Thursday, August 2, 2007

Atheism a faith position - down under.

Just found another example of "atheism is a faith position too".

This one is a classic from The Australian Scout Handbook, 1973 repr. 1985.

There are many questions that arise out of the normal and natural experiences of life — plain human questions. The answers are always of faith. Nobody knows what the correct answers really are. They can only be given on the basis of a man’s belief — answers of faith. To say, ‘I believe there is no meaning in life’ is a belief, as surely as the one which says, ‘I believe in God who made me and loves me.’ But you can never find proof of either statement ... Scouting embraces all faiths. Every religious faith has its own particular discipline. Know what it is and practise it well, for beneath the outward sign of religion can be a great depth of meaning.

Source: James Franklin's excellent book Corrupting The Youth.

35 comments:

steve said...

But whether atheism is or is not a faith position is dependent upon the operational definition of "faith" isn't it?

Ron Murphy said...

I agree it does: http://ronmurp.blogspot.com/2007/06/problem-with-faith.html

John W. Loftus said...

If we have specialized definitions of faith then we aren't talking about the same concept. If however, we say faith enters whenever we don't have proof of something, then most of what we claim to know also has an element of faith in it. In that sense atheism is indeed somewhat of a faith position. The argument at that point would be centered on which faith is more rational due to the weight of evidence behind it.

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"If we have specialized definitions of faith then we aren't talking about the same concept. If however, we say faith enters whenever we don't have proof of something, then most of what we claim to know also has an element of faith in it. In that sense atheism is indeed somewhat of a faith position. The argument at that point would be centered on which faith is more rational due to the weight of evidence behind it."

---

That's an extremely partisan definition of "faith" ... as if the Western/English definition is all there is, and that definition is immutable. This is a problem we have in the West, and it continues to get us in trouble: we act like everybody in the world uses language the way we do, and that everybody in the world has the same conception of "rational", "evidence", "proof", "faith", and so on ... that all cultures subscribe to the law of the excluded middle as we usually do in the West...

Hopefully someday we will get beyond this type of inflexible, strident fundamentalist mode of thought.

Paul Power said...

Steve wrote of the notion "that all cultures subscribe to the law of the excluded middle as we usually do in the West" being an example of "inflexible, strident fundamentalist mode of thought."

This is the West so we do use that law.

You are obviously comfortable with some cultures being superior to others on particular matters, whence your statement above. But you have it backwards: the lack of this law in other cultures is to their discredit and in this regard those cultures that have the law are better.

Anonymous said...

Anon,

Stringent definitions are fine and dandy but possibly the most annoying single thing about discussion of concepts is disagreement about the exact meaning of word or phrase. It is often COMPLETELY OBVIOUS what someone is referring to but pedantic semantics rides in on its high horse and hijacks the argument. It is often the case that someone whose argument is failing tries to straw man their own argument by appealing to vaguries of language. Lets try to be a little more intellectually honest and why not inject a small measure of common sense while we're at it!

steve said...

paul power said...

"You are obviously comfortable with some cultures being superior to others on particular matters, whence your statement above. But you have it backwards: the lack of this law in other cultures is to their discredit and in this regard those cultures that have the law are better."


---
No. Actually that's one of my points: no culture is "better" than another. It's simply different...diverse...plural...
The, "WE are superior, because WE have all the answers" attitude is what gets us into all sorts of trouble, and it's just this type of attitude that characterizes the fundvangelicals in the U.S. today: "WE have all the answers ... there is no other way ..." ... and so it goes. But the fundvangelicals aren't alone: this type of elitism seems to pop up with regular periodicity by the Dawkins-ists as well. This one is not that much different from the fundvangelicals, except that it changes a few of the words: "WE have all the answers, and if you don't agree with US, you are irrational..."

It MAY be the case that there are MANY answers, and that there are many ways...or that an "answer" for a given question has a superposition of states.


---
anonymous says...

"...It is often COMPLETELY OBVIOUS what someone is referring to but pedantic semantics rides in on its high horse and hijacks the argument..."

---
Obvious to whom? How do you KNOW it's "completely obvious" ...? Have you run an objective experiment to determine it is "obvious", or is it simply your speculation that it's "completely obvious" ...?

Paul Power said...

steve:

You first post had a non-sequitur between your comment on what john w. loftus wrote and yuor attack on the law of the excluded middle.

To this you may have added plain contradiction. You cannot both critcize our culture for this law & laud other cultuires for its lack while saying that you do not think any cultures are better than any other *on this question*. I emphasise that last part because it is perfectly possible not to rate cultures against each other in totality while considering individual aspects of a culture better or worse than it counterparts in other cultures. But that's your only escape clause from contradiction.

steve said...

