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Faith and Reason 
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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Robert Tulip wrote:
It is often the case that thinkers before Darwin had an intuitive understanding of evolutionary logic but had not put that into explicit terms.

You may believe they had an intuitive understanding, but you don’t know. Do you mean to say that pre-Darwin scholars had an intuitive grasp of basic evolutionary algorithms?
Quote:
. It is entirely possible to read the Jesus story as a dumbed-down popular version of a high enlightened wisdom whose details have been lost.

Of course it’s possible. There are a hundred thousand ways to interpret the bible. Just because you interpret in a way that makes scientific sense does not mean that was the original intent.

Any scientific wisdom you believe you glean from the bible is instead your own wisdom. It’s already in your head, so the interpretation makes sense to you. But we gain nothing new, and instead inherit the baggage.

Quote:
And my question is what is the difference? When we feel a crazy emotion, our moral reason overrides it to ensure that we do not act on it. Similarly, we may imagine a crazy faith idea, say that a guy walks on water to prove he is God. We then try to understand the meaning of this story, and we find that it has all sorts of interesting symbolic readings.


Are you using faith in the sense that you're simply referring to religion? “The faith”? I can work with that, but it’s not what I thought we were discussing. I thought we were discussing the philosophical connotation, since we were also discussing reason and emotion. Yes, you can apply reason to religion, for better or worse. But what does it mean to apply reason to the other connotation of faith?

Quote:
There is a paradox regarding the idea that knowledge is about confidence. This paradox is that it is a contradiction to say you know something is true but you are not sure if it is true. Being sure and knowing are the same as being certain. Try telling your boss at work that you know something is true but you are not certain or sure of it. They will think you are crazy.


Certainty is not a prerequisite for knowledge, there is no contradiction. They are two different things. I tell my boss at work that I know something, but that my knowledge isn’t certain. It irritates him, but I’m not wrong.

Quote:
That is a statement of the obvious. The problem is that it is simply not admissible to regard nothing as an entity.


That isn’t what was said.
Quote:
That is true as far as the academic intellectual world is concerned. But there is a broader agenda regarding the relation between faith and reason, namely that it is a good thing to make faith more rational

You’re using the other connotation again. But you seem to jump back and forth. When you use “faith” and “reason” together in a sentence, you’re using one connotation. But when you say it’s possible to make faith more rational, you’re using the other connotation; faith=religion or doctrine.


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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Harry Marks wrote:
Your posts have helped me clarify my thinking a lot. I still don't really agree about religious symbolism mainly reflecting natural processes and forces (though some probably does) but your knowledge of philosophy has been a great help to me, and you effectively engage issues I'm very interested in.
This point about how religious symbolism reflects natural processes seems to me absolutely central to a reformation of Christianity to become purely scientific. I think that any symbol that has no natural referent is empty. The entire concept of a supernatural referent is a meaningless delusion, containing meaning only in so far as the idea symbolizes something natural. The incarnation and passion of Christ have direct correlation with the fertility cycle of the seasons. The virgin birth reflects the emergence of the sun each day from the innocence of night. Eschatology is best explained against the natural framework of the long term cycles of climate. These hypotheses are vastly superior to either the atheist idea that the symbols are without meaning or the conventional idea that they involve supernatural revelation and intervention.
Harry Marks wrote:
…faith and confidence are very similar. Obviously I am using the term "faith" in a broad sense, as it would apply to spouse, institutions, or ideals ("I have faith in the dignity of labor") and deliberately avoiding "bad faith" in Sartre's sense, in which one chooses to believe something contrary to evidence as a way of avoiding responsibility. The difference between faith and confidence, I argued further down, is in the volitional commitment that faith implies: a different dimension of meaning. The difference, then, is not in the type of cognitive processing, though there may be a difference in degree of evidentiary basis.
With Sartre, we can see the existential critique as saying good faith means taking responsibility, as a volitional choice of pure freedom. Your analysis of type and degree is at the nub of the meaning of faith. I do see volitional value judgements as different in type from descriptive statements of fact. Confidence about what is the case and faith in what we ought to do about it are not different in degree, but in type. It is never the case that more facts alone would be enough to entail a better vision of what is good, although it is true that more information does improve our values. We always base our moral opinions on assumptions about what sort of world we want to construct, and those assumptions are different in type from factual observations, importing ideas of principle. Faith resides in the process of constructing shared values and principles, so is different from confidence by type, not by degree.
Harry Marks wrote:
dramatic events… might make sense to an ancient person as "signs" of the emotional state of gods. Note that the gods were not seen as very good at communicating. This, of course, played into the prestige of the priestly castes. For that reason, I tend to see the priests and augurs more as successors of shamans, who could sometimes cure the disturbed or alienated by intuitive grasp of mysterious psychosocial forces, than as successors of early "scientists" such as herbalists or astrologers.
There are major shamanic themes in the Gospels and Christian tradition, notably the Gadarene swine and the chthonic harrowing of hell on Easter Saturday. You seem to postulate a source distinction between magic and science, when these were inextricably interwoven in ancient religion, for example with astrology as a method to divine divine intent.
Harry Marks wrote:
Napoleon argued that he had set in motion movements for freedom from foreign domination, national unity and overthrow of aristocracy around Europe. One might also compare to the "Tea Party" two centuries later.
Chou En Lai famously told Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger that it was too early to tell the effect of the French Revolution. Whether Chou meant 1968 or 1789, the quote illustrates the need for a long view. My view of history regards faith as thesis, reason as antithesis, and an emerging integrated view as synthesis, applying Hegelian Dialectic to the Ages of Pisces and Aquarius. Modernity remains under the spell of the 1789 dogmas of reason, but as with all interplay of myths, the conquered subaltern idea returns in subordinated and transformed ways. Faith, previously triumphant over Christendom, is now subservient to science.
Harry Marks wrote:
I have heard that the eschatology of the Jews in the last few centuries before Jesus, prominently including the book of Daniel, was a reaction to despair about earthly things. Like the NT Book of Revelation, it seemed to feature destruction and revenge more than redemption and transformation. One way to see this is a reaction to the economic and military forces turning slavery into a system for amassing riches, so that the old realities of village life were being systematically overridden by cruelty and exploitation. The trend was not looking good, if you see the point.
Revelation is worth a read. Overall it is a positive message about the reconciliation between earth and heaven. Traditional language about “the end of the world” is actually about the end of the age, and points to a paradigm shift from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. That is a framework entirely amenable to scientific understanding.
The prophetic framework for Daniel is something that I like to interpret against his coded mention of the four Vedic ages, of gold, silver, bronze and iron. I view these ages purely scientifically, marked by the primary orbital driver of terrestrial climate, the position of perihelion against the seasons. The golden age was the stone age, when perihelion was in summer, a time of universal abundance and relative peace around the dawn of the Holocene ten thousand years ago. The silver and bronze ages mark the movement of perihelion through the fall, reflecting worsening climate and rising population pressures, and especially the emerging technologies of metal, writing and agriculture which enabled empires to destroy village autonomy. The iron age had its centre when the perihelion crossed the December solstice in 1246 AD, meaning we are now on the upswing, entering a new bronze age. The current annual date of perihelion is 4 December, which means we are still in cosmic winter.
Harry Marks wrote:
I have felt faith to be about values since I was a hippie "Jesus freak" as a youth, based on my experience. But it does involved "making sense of life" using the cognitive framework of faith. When my wide acquaintance with science and history made it extremely difficult for me to continue along with the fundamentalist framework (I was never a Creationist, but for a while thought ID and a literal Heaven and Hell might be true) I was very happy to find modernist theology which squared the values of religious life with a more realistic view of the Bible and rationalism.
Perhaps we have had similar life journeys Harry, although I suspect your mention of the Jesus Freaks dates you a bit older than me (I am 53). Have you seen https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Freaks-Sto ... 1577780728 Jesus Freaks? As usual with theology, I find it less than adequate scientifically, but interesting morally.
My comparable experience is that for a while I thought that Jesus was a miraculous prophet, since I could not square what I see as the deep accuracy of the Biblical vision with merely natural causes. However, as I have pondered this core problem over the decades, including against the real framework of time provided by astronomy, I have focused on how to reconcile the Bible with science, by seeing all unscientific appearances as either mistakes or as allegory for a deeply scientific intuition of the nature of the world.
Harry Marks wrote:

