Monday, September 30, 2013

C. S. Lewis on Faith from Mere Christianity

A redated post.

Roughly speaking, the word faith seems to be used by Christians in two senses or on two levels, and I will take them in turn. In the first sense it means simply belief--accepting or regarding as true the doctrines of Christianity. That is fairly simple. But what does puzzle people--at least it used to puzzle me--is the fact that Christians regard faith in this sense as a virtue. I used to ask how on Earth it can be a virtue--what is there moral or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements? Obviously, I used to say, a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he wants or does not want to, but because the evidence seems to him good or bad. If he were mistaken about the goodness or badness of the evidence, that would not mean he was a bad man, but only that he was not very clever. And if he thought the evidence bad but tried to force himself to believe in spite of it, that would be merely stupid.
Well, I think I still take that view. But what I did not see then--and a good many people do not see still--was this. I was assuming that if the human mind once accepts a thing as true it will automatically go on regarding it as true, until some real reason for reconsidering it turns up. In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so. For example, my reason is perfectly convinced by good evidence that anesthetics do not smother me and that properly trained surgeons do not start operating until I am unconscious. But that does not alter the fact that when they have me down on the table and clap their horrible mask over my face, a mere childish panic begins inside me. I start thinking I am going to choke, and I am afraid they will start cutting me up before I am properly under. In other words, I lose my faith in anesthetics. It is not reason that is taking away my faith; on the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions. The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.....
Now just the same thing happens about Christianity. I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it. That is not the point at which faith comes in. But supposing a man's reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair; some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. And once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments where a mere mood rises up against it.
Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why faith is such a necessary virtue; unless you teach your moods "where they get off" you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.

C.S Lewis

Now, does it take faith to be an atheist? Of course!

40 comments:

Hallq said...

Significantly a response to your comment in the last thread: One consequence of this view is that it gives the average person uncountably many little faith-beliefs, one for every crazy but potentially important claim that could possibly be made.

Ilíon said...

VR: "Now, does it take faith to be an atheist? Of course!"

It takes *more* faith, in fact, to be an atheist than to be a Christian. For, the atheist must first convince himself to accept all sorts of absurdities ... which he *knows* are absurd! ... as being fundamental truths.

Or, if he goes about it from the other (more common) direction ... that is, affirmation of atheism first, rationale for the affirmation later ... then when he begins to encounter those absurdities, his faith must be strong enough to carry him through: simultaneously recognizing the absurdity while continuing to affirm the assertion from which it springs.

Mark Frank said...

As many of the commentators on the previous thread have pointed out, faith can mean lots of things. This one seems to be fairly low key:

"don't let your motives overrule your rationality".

I am all for that and it is certainly compatible with atheism.

Are atheists more or less prone than theists to let their motives overrule their reasoning? This is a sociological question to be answered by a rather complex survey not a lot of conjecture.

Underlying this is a deeper metaphysical question. Does theism entail a different concept of evidence from atheism? You can call this faith or not – it doesn’t matter. I think there is a difference. Atheism is based on doubt and scepticism. Theism is based on belief. And the belief defines what counts as evidence. For example, when confronted with the puzzle of what is the first cause many theists will take that as evidence not just for a deity but their specific deity. As I think Victor said in an earlier post, if you take your theism as your background assumption then that becomes a rational explanation. But atheists don’t use the puzzle of the first cause as evidence that there is no God. They don’t use it as evidence for anything. It is just a puzzle. It is not just an alternative set of assumptions. It is a whole approach to evidence.

Ilíon said...

You people are so amusing. Sometimes.

Timothy David said...

Mark Frank: ...atheists don’t use the puzzle of the first cause as evidence that there is no God. They don’t use it as evidence for anything.

Why would they?

Invisible Pills said...

I'm an agnostic atheist, I have no problems admitting that atheism (when the knowledge of the concept of God(s) is present) requires a degree of faith. There is not enough evidence or lack of evidence to rationally say atheism is truth, and thus, in my opinion, takes faith to adopt such an ideology that there is no God. I do however think it takes more faith to adopt a specific religion as truth than either 1 - Just believing in a God of some sort;
2 - Believing in no God of any sort.

