Monday, November 12, 2012

More dialogue with Loftus on faith

Phrases like "thinking exclusively in terms of probabilities" don't get us anywhere unless you are talking to someone who say 'Yes, I believe that not-P is more probable than P, but I believe P anyway, as a matter of faith." Now a thoroughgoing fideist might say something like that, but someone who is that much of a fideist would probably not bother to argue with you. Who you are likely to encounter here are people who think the evidence for their religious beliefs shows their beliefs to be more probable than its contradictory. The idea of faith, to them is simply trusting the one whom they think they have good reason to believe in.


Faith in God is trusting God, and so I don't see any real problem with the concept of faith as commonly used by Christians. The fact that they use such a concept in no way implies that they are closet fideists or anything like that. Someone could have faith in a spouse in a very different epistemic situation, a situation in which the evidence that the spouse is having an affair is very strong, but the person persists in having faith in their spouse nonetheless. Even here there are two scenarios. One of them is where the person says "Yes, the evidence suggests that she's having an affair, but I choose not to believe it." The second is where the person says that the evidence supports their spouse's fidelity. In the first case, you have cause, perhaps, to complain about the "leap of faith" they might be taking. In the second, the person is not taking a leap of faith, they are just misassessing the evidence and the probabilities.

If someone thinks that Christianity is probably true, then it's not going to be much of an issue if you tell them to think in terms of probabilities. If someone is believing that Christianity is true even though their best reasoning tells then the weight of the evidence is against it, then of course you might try to say they shouldn't have faith. If your assessment of the evidence is correct, then "reasonable faith" would not be instantiated anywhere, at least where faith concerns beings like God. But "reasonable faith" would not be an oxymoron, a contradictory concept. The world could have been such that reasonable faith is instantiated. But, on your view, it just doesn't happen to be that way.



34 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Faith is always like the "situation in which the evidence that the spouse is having an affair is very strong, but the person persists in having faith in their spouse nonetheless."

You see this when it comes to the other faiths you reject. I see this with your faith

Victor Reppert said...

But that's not essential to faith.

B. Prokop said...

Excellent point, Victor. The best one-line definition for faith I've ever heard goes something like:

"Faith is not believing in God, it's believing God."

John, see the difference?

Tony Hoffman said...

I think that you are confusing "faith in" with "faith that." I can only have faith in my spouse to be faithful if I first have faith that she exists.

Under any normal definition reserved for "faith that" something exists, your God appears to conform with so many other fanciful entities. Thus, talk of fideism does still seem apt, does it not?

Crude said...

Under any normal definition reserved for "faith that" something exists, your God appears to conform with so many other fanciful entities.

Complete nonsense, unless 'fideism' is taken to mean 'entities for which believers assert an army of philosophical, metaphysical, even empirical arguments and evidences and expert opinion in favor, and believe for those reasons - so long as someone else regards those arguments and evidence as failing'. In which case, it's hard to see who isn't a fideist, so why bring it up?

Even John's falling into that. According to John, faith is believing something when the evidence is against them. But by and large most theists, certainly most of the prominent historical theists, don't and didn't believe the evidence is against them. So, they don't have faith by John's standard.

If John says they do have faith on the grounds that he personally thinks their evidence and arguments are weak, and because making that judgment determines faith, then surprise - John has faith too, according to anyone who judges John's arguments and evidence as unpersuasive. And that is a very, very long list.

B. Prokop said...

Tony,

No, I was not confusing them. If you (for the sake of argument) accept my definition of faith, then one must be convinced that God exists prior to having faith.

Crude said...

By the way, since it's another Loftus thread, I'd like to ask John a point blank question.

Can a person reject naturalism - or even be agnostic about the truth of naturalism - and be a reasonable person, in your view?

Thanks.

Papalinton said...

"If you (for the sake of argument) accept my definition of faith, then one must be convinced that God exists prior to having faith."

