Monday, August 25, 2008

Jamie - bit more on reason being my "religion and God"

Hi Jamie

You say that I make reason my religion and my God, despite my denying it and giving the example of compassion and morality which I think at least as important as reason. Here's a quote from you:

Stephen: The examples you list (compassion, morality) would be subject to your continuum of reasonableness, correct? Therefore, reason is more important because it is the standard by which you judge. For ex., if you did not think a moral choice was reasonable you probably wouldn't make that choice.

My reply. Yes morality is subject to reason, but that doesn't entail I think reason supreme. Unlike Kant, I don't think reason can ultimately underpin or justify morality. Reason can reveal e.g. contradictions in our moral beliefs etc. It can also reveal unacknowledged consequences of our moral beliefs. But it cannot conjure up our basic moral principles in the first place. They are primary. Reason necessarily plays a secondary role. So no, I don't consider reason of supreme importance.

Jamie, you then say:

Emile and Anticant postulate that [Stephen's supreme value] is truth [not reason], I think. But I'd say that you would even subject truth claims to reason, again making reason more important.

So if reason if even more important than truth then reason is your god. And if reason is a god, then why isn't that a religion?

My response. As I say, reason is not of *supreme* importance to me. I have already illustrated that. Yes I apply reason - but why? Only because I believe it is our best route to the truth. So it turns out I value reason only because I value truth (if I were genuinely convinced reason doesn't lead to truth, I would cease relying on it). So that makes truth a higher value for me.

See - reason is neither my God nor my religion (but maybe truth is!). It's just that I, like you, think it very important, and rely on it constantly so far as trying to find out what's true is concerned.

You do too. You will even use it to support your religious beliefs if you think it can. But the minute reason looks like threatening your religious beliefs, well then, in effect, you stick your fingers in your ears and go "Nope, I am not listening - you can't trust reason - it's just another faith position!"

Of course anyone can do that, to defend any belief, no matter how nuts it is.

If I did it to defend belief in fairies, you'd think I was a nutter.

So why do you make it here? It's utterly mystifying.

68 comments:

theObserver said...

WooHoo first comment.

I'm hearing that 'But secularism/reason/science/atheism/etc is just another religion /ideologically' speech from quite a few faiths these days. I think it's convenient for a theist to set up this false comparison as a foundation for silly arguments like 'If the secular religion is taught in schools, then we have a right a have our religion taught' or 'atheism is just another faith only they believe in man made science instead of absolute truth from god'.

For example the well known creationist website 'answers in genesis' has this little gem:

"If you truly want to keep religion separate from state institutions, then consider challenging the religion of humanism that is promoted in state schools."
and links to this article complaining about humanist religion being promoted above other religions. Even some scientists like Robert Winston are happy to accept that science is just another 'belief' comparable to Judaism. I find it even stranger that he makes this claim in his book concerning evolution psychology!


In the field of religious studies, secularism is compressed into its own 'world view' to be studied alongside the various religions. That may be partly how this silly idea came about but the secular world view certainly does not have many of the characteristics of a religion.

Kosh3 said...

There are other, less significant values of reason other than getting to the truth. Appearing to be reasonable has value in a social environment where being reasonable is socially valued (we like reasonable people, and so appearing to be reasonable can generate social advantages).

Jamie Self said...

Stephen: I guess I just don't understand. You clearly state that religions are IBH.

"Many religions, cults, etc. are designed - or, more accurately, have evolved - to be intellectual black holes."

But then you say they're not.

"no I am not saying religion is by definition an intellectual black hole."

My whole point with "reason as religion" was to say that neither one of us is coming at truth from a neutral point of view. We both think we already know what truth is.

That's one reason I asked what do you hold to be supremely important? What is the thing against which all of your ideas are filtered? What is truth to you?

terence said...

Jamie,

You are confused.

Stephen wrote that "Many religions . . . are . . . intellectual black holes." Many. Not all.

And, the "filter" (reason) is not truth itself, it is simply the mechanism or process by which we can best assess whether (or how likely it is) something is true (just as a compass isn't 'north' but points toward north).

You continue to believe in your religion for various reasons. Anyone who believes in anything has as a basis for that belief some reason or reasons. The issue here is how can we know whether our reasons really support (and to what extent they support) our beliefs. For example, I may believe in Jesus because it gives me comfort. Does giving me comfort prove that my belief is true? Obviously not as false beliefs can also give me comfort. We use critical thinking (evidence and reason) to examine and weigh various reasons to help us find truth. Intellectual black holes block that critical thinking.

MikeN said...

Sorry, should have put this on the latest post ... Excuse me reproducing a comment so that Jamie sees it:

---

Jamie : How do you answer my statement in the first comment here that it is my children that are of supreme importance to me?

Surely that doesn't make them gods or fatherhood a religion?

I'm glad you are trying to define religion and work out exactly what it entails - I think that is an extremely important process - but I think your current definition is seriously flawed.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Jamie

YOU WRITE: Stephen: I guess I just don't understand. You clearly state that religions are IBH.

"Many religions, cults, etc. are designed - or, more accurately, have evolved - to be intellectual black holes."

But then you say they're not.

"no I am not saying religion is by definition an intellectual black hole."

I REPLY: As Terence points out, this is a perfectly consistent position. My central objection here is not to your religious beliefs, but the manner in which you go about defending them - while you use reason happily elsewhere, trust it as a method of getting at the truth, constantly trust your life to it, in fact, and will even use it to support your belief, the second reason looks like threatening your belief you "go nuclear" (see my side bar)and say "Oh no - that's not a good objection, for reason is just another faith position too.

YOU SAY: My whole point with "reason as religion" was to say that neither one of us is coming at truth from a neutral point of view. We both think we already know what truth is.

MY REPLY: I don't mind you coming at this from a non-neutral position. Everyone has to start somewhere. I do mind you operating according to a double standard where you use reason, until it threatens your belief, when suddenly you insist it's not to be trusted.

"Going nuclear" is a classic bullshit artist's move, which you would surely recognise as such if made by e.g. an astrologer or psychic healer.

As I say, it can be used to defend any belief, however nuts.

"But look at the overwhelming evidence that there are no fairies. Look at the logical contradictions in what you claim!"

"Ah, I see you are relying on reason to debunk my belief in fairies. How philosophically naive of you. For trusting reason is, of course, is just another unjustifiable faith position, and so no more sensible than mine. You start with reason; I start with the fairies!"

Clearly, from someone happy to trust reason to reveal the truth in every other corner of their lives, this is just evasive bullshit dressed up as philosophy.

Sam Norton said...

Hi Stephen,

Very struck by this: "Unlike Kant, I don't think reason can ultimately underpin or justify morality. Reason can reveal e.g. contradictions in our moral beliefs etc. It can also reveal unacknowledged consequences of our moral beliefs. But it cannot conjure up our basic moral principles in the first place. They are primary. Reason necessarily plays a secondary role. So no, I don't consider reason of supreme importance."

That's one of the most helpful things I've read from you! And I completely agree with it. Let me try out this line of thought with you, on that basis:

1. reason plays a secondary role in establishing our belief systems;
2. beyond pointing out inconsistencies and unexpected consequences, reason is unable to establish our basic commitments;
3. our basic commitments are therefore not based upon reason;
4. as Hume put it, our reasons are slaves to our passions, so finding truth must depend upon emotional intelligence even more than rational intelligence (in other words, in order to find out what the truth is, we need certain moral qualities, eg humility; conversely something like intellectual pride can obstruct our access to the truth);
5. a fully reasonable worldview would, therefore, need to say something substantial about the cultivation of such emotional intelligence (= wisdom).