" Paul Power said...

"To this you may have added plain contradiction. You cannot both critcize our culture for this law & laud other cultuires for its lack while saying that you do not think any cultures are better than any other *on this question*. I emphasise that last part because it is perfectly possible not to rate cultures against each other in totality while considering individual aspects of a culture better or worse than it counterparts in other cultures. But that's your only escape clause from contradiction."

---

Not at all. There is no contradiction. I'm not "criticizing" the culture in the West, NOR "lauding" other cultures at all.

I'm merely pointing out that our strident ways as having true/false dichotomy to the exclusion of other modes of thought gets us in trouble. I never created the ostensible hierarchy you imagine.

This need not be a credit/discredit, right/wrong, better/worse discussion: My post(s) is(are) attempting to point out that "we" in the West are not alone in the world, and that the meaning of language is relative, though (as an aside) I did mention two groups who will not acknowledge plurality of thought.

potentilla said...

That's an extremely partisan definition of "faith" ... as if the Western/English definition is all there is, and that definition is immutable.

"Faith" is a word in the English language, and the English language is an invention of the Western world and most of the people who speak it as a first language were born and grew up in the Western world (some of the richer people in India being the main source of exceptions that springs to mind).

It may be true that atheism is a faith position using the definition of the English word "faith" that has become current somewhere in the word (or it may not; any examples?), but even if it is true, it is a trivial observation. Equally, it may be true that languages used by cultures which eschew the excluded middle (if such there be) have words which have meanings in the same general area as the word "faith". But to translate those words to "faith" and then to complain about a sentence in English because its use of the word "faith" doesn't encompass the meanings of those words, is silly.

Paul Power said...

Contrast "I'm not "criticizing" the culture in the West" with this:

"This is a problem we have in the West, and it continues to get us in trouble: we act like everybody in the world uses language the way we do, and that everybody in the world has the same conception of "rational", "evidence", "proof", "faith", and so on ... that all cultures subscribe to the law of the excluded middle as we usually do in the West...

Hopefully someday we will get beyond this type of inflexible, strident fundamentalist mode of thought."

It is good to know that describing something as "inflexible, strident fundamentalist" is not criticism.

steve said...

paul power said:

"It is good to know that describing something as "inflexible, strident fundamentalist" is not criticism."


I'm glad that I have assuaged your fears.

Eric said...

Steve,
When you contrast cultures that 'subscribe to the law of the excluded middle as we usually do in the West' with those that don't, aren't you implicitly presupposing the law of the excluded middle? And when you say that you're "merely pointing out that our strident ways as having true/false dichotomy to the exclusion of other modes of thought gets us in trouble," aren't you saying that this assertion is true and not false? In other words, isn't your position self-defeating?

steve said...

Eric said...

"Steve,

When you contrast cultures that 'subscribe to the law of the excluded middle as we usually do in the West' with those that don't, tharen't you implicitly presupposing the law of the excluded middle? And when you say that you're "merely pointing out that our strident ways as having true/false dichotomy to the exclusion of other modes of thought gets us in trouble," aren't you saying that this assertion is true and not false? In other words, isn't your position self-defeating?"

I don't think so: all I'm saying is observe the world, and simply CONSIDER what I say. The conclusion is up to you. Just observe what is going on right now: does it seem pluralistic? tolerant? Does it seem accommodating of different views? Do we as humans get along very well? I certainly don't think so.
Why? Perhaps we just need to evolve more.

But ... to be honest, I have neither the time nor the inclination to defend my position further or develop it more thoroughly.

Anything complete enough will be so long that no one will read it anyway, and anything that is short enough to actually be read will be trivial and poorly executed. I think there is strong evidence of that in this discussion.

And so it goes...

Paul Power said...

steve worte: "I'm glad that I have assuaged your fears. " Oh but you haven't. I'm very afraid of people like you, who care nothing for logical consistency or even honesty and want to impose their own views on other people.

steve said...

Paul Power said...

steve worte: "I'm glad that I have assuaged your fears. " Oh but you haven't. I'm very afraid of people like you, who care nothing for logical consistency or even honesty and want to impose their own views on other people."


You are so amazingly naïve.

Go to YouTube and look up Gregory Chaitin, and watch his talk at CMU.

Then, do a Wikipedia search on Kurt Gödel (Incompleteness Theorem), and while you are there, look up Alan Turing (Halting Problem). Finally, look up Freeman Dyson's book _Infinity in All Directions_ Buy it, Read it.

