Why Is Faith Considered A Virtue?

Because without it, people wouldn’t believe in God.

As far as I can tell, it really is that simple.

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27 Responses to Why Is Faith Considered A Virtue?

  1. Paul says:

    Because without faith, no one would believe that you are still going to show up, even when you’re late.🙂

    Unitarians regard faith as a virtue, and many of them don’t believe in God, per se. Humanists can sensibly term their position, a faith, as well. The point of faith isn’t neccesarily God, Goddess, gods, or goddesses, it’s the notion that there’s something beyond ourselves that’s worth striving. That, in turn, is a virtue because it inspires people to do great things… for both good and ill, obviously, but that’s true of most virtues.

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  2. arensb says:

    Paul:

    The point of faith isn’t neccesarily God, Goddess, gods, or goddesses, it’s the notion that there’s something beyond ourselves that’s worth striving. That, in turn, is a virtue because it inspires people to do great things…

    If I told one of these people that I have evidence that this “something beyond ourselves” exists as demonstrably as Idaho or democracy or the Dalai Lama, would they say “Yes, please show me!” or “No, don’t show me, I think it’s better to believe on faith.”

    Given the interest generated by artifacts like virgin Mary apparitions, the shroud of Turin, the tomb of Jesus, etc., it seems obvious that a lot of people would prefer evidence; they resort to faith only because there isn’t enough evidence to support their beliefs.

    But then there’s stuff like the doubting Thomas incident in the Bible:

    Then Jesus told him [Thomas], “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

    This is what I’m talking about: that belief without evidence is better than belief based on evidence. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for that, unless you’re trying to defend an indefensible idea.

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  3. Paul says:

    “This is what I’m talking about: that belief without evidence is better than belief based on evidence. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for that, unless you’re trying to defend an indefensible idea.”

    No, there isn’t, but one verse from the scripture of one religion scarcely defines the universe of theism. I think faith, in general, is the willingness to believe in something for which there is evidence, but not proof, versus an insistence in only believing in things that one can proove. Which is why it’s a virtue– it performs the simple function of allowing one’s self to go forward in a world of less than perfect information.

    Of course, everyone does this in their every day lives. In fact, to turn what you said around, faith is considered a vice by some only if the faith in question concerns metaphysics.

    Religion usually involves taking the well-justified belief that something beyond one’s self exists and particularizing it by imagining what that somethign else might be like– and therefore almost certainly being wrong about some particular. But that intellectual process, too, is vital to human thought — it’s the ability to hold in our mind’s eye something that we’ve read described but never seen. Without imagining something specific (even if wrong in the details), we often can’t come to grips with its realities at all. Yes, the blind men touching the elephant were wrong about what they felt, but not even trying to guess what they feel merely because they can’t see isn’t all that sensible, I don’t think.

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  4. arensb says:

    Paul:

    one verse from the scripture of one religion scarcely defines the universe of theism.

    As an isolated statement, this is true enough. On the other hand, it’s fairly easy to find essays praising faith. Lots of Christian organizations have statements of faith, but few if any that I’m aware of have statements along the lines of “here are the known facts: … Beyond that, we also believe such-and-such, but only by resorting to faith. If better facts come along, we may have to revise what we believe.” The one exception that springs to mind is this interview with the Dalai Lama:

    Gage says that what particularly impressed him was the Dalai Lama’s empirical approach. “At one point I asked: `What if neuroscience comes up with information that directly contradicts Buddhist philosophy?’,” says Gage. “The answer was: `Then we would have to change the philosophy to match the science’.”

    I think faith, in general, is the willingness to believe in something for which there is evidence, but not proof, versus an insistence in only believing in things that one can proove. Which is why it’s a virtue- it performs the simple function of allowing one’s self to go forward in a world of less than perfect information.

    It seems to me that you’re stretching the word “faith” far past its usual meaning. Depending on how stringently you want to define “proof”, the mere act of standing up, and expecting that the floor won’t suddenly become intangible and let you drop into the basement, is an act of faith. I can’t prove that I’m not a brain in a vat. I can’t even prove that 1+1=2, since I have to take into account the possibility that my thought processes might be faulty. Does that mean that everything I do is an act of faith? If so, the term is meaningless.

    Of course, everyone does this in their every day lives.

    True, but in engineering terms, this is a tradeoff, not a feature. When we act, we don’t have access to all information, and often lack pertinent information. Our minds can’t remember everything we’ve ever seen. Nor can they work out every consequence of every possible course of action before we need to act (plus, you can starve to death while trying to work out the absolute best place to go for dinner).