My distinction between 'sophisticated' and 'humourless' atheisms is essentially whether something like 4&5 is accepted. I would contend that it's perfectly possible to accept them and remain an atheist, but I don't think it's possible to accept them and remain, in your words, a 'crude, reductive materialist'. Which, as is becoming more and more clear, you're clearly not :o)

I would then want to argue some other things with respect to specifically Christian belief:

A. the first Christian community saw Jesus as the foundation of their beliefs (that is what the language about Jesus as the Word is all about);
B. this commitment is on the basis of, in effect, falling in love with Jesus (or something comparable), ie seeing Jesus as the source and criterion of truth, beauty, goodness etc;
C. that foundation gave rise to all sorts of sophisticated reflection upon that basic belief (2000 years of theology and philosophy);
D. that sophisticated reflection cannot be divorced from the spiritual practices and devotions of the Christian life;
E. there remain gaps and difficulties in the Christian worldview (eg problem of evil) but all worldviews experience such gaps;
F. worldviews (and the views of individual people themselves) are evolving, and can evolve _towards_ the truth;
G. the principal sign of a cultic belief is a refusal to consider contrary evidence, ie to embrace a closed intellectual system. That's what I call fundamentalism, and it isn't restricted to religious believers. This is primarily a _spiritual_ fault, not a problem of reason or logic.


It would be very helpful if (and I think this is what Jamie is seeking also) you could write a post along the lines of 'what I believe in and why' (or: why I am not a crude, reductive materialist). In other words, rather than simply being critical of Christian and other beliefs that you consider more or less irrational, can you say anything positive about what you do believe in, what you structure your life choices around, what you consider to be the most important values that you are committed to - etc etc? That would be most enlightening.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Sam

Lots to get my teeth into there, but I will for time being just comment on this:

E. there remain gaps and difficulties in the Christian worldview (eg problem of evil) but all worldviews experience such gaps;

Yes all world views experience gaps. But not all face overwhelming empirical evidence against them, as well as an almost total absence of rational support.

As for my world view - well, it's complicated! But I would say I almost certainly make e.g. moral judgements on a similar basis to you (you don't really think you base them on the Bible, do you?)

Anonymous said...

Sam -

You said "beyond pointing out inconsistencies and unexpected consequences, reason is unable to establish our basic commitments;"

I think this is selling it a little short. Reason often helps us to clarify what our basic commitments actually are.
e.g. are they really basic or derived from some thing deeper? If reason reveals conflicts then we may reflect on our beliefs and possibly modify them,

In this particular sense it does help establish them.

Paul C said...

My whole point with "reason as religion" was to say that neither one of us is coming at truth from a neutral point of view. We both think we already know what truth is.

No. You may think that you already know what truth is - certainly your declarations about God, Jesus and the Bible suggest that - but as far as I can tell Stephen's entire point is that he doesn't already know what truth is, and that reason is the best way he has found to try and reach the truth.

I found this comment to be extremely revealing. To somebody following a revealed religion, it seems utterly alien that one would put the horse before the cart.

Sam Norton said...

"But I would say I almost certainly make e.g. moral judgements on a similar basis to you (you don't really think you base them on the Bible, do you?)"

Ha! You don't really think you base them on something other than the Bible do you? (grin)

I think it's a very interesting question how far a different moral tradition lies behind our various moral judgments. I certainly think that my judgment is educable, and has in fact been educated by the Christian tradition (NB "the Christian tradition", not "the Bible" which is a bit meaningless). Lying behind this is the MacIntyre conversation - I haven't picked up your Childrens' Minds book yet, but I will do.

Also: "Yes all world views experience gaps. But not all face overwhelming empirical evidence against them, as well as an almost total absence of rational support."

I don't agree that there is 'overwhelming empirical evidence' against Christianity, and I think there is a very great deal of rational support. But I suspect this comment thread is spreading out widely enough already, and we'll cover much of this when we do Dawkins. Given the way these conversations do seem to expand in every direction at once it might help to tie down some elements to be considered first!

Stephen Law said...

Yes, Sam, as I say, if you think Christianity rationally defendable, then fine.

Hi Paul C. Well I do think Christianity false. I am bringing that view to the table. But it was reason that led me to it, and reason could lead me to change my mind.

Andrew Louis said...

If reason is not primary in determining morality, then is morality at first irrational? Are there things that are true/real, but are nonetheless unexpressable?

Perhaps then, reason is not primary in determining the existence of God. Perhaps God is primary? Perhaps reason can reveal contradictions in our religious beliefs and even consequences of them, however not what underpins those belife, God? Perhpas the primary condition of/for God is irrationality?

Reason can reveal the ways quantum physics may be irrational, but we nonetheless go with it as it seems to "work".

So, with morality, God and perhaps even in physics, maybe some irrationality is the reality we're faced with?

Anonymous said...

Sam - You said 'NB "the Christian tradition", not "the Bible" which is a bit meaningless).'

Can we take it (for the avoidance of doubt) that you are prepared to discount the Bible as either literally true or a genuine message from God (be it ever so cryptic)?

Wouldn't want anyone to think of you as a "humourless theist" would we :)

Sam Norton said...

Anonymous - the reason why I don't think referring to "the Bible" makes sense is because it doesn't exist on its own, apart from a wider tradition of interpretation. There is the _rhetorical_ claim of (some strands of) Protestantism that the Bible can be taken 'on its own' but I believe those claims to be radically incoherent.

You certainly can take it that I don't take the Bible to be literally true in every case though we could have an interesting conversation about what divine inspiration actually means (that is, I do see it as divinely inspired, I just don't identify divine inspiration with the meeting of scientific standards of fact, which is what the fundamentalists do).

Sam Norton said...

BTW have people seen this?

Anonymous said...

Sam - I was really trying to clarify that you were OK rejecting the position that the author(s) were the instruments of Gods communication to the extent that the words in it are Gods (like dictation of a novel)

Thats still leaves (at least)

the authors were trying to capture some aspect of God that they perceived. (like a portrait painter)

or

the author(s) were inspired by God in the similar sort of way that a poet might be inspired by nature.

Jamie Self said...

Sam said to Stephen "It would be very helpful if (and I think this is what Jamie is seeking also) you could write a post along the lines of 'what I believe in and why'"

Amen. (Can I use that word here??)

Stephen has yet to answer any question of mine where I ask his conclusions - what he believes is true, what he considers his school of philosophy, what ultimate filter he uses.

My point, as I've tried to say, is that the shortcomings in my reasoning toward truth are fairly well known since I ascribe to Christian beliefs. But Stephen holds his cards close.

Paul C. said "No. [Jamie] You may think that you already know what truth is ... but as far as I can tell Stephen's entire point is that he doesn't already know what truth is, and that reason is the best way he has found to try and reach the truth."

I admit I think I know what truth is, but Stephen won't admit whether he thinks he knows it or not. Surely after years of pondering via reason he has made some conclusions. Otherwise, what is the point?

I'd also like to point out that I haven't used "faith" to try to explain any of what I believe to be true. And I have admitted to gaps that I've yet to explain. But how would I know if Stephen is making faith assumptions because his arguments are coming out of the unknown (an intellectual white hole?).

