Christianity

Family Forgiveness

Dear Russell & Friends,

A brief companion to yesterday’s reflection on how a family must sometimes fight to preserve itself and maintain integrity.  Families also don’t leave.  They don’t stop when members do painful things.  They love deeply, especially in the context of disagreement and disappointment.  That is not acquiescence to wrong.  It is the decision to love someone even if her opinion is wrong.  It is the decision to love when you just can’t like.  It is patient and kind, neither envying nor boasting.  It is not arrogant, rude, irritable or resentful.  It rejoices in truth, not wrongdoing.  It does not insist on its own way.  It bears, believes, hopes and endures and never ends.  This is the love of a family in a fight and it is so damn hard.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  John 13:35

Even when you’re wrong family, I love you and will not leave.

Pascal – – 1:16

Compassion for Terrorists?

Hello friends,

There is a problem in all of us. For every in-group, there is an out-group. We are each rejected by many people in some way and we likely reject others whether or not we know it, just by the nature of the identities we adhere to. Neuroscience shows that each of us subconsciously values some groups of people more and others less in some ways. The problem is, when we don’t learn about this and take real and regular action to fight against that tendency, it can lead us to dehumanize others. Unchecked it very often leads many of us to devalue some groups of humans so much that the moral laws we normally follow regarding how we treat other humans no longer apply. One key weapon that exacerbates this is propaganda. In this time of terrorism and racial divide, we all need to be vigilant. We need to examine ourselves every day with every news article, Facebook post, Tweet, comment from a friend or family member, political debate and media report. Each bit of information that comes in has the ability to shift the needle of our heart away from the humanity of a group that isn’t our own. When this goes unchecked long enough, we believe the lie that “they” aren’t as valuable as “us.” Then… death.

I’m going to ask you do something. Please, watch this video. It starts slow, but it is so good and relevant to the recent events that I’m willing to beg you to engage with these ideas. If it helps even one person realize that we’re all capable of dehumanizing and withholding normal morality towards other groups, and you and I are not exempt to this – I’ll gladly beg. Please, watch it.

That was just a clip that wasn’t very explanatory of the video. Please see the full episode called “Why Do I Need You? from David Eagleman’s series on PBS called The Brain.

I’m not writing about this solely because of the deep sorrow we now feel about what happened in Paris. A friend recently posted these links along with the statement, “It is estimated that around 100 people, many being innocent men, women, and children, die in Syria EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. What happened in France is tragic. So is the murder of ANY human.” Here’s the death toll count and a wikipedia article about the casualties. This is about human nature. And I don’t mean to universalize it. It’s about my nature. It’s about your nature. We each need to understand how you and I work and how to combat the things about us humans that lead to suffering – in us and those around us. I’m working on it as well. It’s about raising the bell curve, and we can only do that collectively – as a collective of individuals.

Compassion fatigue. That’s a term my wife used last night and I love it on so many levels. But for some groups, the phrase falls short of the deep bias that we don’t see because so many of our neighbors share it. I’ve heard about the “blue eyes–brown eyes experiment” from the video several times before and found it extremely useful for helping people visualize the injustice and irrationality of prejudice. In today’s racially divided world full of terrorism, I think we all need to consider what it means and find a way to convey that meaning to others.

Identifying with terrorists

I just saw an article saying “Saudi Arabia declares all atheists are terrorists in new law to crack down on political dissidents.”

I, like many of you, am now seen by some others as a terrorist. It doesn’t matter that, in my case, my “atheism” isn’t a belief that no God exists. I much prefer weak agnostic weak atheist possibilian, with a big focus on the possibilian part. Technically, I’m as much of a theist as an atheist since much of the time I think some causal prior intelligence is as likely as no prior intelligence. Some moments I think it’s even more likely. Just owning the atheist label has marked many of us, as most labels do, with a misrepresentation of our actual views.

The last thing I want to do is write about events of suffering and pain and death. When I experience activation of the pain matrix (see the video for what the means), I’m not drawn to writing about it. I usually suffer in silence. If it’s about the loss or pain of another that I cannot affect, I want to hug my children and my wife. I want to hit the pavement, the trail, or the gym. I want to spend time in quiet contemplation, identifying and grieving with the families, those suffering in the hospital, and the families of those who caused such devastation, and yes I even offer up prayers. Where I’m drawn though, is to the terrorists themselves. Always to them. I don’t know if this is normal and I understand that many will disagree. I did not lose my child to the actions of a terrorist, so I cannot possible imagine how I would feel or judge those who default to hatred. I only know that my heart gravitates to those who are committing or have committed the atrocities. Christians may find themselves unconsciously whispering, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I identify with the notion I’ve repeated many times on this blog.

  1. We should be both humble and allow some uncertainty in our ideas about the universe and God because statistically some of our ideas must be false, especially some closely held ones since those are, on average, the least objectively examined ones.
  2. We cannot know for certain that – if we were born in someone else’s environment with their DNA (neither of which any of us have any control over) and shared their exact experiences – that we would be any different from them.

These are both relevant to everything I write on this blog as they are central to my philosophy and why I respect those who disagree. Part of my goal is to illuminate the first point (1) so that all cultures can exercise some caution and expand their understanding of the flawed reasoning that plagues us all (cognitive biases and logical fallacies).

The second point (2) is an explanation for why I respect all people, even when I do not share their conclusions or opinions. They are me. I am you. I’m not saying that things are completely deterministic. Quantum uncertainty affects some percentage of our decisions in some ways, but we are still bound up in our DNA and experiences. Everyone’s beliefs are rational and justified to them at the time. There’s another level at we each judge another’s beliefs or actions, and we form groups and collectively judge them. That is necessary for societies to function and we all understand it. The point in this post is to explain that I, personally, may disagree with you but I don’t judge your beliefs too harshly, because I can see myself in your actions and in your beliefs. I did not choose to be me and not to be you when I was born. Can you offer me the same courtesy and recognize that you could have been me? Can you do the same for the victims? My father once said that there is a fine line between being willing to die for a belief and being willing to kill for one. Can you see yourself in the beliefs and actions of terrorists, were your birth in accordance with theirs? Can you love them? And not because you feel God commands it, but because you identify with them as a human. Not a sub-human. A person… just like you.

I am certainly not advocating that we justify their actions. Because I understand someone does not mean I lay down my objections to the consequences of the beliefs and actions they impose on others. Nor would I want you do allow me to trample another. But we all already know how to hate, and rage, and seek death, and prosecute, and yearn for revenge. I know of few who will benefit from a post encourage such a response to the perpetrators of violence. That’s built into being human. I do believe we need to fight against the ideology that leads to terrorism, but terrorism is just one example of those on the other side of the bell curve. The best way to do it may not be involve being completely devoid of understanding and compassion for those engaged in the extremist beliefs (potential terrorist are one example). This post isn’t about how to hate jihadists (if you aren’t one) because that’s natural. It’s about the part we don’t often see through the rage – the subtly shifting compass needle of compassion that eventually prevents us from caring about those whose views we see as extreme.