How does one reconcile the idea that god exists prior to having faith in the context of childhood indoctrination? This is by far and away the major social transmission strategy by which the existence of a god is implanted in the forming mind of a child. Even I experienced this almost universally acknowledged inculcation process by which I was introduced, first, to the existence of a god, along with many other supernatural phenomena, and secondly, around which the bible was the sole reference utilised as a 'verification' source or fact tool.

Clearly there are those that mature, understanding and appreciating the mythos for what it is, and those emotionally incapable of intellectually subduing the pull of superstition, in very much the same sense shamanism can grip the imagination of the unsuspecting and unwitting village person.

It is fallacious to suggest that 'faith' is a result of evidence of the existence of a god. Despite two millennia of 'theological scholarship', it is clear that Apologetics has simply failed to build an evidentiary case for the existence of supernatural phantasms. Otherwise there would be no controversy, no discussion to be entered into. This issue would have been resolved, period. The only explanation that singularly accounts for the myriad of manifestations and expressions of supernaturalism and superstition, that humanity has imaginatively conjured since the dawn of time, is that they are all derivatives of cultural and social attempts at providing a 'creation story', a story relevant and relative to each culture or society.

The only truth in these expressions of cultural and group associative identity, is that people use the same evolutionary psycho-social predilection common to all humans to weave that story of inclusion into the natural order. They are not truths of the existence of putatively 'live' supernatural entities. Anyone who claims otherwise is simply talking through their proverbial.

B. Prokop said...

"How does one reconcile the idea that God exists prior to having faith in the context of childhood indoctrination?"

That's simply a case of one having been born lucky. Just as I was lucky not to have been born into poverty. No more significant than that.

"It is fallacious to suggest that 'faith' is a result of evidence of the existence of a God."

I did not say (or even "suggest") that it was. I said that faith was subsequent to belief.

A man first has to believe his wife exists before he can have faith in her.

BenYachov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BenYachov said...

If we assume for the sake of argument that no God exists neither classical or theistic personal.

Then what evidence has Loftus to offer us that his definition of "faith" is the same as any historical definition given by any western monotheistic religious tradition?

Because I can deny God tomorrow and still think Loftus is full of shit.

So buddy put up or shut up.

Show us your definition of "faith" is actually and formally the definition accepted by an actual western monotheistic religion.

Again put up or shut up.

Syllabus said...

Sometimes I wonder whether some people actually understand a single thing that they write.

B. Prokop said...

"Sometimes I wonder whether some people actually understand a single thing that they write."

As a longtime professional linguist and translator, I can assure you that no one fully understands anything that they (or others) write.

It's one of the many reasons I could never be a literalist or a fundamentalist. Words are an inherently slippery thing. Just look at all the virtual ink that's been spilled on this and John's websites over the word "faith".

Tony Hoffman said...

Yeah, this post and some of its supporters are incoherent. As I pointed out, you can't have faith in before faith that. If the contrary is your position, then at least be truthful and call yourself a fideist.

If you think I'm misreading, please re-read the first paragraph of the OP. That's what it says -- I'm just pointing out that it's simply incoherent.

HyperEntity111 said...

John Loftus posted: "I see this with your faith."

This statement can be translated as "I think it is true that faith involves belief in the face of contrary evidence.".

But to think something is true is to believe it. And John has previously stated that he has no beliefs. So John holds contradictory propositions to be true simultaneously. It seems that John has gone mad.

HyperEntity111 said...

Tony posted: "As I pointed out, you can't have in before having faith that."

You are misusing the word faith. "Faith" that your wife exists is a belief based upon evidence. It is not really worth being called faith. However, faith that she is not cheating on you is a matter of trust. Belief in God is a belief based upon excellent evidence. Faith that God will reunite us with loved ones in another life is a matter of trust. Nobody is disputing your contention that you must first believe in something before having faith that it does something. What is disputed is your suggestion that belief in God is not supported by evidence and so not analogous to the wife example. What is disputed is your reading of Victor which appears to be "He thinks faith that God exists is analogous to having faith in the faithfulness of your wife." Actually, what Victor was saying was more akin to "Having faith in God is analogous to having faith in your wife." Can you spot the difference between the latter and the former?

