Vridar

2013/05/26

Fantasy and Religion: One Fundamental Difference (Or, Why God’s Word Will Never Fail)

Filed under: Atran: In Gods we trust — Neil Godfrey @ 8:18 pm
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Fantasy&ScienceFiction_cover_Oct1978Some theologians like to study what they call the intersects between science fiction (which is a sub-genre of fantasy) and religion. That might be a cute way to spark interest in the gospel message, but in reality there is no intersection between the two at all, at least not cognitively. Scot Atran explains:

One clear and important distinction between fantasy and religion is the knowledge of its source. People generally attribute their personal fantasies and dreams to themselves and to events they’ve experienced. They also know or assume that public fictions (novels, movies, cartoons, etc.) were created by specific people who had particular intentions for doing so.

A religious text is another story. Followers believe it to be the work and word of deities themselves. Believers assume that sacred doctrine was first heard or transcribed in some long-forgotten time by chosen prophets or sages who were faithfully repeating or imagining what the deities had directly said or shown to them. (In Gods We Trust, p. 91)

As I have been showing in my posts on Dennis Nineham’s lectures collated in The Use and Abuse of the Bible, theologians of the modern day have salvaged the Bible from the ravages of standard literary and historical criticism by declaring that its authors were imbued with remarkable spiritual insights into the meaning of the events they witnessed and modern readers who have faith will recognize this gift of theirs in the Scriptures. This is, in effect, a more sophisticated version of the “divine inspiration” of the Bible. It’s a neat device for justifying the Bible as the fundamental source of their faith, filled with divine insights (a more intellectually respectable way of expressing the concept of “divine inspiration”), even though there are human errors evident in the text and even though some texts reveal a humanly flawed author.

sacredtextsThe need by some Christians to affirm the apostolic authority of the Gospels is worth commenting on in this context. It appears that affirming the traditional authorship — two apostles (Matthew and John) and two associates of apostles (Mark and Luke) — is necessary in order to further elaborate the faith narrative that holds these works are indeed products of divinely chosen eyewitnesses. Normal evidentiary means of confirming authorship are dismissed as “overly sceptical” in the need to affirm the faith that a religion grounded in historical events is indeed “historically true”.

But what does it mean to accept a text on faith as authoritative?

Why God’s Word Cannot Be Disconfirmed

Accepting a text on authority and faith implies that the listener or reader suspend the universal constraints on ordinary communication . . .

In ordinary communication, the listener or reader “automatically” attempts to fill the gap in understanding between what is merely said or written and what the communicator intends the listener or reader to think or do as a result.

Atran illustrates. Normal communication works like this: (more…)

2008/05/03

why science is not a faith

Reading the same old “tu-quoque/you too!” fallacy from fundamentalist supernaturalists that science or any position questioning the Bible is itself “a faith” or “belief” puts a responsibility however tedious, I suppose, on naturalists with a scientific disposition to continually make accessible the answer to that fatuous canard:

Tamas Pataki, from Against Religion (pp.117-118 )

The charge of scientific dogmatism is so contrary to fact and so foolish that it calls for diagnosis. Richard Dawkins is a favourite bogeyman, and McGrath and Eagleton are two of those who stalk him. How can Dawkins ‘be so sure that his current beliefs are true, when history shows a persistent pattern of the abandonment of scientific theories as better approaches emerge?’ asks McGrath. But Dawkins, of course, is not ‘so sure’: ‘My belief in evolution is not faith, because I know what it would take to change my mind, and I would gladly do so if the necessary evidence were forthcoming.’ He’s not sure (in McGrath’s sense) because although his beliefs may be indubitable in light of currently available evidence, he knows that they are not infallible. That is what science is about: conjecture (or hypothesis) and refutation.

But the religious apologists are imputing a religious conception of knowledge, characterised by inerrancy – just as the Bible is supposed to be inerrant – which allows them to stretch science on the horns of a false dilemma: either science presumes to provide incorrigible knowledge, in which case it is shamelessly dogmatic, or it is just a matter of faith, just like their turf. They have no conception of the difference between warranted but fallible belief, and faith. Finding to their satisfaction that science falls short of incorrigibility, they conclude that, after all, science and religion are in the same boat-just matters of faith.

