proposition 2+2=4 in the sense that it demonstrates how reality necessarily instantiates the proposition

    Reality doesn’t necessarily instantiate this proposition. The fact that the proposition is derivable from axioms only shows that it is true according to that formal system. As DaveL was saying, there are other formal systems with other sets of axioms, and it sometimes turns out empirically that an apparently reasonable set of axioms does not correctly describe reality. E.g. the space we live in isn’t actually Euclidean, though it’s close enough for government work (unless it’s, you know, GPS or something).

    Are the Peano axioms the right formal system to describe how to count things? Sure looks like it, empirically speaking. But people can and have imagined other systems that work differently.

  • Sastra

    jonathon gray #61 wrote:

    I don’t see why faith would need to throw out any measurements, experiments and observations.

    Oh, it wouldn’t need to do so of course if there were no conflicts between what is believed ‘on faith’ and what is tentatively and provisionally concluded through evidence and reason. If there were, then wise people of faith adjust their faith. This can only keep going so far and no further, though, lest it blends into humanism.

    What then do you see as the distinction between ‘religious faith’ and ‘pragmatic reliance?’ Since atheists can and do use their moral strength and resolve (“an act of the will”) to renounce very comforting and comfortable spiritual views which do not mesh with what “an act of intelligence has confirmed to be true,” then I still think your definition needs serious work.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @jonathangray

    The scientifically minded atheist insists: “No proposition should be believed if it is not supported by scientific evidence and if it cannot be tested by scientific method.”

    You are an intellectually dishonest jackoff, and possibly actually dishonest.

    Why do you not believe that there is a dragon in your garage right now? Because of the lack of compelling argument and evidence that would justify that belief.

    We’re all presuppositionalists. That is the correct answer to the Münchhausen trilemma.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchhausen_trilemma

    Basically all of us presuppose the laws of logic and reason, and that we are sufficiently capable of logic and reason to practice empiricism. Another presupposition that we all share is skepticism: “One should not accept a claim – except for your starting presuppositions – without sufficient justifying argument and evidence.” Just some people have really bad reasons for their beliefs, and the disagreement is over what counts as justifying argument and evidence. That’s where another presupposition comes in: scientism. I believe that a proper statement of scientism is this: “The only acceptable way of knowing about the existence of things and the observable properties of things in our shared material or super-material reality, is empiricism, science, evidence-based reasoning, logic, Bayesian reasoning, and whatever other label you want to call it.”

    I’m not trying to discredit knowledge based on rational enquiry. I’m arguing that knowledge based on rational enquiry does not begin and end with the empirical findings of scientific method.

    Please describe another way of knowing about things in our shared material or super-material reality, which I have not covered above.

    What is your actual position w.r.t. a god or gods, and w.r.t. specific religions in particular, such as Christianity?

  • dingojack

    EL – just a helpful hint. You could create a HTML link thus:

    <a href =”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchhausen_trilemma”>Munchhausen Trilemma<a> .

    Which looks like this: Munchhausen Trilemma .

    I don’t know if you know that, but I just thought it might be useful to you.

    Dingo

  • abb3w

    @44ish, jonathangray:

    Faith is an act of the will which confirms what an act of the intelligence has determined to be true.

    That would appear to conform more to what I would refer to as an inference, if I would accept it at all; I think your distinction between intelligence and will seems unclear, and possible spurious.

    I would instead suggest reserving the term “faith” to when a proposition is taken as true without reliance on philosophical priors, such as with mathematical axioms.

    @46ish, jonathangray:

    “The test of all knowledge is experiment.” That’s a truth claim, and the “all” implies there is no truth other than the “scientific ‘truth’” derived from experiment.

    Actually, no — as indicated by the next sentence indicating that it is specifically the scientific sense of ‘truth’ he’s talking about.

    @46ish, jonathangray:

    But if that is so, the claim that “the test of all knowledge is experiment.” must itself be verifiable by experimental scientific method.

    The problem is resolvable; more Feynman:

    Pure mathematics is just such an abstraction from the real world, and pure mathematics does have a special precise language for dealing with its own special and technical subjects. But this precise language is not precise in any sense if you deal with real objects of the world, and it is only pedantic and quite confusing to use it unless there are some special subtleties which have to be carefully distinguished.

    Pure mathematics, in its ultimate form, is completely abstract from the “real world”. However, all experiment implicitly relies on mathematics — the mapping of experimental results to assessments of outcomes corresponds to a function between two sets. (Generally, a function requiring a computable algorithm; contrariwise, some ordinal degree of hypercomputation isn’t inherently precluded, but nohow science in practice usually balks at considering anything from complexity classes even as obnoxious as R.) For XCKD fans, this corresponds to the “bookkeeping” Zombie Feynman referred to.

    At least one additional axiomatic (and unprovable) assumption is required to make the transition from math to science. This may be expressed loosely by the notion that “evidence has pattern”. (There’s a mathematical formalization of the former.) The utility of experiment is derivable as a consequence of this axiom — that is to say, Feynman’s claim becomes mathematically verifiable.

    Of course, since there is an axiom required, this leave open two other immediate alternate possibilities, in much the same way that some mathematical proofs depend on the Axiom of Choice or Parallel Postulate; but anti-science folk are likely to find them unpalatable. First, one might neglect to address the axiom — but that precludes talking about evidence, leaving you entirely dealing with abstract mathematics unrelated to the “real world”. (It’s also possible to reject the foundational axioms of mathematics itself; but on the one hand, there are several alternate foundation approaches which lead to corresponding constructions, and on the other, without mathematics the existence of language itself is jeopardized.) Second, one might instead take the axiom in Refutation. However, that leads to a different sort of mathematics, and a description of “reality” inconsistent with any theology. (Think “Boltzman brains” meets Ramsey theory.)

