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Don’t forget – 50% of profits from J&M book sales throughout July goes to the One Law for All campaign against sharia law in the UK.



Discussion (114)¬

  1. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Ah, the old s’fisticated feeology. Don’t dismiss gods until you’ve read everybody else’s wishful thinking first. Well, I don’t need to sit through the whole Twilight series’ to dismiss vampires, why waste hours I’ll never get back reading Aquinas et al?

  2. adfadd says:

    Way to busy to go through all that. What do have in a video?

  3. IanB says:

    Yeah that’s me convinced jesus or not as the case maybe.

  4. J Ascher says:

    That last book should be called Sophisticated Sophistry! Even reading those books, the evidence is *stacked* against Jesus.

  5. Your link to one law for all is busted. Also:

    “* We demand that the law be amended so that all religious tribunals are
    banned from operating within and outside of the legal system.”

    Also, the Jews have been doing this in the UK for age: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7233040.stm

  6. Dear Author, sorry if my (now deleted) comment was unwelcome. It didn’t break any of your rules, though… Still, love your work!

  7. I suppose I have the same reaction I get when I ask my fundie godbothering friend to read “The Greatest Show on Earth”. My mind is made up. The difference is that I’ve actually heard all the arguments before, straight from the apologists, whereas they’ve only heard arguments from AIG. Thanks for this one, Author. In a nutshell, once again.

  8. Nassar Ben Houdja says:

    Do not be a long winded schnook
    And quote from some incomprehensible book
    If there is something to say
    Pronounce it in a simple way
    There’s things to see, if you take a look.

  9. DocAtheist says:

    @Dave Hodgkinson, thanks for the good article. It says the British legal system allows for arbitration outside the courts. Some Jews wish to work within Jewish law as well as British law. They choose the Bet Din for this, thanks to its combined knowledge, experience and skill. The plaintiffs and defendants could just as easily pick three Jewish lawyers to panel their arbitration. By Jewish law, that, too, would be called a Beit Din, which translates to “Judicial House.” As the article clarifies, the Beit Din only handles civil cases, only if both sides are Jewish individuals, and only if each side independently agrees.

  10. DocAtheist says:

    Author, good ‘toon. I can’t read those books. I tried! They’re jibberish!

  11. noreligion2 says:

    I ‘m totally off with the cadence, but I have to offer a revision:

    Do not be a long winded schnook
    And quote from some incomprehensible book
    Whether a bible, quran or the torah
    Disregard all that crap
    I implore ya

  12. Daoloth says:

    I can’t recall who said that theology was not about proving gods existence but about providing sophisticated reasons why such proofs can’t be given–but there is some truth in it. Having said that, some interesting logical advances have fallen out of theology–often with trying to work out what is wrong with the ontological argument. Even Russell confesses to having had a brief struggle with that one. Smart folk like Lewis, Plantinga et al did not think themselves into a belief in god. Atheists should not be too smug, however. There are equally few people who have thought themselves out of a belief in god.

  13. brian t says:

    I tried some “sophisticated theology” once: a book called “The Drama of Atheist Humanism” by Henri de Lubac, who later became the Vatican’s top theologist on the basis of that and other books. It starts off with a fairly reasonable explanation of humanism and empiricism, then says “but there has to be more” and goes off the rails entirely. From that point I sounded like a broken record, muttering “no … no … no … no …” until I gave up. Apparently, Dostoevsky was a religious sage whose fiction included some “solid” arguments for the evils of anything but blind obedience to Catholicism. I think *not*.

  14. Ketil W.Grevstad says:

    this was funny, i like it :-) :-)

  15. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Nassar, my old Cherub, please be a darling and heed your own advice; “If there is something to say, Pronounce it in a simple way”! Your ideas are often very clever, but you really haven’t got the hang of the whole poetry thing.

    ‘Ere, why no Ken Ham in that pile of books, Jesus? If anybody’s going to convince me of the truth of God, it’s good old Ke…..sorry, can’t keep it up!

  16. And Keith Ward. And Alister McGrath, and John Haught, and wosname, that German fella – Tillich, that’s the one. He’s waaaaaay sophisticated. God is the ground of all being. Top that, Smartyboots!

  17. Len says:

    @Daoloth:

    Smart folk like Lewis, Plantinga et al did not think themselves into a belief in god. Atheists should not be too smug, however. There are equally few people who have thought themselves out of a belief in god.

    While I agree with your sentiment that people don’t think themselves in to a belief in god, I think you’ll find quite a few have thought themselves out of one.

  18. Daoloth says:

    @Len. I wonder. While I would love to claim that its my amazing logical brain that has given me atheism the truth is that I have just never felt that the universe cares about me. Others look at me with pity when I say this but it really does not give me any kind of ennui. Others of my acquaintance who have thought themselves out of their own religious backgrounds have rapidly thought themselves into another one. The cliche of the middleclass Jewish Budhist in my part of the world is very real. Now the plural of annecdote is not evidence, sure, but I would love to see a study of people who have turned their back on religion only to be into something “spiritual”.

  19. kennypo65 says:

    My Kierkegaard book keeps my nightstand from wobbling; it’s all it’s good for.

  20. FreeFox says:

    Seriously, chaps (and chapettes), I think you’re all making it much too easy for yourself. For one, there would be no modern scientific atheism without the works of Descartes, Kierkegard, Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Bloch, Marx, et. al. It has been a long road from Aquinas to Popper and sneering at the steps on the way is like sneering on chimpanzees for not being human (yeah, yeah, I know we are only descendants from the same common ancestors, but you know what I mean, and who actually imagines that common ancestor as anything else even though we know it’s wrong. Oh and I tossed Marx in there because while he was clearly a complete materialistic atheist his theories and the way they have been treated sure have a lot of the smell of religion about them in spite of his cosmological convictions).
    But more than that, do you really want to discount all the philosophical, ethical, political ideas by classical, medieval and even modern religious writers just because they happened to be christian, or even christian apologists? Are you going to toss out Chesterton, because he was a devout convert to Catholicism (and clearly an example of a very intelligent person who thought himself into a religious conviction)? Henry James? John Updike? John Milton? Edith Stein was someone else who thought herself out of atheism into Catholicism and went to die fighting Nazis. Want to use her biography as a doorstop? And whatever Dostoyevsky did or wrote, he was clearly a convinced christian.
    I know what Pullman and Moorcock (who I both love dearly!) and others think about Lewis, and I’m not too wild about the Last Battle or his Silent Planet stuff myself, but come on, some of the Narnia books are amonst the best childrens books ever, including their christian message. Aslan is a metaphor to begin with, and even if Lewis himself thought it was only a metaphor for Jesus/God, you can easily see it as a true metaphor for life and how to live it, for the world given in literatur a face and a voice to speak to us. Anyeone seriously want to tell me that you could read Susan and Lucy witnessing his resurrection at the stone table and remain untouched by the feeling behind it? Or take the transformation of Eustace into a dragon and back into a human, but enlightened. It can be seen as a mere analogy to Saul’s transformation into Paul, but to me, personally, for example, it was an eye opening, life changing story that made me understand that some crucial, necessary changes can not be done by changing how I act alone, but have to be accompanied by a true change of the heart, and that means by giving up, grieving for, and letting go of past injuries and hopes because the real world did not allow me the luxury of them anymore, and it helped me become a better, happier person. Indeed, it saved my life. So please, put The Voyage of the Dawn Treader under your rickety night table, but admit that you do so out of hubris and a self-glorifying show off. None of you has won atheism for himself, you all just stand on the shoulders of the very devout and theistic giants.
    (That doesn’t make them right or above criticism! But it has earned them more respect than your adolescent wankton.)

  21. Vince Snetterton Lewis says:

    Well one day I was at home threatening the kids, when I looks out through the hole in the wall and sees this tank pull up and out gets one of Dinsdale’s boys. So he comes in nice and friendly and says Dinsdale wants to have a word with me, so he chains me to the back of the tank and takes me for a scrape round to Dinsdale’s place. And Dinsdale’s there in the conversation pit, with Doug and Charles Paisley, the baby crusher, and two film producers and a man they called ‘Kierkegaard’, who just sat there biting the heads off whippets…

  22. Hey, FreeFox. Great to hear from you. Always fun to see your erudition on display. There’s a line in “A Fish Called Wanda” that just cracked me up. I may not have it accurately here, but it’s in an argument between Wanda and the weapons specialist in which she calls him stupid. His reply, “Stupid people don’t read Nietzsche.” And her come back, “Yes they do, they just don’t understand him.”

  23. noreligion2 says:

    “None of you has won atheism for himself, you all just stand on the shoulders of the very devout and theistic giants.”

    Speaking of adolescent wankton, I questioned belief in god at the time I was interested in comic books. My bullshit detector was just coming on-line at that age. I don’t “owe” “theistic giants” anything more than I do an infomercial I skip over while flipping between news channels.

    Religion carries no more weight for me than a never-ending sales pitch. Yuck.
    goddammit, I’m not a spammer.

  24. FreeFox says:

    Thank you, DH. ^_^ And noreligion, you just proved your ignorance about the history of the modern comic book (I recommend Scott McCloud), the influence of myths on superheroes (try Joseph Campbell for that), and how limited – and Marxist – your definition of religion is (speaking of comics and books, Neil Gaiman’s utterly brilliant short story “One Life Furnished In Early Moorcock” pretty much sums up the vastness of what religion can be from its most sordid to its most sublime.)

  25. FreeFox says:

    @Vince: No, no. Never, never. Dinsdale was a smashing bloke. He used to give his mother flowers and that. He was like a brother to me.

  26. noreligion2 says:

    Freefox, on the contrary, marketing is a virtually limitless profession, it’s ubiquitous even in communist society.

    Furthermore, much to my adolescent chagrin, no matter how hard I wished, I knew I never would be Spiderman. Similarly, no matter how hard want-to-believers wish, the intensity of their desire doesn’t make their projections real, or true, or existant on another plane, or whatever other twisted logic fashions the bridge to fantasy for them.

  27. FreeFox says:

    Um. Noreligion, you have absolutely no idea what I am talking about, do you? ^_^

  28. steeve says:

    What do we think? Why do we think that, and not something else? What has brought us to this opinion we now hold? How has it changed? what changed it? Are we right in our thinking? How do we know?
    I’m not going to offer any answers to these questions but I would ask that everyone who wishes to contribute to this thread asks themselves these questions first.

