Friday, January 02, 2015

Bradley Bowen at The Secular Outpost on Loftus' definitions of faith

In this post on Secular Outpost, and this one, Bradley Bowen raises some criticisms concerning Loftus' use of the term "faith."

In response, I said:

I think you have put your finger on a serious problem with Loftus. The problem, and it is a common one coming from this wing of the atheist movement, is that they use the word "faith" in ways that thinking believers would not recognize. Since believers are, presumably, the target audience, your arguments are going to be lost on everyone you are presumably trying to convince. Definitions like this one, or that of Boghossian, play very well with the atheist "choir", but are invariably going to be perceived as total misunderstandings by reflective Christians.
Of course, I suppose you could be going for the "low-information believer," in an attempt to exploit their ignorance. I find this to be highly unethical, but you may win some souls that way.

29 comments:

im-skeptical said...

"they use the word "faith" in ways that thinking believers would not recognize."

That goes without saying. Of course believers don't recognize the cognitive bias that is characteristic of their faith. But their failure to recognize it is no indication that it doesn't exist.

Legion of Logic said...

There is no cognitive bias. Atheists simply can't admit they are wrong.

B. Prokop said...

"Faith" is (and has been for millennia) been listed amongst the Seven Virtues: Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Courage, Faith Hope, and Love (Charity). Therefore, by definition, any description of Faith which does not characterize it as virtuous, is simply wrong - no different than badmouthing Justice or Courage. You might be defining some imaginary term of your own creation with the same spelling and pronunciation as Faith, but it ain't the same thing. End of story.

William said...

"believers don't recognize the cognitive bias"

This statement can be seen as Bulverism in action. Whatever the definition of faith should be, that discussion is shunted aside by the assertion that the source of that definition is a well that is poisoned, so to speak.

See:
http://www.barking-moonbat.com/God_in_the_Dock.html

im-skeptical said...

This post is about the meaning of the word 'faith'.

Here is what Merriam-Webster says

1 a: allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty
b (1): fidelity to one's promises (2): sincerity of intentions
2 a (1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
b (1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust
3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially: a system of religious beliefs
— on faith: without question

Now, Christians tend to use their own peculiar definition, and then complain that others just don't understand it the same as they do. According to Bob, the dictionary definition of the word is "simply wrong", because it doesn't characterize faith as a virtue.

The dictionary definition uses terms like "strong conviction", "without question", and "no proof". This captures the understanding that the rest of us have it. You can make up your own definition to suit your biases if you like, but it is unreasonable to complain that everyone else doesn't understand it. That is Bulverism.

Ilíon said...

VR: "Of course, I suppose you could be going for the "low-information believer," in an attempt to exploit their ignorance. I find this to be highly unethical, but you may win some souls that way."

Indeed, 'atheists' are out to "win souls" just as we Christians are.

The difference (I mean, other that what the two sides are trying to win the soulds to) is that given their metaphysical commitments, it makes no sense for 'atheists' to try to spread God-denial. For, by their metaphysics, it makes no difference whether someone loves God or hates him: everyone dies and ceases to exist.

This is one reason I write the word in quotes: precious few so-called 'atheists' really are atheists, for they don't *really* believe what they so noisily assert.

William said...

Skep:

Your dictionary definition is fine.

I Note however that, of the six lines of the definition, the first 3 are what Christians would most agree with, and it's the later, likely less generally used meanings that are the ones you would emphasize.

That can be seen to mean that some atheists are arguing using a peculiar,technical meaning for "faith" that is different from the most common types of usage.

im-skeptical said...

"That can be seen to mean that some atheists are arguing using a peculiar,technical meaning for "faith" that is different from the most common types of usage."

It's not "less generally used". It's just the senses of the word that we all understand, but you reject because you don't like the implication.

William said...

I fully agree that the technical meaning used by atheists is one of the meanings of the word.

But when we force the world into our peculiar, technical definitions, we may find that we are putting blinders on what we see of the world.