(If someone questions on why I capitalize God as an atheist, it is mainly out of respect).

-Brandon Malave-

unkle e said...

"You people are so amusing. Sometimes."

And unfortunately, Ilion, I have to say again that you make me feel ashamed. Why not say you disagree and point out the reason for the disagreement, without mocking the person in a way that makes it less likely, not more, that they will consider your point?

And may I remind you that twice now I have asked you how you as a christian justify your deliberate ignoring of teachings of Jesus and the apostles on this matter, and twice you have not answered. Perhaps this time? Or better still, a resolve to attempt to do so from now on?

I would really love to let this matter go, but I am incensed by your behaviour. My apologies again, atheists, for my brother's mockery.

Ilíon said...

*yawn*
*YAWN*

Blip said...

Some atheists deserve to be made fun of, while others don't. ilion's judgment merely differs from yours?

Mark Frank said...

The subtlety and depth of Ilion's response should settle the issue.

unkle e said...

"*yawn*
*YAWN*"


Ilion, my interpretation of this response is that you find the teachings of Jesus and his apostles to be irrelevant to you. That you choose to be a believer but not a follower, a hearer of the word but not a doer.

Could you please let us all know if that is the correct interpretation, so we will better know how to interpret you future posts?

Blip: "Some atheists deserve to be made fun of, while others don't. ilion's judgment merely differs from yours?"

I don't believe anyone deserves to be made fun of in a malicious or hurtful way. Other forms of making fun, among friends, are quite acceptable. I would think all christians should "speak the truth in love" if they wish to engage with atheists, or with anyone else. That is a Biblical teaching, many people have shown that they don't think Ilion is following that teaching, and I think it does more harm to the cause than any good argument he brings at other times. I hope and pray he may be willing to recognise this and use his intellect in more positive ways. It is not my business to change Ilion, but in a forum like this, I can legitimately engage with him.

Thanks for your comment.

Blaise Pascal said...

This conflict of our passions with our reason is a consequence of original sin. There is sometimes a civil-war within us and we have to fight to make our reason the rightful ruler and master of our soul. Reason must summon courage to her assistance in order to suppress the unjust usurpations of the lower faculties of our soul.

Anonymous said...

I agree that it takes faith to be both a christian and an atheist. As a christian I have reasoned myself to having faith in God, but i can see as those who are atheists have reasoned themselves to having faith that what they think is right which I can not reason myself to. I wonder how can I have a believe based on me someone who is not perfect as God is. If a person can not reason themselves to faith in God as I can not reason myself to faith in myself as a religion I don't think that they will become christians, that is all that C.S. Lewis' books are all about himself reasoning into faith to God.

Papalinton said...

Blaise Pascal
"There is sometimes a civil-war within us and we have to fight to make our reason the rightful ruler and master of our soul."

For atheists, this is called learning 'self-discipline'.

Robert Oerter said...

"Now, does it take faith to be an atheist? Of course!"

If by this Victor means the sort of faith that Lewis had about anesthetics - a "faith" based on evidence and reason - then, sure, atheists have faith.

The problem with using "faith" in this way is it makes nearly everything a matter of faith. I have faith in my car, my phone, my mailman....

When you broaden a definition that much it becomes pointless.

Ilíon said...

... for, after all, the tendentious atheistic redefinition of the word -- which has no relationship to the historical meaning of the term -- is sooo much more meaningful. Or, at least, rhetorically useful.

Jason Pratt said...

Hallq and Robert,

I don't regard that kind of faith as pointless at all. I don't agree much with Papalinton usually, but I do agree with him that this is learning self-discipline. Atheists and theists can both have this: I have never once believed any religious (or relatedly historical) proposition I thought was improbable, much less self-contradictory.

J'oftus' persistent straw-manning of his opponents is itself an example of the kind of "faith" he is deriding. At best he is conflating the concept of having different estimations of the possibilities, probabilities and certainties, with the concept of willfully (or even merely habitually if not instinctively) believing despite the person's own estimate of the probabilities etc.