  29. noreligion2 says:

    FreeFox, I quite understand. I’ve been thinking lately that another confounding aspect of the purveyors of religion, is their ability to talk in circles. Specifically, begging the question repeatedly. I imagine all art “stands on the shoulders” of some great cave-painting cartoonist. Ones that existed before written and summarily re-edited history came to pass. What’s the point? That we mimic and learn? I really hate it when piety tries to take credit for anything. Kepler’s drive probably didn’t come so much from his faith as his effort to remove his own doubts. To the author’s point, reading tome after tome of that kind of gibberish is an exercise in self-abuse.

  30. UncoBob says:

    This ‘toon is a bit like Shrek – lots of layers. “…you must put aside your intellect and become like an innocent child”… and absorb books of philosophy that take immense concentration, pre-existing knowledge, intellect etc, and then can’t get to the fundamental point: is there or isn’t there???

  31. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    FreeFox, you make some good points about theology, but you’re really missing the point of the strip. It’s not about tossing out Chesterton or Lewis or Aquinas, but simply that we don’t need to read every theological pamphlet and manuscript ever written in order to discount gods. As much as a lot of theology is – quite rightly – considered among the best of classical literature, the one thing it won’t do is exactly what Jesus is insinuating it will – namely prove the existence of gods.
    If I wanted to read a good ‘whodunnit’, I wouldn’t want one that started “The gardener did it, and over the next 2347 pages I’ll tell you how”.
    By the way, since when did atheism have to be ‘won’? Full marks for the ironic (mis)use of Newton’s ‘giants’ though.

  32. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Damn! ‘classic‘ – not ‘classical‘ literature.

    Am I a spammer? No
    Do I swear? Every damn day

  33. FreeFox says:

    Hey Acolyte: I thought the strip was pretty funny, and I think I actually cannot remember ever having read a J&M at all that I fundamentally disagreed with. (And I don’t think the strip was about not needing to discount the literature, but that religious apologists keep switching between the claim that their faith is intuitive and trying to hide behind academic arguments at the same time, attempting to use both approaches in their favour but actually thus just discrediting themselves completely. Though I think in the middle the strip really misses out on the actual irony of this type of argument.) I was getting pissed off at the lil comment wankers making locker room jock haw-haw-a-book-how-stoopid-let’s-use-it-for-toilet-paper-haw-haw cracks.

  34. Stephen Turner says:

    Speaking of marketing, isn’t the whole sophisticated theology thing merely bait-and-switch? Here’s the Bible. You don’t believe it? Then read this, and this, and this,… and carry on until you believe (or you give up or you die).

    Exactly as it’s claimed that you can’t appreciate the Koran without reading it in Arabic.

    This is a point often made, but if any religion were actually true, it would be obviously true. The all-powerful creator wouldn’t need to send secret messages on bits of toast or in trees.

  35. Daoloth says:

    @Freefox. Good examples. I would still suspect that no-one thinks themselves into these beliefs per se, although they can switch allegiances. Chesterton, for example, was massively into the occult as a kid and the conversion to Catholicism was not such a big step. I can’t help wondering whether the whole “universe cares about me” attitude is primary and then the particular trappings are added. I certainly take your point that atheists can be rather swift to congratulate themselves on their rationality. I have not noticed rationality being the guiding force when it has come to other issues that atheists get worked up over.
    Smart people can believe dumb things in very sophisticated ways.

  36. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    FreeFox, I can’t help but agree with your last line “I was getting pissed off at the lil comment wankers making locker room jock haw-haw-a-book-how-stoopid-let’s-use-it-for-toilet-paper-haw-haw cracks” for the very simple – and slightly irrational – fact that I cannot bear to see books, which are after all no more than a mass of dead trees and ink, abused or defiled – irrespective of the content. To my mind, moveable type was one of the most important inventions ever, leading as it did to the mass-production of books making knowledge available to all who could learn to read; without it I think that we could still be stuck in the Dark Ages. I dread the day when the total sum of human knowledge is stored electonically and books are something everybody’s heard of but nobody’s actually seen. One massive EMP and we’ll be back in the stone-age before we can say “Shit, I wish we’d kept a hard copy of how to make electricity from scratch”!

  37. pj says:

    Probably an obvious point, but surely much early theology was an honest attempt by highly intelligent and honest people to make a logical sense of the universe as it was presented to them. Not only were the instruments of science unavailable to them, but the intellectual mechanisms of scientific rationalism had not yet been invented. Augustine, Aquinas, even arguably Paul, John the Evangelist and the Hebrew propets were doing their best in a benighted and chaotic intellectual climate. Some were clearly scrabbling towards rationality: Occam’s Razor is a brilliant step towards an ultimately atheistical concept of the universe. Even Descartes and Newton, heroes of the Enlightenment. could not shake off a residual theism. Arguably until around 1600, the best minds in the West were drawn to theology as the best cosmological explanation available.
    Since Copernicus, Newton, Darwin and Einstein this has so clearly become not the case. There *are* highly sophisticated and intelligent theologists out there, but I cannot understand how they are not crushed by cognitive dissonance.

  38. FreeFox says:

    @Daoloth: As far as I can tell Edith Stein went through a prolongued period of atheism after a jewish-orthodox childhood and found to catholicism during her professorial thesis. I think all kinds of things can happen to change your belief – especially if you consider that belief can be a lot more than the simple straw man most commenters here keep clinging to.
    As for your sense of the universe not caring for you and how it relates to belief in God, I may not have the same feeling, but in a way I think I know what you mean. When I was little and recieved first religious instruction (lutheran) in school, they told me about this God who loved everyone equally and completely, who was with us every moment and knew everything we thought or felt. And I looked at my life, and I thought, if that was true I either must deserve a lot of punishment, or God’s idea of love is mighty strange. And I guess I could have given up on the idea of a God then, too. The discrepancy between what grown ups told me and what my senses told me about the world was too big. (Add to that that I was surrounded by people all clinging to a different version of God or faith or reality.) For me two things made me find a different solution to this dilemma: The first was that my sister spent the nights reading the bible with me and I discovered that the God the bible talks about isn’t anything like that dry, serene caring monk. The God the bible talks about (albeit contradictory, the way things get when a lot of different witnesses talk about the same person) is fickle, conceited, proud, insecure, violent, jealous, passionate, murderous, creative, fiery. To me he seemed to fit pretty accurately to the world I lived in. It was a God that made sense. The second thing was that my sister taught me how to pray, not in the pleading or bargaining way, but meditative, listening. And call it whatever you want – insanity, subconscious, auto-suggestion – every now and then for me God answered. (And yes, I know, if you talk to God it’s faith, if God talks back to you, it’s insanity.) This is of course no proof for the sort of magical creator person of simplistic religion, He never told me tomorrow’s lotto numbers or the formula for clean endless energy. Given that the only thing 3 shrinks agreed on about me was that I wasn’t schiozophrenic (and that I was seriously disturbed otherwise ^_^) from a scientific point of view I am perfectly comfortable by explaining the experience as a schizoid subconscious internal conversation. Still… to me it made it kind of hard to simply discount the existance of God out of hand.
    Oh, and He still isn’t particularely caring or loving. I still have no illusion about being in any way special or central to the plot of the universe. He is filled with a distracted, casual confidence, like whatever He had to say was incredibly obvious and self-evident, but he knew He had to put up with me being too dim to immediately grasp it. If I had to try to describe Him, to me He seems mostly like an incredibly astute, experienced and very, very bored counselor. But then that maybe influenced by the sheer amount of bored counselors I’ve had to deal with in my life.
    What makes me be protective of those faithful people who remain self-critical and doubting, is that I know there are personal experiences that while almost always possible to explain without anything supernatural still make most sense to the person experiencing it if viewed in a… how shall I call it…
    I would say “religious” context, but the problem with that is that it is a very charged term that can mean so many different things. There is a quote from Penn Jillette: “Luck is probability taken personally”. So for what I am trying to say I would define religion as the world taken personally. It doesn’t matter if you see behind it Yaweh or Allah, Predestination or Fate, Karma, some polytheistic pantheon, spirits, Lady Fortune, or give it any other mask, as long as it makes you engage in a personal instead of an impersonal relationship to the world and the events shaping your life. So, defining religion as that personal relationship, I know that there experiences that make more sense if viewed religiously as a whole than seen taken apart into discrete mechanical bits.
    Savvy?

  39. FreeFox says:

    @pj: With some, I know what you mean. But there is cognitive dissonance when you view the religious point of view as looking at something different from what science looks at. You can read D.W. Auden’s Funeral Blues (http://www.wussu.com/poems/whafb.htm) without suffering from cognitive dissoance about the idea of stars being put out over the death of a single person, or the impossibility of the moon being packed up, or the logistic problems in catching every single London dove and the cost of having a crepe necktie for each. And still it conveys to you and shares with you a very real, very specific emotion in a way that correctly but bloodlessly translating it as “I suffer from intense grief” never would.

  40. FreeFox says:

    Oh, hey, Sigmund, you here, too…? ^_^
    What was I saying, yes… there is of course NO cognitive dissonance when you view…

  41. @FreeFox. That is a brilliant explanation of the rational person’s decision to be a believer, and for once I can understand where you are coming from. I can even agree with you. I mean, why not take the universe personally? I just landed softly on the other side of the question – why take it personally when there is nothing that indicates that it is personal? I’m far more comfortable in an uncaring universe than I would be in one controlled and haunted by intelligent beings that must be appeased, propitiated, second guessed, or victimised by. Who needs that shit? But nice work explaining it all.

  42. FreeFox says:

    @DH: Why not? No reason except that to me it makes more sense, feels more real and useful in real life.
    When Joseph Campbell was asked “Why should we care about myths?” he answered “Go on, live your life, it’s a good life I’m sure, you don’t need mythology. I don’t believe in being interested in a subject because it’s said to be important. I believe in being caught by it somehow or other.”
    Who needs that shit? I do. As apparently do a lot of people. But if that’s not it for you, if your relationship to the world feels better impersonal, hey… it’s your life, always and forever your own. ^_^

  43. noreligion2 says:

    FreeFox: “straw man most commenters here keep clinging to.”