Ultimately, I am attempting to get around to Andrew Louis' point "If reason is not primary in determining morality [or compassion or truth, then perhaps] reason is not primary in determining the existence of God.

But I don't know what Stephen thinks is primary because he won't say.

Jamie Self said...

Miken "Jamie : How do you answer my statement in the first comment here that it is my children that are of supreme importance to me?"

Your children, as wonderful as they are and as much as you live for them, are not of supreme importance to you in the sense we're discussing here.

Sorry for not responding sooner. There are soooo many rabbit trails in these conversations my brain has a difficult time tracking.

terence said...

Jamie,

You keep asking about an "ultimate filter" or "what is primary", and also ask about what Stephen thinks is "true". I think this misses the point. The issue here is by what means or process do we use to examine our beliefs in determining whether something is true (and to what degree of certainty we can say that). That process is reason.

The argument that reason does not determine morality (of course it doesn't as that is an innate human capacity; similarly, reason does not determine emotion) and therefore cannot determine God is confused. Reason (evidence and critical thinking) can prove the existence of human capacities like morality and emotion (it just is not the process that guides it). Similarly, reason can used to examine belief in things like God or fairies. Or, do you think that because reason doesn't determine morality, it can't determine fairies? ;)

Stephen Law said...

Jamie says:

"! admit I think I know what truth is, but Stephen won't admit whether he thinks he knows it or not. Surely after years of pondering via reason he has made some conclusions."

Well here are some. I have concluded there is no Judeo-Christian God. That's something I am pretty confident is true.
Nor are there any fairies.
I also believe reason is a fairly reliable tool for getting at the truth.
I believe that material objects, etc. exist.
I am pretty sceptical about the supernatural, but of course happy to see any evidence anyone has got.
I value truth very highly - more highly than reason.
I value life, liberty and justice - and morality. All very highly indeed.

Is that enough? Or do you want a longer list? I don't think I have a "supreme" value, though. I wasn't aware I needed one.

However, your question about what I really value and am committed to is really a smokescreen - you want me to give you my theory of life, the universe and everything in order to distract attention away from the fact that while you reason in every other corner of life to find out what's true, indeed constantly trust your life to it, and indeed will even try to use it to support your belief, as soon as looks like threatening your religious beliefs, you play the "Oh it's just another faith position too" card.

Now you are doing that, aren't you, Jame? Yes or no?

And if I played the same card to defend belief in fairies or psychic healing or whatever, you immediately see through it as the rather cheap trick that it is.

But for some reason, when it comes to religion, we're all supposed to teat the very same move with respect. Why? Indeed, why do you take it seriously?

im_michael_young said...

Stephen seems to deny that reason is his God because he accords heavy weight to compassion and morality (so he is not just committed to reason, or is not strongly-enough committed to reason for it to be a "religious" commitment). But then- maybe Stephen has a polytheistic religion, with Reason, Compassion, and Morality as separate deities in his pantheon. If a strong and exclusive enough commitment to reason (like a Kantian-level of commitment?) could itself be a religion, then I don't see what automatically prevents or defeats this further thought, as long as the commitment to the ideal of "reason! compassion! morality!" is strong and exclusive enough.

If the criterion of "religious" is something like "really strong and exclusive commitment," then I, for one, am probably "religious" because there are things (or ideals anyway) to which I have really strong and exclusive commitments. But so what? Isn't the point really to show that some commitments (like a commitment to being rational) are non-optional for us, and that we either fail or succeed in such commitments? It's just not that interesting that in some very weak sense of "religious" most people (who are not nihilists) are "religious" or have a "faith" position. So the question for Jamie is: does he want to claim that rationality is an optional commitment and that he is optioning out? If not, then Jamie has to be prepared (in principle) to defend belief in God on rational grounds.

theobserver said...

In honour of Sams bullets points, these are my thoughts regarding Christianity:-

(Sorry Jamie for going off on a tangent. I suspect there is no one single 'primary' way to detect morality - rather it is a complex process involving empathy, understanding, knowledge, reason. Look at the history behind the abolition of owning slaves for an example. Or women’s rights. Or environmental care. Or animal rights. Or social care.)

Anyway Christianity,

(1) Most ancient cultures processed a mythology to explain natural events and the nature of the universe and humanity.

(2) Judaism is one such mythology.

(3) Christianity arose from Judaism via the messianic claims of Jesus and his followers.

(4) In order for Christianity to spread to the wider communities, Christians had to engage with the prevailing knowledge and ‘wisdom’ of the time.

(5) The prevailing knowledge and wisdom of the time was based upon the pagan Greek/Roman myths and the philosophies of Plato, Stoicism etc

(6) After a period of denouncing the pagan tradition of logic and philosophy as evil trickery, the Christian church, via the work early of apologists like Justin Martyr, assimilated Greek metaphysics and philosophy to form an intelligential defence of their mythology.

(7) Many of the educated roman elite expressed concern over the decline of the traditional pagan culture and (later) Neoplatonism which their society was founded upon, not entirely unlike modern day Christians expressing concern over the ‘tradition’ values being eroded by secularism and Humanism.

(8) A lot of meaningful philosophic reflections on ethics, moral codes etc can once again be decoupled from Christian mythology.

(9) Important and emotional stages in a humans life (birth, marriage, death) can also be decoupled from the Christian tradition.

Stephen Law said...

Hello Michael Young

Well I don't think being strongly committed to something is enough to make it a "god" or religion", even if it were something you thought of supreme value. That's not really how these words are used. However, if Jamie wants to define "God" and "religion" like that, fine - but then reason still doesn't come out as my God - though, as I admitted, maybe truth does.


But then, even if it does, the point is rather irrelevant to the issue at hand, I think.

Jamie is, of course, totally committed to reason. He trusts it on a daily basis to lead him to true beliefs. He trusts life to it.
He will even use it to support his religious beliefs. But as soon as reason threatens those beliefs, he plays the "Oh it reason is just another faith position card" - implying, I take it (can you confirm this Jamie?) that, for all either of us know, his belief system is therefore just as likely to be true as my own.

As I keep pointing out, this move can be made to defend any belief, however nuts (indeed, it often is). But it is made at the cost of making all beliefs, however nuts, equally (ir)rational. It's the great leveler, reasonableness-wise. You go nuclear, destroying the rationality of every belief, and making them all come out as equally sensible. Yet Jamie doesn't really believe that. As his constant reliance on reason - and his belief that belief in fairies is not nearly as likely to be true as belief in electrons, demonstrates. It's a move made in bad faith. Just as it would be if made in defence of belief in fairies.

In a nutshell - Jamie is not a sceptic about reason. He just pretends he is when it suits him.

Andrew Louis said...

Terence,
You said, “The argument that reason does not determine morality (of course it doesn't as that is an innate human capacity; similarly, reason does not determine emotion) and therefore cannot determine God is confused.”

I think you’re referring to my comments here. I wasn’t making an argument, I was asking questions.

You also state, “Or, do you think that because reason doesn't determine morality, it can't determine fairies? ;)”

What do God and fairies have in common? Are you suggesting that they’re both imaginary, and therefore they are the same, at least categorically?

