Posted Feb 13, 2007
There was an old bigot called Blight
Who would argue much louder when tight;
He passed out one day,
In a physical way,
And came home the subsequent night
Inspired by Pavouk's Limerick:
There was a young lady called Bright
Who could travel much faster than light;
She went out one day,
In a relative way,
And came back the previous night
The brights movement was started by Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell to provide a upbeat term to describe various types of people who have a naturalistic worldview. It has recently been picked up by British biologist Richard Dawkins and American philosopher Daniel Dennett:
1. June 21, 2003 — Richard Dawkins writes a Guardian op-ed arguing that atheists should adopt the self-flattering term brights for themselves.
2. July 12, 2003 — Daniel Dennett writes a much-noticed NY Times op-ed arguing that atheists should adopt the self-flattering brights for themselves.
3. What this sequence of events inevitably, if perhaps a bit unfairly, brings to mind — Stephen Jay Gould's (in)famous dismissal of Dennett as "Dawkins's lapdog."
Some people (both religious and non-religious) have objected to the term as it suggests that the individuals with a naturalistic worldview are more intelligent than the religious. For example, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry published an article by Chris Mooney titled Not Too "Bright" in which he stated that, although he agreed with the movement, Richard Dawkins's and Daniel Dennett's "campaign to rename religious unbelievers 'brights' could use some rethinking"
A defintion of a bigot is One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ. In that light perhaps the term bright is merely misspelling of blight: Something that impairs growth, withers hopes and ambitions .
In the Wall Street Journal January 5, 2007; Page W11, Sam Schullman writes of Dawkins, Dennett and Sam Harris, saying they have "… a common worry in the political and social effect of religious belief. To a lot of atheists, the fate of civilization and of mankind depends on their ability to cool — or better, simply to ban — the fevered fancies of the God-intoxicated among us."
Perhaps what is fevered fantasy is just relative to your point of view?
Latest reply: Feb 13, 2007
Dawkins God Exclusion
Posted Dec 29, 2006
At the following link: http://www.theocea.org/
You can find some a mp3 file for download, that I recommend, from the Oxford Professor of Theology Alistair McGrawth. He argues that Atheism is a belief system as much as other traditional systems such as Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, etc. (something I have annoyed several folks myself in asserting in the past elsewhere on h2g2 -- not least in entries on my PS ).
He challenges very effectively Dawkins "The God Delusion". As this may have appeared in your Christmas "stocking", so if God is a delusion on par with Santa Claus, you may be conflicted!
Perhaps Dawkins merely excludes the God proposition for his personal reasons, perhaps because he is a sufferer of Fideiphobia (irrational fear of faith)!
As we come to the New Year let's all make a resolution, irrespective of our leanings towards Theism, Atheism and Agnosticism, to keep an open mind, to tolerate peaceful dialog between mankind in all it's expressions, to confront violent and fundamentalist hijackers of the arguments of reason and faith -- to help make the world a more peaceful place.
Latest reply: Dec 29, 2006
Cosmic Design Joke
Posted Dec 7, 2006
Are you aware that:
i) the Electrostatic force between an electron and a proton for the Hydrogen Atom when divided by Gravitational force between them yields a dimensionless ratio of approx 10 to the -40 power
ii) also the dimensionless ratio of the "classic electron radius" divided by the radius of the universe is also approx 10 to the -40 power
Something that Eddington and Dirac (20th century Physicists of high repute) considered must be something significant. The fundamental constants of the Universe seem to be set up in such a way that is not happenstance, tweak the constants just a little and the conditions for the universe being able to support sentient life would be in jeopardy it is said. This is sometimes called the 'Anthropic Principle'.
There is either hidden pattern or it's phenomenal luck.
As I understand it the argument that this if this is not design evidence, it is that this arrangement is just how things are, i.e., we are lucky. If we where not, we would not be here, therefore we must be just lucky.
If so are we not swapping 'faith in a designer' for 'faith in good luck'?
I try to avoid the term Anthropic Principle since it is too human centered IMO, I think the argument is generic to sentience. Maybe there is a better term than 'Cosmological Design' though as I am not a particular fan of the ID argument. I suspect the Evolutionary argument, in part Adaptionist (Dennet/Dawkins, etc) and in part Structuralist (Gould/Lewontin, etc), are mostly correct. Perhaps with ID having more of a role in the origin of life in its very earliest stages (something evolution actually does not address). I wish folks would look at considering such a synthesis, and not stick to just one POV, as if only one could be true as opposed to aspects from them all having a role.