I wonder how much people stop going to church, when they lose their literalist faith, because they have trouble interacting with those who still have it, and how much it happens because they have not been introduced to the process of linking meaning with story in a mythological framework. My faith may have been saved as much by having studied Sophocles with Joseph Campbell in the background as by finding Tillich and Kierkegaard.
It would be great if you could expand on those authors. Freud of course made great use of Sophocles in the Oedipus Complex, but Freud was rather narrow in his atheism with his view that psychoanalysis would enable the end of religion as an illusion. Tillich and Kierkegaard are deep but neglected thinkers, with Tillich’s concept of God as the ground of our being providing an important path to reconcile faith and reason, and similarly Kierkegaard’s idea, which I encountered mainly through Heidegger, that existence involves jumping into a circular reasoning of assuming that we exist as being with others in the world. Heidegger’s idea that care is the meaning of being is an existential statement of faith, presented in a phenomenological atheist methodology. Here is Heidegger’s account of the myth of care, from Being and Time: https://sites.google.com/site/heidegger ... g-and-time Once when "Care" was crossing a river, she saw some clay; she thoughtfully took a piece and began to shape it. While she was thinking about what she had made, Jupiter came by. "Care" asked him to give it spirit, and this he gladly granted. But when she wanted her name to be bestowed upon it, Jupiter forbade this and demanded that it be given his name instead. While "Care" and Jupiter were arguing, Earth (Tellus) arose, and desired that her name be conferred upon the creature, since she had offered it part of her body. They asked Saturn to be the judge. And Saturn gave them the following decision, which seemed to be just: "Since you, Jupiter, have given its spirit, you should receive that spirit at death; and since you, Earth, have given its body, you shall receive its body. But since 'Care' first shaped this creature, she shall possess it as long as it lives. And because there is a dispute among you as to its name, let it be called 'homo,' for it is made out of humus (earth)."
Harry Marks wrote:

Robert Tulip wrote:
Twain’s bon mot turns the fundamentalist fervor back on its proponents, describing a serious sociological problem about the nature of popular religion but not actually engaging with the meaning of faith.
Very well put.

Thanks Harry. It is nice to chat about this stuff. If ever anyone was under the spell of Danton, I suspect it was old Sam C with this mockery of faith.


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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Interbane wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
It is often the case that thinkers before Darwin had an intuitive understanding of evolutionary logic but had not put that into explicit terms.

You may believe they had an intuitive understanding, but you don’t know. Do you mean to say that pre-Darwin scholars had an intuitive grasp of basic evolutionary algorithms?
I have taken the time to read The Social Conquest of Earth by EO Wilson, in which he sets out his theory of group selection, which provides an excellent analysis of the status of evolutionary algorithms such as kin selection, within the context of a broader evolutionary causal logic. Wilson also notes how Darwin had an intuitive grasp of the logic of group selection before the science was provided to confirm his hunch. In The Origin of Species, Darwin uses the analogy of “a well-flavoured vegetable” for how selection may be applied to the family as well as to the individual.
Charles Darwin wrote:
“selection may be applied to the family, as well as to the individual, and may thus gain the desired end. Thus, a well-flavoured vegetable is cooked, and the individual is destroyed; but the horticulturist sows seeds of the same stock, and confidently expects to get nearly the same variety…Thus I believe it has been with social insects: a slight modification of structure, or instinct, correlated with the sterile condition of certain members of the community, has been advantageous to the community: consequently the fertile males and females of the same community flourished, and transmitted to their fertile offspring a tendency to produce sterile members having the same modification.”

Wilson notes that with this argument Darwin anticipated in rudimentary form the theory of phenotypic plasticity, with the family as the target of selection. Just as a cook chooses the tastiest vegetable to sow, and thereby exercises selective evolutionary pressure in the garden, an adaptive queen ant ‘chooses’ the best family of workers, or rather the ordering power of natural selection chooses whichever balance between types of workers etc is most adaptive in an ant family, working at the group level. This example from social insects is a perfect analogy for how faith operates as a selective pressure at the group level in human affairs.

My argument is that the Christian theory of love anticipates accurate political theories of what humans must do to avoid mass extinction in the same evolutionary way as what Wilson terms phenotypic placticity - “the ability of an organism to change its phenotype in response to changes in the environment”.

The point of raising group selection as a way to see faith as an adaptive mechanism is that the key message of Christ in the Bible, love God and your neighbour as your self, (Matt 22, Mark 12, Luke 10, Rom13, Gal 5, 1 John 4) is about challenging the instinctive prevailing imperial ethic of selfishness in favour of a plasticly constructed phenotype, a faithful ethic of love.
Interbane wrote:
Quote:
It is entirely possible to read the Jesus story as a dumbed-down popular version of a high enlightened wisdom whose details have been lost.

Of course it’s possible. There are a hundred thousand ways to interpret the bible. Just because you interpret in a way that makes scientific sense does not mean that was the original intent.
Very true, just because it is my opinion does not make it true.

In science the task of falsification is to assess a new hypothesis against evidence. I am very happy to engage in that process. Reasons to consider a scientific hypothesis regarding a lost original high wisdom in Biblical intent include the strong evidence that conventional theories of Jesus as founder were later inventions designed to conceal an original intent for political purposes. We have to clear away the debris of tradition to get at the original intent. There are abundant clues which support the idea of hidden wisdom, since that is plainly stated in all the Gospels, with Jesus telling the disciples that the public message is confined to parables while the real message is only told to initiates.
Interbane wrote:
Any scientific wisdom you believe you glean from the bible is instead your own wisdom.
No, with respect that is untrue. The Bible says love your neighbour. That is not my wisdom, but rather the central teaching of Christianity. If it is scientifically wise that would need to be tested to become consensus. Traditionally, the justification for this ethic has been sought in supernatural revelation, but I am saying it can be justified scientifically using the evolutionary framework of group selection.

My argument is that love your neighbour is an adaptive phenotype that illustrates how faith is rational as a mechanism of group selection. Faith is the binding glue of social organization. Without faith we live as isolated individuals lacking all the adaptivity that comes from group identity.
Interbane wrote:
Quote:
imagine a crazy faith idea, say that a guy walks on water to prove he is God. We then try to understand the meaning of this story, and we find that it has all sorts of interesting symbolic readings.

Are you using faith in the sense that you're simply referring to religion?
No, the point of this example is that the miracle story is a parable, and the faith content is not just about believing impossible things, but rather about exploring the possible allegorical meaning. Rather than saying interpretation is exhausted by the lack of literal meaning, faith is about symbols.

