virus: [Fwd: Re: Honest Intellectual Inquiry, Parable]

Tue, 08 Jun 1999 10:26:25 -0700

Subject: Re: Honest Intellectual Inquiry, Parable Date: Tue, 8 Jun 1999 11:00:58 -0600
From: Richard Packham <> To: KMO <>

Dear KMO,

Thanks for the very interesting messages. I continue to be amazed at the
reactions I get from my little parable (I have gotten two or three e-mails a
month about it ever since it first appeared on the internet about two years
ago). To have such an obviously intelligent group as the Church of the Virus discussing it is very flattering.

You might be interested to know that my brother - the one whose refusal to
listen to my objections about the religion we were raised in - recently wrote a "response parable," which I have posted at <>.

You referred to "Richard's brother Mike" - is that another Richard, or do
you know my brother Mike Packham?

I enjoyed your article on "phaith" and I agree with you 100%. The term
"faith" causes much confusion because it includes many things that are basically different from each other. To condemn everything that goes under
the term "faith" because of one evil type of faith is to commit a logical
fallacy, I would think.

The recent issue of the Internet Infidels Newsletter had an article that
dealt with the problem. Here's the pertinent part:

If you look at the definition of the word "belief," we see that it is a close synonym for the word "faith". But it is also the word we use to indicate confidence in something we consider likely, but not absolutely certain. We can demonstrate these subtle differences with a few simple sentences. Compare: "I am a believer." with, "I believe the sun will rise tomorrow morning." or even, "I believe the train leaves at ten minutes to two." I put it to you that these two uses of the word belief are not accidentally abutted. In fact, there was a time in our past when the over-zealous attempted to infuse even the most secular words and phrases with religious significance. And to this day, apologists attempt to exploit these parasitic religious associations that remain tenaciously attached to many English words.

In the minds of religious people, the two quite distinct meanings of the word belief become confounded. In their minds, they see no difference between belief in god and beliefs drawn from experience and probability. So they make statements like, "everyone has to believe in something." The implication is that, if you can believe the sun will rise in the morning, then it is only a short step from there to belief in a personal god. In reality, the two different uses of this word are very far apart. And because language is such a fundamental part of thought, few people question the way we use words.

So to make things absolutely clear, let us apply the Bunsen burner and separate this compound into its constituent elements. On the one hand, we have religious faith, which places everything in the hands of a supernatural being. On the other hand, we have likelihood, which is a pragmatic assessment of probabilities. Atheists can say: "From my own experiences and from my understanding of science, I judge the existence of a personal god unlikely." This is not at all the same thing as admitting a religious faith in science; the two statements are entirely dissimilar.

Now that we have firmly separated faith from likelihood, we can answer the question. We have no religious faith, and nor is any such faith crucial for the existence of human beings. In our lives, we survive perfectly well by judging things according to probabilities. Our acceptance of likelihood is not just religious faith by another name, because we are not obliged to take anything as absolute. If we happen to be wrong in any particular, so what? We have always acknowledged the possibility, so we have never murdered or brainwashed anyone for our cause.

Do you theists want to know something else about atheism? The world makes much more sense this way around. Religious prophesying and revelation never did get much of anything right, and all of that unacknowledged failure resting on your shoulders makes your churches gloomy and oppressive places. As theists, you must accept that just about everything is mysterious, but we atheists can ask questions. And if the answers we get are unsatisfactory, we can go looking for better answers. So yes indeed, we are happy, and we are happy, not through ignorance, but through freedom and knowledge.

>From Kim Walker, "Where Are You Going To Spend Eternity?", II
Newsletter, June 1999

Thanks for sharing your article.

Best wishes,