virus: Thinking clearly about faith
Thu, 11 Feb 1999 18:38:03 EST

In a message dated 2/10/99 9:54:19 AM Central Standard Time, writes:

<< I'm not certian that you can avoid the reaction. People use the word "faith" to mean many things. Defining it as one thing or another for purposes of discussion on this list is futile if, in common discourse, COV members think that everyone has to conform to those definitions (or even to make distinctions across the same axes), or else be "irrational". Each word resonates with multiple meanings and is defined in context, not according to some arbitrary lexicon. That is an irreducable element of communication. You have to imagine how something might make sense, and it might be in many different ways. There isn't one "meaning" for anything...even in mathematics. >>

Okay folks, you seem to have already forgotten what I taught just a little while ago, so I am going to rund this excerpt again.

Ok folks, here it is! Dr. Jake to the rescue!!! If you stick to this, the rest of it should become clearer. Otherwise, it's all murky word games - fun for memeticists to watch, but no good for making sense. Trust me! (but don't have faith in me!). I am RIGHT on this!

(I know, I know, Brodie will jump me again for being "arrogant", but so what? Why pretend that I might be wrong when I know that I am not? If I am proven wrong, . . . well that's what good sense of humor is for.)

This is from a thread I am involved in on AOL. "JakePrime" is my other screen name that I use for strictly AOL stuff. So here goes.

Subject:	thinking for yourself vs. thinking by yourself
From: (Jake Prime)
Date:	01 Feb 1999 17:57:50 EST

In article <>, (RaggTopp4) writes:

>Simple, I trust no one. That doesn't mean I think wrong of everyone, it just
>means that the first time I hear something I'll doubt it until I find a
>reoccurance of it and at least some other information on it. Preferably an
>opposing view. Understanding a situation is best when you tackle it form
>BOTH sides.
>>How does using an investigative approach become our method of coming to
>By opening our minds and thinking, "Gee, maybe this ISN'T right after all?"
>Doubt is the great firestarter, the kindling for the fire of freethinking.

You trust no one? The opposite of faith is not paranoia.

I think that you portraying rational thinking as necessarily paranoid thinking. This is not just thinking for yourself, this is thinking by yourself too. We all trust other people. On most issues, we have no choice. People tell me the Earth is round. I have never travelled around the Earth, nor have I ever sought out the opinion of a flat-earther to determine whether I should believe people when they represent to me that the Earth is essentially round.

Certainly doubt is a useful tool, but we do not have the luxury of it for every case. What we can do, however, is rationally criticize all of the representations that we do have for inconsistency and thus apply doubt to those situations where conflict occurs. That way, I can reasonably decide that something deserves doubt, even when most people confirm it - like the existence of benevolent "God" thingies and supernatural "souls". I can also reasonably decide to accept something even when many people doubt it or certain aspects of it, like evolution through blind variation and natural selection.

And I can do this rationally without having to go out and personally view the evidence myself in each of these cases, or even listen to every point of view either. I can save the fieldwork for the really important things where rational criticism just isn't satisfactory, and where there really are two competing points of view that both seem reasonable on their face. And for most everything else, I have a rational method of selecting things where I can reasonably feel comfortable relying on other people to supply me with information. With my handy BS meter in hand, I can decide whether to trust what I am hearing or not, without having to double check everything myself.

Many people say that faith means accepting things without evidence. If we are talking about faith, the way that religious people have faith, that is not true. For the religious, faith means in principle not holding certain representations (or beliefs) open to rational criticism. We all accept things without evidence, but the religious accept things IN SPITE of the evidence. What is the story of Job about anyway? Belief in a benevolent, ominscient, omnipotent "God" thingy in spite of apparently overwhelming evidence in contradiction to such a thing.

To accept things in spite of the evidence is to not hold those things either in principle or in practice open to rational criticism. If I were to say that, "I believe in God, only until I have evidence to the contrary." very few religious people would think that this position represented faith at all. That would be because, although I might be expressing belief without some evidence, I would be holding that belief in principle subject to rational criticism.

If I liked believing in some "God" thingy, this kind of belief without evidence, might represent some hope, but certainly not faith. If I believed in the "God" thingy without evidence because I am a child and my father tells me it is so, then that would be trust. But it still isn't faith unless I was willing to believe even in spite of evidence to the contrary.

Although I certainly have done my share of hoping and trusting in my life, I don't recall EVER having faith at any moment in my life. I think people have to be trained to do that, and my parents never did train me for faith. The result is that I am an atheist even though they are less sure about religious things themselves than I am (they had some faith training, where I had none).

Nothing is "mere".

"Arrogant" as ever.