Someone once told me “As for the relationships between various constants you mention, did you know that back in the seventies someone took the measurements of a standard New York City telephone booth and found encoded therein a vast number of universal constants, interplanetary distances and the value of pi? Should we substitute faith in god and faith in luck with faith in humanity's wacky penchant for pattern finding?”
There is truth in this – I agree that it's a fact that humans are good at finding pattern in what is actually random. But it is also true that humans are good at finding patterns that are deeply embedded, better than the most sophisticated AI programs that suggest the data is indeed random when it is in fact not.
There is a good joke on this that I first heard it in a eulogy to Adams by Dawkins at St Martins in the Field . (See Footnote 1)
". . . imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in an interesting hole I find myself it fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for."
A nice turn of the terms, but the problem is it's a bit facile. Since a puddle is not intelligent (as far as we know!). If it was, and if it was genuinely legitimate to assign its intelligence to the particular shape of the puddle then the argument would be OK (replace 'man' for 'puddle' and 'environment' for 'hole'). By the way modern cosmologists either expect the universe to end in an entropic heat death or a collapse to a point of infinite density. The 'hole' is indeed drying up! All our material futures are futile from that perspective in the long run. As Adams says this is "something we need to be on the watch out for". The 'Cosmological Design' argument holds and is nicely expanded on by Adams - I wonder if he appreciated the genuine cosmic joke he was making about materialism’s futility! (See Footnote 2)
Oh by the way I positively love the fact that Dawkins quoted the Adams piece on the puddle and the hole, since it is very close to an assertion of Adaptionist Evolutionary theory (advocated by Dawkins) that all of our cognitive understanding and intelligence is entirely a product of our environment (in which case the environment makes the man, as opposed to the man finding the environment just right - designed - to making him as he is).
As I say if you replace 'man' for 'puddle' and 'environment' for 'hole' you get a position that is the alternative explanation for adaptionism. That the man and the environments have a holistic structuralist relationship.
Robert Jastrow has expressed this joke as '....For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peaks; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries! God and the Astronomers (1992) pp.106-107
Latest reply: Dec 7, 2006
Jacques Maritain - An Intuition of Being
Posted Nov 28, 2006
Somehow I managed to delete the original entry from my PS when cleaning up my PS a bit earlier. Apologies if therefore you are seeing this again!
Jacques Maritain (1882 – 1973) was a French philosopher responsible for reviving St. Thomas Aquinas for modern times. For more on Jacques Maritain, see here: http://www.nd.edu/~maritain/
Maritain's philosophy is based on the view that metaphysics is prior to epistemology. Being is first apprehended implicitly in sense experience, and is known in two ways.
1/ Being is known reflexively by abstraction from sense experience. One experiences a particular being, e.g. a cup, a dog, etc. and through reflexion ("bending back") on the judgement, e.g. "this is a dog", one recognizes that the object in question is an existent.
2/ In light of attaining being reflexively through apprehension of sense experience one may arrive at what Maritain calls "an Intuition of Being".
For Maritian this is point of departure for metaphysics, without the intuition of being one cannot be a metaphysician at all. The intuition of being involves rising to the apprehension of ‘ens secundum quod est ens’ (being insofar as it is a being).
In this American concept of success there is no greediness or egoism. It is, it seems to me, rather an over-simplified idea that "to succeed" is to bear fruit, and therefore to give proof of the fact that psychologically and morally you are not a failure.
This is a very old illusion, already denounced by Socrates: mistaking external success, which depends on a great many ingredients extraneous to the ethical life -- good connections, cleverness, good luck, ruthlessness, and so forth -- for genuine "success" in the metaphysical sense, that is, for the genuinely human happy issue which is internal, and consists in having, as Socrates said, a "good and beautiful soul."
-- Reflections on America, 1958
Modern civilization is a worn-out garment. One cannot sew new pieces on it. It requires a total and, I may say, substantial recasting, a transvaluation of cultural principles. What is needed is a vital primacy:
* of quality over quantity,
* of work over money,
* of the human over the technological,
* of wisdom over science,
* of the common service of human persons over the individual covetousness of unlimited enrichment, and
* of the common service of human persons over the State's covetousness of unlimited power.
