A Conversation for Faculty of Social Sciences

Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 1

a girl called Ben

A853751

Project Name: The structure and function of belief - (this is subject to change, if anyone can come up with a snappier title)

Field Researcher: a girl called Ben

Department: Religion

Faculty: Social Sciences

Start Date: 19 October 2002

End Date: 31st November 2002

smiley - bus

Project Description

smiley - star The evolutionary function of belief
smiley - star How to fight bigots
smiley - star The mechanisms of belief

I would also like to have some things about how and why heresies arise, and how they are handled; the role of iconography in religions; whether or not religions require deities; and the difference between a philosopy and a religion; the need for and best response to bigotry; and what happens when science is taken on faith.

This project is explicitly NOT about beliefs per se, and certainly will not have entries evangelising any particular faith.

smiley - bus

Contributing Researchers

I have asked a couple, but not yet had any replies. Post in the thread below, and be the first!

smiley - bus

So - the more the merrier - if anyone wants to join in please let me know.

a girl called Ben


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 2

Teasswill

Just caught this via the thread about evil.
A few thoughts:
There does seem a need for people to have something to believe in, but not necessarily a deity - it can be the power of nature or the worth of goodness. The latter would perhaps be a philosophy rather than a belief. I would say roughly a religion involves some sort of worship or communal endorsement, whereas a philosophy is more a way of life.
On the whole most people take an awful lot of day to day things on trust, putting their faith in other people's knowledge & skills, but I'm not sure if you would call that belief?
That's all for now, but a fascinating topic, I'll give it some more thought.


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 3

a girl called Ben

Yes, belief is separate from worship. In fact we should include an entry about worship in the project, and what it does for the worshipper. And your comments about comunal endorsement are to the point too.

Let me know your other thoughts as you think them Teasswill, and if you want to write an entry (and get it in the edited guide without going through the Peer Review bean-fest) then let me know.

All the best

B


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 4

Vidmaster - A Pebble in the Pond

I'd like to get involved. I don't know how much I'll be able to do, as I have other priorities (like college), but if I can find the time I'll whip something up.

smiley - cheers


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 5

a girl called Ben

That would be great Vidmaster. I would appreciate it, because I think you would have something interesting to contribute on the subject.

As I said, the only rule (in addition to the standard guidelines for edited entries) is that what we write should not promote any particular set of religious or secular beliefs.

B


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 6

Montana Redhead (now with letters)

Ben, dear, heresy tends to be either a Christian or Muslim ideology. Jews tend to be less, well, fanatical about heresy, and Eastern religions don't have heretics, just different patterns.

So if I do something on heresy, it will probably have to be one, historical, and two, centered around mostly Christian heresy. Because that's what I know.


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 7

a girl called Ben

I think that historical is safer. And you cannot write about heresy and not mention the content of peoples' beliefs, so I guess yours will have to be an exception to the main rule for the rest of the project.

Please write whatever you like. My objective is not to make anyone feel that their beliefs are under attack, that way lies flame wars, doom and destruction. What I want to do is examine how belief works.

The questions I would as you, as someone who knows more about heresy than I do, are things like 'what happens to old heresies, do they become mainstream, or fade away, or what?' 'what constitutes a heresy anyway?' 'what heresies are irrelevant now?' 'how did the church respond at different times?' 'how small can a difference in belief be, and still be regarded as a heresy?' 'what scientific thoughts were considered heresies and what ones weren't and why?' and the big one - 'the hell did people get so het up about it?'

As I said, it is your entry, and up to you what you write, any of the above, or none. And don't worry unduly about the time. From what I hear, geting a uni project together is like herding cats.

All the best

B


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 8

a girl called Ben

PS - what you said about the different religions approach to heresy is in itself quite fascinating. More on that would be good if you felt like it.

Enough from me.

B


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 9

Teasswill

Some more thoughts:

Do people need a belief (in the religious sense) in order to have some superior power to blame when things go wrong?

Although they are largely used as interchangable, I feel that belief relates to something known/proven whereas faith implies something unknown.

Once someone has firm belief/faith, they tend to disregard any evidence against what they believe in. Yet faith can be shattered OR strengthened by something that does not conform to expectations.

Bigots - does anything need to be done about them so long as they do not harm anyone else?


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 10

Toxxin

I was sent here by Noggin. I'm a cognitive scientist and philosopher. Hi Ben smiley - smiley First I think you have to decide whether you're discussing belief or faith. What's the difference? OK, animals don't have faith do they?