There is a further level of faith as a virtue that Lewis talked about (which is also open to atheists or anyone else in principle): trusting someone personally, not merely assenting rationally to propositions about facts. As Lewis noted this kind of personal trust can get us in trouble sometimes, but it's still generally regarded as an ethically good thing (and the exploitation and abuse of which is generally regarded as an ethically bad thing). When it comes to personal trusts, it isn't only a virtue to hold to them in the teeth of emotion and irrationality, but is also typically regarded a virtue to hold to them in the teeth of mounting rational evidence. The point of dis-assent becomes much more nebulous.

Lewis' example is that of a man who begins to find evidence that his wife is being unfaithful. At some point the man will only be deluding himself, but if the man insisted on immediately putting his wife's character to a neutral test as though what he personally knows about her is of no worth, he would probably be disapproved by other people. He ought to have trusted her, if he has already decided she is a trustworthy person.

(Lewis doesn't mention it, but this exact example has been mined countless times for romantic comedy and cheap drama: one partner catches the other in an accidental compromising situation, and immediately infers or assumes the worst.)

Obviously the point of contention here is whether there is a Person to have faith about (although practically the point of contention may be faith in preachers, teachers and family). But I think this is where most of the tension in religious faith (non-Christian as well as Christian, of course) compared to non-religious positions comes from. Those on the other side of the line of disbelief will naturally wonder, or even be derogatory (and from their perspective rightly so), about how people who still believe in the face of mounting pressure can still believe. (Possibly with added reaction based on being derogatory to their own previous faith in someone or someones, where that faith was ultimately betrayed.)

That doesn't excuse someone from carefully distinguishing the concepts and issues involved--it's mere willful ignorance for John to lump someone like Victor or myself with people being willfully ignorant in order to keep our faith.

But because I do take the time and effort to carefully distinguish concepts and issues, I can be sympathetic to the derogatory attitudes of unbelievers, too, up to a point. (That point being wherever they may be sticking their own heads in the sand rather than facing up to evidence, and especially where this involves unfairness to their opponents.)

It is best of all for a person, whether Christian or non-Christian, to be trustworthy themselves. That's fair-togetherness between persons, or "righteousness" in Biblical Greek. And Lewis definitely believed that Christ regards such people as being faithful to Him in reality (the sheep and goat judgment for example), even if at the moment the person overtly opposes Christ. (Thus the character of Emeth, who thought Aslan was a demon and so opposed Him as such.)

JRP

Blue Devil Knight said...

Jason thanks for the reminder of why I used to like the comments section at this blog. Good stuff. But where are your usual excessive and idiosyncratic smileys? :)

This, of course, is always a sticky issue:
That point being wherever they may be sticking their own heads in the sand rather than facing up to evidence
I have no doubt you have specific examples in mind here, I wonder what types of things would count as this in your eyes.

I know atheists like to make fun of young earth creationists as being ostriches, for example, so I can see it easily from the "skeptical" side, but less easily from the believer side what kinds of things count as "howlers".

Jason Pratt said...

Good to see you again, BDK!

I was running a bit long on the letter-count (unless that's been revoked by Blogger recently), so I told my old Compuserve emoticons to stay at home. {g}

The specific head in the sand I had in mind was John Loftus on the topic of universal Christian willful irrationality, actually, which I thought the context made clear enough. Although I tried to grant as much credit as possible to (even) that position, by broadening out Victor's Lewis reference into the virtue of personal trust--which does often feature an obstinacy of belief in the teeth of mounting evidence apparently against the belief, combined with a typical moral expectation that such obstinacy is ethically good. I think in several ways this accounts for the behavior John is fulminating against, when that behavior occurs.