After you understand the limitations of logic, and how RANDOM, UNKNOWABLE, and UNDECIDABLE the physical world REALLY is all over the place, ummm... outside of your little Disneyland utopia I suppose, let me know.

Welcome to the real world.

Paul Power said...

Freeman Dyson?

From http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dysonf07/dysonf07_index.html:

"My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models. Of course, they say, I have no degree in meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in. The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models. "

I owe a lot of my intellectual formation to Dyson and Carl Sagan: they are why I went to university and got a B.Sc and M.Sc in physics.

Meanwhile you are trying to pass off non-sequiturs and contradictions as wisdom. They would be most unamused if they knew.

Eric said...

"Actually that's one of my points: no culture is "better" than another. It's simply different...diverse...plural..."

Assertions like this always raise two fundamental -- and unanswerable -- objections:

1. If we cannot determine which cultures are "better" and which cultures are "worse," the ostensible reason is that we cannot attain an objective standpoint from which we can make these determinations. But the proposition, "No culture is better than another" presupposes that one has attained such an objective position (otherwise, one could not justify the conclusion that no culture is better than another). This is an example of what Williams has called 'vulgar relativism,' and it is clearly contradictory insofar as it rests on grounds that its conclusion repudiates.

2. If it is true that "no culture is better than another," then wouldn't it necessarily be the case that cultures that recognized this truth and acted accordingly would be "better" than cultures that didn't?

Incidentally, am I the only one who sees some irony in the fact that someone who is skeptical of truth claims in general is using -- and suggesting -- Wikipedia as a resource?

potentilla said...

And whilst we're into half-understood science....

Do we as humans get along very well? I certainly don't think so. Why? Perhaps we just need to evolve more.

Please. There is so much misunderstanding of evolution crammed into that sentence I don't know where to start.

steve said...

potentilla said...

And whilst we're into half-understood science....

Do we as humans get along very well? I certainly don't think so. Why? Perhaps we just need to evolve more.

Please. There is so much misunderstanding of evolution crammed into that sentence I don't know where to start.



...and "evolution" can only refer to one thing... please.

steve said...

"...Meanwhile you are trying to pass off non-sequiturs and contradictions as wisdom. They would be most unamused if they knew."


They are only "non-sequiturs" to you and your friends here...

steve said...

Assertions like this always raise two fundamental -- and unanswerable -- objections:

1. If we cannot determine which cultures are "better" and which cultures are "worse," the ostensible reason is that we cannot attain an objective standpoint from which we can make these determinations. But the proposition, "No culture is better than another" presupposes that one has attained such an objective position (otherwise, one could not justify the conclusion that no culture is better than another). This is an example of what Williams has called 'vulgar relativism,' and it is clearly contradictory insofar as it rests on grounds that its conclusion repudiates.



Okay .. fine: what metric are you going to use to measure "better?"
Let's assume you are right, how will you measure this "betterness"

From whose perspective are you going to craft the experiment upon which you will base your "betterness" measurements? yours? why? the other culture? why? how are you going to remove experimenter bias?




2. If it is true that "no culture is better than another," then wouldn't it necessarily be the case that cultures that recognized this truth and acted accordingly would be "better" than cultures that didn't?


again, how are you going to measure "better?" What type of factors are you going to put into your experiment? Again, how will you remove experimenter bias from your experiment? Apart from your linguistic hat trick, how are you going to actually implement what you suggest?


Incidentally, am I the only one who sees some irony in the fact that someone who is skeptical of truth claims in general is using -- and suggesting -- Wikipedia as a resource?

fine, DON'T use Wiki, it was just a suggestion. Use whatever you want. Read the original papers... just don't pretend that the real world is all neat, tidy, and perfectly logical, because if you investigate it, you find that it isn't. Not only isn't it neat, tidy and completely boolean as you propose, many facets of it are unknowable, and will always be so

Paul Power said...

Steve:

Perhaps the egg on your face re Dyson and my physics qualifications has obscured your view of what I wrote.

Regarding rating cultures I specifically wrote "in this regard" and "on this question" to denote I was referring to the law of the excluded middle. I even wrote " I emphasise that last part because it is perfectly possible not to rate cultures against each other in totality while considering individual aspects of a culture better or worse than it counterparts in other cultures."

You criticised our culture for its "inflexible, strident fundamentalist mode of thought" and then denied it. This brings your honesty into question.

And it's not just my opinion that there's a non-sequitur in your original argument. That people have different ways of thinking about the same thing has nothing to do with this law. Logic can handle situations where a word has
different meanings. It warns of the fallacy of equivocation : see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivocation.

John W. Loftus said...