That is even what Saint Augustine implied about the seven days of creation in Genesis, that faith requires us to interpret the story as allegory: “things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that the non-Christian should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters.”
Interbane wrote:
“The faith”? I can work with that, but it’s not what I thought we were discussing.
The only way to reconcile “the faith” with reason is to systematically remove or reinterpret the elements of faith that conflict with science.
Interbane wrote:
I thought we were discussing the philosophical connotation, since we were also discussing reason and emotion. Yes, you can apply reason to religion, for better or worse. But what does it mean to apply reason to the other connotation of faith?
I’m not completely sure what you mean here by other connotations. But in general, my point about the possible rationality of faith is about defining an evolutionary ethic of faith, which means seeing faith as a key driver of group selection for human society.

Denial of the necessity of faith just leaves the social field open to bad faith, both in Sartre’s sense mentioned by Harry, in which one chooses to believe something contrary to evidence as a way of avoiding responsibility, and in the sense of bad faith as holding false beliefs that are harmful. People can be united in faith by emotion, but emotion is politically dangerous since it is often used for ill rather than for good. We really should examine all our ethical views in terms of probable consequences.

Applying reason to religion should be for better, but is for worse when our reason is deficient and wrongly says for example that just because something in religion is literally untrue therefore it is meaningless.
Interbane wrote:
Certainty is not a prerequisite for knowledge, there is no contradiction. They are two different things. I tell my boss at work that I know something, but that my knowledge isn’t certain. It irritates him, but I’m not wrong.
I consider the concept of “uncertain knowledge” to be an oxymoron. Uncertainty is a property of beliefs and hypotheses, not of knowledge.
Interbane wrote:
Quote:
it is a good thing to make faith more rational

You’re using the other connotation again. But you seem to jump back and forth. When you use “faith” and “reason” together in a sentence, you’re using one connotation. But when you say it’s possible to make faith more rational, you’re using the other connotation; faith=religion or doctrine.

You are welcome to expand on what you see as these conflicting connotations of the meaning of faith. I do see a close link between the philosophical idea of faith and the institutional survival of Christianity, namely that the church can only adapt to a scientific world and to an ethic of knowledge rather than belief by shifting its foundations from belief to knowledge. That means recognizing that the ‘deposit of faith’ in sacred tradition has to be assessed methodically against evidence, while retaining rituals of worship and prayer and sacrament within a transformed symbolic rational framework.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Wed Jul 13, 2016 6:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Robert Tulip wrote:
I’m not completely sure what you mean here by other connotations. But in general, my point about the possible rationality of faith is about defining an evolutionary ethic of faith, which means seeing faith as a key driver of group selection for human society.



From Dictionary.com:
Faith
noun
1.
confidence or trust in a person or thing:
faith in another's ability.
2.
belief that is not based on proof:
He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
3.
belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion:
the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
4.
belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.:
to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
5.
a system of religious belief:
the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
6.
the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.:
Failure to appear would be breaking faith.
7.
the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one's promise, oath, allegiance, etc.:
He was the only one who proved his faith during our recent troubles.


You jump back and forth between connotation 2 and 3-5. Although related, the meanings are different, and the difference matters. If the term serves such an important part in the conversation, I think it should have been hammered down from the outset. What exactly are you referring to when you use the word "faith"?

Robert wrote:
I consider the concept of “uncertain knowledge” to be an oxymoron. Uncertainty is a property of beliefs and hypotheses, not of knowledge.


Certainty/uncertainty are epistemic properties of beliefs, you're right about that. But knowledge is also an epistemic property of beliefs. Meaning neither is necessarily derivative of the other. From the SEP:

Like knowledge, certainty is an epistemic property of beliefs. (In a derivative way, certainty is also an epistemic property of subjects: S is certain that p just in case S's belief that p is certain.) Although some philosophers have thought that there is no difference between knowledge and certainty, it has become increasingly common to distinguish them. On this conception, then, certainty is either the highest form of knowledge or is the only epistemic property superior to knowledge. One of the primary motivations for allowing kinds of knowledge less than certainty is the widespread sense that skeptical arguments are successful in showing that we rarely or never have beliefs that are certain (see Unger 1975 for this kind of skeptical argument) but do not succeed in showing that our beliefs are altogether without epistemic worth

Robert wrote:
No, with respect that is untrue. The Bible says love your neighbour. That is not my wisdom, but rather the central teaching of Christianity. If it is scientifically wise that would need to be tested to become consensus. Traditionally, the justification for this ethic has been sought in supernatural revelation, but I am saying it can be justified scientifically using the evolutionary framework of group selection.


So are you saying that if it is conventional wisdom or biblical wisdom, it is an inferior form to scientific wisdom?


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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Interbane wrote:
You jump back and forth between connotation 2 and 3-5. Although related, the meanings are different, and the difference matters. If the term serves such an important part in the conversation, I think it should have been hammered down from the outset. What exactly are you referring to when you use the word "faith"?

If we map the meaning of faith in sets, meaning 2 (belief that is not based on proof) is a general and universal meaning of faith which includes meanings 3-5 (religion, ethics and doctrine). Meanings 3-5 are examples of beliefs that are not based on proof, and are therefore subsets of Meaning 2.

The importance of this general meaning of faith as unproven belief is that such unprovable beliefs are used all the time.

When a belief is based on proof we call it knowledge, as long as the proof is compelling and rigorous, as frequently seen in science. A merely rhetorical proof is not a proof. The need for belief arises because many decisions and opinions lack data that meets the high evidentiary standard of proof, and therefore such decisions and views rest on faith in this general sense.

For an example of a weak statement of faith, I believe my regular bus will be on time, but until I see it I don’t know. In the terrain of value, a belief such as that abortion is morally wrong could never be proven one way or the other, so can only be a matter of faith.

Even scientific knowledge involves faith in this general sense, as I have been arguing in this thread. Knowledge requires assumptions which are beliefs that are not based on proof. That this is the case is demonstrated by the nature of proof, which always involves building a result upon the basis of already known statements. To investigate how this is so, we have to try to find the most universal simple self-evident statements possible.

As I have argued above, my view on good candidates for universal simple beliefs include that the universe exists and follows orderly laws that can be discovered by evidence and logic. These principles of reality and consistency cannot themselves be proved because they are too simple, and therefore serve as axioms for scientific method. To say an axiom is universally true is a belief that has the nature of faith.

The status of faith in God, values and dogma (meanings 3-5) lacks such general necessity compared to the ordinary need to hold beliefs without proof. When faith conflicts with reason, it should be regarded with severe doubt.

Doubt is an endemic condition in faith. But still we often have the problem of not having proof one way or the other, so we should apply reason to assess what authentic meaning may exist within the dross of false belief. Ambiguity enters where religion and ethics involve necessary decision. The role of religious faith in underpinning social identity through symbols is an example of necessary belief. The role of ideas, such as human rights and principles of government, is a further secular example of how faith enters inevitably in social decisions.

Interbane wrote:
Robert wrote:
I consider the concept of “uncertain knowledge” to be an oxymoron. Uncertainty is a property of beliefs and hypotheses, not of knowledge.


Certainty/uncertainty are epistemic properties of beliefs, you're right about that. But knowledge is also an epistemic property of beliefs. Meaning neither is necessarily derivative of the other. From the SEP:
I don’t think the concept “certain/definite belief” makes any sense except as an emotional description of claims that we hold on faith. Certainty is not strictly speaking a property of belief.