(Pataki here footnotes by way of illustration Alister McGrath’s The Twilight of Atheism (2004), pp.93-97, 179-83. Unfortunately I have not run across a copy of McGrath’s book, so can only leave this reference here for others to follow up. But I have certainly read many of the sorts of ignorant claims Pataki refers to.)

And Anthony Grayling, from Against All Gods: Six Polemics on Religion and and an Essay on Kindness (p.34)

People who do not believe in supernatural entities do not have a ‘faith’ in ‘the non-existence of X’ (where X is ‘fairies’ or ‘goblins’ or ‘gods’); what they have is a reliance on reason and observation, and a concomitant preparedness to accept the judgement of both on the principles and theories which premise their actions. The views they take about things are proportional to the evidence supporting them, and are always subject to change in the light of new or better evidence. ‘Faith’ – specifically and precisely: the commitment to a belief in the absence of evidence supporting that belief, or even (to the greater merit of the believer) in the very teeth of evidence contrary to that belief – is a far different thing.

2008/04/24

How Faith undermines Logic: why logic will not rescue one from a cult, or persuade a fundamentalist

Filed under: Fundamentalism,Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 7:27 am
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This passage from Deborah Bennett’s “Logic Made Easy“, and drawing conclusions from scholarly studies, hit me between the eyes when I read it just recently:

Subjects have difficulty applying rules of logic when counterexamples in the subject’s experience are unavailable or difficult to recall and when the logical task fails to cue individuals to search for counter-examples. (p.105)

This is why it means nothing to, say, a Moonie if one attempting to pull them back out of that “cult” tries to force them to change their minds by presenting them with the plain-as-day evidence of dubious character of their leader; or why one will generally waste one’s time by pointing out the clear evidence for evolution or the fallibility of a biblical text.

The Moonie or fundamentalist is being completely rational within their own lights. The difference is that they are unable to see the counter-examples to their belief system even when they are right beneath their noses. (I know. I used to be this way myself, and often reflect on why I remained in such a thought-system for so long.)

And the reason they are unable to see what is staring them in the face is that their faith system instructs them to exercise total thought-control. The same technique used in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT):

[Cast] down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Their faith can only be sustained by the techniques of cognitive behaviour therapy. Counter-examples and falsifying evidence simply does not exist, or there would be no faith to begin with. Anything presented as falsifying evidence is conceptualized as a weapon of Satan designed to deceive and in his war against them. The contrary evidence is simply rejected as a tool of Satan to destroy them.

CBT will prompt the believer to reject the contrary evidence immediately. This can be done either by literally dismissing it as false, or more subtly by ingeniously if sometimes fatuously “discovering” reasons to “prove” the invalidity or irrelevance of whatever falsifies their belief. The sham behind these arguments is readily apparent to anyone who notices that only the less informed or fellow-believers buy them. But to those of faith, that simply proves that they alone are right and the whole world lies in darkness.

But they are being logical. Such members can be and often are very smart. They can be studying for higher degrees and doctorates in the most respected institutions. They can even repeat and write all the evidence and argument required to be awarded their letters. But they may not believe much of it. Or they may use some of their “worldly education” in ways it was never intended and would not sustain scrutiny by scholarly peers.

But no matter how logical one may be, that rigid and valid mental process will simply fail to properly inform if faith is lurking to rob them of the ability to even see falsifying evidence right before their eyes for what it really — and so obviously — is.

In other words, faith undermines one’s ability to apply rules of logic — as Bennett, above, observes. Falsifying evidence simply will not exist and must therefore be exposed as falsely presuming to falsify: so goes the (CBT) thought process of faith.

And ironically this is also why it can be the most intelligent, the most mentally agile, who will remain strongest in their faith! One should expect them to have the greater ability to find rationalizations to “falsify” what is otherwise obvious to anyone led by genuine scientific enquiry instead of faith.

2008/04/23

No longer to call myself “an atheist”; with some Grayling snippets

I’ve decided to no longer call myself an atheist, but a naturalist. A. C. Grayling convinced me to do this without much trouble in his little book “Against All Gods

As it happens, no atheist should call himself or herself one. The term already sells a pass to theists, because it invites debate on their ground. A more appropriate term is ‘naturalist’, denoting one who takes it that the universe is a natural realm, governed by nature’s laws. This properly implies that there is nothing supernatural in the universe – no fairies or goblins, angels, demons, gods or goddesses. Such might as well call themselves ‘a-fairyists’ or ‘a-goblin­ists’ as ‘atheists’; it would be every bit as meaningful or meaningless to do so. (Most people, though, forget that belief in fairies was widespread until the begin­ning of the twentieth century; the Church fought a long hard battle against this competitor superstition, and won, largely because – you guessed it – of the infant and primary church schools founded in the second half of the nineteenth century.)