I’ll be picking up Radical: My Journey Out Of Islamist Extremism to help me understand the culture that creates beliefs that would lead to terrorism. I think if we’re serious about loving others who disagree with us then beginning to identify with the hardest-to-relate-to will move us a long way in that direction. Things like – certainty that God calls you to some beliefs and actions towards other groups, witnessing genocide of your people caused by these “other” groups, belief of a reward in the afterlife for certain faith and actions, continual “anti-other-group” propaganda poured into you from your in-group throughout life – these things and more continually reinforce that belief that the “other” group is sub-human. We could be them. I hope they can look at you and see the same of you. They may hate you, but if they only knew they could be you, and that you have reasons for you beliefs that make sense to you, if only they’d take the time to get to know you.

I disagree with terrorists, but I respect them as people just like I respect you. I don’t want them to dehumanize me, and I want to be careful not to dehumanize them. For the sake of our shared existence, and our shared humanity, I pray for them. If there’s a God listening, perhaps it may help on some level. But ultimately, I pray because it helps me synchronize my heart with theirs. Wars, and the fear of them, will rob us of our humanity as we blow past compassion fatigue and into red hatred. Our only hope is to actively and intellectually carve off the calluses that our nature secretly encases around our heart. Cling to the message of Jesus, or Buddha or the scientific rationality that our similarities outnumber or differences. Let us build on those similarities. Maybe, in time, as we try to understand one another, our similarities will diffuse the power of the ideologies that lead to human-human suffering and death.

Conclusion

As we dehumanize others, we dehumanize ourselves, but we also dehumanize a version of us that we could have easily been (and in some real sense, a version of you that is). We are all biased against other groups in our subconscious. We can only prevent that bias from growing and resulting in dehumanization by consciously fighting against it through attempting to understand those with whom with differ. That’s the point of 1 and 2 above and the recent posts on raising the bell curve. David Eagleman’s video is immensely useful in understanding the complexities we’re talking about.

As a final effort to let this resound, I want to share a story with you that, if it were believe to be true by a society, would lead to the most moral behavior of any society I can imagine. It’s like the Veil of Ignorance but with narrative and a compelling call that echoes for long after the end of the story. It was written by Andy Weir who wrote the very excellent book that just became a blockbuster movie, The Martian…

Please read The Egg and let me know if it moves you. I may put the full contents of that story in a future post.

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

The Russian Winter

 

Minard grafficDear Russell & Friends,

A short post on a long book?  The graphic by Minard above is hanging in my study.  I first saw it in consultation with our hospital’s statistician.  He described it as the best information graphic ever.  I purchased the inexpensive print in an Edward Tufte conference on the graphical display of information that my oldest and I attended together 5 years ago.  Hobby Lobby did the rest.

The graphic depicts Napoleon’s march to and retreat from Moscow in the War of 1812.  And that was the extent of my knowledge until reading Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace.  Like a visit to Israel, reading and reflecting on this book takes time.  Tolstoy has fascinated me since I read that his apologetic influenced but did not convince Gandhi.  I took Oprah’s advice to read Anna Karenina and found my favorite opening line ever, an explanation for my upbringing, and a hope for my children and grandchildren:

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

Like so many of you, my history and future is an amalgam of the clauses of this brilliant sentence.  I found that Anna Karenina was a profound portrait of humanity and I found in Levin a man I could admire and even emulate in his pursuit of authentic faith.  So, when the the itch to read War & Peace arose, I was ready to scratch.  I listened to the story from Audible, just less than 1 hour a day with occasional splurges on the way to the airport.  It took a quarter of a year.

And here I am – – done.  I wrote the topics that Tolstoy approached in my journal and I’d like to share them here soon.  It is astonishing.  Calculus, astronomy, medicine, literature, theology, history, philosophy and so much more.  The characters, at least 20 major, became friends or even worthy opponents.  And here I am – – done.  As the Texas Winter begins I can’t help but feel let down.  Finishing an amazing book leaves me wistful.  Will my life ever be apportioned with the time and knowledge to write like that, even read like that in more than borrowed minutes?

Consider this an introduction if you will.  I missed you in the blog and hoped that writing about reading would help get me off dead center.  May I ask?

  • Do you enjoy long books?
  • Do you feel a let down when they are done?
  • Have you read Tolstoy?
  • What were you surprised to learn in War & Peace?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit:  Charles Joseph Minard’s work, hanging in my study

Love & Friendship

Pictofigo_Friendship

Dear Russell and Friends,

I’m back a week now and so happy to be so.  The cobwebs of jetlag are clearing.  I’m so appreciative of Russell’s Paean to a Peon in the last post.  I thought I would add my perspective.  When will I speak of the impact of visiting Israel?  Not for some time.  There is so much to digest before I’m ready to synthesize and share.

Last night we drove the 1.5 hours needed to pick up our oldest son at his dorm and take him out to dinner with his brothers.  We met two friends of his from high school out on a dinner date and discreetly enquired as to their social status.  He said they said they were friends.  They looked happy, compatible and able to enjoy each others company.  P1 said it with a twinkle in his eye.  “Yeah – – we’ve tried to tell them there’s more to it.”

Perhaps our young friends are discovering what the older crowd knows.  ‘Just friends’ is a middle school perspective.  Friendship lasts when passion fades.  What then is the difference between love and friendship and how does it relate to my friend Russell and me?

Love is a decision.  For a follower of Christ it is a command.  Love God.  Love others.  It has a description:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

It is hard.  At least for me.  Despite Russell’s insistence, I’m not kind by nature.  I actually enjoy sarcasm and that can be quite rude.  I am irritable and prone to resentment.  I don’t bear all things, don’t hope in all things.  Don’t endure.  Love is hard.  But to love and be loved brooks no description.  It is air and you only notice it when it isn’t there. Loving Russell was a choice.  I loved him because God loved him and I honestly admired him for the way he served his wife and daughters and cared deeply about the effects of his deconversion for them.

So, what is friendship?  I’m not sure that it is as much a decision.  It is actually harder to build than love in my opinion.  Friendship is aided by such things as common interests and disinterests.  Much of what Russell and I enjoy is spawned from the common interest of science.  Do our interests diverge?  Of course. Even in science my competency tends towards psychology & biology and his towards physics, math, engineering, computer science, formal logic … (you get the idea).

Friendship requires – – time.  I used to say that time was the currency of love.  That is true as far as it goes, but it is likely more true of friendship.  I can love someone out of respect for God and his commands or out of respect for a fellow human and her intrinsic worth as a co-member of the race.  I need not know her to treat her with love.  I only need the work of:  patience, kindness, humility, pliability, and selflessness. Only that.  Easy, right?  But friendship takes time.