    Please…. just who is it clinging to a straw Man?

    I see “Him” as Totally Strawsome.

  44. durham669 says:

    “I have concluded through careful, empirical analysis and much thought that somebody is looking out for me. Keeping track of what I think about things, forgiving me when I do less then I ought, giving me strength to shoot for more than I think I am capable of. I believe they know everything that I do and think and they still love me and I’ve concluded after careful consideration that this person keeping score is me.” – Adam Savage

  45. FreeFox says:

    @noreligion:
    “A straw man is a type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To ‘attack a straw man’ is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the ‘straw man’), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.” (Wikipedia)

    You are amongst those who seem to have a clear cut idea what God (magical sky daddy) and what religion (deluded belief in a supernatural explanation of the world ignoring scientific theory and empirical facts, perpetuated by an organized marketing machine) are. You argue well against those examples and the people believing in them. But you keep ignoring that God and Religion can encompass a whole lot more than just pre-scientific magical thinking. That makes your use of these terms (in their exclusiveness) a misrepresentation and your arguments “attacks on a straw man”.

    In what way is my personal description of what God means to me and my reasons for believing in and worshipping Him a straw man, as you seem to imply?

    ^_^

  46. hotrats says:

    @FreeFox:
    But the police have film of Dinsdale actually nailing your head to the floor.

  47. FreeFox says:

    @hotrats: Oh yeah, well, he did that, yeah. But he had to, didn’t he? I mean, be fair, there was nothing else he could do. I mean, I had transgressed the unwritten law.

  48. Daoloth says:

    @Freefox. I rather like your religious beliefs as the world taken personally. Neat. And fits with what we know from cognitive science about our tendency too personalise the inanimate– and other types of apophenia. It would also fit with my musing about beliefs being as much an extension of underlying personality as they are responses to evidence. Henry Thoreau said that people did not realise that their opinions on the world were a comment on their own charcater and I think he was right. Perhaps a large part of what we are doing when we are sharing beliefs is advertising the kind of person we are–or at least would like others to believe us to be.

  49. hotrats says:

    @FreeFox:
    # I mean, I had transgressed the unwritten law. #
    Quite by chance, a succinct summary of your previous posts.
    “He used… sarcasm. He knew all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and… satire. He was vicious.”

    # some of the Narnia books are amonst the best childrens books ever, including their christian message. Aslan is a metaphor to begin with… Anyeone seriously want to tell me that you could read Susan and Lucy witnessing his resurrection at the stone table and remain untouched by the feeling behind it? #

    As Wilde said, “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.” I find your admiration for the Aslan mythology naive. When I read it, at age 12 or thereabouts, I certainly wasn’t ‘untouched by the feeling’ behind Susan and Lucy witnessing his resurrection, I was disgusted.

    Spotting that Lewis had recycled the bankrupt scapegoat-cum-redeemer Christ myth crystallised my distaste with the work as a whole. It is just as contrived, absurd and manipulative as the original – I realised that I couldn’t care less what happened to any of the characters from that point onward.

    It is all so desperately worthy, the children are all so deeply moral, the issues are all so clear-cut, so devoid of the least whiff of smelly, messy reality, that my lasting impression was of a desperately baroque sermon – lurking behind the spellbinding narrative, the shade of a pompous academic with a stern brow, wagging his finger and chiding us for failing to enact his deluded, condescending and insipid view of childhood.

  50. FreeFox: “I don’t believe in being interested in a subject because it’s said to be important. I believe in being caught by it somehow or other.”

    I get caught by all kinds of subjects, both important and trivial, and have been caught many times by subjects which I have later dismissed as nonsense. I just can’t escape the feeling that what I believe is not a choice. It’s a result of my brain assessing evidence and probabilities, with the conviction that reality matters.
    I can appreciate a good myth without believe it to be true in any sense. But thanks for your permission to live my life. Same to you. I’m sure you have a lot of fun with your gods and demons. Endless entertainment, no doubt.

  51. FreeFox says:

    @hotrats: Moi? Vicious? I am offended, mate, offended. ^_^
    As for the Pevensies, I know what you mean about them being so deeply moral and desperately worthy, but that’s not really all that different in, say, Enid Blyton stories (and I loved those), or even in most of Harry Potter. Personally I got totally sucked into the story through Edmond – I identified with him when I read it at about the same age as you, and the way the White Which treated him, first seducing him, than turning all cold on him, imprisoning him, tying him up with reindeer reins, dragging him after her in the sleigh, and finally, after the slough through the mud, preparing to sacrifice him… man, it turned me on to no end. So for me the story was pretty much filled to the brim with smelly, messy, kinky reality of the darkest sort. I certainly wanked to the illustration of him in his English school uniform and knee socks, all tied up, and the description of her terrible pale arms when she lifts the knife, more than once. I was only disappointed that the Centaurs managed to rescue him. And even the way Aslan was tied up and shaved, hmm, I thought it was quite kinky. As for the resurrection, I was less interested in the hoary magical law of sacrifice than the description of Aslan’s new found power and lust for life. At the time I read it, I had just lost my sister, and I certainly felt the heaviness of guilt and the darkness of death, and the chapter reminded me of that passion for life, rekindled a craving to live in the moment that I sorely needed then.
    In Prince Caspian it was Caspian who I most liked, like the scene under the mountain where he is tempted by the witch and the werewolf to summon the White Witch, or the whole argument between Lucy and Aslan about not standing up for your conviction. Sure, knowing about Lewis’ background you *can* read it only as a narrow argument for irrational belief in Christ, and then it sucks congealed ichor through a thin straw, but you can forget your historical prejudice and read it as a tale about having the courage of your convictions and social pressure (Lucy, Percy, badger, both dwarves, the old teacher, even the evil king, they all struggled with peer pressure and the fear of rejection and ridicule.) For a queer football-playing scraper that was quite an encouragement, without any Christ baggage getting in the way.
    I thought the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (that I followed mostly through the eyes of the selfish, belligerent, self-pitying Eustace) had – aside from the insight about chaging yourself on the Dragon Island – a number of cool ideas, about slavery, about fears (the island where dreams come true), and about “following knowledge like a sinking star beyond the utmost bound of human thought”. I loved the description of the sea at the end of the world. And Peepeecheep.
    I don’t think I have to go through the entire saga, of which I only really find The Last Battle a complete loss, but I can’t quite agree with your judgement, and must admit, I find it a bit intellectually constructed… as if you first decided to hate it for it’s author’s conviction and later sought out arguments in the actual text.

  52. noreligion2 says:

    FreeFox, a straw man is also a bunch of hay stuffed into a shirt and pants – an inanimate likeness of the creature that created it. It is used to fool opportunistic and superficially intelligent creatures into thinking there is something there that is not.

  53. beechnut says:

    Yes, yes, yes, FreeFox, all that is perfectly true, except that personal testimony to the human condition, however worthy, intelligent, honest etc etc is not confirmation of the existence of god, which is the central point. It can be testimony to the uses of god (for or against humanity), and it can be testimony to the importance of certain ideas, or even ideals, to individual persons, and all of that is very well, except that here we are concerned simply with whether it’s actually/factually true. Some of us are bothered about this, and you’ll just have to forgive people if they get impatient with those who claim so much certainty (like your Chesterton, for example) that they can become overwhelmingly assertive. Not good. We humble people, who do not dictate, and who really want to know, must not always be blamed if we express our views on the ludicrous and destructive and cruel certainties of others somewhat forcibly.

    Whatever else Theology is about, it is about certainty, and its function is to provide intellectual justification for the certainty of all believers. It is therefore always justification after the fact, and this is sufficient to undermine its integrity as an intellectual pursuit. And the problem with certainty is that it doesn’t listen. So why are we supposed to pay a respect to those who will not pay to us a like respect in their turn?

  54. beechnut says:

    I certainly wanked to the illustration of him in his English school uniform and knee socks, all tied up, and the description of her terrible pale arms when she lifts the knife, more than once. I was only disappointed that the Centaurs managed to rescue him. And even the way Aslan was tied up and shaved, hmm, I thought it was quite kinky.

    You’ve lost me completely. Where are you, exactly?

  55. noreligion2 says:

    FreeFox, you seem to think it necessary to construct a “Him” in order to have a personal relationship with the rest of humanity? You claim poetry and art and critical thinking and love and respect and humility and courage, etc. etc. require some kind of hat-tip to a nebulous, contrived projection, or humble worshippers thereof that have devoted millions upon millions of hours fabricating equally tenuous reasons for thinking of the cosmos as a conscious being suspiciously possessing human qualities? That’s patronizing, and by the most cursory observation, deserving of criticism. I totally understand your defensiveness.

  56. hotrats says:

    @FreeFox:
    I didn’t know anything about CS Lewis when I read the book, and it wasn’t an intellectual rejection, more an emotional one. I felt cheated – I had been hoping the book would lead to a thrilling plot resolution, rather than the restatement of a load of pseudo-spiritual drivel.

    I think Pullman is spot on when he points out that Lewis perverts the notion of childhood by trying to turn it into a permanent state, insulated from the real processes of growing up. Credulous, well behaved little Christians are neither good reading nor good role models, and your wanking over the covert sadism in his work brings out the irony of ‘a true metaphor for life and how to live it’ nicely.

  57. beechnut says:

    Back to Author’s excellent point. Christianity (indeed, JC himself) certainly talks of faith in terms of childhood simplicity, and derides acumen and observation. And on the other hand religious people spend a lot of time telling unbelievers that they are not sufficiently learned. But this is typical of religious double-think, and Author illustrates this very well. Why, after all, does Christianity need Theology, and can a theologian ever enter the Kingdom of God?

  58. beechnut says:

    By the way, I think it really funny that C S Lewis is on top of all the others. I hope this wasn’t an accident.

  59. daoloth says:

    As well as being a kids author Lewis did write some fairly serious theological and moral works. “The Abolition of Man” is actually rather good and should be required reading for folk who want to take on biological arguments about humanity without making themselves look totally fucking ridiculous. I mean, its wrong, of course–but its a much better class of wrong than the tripe I usually get offered.