In what sense then do we want to talk negatively about witch burnings, honor killings, brutal slavery, or pre-scientific superstitious notions where epilepsy was seen as demon possession? Is this just personal preference from your perspective? Is science itself mere personal preference?

steve said...

Paul Power said...

Steve:

Perhaps the egg on your face re Dyson and my physics qualifications has obscured your view of what I wrote.

Regarding rating cultures I specifically wrote "in this regard" and "on this question" to denote I was referring to the law of the excluded middle. I even wrote " I emphasise that last part because it is perfectly possible not to rate cultures against each other in totality while considering individual aspects of a culture better or worse than it counterparts in other cultures."

You criticised our culture for its "inflexible, strident fundamentalist mode of thought" and then denied it. This brings your honesty into question.

And it's not just my opinion that there's a non-sequitur in your original argument. That people have different ways of thinking about the same thing has nothing to do with this law. Logic can handle situations where a word has
different meanings. It warns of the fallacy of equivocation : see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivocation.




(Score:-1, Flamebait)
Sorry paul, I don't feed trolls.

Paul Power said...

steve:

Good to see your true colours finally.

You could always study a book such as "Informal Logic" (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Informal-Logic-Handbook-Critical-Argument/dp/0521379253/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/203-3122616-9433554?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1187429936&sr=8-1) as you are in dire need of being shown how to construct a good argument.

John W. Loftus said...

Anything complete enough will be so long that no one will read it anyway, and anything that is short enough to actually be read will be trivial and poorly executed. I think there is strong evidence of that in this discussion.

I have found this to be the case so many times. I'm going to quote you once in a while on this. It is soooo true.

bag lady said...

How apposite that I should read this at this time as I have been defending my 'non faith' position this past academic year (having shared a class of ALL God believing Christian orientated people)with the assertion that not believing in God does not mean that I believe in nothing at all. I would wager that very few athiests believe in 'nothing', unless they are some sort of existentialist nihilist, in which case of course, that is the whole point.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this whole argument just and extension of 'What is right, what is wrong?'

The answers are entirely dependant on your point of view.

In talking about judging cultures from an objective point of view, this is impossible as objectivity with regard to morality or any other emotive construct does not make sense. You have to be of an emotive nature to even understand the arguments and therefore cannot be truly objective.

Science cannot be applied to right or wrong. They are nothing more than a point a view.

Ben Rolfe said...

As an atheist with a scientific bent myself, I certainly believe atheism is a faith. I have taken certain presumptions 'on faith'.
For example, I believe that cause leads to effect, and not the other way round (people who believe in the idea of fate clearly hold a different view). These faith based presumptions can't be proven or disproven, since the tools required to prove or disprove ideas are built upon presumptions of faith. eg. It is so, because we can show it in a repeatable experiment / It is so, because it is written in the words of God.

I'd also like to point out the obvious misrepresentation in the initial quote - atheists do not necessarily hold the view 'I believe there is no meaning in life', nor is that view necessarily restricted to the athiest faith.

Paul Power said...

Ben:

Why did you defend the notion that atheism is a faith by referring to cause and effect, which has nothing to do with the question of the existence of god?

Psiomniac said...

ben,
I think describing atheism as a faith is a misleading technicality.
Yes you can show that it fits one of the dictionary definitions of 'faith' but pragmatically it does not capture the salient differences in approach to reason and evidence between rational atheists and theists.

cagliost said...

Off-topic, on-comments:
Steve said "no culture is 'better' than another":

Even if you don't agree that all empirical propositions are either true or false, would you agree that the law of the excluded middle is either true or false? (!) Some people believe it, some don't. One of these groups of people is right and the other is wrong. We might not know which is the correct belief, but that doesn't mean there isn't a correct belief.

This talk of whole "cultures" is distracting. Cultures don't have beliefs: people have beliefs. It seems to me that you embrace relativism (denying that empirical propositions are either true or false) so that you can say no belief is "better" than another.

It seems you believe the law of the excluded middle is false. Such arrogance! And you criticise people "in the West" for thinking they know all the answers?
Ho ho ho.

Psiomniac said...

I suspect that denial of the law of the excluded middle is self refuting.

Chris said...

It's a faith position.

Say for example, I go shopping. While I'm shopping I believe that my car is still parked outside, in the same place I left it. Why do I believe this? It could have been stolen, a flood could have swept it away or a monster may have swallowed it, etc. Yet when I come outside I go to where I left it because I have faith that it is still there.

Similarly, the atheist discredits the notion that God exists. The atheist believes that in death we simply go into the ground and cease to be. It is at that moment when the atheist draws his last breath that he is putting faith into the idea that it all stops now. But he cannot be certain that it does.