Although as Victor correctly noted recently, sometimes non-religious people are prepared to be obstinate in advance about non-religious concepts over-against finely graded accountings of the evidence. I can sympathize with that, too: even agnosticism can end up being something like an established worldview for a person, and worldviews are not something to be responsibly set aside with something less than difficulty. But while I am entirely prepared to acknowledge credit for atheists and other non-Christians on this (as well as my fellow Christians where we disagree with one another!), the evidence clearly shows John is not willing to acknowledge credit toward Christians for this--even when evidence would demonstrate particular Christians are being intellectually careful about what they believe.

Anyway, I wasn't trying to claim, or even hint, that atheists per se as a group are in some broad sense sticking their heads in the sand about things. I leave that type of charge to my more belligerent co-religionists. {g}


(Incidentally, I feel about 95% sure the Lewis reference I have in mind is his article "Obstinacy In Belief", although I've been too busy this afternoon to check yet.)

JRP

William said...

As anyone watching the climate change debate and its distortions might agree, clinging to a belief in the face of varying evidence is not at all confined to theism/atheism.

Papalinton said...

"Consequently one must train the habit of faith."

That is true, Kemo Sabey, but not for the claim of convincing oneself of a belief in the existence of [putatively] live beings in a nether world.

And faith is less about belief than it is about about habit. So atheism is not so much refuting belief as breaking a habit. And belief is a habit too - a habit of mind.

Gregory said...

The enterprise of "knowledge" does not begin, nor end, in a vacuum. We all, epistemically speaking, begin somewhere.

Are the starting points of knowledge, or epistemic foundations, themselves susceptible to scrutiny?

Yes....but only by another set of starting points/foundations; of which they [foundations], themselves, have no epistemic recourse except by adoption of some alternative set of propositions....and so on and so on.

In other words, the entire enterprise of epistemology, when considering it's presuppositional character, is a long exercise in "faith" (i.e. if we define "faith" as something not demonstrable). It didn't take a "Degree" for me to understand that there is a whole spectrum of opinion on "knowledge" from both "Introductory" and "Select Readings" texts in Epistemology.

Unless we can agree with each other's foundation, then we will only be talking past each other. ***This can be observed by the array of disagreements that arise at this blogsite....with little or no change of mind.

And when the Atheist can begin to appreciate his/her faith-based propositional thinking qua "faith", then perhaps he/she will feel less obliged to ridicule his/her Christian neighbor....and vice versa.

Gregory said...

Christ didn't ask men to simply "believe" certain things....He required repentance. And that might mean, for some of us, changing our entire way of thought and life.

When an Atheist asks me to disbelieve Christ, he/she is asking me to repent.

But what can the Atheist offer me in exchange for Him?

Reason?

Christ, Himself, is the Logos.

Better ethics?

How should I be a better person without Him? In my sanest, most lucid moments, I know I'm a sinner.

Popularity?

Christ may not be loved, but there is none more popular than He.

Riches?

Christ gave His own life.

If Jesus Christ is anything, then He is as the Christians say: the Way, the Truth and the Life. I don't have to convince the Atheist of this. I have to be convinced by it.

And I am very convinced that 2Tim. 3:1-5 is why Christianity isn't making a big difference in America today.

Papalinton said...

Gregory
"And when the Atheist can begin to appreciate his/her faith-based propositional thinking qua "faith", then perhaps he/she will feel less obliged to ridicule his/her Christian neighbor....and vice versa.'

This is somewhat of a tenuous presuppositional proposition in itself. The form of faith atheists subscribe to is in the main based on naturalistic occurrences or circumstances. I would have thought this was clearly understood. There is no appreciation of a faith that presupposes a live supernatural entity with which we can socially engage across the natural/supernatural divide, itself a tenuous presupposition of very dubious origin even at the best of times. The real interest in appreciating a 'faith' based on mythos, regardless of how mystical and mysterious it is, is very much of an investigatory scientific nature in explaining why it is that humans have this propensity to project these ideations and the neural and genomic source under which these patterns of teleology are generated in the brain.

You might wish to read over this at: http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/quote-of-day-by-kayt-sukel.html

To quote: "Technology and science have now advanced to the point that disciplines like biology, genetics, epidemiology, evolutionary science, psychology, philosophy, computer science, and medicine have converged into the catchall field of neuroscience. More and more, neuroscientists are demonstrating that the brain is behavior—the two simply cannot be teased apart."