-- Integral Humanism, 1947.
The men of today have the very instructive privilege of watching the historic failure of three centuries of rationalism. It would be suicidal to blame reason. But they can observe everywhere, even in the economic order, what is produced by the claim of imposing upon matter the rule of a reason which itself refuses to be guided by the highest and most essential realities, and will be satisfied only with facile clarities. All rationalization inevitably engenders absurd results when it is not the work of an integral reason, which heeds the order of wisdom and of nature.
-- The Dream of Descartes, 1944.
If we remember that the animal is a specialist, and a perfect one, all of its knowing-power being fixed upon a single task to be done, we ought to conclude that an education program which would only aim at forming specialists ever more perfect in ever more specialized fields, and unable to pass judgment on any matter that goes beyond their specialized competence, would lead indeed to a progressive animalization of the human mind and life.
-- Education at the Crossroads, 1943.
If we wish to picture to ourselves the universal order of reality in degrees or grades as St. Thomas saw it, we shall have to put at the base of our diagram the world of sensible things, things subject to time and movement: the world of sensible nature.
-- Freedom in the Modern World, 1933
Latest reply: Nov 28, 2006
Shall we define "Faith" meaningfully?
Posted Nov 27, 2006
In other dialogs with people who wish to minimize the use of 'Faith' I have come across several proposed simple definitions, here are a few examples;
1/ Faith is belief is what is unbelievable
2/ Faith is belief in what cannot be verified, analytically or empirically.
3/ Faith is a belief in God (Note; in this usage definition of God is begging and is typically defined as 'transcendental', in the context that one cannot find evidence for within the Universe)
4/ Faith is belief in Supernatural events (Note; This also begs definition of supernatural/natural events, and typically this is done in a way to ensure that Man can only perceive natural events, and events can only be caused by natural causes)
None of these are adequate in my POV. They seem to express to me a misological interpretation of faith, something that cannot in principle be reasonable IMO. I think of this as a profound misconception and leads many to the assumption that reason and faith cannot be reconciled (see Footnote 1).
I think this judgment is merely a subjective choice, that ultimately is based on the semantics being chosen as a common frame of reference. If we choose to allow faith to have meaning we must first start be defining the word in a meaningful manner.
Several of my postings in my PS relate to this issue. So I have tried to bring together some of these to help clarify my position.
The Fowler definition of faith is one I believe more succinctly expresses the reality of faith’s meaning in practice across many cultures and peoples, it is ...
'Faith may be characterized as an integral, centering process underlying the formation of beliefs, values and meanings that (1) gives coherence and direction to persons' lives, (2) links them in shared trusts and loyalties with others, (3) grounds their personal stances and communal loyalties in the sense of relatedness to a larger frame of reference, and (4) enables them to face and deal with the limit conditions of human life, relying upon that which has the quality of ultimacy in their lives.'
This has been subject to criticism in some circles, particularly those that find it too broad.
a/ A definition of faith has to be meaningful. If a word is meaningfully used (as faith is for several billions today), its definition must be able to be meaningfully defined, else we are serving to tautologically exclude discussion of that word (in the Wittgenstein context of the use of language in his TLP and PI work). This is quite unfair, but nevertheless appears to be a tactic is some quarters who fish to avoid reflection of the faith within themselves.
b/ A definition of faith has to be peer-reviewed. This is acknowledged in the case for the Fowler definition. In particular the seminal work of Fowler on the Stages of Belief (A937767) that is used to describe the various stages in faith that adherents move along is something that would be rendered meaningless otherwise. Again it is an unacceptable convenience for the critics of faith to remove meaning from an argument before it is made.
c/ A definition, if to be useful, needs to cover adequately all instances of its use in practice. Since 'faith' is something that covers a gamut of belief systems from Abrahamic faiths to Norse Mythology, from Hinduism to Scientism, then it's appropriate to be generic. Fowler's definition works very well in that respect. So we should use it from that aspect.
d/ A definition must be consistent with other related words. Faith’s definition according to Fowler maps well to allied contexts, e.g., ‘Religion'; the wikipedia entry defines such as …
“a system of social coherence based on a common group of beliefs or attitudes concerning an object, person, unseen being, or system of thought considered to be supernatural, sacred, divine or highest truth, and the moral codes, practices, values, institutions, traditions, and rituals associated with such belief or system of thought. It is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system", but is more socially defined than that of personal convictions. …. Sociologists and anthropologists see religion as an abstract set of ideas, values, or experiences developed as part of a cultural matrix. Primitive religion was indistinguishable from the sociocultural acts where custom and ritual defined an emotional reality.”