    So in order to function despite these constraints, we resort to acting upon incomplete information. But this is not something one should aspire to, except insofar as the alternatives are worse. In an ideal world, I would thoroughly research every available model before buying a new appliance. In reality, I’ll make do with what seems like the best readily-available option.

    In fact, to turn what you said around, faith is considered a vice by some only if the faith in question concerns metaphysics.

    I don’t know who the “some” you refer to are, but here’s a counterexample:

    Let’s say that one day you receive email from a Nigerian businessman who has fallen on hard times. He has $60 million stashed away, but can’t get at it directly. He just needs access to your bank account to move the money out of the country, and in exchange for your help, he’ll give you a cut of the money.

    There is evidence (the message), but not proof, that the gentleman and his money exist, and that everything is exactly as the email message says. So sending him your bank account number would be an act of faith on your part, but there is no metaphysics or even anything supernatural involved. Is there anyone (aside from the Nigerian gentleman and his associates) who wouldn’t say that it would be a bad idea for you to perform this act of faith?

    Religion usually involves taking the well-justified belief that something beyond one’s self exists and particularizing it by imagining what that somethign else might be like- and therefore almost certainly being wrong about some particular.

    These “some particular”s are actually rather broad: Shintoists and Hindus believe that there are hundreds of gods, Muslims believe in only one, and many Buddhists don’t believe in any. Catholics believe that God intervenes in the world, while deists don’t. These strike me as profound differences of opinion that are not likely to be resolved any time soon.

    As for the “well-justified belief that something beyond one’s self exists”, well, yes, I think it’s justified to believe that Idaho exists, even though I’ve never been there: I know that similar entities exist, like Maryland and Pennsylvania, I’ve seen satellite photos of the area where Idaho is said to be, and so forth. The same cannot be said of the belief that one’s consciousness will survive the death of the brain, that there will be 72 virgins in paradise, but only if one prays toward Mecca five times daily.

    Those 72 virgins either exist or they don’t. But it’s possible (even easy, apparently) to passionately believe either of these possibilities on faith alone. So faith is not a good way to find out what’s true or not, at least not in detail. It is, however, an effective way of holding on to a belief that isn’t backed up by evidence. So if enough people believe X on faith, belief in X will persist. And if belief in X on faith is encouraged, then belief in X will tend to endure in the face of lack of evidence for X, or even evidence against X. Hence, the belief that faith is good benefits belief in X. Which was the point of my original post.

    Sorry for going on at such length, but I’ve been mulling this over for the past day or two, and didn’t want to give you an incomplete answer.

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  5. Paul says:

    It seems to me that your OP stated not merely that the belief that “faith is good” benefits the belief in the particulars of religion, to which I readily agree, but rather that the belief that “faith is good” rests solely on the belief that “belief in God is good”, which is a somewhat more ambitious claim. In fact, I think it is completely overturned by your own example that some Buddhists don’t believe in a god or gods at all.

    “Those 72 virgins either exist or they don’t.”

    Maybe. One would think that either cats are alive, or they are dead, too. To “believe” quantum physics requires quite a mental shift in thinking, too, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful for solving problems. There are plenty of muslims, certainly, who believe in the literal truth of the virgins, but a fair number, also who believe it’s true in an allegorical sense; that is, it’s a useful concrete way of thinking about an abstract idea that’s hard to understand. The former group are a bit foolish, I think, but the latter group are a pretty significant part of the faith community, too. In fact, the people who would say, in the abstract, that faith is good, as opposed to having to narrow it down to “faith in X is good”, are almost all people who think of religious truth as being highly allegorical. Almost no one believes in the literal truth of both the virgins and Valhalla, but to believe that faith in general is good is to hold that many different and contradictory beliefs are good — which is only possible from the allegorical perspective.

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  6. arensb says:

    Paul:

    It seems to me that your OP stated not merely that the belief that “faith is good” benefits the belief in the particulars of religion, to which I readily agree, but rather that the belief that “faith is good” rests solely on the belief that “belief in God is good”, which is a somewhat more ambitious claim.

    First, yes: upon reflection I should probably back down a bit from what I said: people still fall for Nigerian scams, which I guess shows that people will believe anything.

    But I think you have it backwards: if belief X is associated with “belief is intrinsically good” or “belief in X is intrinsically good”, then belief X will have an advantage over a belief Y which doesn’t. For instance, if I start a political party whose platform includes “the leader knows best”, my adherents minions will be likely be more loyal than if I hadn’t included that statement, or if I had included “question authority” instead.