A belief that contains definite, certain, incontrovertible facts that a person knows to be the case is generally called knowledge, not belief. For example it is highly confusing for a person to say “I hold as a personal belief that night follows day”, to pick a simple example. The use of “belief” in this sentence is odd, since it carries the false implication that while it is their opinion, they are not totally sure, and could possibly be convinced otherwise.

When we are certain of a fact, we normally say we know it is true. While that certainty does also encompass belief, in the sense we also believe everything that we know is true, this belief is redundant, since the knowledge supervenes and is more precise and descriptive.

My interest in the epistemology of belief and knowledge started with study of Plato’s divided line in The Republic , where he distinguishes noesis (knowledge) from pistis (belief). I disagree with Plato’s view that knowledge is only of intelligible ideas, since we have abundant certain knowledge of physical objects and scientific facts.
Interbane wrote:
“One of the primary motivations for allowing kinds of knowledge less than certainty is the widespread sense that skeptical arguments are successful in showing that we rarely or never have beliefs that are certain .”
This alleged “widespread sense” is precisely what I am disputing. I believe that 2+2=4. Not only do I believe it, but I am certain that I know it is true of necessity and by definition. I also know, to take an empirical example, the fact that the earth-moon centre of mass can be calculated quite accurately; in this case my belief is so abundantly corroborated that I am happy to say I know it without doubt or any shred of uncertainty. The reason for my certainty is that so many things cohere with this fact, such as the ability to calculate orbital paths in space flight, that it could not be false.

We should not say that because empirical knowledge may have an element of imprecision therefore it is uncertain. That is a fallacy. We can readily say that we are certain within the boundaries of confirmed scientific measurement, which might be accurate to the scale of a metre rather than an electron.

These so-called “sceptical arguments” that you cite involve giving credence to such useless beliefs as that perhaps the universe does not exist and that perhaps logic is not valid. I would recommend that such empty scepticism should be disregarded as absurd.
Interbane wrote:
are you saying that if it is conventional wisdom or biblical wisdom, it is an inferior form to scientific wisdom?
Yes to some extent, although the phrase “scientific wisdom” needs definition. We don’t usually say that any merely descriptive statement is wise, since wisdom is generally seen as a property of values not facts. When a person gives wise advice, they are talking about what you should do, not simply providing information. On the data-information-knowledge-wisdom continuum, science is about information and knowledge, and its transformation into wise values requires philosophy.

When alleged conventional or biblical wisdom conflicts with science it cannot be called wise, since error is never wise. But at the same time, there is abundant wisdom in convention and in the Bible that is neglected because it is embedded in an unscientific superficial framework. Extracting the kernels of truth from the shell of nonsense is something that would involve great wisdom.


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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Robert Tulip wrote:
we have abundant certain knowledge of physical objects and scientific facts.


That's simply not true. Skeptical arguments are successful in showing that we rarely or never have beliefs that are certainly true in the objective sense. What you think is an abundant list actually requires a great deal of thought on your part to rest neatly in the grey area between synthetic and analytic propositions. Truly synthetic propositions are almost never able to be shown as certainly true.

Consider the statement that "night follows day". First, you have to define the terms absolutely. Which means you need to identify what exactly it means for something to "follow" in the temporal dimension, along with all the philosophical baggage that goes with that. Night and day need robust definitions. By the time you finish, the statement is analytic.

You may believe the statement with certainty, and I don't see why anyone wouldn't. But it's not a good example of a synthetic statement where certainty is justified.

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I also know, to take an empirical example, the fact that the earth-moon centre of mass can be calculated quite accurately; in this case my belief is so abundantly corroborated that I am happy to say I know it without doubt or any shred of uncertainty.


Another way to say this is that there's not a hundred trillionth of a chance that somehow, in some way, you're wrong. We absolutely understand physics. There is no possible chance our understanding of mass is wrong. That's arrogant. You can't avoid the definitions of absolute words. You believe with certainty, but then you're using a bit of faith to bridge the gap between knowledge and certainty.

I would also admit to being certain about your statement. But that's adding a touch of faith to the knowledge so that I don't have to deal with the cognitive dissonance of having a loose end. My belief may be certain, but the knowledge portion of my belief is not. Both knowledge and certainty are epistemic properties of belief.


Quote:
Extracting the kernels of truth from the shell of nonsense is something that would involve great wisdom.


So the majority of people wouldn't follow your conclusions? Instead, they'd read the words literally, as ignorant people usually do. By trying to spread wisdom, you're perpetuating the false portions. Which is the path of least resistance; the interpretations that are easiest for the masses to digest.


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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Interbane wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
we have abundant certain knowledge of physical objects and scientific facts.

That's simply not true. Skeptical arguments are successful in showing that we rarely or never have beliefs that are certainly true in the objective sense. What you think is an abundant list actually requires a great deal of thought on your part to rest neatly in the grey area between synthetic and analytic propositions. Truly synthetic propositions are almost never able to be shown as certainly true.
I enjoy chatting with you about philosophy Interbane, but your comment above has a Spockian lucidity that is just slightly surreal. Fields of research such as history, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and geology have provided abundant incontrovertible synthetic knowledge. The analytic-synthetic distinction that you raise means that analytic propositions are true by definition whereas synthetic statements are proved true by discovery. To say we have proved nothing true by discovery, which is what your view entails, is a particularly bleak and dismal account of the human situation.
Interbane wrote:
Consider the statement that "night follows day". First, you have to define the terms absolutely. Which means you need to identify what exactly it means for something to "follow" in the temporal dimension, along with all the philosophical baggage that goes with that. Night and day need robust definitions. By the time you finish, the statement is analytic.
As true as night follows day is an old saying which stands as an obvious no-brainer for absolute certainty. Shakespeare used it in Hamlet, where Polonius provides wise advice to his son Laertes, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Your assertion that this absolute truth is merely analytic is absurd and wrong. We only know that night follows day from experience, not from definition. Astronomy has abundantly corroborated the orbital dynamics of the earth, such that none of our experience is conceivably possible if there is a shred of doubt about such basic facts.

Therefore such doubt is a mere parlor game, a thinking exercise there to be refuted. But people for some weird reason hold onto this theoretical doubt. In my opinion this is only because they cannot stand the implication that knowledge requires faith at some level, because of their political and emotional hostility to faith. Saying night follows day means we have faith in our senses.
Interbane wrote:
You may believe the statement with certainty, and I don't see why anyone wouldn't. But it's not a good example of a synthetic statement where certainty is justified.
We could conceivably imagine we are wrong about the nature of time proceeding from past to future through the present, but that arrow of time is a pretty sound synthetic fact. Even the remote imaginative possibility of time travel or time reversal does not introduce any shred of doubt into the idea that night follows day.
Interbane wrote:
Quote:
I also know, to take an empirical example, the fact that the earth-moon centre of mass can be calculated quite accurately; in this case my belief is so abundantly corroborated that I am happy to say I know it without doubt or any shred of uncertainty.

