The faith of Hebrews vs the logic of Aristotle

Hi Pascal,

This is a response to some things that jumped out at me from your Digestion post. I loved it! I did want to clear up some things and hopefully get some clarification from you as well. I’ll jump right in… 🙂

Trusting David Hume on wisdom?

Then you quoted David Hume on wisdom.  David Hume – – I had an ephemeral response that I did not consider David Hume to be wise, but I couldn’t remember why.

For reference, here’s the quote I used in the post your responding to called Faith – is it good or bad? Why do we disagree?

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. – David Hume

To be honest, I’m not surprised you’d object to the notion that Hume was supremely wise (though I’m not promoting that idea), but I am a little surprised that you’d object to the point of the quote. Perhaps you’re not but I was uncertain. Maybe you can clarify? I actually think you do try to proportion your belief to the evidence.

I saw the video you linked and I’ve read of Hume’s ideas in several philosophy books and YouTube videos. The Science Wars – What Scientists Know and How They Know It covered his philosophy pretty well and I researched him in the group of potential past thinkers that I was considering using for my blog name before we started. There are reasons I didn’t pick him. I’m also curious about why, specifically, you don’t consider him wise. I will probably agree with you. I don’t see him as any kind of authority on wisdom but I wouldn’t reject something he said because I don’t agree with all his views. While I’m not putting him up as an authority, it seems like your rejecting him as someone who could have any truth in what he would say about wisdom. I’m wondering what specifically you disagree with concerning the quote, not the man. If you imagine someone else saying it (the Pope, your pastor, Paul, a 15-year-old anti-theist), would it change how much you accept or reject the quote? For me, it would not (1 Thess, 5:21 in light of the belief that it is we who interpret what we believe is good). If it would for you, would you mind trying to explain why? If not, why does it matter whether or not you think he’s a generally wise person?

The faith of Hebrews vs the logic of Aristotle

Was Paul aware of Aristotle?  Likely so. … Did he present his reasons to believe in full view of the impact, then 350 years old, of Aristotle.  I argue yes.

I agree. I was trying to point that out in my post. I think we’re on the same page here, with some caveats I’ll add in a moment. 🙂 Maybe I failed to accurately represent concerns on this point.

The tension between Aristotelian logic and faith is neither contemporary nor insoluble.

Contemporary only, no. Though this isn’t just about Aristotle’s logic. Some logic dealing with reasoning is contemporary and also poses a conflict with faith.

Insoluble, yes (as I see it), with some definitions of faith, at least.

Aristotle formed explanations using his logic and those of his tutors. We now know some of his conclusions were wrong, but it isn’t the conclusions I’ve been pushing for, but rather, the best process of reasoning. His process is superior for finding true beliefs than that of some faith-based processes because he essentially said, “This is what I think is going on, but I don’t really know. When trying to understand the world, we should consider theories. But, really, it’s the facts that matter; and if the facts change, our theories should too.” The modern versions are even better than Aristotle’s, but his views represented a better version for obtaining truth (in my opinion) than those promoted by the author of Hebrews. As I mentioned, I heard you react by stating you don’t trust Hume on wisdom (I’m not promoting his wisdom one way or the other beyond the word “wise” which was in his quote), but I’m not sure if you actually disagree with the point of his quote or not. If so, what part do you disagree with? Is it bad to do as you seem to try to do, i.e. to proportion our beliefs to the evidence (to not believe things more strongly than the relative weight of the evidences call for)?

While Aristotle’s methods are not incompatible with the versions of reasoning we sometimes call faith (e.g. trust, confidence, hope, etc.), they are incompatible with the versions of faith-based reasoning that promote confidence in things we desire to believe in order to preserve other strongly desired beliefs which are based on weak evidence – especially since faith doesn’t promote passing those beliefs through a fallacy filter. Do you agree or disagree? Remember that I’m not saying this is the type of faith you hold. Only that it is the type of faith promoted by much of scripture. For example, the author of Hebrews promotes a view of reasoning based on faith (confidence in things we hope for even if they can’t be backed up with more substantial evidence) that is in opposition to many of Aristotle’s 13 fallacies. The Bible promotes this form of reasoning as a virtue and makes it the basis for salvation. It’s a key part of the central dogma of the Gospel and most other religions which essentially say, “reason this way.” But that way seems opposed to modern critical thinking, does it not?