Part of what I’m saying may be that, irrationality exists only in what we say, not in what we experience. One’s experience is one’s experience, he’s wrong about it only in the context with which he’s speaking. For example prior to Newton, perhaps people spoke of the motion of the planets and so on, by saying they were moved by phantoms. This is obviously irrational by today’s standards, but perhaps it fit the context of speech of the day. Today we have our own phantom, it’s called gravity and it’s consistent with our current way of speaking.

So perhaps God, relative to the way religion talks about it, is irrational (I won’t argue either way here). But this doesn’t mean that fundamentally the experience underpinning the language is invalid; it only means that the language is not compatible with what we call reason and therefore we miss the point of something as we filter it in such a way.

Andrew Louis said...

Stephen,
would it be reasonable to suggest that the same way Jamie feels about God is the same way you feel about truth (I think that's what Jamie is getting at when he says truth is your God)? Not that the way you two speak or reason about them is the same, but your sentiments are the same.

What we feel and how we talk about what we feel are two different things, yes?

Stephen Law said...

I can't imagine our feelings are very similar. I don't feel like I can have personal relationship with truth, or that I should be grateful to it, or that it's any kind of agency, or my creator, or that it can save me, or answer my prayers, or become a person, etc. etc. So my feelings towards truth can't be very similar, can they?

Stephen Law said...

Jamie - just to clarify: I am not aware I have a supreme value.

Is it that you think I do, and am keeping it secret from you?

Well, I am not. Honest. If you think I have one, can you tell me what you think it is?

But anyway, where are going with this?

Suppose my supreme value was truth, say. Or cricket. What follows? What point do you then want to make?

When you explain, can you also explain why you are not guilty of the "bad faith" move I am suggesting you're making?

MikeN said...

Jamie said: "Your children, as wonderful as they are and as much as you live for them, are not of supreme importance to you in the sense we're discussing here."

Seems like you're moving the goalposts, since I get the impression there are very few things that would satisfy your definition.

How about I rephrase.

My children are of supreme importance to me. This morning the eldest told me that his stuffed horse comes to life at night. Since he is of supreme importance I of course believe him, even though reason tells me otherwise.

How is that different from your argument? I have simply substituted my son for your God, everything else stays the same.

Sam Norton said...

Stephen says: "Suppose my supreme value was truth, say. Or cricket. What follows? What point do you then want to make?"

Well, I don't know what point Jamie wants to make, but there are some that could be made.

In life we have choices to make, from the trivial (what sort of breakfast cereal to eat) to the profound (whom should I marry? should we have children?). When we make choices we reveal our hierarchy of values.

Philosophically we can explore these hierarchies of values. For an initial survey let's think of three different sorts:
1. a person who has no consistent moral framework or value-set, and simply reacts to whatever impulse the moment provides;
2. a person who has a (small) number of key values that they pursue and hold above others; and
3. a person who has one thing held above all else.

Now I would suggest that the person in class 1. lacks certain essential things for human flourishing, specifically they are unable to develop any sense of personal integrity. Pushed to an extreme I would argue that such a person actually fails to actualise their humanity, or, to use traditional language, they have no 'soul'.

The person in class 2 can operate more or less effectively in life, so long as their values don't come into sharp conflict. However, when they do, such a person is forced into making choices (even the refusal to choose is a choice - watch 'Un Couer en Hiver' for an example). The choice reveals the priorities of the person, and they are often tragic ones - such is the nature of human life.

The person in class 3 however, has 'a star to steer by' - they can articulate, more or less, what their highest priority is and they can then build a life around that choice - thus allowing for integrity and the development of character.

This is what is at stake in asking the question about what Stephen's ultimate value is - the question is really asking what sort of person Stephen is. When push comes to shove, what will be chosen? The sort of values you esteem reflect the sort of person you are.

And, of course, there can be a great difference between the words and the behaviour, which is why the word 'hypocrite' was coined (I'm not thinking of anyone there btw).

One tangential point - I suspect that our ultimate values can only be finally expressed in narrative form. Even when talking about something like 'truth' we need to tell stories to explain what we mean by it. Truth, to actually work as a highest value in this sort of schema, needs to be given some more substantial flesh than words or propositions. They need to engage our emotional assent (and emotions are cognitive). When we're actually faced with existential questions, and we seek the answer that is 'true' then we are into the realm of personal honesty and so on - and so we are back in the realm of wisdom and spirituality, as I referenced above. Thus, I would argue, you can't actually have 'truth' as a highest value unless there is something emotionally engaged. It may not be the language of "have personal relationship with truth, or that I should be grateful to it, or that it's any kind of agency, or my creator, or that it can save me, or answer my prayers, or become a person, etc. etc" because that is the particular language that the Christian tradition has developed to talk about truth (not least because the Christian tradition ultimately sees the truth as being embodied in a particular person). There are other ways of talking about the truth, however, and I would suggest that some of those ways are tremendously enriching and helpful.

For example, try this: the truth that can be spoken is not the eternal truth...

anticant said...

Our ultimate values can only be finally expressed BEHAVIOURALLY.

emile said...

Sam Norton writes:

The person in class 2 can operate more or less effectively in life, so long as their values don't come into sharp conflict. However, when they do, such a person is forced into making choices (even the refusal to choose is a choice - watch 'Un Couer en Hiver' for an example). The choice reveals the priorities of the person, and they are often tragic ones - such is the nature of human life.

The person in class 3 however, has 'a star to steer by' - they can articulate, more or less, what their highest priority is and they can then build a life around that choice - thus allowing for integrity and the development of character.


Huh. I respectfully disagree. Consider the story of Abraham and Isaac.

I find the idea that he's *really* in class 3, that he is *not* being forced to make a (tragic) choice between deeply held values of love for Isaac and obedience to God, absolutely horrifying.

terence said...

Andrew,

Yes, you raised the question and Jamie adopted it as a position - hence why I responded to him.

Rationality isn't concerned with or limited to what we say (words) but with our reasons (though we do express those reasons with words). My example of God and fairies is that both are (or can be) beliefs. And people have reasons for their beliefs. The question is how valid are those reasons (as it pertains to determining truth). This is where rationality comes in -- we look to evidence and reason to examine the validity of our beliefs, to try and determine what is or is not true.

Gravity and phantoms are not just different terms for what causes planets to move -- they are very different things, two very different BELIEFS. The former is based on evidence and reason; the latter has no rational basis.

So while I agree with you that the experience - planets moving - exists outside of rationality, our beliefs and our understanding of that experience (what is really going on) is best determined and guided by evidence and reason.

The same is true for beliefs in God or fairies.

Jamie said...

Stephen "I don't think I have a "supreme" value, though. I wasn't aware I needed one. "

You don't need one. I was trying to see if there was any common ground with an absolute (e.g. your truth = my god, leap of faith, etc.). You clarified your position in the later post to Andrew Luis and then to me. Thank you.

Stephen "In a nutshell - Jamie is not a sceptic about reason. He just pretends he is when it suits him."

So maybe I'm either a liar, lunatic, or God. And if I'm God then watch what you post!!

Stephen "Is that enough [conclusions]? Or do you want a longer list?"

That's enough. Thank you again for clarifying. I didn't think you had a secret belief, but I couldn't nail down what beliefs you do hold.

Stephen "you want me to give you my theory of life, the universe and everything in order to distract attention away from the fact that while you reason ... and indeed will even try to use it to support your belief, as soon as looks like threatening your religious beliefs, you play the "Oh it's just another faith position too" card."