Another way to say this is that there's not a hundred trillionth of a chance that somehow, in some way, you're wrong. We absolutely understand physics. There is no possible chance our understanding of mass is wrong. That's arrogant. You can't avoid the definitions of absolute words. You believe with certainty, but then you're using a bit of faith to bridge the gap between knowledge and certainty.
It is not arrogant. The Juno probe would not be circling Jupiter now if there was any meaningful error in the basic gravitational understanding of the earth-moon system. Your statement implies that it is arrogant for the USA to send up the Juno probe. I respect your piety about the pride of science, but fundamentally disagree with it.
Interbane wrote:
I would also admit to being certain about your statement. But that's adding a touch of faith to the knowledge so that I don't have to deal with the cognitive dissonance of having a loose end. My belief may be certain, but the knowledge portion of my belief is not. Both knowledge and certainty are epistemic properties of belief.
Knowledge is different in kind from belief. A belief by definition is open to doubt whereas knowledge, to be genuinely classed as true knowledge, is proven to be certain and incontrovertible. It can happen that things once considered to be knowledge subsequently are revised, but that only proves that the previous claims of knowledge were an overstatement. There is also everything outside both belief and knowledge that is either unknown or subject to hypothesis. There are conflicting meanings of certainty – the psychological sense of faith, and the epistemic sense of incontrovertible. The difference between knowledge and belief is in the epistemic sense.


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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Robert Tulip wrote:
To say we have proved nothing true by discovery, which is what your view entails, is a particularly bleak and dismal account of the human situation.


You may think so from where you sit, but to me it's the most honest position. The issue isn't that we know nothing. We know a great deal. Unless you maintain that knowledge requires certainty.

The issue isn't so much about our understanding of the world. It's about the nature of the concept of certainty. It's an absolute word.

But when you consider what human knowledge actually is, the issue starts to stand out. Our knowledge isn't an exact duplicate of the universe. Instead, it's information. Information that refers to things in the universe without actually being that thing. This information is necessarily not as comprehensive as the real thing, it's a compression, an abstraction. There will be information loss as we abstract the workings of the universe into propositional knowledge. Certain knowledge, absolute knowledge, these are terms that become irrational when you think about it.

FYI, this isn't just my position, but is widespread throughout the modern philosophical community.

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We only know that night follows day from experience, not from definition


We also know that 2+2=4 from experience. But it's also true by definition. The statement that night follows day is in the grey area.

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Therefore such doubt is a mere parlor game, a thinking exercise there to be refuted. But people for some weird reason hold onto this theoretical doubt. In my opinion this is only because they cannot stand the implication that knowledge requires faith at some level


It's not a parlor game. Until you've proven absolutely that we aren't living in some matrix simulacrum, certain knowledge is a farce.

I'm certain about many things. But that doesn't mean my knowledge is certain. My certainty is a property of my belief, just as knowledge is a property of my belief. Knowledge is less firm than certainty, only requiring justification rather than absolute truth.

If knowledge requires faith, it's the simple faith of trust in our senses and the axioms you mentioned earlier. Beyond these articles of simple faith, no other faith is required for knowledge. You might take a piece of knowledge and believe it with certainty, but that does not mean knowledge is certain. It means your belief is certain.

Quote:
The Juno probe would not be circling Jupiter now if there was any meaningful error in the basic gravitational understanding of the earth-moon system.


How accurately do your words correlate to knowledge? You say there's no meaningful error. What about small errors? An infinitesimal error means we made a mistake - that our grasp was less than absolute.

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Knowledge is different in kind from belief. A belief by definition is open to doubt whereas knowledge, to be genuinely classed as true knowledge, is proven to be certain and incontrovertible.


You're using a definition of knowledge that isn't agreed upon by philosophers. The agreed upon definition is that knowledge is justified true belief. Neither of these three conditions require certainty. In fact if you read through the prevailing literature, the idea of certain knowledge is dismissed except in analytic propositions.


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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Interbane wrote:
Quote:
Extracting the kernels of truth from the shell of nonsense is something that would involve great wisdom.


So the majority of people wouldn't follow your conclusions? Instead, they'd read the words literally, as ignorant people usually do.


Yes, you are pointing out the problem that WB Yeats also noted when he described Christendom as “twenty centuries of stony sleep”. The political nature of the Christian church has meant that a popular literal veneer has been cast over the original symbolic message, and the veil has been presented as the ultimate truth. As a result Christianity is a laughing stock for its assertions that God breaks the laws of physics.

Regardless of the literal absurdity of claims about miracles, believers persist in accepting that God defies the laws of physics. And even though among theologians there is general acceptance that we have to reconcile faith and reason for faith to make any sense and have legitimate credibility, when it comes to actually doing that, as Harry noted, even liberal churches step back, and continue to use magical language, in deference to the kooks in their pews.

Interbane wrote:
By trying to spread wisdom, you're perpetuating the false portions. Which is the path of least resistance; the interpretations that are easiest for the masses to digest.

By this you seem to mean that any discussion of a text which includes both good and bad ideas should be shunned, because of the risk that readers will pay attention to the bad and not the good.

That is hardly the counsel of wisdom. In the case of the Bible, most of the really bad ideas from the Old Testament are already countermanded by the New Testament, so sticking to the ancient creeds of revenge and slavery should be seen as unchristian.

It takes a remarkable quality of obtuseness to distort the Bible to make it say whatever you want. That is clearly what fundamentalists do, but I am trying to do something quite different, namely to analyse the probable real intent of the original authors, and explain how the Bible and Christianity actually occurred as events of historical cultural evolution.

A similar attitude came up in the recent Booktalk.org thread on Noah’s Ark, with the citing of AronRa’s ex-fundamentalist atheist critique which lampoons the Noah story as totally wacky. I pointed out that the Ark story has some valid parabolic meaning, but there wasn’t much interest in further exploration of this metaphorical content.

Now your cynicism about the ignorance of the masses is reminding me of Schopenhauer the king of pessimism. Here are some of his comments:
Arthur Schopenhauer wrote:
“the whole of our social arrangements may be likened to a perpetual comedy; and this is why a man who is worth anything finds society so insipid, while a blockhead is quite at home in it… [Men] view the world and gather experience through the medium of ready-made ideas, rather than to let his ideas be formed for him out of his own experience of life, as they ought to be… if the lives of men were relieved of all need, hardship and adversity; if everything they took in hand were successful, they would be so swollen with arrogance that, though they might not burst, they would present the spectacle of unbridled folly—nay, they would go mad. And I may say, further, that a certain amount of care or pain or trouble is necessary for every man at all times. A ship without ballast is unstable and will not go straight.”


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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Robert Tulip wrote:
This point about how religious symbolism reflects natural processes seems to me absolutely central to a reformation of Christianity to become purely scientific. I think that any symbol that has no natural referent is empty.

If one takes "natural" to mean "not supernatural," I would tend to agree. But try to keep in mind that symbols are not words, with explicit referents. Horatio Alger is a symbol, the Battle of Gettysburg is a symbol, the flag is a symbol, a church bell is a symbol. To the extent that one can take "referent" seriously, they are multi-dimensional and fuzzy, like the referents of the alethiometer in Philip Pullman's marvelous "The Golden Compass." Does Horatio Alger have a "natural referent"? I rather think not, but I am not sure what you had in mind.

"Purely scientific" is not a very good goal for Christianity. "Consistent with science" is sufficient. Science and religion have different goals, different methods, different reinforcement, different meanings for abstract terms like "truth".