  60. FreeFox says:

    @beechnut: I thought I said exactly as much – that my personal reason for belief in something I would term “God” is not any kind of proof. Just, well, my personal reason. I stated it to show that one can have a reason for such a belief that is neither irrational (as in magical and unscientific) nor based in indoctrination. I am not convinced that you can unilaterally claim that “The Point” is the factual existance of *your* understanding of a simplistic magical God person, and right now I am defending my belief against your certainty and assertion of this supposed factual non-existance. I’d prefer to leave you your disbelief and keep my belief and just amiably compare notes how we came by them and how we’re doing with them. Think we can meet there? ^_^
    @noreligion: Cute analogy with the scare crow, but I’m afraid if you want me to be able to respond you must sharpen the point of your criticism a bit more. Where exactly have I tried to create the illusion of something that isn’t there? I certainly never wanted to claim that any kind of religious belief is at all *necessary*. Just that individually one can have good reasons for them, and they can offer a frame of reference that allows a more helpful understanding. If your model of reality is practical and satisfying for you without a spiritual or religious aspect, yay for you. I never had any issues with that. I just don’t understand why you have such issues with me model incorporating such aspects. If I sounded patronizing anywhere, please direct me to the direct quote, and I’ll either clarify or apologize.
    @hotrats: Mate, I think you got to decide if you are appalled by the annoying wholesomeness and choking morality and the lack of gritty reality, or if you are bothered by the covert sadism. My personal masochism certainly isn’t caused by Lewis or Christianity, but by a father who deserted us when I was 10, an overworked, short tempered, and generally unemotional mother, and the constant experience as a child of being rejected for any kind of emotional reaction, all of which filled me with the sense of being unloavable, deserving punishment, and craving attention even if I ccan only get and justify it through naughty behaviour and enjoy it through the resultant negative treatment. Negative attention far outweighs none. Which explains why I could identify a lot with Edmund. I never had the sense that Lewis wrote patronizingly about him, but that he quite well understood the mechanisms that lead to his moral failing, but without justifying it. I always hated counselors and shrinks that tried to relieve me of my responsibility, I thought that was really patronizing. Being understood and yet helt accountable seemed like a good deal. I also think that Lewis does point ouut Peter’s flaw exactly in his holy-than-thou treatment of Edmond, again without using it to justify Edmond’s lapses, and the way both come to apologize to each other in the end was to me quite a satsifying resolution. I also don’t quite understand the criticism that Lewis wants to keep the children locked in childhood: Through the series the kids all grow up one after another. (I admit, the way he treats Susan is pretty aweful, I am not claiming that there isn’t stuff to criticise, but I think the criticism has to be more precise and less sweeping.) There are Edmond’s treason, Peter’s fear of leadership, Caspian’s uncertainty about his position, Eustace’s sense of entitlement, Lucy’s inability to withstand peer pressure and her jealousy (on the Magician’s island), etc. All these challenges are a part of growing up and in each the children have to deal with issues that I at least could identify with. And in each case I liked the way Lewis showed understanding for the respective weakness without letting me get away with it. I wouldn’t give the man a nobel prize, and if I had to chose between, say, the Narnia books and Preussler’s Satanic Mill or Peter Pan, hell, something *really* good like Huckleberry Finn, yeah, there are of course better books, but I think even a christian apologist like Lewis deserves a whole lot better than being used as a wedge for an uneven table.

  61. beechnut says:

    @beechnut: I thought [snip]
    I am not convinced that you can unilaterally claim that “The Point” is the factual existance of *your* understanding of a simplistic magical God person, and right now I am defending my belief against your certainty and assertion of this supposed factual non-existance. I’d prefer to leave you your disbelief and keep my belief and just amiably compare notes how we came by them and how we’re doing with them. Think we can meet there? ^_^

    No, “the point” is not the factual existence of my understanding, which I naturally assume: the point is the truth of one’s beliefs — is what one believes an actual fact or not? One may have many many no-doubt excellent reasons for believing something which is not in fact true. When you talk about my “certainty”, you are mistakenly supposing that I have some certain knowledge that your beliefs are not true. What I am actually claiming is that you have no certain knowledge that your beliefs are true. The reason why this is important is that to assert the truth of something is to state positively (i.e. with certainty) that such-and-such is the case. The problem here is that where religion is involved believers move from there (“we think it’s true”) to the assumption (“and therefore…”) that others are bound by the truth of their convictions, which is a consequence devoutly to be repudiated by any right-thinking person. In fact, there is no reason to suppose that the beliefs are true, and this fact (that there is no reason to suppose etc) is certain. You mistake the certainty of this simple fact for certainty that god does not exist. It is most important that you clearly understand the distinction involved, otherwise you will wrong-foot both yourself and everybody else and never find out what other people actually think.

  62. beechnut says:

    I wouldn’t give the man a nobel prize, and if I had to chose between, say, the Narnia books and Preussler’s Satanic Mill or Peter Pan, hell, something *really* good like Huckleberry Finn, yeah, there are of course better books, but I think even a christian apologist like Lewis deserves a whole lot better than being used as a wedge for an uneven table.

    This merely reinforces what I am saying. Lewis was a nice chap, and I have read all his books and I think that he said and thought a lot of good and wise things. Also, he is quite brilliant and illuminating on mediaeval literature. However, on the question of religion, he very much overdoes things, and I cannot escape the conviction that he is justifying his own personal needs. Many of these can be found embedded in his writings on literature, and my overwhelming impression is that he was a man gifted with the ability to create imaginary worlds (and with the empathy to recreate them for modern readers, too) but also with the unfortunate tendency to prefer his imaginary worlds to the real one: only consider Puddleglum’s discussion with the witch-queen in “The Silver Chair”, and how regrettably weighted the discussion is.

  63. beechnut says:

    With regard to Puddleglum’s “discussion”, I should have said that it was a discussion concerning the nature of appearance and reality. Unfortuantely, Lewis gives the atheist position to an obviously wicked person, thus weighting the argument and prejudicing the reader. This is undoubtedly dishonest, but such dishonesty is the natural result of using the art of story-telling to indoctrinate the reader. It probably didn’t occur to Lewis that he was being dishonest, and such is the case with religious believers generally. It goes back to “I believe, and therefore…” Belief, however, does not make something true.

  64. Blondie says:

    @ freefox: It’s C.S. Lewis who displayed the ‘annoying wholesomeness and choking morality and the lack of gritty reality’. It is YOU who, by wanking (getting off on) to images of suffering, showed your covert sadistic nature.

  65. FreeFox says:

    @Bondie: Nothing covert about it. And it’s mostly masochistic. But close enough for rock and roll. ^_^

  66. hotrats says:

    @FreeFox:
    # @hotrats: Mate, I think you got to decide if you are appalled by the annoying wholesomeness and choking morality and the lack of gritty reality, or if you are bothered by the covert sadism. #
    For most of us, sadism isn’t part of gritty reality – not that I’m bothered by it, I was more struck by the delicious irony of masturbating to a text written by a Christian apologist for the moral uplift of children. Of course Lewis puts sadistic impulses behind his villains, because they are sinful and evil; how else can Good prevail? I am glad you got something positive out of the Narnia books, I never got out of the furry wardrobe so I can’t really comment on the other books.

    All theology, however intelligent or well-intentioned, is delusional by definition (the word means ‘knowledge of God’). Dawkins ‘not even a discipline’ might sound harsh, but however you slice it, it’s a glorified fan club that has nothing to offer in terms of reliable knowledge, and indeed can only exist by ignoring every tenet of scientific enquiry. ‘Real’ (evidence-based) theology would arrive at atheism in the first week of term, with nowhere else to go.

    If you get some comfort from ‘taking the universe personally’, good luck and great joy of it. But you can’t call your deeply-nuanced existential deism a religion, because it’s entirely bound up in your personal experience, and not something anyone else could ‘follow’. In fact, with the religious labels removed, the jar seems to contain ordinary secular humanism.

  67. Nibien says:

    Is Freefox an elaborate poe?

  68. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Nibien, FreeFox is elaborate, but definitely not a Poe.

    Hotrats, without wishing to speak for FreeFox, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him describe his beliefs as a religious in the context of recognised, organised religion. If I’m finally(!) understanding him, his is a personally held set of religious beliefs, drawn from many sources and his own life-experiences. I would call him more spiritual than religious, if spiritual were not such a loaded word.
    I’m reminded of a quote by, I believe, Richard Dawkins, referring to Carl Sagan as (and I’m paraphrasing, not having the quote to hand) ‘the most religious atheist I’ve ever known’. I wouldn’t go quite that far about FreeFox (sorry my friend; I love ya, but there’s limits ;-) ) but I’m sure you get the idea.

  69. FreeFox says:

    @AoS: Thanks, and I understand. Would never dream of comapring myself to the divine Carl. And anyway, imagine you’d have to become Acolyte of me, that’d be awkward. ^_^
    @hotrats and beechnut: I am always astonished at people’s willingness to invent definitions to bolster a point. Theology is not “knowledge of god” but “study of god” and actually can mean quite a lot of things, like “reasoning or discussion concerning the Deity” (in which case y’all are practicing theology here, too). Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theology#Definition
    Same with religion: “Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values.” “The typical dictionary definition of religion refers to a ‘belief in, or the worship of, a god or gods’ or the ‘service and worship of God or the supernatural’. However, many writers and scholars have noted that this basic ‘belief in god’ definition fails to capture the diversity of religious thought and experience. Tylor defined religion as simply ‘the belief in spiritual beings’.” (all from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion). And while indeed it “differs from private belief in that it has a social aspect” and so cannot be based solely in my private experiences, that is after all only the basis from which *I* follow aspects of the (gnostic) judeo-islamo-christian tradition, greek and hindu polytheism, and some voudoun and shamanism… it’s certainly wildly synchretistic, but still rooted in *shared* religious belief.

