(urth) Information, etc OT

James Wynn thewynns at earthlink.net
Thu Apr 20 10:15:04 PDT 2006

Chris said,

>A conflict between faith and "reason" in that sense would be one where to 
>believe in the object of faith would be rationally incompatible with the 
>everyday premises which nonetheless one cannot dispense with.
>To continue to hold to both in the face of the rational impossibility of this
>is what provides the real difficulty of faith.

I think you have described the "secular" view of Faith quite nicely here.
It is greatly influenced by the founding Existentialists who said that true
Faith must be "absurd" -- by definition. But that definition of Faith is barely
even concievable to modern observants and would not have been prior
to mid-late 19th century.

>You're correct in that it's sort of popular to think in terms of 
>evolutionary biology.

It is evidence of the robust quality of the theory of Natural
Selection, the true engine of Darwinian evolution, that it useful
for explaining (though rarely predicting) activity in biology,
psychology and the changes in teddy bears. Almost any field
of research, really.

>But *very* few people, in secular circles or 
>otherwise, are particularly comfortable with the aftermath of the whole 
>Social Darwinist phase.

Well, Social Darwinianism is dead. I didn't say anyone was backing *that*.
Eugenics was never really gone...only dormant for two or three decades,
but that is not relevant, I think, to considering the 'secular' 
or 'observant' side.

>And on a more abstract level the philosophers who 
>deal specifically with such issues are very cognizant that evolutionary 
>biology gives an account of "what we DO", but that "what we OUGHT to do"
(if anything) is another question which scientific theories don't really speak 

Observants will point out that what we ought to do is greatly determined by
where we come from. That, I think, is at the heart of the debate over "big-E" evolution.

I said:
>>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.
>My point is that observants believe Faith and Reason
>will *validate*, not merely complement, each other...

Chris said
>Perhaps... but only if what 
>they mean by "faith" is a weaker notion than I prefer.
>I have to say that [speaking of Faith as mental caulking for Reason] is
>absolutely not what I was getting at, and I think 
>that this misunderstanding probably gets right to the root of our 
>disagreement here. It is not at all a matter of filling in gaps; the roles 
>of the two are not even of the same type at all. The important point is that 
>Reason alone is *empty of content*. Nothing at all can be concluded from it 
>alone - nothing - if you want to talk about gaps, it is ALL gap and no 
>information. Actual content is dependent on your axioms.

I think it is very astute of you to identify this difference as an
important key to this discussion. I wonder if you realize (as it seems to me)
that your definition of Reason in this context causes you to come to the
same conclusion about Faith? Let me explain.

If you tell me "I think my wife doesn't love me anymore" or "My son
admires me", those statements can be critically examined. I can
respond "Why do you think that?", and that question will make sense
in our conversation. For observants, the statement "I believe in God"
belongs in that category. The observant has an effable definition of
the words "believe" and "God" that he can communicate to us. It does not
require that he believe his definitions detail every thing about those words.
However, it does mean that he will assert that he believes to be *untrue*
any definition contrary to his definition. 

For the seculars whom I am describing the statement "I believe in God"
is simply not of the same category as "I think my wife has fallen out
of love with me" or "My wife thinks I hang the moon". 
Thus, they have a moral repugnance to "supersessionism" or
"absolutes" in matters of Faith. 

Allow me to take the observant side and attempt to show its value.
For an egregious example, when Bishop John Shelby Spong used to
chronically speak of "the Christ", it was NOT typically clear what he
meant by that. It was only clear that he was not referring to any 1st
century Jew who was executed in Jerusalem, nor even to an unnamed
prophsied leader expected by some Jewish adherants. "The  Christ",
for him, had fallen into the category of ineffable qualities that mean
many things at once and never the same thing to two people.

Here is how that sort of thinking can go seriously wrong.
In Monica Lewinsky's televised interview, she was asked
if she felt any guilt over having an affair with a married man. Her
response was "Well, I'm not a religious person. I'm a spiritual
person. But I'm not a religious person." Exegesis: "Religion", for
Lewinsky, represented a communicable structure of sin,
righteousness, and a real live God whose existance requires
something from us. To be "Spiritual" represented a respect for
ineffable qualities that have no content in themselves.
"I am a spiritual person" might realistically mean only
"I believe in Love" in which the words "believe" and "love"
are not only undefined, but *cannot* be ultimately defined.
While we can agree that her response and point-of-view was
shallow, it was also philosophically correct.  

>I don't at all dispute that there are a lot of people who think
>[Faith and Reason will *validate*, not merely complement, each
>other], and who have thought so, going a long way back. However
>I think such people paint themselves into a corner in which there
>is nothing left to have faith IN: you are left with only flat, known
>facts. Recall that you (rightly) brought up the biblical quote
>calling faith "the evidence of things UNseen".

Well, the quote says "unseen", not unknown. And in fact
verifiable *knowledge* is an important underpinning to
almost the entire New Testament canon. I suspected this
was true and did a quick search on the words "know"
and "known" in the NT. The fact that
Jesus of Nazareth lived and died in verifiable history and
geography was very important to early Christians, to the
4th century seekers of relics, and to every religion that was
founded even in part on NT writings. It still is today. 

It is also why the pagan authorities considered it
"superstition" rather than "religion".
Yet, even such ancient pagans would not have considered the
basics of true religion ineffable even though they were often
kept secret.

>I suggest Polanyi and Kuhn. 

Thanks I'll check them out.

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