To give a simple example, one goal of some folkways is to hide the truth, to make possible some social binding which would be obstructed by people's emotional tendency to focus on the wrong truth. So we have initiation rites whose purpose is to direct the attention of a young man away from fear and toward bravery, because otherwise war might be too much for the young man's psyche, causing him to run away in battle or to come back as a monster. Similar misdirection is applied to young women.
Robert Tulip wrote:
The entire concept of a supernatural referent is a meaningless delusion, containing meaning only in so far as the idea symbolizes something natural.
Tsk, tsk. In one sentence you have said they are meaningless and contain meaning. Imagine how much more difficult this stuff must be for people who are not philosophically trained.
Robert Tulip wrote:
The incarnation and passion of Christ have direct correlation with the fertility cycle of the seasons. The virgin birth reflects the emergence of the sun each day from the innocence of night.

Yabbut. The passion is so much more naturally explained as Power executing Truth, rather in the same manner as a book burning or the disappearances of young radicals. It might be that Jesus intentionally provoked this, after declaring himself Messiah, to dramatize the prophetic declaration "with his stripes we are healed." It might be that he believed the heavens would open and time ended. It might be that it is all a myth, as the mythicists declare, and Mark or one of his intellectual sources intuited that a live human martyr was more transformative than a heavenly victim of demonic forces.

In all of those possible versions, there are real, non-supernatural forces to be evoked. And it may be that none of them have more than a minor partial basis in the fertility cycle of the seasons, despite the later association of resurrection with the natural rebirth that happens in Spring (with Estrus and all).

I don't understand the urge to be dogmatic about it. Again, many meanings are possible for a single symbolic story or meme. Sisyphus began as punishment, signifying the futility of repetitious struggle ("and there is nothing new under the sun") and became, in Camus' hands, a symbol of determination despite all discouragement, despite a certain truth of futility.

The key insight for me was the recognition that truth claims are one of the less relevant factors in determining which beliefs get passed on to the next generation. We simply cannot avoid an anthropological approach, in which the "etic" understanding (how the symbolism appears to those who use it) will have a correlation with the "emic" understanding (how the symbolism appears to function from the perspective of an outside observer). If you bypass how the symbol is used, in order to evaluate whatever truth claims may appear therein, you are "majoring in minors".

With Sartre, we can see the existential critique as saying good faith means taking responsibility, as a volitional choice of pure freedom.
Robert Tulip wrote:
We always base our moral opinions on assumptions about what sort of world we want to construct, and those assumptions are different in type from factual observations, importing ideas of principle. Faith resides in the process of constructing shared values and principles, so is different from confidence by type, not by degree.

Yes, I agree. What I was trying to convey was that I think confidence has a purely cognitive nature, in which the nature of facts is the only issue and the only volitional component is purely instrumental - finding ways to implement goals which are separate issues. Faith has both the cognitive and the volitional dimension, in my view, but perhaps that is too much of a stretch. If you agree, then the difference in type is the presence of an active volitional dimension, while it may be possible to isolate cognitive (factual?) components which are the same in type as those of confidence.

All a bit semantic, but I am feeling an increase in clarity as we examine this further, which suggests to me that we are on to something valid.

Incidentally, your reference to values embodying "assumptions about what kind of world we want to construct" evoked all kinds of connections for me. One of the most salient is the dynamic tension between Hume's "you can't get an 'ought' from an 'is' " (at least I think it was Hume) and Kant's (?) "'ought' implies 'can'".

One rhetorical device for robbing ideals of power is to argue they are "utopian" by which people mean "impossible." Anglo-Saxon political philosophy is eternally a dialectic between Hobbesian, pessimistic views of limited possibility, on the one hand, and Lockeian, optimistic views of expansive possibility, on the other.

Robert Tulip wrote:
With Sartre, we can see the existential critique as saying good faith means taking responsibility, as a volitional choice of pure freedom.

This is another strain of issues that was evoked for me by your comment. I am in some doubt whether "pure freedom" can have any existence. It may be that "responsibility" is the issue we really want when existentialists start talking about "freedom." One of the things it highlights is that there are "sins of omission" in rejecting responsibility, having to do with failure to think carefully, failure to face unpleasant implications, as well as failure to get a proper education.

But society can, to some extent, make up for those moral failings, which gives us a certain kind of collective responsibility.

Robert Tulip wrote:
You seem to postulate a source distinction between magic and science, when these were inextricably interwoven in ancient religion, for example with astrology as a method to divine divine intent.

No doubt you are correct that they are heavily interwoven, and we will never disentangle the sources of that interweaving. At a minimum I try to keep in mind that the intent to apply "esoteric knowledge" (of both genres, magic and science) has deep roots in legitimate aspirations for wholeness and peace. You seem to work from the same ground.

But I wonder if the separate roots in psychosocial phenomena (or confirmation bias about such ambiguous phenomena) and physical-biological phenomena (which are much more reliable) may be a useful tool for viewing the functioning of symbolic systems.
Robert Tulip wrote:
My view of history regards faith as thesis, reason as antithesis, and an emerging integrated view as synthesis, applying Hegelian Dialectic to the Ages of Pisces and Aquarius. Modernity remains under the spell of the 1789 dogmas of reason, but as with all interplay of myths, the conquered subaltern idea returns in subordinated and transformed ways.

Like, for instance, the Donald. All the hand-wringing in the New York Times about Trump (or "Drumph" as I prefer to think of him) has tossed up a few useful ideas, such as the unprecedented split between male and female perceptions of what is going on (recent analysis of the sizeable college-educated male appeal of Trump was excellent).

Reading between the lines, women tend to see the eroded status of masculinity and its roles in terms of "privilege" and "oppression" (not without reason) while men are more attuned to "liberal" abdication of the group solidarity which made up militarism, protectionism and unionism. And it is true - our individualistic ideology has used "reason" to tear down critical institutions of this critical solidarity. Also to tear down racism, but through the group solidarity lens that tends to look both natural and sensible to whites.

Must run, but I loved the myth of care, and will return to the later material when I can.



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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Robert wrote:
By this you seem to mean that any discussion of a text which includes both good and bad ideas should be shunned, because of the risk that readers will pay attention to the bad and not the good.

Not any text, but holy books in particular are where readers pay attention to the bad. And there’s 2,000 years of history to show I’m right. Let’s say you travel back in time 100 years and are given the ability to wave a magic wand and erase the Koran from existence. You’d erase the good along with the bad. Certainly the law of unintended consequences would come into play, but even still I think wisdom would counsel you to get rid of the book.

Robert wrote:
It takes a remarkable quality of obtuseness to distort the Bible to make it say whatever you want. That is clearly what fundamentalists do, but I am trying to do something quite different, namely to analyse the probable real intent of the original authors, and explain how the Bible and Christianity actually occurred as events of historical cultural evolution.


You’re implying here that the masses are ignorant. It’s not just me saying that. You are one, the fundamentalists are the masses. If it takes remarkable obtuseness, then remarkable obtuseness is the human condition, and you won’t change that short of eugenics. Your efforts are noble, but you won’t convince enough people to undo the damage to science and education.


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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Interbane wrote:
Robert wrote:
By this you seem to mean that any discussion of a text which includes both good and bad ideas should be shunned, because of the risk that readers will pay attention to the bad and not the good.

Not any text, but holy books in particular are where readers pay attention to the bad. And there’s 2,000 years of history to show I’m right. Let’s say you travel back in time 100 years and are given the ability to wave a magic wand and erase the Koran from existence. You’d erase the good along with the bad. Certainly the law of unintended consequences would come into play, but even still I think wisdom would counsel you to get rid of the book.
Okay, so in this mind experiment you are suggesting we create a vast cultural vacuum in place of the Islamic religion, and ask what is likely to happen. It is a bit like imagining what would happen if the planet Mercury suddenly vaporized into nothing, and what its gravitational effects on the other planets would be. Certainly with the planet analogy there is a big risk of destabilization, maybe Venus and Earth orbits going haywire and Earth getting tossed out of the solar system. Who knows?