I do reject the implication, for example, that all horses are rocking-horses because a (hypothetical) group of people say that that is the real, genuine, correct and proper understanding of the word :).

Victor Reppert said...

Why do I say that thinking believers would not recognize this kind of definition? In one sense, the definition surely exists. For example, there certainly is a position in philosophy of religion, which holds that, due to faith, one should not rationally evaluate one's religious beliefs.

But if you look at the Webster definitions of faith, as is typical you find more than one, and only when you get to the third definition do you find one that supports the fideistic interpretation of the term.

Even there the "no proof" concept doesn't even support the charge of irrationality, since there are many things that are not proven (in the sense that evidence strong enough to convince all reasonable persons is not present), which is true of many things which are reasonable to believe.

However, there are people who are fideists, and maybe these people are the target audience for people like Loftus.

If so, their way of arguing against them strikes me as odd. Pointing out to such a person that they aren't being rational wouldn't be much of an argument, since they are not trying to be rational. Someone like this might, for example say something like this:

"Whether what I believe is true or not doesn't matter. It makes me feel good, and you can't change that. Suppose I am wrong. Is the God who doesn't exist going to punish me for believing in his existence without evidence? I don't think so."

I don't know how you answer that. Appeal to the objective moral badness of believing without evidence? I don't think so.

William said...

Good point, especially if it means that by "recognize this kind of definition" you mean "approve of as officially correct."

im-skeptical said...

I don't have a problem with whatever reason people have for believing. But it is dishonest to say that faith is based on evidence if it isn't. Or perhaps it is denialism. Nobody wants to think that their belief is not rationally based. They would rather say "My faith is rational. My faith is based on solid evidence, and you just don't understand it."

To a skeptic, it does not appear to be based on evidence. It appears that you believe things that are extremely improbable and implausible. You believe them because you were raised to believe them, not because they make logical sense, or because there is objective evidence in support of those beliefs. You claim that the stories in the bible are superb evidence, but they aren't - not unless you already believe.

And that's where the charges of cognitive bias come from. A skeptic understands that the things you find compelling are not compelling at all to anybody who is not already convinced (or who doesn't want to be convinced).

If I told you I have absolute faith that there is a flying spaghetti monster and I insist that I have very good reason to believe it (it' all written in the book of FSM), and if you don't think my faith is rational, you are just blind to the evidence and don't understand the true nature of faith the way I do, would you then say "Well, I suppose it is reasonable after all", or would you be justified in thinking that I am suffering from some kind of cognitive bias? Would you think that I really don't have good evidence, but I have convinced myself that my faith is well-reasoned despite the fact that it isn't?

B. Prokop said...

" But it is dishonest to say that faith is based on evidence if it isn't."

And who made Skep the arbiter of whether or not a believer is "honest" when he says his faith is evidence based? Skep may not accept the evidence, but the believer does. Skep may not like it, but that still makes the believer's faith evidence based.

im-skeptical said...

So you agree that belief in FSM is rational and based on rock-solid evidence?

B. Prokop said...

If the FSM believer thinks he has evidence, and is genuinely convinced by it (and not just playing an infantile game), then his belief is (for him) evidence based.

However, I am not aware of a single person who actually believes in the FSM, and is not just being a jackass who (erroneously) thinks he's being funny. If you know of one, kindly identify him/her by name. If you can't, then the FSM is not relevant to the discussion.

im-skeptical said...

Bob,

This is not just a case of some infantile jackass trying to be funny. This is a serious attempt to make a point to you. You can see other claims about claims about evidence-based beliefs the way the rest of the world sees them. But you can't see your own claims the way the rest of the world sees them. That's cognitive bias.

William said...

Skep,

BP. was pointing out that you lack actual belief in a FSM. If you did actually believe in some unusual deity, we could explore your reasons for belief, and I might, if I heard good reasons for your belief and if I saw behaviors consistent with faith, agree that you had a rational faith in that deity even if I did not share it.

im-skeptical said...