Mr. Adams has taken care of life, the universe, and everything.

I did want to know if you had a unifying theory (worldview) to understand better how you arrived at it. Part of what's happening in these posts is that you're teaching me to think critically. I'm sorry you got stuck with that job. It's a skill you have mastered and I'm trying to play catch-up.

Let me try to articulate my position using reason and you tell me where the smokescreen is.
1.* I think there is reasonable historical secular and biblical evidence that Jesus was a real man who lived 2,000 years ago.
2. I think there is reasonable historical secular and biblical evidence that the apostles were real men and that most of them were killed for their belief that Jesus was God (martyred) or died naturally not recanting that idea.
3. I think it unreasonable that men would completely fabricate a myth (Jesus as God) and then be killed rather than say they made it up. I also think it unreasonable that there was some later conspiracy by the early church to fabricate what we now call Christianity because in its purest sense Christianity is a call to self-denial and the betterment of others (not exactly a power grab).
4. I think that kind of integrity (dying for something you believe in) is highly moral -- virtuous even. And I think it unreasonable that otherwise moral, virtuous persons would lie about minor details if they're willing to die for a belief that Jesus was God.
5. Therefore, I think it's reasonable to believe the New Testament accounts of Jesus.

That brings me to the original question of what does one do with Jesus?

If one finds it unreasonable to believe in Jesus or his deity then the search for God/no-god/truth continues for that person. (Notice this is more specific than my original statement that "Any philosophy will do.")

If one finds it reasonable to believe in Jesus as God then that seems to me to be final. Everything needs to be evaluated in light of Jesus. We may not understand it all or know how it fits, but if the conclusion is reached that Jesus is God (Not a god. Not a really good human. Not god-like. I mean THE God.) then all knowledge, understanding, the entire universe needs to be evaluated with him as the center.

If one just looks at that last sentence then it does seem unreasonable. But to go from 1 to 5 seems to me to be reasonable. I'm not saying a person can't find it unreasonable for them, but I don't think I'm making any huge leaps of faith. Please show me the smokescreen so I can stop taking so much Advil!!

*Note on 1: I'm sure you've heard the argument that there's more period references for Jesus than for Socrates, yet we don't question Socrates' existence.

Stephen Law said...

Thanks Jamie - no, no smokescreen there, I'm glad to say. You are using reason again (which I like!)

I'll get back to you...

Kristi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jamie Self said...

Miken "How is that different from your argument? I have simply substituted my son for your God, everything else stays the same."

Simple substitutions don't work. I do not think your children (or Stephen's example of L. Ron Hubbard) are God for lots of reasons. And I would guess that Stephen doesn't believe your children are truth (in the philosophical sense).

Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Jamie,
I admire your earnestness and desire to think critically about these things, as we would all like to do.

inre the attempt to underly your faith with a certain line of reasoning: I agree, that 1 and 2 are legitimate arguments (even if Tacitus is the only solid non-Christian reference, it is a compelling one nonetheless).

However, inre:
"3. I think it unreasonable that men would completely fabricate a myth (Jesus as God) and then be killed rather than say they made it up."

People die for the strangest things, whether delusional or not. This argument would provide legitimacy to every David Koresh-esque, comet following Kool-Aid drinking cult ever to have weirded out the general populace with their bizarre brand of eschatology.

"... in its purest sense Christianity is a call to self-denial and the betterment of others (not exactly a power grab)."

It's also a claimant to one of the wealthiest and most powerful non-state entities in history.

"4. I think that kind of integrity (dying for something you believe in) is highly moral -- virtuous even...

Well, that reasoning is a bit iffy, too, given the climate of religiously-motivated terrorism. I'm resiting the urge to invoke the much overused example of the last spectacular testament to maryrdom.

"5. Therefore, I think it's reasonable to believe the New Testament accounts of Jesus."

Whew. Well, then you don't take much convincing then, that's all I can say. I don't object to your choice of faith (it is faith after all), but your attempts to couch it terms of a reasoned explanation is certainly inadequate. Nothing here is sufficient to explain why you do not embrace any one of the other thousand cults that have proliferated across the world over the past 10,000 years. All have had their martyrs.

Sam Norton said...

Rev Dr Incitatus,

Some comments on your comments:

On 3, you say "People die for the strangest things, whether delusional or not. This argument would provide legitimacy to every David Koresh-esque, comet following Kool-Aid drinking cult ever to have weirded out the general populace with their bizarre brand of eschatology."

There are some differences, principally i) the attraction of the lifestyle which drew millions to the faith; ii) the continued martyrdom of the believers for a quarter of a millenium. I agree that people dying for their beliefs is not a cast-iron case for the truth of the belief, but I do think it provides very strong evidence of the conviction with which the beliefs were held. And that conviction requires explanation.

You then say "It's also a claimant to one of the wealthiest and most powerful non-state entities in history" - which conveniently ignores those first 250 years or so, which most Christians take as normative, rather than the Constantinian Christendom which followed. You're identifying Christianity with Vatican ideology which is illegitimate.

You say "Well, that reasoning is a bit iffy, too, given the climate of religiously-motivated terrorism. I'm resiting the urge to invoke the much overused example of the last spectacular testament to maryrdom." If you can provide an example of Christian martyrdom that actively harmed or killed non-Christians from those first 250 years then your point would have weight; otherwise it's meaningless.

I would want to add something to Jamie's argument along the lines of the attractiveness of the person at the centre. He's certainly unique amongst founders of major religious movements IMHO.

Anonymous said...

Jamie said: "Simple substitutions don't work. I do not think your children (or Stephen's example of L. Ron Hubbard) are God for lots of reasons. And I would guess that Stephen doesn't believe your children are truth (in the philosophical sense)."

But what you believe is irrelevant. If I believe it, or somebody believes ElRon is God then that should be enough to equate the arguments, since you are basing yours on your belief in your God. How is it any different just because you find my beliefs ridiculous? I find yours ridiculous but that in itself does not provide any kind of argument against them.

It seems that you are happy yo use that argument as long as it is only you that gets to use it.

MikeN said...

Oops, that anonymous comment was me.

Paul Power said...

Jamie writes:
'Stephen "In a nutshell - Jamie is not a sceptic about reason. He just pretends he is when it suits him."

So maybe I'm either a liar, lunatic, or God. '

He keeps forgetting that he could just be mistaken.



I'd like him to tell us why he thinks/thought anyone is making a "god" of reason. It's not clear to me why he does this.

David B. Ellis said...


1. reason plays a secondary role in establishing our belief systems;


Stephen was saying, as I understand him, that reason was secondary in establishing our values---our belief systems as a whole are another matter.

anticant said...

Sam Norton:

Your version of Christianity is way too bland.

You say: “the attraction of the lifestyle…drew millions to the faith”. What lifestyle, precisely? And who in modern times follows Christ’s precepts to the letter [if anyone ever did]? Have YOU sold all your possessions and given the proceeds to the poor?

You say the conviction of the martyrs requires explanation. What explanation besides the fanaticism of irrational belief? And what about the martyrdom of Christians by other Christians because of piddling – and often incomprehensible – differences of doctrine? The Albigensians were Christians of a sort, but “heretics” according to the Catholic Church. When asked how to distinguish them from true believers a warrior bishop blithely replied “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

It’s news to me that “most Christians” take the period up to 250 AD as “normative”. You really do need to justify that statement. You can’t brush away the Catholic Church – God’s most powerful mouthpiece on earth for over a millennium – so cursorily! Whether you like it or not, the history of Catholicism is effectively the history of Christianity from the founding of the Church until the Reformation [whose bloody religious wars you also conveniently forget]. If you haven’t already, you should read “Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church” by David Ranan.