With your magic wand to erase Islam, we seriously have to look at the balance of good and bad. Obviously there is much evil in Islam. Voltaire and Churchill went on record condemning its backward stagnant bigoted influence. And yet, for people living in ignorance and poverty, the practice of worship provides a source of stability and hope and cultural identity.

Just suggesting cultocide is not particularly constructive. In terms of an agenda of bringing social progress, it is better to think about an incremental evolutionary strategy; rather than imagining the abolition of religion, look at how the inevitable tribal ritual ethical needs of religion can be satisfied, while assessing how religion can potentially be reformed to eliminate its noxious content.

With Christianity, my sense is that your condemnation of the Bible is misplaced. There should be no dispute that Christianity is vastly superior to Islam, given that on average Christians are much more educated and wealthy than Muslims, suggesting some causal factor in their belief systems. An excellent Wikipedia page on Wealth and Religion corroborates this claim while also showing that fundamentalists are generally poorer than liberals, and there is a strong negative correlation between country wealth and religiosity. One interesting finding is that despite this country correlation, attending worship makes people richer.

But this abolitionist line of discussion misses my key point about the Bible, that its history is immensely complex and cannot be properly considered by a simplistic ‘bad outweighs good' opinion. If the bad is based on a corrupted misreading of the original intent, as I suggest, then efforts to mine the lode of authentic material could hit some valuable paydirt. Indeed, the Christian theory of the fall from grace into corruption backs up this interpretation, with the Calvinist theory that humans are totally depraved indicating that in popular interpretation of the Bible gross error will creep in, and that systematic research could identify and correct such popular errors.
Interbane wrote:
You’re implying here that the masses are ignorant. It’s not just me saying that. You are one, the fundamentalists are the masses. If it takes remarkable obtuseness, then remarkable obtuseness is the human condition, and you won’t change that short of eugenics. Your efforts are noble, but you won’t convince enough people to undo the damage to science and education.

Yes, I think it is very clear that the masses are ignorant about higher truths of science, philosophy and religion. You only have to look briefly at popular culture to see a vast indifference and incuriosity about these topics. With religion, there is acceptance of ignorant traditions which are blatantly in conflict with scientific knowledge. But I disagree that eugenics might be a way to improve human intelligence. Such social engineering has an appalling fascistic track record of bad results outweighing any imagined benefit.

I think that education is the only way, and the interesting thing is that education can occur on a mass scale, if mass media are converted from their current path of reinforcing ignorance towards a focus on enlightenment. For example, if there was a public discussion about the possibility of rational religion, there might be some potential to shift the inertia of ignorance. But that would require people who can make enlightenment cogent and interesting, and to date such visionary leaders are thin on the ground.


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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Robert wrote:
But I disagree that eugenics might be a way to improve human intelligence. Such social engineering has an appalling fascistic track record of bad results outweighing any imagined benefit.


I wasn't suggesting we use eugenics. Of course it would improve human intelligence, but the moral quandary is beyond our ability to handle. My point was that you'd need to change the human condition before any amount of education will rise the masses above a mostly obtuse understanding. You're far above average intelligence, so an enlightened interpretation clicks with you. But as the bible stands, it's exceptionally sticky for the majority of people using a literal interpretation.


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Post Re: Faith and Reason
Interbane wrote:
as the bible stands, it's exceptionally sticky for the majority of people using a literal interpretation.


Not a majority, but a big minority. Most people don't actually believe in magic. The presence of magic in the Bible is a big reason it is viewed with such disdain in the modern secular world.

The historical stickiness of the literal gospel is only because the literal reading was politically convenient for the early church, due to its greater emotional resonance for an illiterate audience compared to symbolic readings.

If leaders emerge who are able to tell new simple stories that are grounded in a scientific reading of the Bible, I think that would resonate today.

With the internet the old receptivity to ideas that conflict with evidence is collapsing. The zeitgeist is steadily shifting its thematic base from belief to knowledge.


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Harry Marks wrote:
symbols are not words, with explicit referents. Horatio Alger is a symbol, the Battle of Gettysburg is a symbol, the flag is a symbol, a church bell is a symbol. To the extent that one can take "referent" seriously, they are multi-dimensional and fuzzy, like the referents of the alethiometer in Philip Pullman's marvelous "The Golden Compass." Does Horatio Alger have a "natural referent"? I rather think not, but I am not sure what you had in mind.
The example of Horatio Alger, the icon of the American Dream, is a very good one. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horatio_Alger_myth explains that his fortunes have waxed and waned with the economy since he wrote his rags to riches novels after the Civil War. I have never read any. His depiction of America as the land of opportunity certainly does have a natural referent, with the view that talent and hard work and luck can bring success in the land of the free.

The USA has provided the governance framework that is absent in most other countries for individual success using pluck and skill. That is not just imaginary – America has more inventiveness and entrepreneurial flair than anywhere. Horatio Alger is a great symbolic example of how nothing is possible without faith.

It is true that symbols are fuzzy, but that multivalence is meaningfully analyzed within the framework of a finite physical universe, not by postulating an infinite power in or outside the universe that is not amenable to scientific discovery. Once we install such a god of the gaps we are engaged in incoherent magical thinking. It may help us to pray to the unknown, but once we start placing attributes and characteristics on things that are beyond our knowledge we are on shaky ground.
Harry Marks wrote:
"Purely scientific" is not a very good goal for Christianity. "Consistent with science" is sufficient. Science and religion have different goals, different methods, different reinforcement, different meanings for abstract terms like "truth".
Yes, I accept that as a correction. There is an element of transcendental imagination in all religion, and that extends beyond science into philosophy. The idea of Jesus Christ as a mediator between humanity and God is too general for precise scientific description, opening vague concepts like ‘the beyond in the midst of the world’.

Theology talks about Jesus Christ as uniting eternity and time, as a way to imagine human perfection, connected to ultimate reality. Such visualization of goals for the ideal life is a matter of faith, not just a question of scientific discovery. Pure science is descriptive, restricted to facts, but religion is normative, defining good values.
Harry Marks wrote:
To give a simple example, one goal of some folkways is to hide the truth, to make possible some social binding which would be obstructed by people's emotional tendency to focus on the wrong truth. So we have initiation rites whose purpose is to direct the attention of a young man away from fear and toward bravery, because otherwise war might be too much for the young man's psyche, causing him to run away in battle or to come back as a monster. Similar misdirection is applied to young women.
Yes, that theme of initiation is a good example of how religion has the purpose of transmitting social values which is not always served by the openness and explicit meanings which science requires.
Harry Marks wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
The entire concept of a supernatural referent is a meaningless delusion, containing meaning only in so far as the idea symbolizes something natural.
Tsk, tsk. In one sentence you have said they are meaningless and contain meaning. Imagine how much more difficult this stuff must be for people who are not philosophically trained.
What I was getting at was the paradoxical quality of religious meaning. Faith is served by pious recognition of a unifying reality that we only partially glimpse and so cannot fully explain, an encompassing truth that people experience as the mysterious power of grace.