    “Those 72 virgins either exist or they don’t.”

    Maybe.

    Fine. Pick something more concrete, like “there has been at least one instance when someone was rewarded with 72 virgins in paradise” or “there was a man named Moses who parted the Red Sea”. Those are simple statements of fact, which are either true or false, regardless of what you or I believe.

    One would think that either cats are alive, or they are dead, too. To “believe” quantum physics requires quite a mental shift in thinking, too, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful for solving problems.

    The difference being that ideas like “Schrödinger’s cat is simultaneously dead and alive” are attempts to make sense of experimental results.

    There are plenty of muslims, certainly, who believe in the literal truth of the virgins, but a fair number, also who believe it’s true in an allegorical sense; that is, it’s a useful concrete way of thinking about an abstract idea that’s hard to understand. The former group are a bit foolish, I think, but the latter group are a pretty significant part of the faith community, too. In fact, the people who would say, in the abstract, that faith is good, as opposed to having to narrow it down to “faith in X is good”, are almost all people who think of religious truth as being highly allegorical. Almost no one believes in the literal truth of both the virgins and Valhalla, but to believe that faith in general is good is to hold that many different and contradictory beliefs are good — which is only possible from the allegorical perspective.

    I think you’re making my point for me. You’re smart enough and educated enough not to believe the sillier religious claims — that Genesis is a literal account of real events, that Israelites came to the Americas and became Indians, that galactic overlord Xenu brought aliens to Earth in DC-8s, and so on — so that leads you to the conclusion that even if Genesis isn’t literally true, it can still be true metaphorically or allegorically. My favorite example is textbook illustrations: an anatomy textbook might show red and blue blood, a pink liver, blue lungs, and green spleen. This illustration isn’t literally true, since those aren’t the organs’ real colors, but it’s more informative than a photograph would have been, since it highlights important features that wouldn’t be obvious in a more realistic depiction.

    But if Genesis isn’t literally true, if you have to do the work of figuring out how it applies to the real world, then why assume that it contains more truth than a Veda, or a sampling of koans, or Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards?

    Perhaps you agree with statements like

    All religions contain some truth (with the possible exception of Scientology🙂 ). After all, God is too great to be constrained by any one religion.God doesn’t need to meddle in the universe though miracles: he set up the rules and original conditions so that it would evolve according to his plan, like a pool pro who sets up an intricate shot, then lets it unfold on its own; picking up the 8-ball and dropping it in the side pocket would be less elegant.God allows people to do evil because the evil people do is not as bad as the consequences of not having the sort of free will that allows that evil.

    and many others. In fact, because you’re intelligent, well-educated, and imaginative, you can come up with explanations like these instead of learning them from someone else.

    But from my perspective, it looks like “Well, if I look at things this way, then I can reconcile what I see in the world with the existence and goodness of God.” But why assume that there’s a god in the first place, or that he’s good? If it takes a lot of work to reconcile an idea with the observed facts, then maybe reality is subtle and it takes a lot of work to reconcile theory and observation, or maybe the idea is wrong. Not to trivialize your thought processes or anything, but let’s say I ask why Darth Vader in the original Star Wars doesn’t recognize C-3PO, the robot he built in Episode 1. I’m sure you could come up with half a dozen explanations for this seeming discrepancy. But maybe it’s just a continuity error.

    Which comes back to my original point: one argument I hear a lot is that if God were to give us incontrovertible proof of his existence (like the “Jesus and Pals” show on South Park), then we’d have no choice but to believe in him, and he wants us to choose to believe in him, and having faith is better than demanding evidence.

    So again, the question is, why look for such explanations? At some point, a complex explanation of a subtle phenomenon becomes rationalization.

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  7. Paul says:

    A biologist was once asked what he could tell about God from his studies, and he said something like “God really likes beetles.” I think another thing we could say is that God(s) doesn’t/don’t care a whole lot whether people believe in him/her/they or not. One can also say that he isn’t so into the faith thing that he has tossed out definitive counter-evidence of his existence, either. Since a lot of religions seem to think that God cares deeply about whether people believe in him, I think reality provides a good criticism of that aspect of those religions.

    Suppose I were to show you a set of rocks on Mars that look like a human face. There’s at least a couple good reasons not to draw any fantastic conclusion from those rocks; one is that perhaps they don’t look like a fact to you. The other, more objective, is that there are a zillion rocks on mars, and given that, random orientations are eventually going to make something that looks at least vaguely like a human face.