By the same token, therefore, people with theistic beliefs should be called supernaturalists . . . . (p.28 )

Simple. So I’ve decided not to discriminate against those who believe in garden gnomes or leprechauns and revert to the catch-all “naturalist”. And those who confuse this with naturist might have more to think about than others.

The “Tu-Quoque/You too!” fallacy: Atheism is not a faith

The point of Grayling essay is to rebut the common fallacious claim that “atheism is itself a faith position”.

I’ve responded to this charge numerous times myself on various forums, and I suspect many of those who don’t want to think otherwise will simply ignore the obvious rebuttals to this charge:

People who do not believe in supernatural entities do not have a ‘faith’ in ‘the non-existence of X’ (where X is ‘fairies’ or ‘goblins’ or ‘gods’); what they have is a reliance on reason and observation, and a concomitant preparedness to accept the judgement of both on the principles and theories which premise their actions. The views they take about things are proportional to the evidence supporting them, and are always subject to change in the light of new or better evidence. ‘Faith’ – specifically and precisely: the commitment to a belief in the absence of evidence supporting that belief, or even (to the greater merit of the believer) in the very teeth of evidence contrary to that belief – is a far different thing. (p.34)

Faith, on the other hand, is belief in the absence of, even contrary to, the evidence. Grayling does not say it, but I can see no place for faith to intrude into scholarship that plies itself to understanding the literature and historical origins of any religion.

The sad part is that some fundamentalist Christian “scholars” pretend to agree with this statement, but their escape hatch is to insist that it is “dishonest hyper-scepticism” to go beyond a superficial face-value acceptance of selected (not all) texts. They fail miserably to see that true scholarship means submitting even their favourite texts to verification. They really demand that we have faith in the surface reading of their canonical texts and only submit noncanonical texts to scholarly scrutiny.

Religious faith is surely something that belongs to the privacy of one’s home or circle of fellow-believers. There is nothing publicly noble about anyone believing in a proposition contrary to the evidence. Even many Christians accept this when they twinge with some embarrassment over their fellow-travellers who allow their loved ones to die “in faith” in preference to seeking medical care; and most Moslems feel ashamed at their fellow-faithful who blow themselves up with innocents “in faith”.

I’d rather they felt no embarrassment or shame, but only constructive anger. Embarrassment and shame are emotions that admit that they belong to the same general mind-set, the same broad club, to begin with.

Forget asking who should win: cancel the game instead

But the argument is not about “which faith is true” and “which faith is false”. It is about the irrationality of faith to begin with:

Even some on my own side of the argument here make the mistake of thinking that the dispute about supernaturalistic beliefs is whether they are true or false. Epistemology teaches us that the key point is about rationality. If a person gets wet every time he is in the rain without an umbrella, yet persists in hoping that the next time he is umbrella-less in the rain he will stay dry, then he is seriously irrational. To believe in the existence of (say) a benevolent and omnipotent deity in the face of childhood cancers and mass deaths in tsunamis and earthquakes, is exactly the same kind of serious irrationality. The best one could think is that if there is a deity (itself an overwhelmingly irra­tional proposition for a million other reasons), it is not benevolent. That’s a chilling thought; and as it happens, a quick look around the world and history would encourage the reply ‘the latter’ if someone asked, ‘if there is a deity, does the evidence suggest that it is benevolent or malevolent. (p.37)

2007/10/10

Faith : a keyword to war (or peace)

Filed under: Media, Propaganda,Politics & Society — Neil Godfrey @ 5:36 am
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Language has been manipulated by leaders since 9/11 to instill a state of fear and war in our minds. A new book by academic Mary Zournazi, Keywords to War: reviving language in an age of terror, discusses many of the words manipulated today for this intent. In the process she looks at how the same words have reflected different cultural values since their inception. I outline here her discussion of the history of the word “faith”. Zournazi compares today’s manipulation of the word with reference to Simone Weil‘s criticism of how the word’s use and meaning in the Nazi era. (more…)

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