Tony Hoffman said...

H111, my assertion is that the OP is incoherent. You should stick with what I'm arguing. And you should (2nd time now) try and re-read the OP for what was written, and not what you would like for it to say.

In particular, you should try and reconcile this with your last comment:

VR: "Who you are likely to encounter here are people who think the evidence for their religious beliefs shows their beliefs to be more probable than its contradictory. The idea of faith, to them is simply trusting the one whom they think they have good reason to believe in."

B. Prokop said...

Tony,

I don't see what you are getting at. Victor's statement that you quoted is saying exactly the same thing that HE111 is in his last comment. Just different wording, but same meaning.

Eric said...

"Faith is always like the "situation in which the evidence that the spouse is having an affair is very strong, but the person persists in having faith in their spouse nonetheless.""

Given what so many well educated, intelligent Christians have told you, John, why not at least put it this way:

To you, the Christian who claims to value evidence and reason, it seems as if faith is trust in what reason and evidence have led you to conclude is true, but to me, and to others who disagree with you, it seems as if faith involves believing with insufficient reasons and evidence for your conclusions.

This is the only intellectually honest formulation of your position that I can come up with. But the reason, I suspect, that you don't put it this way is because it places us right back where we started, viz. examining who's in fact right about where reason and the evidence points. It's much easier simply to define faith as a leap over the probabilities.

On that latter point, I'd like to introduce a distinction between (1) a conclusion that goes beyond the probabilities and (2) a conclusion that goes against the probabilities.

Let's say that the probability that A is true is .9, but that I have to choose whether to act on A. If I choose to act on A, then I'm going beyond the probabilities because I'm committing myself to the extent that I'm choosing to act on the supposition that A is true, but, assuming that A is more probably true than any alternative, I'm going with the probabilities. So, I'm both going beyond the probabilities (in the sense of (1)) and acting in accord with the probabilities (in the sense of (2)). But if I choose B instead of A, and the chance that B is true is .5, then I'm going beyond the probabilities (in the sense of (1)) and I'm going against the probabilities (in the sense of (2)).

So, while faith, understood as trust or commitment, may necessarily involve going beyond the probabilities in the sense that *any* act of trust or commitment does, it need not involve going against the probabilities.

Papalinton said...

Ben
"Then what evidence has Loftus to offer us that his definition of "faith" is the same as any historical definition given by any western monotheistic religious tradition?

Because I can deny God tomorrow and still think Loftus is full of shit."


But you don't. You have never denied the existence of a supernatural phantasm. So to imagine Loftus is full of shit is moot. That is why

Reppert says, "Faith in God is trusting God, ..." but that statement can only be sustained on the presupposition that there is a god to trust in the first instance, which substantiates Loftus's correct observation, faith is a belief in god in spite of the probabilities. More correctly, faith is belief in the belief that a god exists. Nothing more, nothing less. Had there been a scintilla of evidence, other than the personal woozy factor, which can never constitute evidence, this issue would have already been resolved long ago, period. But the controversy persists due overwhelmingly to the longevity of the tradition of belief in supernatural superstition. However, subscribing to tradition is an abysmally poor measure of proof or evidence. And longevity itself has never been a source of veridicality. Otherwise tradition and longevity would equally account' for the veracity of Islam, Hindism or Taoism. I cite other biblical traditions that have collapsed due to the paucity of christian evidence, such as the centuries of slavery, the ending of divorce and the current transition towards social acceptability of homosexuality and same-sex marriages, each a manufactured creation of tradition and long-lived christian thought and philosophy.

The existence of god through faith is simply another sacred dogma that is slowly scattering to the wind. The OTF, the 'Loftus Axiom', is on track in dispelling the mythos around which christianity has been fabricated.