    (Of course, this may not represent Feynman’s own view well at all. He was a practical sort of theoretician; much of the essay I quoted the above from is about discounting the use of overly-abstracted mathematics.)

    @46ish, jonathangray:

    As Feynman says, the hints derived from experiments and the inspired imaginative guesses which are in turn confirmed by further experiments are how we come to know these laws and underlying pattens — they do not tell us why they exist in the first place.

    Well, from this approach, the approach itself tells us — the laws of the pattern are a result of that axiomatic assumption. Precisely because it’s an axiom, and may instead be taken in refutation, their existence is contingent; the alternative of taking refutation results in a description of the same evidence where there isn’t and can’t be any pattern.

    That alternative incidentally seems to be “useless” — in that not only does the model lack utility externally except as a degenerate case for philosophers to point to, but the underlying concepts to allow “ordering relationship over choices” seems internally precluded.

    @48ish, Raging Bee

    Where have you been? The claim has proven true in every instance where it’s been tested: knowledge gained through experiment is proven to be reliable.

    But that’s circular reasoning, since the reliability is decided by evaluation of that experiment.

    @48ish, Raging Bee

    Seriously, gray, your lame attempts to discredit all knowledge based on rational enquiry are what we call “obscurantism:” a deliberate attempt to manipulate people into thinking we can’t use our own minds to any good effect;

    Other motives may be possible.

    @52ish, jonathangray

    We know with absolute certainty that they are true because they are axiomatic (true by definition), not because the lab results are in.

    Sort of. For one thing, your examples generally aren’t themselves axioms; as DaveL notes circa 54, they are theorems, and dependent on the axioms that are chosen. As such, their truth is not an absolute certainty, because there are mathematical systems where those statements are not theorems.,

    @52ish, jonathangray

    And if science accepts the core axioms of logic and mathematics, then it accepts the existence of a part of reality that is not and cannot be grasped merely by the application of scientific method.

    I think you’re making an error here. Science does not rely on mathematics being a part of reality, but is more reliant on it being the other way around: science relies on reality being part of the class of things that mathematics may describe.

    @52ish, jonathangray

    Therefore, I don’t see how it can dogmatically assert the omnicompetence of scientific method and dismiss religious claims on the a priori grounds that there is no scientific evidence for them or that they are intrinsically unverifiable by scientific method.

    As an aside — the intrinsic problem is not that they are unverifiable, nor even where they are unfalsifiable, but that they are non-parsimonious.

    And it’s merely a limited (though vast) competence claimed for the scientific method: the domain of evidence, aka experience. In so far as religion makes claims about experience, it’s within the scope of science to assess their relative merit compared to competing claims.

    Of course, some forms of theology are abstract enough that evidence is irrelevant; however, such deities are thus as independent of reality as fictional characters like Voldemort.

    @52ish, jonathangray

    I’m not trying to discredit knowledge based on rational enquiry. I’m arguing that knowledge based on rational enquiry does not begin and end with the empirical findings of scientific method.

    Well, yes; it neither begins nor ends with science. Mathematics bookends it at one side, and engineering on the other.

    @56ish, Raging Bee

    Yes, actually, we do rely on evidence to prove such truths: we OBSERVE that such abstract concepts as arithmetic and trigonometry have real-world uses

    Utility is a distinct question from correspondence, incidentally.

    More to the point, assessment of such observation is fundamentally an experimental process, and back to a circular justification. Baron’ Münchhausen’s trilemma isn’t so easily escaped.

    @64, escuerd

    Are the Peano axioms the right formal system to describe how to count things? Sure looks like it, empirically speaking. But people can and have imagined other systems that work differently.

    “Right” seems the wrong word, there. More importantly: they are a formal system for such; and the other systems generally are homeomorphic.

    @66, EnlightenmentLiberal

    We’re all presuppositionalists.

    The empirical evidence above suggests that contrariwise, Raging Bee seems more a coherentist.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @abb3w

    I tend to go with the idea that coherentists don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, and for the purposes of most discussions I pretend they’re foundationalists (e.g. presuppositionalists). But point taken.

  • abb3w

    @69, EnlightenmentLiberal

    I tend to go with the idea that coherentists don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, and for the purposes of most discussions I pretend they’re foundationalists (e.g. presuppositionalists). But point taken.

    I’m sympathetic to that view.

    Having spent too many years studying some of the dustier corners of math, my own view on philosophy tends to the algebraic and topological. If you view the belief system as a directed hypergraph over a class of belief premises (connections representing which subsets of premises lead to some conclusion or conclusions), then there is some subclass of premises that is root for the entire set; and whether such a subclass is itself unconnected, cyclic, or contains an infinite regression, that starting subclass may still be simplified via homomorphism taking it down to a point.

    In that sense, foundationalists, coherentists, or infinitists may all be regarded as merely sub-classifications of presuppositionalists. So, on reconsideration, I think you might have had the correct resolution to the trilemma after all.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @abb3w

    I’m also a mathematician (in the weak sense of having a mere undergrad degree), and I view it exactly the same way. ~brofist~

  • abb3w

    @71, EnlightenmentLiberal

    I’m also a mathematician (in the weak sense of having a mere undergrad degree)

    My math background isn’t even that formally qualified. I passed a bunch of undergrad math classes in pursuit of various (incomplete) engineering degrees, plus encountered some “enrichment” material in middle and high school… and have kept reading.