And I might, if I heard good reasons for your belief, agree that you had a rational faith in that deity even if I did not share it. The way you behave as a result of that belief has nothing to do with the question of whether the belief is rationally based.

Victor Reppert said...

I keep have to asking the same question, but what would evidence for God, or the FSM for that matter, look like if we had it. Is it in principle possible for these things to have evidence supporting them?

im-skeptical said...

"Is it in principle possible for these things to have evidence supporting them?"

If it isn't then one would have no basis to claim that their faith is based on evidence.

William said...

quoting skep:

"The way you behave as a result of that belief has nothing to do with the question of whether the belief is rationally based."
-------

Yes, that may be true often, but are you using "belief" and "faith" interchangeably? That leaves out the loyalty and trust that are in the Merriam-Webster above.

William said...

Evidence can mean many things:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence#Types_of_evidence

im-skeptical said...

I suppose I have used 'belief' and 'faith' interchangeably, but I don't think it makes much difference. Faith has several meanings, and they don't all apply to this discussion, necessarily. We are talking about religious faith, which is very close to religious belief. The question is whether faith (or religious belief) has rational justification (which comes from objective evidence), or may be characterized by cognitive bias instead.

There certainly are different kinds of evidence. They are not all rational. If you have a subjective feeling about something (as in sensus divinitatis), that may be a reason to believe it, but it's not a rational reason.

Ilíon said...

VR: "But if you look at the Webster definitions of faith, as is typical you find more than one, and only when you get to the third definition do you find one that supports the fideistic interpretation of the term."

'Faith' is *our* word; the pretend-atheists and other anti-Christians, or the merely indifferent as at Webster's, don't get to (re)define it differently that we have always defined it. And *we* have always defined 'faith' as the act of remaining true to the intellectual-and-moral commitment one had previously made on the basis of rational evaluation of evidence.

*Our* definition of 'faith' allows for the possibility that one made that commitment on incomplete, or even false, evidence. And thus:
1) withdrawing one's intellectual assent in the absence of new (to oneself) evidence that the original assent was flawed is intellectually-and-morally condemnatory; (*)
2) withdrawing one's intellectual assent upon possession of new (to oneself) evidence that the original assent was flawed is intellectually-and-morally obligatory; (*)

VR: "Even there the "no proof" concept doesn't even support the charge of irrationality, since there are many things that are not proven (in the sense that evidence strong enough to convince all reasonable persons is not present), which is true of many things which are reasonable to believe."

Moreover, *all* rational reasoning is based upon non-rational or intuitive axioms that one either accepts or rejects as being true: reason can't even get started without intuition.

So, all these pretend reason-heads are really doing with such criticisms is denying the very possibility of reasoning while pretending to be Paragons and Champions of Reason (tm). And, one sees that denial made explicit when they are logically cornered: they will latch onto *any* irrationality before they will simply admit the God is.

VR: "However, there are people who are fideists, and maybe these people are the target audience for people like Loftus.

If so, their way of arguing against them strikes me as odd. Pointing out to such a person that they aren't being rational wouldn't be much of an argument, since they are not trying to be rational. Someone like this might, for example say something like this:

"Whether what I believe is true or not doesn't matter. It makes me feel good, and you can't change that. Suppose I am wrong. Is the God who doesn't exist going to punish me for believing in his existence without evidence? I don't think so."

I don't know how you answer that. Appeal to the objective moral badness of believing without evidence? I don't think so.
"

(*) related to the point at the beginning of the post --
Indeed. When your metaphysic necessarily denies the objective-and-transcendent reality of moral obligations, you're hardly in the position to raise any sort of objection when someone makes a move you don't want his to make. But then, one does constantly see pretend-atheists making moral assertions -- their whole sad attack on God and/or "religion" is built on making unfounded moral assertions.

Moreover, this hypothetical fideist understands the logical entailments of the atheistic metaphysic better that his hypothetic atheistic opponent does (which is also consistently true of the real-life God-deniers one encounters) -- if atheism is indeed the truth about the nature of reality, then it makes absolutely no difference whether one ascribes to this truth or denies it, nor for what reasons, if any, that one does either.