Papalinton said...

Bob
"That's simply a case of one having been born lucky. Just as I was lucky not to have been born into poverty. No more significant than that."

Then no evidence of god's plan in your lucky streak? I always knew you were a methodological naturalist at heart, Bob, just as I am for all intents and purposes, except that I subscribe to a rather different creation story than you, one that has no prerequisite in the supernatural. You predilection for catholicism is not because it is true, well certainly not in the more usual term of evidence, proofs or facts, but rather you are clearly comfortable with it and the social milieu is supports.

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, my claim is that we must think exclusively in terms of probabilities. Acting on them is a side issue. But when it comes to this side issue committing oneself to them is more to the point.

Crude said...

Eric, my claim is that we must think exclusively in terms of probabilities. Acting on them is a side issue.

How is it a side issue? Are you saying we must think in terms of probabilities, but those probabilities shouldn't dictate what we should believe or do?

And, I'd like to know if someone can reject naturalism and still be rational under your view.

B. Prokop said...

"I always knew you were a methodological naturalist at heart"

Aw, whatever helps you sleep at night. But really, you and John make way too much of the whole birth issue. My answer was simply another way of saying, "Who cares?"

As for proofs, I think I Christianity holds by far the better hand in that game. You're blinded by your ideology and apparent personal issues, but the Case for the Resurrection is overwhelming. No need to go over it here in a blog posting. Entire libraries have been filled with the evidence in favor. The evidence against? A joke.

Walter said...

More correctly, faith is belief in the belief that a god exists. Nothing more, nothing less. Had there been a scintilla of evidence, other than the personal woozy factor, which can never constitute evidence, this issue would have already been resolved long ago, period

This is not entirely true. I am sure that there are plenty of fideists out there who believe in God(s) without any good reason to do so, but some of us believe in some form of Deity based on philosophical arguments that appear to be sound. We would conclude that the existence of a Deity is more probable than its nonexistence. And although I do not assess the evidence for Christianity as favorably as many here, I concede that they do believe that there is strong evidential support for their particular beliefs, making their faith rational even if it is possibly misguided. This fixation on construing all god-believers as fideists is doing nothing to advance the conversation.

Tony Hoffman said...

H111 and BProkop,

VR's wrote: "Who you are likely to encounter here are people who think the evidence for their religious beliefs shows their beliefs to be more probable than its contradictory. The idea of faith, to them is simply trusting the one whom they think they have good reason to believe in."

I understand "religious beliefs" above to include the existence of the Christian God. And I understand faith above to include the belief that the Christian God will act as the Christian God would, given that he exists. But trusting the Christian God (faith) is already covered in the beliefs about that God's existence in the first -- you can't have a meaningful distinction between religious beliefs about the existence of a Christian God as defined by your religious beliefs, and separate religious beliefs about the actions of that God who is the same one you believe in. It just seem incoherent to me.

BenYachov said...

So basically nobody can give me any empirical evidence Loftus understanding or definition of "faith" is an actual historical one used formally by some western monotheistic western religion.

>The OTF, the 'Loftus Axiom', is on track in dispelling the mythos around which christianity has been fabricated.

Jesse Parson Atheist philosopher has shown the OTF is unworkable.

Your fideist blind faith in it not withstanding.

Like I said I can deny God tomorrow and Loftus is still full of shit as are his mindless partisans.

B. Prokop said...

"you can't have a meaningful distinction between religious beliefs about the existence of a Christian God as defined by your religious beliefs, and separate religious beliefs about the actions of that God who is the same one you believe in."

You can't? Why not? I certainly distinguish between them. Are you telling me that since you can't seem to see the distinction, that no one else should either?

One is based on evidence and reason. The other is based on faith. Done.

Eric said...

"Eric, my claim is that we must think exclusively in terms of probabilities. Acting on them is a side issue. But when it comes to this side issue committing oneself to them is more to the point."