    I think the main issue between your (a pretty inclusive “you” on this site), is that you have a very narrow idea of what God or religion means, shaped by the positions of orthodox Catholicism/Anglicanism and American christian fundamentalists and all the literalist idiots you usually encounter in internet discussions. And almost all you say to those anti-scientific, creationist, flat-earther morons is dead on. Hey, I didn’t get here play bait-the-atheist but because I’m a genuine fan of the cartoon. I really am. I deplore the type of narrow minded, bigotted, self-congraturatory behaviour J&M pokes fun at. But I deplore it in atheists just as much, and I guess I hold them to an even higher standard than religious nuts.
    The sociologist and psychologist Erich Fromm defines God not as a being but as an experience. The mythologist Joseph Campbell as a similar idea, where he talks about that which causes the experience, the experience we have, the ideas we have about our experience and finally the words we find to describe the idea and what the other person understands by these words. The canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson describes religion as a way to see the world organised not by fact but by meaning. Novelist Neil Stephenson describes in the Cryptonomicon gods as personalised representations rooted in pattterns of human behaviour and experience. Former jesuit and Pulitzer prize winner Jack Miles shows in “God: A Biography” and “Jesus: A Crisis in the Life of God” how even the most literali reading of the bible reveals a very different God from those promoted by all main Christian sects, and connects the stories of the bible to real life experiences, both in their historical context in in their relationship to human behaviour and experience in general.
    So for a pedantic, diligent warrior for intellectually honesty and linguistic clarity like you, hotrats, I’m appealing to you to be a bit less sweeping. “All theology [...] is delusional by definition [...] however you slice it, it’s a glorified fan club that has nothing to offer in terms of reliable knowledge, and [...] would arrive at atheism in the first week of term, with nowhere else to go.” People may be stupid as a rule, but are you really making it so easy on yourself to discard in that off-hand-manner something worked on by such a large and diverse group of humans in all times and places, without seriously entertaining the notion that maybe you have misunderstood something about it?

    Even Richard Dawkins says “‘Really’ isn’t a word that we should use with simple confidence. [...] ‘Really’ is whatever the brain needs it to be in order to assist its survival. And because different species live in different worlds, there will be a discomforting variety of ‘reallys’.” (TED Talk “Queerer than we can suppose”)

  70. FreeFox says:

    Oops, sorry, wanted to say: “the main issue between your take on religion and mine is…”

  71. FreeFox says:

    @beechnut: Oh, and I completely agree about the reality discussion between puddleglum and the sorceress. Aweful stuff. I liked the beginning of the Silver Chair, the whoe stuff up on the cliff, and the issue about following the path, but the end was dreadful and more or less the beginning of the end. The Magician’s Nephew was pretty good again, but all the rest, esp. the Last Battle really suck. I don’t know for sure, but it seems to me that Lewis started out with his convictions and the vague idea of using them idrectly in his stories, but over time wrote less and less from the heart and more and more from the head, transforming living stories into horrible undead analogies.
    But I still think the first three are the dog’s bollocks… ^_^

  72. theGreatFuzzy says:

    Nice pile of names you stacked up there, FreeFox.
    Have you actually looked at the cartoon?

  73. FreeFox says:

    @Great Fuzzy: *fat grin* ^_^

  74. hotrats says:

    @FreeFox:
    # People may be stupid as a rule, but are you really making it so easy on yourself to discard in that off-hand-manner something worked on by such a large and diverse group of humans in all times and places, without seriously entertaining the notion that maybe you have misunderstood something about it? #

    Of course I have seriously entertained the notion that maybe I have misunderstood something about it, and I still do. I am not atheistic on principle, but I have yet to find anything in theology that rises above airy assertion and speculation, and I have read fairly widely. There are no facts, no conclusions, nothing to know.

    In former ages when superstition was a forgivable, indeed inescapable mode of thought, theology provided an acceptable cover for advances in logic and philosophy, as astrology did for astronomy and mathematics; but they were fragile vehicles, which rapidly disintegrated under the scrutiny of their intellectual offspring.

    Enquiry, reason and evidence showed the initial assumptions to be hopelessly flawed, along with the naive world view that had made them plausible. So, in modern terms, I stand by ‘deluded’ – however smart the theologian, they are the product of a world where the supernatural is taken as read, instead of dismissed on first principles.

  75. FreeFox says:

    @hotrats: You know, the list of books and authors I mentioned, the one Fuzzy thought so ironic… all the authors aside from Miles – Fromm, Campbell, Peterson, Stephenson – are atheists. Atheists who have recieved amongst the highest honours in their respective fields by their (atheist) peers. And even Miles went from Catholic Jesuit to liberal Episcopalian. And still… all of them can see what about religion there is that is not delusional. *coughs* “‘Really’ isn’t a word that we should use with simple confidence.” Just saying… ^_^

  76. hotrats says:

    # And still… all of them can see what about religion there is that is not delusional. #

    And just what is that, then? It is not enough to suggest that ‘real’ is an arguable label; this is a typical theological mischief, a word game that calls all meaning into question. If you can specify even one concept that is
    1) entirely religious in substance, ie not explicable in secular terms,
    2) based on the non-delusional, observable world, and
    3) does not distort accepted word definitions,
    I will happily concede the point.

  77. mary2 says:

    Hotrats! Sorry to come late to the party but how can you say such horrible things about the Narnia series? My favourite books in all the world! – Except for ‘The Last Battle’: even as a kid I was not comforted by the idea of a life after death making up for suffering in this life.

  78. FreeFox says:

    @hotrats: Um. I can try. Of course I’m neither Joseph Campbell, nor Jordan Peterson or Erich Fromm, and I don’t have the space of a thesis here. And this is kinda complicated… not to be a sophist or anything, just… (AoS and DH and all of you, look away, y’all heard this before…)
    Look, all the usual childish complaints about there not being no magical sky daddy, and no magical soul whizzing around, etc., well, I got no complaints with any of that. There is nothing “beyond” science. It’s not like cryptozoology or occultism, nothing from a sort of theological Torchwood or X Files or so.
    It’s like… we group perception according to meaning. Like you can see a bunch of wooden boards, a part of a furniture set, a chair, anything from the whirling atoms to the well earned rest after a hard day’s work. Or you can see a hundred trees, or a little forest, the home of some foxes and crows, an interactive bit of biosphere, a valuable piece of real estate, etc. A book can be a part of a library, a financial investment, a present to win someone’s forgiveness, the most life changing experience you ever had, a mood changer, an escape from an unpleasant memory, a bit of dead tree, etc. None of these perception filters are more or less correct, just useful for different purposes.
    But *this* is real, there is a *real* book, a *real* forest, a *real* chair out there, you say, while God or the soul aren’t. But… what is *real*? I don’t want to do the super-sceptical nothing’s-real shtick, okay? Just think about what you mean by *real*.
    Here’s the whole Dawkins quote: “Steve Grant points out that you and I are ourselves more like a wave than a permanent thing. He invites us, the reader, to think of an experience from your childhood, something you remember clearly, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell as if you were really there. After all, you really were there at the time, weren’t you? How else would you remember it. But here is the bombshell: you weren’t there. Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place. Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Whatever you are therefor, you are not the stuff of which you are made. [...] So ‘really’ isn’t a word that we should use with simple confidence.”
    So, no matter how much to us some things appear “really real” (persons, chairs, books) and others are “just” vaguish constructs (wave, love, the future), our words do not designate objective, physical reality, but more or less arbitrarily group together fragments of reality that have meaning for us. We seperate a dining room set by nothing less arbitrary than its function for us: the chairs are to sit on, the table to place food on, the glass to contain beverages, the knife to divide food into digestible bits, etc.
    Words like God and soul etc describe experiences – real, genuine, often shared human experiences. Yes, most people take these words and misunderstand the sign-post for the real thing, like forgetting that you can describe a lightning storm as Zeus’s or Thor’s rage doesn’t make it any less the discharge of built up atmospheric static electricity. And doing that in a scientific age is of course bloody stupid – and delusional. You’re right about that, no contest.
    But if you use Athena to describe the human ability of clever but physically inferior beings to outsmart physically superiour but blundering enemies, the ability use whatever resources, technological, phychological or strategic, to not yield to a might-makes-right mentality, to describe how nerds win against bullies… or when you use Ganesha to describe the ability to get through obstacles like an elephant lifting heavy objects with his trunk or a rat gnawing through concrete… when you use the eternal soul to describe that which is unique about someone or something and which changes the flow of time in such a way that it will leave its mark forever… you do *not* do anything that science cannot do better FOR RATIONAL UNDERSTANDING, but you provide an intuitive shortcut to instantly group such experiences and make them accessible emotionally so that they matter in your personal life. And that is something that science by its very nature, its diligent, fact-checking, detailled, rational nature cannot provide.
    Religion and mythology should not be an alternate explanation, but a tool to intuitively and in an emotionally significant way comprehend parts of reality so you can apply them in your daily life. Myths are teaching tools or meditative focuses to group and categorize experiences into emotionally digestible bits – memetic shortcuts to get to the place you need to be when you need to be there without needing to think about it too long. Like training Aikido – understanding a grip or throw or block isn’t enough. If you want to be able to use it in a fight, you need to have trained a body memory that short-circuits your rational mind.
    If you have no use for them, myths, and faith, if you can live completely through rational understanding, yay for you. Nobody *needs* to believe in God, just like nobody needs to sit on a chair or use a fork. Some people may consider it uncivilized or impractical to sit on rocks and eat with your fingers, others may smile about old fashioned etiquette and using cloth napkins held together with silver rings for every meal, that’s a matter for everyone to decide.
    But using them correctly is not delusional, it’s not fanatical, and it’s not inherently dangerous – no more than knives, and chair legs, and even a cloth napkin can be dangerous if used to stab, bludgeon or choke. It is sad that people abuse these things to enforce control, conformity, or intolerance, but that’s no reason to bannish chairs or napkins altogether.

  79. FreeFox says:

    “If you can specify even one concept that is 1) entirely religious in substance, ie not explicable in secular terms, 2) based on the non-delusional, observable world, and 3) does not distort accepted word definitions, I will happily concede the point.”

    I cannot describe a concept that is not explicable in secular terms, because that criterium shows that you incorrectly view religion as an alternate explanation that rivals science. Yes, in pre-scientific times religion – being there to make life understandable in a practical way – did cover that base also, and as scientific understanding of reality grew, religion became the less practical, less useful (and mostly demonstably wrong) explanation… just like science all the time overthrows older models and replaces them with newer, better ones.

