Saturday, February 11, 2012

Faith and Facts: A Google+ Conversation

"The Pirate" in one of my  Google+ circles posted the above. He's the Englishman who claims to be a
naturalist pantheist.

 This is my response: 

Bertrand Russell, logician, mathematician, philosopher and author of "Why I Am Not a Christian," wrote:

"There is no logical impossibility in the hypothesis that the world sprang into being five minutes ago, exactly as it then was, with a population that "remembered" a wholly unreal past. There is no logically necessary connection between events at different times; therefore nothing that is happening now or will happen in the future can disprove the hypothesis that the world began five minutes ago".
BERTRAND RUSSELL, The Analysis of Mind

In other words, he posed a radical hypothesis concerning the past. Philosophers have called it "The Five Minute Hypothesis." It is the idea that "the entire universe sprang into existence from nothing five minutes ago, exactly as it then was, apparent fossils in the ground, wrinkles on people's faces, and other signs of age all instantly formed and thoroughly deceptive."

Now here's the fun part: can anybody PROVE -- using evidence, logic and reason only--that the Five Minute hypothesis is false? Russell thought not. Of course, he didn't believe the Five Minute Hypothesis to be true; but his skepticism poses an interesting problem. How can we KNOW it-or even reasonably believe it, to be false?

"Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all."
-- G.K. Chesterton, "Orthodoxy"

Hmm. Maybe reason needs faith in something if it is going to proceed. Maybe in tossing out faith, we cut off our nose to spite our face.

The Pirate wrote: 

I say:-
It is easy to construct a perfect argument that supports the theists and the anti-theists. That only breaks down at the level of fact!

But, if both sides can agree on a scientific method to dispel to notion of an omnipresent being, that would be a good start.

You ask the theists,
if [s]he's there, how do you contact h[im]|[er]?

Then you measure brain activity and point out the fact they are either:-

Not present in their own mind during the process.


Faking their piety.

It's becoming as measurable as heart/lung function.
I responded: 

I've just finished listening to Wagner's version of ragnarök, the Metropolitan opera's radio broadcast of "Götterdämmerung." Mighty fine conclusion, there, with the Rhine overflowing and all Valhalla collapsing in flames! Thought you'd appreciate that image. ; )

Now to business: Reason depends on axioms which cannot themselves be proven. An axiom that separates theists from naturalists is their refusal to agree that the only things that are real are those which can be quantified, measured, predicted and controlled. Thus,theists would agree that scientific method is necessary but not sufficient for knowing things...while naturalists insist that it is necessary and sufficient.

You do realize that if the naturalists are correct, then self, emotion, intention and other minds are reducible to matter in motion. I become a machine, operating within a closed system of cause and effect (i.e., the universe) and any ideas I might have about being "free" or "choosing" or "having meaning" must be illusory. It's certainly possible that that is the case. However, if it is, why should I bother to do science? Why wonder? Why enjoy the beauty of the natural world? Why communicate with the intention of persuading someone of something they don't already hold to be true?

On the other hand, one could claim that things are not determined, but are totally random, and that that explains my sense of "freedom." But I don't find that to be any more helpful, because then how can I expect anything to follow any sort of order (which is what science assumes to be happening.) If everything is ultimately random, then anything is possible, and everything becomes absurd.

This is why I cannot agree to the scientific method being the only way of knowing. I enjoy art and music and nature too much to reduce them only to light and sound waves. Not to mention me corsair...he's a fine hunk of a fellow who's captured me heart...and what we have together is more than meat in motion, I daresay! ; )
The  Pirate's friend, AA wrote:
But faith isn't dependent on fact. Remember the shroud of Milan? The faithful just didn't care that forensic experts were claiming it to be a 13th century forgery. The spiritual and physical are worlds apart, literally. Using physical processes to determine spirituality presents us with the same problems. They could argue that divine intervention prevents changes to brain function :)
Then I wrote:
Adrian, I disagree. Faith and fact are intimately bound! 

1.The very reason the Vatican never claimed the shroud to be authentic is because there hasn't been enough proof to establish its authenticity. That is, there weren't enough facts toc onvince them that it was indeed the actual burial cloth of Jesus. (At any rate, the shroud is a rather poor example to use. Better to go for the jugular,like Christ's resurrection. The truth status of the shroud makes no difference to many Christians; but the truth status of the resurrection does.)

2. Modernists and fideists claim that faith isn't dependent on fact; but not all theists are fideists!  There are many of us who think that some propositions can be held to be true, either by faith or by "reason,” and that faith doesn’t have to mean “blindly, apart from facts” but rather “on the basis of factual testimony or authority. ”

Grandma always told me I had cousins in Sweden. I trusted her, accepting her testimony. That is, I took the statement, "You have cousins in Sweden" on faith.   Grandma had immigrated to the U.S. when she was a young woman, and had a reliable memory. I wouldn’t have entertained that proposition were it not on her authority. That is, I did not accept it blindly.I trusted her to be making that statement based on fact.

But one day, I flew to Stockholm and met my cousins. We spent a week together and I dipped my toe in the Baltic when we visited my grandma's birthplace on Gotland. At that point, it would have been strange for me to take the statement, "You have cousins in Sweden" by faith, when I KNEW them.

So the truth of that  proposition, "You have cousins in Sweden" can be established either by faith (testimony, reliance on authority) or by reason (memory, sense perception.)

Now say that someone had asked me, before my trip, if I had Swedish cousins. Would it have been epistemologically wrong of me to say, "yes," simply on the basis of testimony? Should I have said, "I don't know" because I could not yet provide my own sensory verification of that statement? The latter seems a bit extreme. Of course, Grandma could have been lying to me, or she could have been delusional. But I assessed the chances were greater that she was not a liar or delusional. Thus, I would be justified in responding "yes," on the basis of her testimony.  

That was pretty simple. We could consider further scientific examples, like "Antigens may be proteins, carbohydrates, glycoproteins, or glycolipids, depending on the blood group system” or “About 79% of the universe is dark energy.”  Do you take these to be true? Yes? On what grounds? Have you ever seen an antigen? Dark energy? If not, you are taking them on faith. 

Please don't waste your time fighting straw men. It seems that there are two kinds of “faith.” One is blind faith, which cares nothing for facts. That is the faith of Kierkegaard and fideists, which many theists reject. The other is the faith that is intimately bound with facts, because it relies on testimony. That is the faith of the Apostles (“Doubting” Thomas in particular, see John 20:19-31), of Thomas Aquinas, Alvin Plantinga and countless Christians. 

So you see, there is a faith that DOES depend on facts,  just as what we take to be fact depends on faith (see previous message;  we cannot prove the axioms we use in our reasoning.) It’s not an either/or. It’s a both-and.

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