Blue Devil Knight said...

Jason thanks for clarifying, that makes sense.

I am never sure how Christians use the term 'faith.' For children, you often say it means even if you cannot see or touch, you still believe it is there. And it stops with that.

That, in skeptical circles, ends up being translated to 'Belief despite the lack of any direct empirical evidence.' So God takes on the epistemic status of superstrings.

Some skeptics cannot get past this, it seems. I take Christians' words for it on this site that this is far from universal. On the other hand, it probably doesn't have an empty extension, so why not go after it, even if it doesn't address everyone? Just be clear that you are criticizing this one conception of 'faith', that there are others, and they are beyond the scope of my argument.

Lewis clearly uses the term differently, to mean a kind of cognitive inertia (assuming the worldview was acheived via rational means).

My question is why use the term faith for that? It isn't about religion anymore, but a general epistemological claim about how fickle (or not) you should be in updating your beliefs.

I frankly have trouble believing that most Christians understand 'faith' in such secular terms. What am I missing here?

Jason Pratt said...

BDK,

I did go on to discuss the virtue of faith involving personal trust. (As did Lewis, although not as cited by Victor.)

There is a topically ascending order of meanings for faith; the point at which faith becomes religious would involve personal trust in a topically religious person or persons. (There are variations of this, not all of them mutually exclusive: someone who is personally trusting God is usually also trusting one or more human persons on the topic of God, but the two object sets of trust are not identical.)

Even more important than faith per se, as I mentioned, is choosing to be a trustworthy person one's self. (Although I am not sure this is more than accidentally possible without at least having faith in an ideal. And accidental trustworthiness, while also important in some ways, cannot be a personal virtue per se, although it may be a characteristic of a person.)

The division between secular and religious trustworthiness (which are not mutually exclusive categories for a person) would involve some religious topic of course. Two engineers may grow to be trustworthy at doing their jobs, but one may do so for only secular reasons per se while the other may also have religious reasons.

Religious faith may therefore involve such things as:

1.) continuing to believe religiously topical propositions to be true regardless of any reasonable consideration (which would be the 'blind faith' head-in-the-sand approach);

2.) continuing to believe religiously topical propositions to be true in the face of mere irrational temptations to give them up (intellectual self-discipline);

3.) inferring and acting upon religious conclusions from accepted religiously topical propositions even when the conclusions themselves are not immediately evident (acting on the expectation that Y will be found to be true on the basis of X);

4.) having trust in a person or persons in regard to religiously topical propositions, including trust in a religious person (what the content of my faith happens to be at any particular moment);

5.) continuing to trust in a religious person (like God) and/or in a person on religiously topical propositions (e.g. that some scholar or pope or teacher or preacher knows what they are talking about on such topics where I happen not to be able to check them) against irrational temptations to distrust;

6.) continuing to trust in sense (4) against mounting but still possibly circumstantial evidence, and so against actual (but possibly faulty) rationales;

7.) continuing to trust in sense (4) against mounting solid rationales.

The last varieties would also involve the personal objects of my faith being able to rely on me, and so they begin to overlap with the concept of me being a trustworthy person.


None of these faiths are somehow intrinsically "religious"--they are only "religious" insofar as the topics happen to be religious. Such faiths could be done on non-religious topics, or on religious topics by non-religious people, too. (So for example anyone, whether religious or irreligious, may infer on the basis of X that secular Y topic is true and so act accordingly even when Y has not yet been directly verified; or a person may infer on the basis of X that religious Y topic is not true and so act accordingly even though Y has not yet been directly falsified.)


In conclusion: there is no one simple catchall concept of faith; nor do I see any concept of faith, whether or not intellectually and/or ethically worthy, that is not held by religious and irreligious people alike. The only thing that makes a "religious faith" "religious" is whether the topic is primarily "religious" in some way.

JRP

Tony Hoffman said...

William: "As anyone watching the climate change debate and its distortions might agree, clinging to a belief in the face of varying evidence is not at all confined to theism/atheism."