    But I think my explanation fulfilled the rest: Based on the observable, non-delusional world, without distorting definitions (but explaining the real definitions of religious terms), I tried to show what the purpose of a mythological or religious world view is that for most humans cannot be fulfilled better by science or other secular means (unless you use the secular means in a religious context… the way Daffy Duck or King Julian have become the new masks of the trickster deity Coyote or Raven or Loki or Lucifer.)

    *looks at you expectantly* ^_^

  80. Brother Daniel says:

    @FreeFox: “Belief” may perhaps be among the words that are being used in different ways here (by you vs by others).

    In general, I would echo your comment (directed against many atheists): “[You] have a very narrow idea of what God or religion means, shaped by the positions of orthodox Catholicism/Anglicanism and American christian fundamentalists and all the literalist idiots you usually encounter in internet discussions.” Now if I had said that, I would probably have elaborated by arguing (or at least asserting) that religion (in general) isn’t primarily about belief at all. That would have allowed me to respond to hotrats’s latest challenge thusly:

    “@hotrats: Your most recent challenge to FreeFox (‘if you can specify even one…’) seems to be predicated on the assumption that religion is primarily about belief. And that’s a significant point of contention.”

    …but as it stands, it appears that I can’t say that, because you (FF) have apparently affirmed the centrality of belief in the definition of religion. Unless I’m misunderstanding something, which is increasingly likely as I slip into my dementia.

  81. Brother Daniel says:

    ^ ^ and my last post was a cross-post, read before your last two responses appeared in my corner of the universe. :)

  82. Brother Daniel says:

    Re Narnia: The Professor in TLTWATW (apparently representing Lewis’s own voice in that work) really butchered the lesson in logic. “Logic! Why don’t they teach logic in these schools?” he says, with unintended irony.

  83. hotrats says:

    @Freefox:

    # If you have no use for them, myths, and faith, if you can live completely through rational understanding, yay for you. #

    Thanks for the expectant look, I shall attempt not to disappoint you. I have no problem with myths, because they are presented as metaphor, not unshakable fact. I do have a problem with faith, because it is indistinguishable from wish-thinking, which is a logical trap. Blind faith (and there is no other kind) can justify absolutely anything. Every night, the news presents us with more example of high-flown religious conviction coming down in practice to mutual distrust, hatred, intolerance, murder and destruction.

    As long as we have a psychological need for belief, the truth will elude us. I think Brother Daniel focusses the argument neatly (evidently, having a lucid interval). One of the trickiest things to factor out of any discussion of belief is its unhelpful breadth of definition.

    At the ‘secular’ end, we have belief as plausible assumption, until better evidence arises or a future event occurs; we can’t pretend to absolute certainty or know the future, but we can meaningfully say, ‘I believe I am made of atoms’, or ‘I believe the sun will rise tomorrow’ from our observation and experience. We have little choice about these kind of beliefs, they are just the by-product of rational analysis. So far, so reasonable and useful.

    But at the other end of the definition are beliefs that are not just temporarily embraced until something confirms or denies them, but are entire narratives fabricated for the purpose of being held indefinitely. These beliefs are quite literally presumptuous, providing elaborate answers before any questions are asked, and while they may show moral bravery, the do so at the expense of intellectual cowardice.

    The power of human imagination is such that they need have no connection with reality, and can even deny it completely (young-earth creationism comes to mind). At the far end of the spectrum is the ludicrous and ominous category of things one is _required_ to believe for familial, cultural or political reasons, the direct opposite of the ‘plausible’ definition of belief.

    Again, especially as children, we have little choice; believe, or suffer the consequenses. We flatter ourselves that our beliefs are chosen, but we cannot believe other than what makes sense to us, or what we have been told to believe.

    One uniting factor in this contradictory mixture of definitions is that belief starts where knowledge stops. There is no need to believe in the mainfestly obvious, such as our own existence (hope this isn’t to ‘realist’ for you). All belief, however strongly held, can be seen as a form of denial – a refusal to countenance the possibility that the opposite, or some other alternative, may be the case.
    In this respect every belief is an admission of ignorance, and a gamble with truth. It is very difficult to see any meaningful distinction (apart from the degree of attchment) between belief, faith, superstition, fantasy, wishful thinking, and at the extreme end, delusion.

    To accept an assertion by faith is to concede that it can’t be taken seriously on its own merits. If I try to live my life according to the tenets of a particular received belief, I have demonstrated a self-fulfilling prophesy, and sacrificed the only thing of value I can call truly my own – my ability to reason and respond spontaneously to my experience.

    If I am not looking for a ready-made purpose in life, but simply seeking the closest approximation to the nature of reality that my senses can convey, I can only rely on what is evidentially true beyond any doubt, regardless of whether I believe it or not. There are quite enough pressing problems of existence, such as morality and charity, that remain to be addressed even when we believe nothing, and that would seem the best use to which I can put whatever intelligence is at my disposal.

  84. Brother Daniel says:

    “Belief” refers in common usage merely to acceptance of propositions/assertions. The word is neutral on the motives or mechanism behind the acceptance of the proposition in question. I see no need to restrict the term “belief” to cover the less rational end of the spectrum. To say “there is no need to believe in the manifestly obvious” doesn’t compute, for me, because as soon as you call something “manifestly obvious” you’re making it quite clear that it’s something you believe (rather strongly).

    As for “faith”, there’s a word that strikes me as too slippery to be of use. My working hypothesis for a few years now is that any statement that can be made involving the word “faith” can be made more clearly without using that word at all. Not sure that I’m right about this, but I thought I’d put it out there anyway.

  85. hotrats says:

    @Brother Daniel:
    I was trying to point out that the manufactured and indoctrinated beliefs borrow respectability from the plausibly defined ones, even though they can be the exact opposite. I was not trying to restrict the definition, just bemoaning that it invites misrepresentation, where dogmatic ignorance can equate to reasoned expectation.

    The idea that the ‘manifestly obvious’, such as our existence or any demonstrable fact is the product of a belief system is a poor excuse for an argument. You do not need to believe you are reading this in order to read it. Like it or not, there is an external reality and reliable knowledge external to and independant of belief. If you define all thinking as a form of belief, you declare knowledge and reality to be trivial. Good luck with that next time you have a toothache.

  86. theGreatFuzzy says:

    Brother Daniel, I like Peter Boghossian’s definition of faith, “Faith is pretending to know things you don’t know”. Substituting that for the word faith where ever you see it helps make (non)sense of what’s being said.

  87. FreeFox says:

    @Fuzzy: So every time I tell my little boy “Go on, try it. I got faith in you” I should say “Try it, I am pretending I know you can do it”?

  88. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    I was thinkng about the question of faith last night when I took my dog for his evening constitutional, and came to the conclusion that we <b<all use faith on a daily basis, whether we like to admit it or not. Every time we step onto a bus or get a taxi, unless we know the driver personally we cannot trust that (s)he isn’t on a comedown from a weekend drink or drugs binge or who’s mind isn’t on the job because of problems at home, so we have a choice of either walking, or having faith that the driver will deliver us to our destination safely. Similarly, when flying we have to have faith that the people who built the ‘plane did so properly, that the maintainance and ground crews did their job right, and that the pilot will likewise be the epitome of efficiency. When we cross a road at a pedestrian crossing, we have faith that the drivers of the oncoming vehicles have seen us and will stop, or that the brakes won’t fail. If a spouse commits adultery we call them ‘unfaithful’ rather than ‘untrustworthy’.
    “But” I hear you cry “there are systems and checks in place that make faith unneccessary in (most of) those circumstances”. Fine, tell that to the paassengers of the Concorde that made an unscheduled stop at a Parisian hotel; to the parents of the dozens of children up and down the country who are killed crossing roads every year; or the women abducted or assaulted by (usually) unlicenced mini-cab drivers.
    In my opinion, faith has to come before trust. We tell our children to trust us, but really they’re having to operate on faith until the evidence justifies their belief in us, and that’s when faith turns to trust. So when FreeFox tells his ‘cub’ that he has faith in his ability to do something, he is bulding trust between them.
    So, faith is something we use all of the time; the secret is to know just where to put your faith, and that is usually in the people who have proven their trustworthiness and justified that faith.

  89. hotrats says:

    @FreeFox:
    No, it should of course be “Go on, try it. _I’ve_ got faith in you” – though if the little chap were to say, “What does that mean, ‘faith’?”, and you are honest, eventually you would have to explain with some definition of ‘belief’ equivalent to “pretending to know”, or you would be misleading him.

  90. hotrats says:

    @ AoS:
    I absolutely agree that faith is a necessary part of our human existence, but the word is as open to abuse as ‘belief’. Like the plausible end of belief, the kind of faith you are describing is based on trust, consensus reality and reasonable expectation. Again, the other kind of faith, based on a fabricated narrative and/or indoctrination, borrows a respectability from this usage that it does not deserve.

  91. FreeFox says:

    @Sondra: Read the roll-over? ^_^

  92. FreeFox says:

    @AoS: Wow. Thanks. *blushes* ^_^
    @hotrats: Um. Hey. Kinda at a loss for words. Yeah, me. And, well, really disappointed. You just basically ignored everything I tried to tell you and went back to: But there is bad theists out there. Yeah. I know. I agree. There is people abusing science to build NBC weapons. Should we really let them ruin it for the rest of us by turning away from the good bits about it?

  93. Peakcrew says:

    @ those debating faith and trust – have a look at Bruce Schneier’s “Liars and Outliers”. He looks a lot at the theories of trust and how it relates to society.

    I’m not a spammer, do I do swear (usually at the little box that hides below the “Submit Comment” button!)

  94. theGreatFuzzy says:

    @Freefox: So every time I tell my little boy “Go on, try it. I got faith in you” I should say “Try it, I am pretending I know you can do it”?

    Nice on FreeFox. You’ve had me thinking. Thank you. Now I need to step back.
    As Brother Daniel said, faith is a slippery word, and I think that’s the motivation behind Peter Boghossian’s definition – he’s trying to pin it down. So, if we accept “Faith is pretending to know things you don’t know” as a definition and plug that in to what you say to your boy we get the above, which is not what you mean at all. I reckon you mean to say “Go on, try it. I reckon you can do it” or “Go on, try it. I’m sure you can do it” or even “Go on, try it. I know you can do it”.