So what if you start with friendship?  That is what happened with my wife.  We talked, walked, listened, wrote letters and realized that we enjoyed each other’s company.  We were teens and next enjoyed each other’s embrace then married and enjoyed sharing more and more of life.  But we were friends.  Still are. In marital love, friendship is an antibody to despair and divorce.

Russell and I inverted the process – – we started with a brotherly love.  The friendship has been building.

I’m curious as to the advice you might give another – – friendship, love, both?  How does it work for you?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit:  By Pictofigo (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Agreeing On Nothing

Dear Russell & Friends,

Good morning.  I’ve missed you and thought often of you as I fire up the Charity Miles app.  Our RussellandPascal team has 6 members now with a total of 169 miles.  If my math is correct, that is over $41 donated to various charities that move us.  If my musing is correct, that is new money that we had perhaps intended to give but had not acted on.  Please join our team if you are able.  We would like to see half the blog followers join in the next one year and our goal for mileage is >10,000 (time to goal uncertain).

Russell and I had breakfast a week ago and after two hours we agreed upon nothing.  Don’t despair.  The reason I led with the Charity Miles collaboration is to remind you of how much we do agree on.  And, one cup of coffee in, it is quite possible that my insistence we agree upon nothing is a double entendre.  We talked about this book that I lent to Russell over Christmas break – –

the information

I loved the book and further thought that it might help me to understand my friend.  It did.  Here is another book that I’m reading with an extended quote below.

schaeffer

Love is not an easy thing; it is not just an emotional urge, but an attempt to move over and sit in the other person’s place and see how his problems look to him.  Love is a genuine concern for the individual.  As Jesus Christ reminds us, we are to love that individual “as ourselves.”  This is the place to begin.  Therefore, to be engaged in personal “witness” as a duty or because our Christian circle exerts a social pressure on us, is to miss the whole point.  The reason to do it is that the person before us is an image-bearer of God, and he is an individual who is unique in the world.  This kind of communication is not cheap.  To understand and speak to sincere but utterly confused twentieth-century people is costly.  It is tiring; it will open you to temptations and pressures.  Genuine love, in the last analysis, means a willingness to be entirely exposed to the person to whom we are talking.   —  Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

How did these two books relate?  Gleick, in The Information, helped me to love my friend Russell.  I read the book with fascination and took notes in the cover.  I think I took notes – – Russell still has the book.  I read it around the same time that Russell introduced me to Sean Carroll and Howie and began to think – – why don’t I think this way?  It is quite a beautiful way to think.

Information theory then has become an area of interest for me and obsession for Russell (I’ll ask him to correct me if I overstate; I frequently do for effect).  Information theory found its way into our taco breakfast last week and helped us to agree on nothing.  Please accept a brief paraphrase.

R:  Even in the outer boundary of the known universe there is information.

P:  I don’t see it.  Quantum fluctuation maybe . . .

R:  But, that is information.

P:  I’m tracking – – I just didn’t consider that useful information.  So you’ll accept the noise and not just the signal?

R:  Yes.

P:  Remember how we’ve had a hard time agreeing about the definition of nothing?  How I insist that the Universe can’t naturally be made from nothing?

R:  Yes, but that has never bothered me.

P:  You know it bothers me?

R:  I do.

P:  So would you accept the complete lack of information as nothing?

R:  I would.

There are not many readers of this blog who will recognize the milestone that this represents in Russell’s and my communication.  We have gone to great lengths to understand each other, deconstruct straw men and yes – – to love each other.  As Schaeffer says, it has not been easy.  But this agreement, on nothing, meant the world to me.

Where will it lead?  Do I jump directly to an apologetic based on ex nihilo nilo fit?  Absolutely not.  I finish the post and prepare to run a 10K trail with two of my sons, thankful that I’ll log 6.2 more miles for water.  On that run I’ll thank my God for my friend and thank him for the love that lets us to talk to not past each other.

Pascal – – 1:16

Russell Unplugged

2003_Faith_Saturn_electro-acoustic_guitar

 

Dear Russell & Friends,

Good morning.  I’ve been thinking about this post for nearly a week and the coffee is just right.  Perhaps this will serve as useful background for those new to our blog.  It will certainly serve as therapy for me.  Most of the activity on the blog lately has been on Russell’s post The Problem.  It is one of his most important posts.  He might (would) put iMultiverse in the short list too.  A few miles away from here, perhaps in his sleep, Russell just smiled.

The comments have multiplied on The Problem as Russell has found a new interlocutor, unkleE.  I am 43 years old.  Russell is 7 years younger.  unkleE is twice Russell’s age and is doing, I think, what I want to do when I grow up.  He is reading, writing, engaging those who do not share his perspective of belief.  However, he is doing it in a way that I can’t – – from the personality type of INFP (81%) or ISFP (76%).  If I take the former it is only 1 letter away from Russell – – INTP.  So, from the perspective of age and from the perspective of a similar engineering-type personality he can engage Russell in ways that I can’t.

So what happened?  They both went out of their way not to offend.  That’s what I’ve been thinking about.  I have Russell’s permission to share our text stream as some of the comments unfolded.  One thing you’ll notice is that these texts had something I’ve never seen before – – an arrow at the bottom designed to reveal the words incapable of display on the largest of iPhones.  For an introvert, Russell has a lot to say.  That belies one of the misconceptions about introverts.  We have plenty to say.  Its just more comfortable in writing or with people we know well.  Russell has posted some of this in his own reply, but I’d like to give you a flavor of the text stream and what it means to know someone.  Concluding at the beginning, it takes time.  Russell and I are 2 1/2 years into a friendship that I hope will last.  It has not been easy to listen well or to be heard.  But it has been worth it.

 

R:  The unkleE comment was focused on one thing… why I’m not highly convinced that fine-tuning is a problem. He things I haven’t read enough, don’t understand the science, don’t understand large numbers, and am too biased against the evidence. That didn’t seriously hurt my feelings. I responded with more details, that’s his punishment for being critical. Haha. Gotcha’ unkleE! 🙂

P:  you two are quite a pair

R:  Indeed. I think we should Skype and hang out. I bet we’d get along great! That reminds me, are you still interested in trying a podcast, hangout-on-air youtube video with just our logo up, or some other type of audio-only conversation sometime?

P:  I actually am.  I’m interested in more than i’m successfully executing right now which is a deep and constant frustration

R:  I ran it by Howie and he’s interested. He’d join us.