Consider how absolutely amazing this is: Atheism is a metaphysic that matters only if it is false! If it were true, its very truth would render it utterly irrelevant.

Ilíon said...

VR: "I keep have to asking the same question, but what would evidence for God, or the FSM for that matter, look like if we had it. Is it in principle possible for these things to have evidence supporting them?"

Of course, one has to know what one means, in the particular context, by 'God'. For instance, if one is interested simply in establishing the truth of "mere theism", then one has taken on a different task than if one is interested in establishing the truth of Christianity.

And, of course, one has to know what one (and one's opponent and/or target audience) means by 'evidence'.

The deliverances of reason *are* evidence, and frequently better evidence (no matter the topic) than the deliverances of empiricism. *Reason* shows us that God-denial is incoherent, which is to say, false. Thus, *reason* shows us that God is: that atheism is *not* the truth about the nature of reality, but rather that "mere theism" is the truth about the nature of reality.

And once one acknowledges the truth that God is, one is intellectually-and-morally free to critique Christianity -- but not before. As I keep saying, God-deniers don't even belong at "the kids' table", much less "the grown-ups' tanle", they belong on the floor with the other non-rational animals.

But, if one lets the God-deniers define 'evidence' to mean only the empirical -- which is to say, only those individual empirical items which they will acknowledge as being evidence -- then one has set oneself a very difficult task: for they will *always* find a way to discount any empirical evidence pointing toward God. Even something that they previously admitted as being evidence will suddenly become non-evidence when you pull the "trick" of revealing how it points toward God.

God-deniers are all about "heads-I-win, tails-you-lose".

im-skeptical said...

"'Faith' is *our* word; the pretend-atheists and other anti-Christians, or the merely indifferent as at Webster's, don't get to (re)define it differently that we have always defined it"

Illion makes my point. You can't make your own peculiar definition of 'faith' and then complain that the rest of the world doesn't understand it in your peculiar way. And please don't tell me that it is the rest of the world that has redefined the word. YOU have.

Victor Reppert said...

If you say that Christians have redefined the word, then, of course you are assuming that it initially had a different meaning and Christians changed it.

I think the term does indeed have several meanings. However, if you want to communicate with Christians to try to show them what is wrong with what they believe, then you really can't argue that the fact that they use the word "faith" means that they are being irrational and they know it.

An example of someone like this would be this quote.

Faith is clearly NOT a belief in an unknown or unrealized proposition that is SUPPORTED by the evidence, because if that belief was supported by the evidence, it ipso facto does NOT REQUIRE Faith.

http://meaningwithoutgodproject.blogspot.com/2010/10/faith-last-refuge-of-irrational.html

You can argue that theistic beliefs are in fact irrational, but you cannot argue that because Christians use a word that is sometimes used to denote irrationality. They are not going to agree to this definition.

Here's C. S. Lewis: 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.

B. Prokop said...

"If you say that Christians have redefined the word, then, of course you are assuming that it initially had a different meaning and Christians changed it."

This is what I was attempting to get across in my very first posting to this thread. From the very beginning, Faith was listed amongst the Virtues, and was defined in purely positive terms - just as we today define justice, courage, or charity. Any alternative definition (such as Boghossian's) is the alteration, and a departure from its actual meaning.

"This is a serious attempt to make a point to you."

No it is not. Unless you can name an actual, sincere believer in the FSM, then any mention of such has no relevance to this discussion. It is simply engaging in jackassery.

im-skeptical said...

"Unless you can name an actual, sincere believer in the FSM, then any mention of such has no relevance to this discussion. It is simply engaging in jackassery."

It is serious, Bob. The evidence in support of FSM is every bit as good as the evidence in support of your own supernatural being. This is not a joke. Who are you to declare that your supernatural being is more real than someone else's? Why do you think your evidence is any better? It's sheer cognitive bias.