Yet philosophically, if we accept the scientific assumption that there is nothing beyond the material universe whose encompassing trace is the cosmic microwave background radiation of the big bang, then all alleged gracious mysteries must in principle be coherent with physical knowledge, and the real meaning they contain is natural. The meaning in talk of God seems supernatural but is actually natural. This gets to the debate between pantheism, the view that God is nature, and panentheism, the view that God is beyond nature. I am a pantheist.
Harry Marks wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
The incarnation and passion of Christ have direct correlation with the fertility cycle of the seasons. The virgin birth reflects the emergence of the sun each day from the innocence of night.

Yabbut. The passion is so much more naturally explained as Power executing Truth, rather in the same manner as a book burning or the disappearances of young radicals.
Joseph Campbell held that there are four functions of myth, the Metaphysical, the Cosmological, the Sociological, and the Pedagogical. I would summarize these four functions as religious awe, vision, politics and identity, or as reverence, reason, ritual and role.

The relation between power and truth sits primarily within the social and ethical functions of myth, and only indirectly touch on awe and vision. Power seeks to exercise social and ethical control. Truth reacts to power with resistance, denying the ability of a corrupt state to control the integrity of religion. That is a core meaning of the triumph of Christ in the passion myth.

To some extent our sense of metaphysical awe and cosmic order rejects arbitrary and corrupt power, but there is equally the sense that the earth has a cyclic trajectory in which death and darkness (winter/night) are reversed by the power of life and light (spring/day). These natural processes of cosmic order are reflected in the fertility myth of the triumph of resurrection over crucifixion.

This cosmic framework is reflected at Easter with the emergence of new life in spring as the light of day exceeds the dark of night, and also at Christmas, when the days start to become longer and the dawn moves north after three days of apparent stasis in the position of the sunrise. This interplay between Christmas and Easter in terms of new birth on the third day illustrates how the entire Christ myth emerges from agrarian annual seasonal fertility cults.

The power/truth dynamic reflects the clash between these autonomous agrarian cosmic traditions and a voracious megalomaniac centralizing empire in Rome built at the point of the sword.

To expand further on Joseph Campbell’s four functions of mythology: the Metaphysical, the Cosmological, the Sociological, and the Pedagogical as a framework to understand Christian theology and institutions, here I draw from a previous analysis of Christianity I wrote in 2012 against these four functions.

The metaphysical function of religion is both an opening and a closing of the doors of perception. The mystery of existence has long been interpreted in terms of transcendental imagination, generally couched in supernatural terms. What I mean by closing the doors is that in religious tradition, magical eternal spiritual beings are imagined to provide the world of appearance with its underlying deeper reality, and to find their unity in the one eternal God. However, when we say that these imagined symbols literally exist, we close ourselves off from their real symbolic meaning.

Metaphysics is a slippery concept, and in some sense includes all concepts other than those directly based on the physical. Gravity is a physical concept, but reality and truth are metaphysical concepts. Grace and love are both physical and metaphysical.

Metaphysics refers to ideas that claim to synthesize experience as necessary truth, as a systematic conceptual framework to understand reality. However, the idea of metaphysics as necessary conflict with the popular view that myths are just false beliefs based on obsolete pre-scientific theories. To reintroduce a coherent meaning of metaphysics, distinct from the merely supernatural, there is a need to recover the sense in which myth is the stories that provide meaning in people's lives.

Ideas of creation, purpose, eternity, spirit, transcendence and ethics form part of metaphysics and myth in this broad sense of meaningful story. We can also speak of a materialist metaphysics, in which concepts are understood as grounded in matter, but still having an eternal meaning and reality outside time.

The ethical dimension within the metaphysical can be seen in ideas of the good, the true and the beautiful. These ideas are often expressed as the certainty of absolute and ultimate faith as religions enforce a specific metaphysic to bind community in a sense of shared truth. However, religion shuts the door against truth when it asserts a supernatural metaphysical dogma is accurate against the evidence of observation. The door to truth can be opened when the intuition of transcendence is seen as giving a deeper meaning and universal coherence to the things we observe.

The cosmological function of religion, Campbell’s second theme, explains the deep meaning and coherence of observation, describing reality. This second function presents a massive quandary for traditional religion.

Pantheism accepts that Christianity is originally grounded in an effort to see how events on earth reflect events in the visible cosmos. Conventional supernatural religion is in denial about this cosmological function of the world reflecting the cosmos, arguing instead that religion must leapfrog over visible nature to find an explanation for human life in relation to an imaginary supernature.

So traditional Christianity grounds its cosmology in a false hypothesis of a God beyond the universe. That error arises, in my view, from how monotheism served the national security interests of ancient Israel, and this fantasy of the denial of nature by religion has been compounded ever since as an effective strategem.

In my view the cosmological function is central to real understanding of the emergence of early Christianity. The stellar parallels with Biblical stories are hidden in plain sight, yet the intense pathology of Western Civilization insists the cosmic message simply does not exist.

In the Gospels, Jesus continually rails against the ignorance of his disciples for their failure to see simple cosmic messages. The Gospel message of recovery of sight to the blind is presented explicitly, in the example of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, as a recovery of cosmology: in Mark 8, the stellar parallels are invisible to the obtuse, causing Jesus to groan about their inability to see what is plain before their eyes.

Scientific cosmology today suffers from an inability to recognize its religious dimension. Since Galileo, science has provided an objective cosmology in which humanity grows more and more insignificant against the sheer majesty of space and time, seen in Sagan’s myth of the pale blue dot.

Campbell intimates a new Copernican Revolution, whereby we stand on the shoulders of the scientific giants to ask the cosmic question of how humanity is connected to the universe. This sense of human life as stardust, intrinsically connected to the galaxies from where our atoms emerged, also sees human identity as formed by the cyclic patterns of the cosmos – not just the day and year of our familiar round, but the deeper patterns of our planet, especially the wobble of our planetary axis that produces the ages of the zodiac that are at the basis of Christian and other cosmology.

Cosmology works with metaphysics to provide a coherent religious vision of meaning, a sense of cosmic unity whereby events on earth are part of a bigger whole, reflecting the totality of time in history. As a foundation for understanding, these encompassing functions of myth provide a solid platform for the social development of religion in the third and fourth functions of myth, the political and the dogmatic.

What Campbell terms the social function of myth, building community to provide a shared sense of belonging, direction and identity, is purely political. Indeed, all political systems are arguably based in religious myth, even where this is unconscious and unseen. Even in modern rational societies, where people contend that they have escaped the hold of irrational myth, we still see that mass politics operates at a mythic level, with deep caution in the political arena about speaking in a more than symbolic way. The same words are understood differently by different groups in the community, and resonate as symbols. The way popular language has symbolic power illustrates the social function of myth.

The rise of Christianity exemplified this sense of myth as the simplification of complex messages for a mass audience. Where Christianity started with a cosmic vision, the inability of the ignorant to understand this message meant that demagogic leaders emerged in the church who pandered to the popular desire for a religion that was simple to understand and emotionally satisfying. Against these selective pressures, the myth steadily adapted to remove its origins.

The dogmatic function of myth as a pedagogy for identity emerges from the socio-political. To be believed by a diverse mass audience, a myth must be expressed as certain faith. Once the original metaphysical cosmology has been simplified to its emotional resonant essence, we hit rock bottom with a dogma such as ‘Jesus Saves’. This then becomes the simple ground against which complex ideas are judged. Instead of looking at how this message evolved, the faithful take it as divine command, and kick away all the ladders of early debate and analysis that produced the simple proclamation.


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Sat Jul 16, 2016 8:41 pm
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