    Or, imagine a set of paintings, all appearing to be more or less random paint splatterings. I really like one of them, however; the paint splatterings speak to me. I think they “say” something, even if I can’t tell you exactly what it is. I’d be pretty foolish, though, to say that all those paintings were the product of intent from an artist, if only one “spoke” to me.

    Here, however, the analogy ends… or at least, it may end. Multiple universe theories aside, we have just the one to observe, and as far as we know, only the one exists. And I think it’s pretty cool– that’s an aesthetic comment, not a scientific one. The chance of, when only splattering the paint randomly once, of producing something that is that cool seems pretty remote. At this point, the argument about zillions of rocks isn’t really available; the best one can say is that there might be zillions of universes, but that’s adding unneccesary explanations to justify a theory just like the religious folks do. So the argument left, as I see it, is that some people stare at the universe and go “that’s not art” and some people stare at it and think it is. For those who think it’s art, the people who don’t see it seem, well, perhaps “tone-deaf” is a good analogy. We feel a bit sad that you can’t make out the music– which is one of the reasons religions are constantly trying to convince people God exists, even if God doesn’t seem to care nearly as much. I don’t mean that condescendingly; in fact, part of the reason the musical analogy popped into mind is that (a) you can hear the music in lots of stuff I don’t like and which sounds essentially random to me; and (b) occasionally I’ve been enlightened and have started to hear that music that I couldn’t hear before.

    Religious experience, then, is the attempt to hum along. And I still don’t like Skinny Puppy.🙂

    I wouldn’t assume that Genesis has more truth to it than a Veda or a sampling of koans. The only reason to assume it has more truth than the Brian Eno cards is prone to all sorts of errors, but in general if someone wanted to know about Western Music, say, I’d point them at the classics in that genre, with a prejudice for the more widely listened to classics (e.g., Mozart’s 40th Symphony in preference to his others). Also, not a big Brian Eno fan.🙂

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  8. arensb says:

    Paul:
    I think this basically boils down to “how do you explain the concept `blue’ to a blind man?” While I doubt that it’s possible to actually explain what “blue” looks like (otherwise, sighted undergrads wouldn’t have late-night discussions about “what if, like, what I perceive as blue, you perceive as red?”), the blind man can at least find out whether “blue” is a word that describes something real, or whether it’s something sighted people are just making up. One way would be to show a bunch of objects to a bunch of sighted people and ask them which objects are blue. If there is wide agreement, then he is justified in thinking that “blue” is a real thing that he just can’t perceive.

    By this criterion, “God” does not seem to correspond to something real. There is wide disagreement as to what God is like: most people think that there is one god, but a sizeable minority think that there are many (and for a long time, they were in the majority). You say that God doesn’t care whether anyone believes in him. Many others say that’s the single most important thing in life. Some think that God intervenes in the world; others don’t. I think that if “God” were as well-defined and easily-perceived as “blue” (and yes, I allow that there’s a lot of fuzziness in what is blue and what isn’t), then there wouldn’t be as many religions as there are.

    But what if, to take up your musical analogy, “God” is more like “beauty” than like “blue”? There is no widespread agreement on which musical pieces are beautiful and which aren’t. Yes, there are groups of people who think that Mozart’s 40th is beautiful, and others who think Sgt. Pepper is the best album ever, and the two groups violently disagree with each other. (And just in case you care, I’ve just put on Dark Side of the Moon. Maybe we can at least agree that that’s a decent album.)

    So what, then, is “beauty”? I listen to a piece, my eardrums vibrate, complicated things happen in my brain, and something happens: endorphins are released, or my neurons end up firing in a particular pattern, or something. You listen to the same piece, and because your brain is different from mine, no endorphins are released, or the neural firing pattern in my brain doesn’t appear in yours. Beauty, then, is a property of a musical piece that allows it to produce a certain pattern in a particular listener. A musical piece can no more be said to be beautiful without specifying a listener, than a key can be said to fit without specifying a lock.

    If this analogy holds, then beauty is a property of an interaction between a piece of music and a listener, and God (or at least perception of God) is a property of an interaction between the universe and a mind.

    If you want to define God this way, you’re free to do so, and I may even be a theist in this sense (I’d have to give the matter thought). But calling this “God” seems confusing, since the word carries a lot of cultural baggage and connotations, like intelligence, benevolence, intentionality, caring where you stick your penis, and so forth.