Just talking in brief note form here. Evolution of belief. It has no value since it doesn't affect anything. The behaviour, if based on no conscious awereness, would be just as handy. The key thing though is language. That depends vitally on belief. There is an awful lot to say about this aspect of the subject - almost to the exclusion of everything else!

Ok, you want to concentrate on heresies it seems. Non-orthodox beliefs. Who sets the orthodoxy? The winners? The concept is anti-rational. Why heresy? Can't we just disagree and have a debate. 'Heresy' is a term that belongs with 'faith' and has absolutely nothing to do with belief. Bad idea, unless you want to change your title to something to do with faith.

Bigots. Faith again I guess. There is something philosophically wrong with linking the topics you want to discuss to 'belief' as opposed to 'faith'. Do let me know if you find what I've said a heap of garbage or somehow useful. There are volumes more where this came from.

Above all, keep having fun, Doc.


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 11

Montana Redhead (now with letters)

Toxxin, the section on heresy is only one small part of the project. And since I will be doing it, I can assure you that I will be including some of the comments you made. Is heresy an absolute? Well, of course not. Heresy, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. What is the root cause of heresy? control. Why does heresy exist? Well, it really doesn't NOW. It used to. Manichees, Arians, Bogomils, Cathars, all of them were late antiquity/medieval. Which is why heresy is so interesting, really.

And think about this....as far as heresy goes, Martin Luther was nothing more than a heretic with enough political force behind him that he didn't get burned. Otherwise, all of Europe would still be Catholic. The question of why he didn't is the interesting thing.


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 12

a girl called Ben

Hi Toxxin,

You have the perfect background to write some of the entries that I cannot write.

Wotchit is tackling 'Why we believe' from one end. Could you tackle it from the other? Or possibly 'How we believe things' - the actual processes involved. I took a look at some of the mechanisms in Affirmation and Prayer, but it would be good to have a real live cognitive scientist do something.

smiley - bus

Taking your comments as they came in:

I was sent here by Noggin. I'm a cognitive scientist and philosopher. Hi Ben First I think you have to decide whether you're discussing belief or faith. What's the difference? OK, animals don't have faith do they?

> Evolution of belief. It has no value since it doesn't affect
> anything.

I argue that belief does affect things - have you read the entry?

> The key thing though is language. That depends vitally on belief.

Language depends on belief? Interesting. How so?

> There is an awful lot to say about this aspect of the subject -
> almost to the exclusion of everything else!

Isn't there just!

smiley - bus

> Ok, you want to concentrate on heresies it seems.
> Non-orthodox beliefs.

Not really. I want to concentrate on the mechanisms, purposes and funtionality of belief. But I find that if you are inside the judeo-christian-muslim tradition you miss the fact that (for example) Buddhism is arguably a philosophy with spiritual practices, and not a religion at all. Which begs the question 'what is a religion?'

I want to take a long look at structure, and ignore content. We will generate enough flames looking at structure, if we tear apart the content of peoples beliefs too, then we will need to have an entire fire department to put out the flames.

> Who sets the orthodoxy? The winners?

Interesting, and probably accurate - hell, of course it is accurate.

> Why heresy? Can't we just disagree and have a debate.
> 'Heresy' is a term that belongs with 'faith' and has absolutely
> nothing to do with belief. Bad idea, unless you want to change
> your title to something to do with faith.

I am perfectly happy to change the title, as I said at the top of the page. I suspect there will be a variety of working titles for the project as it shapes up, and the entries are written.

Are you asking ME why you and I cannot just disagree and have a debate, or are you asking why some people are labeled heretics, and what is in it for the labellers?

A lot depends on what Montana Redhead writes. She is going to write something which is based on historical christian heresies, since that is what she knows about. Personally I am interested in the psychology of heresy; where does the warm glow come from in labelling someone a heretic, apart from the fire you burn them on of course. But we shall have to see what she delivers.

> Bigots. Faith again I guess.

I suspect that Hoovooloo will surprise us with his entry. I know exactly what I am hoping he will write.

smiley - bus

> There is something philosophically wrong with linking the topics
> you want to discuss to 'belief' as opposed to 'faith'.

Sure. I agree with you, and found myself tripping over the same thing in a footnote when I wrote the entry about Evolution and Beleif. I don't have a religious faith, but my belief-systems are mainly Buddhist, so I keep on forgetting that faith is an issue for people. (For me, and I am happy to accept that this is not so for other people, Buddhism does not have any of the logical inconsistencies and lacunae that Christianity does, and so it does not actually require faith to bridge them).

smiley - bus

> Do let me know if you find what I've said a heap of garbage
> or somehow useful.

Definitely useful.

> There are volumes more where this came from.