    Also, OTTOMH, saying you have faith in someone tends to put the onus on them. If they fail it’s their fault, while if you reckon they can do it and they fail then it’s you who got it wrong, which is true.

    Again, thanks for the rebuttal, it’s helped clarify my thinking on this, I Think!

  95. theGreatFuzzy says:

    @AoS: “I was thinkng about the question of faith last night when I took my dog for his evening constitutional, and came to the conclusion that we <b<all use faith on a daily basis, whether we like to admit it or not."

    Until you define what you mean by the (slippery word) faith one cannot know if your statement is true, false, or even makes sense.

    When I cross a road I believe, and hope, the cars won't run me down. I'm not pretending to know they won't run me down, I certainly know they can.

  96. Brother Daniel says:

    @hotrats:
    “The idea that the ‘manifestly obvious’, such as our existence or any demonstrable fact is the product of a belief system is a poor excuse for an argument.” Well, that isn’t what I said, at all. I simply pointed out that whenever you describe something as ‘manifestly obvious’, you’re expressing a (particularly strong) belief. More generally, whenever you make a straightforward and honest assertion, you are expressing a belief. That’s all belief is: It’s whatever you are willing to assert as truth (putting aside the possibility of lying, or joking, or storytelling, or roleplaying, or the rhetorical use of sarcasm). I do not suggest that a belief is always “the product of a belief system”, for that would lead immediately to an infinite regress.

    “You do not need to believe you are reading this in order to read it.” I wonder if it would be interesting to unpack your apparent need to bring up ‘need’ when discussing belief.

    “Like it or not, there is an external reality and reliable knowledge external to and independant of belief.” There, you have expressed another belief of yours. I happen not to share that belief. (If we truncate your assertion by ending it at the word ‘reality’, then I agree.) Your claim is defensible if you impose exactly the restriction on the definition of ‘belief’ that I opposed — but now you’ve claimed that you’re not imposing any such restriction.

    “If you define all thinking as a form of belief, you declare knowledge and reality to be trivial.” (1) I’m not. (2) Even if I were, that wouldn’t follow.

  97. Brother Daniel says:

    Re ‘faith’: Off the top of my head, there are (at least!) these meanings for the word — all quite different from each other:

    (1) The implicit belief or belief-like attitude resulting from the practical judgement calls that we all have to make in order to get through our lives, as eloquently described here by Acolyte.

    (2) Belief that is put in place through force of will.

    (3) That which substitutes for evidence in the case of religious belief.

    (4) The attitude that life is worth living. (IIRC Karen Armstrong advocates this use of the word.)

    (5) One’s fundamental approach to organizing and trying to make sense of one’s constant barrage of experiences.

    (6) Personal trust.

    …and there are probably many others.

    Of course, there’s nothing wrong (in general) with a word having many different meanings. Usually, we can sort out from context which meaning is being used for any given word. But there’s something about the word ‘faith’ as commonly used that seems to invite vagueness and equivocation. I haven’t figured out why this is.

  98. theGreatFuzzy says:

    @Brother Daniel : “Usually, we can sort out from context which meaning is being used for any given word. But there’s something about the word ‘faith’ as commonly used that seems to invite vagueness and equivocation. I haven’t figured out why this is.”

    One problem is it’s (mis)used by some people of faith to try and convince us that we all have faith in something. Thus they try to equate their belief in something for which they have no evidence with the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow.

    Peter Boghossian says it far better than I can. See his 37min video talk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp4WUFXvCFQ

  99. GE says:

    In my (unrequested but enthusiastic) view, Brother Daniel is quite on track, and theGreatFuzzy nicely clarifies the typical consequences.

    I get terribly bored by “re-definition” arguments; there are simply too many words in most any given language (especially the paradoxically inbred mutt known as English) that have wildly disparate definitions depending on when, where, how, why, and by whom they are used. It’s rather pointless to “defend” one’s definition of a word if one is attempting to engage in any meaningful conversation: simply agree on which “placeholder” words or phrases to use for which conceptual tokens for the duration of the conversation, even if the chosen placeholders are distasteful or non-intuitive to you personally, and carry on in the conversation. Why obfuscate subjects that are already prone to massive disagreement by demanding that the same word means the same thing you want it to mean every time, regardless of any other viewpoints, and no matter what the context?

    I always read FreeFox’s comments with a grain of salt (having some limited knowledge of his background and opinions through these threads), but never dismiss them out of hand. Even when I see flawed arguments, the man is quite eloquent (in his non-native tongue, at that!).

    But whenever you have the following exchange:

    - Faith is pretending to know what you don’t know.

    - So instead of telling my boy: “I have faith in you…?”

    You’re already barking up the wrong tree, as Brother Daniel’s breakdown demonstrates. Nobody is telling you to restructure your vocabulary or how you communicate with those in your daily life.

    You might just as well have an exchange like this:

    - Would you like to eat an orange?

    - How absurd! Next you’ll be expecting me to eat a purple!

    The fruit we know as “orange” and the color we know as “orange” certainly derive from common etymological roots, and even common conceptual roots. (The color, from what I’ve read, was named after the fruit – etymologically speaking, you could say the fruit is the color’s ancestor.) But we don’t argue about which one we mean when the word is used in context.

    That’s why theGreatFuzzy’s frequent use of “(slippery)” to describe the word and concept of “faith” is right on target. It’s one of those words that is, even if not deliberately, certainly effectively used to distract from the actual points being made.

    We all know very well what it means to “have faith” in another person and to “have faith” in a deity and to “have faith” that your car will start in the morning. Conflating these various meanings just muddies the waters unnecessarily.

    As an aside to FreeFox: this conflation then diminishes (in the mind of any reader with opposing views) any arguments you may make, so be cautious! Semantic wordplay does not a logical argument make. In my (unsolicited but freely offered) opinion, you’d do well to stick to expressing your views and clarifying meaning where necessary, rather than attempting to command another commenter’s meanings and definitions. If you require clarification on someone else’s use of a word or phrase, ask for it; it’s devastatingly obvious from context when they are simply not using the same meaning that you are, and even a humorous stab at pretending they are weakens everything else you’ve written.

  100. hotrats says:

    @ FreeFox:
    # You just basically ignored everything I tried to tell you and went back to: But there is bad theists out there. #

    That’s not what I said at all, I scarcely mentioned religion – there are all sorts of implausible beliefs, political, philosophical, traditional, you name it. I was trying to point out that belief (and faith, for that matter) has such a broad spread of definitions, including polar opposites, that it is more or less free for anyone to define as they please, and in this process the implausible and indoctrinated beliefs (not necessarily or exclusively religious) benefit by association with the plausible and rational ones. There is also such a thing as reliable knowledge about reality where belief is simply irrelevant.

    It is hard to see how either of the terms can be used with any precision without the careful hair-splitting Brother Daniel made in his 6 definitions of faith, making them for all practical purposes meaningless in discourse.

    # Words like God and soul etc describe experiences – real, genuine, often shared human experiences. #

    Except they don’t actually ‘describe’ anything, they are just handy labels for emotional states that can never be adequately verbalised. They can mean whatever you want them to, and the categories they create in the mind are necessarily amorphous and promiscuous.

    @Brother Daniel:
    # “Like it or not, there is an external reality and reliable knowledge external to and independant of belief.” There, you have expressed another belief of yours. I happen not to share that belief. #

    If you admit there is an external reality, then it has qualities that we can describe with facts. If every fact is just another expression of belief, then there are no reliable facts, and no consistent reality, the truth is permanently up for grabs. You can describe my disbelief as another belief if it makes you feel better, but it’s like saying not playing golf is a form of golf.

    So come off the fence – are there any reliable facts, or not? Is any knowledge real? Is science just another belief system, or does it address and describe a external reality?

  101. FreeFox says:

    @GE: Thanks for the backwards compliments. I was really not aware that Fuzzy was using the word in an exclusively religious context – and from his reaction to my comment I take some confirmation that neither did he. If my unintended semantic confusioon befuddled him so much that he no longer knew what he meant to say himself, I apologize. I am all in favour of clear definitions of vocabulary and an honest use of words in argument.
    As for the commandeering of another’s vocabulary, I agree, it is naughty, but that rule goes for both sides. I am equally opposed to hotrats or beechnut or others here doing it to me, and I have tried my best to be as clear about the definitions (often with references) as possible (and to answer all questions and challenges as clearly and directly as possible), and it annoys me a lot when people keep arguing against my points by simply ignoring those definitions.

    As for the fath argument: I finally got around to listening to the linked talk by Boghossian. And I agree in so far: The common (stupid) use of the word by pastors and religious nuts should be replaced by “pretending to know something you don’t know”. He is perfectly correct that faith is not a substitute for knowledge, and any attempt to use it like that is delusional.
    But as we noted, there are many more uses for the word, expressing not a knowledge claim, but a feeling or decision. Even Boghossian describes how faith can mean hope – in which case it describes a feeling, not knowledge. And you are right, having faith in my boy, having faith in the future, having faith in the goodness in humans, all of that specifically means that I *do not know*, but that without certainty I place trust and confidence in someone or something, because doing so by itself changes something. It is a decision that creates a relationship, and the relationship alters the way people in it deal with life. Arthur Koestler quite rightly points out that we constantly act “as if”: We get up in the morning as if we knew that we wouldn’t die within the hour, even though we know that we quite possibly may. We act as if we could be certain of having a future, of other people being reliable, as if we understood more about the world than we do, because otherwise life *would* be meaningless. If you reationally clung to full awareness of all that could go wrong, you’d go nuts. Having faith – in the awareness that it is at best educated guesswork mixed with a good dash of hope – can still be an important, correct act, even a necessary one. (It can also be idiotic, like having faith in magic underwear to protect you from a car crash or something like that. Faith is no reason to switch of, well, reason.)

    But Boghossian’s attempt to abduct the word “faith” by not allowing it be used in a non-religious context is a pretty appalling act of memetic terrorism. Thank God it’s also futile and in itself a rather irrational expression of faith in his own power and influence. But instead of executing the word, it should be rescued from those who attempted to abduct it.