    Your idea of God is radically different from Fred Phelps’s idea of God. There ought to be as many words for the different conceptions of God as there are for musical genres. But there aren’t, and I tend to agree with Daniel Dennett, that God is a Wittgenstein beetle. And there seems to be a prevalent idea (including among liberal, tolerant theists) that it’s good to believe in God. But since everyone’s idea of God is so different, what this really means is that it’s less important to believe X, than it is to apply the label “God” to X.

    A biologist was once asked what he could tell about God from his studies, and he said something like “God really likes beetles.”

    That would be J.B.S. Haldane. And while Google doesn’t give a definitive formulation of the quotation, my favorite is “If the universe teaches us anything about the creator, it is that he is inordinately fond of beetles.”

    The chance of, when only splattering the paint randomly once, of producing something that is that cool seems pretty remote.

    This seems like a combination of the fine-tuning argument and Douglas Adams’s puddle. It’s true that nobody knows how the universe came into existence, or why it has the properties it does (charge of the electron, speed of light, etc., balanced in such a way as to produce something so vastly, magnificently complex), but taking our collective ignorance and calling it “God” seems like a cop-out to me.

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  9. ou rooie says:

    arensb:

    I get what you are saying, that the term “God” can mean different things to different people. But remember that denying His (I’m referring to the christian God) is to deny alot of spiritual observations, insights and experiences. Your allegory of the word blue is quite original🙂 however I feel your arguement does carry a certain flaw. Firstly, your model includes ONE blind man in a seeing population. Obviously this one blind man can be tought what the colour blue is, and he can make the assumption that he does not have the senses to perceive it. But lets say you alter the model, and make the entire population blind, eg a room full of people, all blind from birth. Then let them argue out what blue is. Can they, without any help from the seeing, conclude that blue does not exist due to their observations?

    And then another thought. A godless universe without afterlife does not make sense. Where does the dispensed energy (our life force) go to when we die? It cannot, by laws of physics just disappear. Energy does not just go away. Einstein himself argued for this point when asked if he believed in afterlife.

    Who then now, bitches??😉

    Cheers guys

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  10. arensb says:

    ou rooie:

    Your allegory of the word blue is quite original

    It’s not, actually. This analogy has been around for years.

    But lets say you alter the model, and make the entire population blind, eg a room full of people, all blind from birth. Then let them argue out what blue is. Can they, without any help from the seeing, conclude that blue does not exist due to their observations?

    Of course they can. Obviously they’d be wrong, but they can certainly conclude it.

    Alternately, they could build a digital camera or a spectrometer with a braille output and learn, if not the sensation of blue, at least the existence of the phenomenon that a sighted person would perceive as “blue”.

    Where does the dispensed energy (our life force) go to when we die?

    What do you mean by “life force”? Your body heat, normally produced by breaking certain molecules apart, heats up the room by a fraction of a degree. When you die, that process ceases and you stop warming up the room. The remaining ATP in your body either breaks apart naturally, bit by bit, and warms up the surrounding area by some tiny fraction of a degree, or is ingested by bacteria, which use it to power their own lives. There’s nothing mysterious about that.

    Einstein himself argued for this point when asked if he believed in afterlife.

    I’m skeptical. Do you have a source for this assertion?

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  11. ou rooie says:

    arensb:

    I think you misunderstood (typical of a Pink Floyd fan — just kiding, don’t shoot, I like em too) With “dispensed energy” I didn’t mean the heat energy dispensed due to our chemical makeup.
    But yeah that is a bit abstract. Let’s just say I believe our life force is alot more than a bit of molecular interaction, the reason we are alive.

    However, what about those claiming to have very spiritual experiences (ie. people close to death). I know there are lots of nuts that would claim such experiences but to call every person who claim this a liar is very harsh. I know the topic was not yet introduced but I would love to hear your opinion on it.

    Well then, I goto go to my hole and curl up. Cheers

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  12. Fez says:

    ou rooie,

    However, what about those claiming to have very spiritual experiences (ie. people close to death).

    What about them? A specialist in brain structure and/or brain chemistry can posit any number of hypotheses regarding the experiences of these people. I put these anecdotes into the same category as other victims of brain trauma.

    I know there are lots of nuts that would claim such experiences but to call every person who claim this a liar is very harsh. I know the topic was not yet introduced but I would love to hear your opinion on it.

    If the topic had not been introduced until now where did arensb, or anyone else, have an opportunity to call those people liars?

