(urth) Information, etc OT

James Wynn thewynns at earthlink.net
Wed Apr 19 10:29:41 PDT 2006

Alright then, I shall unabashedly walk out into the weeds...

>Chris said:
>The problem you get into there is ...When you say that ["love" and
>"altruism" are] evolutionary tricks, you have not explained love or
>altruism, you've claimed that they do not exist and gone 
>on to replace them with two homonymous terms. 

Agreed. However...
In recent years the natural origin of altruism has become an
extremely popular branch of evolutionary biology, complete with its
own ecosystem of competing theories naturally selecting for grant
money and attention. I've never before met a 'secular' who claimed
such scientists were engaged in a lark. Perhaps you are the first.

>but many other "seculars" who are not particularly 
>interested in "faith" don't accept this view. All that aside, I think that 
>the modern secular view is, like Dan'l said, that faith and reason are 
>complementary. After all, you have to get your first principles from 
>somewhere, and Reason can't give them to you. Faith is one place you can 
>start from.

Yes, Faith is one place to start from...but I said: to observants all such
sources of first principles are matters of Faith of one sect or another.

There's two things going on here in the alternate or "moderate" secular
view of Faith as you describe it. 

1) While, it does view Reason and Faith as complementary, it ascribes to
Faith the role of mental caulking for gaps that Reason cannot or *has not yet*
fully delineated. That's not a great difference from the secular position I

Of course, if one means by that that "God gave us a brain and expects
us to use it" then it is totally beside the point since the most literal-minded
fundamentalist believes that.  

2) It is true that many seculars retain a firm belief in the *objective
reality* of transcendence, but in doing so they are taking advantage of a
religious heritage to which (one can reasonably argue) they have no right.
When one diminishes Faith as superstition, as a "God"-meme, as device
to ameliorate our moral, emotional, or human definciencies, as mental caulk,
or as George Carlin described it "like lifts for your shoes", it is inconsistent
to simultaneously latch on to something as subjective as Love or Altruism
as uniquely transendent. Someone in that case might not admit that he is
choosing to do something flatly *contrary*, not complementary, to Reason
(as he would define it under other circumstances), but he is.

>It's not my habit to make strong statements like this, but I'll go out on a 
>limb and say that while [the view of Faith that James Wynn described]
>is distinctly modern - in fact it's the one Kierkegaard railed against - it is
>only "faith" in a degenerate sense, and certainly captures little of the
>primordial meaning of the word. What you're describing is simply
>unreflective belief, which is a set that is not co-extensive with faith.

I don't consider the observant view of Faith as I've described it modern
at all, nor am I certain it is the faith Kierkegaard railed against (although
I am well aware that the view of Faith I have ascribed to seculars is very
much *derived from* Kierkegaard and Existentialism). I confess I am
ignorant of the "primordial" meaning of Faith you are talking about.
However, surely the Egyptians truly believed they would literally be
judged by Osiris. Surely the Icelanders of the sagas believed they
would actually share in a special favored fate for dying bravely in battle. 

The Faith of observants I've described is also not unreflective at all. It
is starts with a first premise (as you agree all must do) --in this case
I'll continue to use seven-day Creationists as an archetype-- that the
Bible, all of it, is plainly true in the original text, that the writers
did not intend to deceive, and then to come to a conclusion based
on a reading of of the first chapter of Genesis that the mostly like
intention of the author was to describe seven 24-hour days
(this despite lots of evidence contrary). It is no more unreflective
than to start with the premise that the universe consists entirely
energy influenced soley and uninteruptedly by natural forces,
despite the fact that he persists in attesting his love for his girlfriend
or his country.

My point is that observants (as I'll persist in calling them although I
realize many secular-minded people attend church regularly and many
who do not attend still believe in revealed Truth) believe Faith and Reason
will *validate*, not merely complement, each other...that they both exist
equally in the *objective* world, as do "means and motive" to
criminal investigator. Their Faith IS a continuous intellectual
endeavor. However, their Faith tends toward the Scholastic view of
Faith and Reason: they are adamantly against
giving human *reasoning* a trump over Revealed Truth (or Faith),
since they argue (rightly, it must be admitted) that
humans can rationalize absolutely anything.

>it would be better I think to say 
>that [Hume] claimed that our *real* criteria for what we call "certainty"
>in the daily course of our lives is not quite so strict as rationalists
>suppose. Science has come to grips with this quite easily - you won't find many 
>scientists claiming the necessary, absolute truth of their theories.

Heh, heh, heh. I've heard many secular scientists *remind* us that science
does not ascribe absolute truth to its theories...but only when comparing it
favorably to religion. As a voracious reader of popular scientific literature,
I am pretty certain that that caveat is not mentioned otherwise.
One only needs to look at the current Climatology debate or read
transcripts of conferences on competing Darwinian theories to see that,
for those who make a name for themselves in research-related endeavors,
hubris in advertising one's theories and pig-headedness and nasty politicking
in defending them are the norm. One does not get grants or attract attention
to one's published articles by concluding "Maybe I'm wrong and maybe I'm right". 

I've yet to read an article by a scientist (I might have missed it) in which any
consideration is given to the fact that scientists themselves (the fields they
study, the conclusions they draw, and the overall scientific consensus at
any given time) are as subject to environmental pressures and natural
selection as the colors on a butterflies wings. 

The science writer Richard Dawkins came up recently. Nothing in his books
betrays any self-doubt on the subject of Religion. He is an extreme example
of a typical mindset.

On the subject of Hume, both Francis Shaeffer and Alan Bloom ("Closing of the
American Mind") have fingered Hume as a prophet of skepticism toward Reason
however both name Neitzche as the one who irretreivably stripped human
understanding of its pretenses. Schaeffer said he "crossed the line of despair".
Bloom (writing over a decade later to a different audience) said he "pulled the
floorboards from the basement and found nothing underneath", even when
applying his own theories of human understanding to his theories themselves.

I don't agree that Science has truely come to grips with concept that there
is no empirical reason that human observation is anymore valid than
mitochondrial observation. Secular scientists merely ignore it, since they
have to. It is simply not an issue for observant scientists since most believe
humans were created by a reasonable God who made them to appreciate
his work. It certainly would become an issue if educated people affirm, as a
matter of course rather than idle speculation, that the concepts of human
observation and understanding belong in the category of abstract nouns
like "God" and "Soul".

>In any event Reason does not become unreasonable by starting from a premise 
>that itself has no rational justification - if that were so, logic could 
>never have gotten off the ground even with the ancients. The same charge 
>could be levelled against the very first geometers and mathematicians, it's 
>not characteristic of the modern age.

No, no! I don't agree with this at all. The ancients were of course notorious
believers in the trancendency of Reason. It was --like the definition of a
triangle-- beyond justification, and therefore beyond subjective influence.
The Pythagoreans in fact believed that mathematics itself was
a trancendent, holy thing, full of divine secrets. 

Hmmm...I sense here the presence of unknown preconceptions
about observants that I will not be able to allay in an email.


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