Enough to write some guide entries without all that messy Peer Review stuff?

I would welcome any you care to write, and I think you can understand enough about where I am coming from on this, to balance up the entries that have already been proposed.

> Above all, keep having fun, Doc.

Oh I do!

All the best, and let me know if you have any other comments. I would welcome your critique of the entry on Evolution and Belief. A853814. The writing workshop thread is probably the best place to comment on it. F57153?thread=217913&post=2507301#p2507301

B



Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 13

Toxxin

Good to read your reply. You're doing this better than I first thought from the message I read. (God, that sounds patronising, but hmmmm, it's what I thought).

The language point is the one I'd like to focus on here. We have also to bring in the concept of 'intention'. While we're here, the 'locus classicus' for intention is GEM Anscome's book 'Intention' - surprise, surprise. Her book is intended for philosophers but readable by intelligent folks of any background I seem to recall. Then there's 'Linguistic Behaviour' by Jonathan Bennett. The 'Locus Classicus' is a paper by Grice - but I'm not sure of the title. Could mention 'Conversational Implicature' or that's a handle to Google it with anyway.

Language works by intending the hearer to understand our own intention to convey something to them via their appreciation of this intention of ours. It sounds complicated, but babies do it and learn the language. I used 'appreciation of' there but I might just as well have said 'belief in'. That's how belief is central to language. Not just speech - writing works the same way. I don't know whether you would want to discuss this, but clearly it is a huge part of the role of belief for humans.


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 14

a girl called Ben

Hi Toxxin - I didn't feel patronised, I bathed in the warm glow of your (limited smiley - winkeye) approval instead!

I am going to take this particular topic over to your own space. See you there.

B


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 15

Toxxin

Sounds cool to me. smiley - biggrin


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 16

Noggin the Nog

Toxxin actually got here by accident when I sent him to the Problem of Evil thread (we'd been having a similar discussion elsewhere), but he does have specialist knowledge, and could certainly contribute something if he's minded to do it.
He's half right about behaviour, too. For the following reasons.
This project has the shape of an inverted pyramid (or should have); at the narrow bottom you're dealing with the biologically programmed implicit beliefs (Wittgenstein called them certainties), like the reality of the external world and the meaning of things like smiling and fear, which show themselves in behaviour. The rest of the subject gets wider and wider, but it all rests on the certainties at the bottom.
The next step up revolves around representations, the mental models we have to have to get on in the world. Since we have to have representations, and beliefs are a form of representation, this question resolves itself into why we differentiate our representations into the various categories of knowledge, belief, etc.
If that's accepted it means Wotchit's contribution will be covering a lot of the same ground as our joint one. What do you think, Ben and Wotchit. Should they be combined, or do you have some other angle in mind?


Noggin


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 17

Hoovooloo

"Bigots - does anything need to be done about them so long as they do not harm anyone else?"

I don't think I'm going to end up with an entry that suggests doing something about them, more suggestions for things to do with them. Pointing and laughing may well be a leitmotiv.

"I suspect that Hoovooloo will surprise us with his entry. I know exactly what I am hoping he will write."

smiley - huh Any clues would be good! smiley - winkeye

H.


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 18

a girl called Ben

Well get yourself over onto MSN and I will provide them.

B


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 19

a girl called Ben

Noggin the Nog

I suspect, though I do not know, that your entry will be more technical than Wotchit's. I am certain that the tone of voice will be different, too.

I am taking the view that the entries that people write for the project are theirs, not mine.

Having said that, if shots need to be called, it is probably up to me to call the shots. (Are you and Toxxin going to write a joint entry, by the way?)

Back to calling shots. Can you and Toxxin write whatever entry or entries you like? If you want to draft them up pending comments, that is fine by me. If you want to present them, shiny, polished and whole, that is fine by me too. I am going to let Wotchit get on with writing hir entry from hir own perspective. Then I am going to take a look at them. If it looks as if they should or could be grafted together then we can make a call on that. But if - as I suspect - you approach the same subject from different directions we end up with a richer project.

Let me know the topic and/or working title and the A-Number of the page when you have created it, and I will link to it from the main page for the project.

Incidentally, the second of my two entries is a work-in-progress, (and I would prefer to link to the works in progress if that is ok with thier authors). It takes a look at Dilts' Logical Levels, and may well be a third take on the subject. A853977. Take a look and critique if you are so minded.

B


Project: The structure and function of belief

Post 20

Toxxin

OK Noggin. If I'm half right about behaviour, what's the other half - missing or wrong? Do tell me and hey! ain't it great that this forum is totally open?


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