e/ A definition must be sufficiently broad to fully serve a conversations needs. In this case the conversation topic relates to how faith and culture interact (and not just one faith-based system). It’s appropriate to seek a definition that is optimum in this respect. In 'The Encyclopedia of Religion' Winston King describes Religion in the following way:
"In summary, it may be said that almost every known culture involves the religious in the above sense of a depth dimension in cultural experiences at all levels — a push, whether ill-defined or conscious, toward some sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life. When more or less distinct patterns of behavior are built around this depth dimension in a culture, this structure constitutes religion in its historically recognizable form. Religion is the organization of life around the depth dimensions of experience — varied in form, completeness, and clarity in accordance with the environing culture." (Encyclopedia of Religion, p 7693)
Both of the above definitions for religion in d/ and e/ are consistent with the Fowler definition of faith, in fact Winston King and James Fowler appears to be very close in their semantic construction, which you would expect between the concepts of faith and religion.
2/ Specific Application of the Fowler definition to Christianity:
As mentioned before I believe that it is better to define faith so as to be able to broadly cover aspects of all faith-based traditions without specific attention to isolated detail (e.g., example Buddhism has no explicit position of the Belief-In-God proposition, nevertheless it is a faith-based system that is defined as such within the Fowler definition but might fall outside of such in other more focused on Abrahamic expression of revealed creeds – see Footnote 2). Nevertheless when dealing with the specific articles of faith for Christians and their Creed (e.g.., Nicene of Apostolic) the criticism is made that the Fowler definition is incomplete. Thus let’s review in the context of Christian faith.
Typically it is acknowledged that the individual aspects/statements within the Fowler definition can be analyzed and found to be consistent with a Christians faith.
For many Christians (and their critics) more focus is given on the historical and supernatural events around the life of Christ, in particular the ‘miracles’, e.g., the Resurrection of Christ after his death. Atheists approach such events skeptically, assuming that such events are not possible from an ‘a-piori’ judgment (see Footnote 3 for definition of ‘a piori’) of the nature of miracles from an empirical and analytic POV, i.e., a verificationist perspective. This leads Atheists to make a judgment that faith is inherently about belief in that which cannot be verified (see definitions at the opening of this entry). This needs to be reflected on further.
One's faith in the resurrection of Christ is something that if you are going to take seriously requires a point of view that miracles actually can happen and did. The 'bigger' miracle, what CS Lewis calls the 'Great Miracle', was not the 'Resurrection' but what preceded and enabled it, i.e., the 'Incarnation'. Meaning that God and Man became one in the person of Jesus Christ. If that could happen everything else within the Christian Creed, including the Resurrection, could happen.
Certainly the Incarnation is/was not a common place event! Christians believe the 'Incarnation' has and will happen just once, as a supernaturally caused event manifesting itself in the natural world in the person of Jesus.
As an empirical definition of what is 'natural' is based on repeatable and predictable events, such an analysis or empirical critique for this proposed singular event therefore does not really apply. Verificationists in such circumstances fall back on analytical proof, they ask 'could it in principle and by logic have happened?'
The question therefore becomes one of;
a) 'can miracles such as the Incarnation logically happen?
b) And if so is their sufficient "reason" to illuminate ones "faith" that it actually did happen all those years ago.
In that first respect theists answer that miracles can happen as an article of faith. There is nothing that outlaws them a piori. To take the atheists alternative position (miracles cannot happen) is however also a faith based assumption on the nature of reality being natural without supernatural intervention.
What is being said is that we do not know for sure what reality is. What we need to do is be tolerant and open to other worldviews, understanding that Reason and Faith are symbiotically entangled.
As for the second aspect it comes down to one’s personal view on the ‘Case for Christ’, this is in part a historical question, in part a circumstantial one relating to one’s metaphysical insight to ‘truth’. As the Christian faith has aspects that relates to an ongoing numinous presence it also needs to take into account ones feelings and personal experiences.