I can see it being huge benefit for me for at least two reasons. Communicating ideas will, once the kinks are worked out, hopefully be done more efficiently. And it’s helpful to communicate tone of voice which adds important inflection and other vital information to the topic being discussed. It’s not very search engine friendly, but most of our hits probably don’t come from that and we have plenty of other written content on the site. I’d really like to see a comment on the blog, hit a button, record a response and paste it as a link. Haha. It would also be great to take someone’s question or point and invite people to a round-table discussion via hangouts-on-air, etc. I’d rather not do it live until we polish up a bit, though. 😊

I think I’ve made a mess of things on The Problem. In my very rushed responses I’ve done a poor job of taking the time to be as gentle as I’d prefer to be while disagreeing. Sigh. This is a rough time for me for multiple reasons. I need to learn to deal with those who challenge and criticize my form of reasoning without helping me understand and improve it by explaining exactly where it’s wrong and why. When I feel criticized with nothing to back it up, apparently, I push to hard to delineate my steps and get them to explain, but the only thing that gets discussed are the irrelevant details that aren’t part of the reasoning. I write so much that it’s hard for anyone to focus and I usually make a mistake or two that gets us further off topic. Then I get behind on work and rush my comments even more and, without taking the time to polish them, they sound more confrontational than I’d like. I now have two people saying what you’ve said (I require too much evidence). It’s not lost on me that more than one should sound alarms. Evidently, this is a hot-button issue for me. Not being told that, but being told that without an example to help me learn from. When I list the steps in my reasoning and show where I doubt and why, those specifics are avoided as if I didn’t say them (at least so far). I’m really looking for the place, exactly where my folly resides, but nobody seems to be pointing to it. I’m really beginning to feel like I’m just a very poor communicator. Maybe I am just blind to it and they’ve been pointing all along. But that doesn’t help me. 😟 I fear this is the central issue of the blog. People in camp A think people in Camp B require too much evidence. People in Camp B think people in Camp A are failing to express that they been aware of and properly considered all the assumptions and counter-evidence (often, like you, they have considered it). I don’t think anyone is believing things that are unjustifiable to them, and very few are believing things that don’t make sense. It’s almost always a communication problem where we don’t see everyone else’s evidence. So when other people think my standards are too high rather than assuming, as I do, that I’ve just seen different evidence, I want to either see what they’re seeing and fix the holes in my reasoning or ask them to tone it down a bit. But getting to the point where they point out flaws that are actually there rather than ones they assume because I didn’t clearly state everything in my comment, or getting to the point where they are willing to say it’s just different evidence rather than a high bar for evidence – both seem equally unachievable. Thousands of words later I don’t feel much closer to a resolution and I’ve likely offended people, which is the opposite of what I want. I have learned how to better express my argument for why I don’t have high confidence in fine-tuning, but I don’t think it’s helped. I think I’ve learned a lot of things not to do. No argument or point is worth being anything less than gentle and respectful, even when I feel continually misrepresented and as though almost all my key arguments are ignored, and even when time is short. This was a great lesson. Sigh. Thanks for the advice here. This helped a lot! 😊

P:Talk to your wife and ask her opinion.  She knows your heart better than anyone and will have insight here.  I think you are right about the central issue.  I can’t process the cognitive burden of 5,000 word comments and I accept different evidence in addition to empiric evidence.  The Hume quote bothered me because it was simplistic.  How much of your text do I have permission quote in a post of my own?

R:  Good advice. You can quote anything. I feel misunderstood when people think I only accept empirical evidence. Another sigh. I read interpreted his quote differently, as proportioning the level of certainty we hold to the level of evidence (pro and con). Non-empirical evidence counts, but empirical often should count more, so it’s a balance thing. I think most people agree with this, but we all tend to interpret things, at least initially, the way we’re primed for. That’s why I think the real difference tends to be that some people are comfortable staying in their beliefs if they seem right and feel good. Others have more of a tendency to actively seek out other potential explanations that could also account for the evidence (all kinds) and then hold back certainty a bit in the hopes that they don’t confidently believe false things. That’s why I try to learn about the assumptions and biases and examine them all for most claims. I can see that it’s unusual. But that seems to be the real difference. I don’t require empirical evidence or more evidence for confidence. But if I see other potentially equal or better explanations after actively examining everything, I’ll withhold certainly that my favored or initial explanation is definitely the right one. Does any of that make sense?

Also, I think the more someone is aware of and understands other alternate explanations and is aware of and fearful of their own biases (fear they made lead them confidently away from truth), the more they tend to reserve certainty in more things.  If someone has a personality that isn’t interested in such things, or hasn’t been made aware of both the flaws in our reasoning and alternative explanations, they tend to see people like me as being too critical. They just don’t think the same way. So I completely get where they’re coming from, I just think that sometimes they assume I just require too much evidence so that science won’t even lead me to confidence. What I really do is balance my confidence against all the factors I see, which isn’t usually what everyone else sees, because more than wanting to be right, I really don’t want to be confidently wrong. I think you and unkleE are somewhere in the middle on that spectrum (believe what feels right vs actively search for better alternative explanations and the modifying weight of our own biases) and I’m just closer to one end. I don’t like being on the end. 😦 Making the bell curve taller is my goal in all of this.

Wait, there are some people who do require empirical evidence and hold strong beliefs against the supernatural, etc., so am a little closer to the middle than I feared. 🙂 I need to be emphasizing caution to them more. We don’t see many. Instead I spend my time taunting biases and other possible explanations to well behaving believers in faith. Anytime I mention bias or MR I cringe. I really don’t like my position. There are very few situations one can feel like they’re being accused of bias and not feel criticized and defensive. It’s like you’re position of discussing sin. It has to start with us. I am biased too, etc. Everything on your side rests on our sin and need for a savior. Everything on mine rests on the flaws in our reasoning and alternative explanations that should keep us cautious of too much certainty. At the same time, you seem to get by just fine without talking about the points that offend people (sin) nearly as much as I talk about my offensive points. Of course, that’s largely because much of your audience doesn’t believe in it. 🙂 Some don’t believe bias applies to them either. Still, I need to learn from you. I feel my position is the more critical. 😦

P:  Wow.  Just read the last comment exchange.  IMO it would not have hurt your position to wait before responding.  IYO there were compelling reasons to respond promptly and perhaps the processing was already complete.  Hmmm…

R:  Haha. I know. I would have liked to have waited. 😦 On the other hand, I’m with family this weekend and have to drive tonight and get an early start tomorrow. I’m so far behind on everything that I really need to not have this dragging out during the week. If I didn’t respond this week I fear I may never respond. Losing momentum would have made it much harder to get back into the process and I likely would choose that over a post or two. I know you think he thinks like me, and in some sense he does because he can be technical, but in many other major areas I can’t see it. He and I process things as differently as you and I do. I wanted him to continue a few posts ago by addressing my responses to the actual argument he had made about fine-tuning rather than his opinion of my reasoning, unless he was willing to provide specifics that were related to the arguments. That’s not what’s been happening. He says it will happen in a future post on his site, but not in these comments, so they’re aren’t very helpful. The current cycle or avoiding those assumptions about his argument has gone through too many loops without being addressed and it’s dragging me down. It’s cut into my workout time more than my work time and that’s eating away at me. I wanted to wait, but more than that I wanted to be done so I can refocus. I caved. 😦 I feel bad about it. There is a lot of pressure from various areas at the moment and it was a huge relief to see something resolve. I realized this morning that what I pasted into the response was not my final draft but my first draft, which wasn’t softened. 😦 I do feel bad that I ended it on that and it was too offensive. Thank you for your follow-up, that helped a lot. 🙂

I just listened to that comment from last night. I wish I could delete it or edited it. But that wouldn’t be right. I really should have waited. 😦

Or at least checked it over to make sure it was the final version I had in the clipboard before I posted it. 😦

I will learn from this. Have a great day, Pascal.
kant_spinoza

R:  The last two points on each seem quite relevant.