The “attractiveness” of the Jesus of the Gospels is also a very moot point. To non-believers he comes across as an insufferably smug self-absorbed figure who was by no means averse to anathematising his critics – not to mention blasting poor innocent fig trees.

In any case, to claim seriously that he was a solid historical figure is absurd. Why do people NEED to believe in all this rubbish?

Stephen Law said...

Jamie - here's an incidental point. Mike N will speak for himself, but I am puzzled. You said:

"Miken "How is that different from your argument? I have simply substituted my son for your God, everything else stays the same."
Simple substitutions don't work. I do not think your children (or Stephen's example of L. Ron Hubbard) are God for lots of reasons. And I would guess that Stephen doesn't believe your children are truth (in the philosophical sense)."

You said God is that to which an someone gives supreme value. But is this a definition of THE God, or merely "their" God (what they treat as, or consider to be, God)

Surely not the former as that makes God relative (I could actually make Hubbard THE God just by believing he was! And you could make Barney the Dinosaur God by similar means. There would then be many truths about God, but no Truth, as it were). I guess the latter then?

So why can't Mike's kids be of supreme value to him, and thus his "God", as you use the term? You might not give them supreme value. But that's irrelevant. Similarly, for a scientologoist who chose to give L Ron Hubbard supreme importance, Hubbard is their God, according to your definition.

You are now alluding to "other reasons" for thinking neither Hubbard nor Mike's kids are God. But presumably these would be reasons for thinking Hubbard is not THE God, not reasons for thinking he is their God (what they consider to be God). In which case, given your definition is of what people *consider* to be God, they are irrelevant.

It's all rather confusing at the moment. Can you clarify what you mean by "God" a bit.

Stephen Law said...

Sam said:

"I agree that people dying for their beliefs is not a cast-iron case for the truth of the belief, but I do think it provides very strong evidence of the conviction with which the beliefs were held."

This is very slippery! The implication that people dying for a belief is not cast-iron evidence, but pretty good evidence of the truth of the belief. Of course their dying for a belief is strong evidence of their conviction (duh!). Question is - is it any sort of evidence for the truth of their belief?

No. People die in their thousands for all sorts of beliefs, in wars, in religious battles, etc etc. Beliefs that contradict each other. So millions are dying for false beliefs. So the fact that many died for this one is not good evidence for its truth. (especially, I would add, as the belief itself promises that they will then live for ever).

anticant said...

It's standard Christian apologetics that God cannot be defined, except negatively - i.e. by stating what He is not.

Personally I don't find this very helpful.

Maybe Jamie and Sam will make a better shot at it?

Sam Norton said...

Anticant: Your version of Christianity is way too bland.

Sam says: !!

A: You say: “the attraction of the lifestyle…drew millions to the faith”.

Sam says: 'see how the Christians love each other'

A: What lifestyle, precisely? And who in modern times follows Christ’s precepts to the letter [if anyone ever did]? Have YOU sold all your possessions and given the proceeds to the poor?

S: Someone like Thomas Merton did a good job, but the really wonderful thing about Christianity is that you're accepted even when you fail.

A: You say the conviction of the martyrs requires explanation. What explanation besides the fanaticism of irrational belief?

S: That seems a remarkably thin explanation to me for one of the most important phenomena of human history.

A: And what about the martyrdom of Christians by other Christians because of piddling – and often incomprehensible – differences of doctrine? The Albigensians were Christians of a sort, but “heretics” according to the Catholic Church. When asked how to distinguish them from true believers a warrior bishop blithely replied “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

S: You're picking on much later forms of Christianity which I would agree were corrupted.

A: It’s news to me that “most Christians” take the period up to 250 AD as “normative”. You really do need to justify that statement.

S: Well I'm sorry that it is news to you but Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans and Calvinists all give essential weight to the testimony of the church fathers and the witness of the early church (not least in how to interpret Scripture). The only ones who don't are Modern Protestants - sadly, they are all that many people see as "Christian" despite being an incredible minority across time and space.

A: You can’t brush away the Catholic Church – God’s most powerful mouthpiece on earth for over a millennium – so cursorily! Whether you like it or not, the history of Catholicism is effectively the history of Christianity from the founding of the Church until the Reformation [whose bloody religious wars you also conveniently forget].

S: That's just nonsense. You need to discuss that with some Eastern Orthodox Christians.

A: If you haven’t already, you should read “Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church” by David Ranan.

S: Why?

A: The “attractiveness” of the Jesus of the Gospels is also a very moot point. To non-believers he comes across as an insufferably smug self-absorbed figure who was by no means averse to anathematising his critics – not to mention blasting poor innocent fig trees.

S: You're entitled to your opinion. Billions disagree.

A: In any case, to claim seriously that he was a solid historical figure is absurd.

S: So point to an established academic expert in the field, whether Christian, atheist, agnostic or whatever, who agrees with you. To deny that he was a solid historical figure is to my mind a certain indication that standards of rationality have been left behind.

A: Why do people NEED to believe in all this rubbish?

S: Our hearts are restless until they find rest in the truth.

Sam Norton said...

Stephen - you accuse me of being slippery but then you completely distort the plain sense of my comment and respond to a point that I was explicitly and carefully not making. Seems to me that you're the one being a bit economical with the actualite.

Anonymous said...

Anticant - The “attractiveness” of the Jesus of the Gospels is also a very moot point.

True, but this is not uncommon, a lot of charismatic figures seem very flawed when looked at in the cold light of day. e.g. Hitler, Mother Theresa.


I also find it significant that there seems to be much evidence of frenetic revision and re-interpretation of both doctrine and apparently "factual" accounts during the early years of Christianity. There are huge biases at work here.

1. The version(s) of documents we have today are the version(s) of the relatively successful factions. The losers often had there works not just discredited but physically destroyed. They were certainly denied the security of having multiple copies of documents lavishly scribed and stashed in well protected vaults.

2. In terms of corroborating accounts from non-Christians, there seems little. Why? Perhaps he wasn't considered significant at all being just one of a whole bunch of traveling preachers. I gather these were quite fashionable at the time.

Jamie said...

Miken/Stephen -- At the time I was responding to Stephen's idea that religion inherently included the idea of liturgical worship. Therefore, I stated one of the non-liturgical dictionary definitions of religion (e.g. "a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance").

I did not mean to imply that the singular test of whether something was God was if it was supremely important. I was trying to define religion, not God.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Jamie

so have you given up on saying reason is my religion? If so, good and we can move on...

best
Stephen

Stephen Law said...

Sam

Perhaps I misunderstood then. Are you suggesting there are grounds here for supposing the belief is true? Yes or no?

If not, what are you doing?

I thought that was what you were doing (by a sort of implicit argument to the best explanation, e.g. that the belief is true is the best available explanation for why they'd do it).

There may also be a sort of challenge - "We'll you explain why they did it, then - until you can, you've got to admit, it may well be because the believe is true!"

As per usual, I find myself having to figure out whether you are making an argument, and if so, what it is!