John, you wrote this in a post at DC ("Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All?"):

"I should think exclusively in terms of probabilities. When there is sufficient evidence to arrive at a conclusion then I should hold to that conclusion with the same degree of probability it has, and nothing more."

Here's what I can't seem to understand: What is the difference between holding the conclusion, "I will safely make the drive from Boston to New York City tomorrow" with a probability of .9 or .95? You say that one "should hold to [a] conclusion with the same degree of probability it has"; what does that actually mean? Or, to take another example where future action isn't as obviously involved, what's the difference between holding the conclusion, "phyletic gradualism is a more accurate evolutionary model than punctuated equilibrium" with a probability of .75 or .9?

Now if your answer concerns either the sorts of actions you would take given one figure over another (or the confidence with which you would undertake them), or the quality and amount of evidence you would require to change your mind about a conclusion given one figure over another, then how can you divorce beliefs, probabilities and actions in the way you tried above? And if the difference involves neither action nor the confidence you place in a conclusion, then what does it involve?

I'm not being thick or disputatious here -- I'm genuinely trying to understand what you're getting at with your probability slogan.

(Incidentally, you didn't comment on my distinction between "going beyond the probabilities" and "going against the probabilities"; would you say that it clears up some of the discussion? After all, we could go beyond the probabilities while remaining in accord with the probabilities, which is to say without going against the probabilities. Would you say that going beyond the probabilities is as irrational as going against the probabilities, generally speaking?)

HyperEntity111 said...

Tony says: "...re-read the OP for what was written, and not what you would like for it to say.''


Ok then.

VR posted: "Who you are likely to encounter here are people who think the evidence for their religious beliefs shows their beliefs to be more probable than its contradictory.''


In other words: There are people here who believe that their religious beliefs are based upon evidence.


VR posted: ''The idea of faith, to them is simply trusting the one whom they think they have good reason to believe in."


In other words: They have faith in somebody they already believe exists. Which is precisely what me and Prokop have been repeating for some time now.


Tony clarifies: "I understand "religious beliefs" above to include the existence of the Christian God. And I understand faith above to include the belief that the Christian God will act as the Christian God would, given that he exists. But trusting the Christian God (faith) is already covered in the beliefs about that God's existence in the first -- you can't have a meaningful distinction between religious beliefs about the existence of a Christian God as defined by your religious beliefs, and separate religious beliefs about the actions of that God who is the same one you believe in.''


I must confess I find the above paragraph to be largely incomprehensible. The following example is a simple breakdown of what (I assume) most people here mean by 'faith'.

1) God exists (belief)

2) God has revealed himself through the resurrection of Jesus (belief)

3) The Bible states that God has promised humans an afterlife, forgiveness of sins etc (belief)

4) Christians believe God will fulfil his promises (trust/faith)


Can you explain what you find incoherent about the above formulation of faith?




Tony Hoffman said...

H111, I agree with you. I re-read what I wrote, and wrote again (all too-quickly, as it now looks), and I don't believe that your example is incoherent, and that your example is a fair approximation of what VR had originally written (and it seems I misunderstood that, even on a second reading).

My apologies.

B. Prokop said...

Random thought here, but perhaps one big mistake that John has made is by yanking Faith out of its New Testament context of being inextricably part of the trio of "Faith, Hope, and Love"?

David B Marshall said...

Prokop: I just looked over your profile page. You have good taste in writers! Though Solzhenitsyn's best is First Circle. God's best book? Tough call.

B. Prokop said...

I too love V Kruge Pervom (The First Circle). I have a first edition (in Russian) copy. But Arkhipelag GULag is my favorite by him. Solzhenitsyn is one of those writers who's either fantastically good or really bad. Don't understand how that can be, but he's not the only one like that.

Don't ask me what my very favorite book is, though. It keeps changing, but the finalists are usually The Divine Comedy, Le Morte d'Arthur, Four Quartets, and Canterbury Tales.