For both aspects we need have 'FAITH IN REASON AND A REASONABLE FAITH. For this we need to do our best to apply our personal critical faculties to make find a meaningful conclusion. That is what it means to be a 'Critical Rational Fideist' (my 1st posting on this site!).
Footnote 1: It is often stated, I believe incorrectly, that “Reason and Faith” cannot be reconciled, this, I think, arises when one confuses a particular form of defining reason as rationality ALONE, and furthermore a definition of rationality that as part that also A PIORI defines faith outside of rationality. As such it is a circular argument to say that reason and faith cannot be reconciled.
Reason need not be either entirely derived from rationality, and rationality, for example, need not be based entirely on principle of Verificationism. (Nevertheless it serves a useful purpose if one allows that for us to proceed with an accepted positivist understanding of rationality these days).
In which case it may be correct to say that Faith and Rationalism cannot always be reconciled unless one applies ‘Critical Reasoning’. We can call this worldview and its associated definitions - ‘Critical Rational Fideism’.
Following the work of Welsch (see http://www2.uni-jena.de/welsch/Papers/ratReasToday.html ) A summary definition of “Rationality” and “Reason” are given here:
1. We speak of rationality whenever people follow a specific set of principles which determine the realm of their validity, identify their objectives, define the aims to be achieved, the methods to be followed, and the criteria to be applied.
2. These principles must be coherent with one another in order to allow coherent usage.
3. Therefore, to be rational simply means to follow the rules suggested by these principles. In doing this, we are rational in the sense of the respective version of rationality.
Such a definition requires a process of relationship definition between the ‘objects’ and the ‘specific principles’, leading to a certain degree of complexity and disorder.
However reason, is a faculty superior to rationality, able to provide for order and unity amidst the complexity and disorderliness of rationality. This is because reason operates on a fundamentally different level from rationality. While forms of rationality refer to objects, reason focuses on the forms of rationality.
This has been the constellation of reason and rationality at least since Kant who said: "Reason is never in immediate relation to an object, but only to the understanding."
Footnote 2: Buddhist Faith – It is an article of faith to Buddhists that the Buddha’a (Siddhartha Gautama) ‘enlightenment’ was realized by a complete awakening and insight into the ‘true and objective’ nature and cause of human suffering, which was ignorance, and that we also can achieve such a ‘nirvana’ and freedom form ‘samsara’. This does not necessarily proceed to define a position for the BIG proposition mentioned earlier.
As a Christian of an ‘inclusivist’ persuasion I would say that truth is truth from whatever tradition it comes from. If we acknowledge that an authentic attribute of God is Truth, then a Christian’s inclusive view of Buddhism is that its truth pre-figures the truth in Christianity. If Christ is the Logos, the reason behind and within the universe then Buddha's going through enlightenment would be achieving a level of insight into this Logos, and indeed Buddha would then have insight into the nature and cause of human suffering for which Christ's passion was destined. Something like that. I certainly respect Buddhism as a faith-based system.
Footnote 3: Defining ‘a piori’ – The FreeDictionary says http://www.thefreedictionary.com/a%20priori
1. Proceeding from a known or assumed cause to a necessarily related effect; deductive.
a. Derived by or designating the process of reasoning without reference to particular facts or experience.
b. Knowable without appeal to particular experience.
3. Made before or without examination; not supported by factual study.
Consider the key words above 'assumed', 'without reference to facts or experience', not supported by factual study'. A piori reasoning is useful when you cannot establish a fact to base argument on, you can posit/assume a fact, and see where that takes you. If it is coherent and consistent with reality as we see it, we can say it is a plausible axiom. In such reasoning the philosophical method of choice (mostly) is Axiomatic reasoning. See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-axiomatic/
Such axiomatic approaches have been used by mathematicians to develop the foundation of mathematics. However there are competing views as to which axiomatic sets are most complete. E.g., http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/settheory-alternative/
Indeed the work of Gödel indicates that a complete set of axioms cannot in principle be found. http://kilby.stanford.edu/~rvg/154/handouts/incompleteness.html
The point to be made here is that we all use a piori reasoning at some point in our argument, where empirical and analytical reasoning cannot resolve truth (reductionist & rationalist methods being hyperbolically ineffective). Thus as we assert the truth that we ‘know’, to make our argument proceed we make small ‘atomic’ leaps of faith. Thus all our worldviews are in part faith-based from the Fowler definition
Latest reply: Nov 27, 2006