Jamie said...

Paul Power -- I was making a joke with my being either "a liar, lunatic, or God" myself. Guess it wasn't a good one.

You ask why I argued that reason was a god. I was trying to see if there was any common ground with an absolute (e.g. your truth = my god, leap of faith, etc.). Stephen clarified his positions in these posts and we let that line of thought go. Although, others pointed out that some label humanism as a religion.

Anonymous said...

S: ... but the really wonderful thing about Christianity is that you're accepted even when you fail.

Anon: maybe but you have to try don't you. Have yuo even made the offer? Ebay makes it very easy.


A: You say the conviction of the martyrs requires explanation. What explanation besides the fanaticism of irrational belief?

S: That seems a remarkably thin explanation to me for one of the most important phenomena of human history.

Anon: No-one is suggesting that irrational beliefs cannot be historically important. Nor should one dismiss an explanation because it is a simple one.


S: Our hearts are restless until they find rest in the truth.

Anon: So why stop when you get to "God of the Christians"?

Jamie said...

Stephen -- I don't think there is anything to be gained by continuing to parallel your non-religion with my (or any) religion at this point.

I still don't fully understand how one can have a whole system of beliefs and conclusions that they've come to and not define it. Thinking does not occur in a void and if it does not lead to beliefs and conclusions then thinking seems pointless.

But trying to illuminate how your particular system works does not seem to be productive here for our purposes.

That's a half-hearted concession, I guess, but I concede.

Stephen Law said...

Sam, you say:

"A: You say the conviction of the martyrs requires explanation. What explanation besides the fanaticism of irrational belief?

S: That seems a remarkably thin explanation to me for one of the most important phenomena of human history.
"

See, you are running a veiled argument to the best explanation, are you not?

Stephen Law said...

Jamie

My thinking does lead to beliefs and conclusions. I gave you several example.

You ask me to define "it" but I don't know what "it" is. My system of beliefs?

You want me to define "system of beliefs"? Well, that's easy.

Or do you want me to state what my system of beliefs is? What, the entire system - all of it: everything I believe? That would take a long time! I refuse to do that, not because I am keeping it secret, but because it would take the rest of my life!

Maybe you mean - the key, lynchpin beliefs. Well, there are quite a few, and I listed several already. Again, it's hard to be precise about where my key or lynchpin ideas end and the others begin. It's sort of a continuum.

anticant said...

Nice try, Sam –

But not over-convincing!

“see how the Christians love each other”

Ha big Ha! Tell that to Rowan Williams. They squabble like a load of Kilkenny cats in a sack, and make themselves a laughing stock to the wider world.

“the really wonderful thing about Christianity is that you're accepted even when you fail.”

Yes, that must be very nice, like being a Home Office data-minding subcontractor. I’m surprised you don’t quote the Athanasian conception of the purpose of the Incarnation: “He became man that we might become divine”. I suspect that is a large part of the attraction.

The blind fanaticism of martyrdom may seem to you “a remarkably thin explanation”, but “one of the most important phenomena of human history” really is question-begging. Who, apart from Christians, believes it was – or that it actually happened?

“much later forms of Christianity which I would agree were corrupted”, and your following exegesis of different opinions of what true Christian belief is, including your own favoured one, is merely a rehash of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy.

If Modern Protestants are “sadly all that many people see as ‘Christian’ despite being an incredible minority across time and space” why is that? Because they shout loudest and appear the most unpleasant? As for them being “an incredible minority”, they certainly are incredible although alas very much with us.

Why should you read Ranan’s book? Because you would be better informed afterwards [and it would give you a lot of anti-Catholic ammunition, which I’m sure you would like]. Really, what a silly question – why should I read the Bible?

“Billions disagree”. An exaggeration, methinks. And in any case, so what? Is truth decided by weight of numbers?

“To deny that [Jesus] was a solid historical figure is to my mind a certain indication that standards of rationality have been left behind.” I don’t think it is possible to prove a negative [though Stephen disagrees!] . It’s up to believers to prove the existence of the “solid historical figure” they worship from respectable sources other than the Bible and Christian apologetics.

“Our hearts are restless until they find rest in the truth”. Ah – dear old truth again. I’m with Pontius Pilate on this one.

Joking apart, Sam, I was brought up as a conventional [i.e. not enthusiastically evangelical] C of E Christian, and I’ve known and admired many Christians during my life, including Archbishop Michael Ramsey, Bishop John [“Honest to God”] Robinson, and Chad Varah of the Samaritans. There are many socially benign Christians. I admire their good works, but I can’t swallow their faith, and wonder why they can’t just do the good works for their own sake without constantly prattling on about dubious deities.

Andre Gide said: “The deeper the soul plunges into religious devotion, the more it loses all sense of reality, all need, all desire, all love for reality…The dazzling light of their faith blinds them to the surrounding world and to their own selves. As for me, who care for nothing so much as to see the world and myself clearly, I am amazed at the coils of falsehood in which devout persons take delight.”

Jamie said...

Stephen "You want me to define "system of beliefs"? Well, that's easy."

Yes, categorically. "Hi, my name is Jamie and I'm a Christian" would tell you alot (though not perfectly) about my beliefs, worldview, assumptions, values, heritage, etc. etc. And to be more specific I could say about me, "protestant, reformed, Presbyterian".

Perhaps you would say "atheist" and then more specifically "humanist" or something. But "truth seeker" is a bit vague and doesn't really give an indication of who you are.

I've got to say thanks again for being generous with your time. The discussion has been a great learning experience for me.

Jamie said...

Anticant "It’s up to believers to prove the existence of the “solid historical figure” they worship from respectable sources other than the Bible and Christian apologetics."

While I do agree that it's the believer's task, I would say "sources in addition to the Bible and Christian apologetics" because the Bible, if nothing else, is a pretty amazing collection of historical documents (many of which corroborate with other historical documents on factual items) and because "apologetics" is just a fancy word for "arguments", which all philosophical systems use.

But I get your point. Saying the Bible is inerrant (to prove a point) because it says it's inerrant is circular.

Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Jamie,
You seem to be strangely obsessed with the taxonomy of the issue here. Speaking for myself only, I tend to try and avoid allowing myself and my views to be categorised, boxed, assigned a pithy name, and shelved. Categorizing people is rarely constructive, and often a prelude to catastrophe.

e.g. "Well, you know why he's being difficult don't you? He's a Jew/Catholic/Atheist/Socialist/Democrat/Manchester City supporter. Let's go and beat him up."

It's a strategy for simplifying difficult things so that we don't have to think carefully about them, or how our actions relate to them.

Rant aside, it seems to me that Stephen's position is relatively straight forward enough, if I understand it correctly. Truth (in the logical rather than ethereal, spiritual sense) is the goal, and reason the means to attain it. Everything else tends to fall into place around that central journey.

Whether the whole truth and nothing but the truth is attainable is besides the point; the incremental approach to uncovering it is substantial enough as a personal objective.


Personally, I'm not sold on the idea of truth completely. I think Bokononism might have something going for it, and that a lie that makes everyone feel happy, might not be intrinsically bad. That's why I'm not bothered if someone clings to astrology, or new age paganism, or Christianity for a sense of belonging. Just so long as they aren't making themselves or anyone else unhappy in the process, I say live and let live.