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  13. arensb says:

    ou rooie:

    Let’s just say I believe our life force is alot more than a bit of molecular interaction, the reason we are alive.

    Well, obviously the reason we’re alive also has a lot to do with the way the molecules of our bodies are arranged. Once a person dies, the processes that keep things going cease functioning, and the processes that form life come to a halt.

    If you meant something else, then please explain. If you meant something supernatural, then also please provide some evidence that this supernatural thing exists.

    However, what about those claiming to have very spiritual experiences (ie. people close to death).

    One thing that all of these people have in common is that they’re all human, and therefore have a human brain. The brain can do some weird things, like imagine pain from missing limbs, or show you images while you’re asleep. It’s also known to do some strange things under stress, and dying is definitely a stressful situation.

    So no, I don’t doubt that a lot of people experience similar things when they’re clinically dead, but I’ve seen no evidence that there is anything going on outside of their bodies. Recreational drugs can also cause spiritual, religious, or mystical experiences (e.g., dissolution of the ego and connectedness to the universe). Does that mean that LSD actually reveals a “higher reality” or causes objects to breathe? Or just that LSD creates weird perceptions by messing with the brain? Do you have any evidence that near-death experiences are any different?

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  14. Paul says:

    Andrew:

    “why [the universe] has the properties it does (charge of the electron, speed of light, etc., balanced in such a way as to produce something so vastly, magnificently complex)”

    The one thing that evolutionary atheists and intellligent design theists have in common is their desire to focus on the little details, I sometimes think.

    The process is roughly equivalent to looking at a painting — let’s say The Night Watch, by Rembrandt. The intelligent design person take out an electron microscope and says “look at the way these atoms are arranged over here! Look at the amazing propensity they have to involve (whatever chemicals it is that the paint has degraded into) — clearly such a collection of such chemicals could not have happened by chance!” And this, of course, is bullshit, because the same processes working in the same place often produces “clumping” of particular kinds of molecules and atoms on earth. (The analogy here is to arguments about flagellae and the like).

    The evolutionary atheist looks at the painting with a magnifying glass and says “look at the way the pigment has been applied to the canvas are distributed — they obey certain “laws” that allow us to posit the existence of a device like a brush; but there is nothing here to allow us to posit a hand actually holding the brush.” (The analogy here is to things like “the charge of the electron” and “the speed of light”). And he takes some comfort in the fact that he’s obviously more correct and perceptive than the silly ID person.

    Neither group ever takes 20 steps back, looks at the whole painting without considering brush strokes or molecules at all, and goes “Ohmigod, the whole thing makes a picture!” And yeah, I think those 20 steps back are a virtue, that in fact while there’s some information to be gleaned from the electron microscope method and the magnifying glass method, the primary way of viewing the painting is from back where one tries, at least, to take in the whole thing at once. If that’s not possible, we can at least get back enough so that we can make out a face or two in the painting. On your list of attributes of God, I am indeed positing that we have reason to believe in “intentionality.” The rest (benevolence, etc.) isn’t really worth debating without common ground on intentionality.

    Back to whether we call it all “God” or not– I’m cool with not calling it God. We can call it Ashtoreth, and/or Baal, if you like, and piss off all sorts of people. We really don’t lack “names” for the entity or entities behind the big picture. “God” has its issues, but it’s often convenient shorthand; I don’t think my tolerant theist brethren are interested in excluding Buddhists, Shintoists, Wiccans or any of a number of other groups for which the word “God” isn’t quite appropriate. Sometimes, I’m sure, it is used that way.

    I own Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt. Pepper, and a very nice rendition of Mozart’s 40th, and listen to them all moderately often, so I’m amused at your choices. (I like Abbey Road better, though, but only by a hair.)

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  15. Fez says:

    Paul,

    The point of faith isn’t neccesarily God, Goddess, gods, or goddesses, it’s the notion that there’s something beyond ourselves that’s worth striving. That, in turn, is a virtue because it inspires people to do great things… for both good and ill, obviously, but that’s true of most virtues.

    This notion can also be described by the word, “curiosity”, which has also frequently inspired people to do great things. I believe it is fair to say that overall there has been a successful balance between curiosity and faith in human history.
    I believe it is also fair to say that when a certain critical mass of people within society is reached of those who subscribe to the notion that faith is a sufficient substitute for curiosity, especially to such an extreme that curiosity is to be suppressed, a roadblock to societal advancement has been created. Faith is not a replacement for curiosity, it’s almost it’s antithesis.