    If you really followed my previous arguments, you should know that I never tried to convince anyone of the existance of God, that I never made any claims that there are any valid reasons, religious or otherwise, to discount empirical evidence or the scientific method. All I have tried to argue is that there is a valid use of religious sentiment (and that this use has just as much tradition as the abusive “knowledge-claim” tradition) that is not inherently delusional or intolerant.

  102. FreeFox says:

    @hotrats: Of course they describe things. You cannot seriously claim that just because a word is ambiguous it becomes invalid. Hope, fear, youth, age, justice, good, beauty, reason, futility, age, science, love… thousands of commonly used words are ambigious and can can mean a lot of different things. And anyway, none of what you answered so far has even adressed my basic claim: that there is a valid, non-delusional purpose to religious experiences.

  103. FreeFox says:

    Just read Scott McCloud’s attempt to define the word “comic” (based on Will Eisner’s previous definitions as “sequential art”) to see how ambigious and loaded even such an innocent word is… may I please refer back to Richard Dawkins and his statement that really is whatever the brain needs it to be to further its survival? Or are you accusing him of semantic obfuscation, too?

  104. Brother Daniel says:

    FreeFox says: ‘there is a valid use of religious sentiment (and that this use has just as much tradition as the abusive “knowledge-claim” tradition) that is not inherently delusional or intolerant.’

    I lean toward agreement with this. As I hinted earlier, I don’t think it’s valid to treat knowledge-claims (about metaphysics or history or whatever) as the main point of religion. The fact that many of us who identify as atheists do tend to treat such knowledge-claims as central (when discussing what “religion” is) is perhaps a reflection of the inordinate influence that the loudest Abrahamic voices still have on our thinking.

  105. Brother Daniel says:

    @hotrats:

    “If you admit there is an external reality, then it has qualities that we can describe with facts.” Sounds good.

    “If every fact is just another expression of belief, then there are no reliable facts, and no consistent reality, the truth is permanently up for grabs.” Well, first of all, “just another” is your own spin, having little to do with anything I’ve said. I can’t make sense of your response without inferring (perhaps wrongly) that you are still insisting on narrowing the definition of “belief” — perhaps applying the word only to those beliefs that are not well supported, or perhaps only to those beliefs that happen to be incorrect, I can’t tell which. I’m simply trying to follow the common usage of “belief”, which is neutral on the question of whether any given belief is reliable or not, true or not, rational or not, etc. Some statements of belief happen to correspond to facts, some don’t.

    I really don’t know why there is this trend within the atheist community to try to take control of the word “belief” and wrest it away from common usage. Now I’m certainly not advocating that one should be enslaved to the dictionary; there are times when rebelling against common usage is perfectly appropriate. But when that is done, surely it should be done for the sake of enabling clearer communication! If I lose the ability to use the word “belief” in its common way, then another word would have to be coined to take its place.

    “You can describe my disbelief as another belief if it makes you feel better, but it’s like saying not playing golf is a form of golf.” What? You clearly made an assertion: “there is an external reality and reliable knowledge external to and independant of belief”. If I take your assertion as being made straightforwardly and honestly (i.e. not a lie nor a joke nor an instance of storytelling or game-playing etc. etc.), then that is, quite unambiguously, a statement of belief on your part, not a statement of disbelief.

    “So come off the fence – are there any reliable facts, or not? Is any knowledge real? Is science just another belief system, or does it address and describe a external reality?” Yes, yes, no, and yes. What made you imagine that I’m on the fence here?

  106. FreeFox says:

    “Are there any reliable facts, or not? Is any knowledge real? Is science just another belief system, or does it address and describe a external reality?”

    Actually you are using a lot of assumptions and need quite selective definitions of several of the words to get the answers you want. (Within the paramters you have in mind – but only within them – of course you are right.) You keep dodging the fact though that the answers you get are either very cumbersome and impractical or very dependent on your perspective.

  107. hotrats says:

    @ Brother Daniel:
    # I can’t make sense of your response without inferring (perhaps wrongly) that you are still insisting on narrowing the definition of “belief” — perhaps applying the word only to those beliefs that are not well supported, or perhaps only to those beliefs that happen to be incorrect, I can’t tell which. #

    Yes, your inference is wrong. I am not attempting to narrow the definition of belief, just articulating its deceptive breadth, and refusing to let it overlap with the definition of factual knowledge. Things are either demonstrable or not. If something is demonstrable – ‘one plus one makes two’, ‘I am writing in English’, – it is a fact. It doesn’t make any difference to the status or reliability of the fact what anyone believes about the language I’m writing in, and it does not require or demonstrate any kind of belief on my part to establish the truth of it. If every fact is also a belief, is there anything that isn’t a belief? And if not, can the word mean anything?

    I maintain that there is a necessary and useful distinction beteween belief and knowledge, which parents, politicians and priests find it convenient to blur (I am always struck by the each-way bet in the Christian funeral rite: ‘…in the sure and certain hope of resurrection…’).

    I think you are on the fence about acknowledging the difference between fact (knowledge) and belief (of any kind). I ‘believe’ (plausible assumption) I have demonstrated the distinction without requiring you to take anything on trust (6).

    @FreeFox:
    The problem boils down to the necessity of consensus for communication. Of course many words are ambiguous, and yes, we can still use hope, fear, youth, age, justice, good, beauty, reason, futility, science, love, because even though our personal definitions vary, none of these can be interpreted in entirely contradictory ways; there is consensus that love never means hate, futility never means purpose, and so on.

    But the ambiguity of faith and belief goes several steps further, to the point where any assertion using them requires a second layer of definition to make them meaningful. This is why I say similar words such as God and soul don’t describe anything, because they have no consensual meaning or coherent expression.

    I have not taken sides or passed any judgement on these usages, just tried to point out that there is not enough consensus for me to know any more than very vaguely what you might mean, when you talk about faith or belief, God, soul, Athena or Daffy Duck, and this is no criticism of your intelligence or sensitivity. If your beliefs have worked for you, I wish you joy of them.

    There is all the difference in the world between reasonable expectation and indoctrinated and/or tribally enforced ideas. Calling them all beliefs legitimizes the latter, making them respectable enough to be proud of, instead of embarrassed at how confused and superstitious they show us to be.

    From my perspective, the confusion of these definitions both reflects and feeds back into our own confusion, whether emotional, spiritual, political or existential, and the convoluted path out of that confusion is personal to each of us (though I suspect it will involve some loss of attachment to some beliefs for all). Convictions create convicts, locked into a specific gamble. I don’t reject belief, I’ve just never found one I could wholeheartedly endorse.

  108. theGreatFuzzy says:

    Yikes! Lots of posts, and some rather long!

    I think they show why Peter Boghossian has take the trouble to try and pin down the word faith – as used by people (not necessarily religious) of faith. He claims faith, as used by these people, is a knowledge claim – they’re claiming to know things that they don’t actually know (eg. Jesus walked on water). It’s not the same as hope or belief.

    At the end of his talk he offers the following challenge:
    “Give me a sentence where one must use the word “faith,” and cannot replace that with “hope,” yet at the same time isn’t an example of pretending to know something that someone doesn’t know.”

    Of course, if you’re using the word faith but with a different definition in mind then none of this matters. Well, other than your listeners may have a different definition to yours in mind. Personally, I avoid using it. Trying to hold a conversation in a room full of humpty dumpties can only lead to madness.

  109. GE says:

    From hotrats:

    “I have not taken sides or passed any judgement on these usages, just tried to point out that there is not enough consensus for me to know any more than very vaguely what you might mean, when you talk about faith or belief…”

    And from theGreatFuzzy:

    “…if you’re using the word faith but with a different definition in mind then none of this matters. Well, other than your listeners may have a different definition to yours in mind…”

    And there it is, and all I was aiming to point out in my lengthier comment. If you want to discuss things, establish the terms – even if you have to do so during the course of discussion. That’s a particular advantage that conversation has over something like game playing: you can still have a fruitful conversation even if not all the rules are established up front. But it’s still hard to bring any debate or discussion to some kind of satisfying conclusion if you’ve dodged this establishment of terms to the bitter end.

    No implied accusations leveled at anyone here doing that “dodging” – actually, as usual on this site, most of what I see is people at least trying to come to common terms, even if they still disagree on views.

    Oh, and FreeFox: no “backward” (or backhanded) compliments intended. They were actual, factual compliments toward someone with whom I just happen to disagree on several (not all) fundamental principles – the rest was just a mention of my disagreement, and the crux of my comment (non-establishment of common terminology).

  110. Willbell says:

    This ended up in my spam, just saw this one now. Nice.

  111. Brother Daniel says:

    @hotrats: I was away for several days. This exchange is probably past its “best before” date, but I may as well respond anyway. :)

    Your acknowledgement that you are “refusing to let [the definition of belief] overlap with the definition of factual knowledge” contradicts your claim that you are “not attempting to narrow the definition of belief”. To see this, you only need to notice that “justified true belief” has been one of the more popular ways of understanding what “knowledge” means, for most of the past 25 centuries. Knowledge has almost always been seen as a kind of belief (i.e. as belief with certain qualifiers), so excluding knowledge from the rubric of belief is a way of narrowing the definition of belief.

    “If something is demonstrable … it is a fact.” But once you’ve claimed that something is demonstrable or factual, you are demonstrating that you believe it.

    “It doesn’t make any difference to the status or reliability of the fact what anyone believes about….” Well, of course. Beliefs are often wrong. Even those (religious folks, generally) who like to emphasize the importance of belief recognize that beliefs are often wrong.

    “If every fact is a belief…” Who said that? Roughly, a fact is an objectively true proposition, while a belief is a proposition held as true (rightly or wrongly, with or without justification). If you claim that X is a fact, and I disagree (i.e. I consider it not to be factual), then we’re dealing with something you believe but I do not – regardless of which of us happens to be right in any given case.

    “I maintain that there is a necessary and useful distinction between belief and knowledge…” I agree with that, though evidently we draw the distinction in different ways.

    “which parents, politicians and priests find it convenient to blur (I am always struck by the each-way bet in the Christian funeral rite: ‘…in the sure and certain hope of resurrection…’).” That could just as easily be seen as a simple case of people holding wrong beliefs, rather than a case of blurring the distinction between belief and knowledge.

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