Out of the block quotes and back to the coffee musings.  The last two points didn’t move me as much as the third and fourth bullet of the second section.  When I read how Spinoza handled the work of his predecessors and logical contradictions it resonated.  Did Russell feel the same way about Kant’s views?

So there it is – – a text exchange long enough for a post.  Why?  Because I sit across the breakfast table from this friend of mine and want to understand him better.  I like the way his mind works and want to discuss things on his terms, but I get in my own way.  I’m more like Spinoza (not a theist if I recall).

I do think that unkleE and Russell need to take a break.  I honestly agree more with unkleE in his way of processing.  But I won’t be able to communicate that well in writing.  I’ll need to communicate that in person with body language and tone of voice included.  That should happen Thursday night and in the many breakfast tacos that will follow.

If you have ever had the feeling of talking past someone or being talked past (Russell and I have both done that to each other then reconciled in person) how do you proceed?

Pascal – – 1:16

*photo credit:  By Tim Walker from United Kingdom (2003 Faith Saturn electro-acoustic guitar) [CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Digestion

Illu_stomach

Dear Russell and Friends,

For the past week I have been a reader.  I read every word of your last post Russell – – twice.  The context of my reading was heightened by a strong sense of self preservation.  I was riding shotgun as my 15 year old with a learner’s permit drove back from Colorado.  Thankfully, fear can enhance learning.  I also read most of the dialogue that you and unkleE conducted.  You are birds of a feather.  Each of you looked like you were concluding the discussion with tacit apologies for length, then kept going.  [insert good natured smile here].

One thing that struck me as I read your discussion about faith and reason was the nature of your replies to each other.  You respectfully asked unkleE if he minded a point by point reply and he answered that he rather preferred it himself.  It worked well and disciplined you both to visit and revisit each other’s arguments and to protect against the erection of straw men.  I got to thinking – – why do I rarely reply in this manner?  Is that related to the way I differ in my view of an evidence driven life although I work in an evidence driven field?  Perhaps so.

Although I rarely answer line-by-line, I hope you do know that I always want you to be taken in context and I overtly want the majority of readers here to realize that you are among the best of men.  Why do I answer like this?  What is this?  This, for me, is digestion.  You always get me thinking.  That is one of the things I value about you most.  I live in a land of thought and you provoke new thoughts, different angles, and novel chains of reaction.  So, when you write an epic on a topic that means much to me – – I think, digest, then reply.  It is analogous to the replies of hand-written letters – – a mode that I still cherish although employ too seldom.  It is diametrically opposed to the immediate communication of text message, IM or telepathy.

Digestion.  What were the results of my digestion so far?  First, let me offer that the topic we chose could populate a PhD thesis or even a life of study.  This digestive process will represent first pass metabolism alone.

Arguing with Dead People

If you forced me to choose between writing and the wheel as the greatest contribution to human progress, I would choose the pen.  What an honor to explore the thoughts of Aristotle and Hume.  What we read now and the links that we click are the honored descendents of that humble stylus, brush or quill.  You spoke of Aristotle and I summoned the best from my memory.  Disciple of Plato.  Tutor of Alexander the Great.  Father of observational science.  To make my joy complete, I found this – – well worth the 3 minutes.

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.  The internet and a short attention span to the rescue again.

You are more aware of logical fallacy than most.  It was one of our first studies together.  So, I know that you were not using Aristotle or Hume to argue from authority.  After two years of conversation with you I know that for sure.  My point is this and I know you will not argue.  It is okay to argue with, preferable to argue with dead people.  We have the greatest intellects of all time (Aristotle would certainly represent the 1% of the 1% of the 1% ad infinitum) available through writing, commentary, and the internet wayback machine.  How foolish for me to argue with Aristotle on the details of science which he got wrong when he essentially invented the scientific method and would freely acknowledge that his views should be revised when evidence accrued.

Was Paul aware of Aristotle?  Likely so.  In Acts, Paul presents to Greeks in Athens at the Aeropagus (Mars Hill) adjacent to the Acropolis.  Was Paul, who wrote his epistles in high Greek, unaware of Aristotle?  Unlikely.  Did he present his reasons to believe in full view of the impact, then 350 years old, of Aristotle.  I argue yes.  The tension between Aristotelian logic and faith is neither contemporary nor insoluble.

What of David Hume?  He also stands with the 1% of the 1% in terms of human intelligence and impact.  That there will be 1 of 10,000 people in that category is mathematically predicted and constrained.  But 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.

I know that Russell was not arguing from authority, so I won’t walk down that path.  He knows that I can freely argue with Aristotle and Hume and that they, the giants, would welcome a challenge from an ant.  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.

The Possibilian Brain

You and our good friend Howie were the first to turn me on to David Eagleman’s Possibilianism philosophy.

I did like I usually do.  I watched it, thought about it, then ordered and read one of his books – – Incognito:  The Secret Lives of the Brain.  It is on the 2014 reading list – – and I’m barely caught up with the 2015 posts.  One thing that I liked about Eagleman was his call to humility.  I think that the 20 minute video is worth the watch, but I will spoil my favorite part of it.  He walks to one end of the stage and represents the strong atheist view, then walks to the other end of the stage and represents the young earth creationist biblical literalist view (I’m summarizing from a 1 year constructed memory).  Then he calls for gentility and arbitration in the middle.  And what is the mediator in the middle?  Science.  That is what moves him, what convinces him, and what he has and will continue to contribute to.  Science.

I have heard some fellow believers say, “I love science, and here is why I believe the earth is young.”  That is a non sequitur to me.  If I claim to love science to you and our readers, then how would I justify the statement?  Perhaps by the time I dedicate to reading science.  At least as much by volume as my annual reading list.  Perhaps by the time I dedicated to studying science.  Ten full years after a university bachelor’s degree in biochemistry.  Perhaps by my understanding of why your hope to live hundreds of years is misplaced.  Perhaps by my willingness and craft in caring for more dying people in the last ten years than I could ever personally know outside of my profession.  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.  I get just as excited as you when I study, although I rarely offer to send a family recipe or jump up and down.

The Supremacy of Science and the Interaction Problem

I have not forgotten that I owe Victoria a reply on the video about Miracles and Televangelists.