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  16. arensb says:

    Paul:

    Neither group ever takes 20 steps back, looks at the whole painting without considering brush strokes or molecules at all, and goes “Ohmigod, the whole thing makes a picture!” And yeah, I think those 20 steps back are a virtue, that in fact while there’s some information to be gleaned from the electron microscope method and the magnifying glass method, the primary way of viewing the painting is from back where one tries, at least, to take in the whole thing at once. If that’s not possible, we can at least get back enough so that we can make out a face or two in the painting. On your list of attributes of God, I am indeed positing that we have reason to believe in “intentionality.”

    This seems to me to be the same argument that William Dembski makes with his Mount Rushmore analogy: if you look at Mount Rushmore, he says, we recognize that it’s not a natural geological formation because we recognize the hallmarks of design; and when we look at features of living beings (e.g., bacterial flagella), we see the same hallmarks of design. Hence, Intelligent Design.

    One problem with this is, how do you know you’re not fooling yourself? How do you know that you’re not just seeing a face in a cloud? We humans are quite good at seeing intention, whether it’s there or not. It comes from the fact that our ancestors were surrounded by beings whose intention was to have lunch; so not only was it advantageous to be able to detect intention, but it was also safer to err on the side of caution, seeing intention where there wasn’t any, rather than not noticing an agent with lunchy intent.

    Perhaps the universe isn’t a Rembrandt, but a Pollack, or a Rorschach test. How do you know you’re not seeing intentionality where there isn’t any?

    Like

  17. ou_rooie says:

    Paul:

    Get yourself Dream Theater’s Images and Words🙂

    arensb:

    Comparing our very existence to noticing a face in the cloud is stretching it a bit don’t you think :p
    Coming back to what I said earlier, about the fact that many people near death, then strange observations can be made. I use to take all those stories with a (rather large) bit of salt, about the families of the deceased observing strange behaviour, but recently my grandmother passed away after a heart attack. Our entire family had had pretty strange situations with her, starting about a month or so before her passing. She was not on ndrugs and neither are we. Weird stuff.

    Goto go. Cheers

    Like

  18. arensb says:

    ou rooie:

    Coming back to what I said earlier, about the fact that many people near death, then strange observations can be made. I use to take all those stories with a (rather large) bit of salt, about the families of the deceased observing strange behaviour, but recently my grandmother passed away after a heart attack. Our entire family had had pretty strange situations with her, starting about a month or so before her passing.

    So what evidence do you have of anything supernatural?

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  19. ou rooie says:

    arensb:

    None. Things like this cannot really proven by evidence. I said you notice weird things sometimes, and weird doesn’t really fare well as evidence. I just get the feeling sometimes people know subconsciously when their time is up. I know this goes out of reach of rational debate, but you dont mind do you🙂

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  20. arensb says:

    None.

    Then that settles it, I guess. You have as much evidence for your beliefs as you have for fairies, Bigfoot, Pallas Athena, homeopathy, telekinesis, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but you only believe some of these things, and not others. Why?

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  21. Paul says:

    Andrew:

    How do you know you’re not seeing intentionality where there isn’t any?.”

    I don’t ‘know’ any such thing. I’m taking my best crack at a guess. I don’t ‘know’ that you really exist, or that colors are anything but an illusion, or that any of a number of scientific theories that I was taught in school are correct. I do, however, accept these things as true until shown otherwise. Why shouldn’t people who see intentionality believe in it?

    Fez:

    Faith is not a replacement for curiosity, it’s almost it’s antithesis.

    Sorta kinda. Faith lets people at least temporarily stop working on one problem so that they can get on with the rest of life. Yes, that can close off lines of inquiry, and when everyone has faith in the same thing that can be a major problem (but we’re moving towards “Is organized religion a virtue?” rather than “is faith a virtue?” at that point.) There are simply too many lines of inquiry to not decide to simply “believe” on some of them and move on.

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  22. arensb says:

    I don’t ‘know’ any such thing. I’m taking my best crack at a guess. I don’t ‘know’ that you really exist, or that colors are anything but an illusion, or that any of a number of scientific theories that I was taught in school are correct. I do, however, accept these things as true until shown otherwise.

    You are, of course, talking about vastly different orders of certainty. You have very good evidence that I exist: you’ve seen me; you’ve met other people who’ve seen me; you’ve seen photographs of me; if we dug around, we could probably find something I’ve told you that you couldn’t have known otherwise. This doesn’t absolutely prove that I exist (you could be a brain in a jar), and new facts may yet turn up that show that I don’t exist after all, but I think that my existence has, to use Stephen Jay Gould’s phrase, “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.”