Agreed. Although I think there are common heuristic tendencies (habits of thought?) whereas atheists more commonly alter their beliefs based on empirical evidence ( and the lack thereof ), whereas theists tend toward forming beliefs based on a more diverse set of heuristics.

I had a one-time business partner who one might say was skeptical (he tended toward a certain conspiracist mindset), but he seemed to confirm his skepticism through non-empirical techniques. For instance, he seemed to consistently use hearsay ("I talked to a guy at the gas pump who has a friend who is a secret service guy and he says that nobody knows this but...") as his defense for skepticism about a conventional belief. One could say that he was skeptical, I suppose, but it seemed to me that he skeptical of empirical evidence over less reliable techniques.

I agree with BDK, by the way, regarding the ambivalent (equivocal?) Christian use of the word Faith. It seems to me that that Faith, Evidence, Creationism, and Supernatural are all terms that Christians regularly complain non-Christians do not use properly, and yet I rarely (ever?) have seen those same Christians rectify this situation by defining the terms in ways that they will then allow to be applied consistently. In other words, this appear to be an in-house issue.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks Jason that is useful. In this more secular sense of 'faith' it indeed seems universal.

Secular people talk about 'trust' all the time--I know so-and-so Christian scholar says this, but my trusted historian friend says it is BS for these three reasons, and while I don't understand all the issues, I'm not going to spend my time on this topic. Especially since the original claim strikes me as odd and unreasonable given everything else I know.

But for me, such reliance isn't something I embrace as a virtue. It is simply something I have to accept as a constraint on having a finite time on this earth: I can't be an expert in everything. I would always rather figure things out myself than take someone's word for it.

Also, based on all these different meanings, and whether they have religious targets, when people say that atheists all have faith, there is a danger of equivocation on the word 'faith', or at least talking past one another.

I am sure that skeptics are guilty of talking past the religiously faithful too, as the notes here would seem to confirm.

Loftus should just be explicit about the scope of his argument, and that it isn't universal.

William said...

"Although I think there are common heuristic tendencies (habits of thought?) whereas atheists more commonly alter their beliefs based on empirical evidence ( and the lack thereof ), whereas theists tend toward forming beliefs based on a more diverse set of heuristics.
"

Likely true, but a consequence of the kinds of beliefs that have been carefully considered by either person, I think. A given article of faith is usually area-specific in our knowledge base.

For example, I expect either person would be equally likely to change or not change their belief that neutrinos cannot travel over light speed, but that a Christian would be less likely to believe that Jesus' body had been found in an archeological dig than the atheist would, for example.

Tony Hoffman said...

William: "For example, I expect either person would be equally likely to change or not change their belief that neutrinos cannot travel over light speed,.."

Because the evidence in either case would be empirical. I agree.

William: "...but that a Christian would be less likely to believe that Jesus' body had been found in an archeological dig than the atheist would, for example."

Because the Christian allows that an alternate heuristic from the empirical one (although I don't agree that any forensics regarding a body for Jesus would represent an empirical test -- that sounds like trying to establish that Shakespeare wrote his plays by using a test with a thermometer) is superior.

I agree that both theists and atheists can be (a certain kind of) skeptical. The question then becomes, is their skepticism applied consistently? and if the skepticism is not consistent, why should an inconsistent application be considered superior?

William said...

"
The question then becomes, is their skepticism applied consistently? and if the skepticism is not consistent, why should an inconsistent application be considered superior?
"

Realistically, no skeptic is consistent in their skepticism, though the reasons for inconsistency vary. It's hard to live without at least some practical trust in what we do not understand. Intuition, religious faith, and trust in others are all reasons even the more avowed skeptic limits their skepticism.

Tony Hoffman said...

William: "Realistically, no skeptic is consistent in their skepticism, though the reasons for inconsistency vary. It's hard to live without at least some practical trust in what we do not understand."