Many here have already visited her excellent blog on neuroscience (also Eagleman’s area of expertise).  She is smart, funny, and compassionate.  She also explains beautifully how the human brain can construct the emotional experiences of joy, sorrow, and yes – – religion.  I found the video about miracles and healing to be especially relevant to my journey as I was raised in the charismatic tradition and I’ve actually been to a Benny Hinn service.

I have been digesting the video for quite some time and look forward to posting about it in the future. Apropos to current discussion is this – – what if the experience of religious devotion is mediated by neurochemical interaction?  Does that make it less believable or more?  For me it makes it more believable.  I am thankful to understand the biochemistry of reward, punishment, fear, and hope.  In a way that addresses the interaction problem.  Will we be able to locate the soul via functional MRI or PET?  Quite unlikely.  Do we really want to argue about angels on heads of pins.  I hope not.

I appreciate the explanations that science can give.  I love studying science.  It does not threaten my faith.  I hope that is not fatally conflicted.

Writing Russell Off

Russell did not wish to be written off as a

post-modernist strong-rationalist steeped in scientism

Dammit Russell.  Not only did you force me to quote you, but you packed three precise terms requiring definitions in seven words, hyphens excluded.

I’ll never write you off.

The Products of Digestion

Digestion provides two things:  nourishment and excrement.  I realize that this line of thought may be the former to some and the latter to others.  The point is this.  I love my brother Russell.  We think very differently.  This is a place where we encourage you to think differently and to realize that you are among friends.

What do you think?

Blessings,

Pascal – – 1:16

 

 

photo credit:  via WikiCommons, public domain

Faith – is it good or bad? Why do we disagree?

Hello Pascal and friends! 🙂

There’s been some renewed discussion about faith and evidence in the last few posts and comments. I’ve touched on my issues with “faith” in previous posts like Is Love a Good Reason to Believe?, including why the word makes me uneasy as a non-believer. It’s been a while, though, and this is an important topic and we should try to come to an agreement while we’re covering it.

Pascal, in the last post you quoted Mike who had said the following:

… I’m certainly not adverse to … doing my best to convince others to embrace evidence based thinking instead of faith.

Thank you for the guest post, Mike! Very well done! 🙂

After this quote, Pascal, you highlighted that faith and evidence may be an acceptable approach for you and not an acceptable approach for me. You said:

… Russell and I have often reached a point of impasse here.  Is the word instead correct?  I feel that it is the pivot of the sentence at least, likely the paragraph, perhaps the thesis.

Let’s reason this out and clarify our differences. They may not be as stark and opposed as it seems. I have the floor while you’re hiking a mountain with your amazing family, so I’ll explain what faith means to me and you can tell me where you find disagreement.

At the risk of being far too long winded and spending too much of my limited time on this post (it’s already after 11 PM and I have an early start to a busy week tomorrow), I’ll try to keep this much shorter that I want to and save details for follow-up comments. Who am I kidding. That just means it will be 4k instead of 10k words. Haha. Onward.

Whether or not Socrates actually said this, I find it both cliché and extremely relevant.

The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.

What do we mean by faith? If communication is a transference of an idea from one person’s mind to another person’s, and if information theory (I’m almost finished with The Information and it’s one of my favorite books) cares about how accurately that idea is replicated, it seems essential that we cancel out the confusion and noise caused by potential meanings we don’t intend when we use words like “faith.”

Here are a few of the many, many potential things that will come to someone’s mind when one mentions faith. This is all off the top of my head, and I’m sure each of you can add many more. The point I want to make is that they tend to fall into three basic categories. Some definitions put faith in a positive light, some a more neutral, and some are more negative.

Neutral definitions of “faith”

1. Hope

2. Desire or expectation

3. Belief, confidence or trust in a person, object, religion, idea or view. (Dictionary.com)

Anti-faith definitions non-believers tend to hold

4. Blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence (Richard Dawkins)

5. Believing something for no good reason (Matt Dillahunty)

6. Only needed when there is insufficient evidence to hold a desired belief

7. Wishful thinking – I hope it’s true therefore I have complete confidence

8. A bias, especially special pleading, that is thus less likely to lead to truth

9. That which is required to move one in a desired direction from a position of non-belief to a position of belief

Religiously-based definitions of “faith” that believers tend to hold

10. The substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)

11. Complete trust or confidence; based on spiritual apprehension rather than truth (Google or Siri grabbed this from somewhere)

12. An educated decision about a personal religious conviction, based on evidence, and not blind

13. A virtuous quality (something worthy to be desired, the more faith you have the more righteous you are) that makes one right with God

14. That which is granted by God to some, in varying degrees, in order to fulfill his plans.

See the Christianity section of the Wikipedia page on Faith for more interpretations.

What follows is my take on these definitions and some recommendations to readers that might help more of us increase our understanding of one-another’s perspective. Let me pause here and say that my view is not “the right view.” People come to this from different angles and my goal is not to convince anyone that X is how faith “should be interpreted.” What I hope to do here is clarify “why,” in many cases, there is disagreement between believers and non-believers about the virtue of faith. This comes from my own limited perspective, so add it to yours only if it helps. 🙂

Why the neutral definitions of faith (1-3) should be avoided

Recommendation #1: Don’t use “faith” as a substitute for a better word with a clearer meaning

If we mean something like #1-3, we should consider using words other than “faith” unless we are certain that everyone in the audience is on the same page. When we replace perfectly good and appropriate words like, confidence, trust, belief, etc., with nebulous words like faith, we risk causing some to misunderstand our meaning due to the ambiguity of “faith.” For example, if you believe in Young Earth Creationism and you tell an atheist she “has faith in Evolution or Darwinism that is no different from the faith you have,” you’re conflating two different definitions in the mind of your audience. I’ll explain why in a moment. If you use the word “confidence” instead of faith, you remove this ambiguity. You also reduce the chance that a non-believer will assume you mean “religious faith.” There is a strong difference between confidence, or trust, (terms where “faith” is often inserted) and religious faith. It’s this key difference that is usually being conflated in most of these scenarios. So, if you mean confidence, say confidence. If you mean trust, say trust. Save “faith” for religious faith, unless you really know your audience and “faith” fits what they’ve expect for the context, or unless you’re willing to take the time explaining what you mean in more detail.

Why non-believers should be cautious when using the anti-faith definitions (4-9)

If we choose to assert, like Dawkins did (#4), that the trust girding faith is blind, we are erecting a straw man. Perhaps you can think of a belief that isn’t based on some evidence, but I cannot. The question is not whether evidence is present, but whether that evidence is of the caliber that warrants the level of belief a person is assigning to it. Dawkins does have a point that some faith, particularly some religious faith, is held in spite of what should be compelling evidence in opposition. However, the pivot is here: compelling to whom? They have sufficient evidence in their mind, or, by definition, they wouldn’t believe what they have faith in. Is their manner of reasoning about their evidence grounded in a mechanism that is more likely to lead to objective truth? That is the key question.