I found this dialogue from 3:25 to 5:32 in the video relevant to the topic of the flaws in our senses and reasoning about objective truth and the best way to get there. I’m doubtful about his later conclusion that all reality might be accessible through experimentation, but I agree that we shouldn’t give up pushing the limits of discovery by assuming there are limits that may not actually be there if we look harder. I think you’ll like David Brin.

And this quote is from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fallacies/

Being able to detect and avoid fallacies has been viewed as a supplement to criteria of good reasoning. The knowledge of them is needed to arm us against the most enticing missteps we might take with arguments—so thought not only Aristotle but also the early nineteenth century logicians Richard Whately and John Stuart Mill.

So, Aristotle valued the process of reasoning more than any conclusion, distrusted his senses, and promoted steps for reasoning that at least tried to identify and account for logical fallacies or biases (the non-intuitive flaws in our reasoning). Since most faith-based systems of reasoning lack at least one of these steps, I still believe the religious-faith descriptions usually quoted are not based on what we currently believe to be the best form of reasoning if we prioritize true beliefs. We can’t know how much the author of Hebrews knew about this process of reasoning. It’s speculation, so it wasn’t my point. The degree to which we believe that the author also likely had exposure to this process of reasoning is the degree to which we cannot excuse the author from unknowingly promoting a less-accurate method. If the author did know it well and understand it, he rejected it intentionally, preferring faith-based reasoning.

The author likely had reasons to believe in Jesus’ resurrection which he thought were sufficient evidence for his confidence levels. But he promotes that others without the same level of experiences still believe it with a confidence that is out of proportion with their experiences because he believes doing so can begin to sanctify them. It doesn’t matter how one arrives at the belief (what process of reasoning one uses or how flawed it is), only that the conclusion is confidence in Jesus. The conclusion matters more than the processThat’s the problem and that’s the conflict I’m driving towards. It’s why faith systems promote high confidence in that conclusion to children from an early age, and why the steps of reasoning that work this way are less likely to lead to true beliefs (the crossword puzzle framework is already set and life experiences are interpreted within that light, constructing a world view based upon that foundation whether or not it’s true). It also justifies the beliefs of all religions who follow the same faith-based process, right?

Wisdom vs Intelligence – a future topic

…would I listen to Hume about wisdom?  Wisdom is something different.  Wisdom is less predictable.  So I can not only disagree with Hume’s philosophy, but challenge a quote where he points the path to wisdom.  That would be a delightful topic for future posts – – the difference (if there is one) between intelligence and wisdom.

Yes, it would be a good topic. I have some ideas that come immediately to mind but I’ll keep this response short(ish). I do think it’s wise to keep confidence in proportion to the evidence and it wouldn’t matter to me who the concept came from. Do you actually disagree? To be clear, you know I count subjective experience as evidence, right?

The argument from authority – science vs religion

No, I’m not arguing from the authority of a person (qualifications are always debatable, especially when we disagree with the person in a significant way), but the application of the concept. I used to do this much more before I learned about the argument from authority and still took all Bible concepts as divine and objectively authoritative.

When I present and idea, it’s the idea I’m ultimately standing on, not the opinion of the person who communicated the idea. The idea and it’s application are much more relevant than the authority of the people that spawn it (and Hume wasn’t the first to use the concept I mentioned). There are no true authorities in science (to me) in the same way we typically mean it. The reason I say this is that the authority-weight assigned to a scientist only extends as far their ability to accurately interpret the data. We may sometimes trust interpretations from people that we can’t easily verify, but only proportionally to the degree for which it’s been tested by other people, peer-reviewed to remove some bias and mistakes, etc. Essentially (as you know), it is constrained and the body of science seeks to retest, re-interpret, and revalidate that data, so there is self-correction baked into the process (unlike a long-dead “authority’s” voice in an ancient sacred text).

Biblical faith did not always acknowledge reasoning that could have helped people like me

My thesis is that the scriptures were constructed in full view of Aristotle’s epistemology.  They were not breathlessly awaiting a three minute lesson to correct their stark ignorance.  There is nothing new under the sun.

It’s not my thesis that the author of Hebrews did or did not fully understand Aristotelian logic. I don’t know the degree to which the author did and we can’t really say with confidence how much understanding was there. The description of faith doesn’t seem to have been the best way to come to true beliefs even then (because they could have known better at that time due to the socratic philosophers that preceded them). Either they knew of it and rejected it, or they didn’t understand it properly and rejected it, or didn’t know it well (ignorance). I don’t know which of the three is right, but I think it’s likely one of the first two options. I was just hoping to point out that the concepts of Aristotelian logic were not used when promoting faith-based reasoning.

My point was not about why the author didn’t use Aristotelian logic (due to ignorance, rejection, etc.), That was close to two millennia ago and we can’t know. We’ve learned much more since then about better methods for plugging some of the holes in our reasoning, but we still promote the view of faith as offered in Hebrews, primarily based on that argument from authority. My thesis was that there is now a better way of reasoning if we hope to increase our odds of reaching more true beliefs and fewer false ones – and we can each choose to use it or not. Those of us who come to confidences based on Aristotle’s and now science’s methods of reasoning cannot get to the same place as those who use faith-based reasoning unless we have a strong personal experience or see other compelling objective evidence. Faith-based reasoning leads to certainty in any belief that we believe comes from divine authority (see other religions). So a larger percentage of people achieve certainty in necessarily false things. Our belief about the origin of a belief being divine is subject to our flawed reasoning and almost always has a simpler explanation, so we shouldn’t hold high confidence that it actually does have a divine cause (faith says otherwise).

Clearing up other potential misconceptions

Switching gears a bit, I disagree with there  nothing new under the sun. New arrangements happen all the time. New and novel concepts are formed. It’s just far less likely than most of us commonly imagine.

Perhaps by my understanding of why your hope to live hundreds of years is misplaced.

I think we all would like to live longer, and that desire isn’t the problem. I don’t have an expectation to live hundreds of years, which is what I think your correcting here. I’ve said I believe it is within our capacity through scientific exploration to allow some of our descendants to live hundreds of years, and the degree to which we stop searching now is the degree to which they continue in extreme suffering and earlier death that could have been avoided by our attitude toward science now. I know your aware of senescence and you very likely agree. Some worms may outlive us due to our tinkering.

I do love science.  And to me, science unfolds the mechanisms that a creative and caring God used to delightfully construct the reality that we live in. Cosmology and post-translational modification equally awe me. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Amen (with a maybe, I hope so, on the God parts)! 🙂

Sign-off

The kids are available to play now (movie is over) so I’m going to enjoy them. Please forgive the redundancies (that’s what happens when I don’t have uninterrupted time) and typos. 🙂

It’s always a pleasure discussing these things and I truly can’t wait to hang out again.

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

 

5 comments

  1. You wrote,” they are incompatible with the versions of faith-based reasoning that promote confidence in things we desire to believe in order to preserve other strongly desired beliefs which are based on weak evidence.” I agree with what you write here and I want to add that this is self-deception, wishful thinking, fooling yourself and is destructive of the integrity of your consciousness.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It is interesting how Paul in particular seems critical of reasoning. Almost boasting that Christianity does not pass the reason test. So it becomes that faith which defies reason is suggested as being a virtue.

    When I step back form the Christian worldview which had so dominated my thinking for all my life I start to see the clever arguments used to overcome detractors. The suggestion that worldly wisdom is false is one pillar, saying you can’t trust your logic, the second pillar s the fear of hell, saying if you don’t believe you will be punished eternally, the third pillar is heaven, saying even you might not get any benefit in this life you will be rewarded in eternity.

    I am now coming to understand Christianity, especially as preached by Paul, as just another of the many mystery religions around at the time of the first century. We can see the appeal to their central tenant, ‘you know a secret, the Gospel, that others outside the faith don’t know’. Further ‘you only know this because God has revealed it to you, no-one can discern it by their own reasoning’.

    It was just another among many, it prevailed because, well one was likely to in the end.

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  3. You’re right. I did like David Brin. I disagree with his conclusion, but I find him highly engaging and likable. Kind of like you. Or like David Hume and John Home the preacher/writer – – friends.

    No. I do not think that all reality is accessible through science. I say that as a scientist more than as a philosopher. There are questions that I consider important that are not accessible through the scientific method. Maybe I just contradicted myself. The point of science is getting the question right. More as I muse on our points of disagreement. I’m glad that we can continue there without being disagreeable. Interestingly, I think I finally found my “thinks like Russell, but has Pascal-like conclusions” person in unkleE. Very interesting.

    You know, of course, where “nothing new under the sun” comes from. It is in Ecclesiastes 1, the same chapter of scripture that gives us “the sun also rises.” In context, I can defend the statement. I’ve always loved that the wisest man was presented in all of his failures and despair. I’m not sure that I would call the suffering I have experienced extreme and even less sure that I would trade it away if science allowed. More later.

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    1. One of my favourite books was the Science Fiction novel David Brin wrote called ‘The Practice Effect’, it told the story of a Scientist who was transported to another earth like planet where the laws of Science were different from those on earth.

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