    For things like whether relativity works, or whether New Zealand exists, or whether the revolutionary war really happened, your knowledge is less certain, but still within the “perverse to withhold provisional assent” area.

    Why shouldn’t people who see intentionality believe in it?

    We know (from personal experience) that optical illusions exist, and we know (the same way we know that the revolutionary war happened) that people can see Jesus in a tortilla or the Virgin Mary in a grilled-cheese sandwich; that unexplained noises and drafts in an old house can be perceived as ghosts; that a sentence can be understood in two quite different ways; that certain combinations of clues can lead a detective astray; and so on.

    So when you say that you perceive intentionality in the universe, it is not, IMHO, perverse to withhold provisional assent and to ask for corroborating evidence.

    Faith lets people at least temporarily stop working on one problem so that they can get on with the rest of life.

    It sounds like you’re saying that “I can’t explain this, so I’m going to postulate an invisible being with unknown properties and get on with my life” is better than “I can’t explain this, so I’m going to accept that I don’t know the answer and get on with my life.” I hope I’ve misunderstood you, because that’s not something I can agree with.

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  23. arensb says:

    I wrote:

    a sentence can be understood in two quite different ways

    I recently ran across an example of this, in China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station: “Lin had been given a street name”. The author meant that Lin had been given the name of a street on which she could find what she was looking for; but I originally understood it as meaning that someone had bestowed upon Lin a name by which she would be referred to among street gangs.

    Like

  24. arensb says:

    Paul:
    I think this interview of Richard Dawkins by Jonathan Miller addresses some of the same questions we’ve been discussing above, in case you want to hear what someone else thinks.

    Like

  25. Paul says:

    Andrew:

    It sounds like you’re saying that “I can’t explain this, so I’m going to postulate an invisible being with unknown properties and get on with my life” is better than “I can’t explain this, so I’m going to accept that I don’t know the answer and get on with my life.” I hope I’ve misunderstood you, because that’s not something I can agree with.

    A small rewording of your second proposed statement, which I hope you won’t object to. Is it fair to say “I can’t explain this, so I’m going to accept that the cause has unknown properties, and get on with my life.”?

    I’ve added the notion that effects have causes, and that a cause that is unknown is a cause with an unknown property; I don’t think I’ve made any other leaps, and I don’t think those are controversial ones.

    There is one remaining leap between the two statements you hold in contrast in your quote, of course, and that is the device of personification. I earlier alluded to the notion that faith was a matter of appreciation of beauty, and I’ll return to that notion, and suggest that poetry is a better way of describing beauty than equations — although both can be quite useful! But in this case poetry can describe the beauty that equations can’t. The shoe is sometimes on the other foot.

    If you think I’m arguing for a notion of “faith” that is distinctly different than what Jerry Falwell would argue for, you’re right. And probably I’m arguing for a different notion of “God exists” than he would, too.

    We can envision the dawn a little better if we don’t quibble that it doesn’t have fingers, or that in fact the dawn as such isn’t an existing object at all but an interaction between the atmosphere of the earth, our particular vantage point, and a star one A.U. away. I’m still pretty happy talking about “the dawn.” I think it’s useful. The dawn “exists” as far as I’m concerned.

    I agree that a leap from “perceiving intentionality in the universe” to monotheism is not rational. I think “faith” in the abstract is rational, but the particulars are always a matter of which poetic expression one finds most useful.

    I don’t think it’s perverse of you to withhold provisional assent to the notion of intentionality; but I don’t think it’s perverse fo me to assent, either. The examples of the tortilla, etc., have again to deal with a phenomenon I noted earlier, which is that there are many tortillas in the world, and for one of them to have a face on it isn’t the slightest bit extraordinary.

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  26. Wes Desha says:

    It is a general moronic inside a developmental biology program — it could well be inappropriate in his role as a biology lecturer to become discussing theology (except as it specifically relates to developmental biology). Here, he’s “off the job” and speaking as being a private citizen.

    Like

  27. If any religion deserves dickishness, it’s Scientology. I’m willing to permit religion by yourself if they enable other people by yourself, but not once they interfere with men and women obtaining proper medical remedy. Scientology kills. And Phil is as least as a great deal a dick to anti-vaxxers, and rightly so. Anybody costing lives via dispensing fraudulent medical advice deserves the complete compliment of dickish behavior.

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