Definition 5 also turns on this point. What is “good” evidence? That is where the believer and the non-believer tend to differ, and it is the real heart of the issue about the meaning of faith. I just made up definitions 6-9 but most of them probably came form my subconscious after being reconstructed from something I previously heard. As a non-believer, I should be careful before thinking of faith this way because each use of the word requires it’s own evaluation. People often don’t mean “religious faith” when they say “faith,” and even religious faith doesn’t always meet the criteria listed in 6-9.

Why non-believers tend to distrust the religious definitions of “faith” (10-14)

First, let me say that I have immense respect for faith. I know that statement won’t sit well with many of my fellow non-believers, but I must be honest. I know the indwelling presence of joy and strength that comes from faith first-hand. It is a confidence, an assurance, an acceptance and a love like no other. Neuroscience might note that it can act like an addiction and a high like any other positive endorphin trip. That doesn’t change the experience. I just wanted to start by identifying with the believers before I explain why the feelings, while deeply treasured, are still subject to the assessment that follows.

The first definition in that set (10) makes faith sound like something to be avoided – at least that’s what the rational parts of my conscious mind say (some believer’s may call that the devil). Paul sounds poetic and it’s in the Bible so a vast number of people take it to be God’s definition and wholly accurate. This is just the KJV but please look up the possible meanings of the words in the Strong’s concordance. I use this almost every time I look up a verse in the Bible. Here’s the link to Hebrews 11:1 where this faith verse is recorded. Click the words to where else they’re used in the Bible. Click the Strong’s numbers to see the possible meanings that the words may have.

The problem I’m seeing with Paul’s definition is the same problem many non-theists probably see with most religiously based definitions they hear. Non-theists, this is my personal assessment so please let me know whether or not you agree with the following. Religious definitions of faith are in opposition to the best tools of reasoning we have for determining Truth.

I experience the sublime, but at the end of the day, the substance of hope is really best described as just “hope.” “Evidence of things unseen” is either no evidence or weak evidence, in my opinion. So, in a sense, it seems as though he’s defining faith to be hope, courage, conviction, etc., that is based on non-testable and weak evidence. That sounds very much like poor reasoning that doesn’t take advantage of what we’ve learned about coming to true beliefs since Aristotle (before Paul) and in the scientific revolution in the last four hundred years. It was written before modern philosophy of science so we can’t expect it to have taken that into account, right? The two problems that keep that from being convincing to me are that it was written post-Aristotle, and it was supposedly divine. It could have used Plato/Socrates/Aristotle-like reasoning as a basis for determining which beliefs to hold with which level of certainty, but it did the opposite and left the door open for almost all the fallacies and biases of human reasoning to enter what we accept as true. Despite 1 Thessalonians 5:21 which tells us to test all things, we aren’t given any tools for testing that will have a high chance of leading us to truth. Testing them against the Bible is circular and thus shouldn’t be believed with full-confidence. In addition, Biblical faith makes predictions that are testable and don’t pass the test when measured (e.g. the average success-rate of prayer).

Please don’t write me off as a post-modernist strong-naturalist steeped in scientism. I’m actually none of those things, by my interpretation of them. I have reasons for believing what I do about epistemology and the good brought about by the modern philosophy of science. I don’t believe it’s the answer to every question, but I know what it’s strengths and limits are. Coming to “true beliefs” is a strength it has over “reasoning without it.” More on that in a minute.

Definition 11 isn’t any better. If complete trust is to be based on spiritual apprehension rather than on truth, this highlights the problem neatly. It’s about what we value more – a false belief that feels excellent out of the box or a true belief that we have to work at before it will feel good after leaving the false belief.

Please note that I’m not saying anything about the truth or falsity of the beliefs the Bible relates. All these arguments are equally applicable to any religious, political or other ideology. The question is not whether the Bible’s claims are true or false, but whether or not the mechanism it outlines for belief is one that is more likely to lead to True beliefs. As Matt Dillahunty has pointed out, our goal should be to minimize the number of false beliefs and maximize the number of true beliefs we hold. We should all strive to hold as many true beliefs and as few false beliefs as possible. If that’s our goal, we must recognize the following.

Promoting certainty of belief in concepts that we hope are true, but for which we have little evidence, is a poor method of coming to objectively true beliefs. It may make us feel good, but even if it leads to a belief that is true but non-demonstrable, we can’t relate that knowledge to others because it’s subjective by nature. In that case it is indistinguishable from the follies of our bias reasonings and logical fallacies which, when discovered, leave many of us either deeply questioning our faith or deeply opposed to what we see as the “religion of science” or “liberal intellectualism.” Any angle I examine it, I can’t find Paul’s definition of faith to be more virtuous, righteous, or valuable in terms of leading to truth than evidence-based reasoning. If truth is individual, given by God, and steeped in a web of flawed human reasoning that opposes the order or critical thought, then I still want to know it but I can’t get there.

Definitions 12 through 14 don’t make religious faith sound any more desirable, to me personally, as a path to truth. I made them up anyway. Saying a decision is educated also makes it more prone to the the MR thing I wrote about in Why I respect Pascal (I won’t write the words here since I told some important people that I’d stop mentioning it :)). Definition 14 is actually the one I’m the most okay with because it has a clear meaning within the religious context and doesn’t prescribe anything directly about how we ought to reason. I find it dubious, but I don’t take umbrage with it. I used to believe I had it and I miss it.

Why else do non-believers feel uneasy when someone says they have faith (and don’t clarify that they don’t mean religious faith)

I want to wrap this up quickly but there is a lot to cover here. I’ll try to make it quick and save most of what I was going to say for a later time. The short answer, in my opinion, is that religious faith tends to demand a level of certainty beyond the level for which it can justify good evidence.

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

When I say good evidence, I do mean evidence that can be tested and falsified. In Paul’s time, personal conviction may have been “good evidence.” I don’t think so, because he had Aristotle who’s principles would have led to much better evidence, but then again, Plato’s logic include “forms” and was more of an armchair philosophy compared to the modern empirical sciences which are significantly more accurate. Either way, it seems undeniable to me that, by today’s standards, Paul’s definitions of religious faith do not qualify as good evidence today. Why?

First, listen to this audio lecture. Seriously. If you do I’ll celebrate your awesomeness in a post and email you a secret family dessert recipe. Pascal listened to it. 🙂 I know you’ll like the course because you read this far. If you made it this far you definitely have what it takes to make it through that awesome audio.