Although the caveat here is that rationalize irrational beliefs just make rationalists feel unhappy, so it's best not to bother. I have a certain admiration for certain theists who completely agree that relgion is irrational, but embrace it anyway, and to no detriment to themselves or their neighbours. If I ever decide to embrace nonsense, I wil follow their noble example..

anticant said...

"Hi, my name is Jamie and I'm a Christian" doesn't tell me very much at all, even when you add "protestant, reformed, Presbyterian".

You can't expect non-believers to take the time to be conversant with every strand and nuance of Christian belief down the ages.

But if you haven't read James Hogg's "Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner", you should. It adds unforgettably vivid flesh and bones to Gide's observations I quoted above.

Sorry if you think "apologetics" is a pretentious word. It's a widely accepted theological term for defenses of Christian belief.

And while the Bible is historical in the sense that the documents are ancient, and they exist, the historical truth of many of the events it relates are highly questionable. And it is riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies - see:

http://skepticsannotatedbible.com

Jamie said...

Rev. Dr. Incitatus "You seem to be strangely obsessed with the taxonomy of the issue here."
I think it's reasonable to ask someone how they classify themselves. If I met someone with an accent not like my own I think it's fine to ask "Hey, from where do you hail?" From their answer I could get a better idea who they are, though some of my assumptions would probably be incorrect.

"Truth ... is the goal, and reason the means to attain it. Everything else tends to fall into place around that central journey."
You make it sound neat and tidy. If the journey was that simplistic we wouldn't have this message board and Stephen couldn't sell books. If everyone thought exactly the same about reason and truth then all conclusions would be the same -- like the fictional Spock's Vulcan race from Star Trek. And, as I said, calling one's self a "truth seeker" isn't very descriptive.

Anticant "You can't expect non-believers to take the time to be conversant with every strand and nuance of Christian belief down the ages."
I don't expect that and didn't say I did. I asked Stephen to classify himself and gave an example of how I would classify myself. The terms I used may be meaningless to some. The terms Stephen uses may be meaningless to me; so then it would be incumbent upon me to educate myself if I wanted to understand those terms.

"Sorry if you think "apologetics" is a pretentious word. It's a widely accepted theological term for defenses of Christian belief."
No need to be sorry; I agree completely. That's what I was trying to say -- that one needn't throw out all apologetics as reasonable proof just because it sounds more pretentious than the word "arguments".

And thank you for the book suggestion (Hogg). I'll take a look.

anticant said...

I didn't know I was "throwing out all apologetics as reasonable proof". There's a long theological tradition of 'proving' God exists through reason - notably Aquinas - as you surely know.

I think you'll enjoy Hogg. It's one of those books which, once read, takes up permanent residence in the mind. There's a good and cheap Oxford World's Classics edition. which you can get via Amazon.

Anonymous said...

Hoggs book seems to be online as well here:


The Private Memoirs and Confessions of A Justified Sinner, by James Hogg.

Sam Norton said...

Two quick comments here because the discussion on the Jesus thread needs more attention.

Stephen:
Perhaps I misunderstood then. Are you suggesting there are grounds here for supposing the belief is true? Yes or no? If not, what are you doing?

Sam:
Of course I am, taken as a whole, but I was specifically responding to a point referencing David Koresh. I think that the persistence of the faithful community over time, coupled with their incredible success at converting other people to the belief, needs more explanation than simply saying 'they were deluded'. I accept - as I stated explicitly - that this does not of itself imply that the belief is itself true. I just don't accept that 'they were all irrational' is a sufficient argument against its truth. To be more precise, I think it is possible to give a better argument than this, which a) accounts for the historical phenomena and b) still treats the story as untrue - but referencing David Koresh isn't it.

Stephen: I thought that was what you were doing (by a sort of implicit argument to the best explanation, e.g. that the belief is true is the best available explanation for why they'd do it).

Sam: No, not really. I do happen to see the belief as substantially true, of course, but my aim was more negative - the implied rebuttal (David Koresh point) seems insufficient to account for the historical evidence.

Stephen: There may also be a sort of challenge - "We'll you explain why they did it, then - until you can, you've got to admit, it may well be because the believe is true!"

Sam: not quite - the first part yes, the second part no.

Stephen: As per usual, I find myself having to figure out whether you are making an argument, and if so, what it is!

Sam: actually, by the standards of a blog comment thread, I think I was pretty clear.

Here's something I've quoted before, which I find more and more relevant: "The 'third rate' critic attacks the original thinker on the basis of the rhetorical consequences of his thought and defends the status quo against the corrupting effects of the philosopher's rhetoric. 'Second rate' critics defend the same received wisdom by semantic analyses of the thinker which highlight ambiguities and vagueness in his terms and arguments. But 'first rate' critics "delight in the originality of those they criticise...; they attack an optimal version of the philosopher's position--one in which the holes in the argument have been plugged or politely ignored."
~~~

Now for the anticant bit.

A: “see how the Christians love each other” Ha big Ha! Tell that to Rowan Williams. They squabble like a load of Kilkenny cats in a sack, and make themselves a laughing stock to the wider world.

Sam: Actually I think Rowan would be persuaded of it after the Lambeth conference, but I was making a reference to the cliched description of the early church, which I assumed you'd recognise. Sorry.

A: “the really wonderful thing about Christianity is that you're accepted even when you fail.” Yes, that must be very nice, like being a Home Office data-minding subcontractor.

Sam: LOL

A: I’m surprised you don’t quote the Athanasian conception of the purpose of the Incarnation: “He became man that we might become divine”. I suspect that is a large part of the attraction.

Sam: Absolutely agree.

A: The blind fanaticism of martyrdom may seem to you “a remarkably thin explanation”, but “one of the most important phenomena of human history” really is question-begging. Who, apart from Christians, believes it was – or that it actually happened?

Sam: the phenomena to which I refer is the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christian belief.

A: “much later forms of Christianity which I would agree were corrupted”, and your following exegesis of different opinions of what true Christian belief is, including your own favoured one, is merely a rehash of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy.

Sam: No it's not. It's all publicly available information that can be verified independently by anyone concerned enough to do the investigating.

A: If Modern Protestants are “sadly all that many people see as ‘Christian’ despite being an incredible minority across time and space” why is that? Because they shout loudest and appear the most unpleasant?

Sam: Because they are culturally dominant in the culturally dominant nation in the world.

A: As for them being “an incredible minority”, they certainly are incredible although alas very much with us. Why should you read Ranan’s book? Because you would be better informed afterwards [and it would give you a lot of anti-Catholic ammunition, which I’m sure you would like]. Really, what a silly question – why should I read the Bible?

Sam: I was after more information about Ranan, I wasn't intending to be dismissive.

A: “Billions disagree”. An exaggeration, methinks. And in any case, so what? Is truth decided by weight of numbers?

Sam: Not an exaggeration, a mere statement of fact - but I agree with the 'so what', I was just wanting to underline how much of a minority position Modern Protestantism is.

A: “To deny that [Jesus] was a solid historical figure is to my mind a certain indication that standards of rationality have been left behind.” I don’t think it is possible to prove a negative [though Stephen disagrees!] . It’s up to believers to prove the existence of the “solid historical figure” they worship from respectable sources other than the Bible and Christian apologetics.

Sam: I think this is an unfair request, but I'll come back to it in the other thread. (It'll come up with the Dawkins book as well).

anticant said...

Why is it aqn "unfair" request?