This seems to sweep the problem under the rug -- is it as practical to trust in something that we individually do not understand but has practical evidence (say, a feat of engineering) as it is to trust in something that some say they understand but has no practical evidence? I think that honest skeptics are fairly consistent about this -- skepticism is really about drawing the BS line on those who would declare things are settled that are, in fact, not.

William: "Intuition, religious faith, and trust in others are all reasons even the more avowed skeptic limits their skepticism."

Well, this is why I brought up the question of heuristics before. I am suggesting that a skeptic who changes how they evaluate reality based on shifting criteria is not really a skeptic. Skepticism is not about disagreeing with other opinions; it is about consistently applying a standard that suspends belief until that standard is met. Shifting the standard depending on the question forfeits the label of skeptic, at least in the way I understand the term.

William said...

"
Skepticism is not about disagreeing with other opinions; it is about consistently applying a standard that suspends belief until that standard is met.
"

How does one decide on that standard? Speaking, hypothetically, as as a skeptic about standards? Pragmatics?

Tony Hoffman said...

William: "How does one decide on that standard? Speaking, hypothetically, as as a skeptic about standards? Pragmatics?"

I'm not sure about the process of determining standards. Pragmatism certainly makes sense to me, and I'd default there until persuaded otherwise.

Do you have something in mind that you think should supersede pragmatism?

William said...

I agree, pragmatism seems to make the most sense in deciding when skepticism is warranted and when to act on what is not certain. So in practice, faith (or trust, etc-- not the Loftus definition) is something which is viable when useful, but foolish when destructive: agreed?

Tony Hoffman said...

William: "I agree, pragmatism seems to make the most sense in deciding when skepticism is warranted and when to act on what is not certain. So in practice, faith (or trust, etc-- not the Loftus definition) is something which is viable when useful, but foolish when destructive: agreed?"

I am not entirely sure I understand you here.

I would approximate skepticism as an approach which assumes propositions to be false until shown otherwise. In the sense that a proposition can be shown to be true, I favor a pragmatic approach (or productive), rather than one that seeks affirmation amongst our intuitions.

I adopt a skeptical approach to a number of propositions, but that does not mean that I continue to doubt propositions that have been shown to be true. To do so would be to confuse skepticism with obstinacy.

William said...

The pragmatic thing to do with things that are clearly true or false is to accept them as such.

What is the pragmatic thing to do when things are less certain? If your rule is to default to acting as if they are always false til proven true, I don't think that is always the pragmatic thing to do.

finney said...

One aspect of faith that Lewis neglects here is that faith, as understood by Christians, is not only directed *toward* God. It is also a mode of *experiencing* God. The reason faith is paramount to Christians is it is one way the conscious soul interacts with God's spirit. This exchange in turn enriches and builds one's faith.

Another way of putting the difference in how we treat it is this: We can look at faith as the sum and final decision which was the result of an entire process of thinking, intellectual probing, and doubting. This is how C.S. Lewis treats it here. But we can also look at faith as the initial assumption one brings to his relationship with God, as the starting-point of thinking, intellectual probing, and soul-searching. Loftus may have this variety of faith in mind. It's the latter variety that often comes under criticism. Christians tend to reply by emphasizing the former kind of faith. But really, they're both the same.

finney said...

One aspect of faith that Lewis neglects here is that faith, as understood by Christians, is not only directed *toward* God. It is also a mode of *experiencing* God. The reason faith is paramount to Christians is it is one way the conscious soul interacts with God's spirit. This exchange in turn enriches and builds one's faith.

Another way of putting the difference in how we treat it is this: We can look at faith as the sum and final decision which was the result of an entire process of thinking, intellectual probing, and doubting. This is how C.S. Lewis treats it here. But we can also look at faith as the initial assumption one brings to his relationship with God, as the starting-point of thinking, intellectual probing, and soul-searching. Loftus may have this variety of faith in mind. It's the latter variety that often comes under criticism. Christians tend to reply by emphasizing the former kind of faith. But really, they're both the same.

oozzielionel said...

Faith is also a gift from God. There must be an opening of the heart by God for faith to be possible both as an initial response to God and an ongoing relationship with God.