Second, briefly, science is a subset of reason. Life forms have been reasoning about the world, their environment, themselves, each other, etc., for millions of years or more. Humans for hundreds of thousands. That reasoning power is great at self-preservation, but not engineered for finding truth. There are many flaws in our reasoning. For an idea, read The Problem, and skim the Wikipedia pages for cognitive biases and logical fallacies. The vast majority of these effect each of us every day and we are completely unaware. This is another excellent audio book on the subject. The bottom line is that if there is an objective reality (and I believe there is), we do not observe it. We construct our reality as we experience it. I’m not even talking about quantum physics here. There are several layers of processing that occur between what IS, and what we consciously experience. Those layers are faulty at many places and lead us away from the truth of what IS. Worst of all, we aren’t even aware of it most of the time. For a taste to demonstrate the principle, look at the famous dress photo (blue and black or white and gold?) and these others I got from a TED talk a while back. There are many more such images. You can find similar images by googling “optical illusions” but Neil Degrasse Tyson says we should call them “brain failures” because that’s what they are…

dress

black_dots

straight_or_curved

Okay, so our human reasoning isn’t perfect at seeing things, but we can still trust our non-scientific reasoning about things, including the supernatural, right?

probabilities

Not so much. 🙂

The philosophy of science has evolved over centuries as the most effective means of stopping poor reasoning that plagues all humans. A good scientific theory provides explanation, prediction and control. We can justify belief in many concepts, but confidence should be reserved (in my opinion) to a more moderate level when dealing with things that fall outside of what we can test. The appropriate level of confidence almost always falls below the threshold of what would be considered righteousness in a religious tradition. Religious faith demands a level of confidence that is at war with the best processes we have for searching out truth today. I am not saying that science is the only way to “know” something. I am saying that we must acknowledge that our non-scientific reasoning should be distrusted to a greater degree than our reasoning that follows the scientific process accurately. Science embraces methodological naturalism which means it doesn’t say anything about the supernatural one way or the other. While it won’t tell us what God’s nature is, it can attempt things like determining which clearly defined hypotheses are less likely than others based on the predictions those hypotheses make (assuming they interact with the world in some way).

We can believe X about God Y, but if we have the same level of confidence about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin than we do about whether the sun will rise tomorrow, we’re placing as much confidence in our demonstrably far-less trustworthy evolutionary reasoning as we are in our reasoning based on science, which is encompasses the latest advances in thought throughout history (with a demonstrable track record of high-success).

The real issue is whether or not something is falsifiable. If it isn’t, we can still believe it and potentially justly so. But we can’t call it science. Popper helped solidify that with his problem of demarcation. Science which encompasses mathematics, statistics, probabilities, confidence intervals, margins of error, peer reviews, efforts to disprove hypotheses, checks against personal biases, double-blind trials, and the formidable advantage of formulas and logic to weed out the ambiguous nature of human reasoning and language – is far more likely, on average, to lead to true beliefs (beliefs that accurately reflect the reality that is) than using non-scientific processes based on flawed reasoning and circular logic about how we feel about a given subject.

If you disagree, I’ll be happy to dedicate a post to defending that position. Before doing so, consider that most religions require an ante of belief upon conversion. You must believe X and Y to be a true follower of religion Z. Once there, the balance between eternal bliss and eternal torment due to apostasy often hinges on your level of religious faith. With that in mind, consider Bill Nye’s answer at the end of the Creation vs Evolution debate about what would change his mind. A single piece of evidence (paraphrase). His opponents answer was “nothing.”

Please don’t think I’m saying that all believers hold faith “in the teeth of evidence” or that Ken was not right to do so. Perhaps he does have the proper belief or perhaps he would change his mind when the right pieces of evidence appear, but he just can’t imagine it yet. What matters is not whether faith in X or Y is warranted, or even whether idea Z is true or false. I’m asking you to consider which process of reasoning, on average, is more likely to yield more true beliefs and fewer false beliefs. Regardless of your answer, know that non-believers tend to think that the methodology of reasoning is different for religious faith than it is for science (yes, they conflict), and that religious faith is far less reliable. That is why they tend to define it differently and why it makes them uneasy to hear someone say they are using “faith.”

Conclusion

The word “faith” means so many things, many of them very polarizing, and there is almost a certainty that people with opposing theological beliefs are not going to accept the same interpretations. We all have flaws in our reasoning, naturally, from birth – especially me. No matter how much we try to overcome them through learning about them or studying logic, biases, meta-cognition, etc., none of us are completely immune to the hidden biases that creep in. For this reason alone, we should be cautious of the types of reasoning that make us certain about untestable claims. We should also be aware of when we think we’re testing claims against our experience but we’re really failing to take account of confirmation bias, or other biases for which we are often unaware until we learn about them and examine our beliefs against them.

Is faith good or bad? I may be largely a personality thing. Evidence seems to support the idea that some personality types (mainly “feelers”) tend to be more likely to land on the pro-religious-faith side than their opposites. I don’t know if that’s true, but the Myers-Briggs profile analyses seem to say so.

In some sense it depends on how important truth is to you. Faith feels wonderful. Oh how I miss it. But is the quality of evidence in religious faith sufficient to warrant the level of belief we hold in our religious tenets? Those who reason by faith usually say yes. Those who don’t tend to say no. Who’s right? As a general principle, my assessment is that religious faith is less trustworthy than scientific reasoning, so I trust it less. I do not completely distrust it but I’m a little more skeptical of it. I think this is good because wanting something to be true means we should be even more cautious of it, examining it even more, because our natural tendency is to do the opposite (another blind spot).

So Pascal, if we’re talking about how we reason as humans, I think we should focus on evidence-based reasoning over faith-based reasoning. I actually think that’s not the best way to consider the conflict. I still want there to be faith-based reasoning because the things that come to us through our faith are a kind of evidence. It’s all under the umbrella of human reasoning. We just need to subject our faith-based thoughts and intuitions through the same two filters that we subject every other kind of thought.

Filter 1: a list of all the biases and logical fallacies we’re subject too.

Filter 2: evidence-based testing (e.g. scientific method, testing, repeatability etc.).

We shouldn’t necessarily disbelieve it if it fails one of these filters, but the degree to which it passes both filters is the degree to which we should trust it, wherever it comes from (faith-based reasoning or elsewhere). This is where I support the “and” over the “instead.”

To me, “faith” is a red-flag warning of potential belief that exceeds what’s warranted by the evidence. I see faith as a potential multiplier that takes what we should believe based on evidence and boosts it some degree with confidence from what we want to be true. Evidence always informs faith, but faith has a tendency to go further than good, fallacy-filtered evidence warrants. If we hold up the white-flag of humility alongside the red-flag of hope (e.g. if we say, “I think and hope this but I don’t know”), then I’m much more okay with faith and evidence rather than limiting to just faith instead of evidence. Of course, you have this quality in spades. Go climb your mountain, you awesome dad. 🙂

Next week, let me know if we’re at an impasse with faith and where I made things more confusing or more clear. I know you already knew the vast majority of this, but I’m putting it down for posterity and the off chance it might help someone. Sorry you had to wade through it. Please forgive the typos. It is very late now.

Questions

Readers, did any of you make it this far? If you’re a non-believer are you uneasy when people say you “have faith in X?” If you’re a believer are did this post irritate you? Do you disagree? If so, I apologize. Want to add anything?

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell