Sunday, July 09, 2006

A Challenge

The whole subject of religion, it appears to me, can be pared down to one important concept: Faith. Either you have it or you don’t.

Now I’m slightly hazy on the subject of faith, but as I understand it, it comes in two basic flavours. Flavour one: The one favoured by my grandparents and their generation, namely that of blind faith. This is where a persons beliefs are instilled in them at an early age, never questioned and accepted as part of their daily life until they go the way of all flesh. Flavour two: born again faith. This is where a person undergoes some kind of life changing experience or epiphany that leads to a belief in a particular religion.

Blind faith believers have no place in this debate since they have never questioned their beliefs, therefore, it is logical for us to focus on the latter flavour. It occurs to me that they too can be separated into two groups. One group would comprise of people who were looking for some kind of help or direction or psychological crutch in the first place. The second (and I suspect much smaller) group would comprise of people for whom religion was the furthest thing from their minds when they had their experience.

IF you accept that this second group of born again believers are scarce enough to be fairly described as an unexplained anomaly, THEN it is only the first group of born again believers that should be of concern.

I believe that these people need to be challenged, and not only for sport but for their own wellbeing.

The challenges are these:

1. Given that you had to undergo a profound religious experience in order for your faith to manifest itself, how can you expect non believers to treat your beliefs with anything other than scepticism, without an experience of their own? Since that experience took place because you went looking for it, is it reasonable to belief that someone who is happy with their life will experience a similar thing? After all, if one has no questions, one does not need to search for answers.

2. Given that you were searching for them in the first place, does it not strike you as an amazing coincidence that you found it so easy to find help and/or answers in an institution that peddles exactly that? Could it be that your circumstances left you wide open to suggestion and exploitation?

3. In your quest for truth or help or awakening, have you spent an equal amount of time studying all the main religions? I suspect that the answer for most of you is a resounding “No”. Well then, how do you know that you are on the right track? I have read a great deal of posts recently, berating a particular sceptic because he appears to be concentrating his fire on Christianity while laying off other beliefs. The reverse is also true. I certainly have met a great deal of Christians who have almost no knowledge of Islam or Hinduism of Buddhism. What if they have interpreted the signs incorrectly and are following the wrong faith? It find it telling that most born again Christians appear to have fallen into that particular faith because it just happens to be the most prevalent in their society.

6 Comments:

Blogger Adam Richard said...

Hello, goatboy, if that's your real name.

First, what you call "blind faith", I don't think is as blind as you might think. Or if it is, you should be able to tell me what's wrong with my thoughts on it here.

Now, that said, I'm a Christian, but I have very little faith. For example, I don't believe in God by faith. Also, I make a distinction between genuine faith and beliefs that have been passed on to us because we were brought up with them. I claim that if we only believe something because we were brought up with it, that belief should be rejected.

And although I have had a religious experience, which you can read about here if you're interested, it's not the reason I believe in God or Christianity. And I certainly don't expect other people to believe in my religion because I had a religious experience. However, you seem to think that blind faith and religious experiences are the only 2 things that could make a person believe in a religion. Rather, I believe in Christianity mostly by (what I consider) reason. There is a bit of "faith" involved - especially in the area of what is morally right - but it's mostly reason.

If you think that's impossible and my belief can't be based on reason, then you should be able to tell me what's wrong with my arguments for the existence of God here. If, by some fluke, you accept that those arguments are sound but could lead to any god or group of gods, and are a far cry from the Christian God, then we can get into why I believe in the Christian God in particular at that point, if you want.

> In your quest for truth or help or awakening, have
> you spent an equal amount of time studying all the main religions?

Of course not; no one has. Once we find one religion that seems more likely true that the others, it's rational to focus more of our energies on that one. That said, I am interested in studying all religions, and am especially interested in hearing it's followers tell me why they believe in them; I don't stop searching for truth just because I've found a religion that seems true. Lately, I've been especially interested in Islam.

9:20 pm  
Blogger Goatboy said...

Give me a bit of time to read your links and I'll get back to you.

11:01 pm  
Blogger Adam Richard said...

OK.

1:49 am  
Blogger Goatboy said...

I have read both of the articles you quoted and I must say that I found them hard going. I am not sure why, but I suspect that it was because they are (necessarily) centred on your own experiences and so they are quite difficult for me to relate to.

I’ll address each article in turn.

First: “Why I’m not an Atheist”

It would be futile for me to comment on the introduction to this piece because it is a personal account that is particular to you. The only thing I would say is that your understanding of the term agnostic is incorrect. You describe it as “someone who is undecided whether God exists”; when in actual fact the term agnostic should be applied to those who believe that ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable. A small point but worth making.
Regarding the rest of the article, I’ll address it point by point.
1. I expect nothing to exist.
Neither do I. I think where we differ is that I can accept that “stuff exists”.

2. It doesn’t explain why I’m me.
True, but does religion? (That is a genuine question by the way.)

3. The universe is orderly…
Sorry. That just isn’t true. Enough said.

4. It doesn’t explain why the Bible describes reality so well.
I’m not sure that it does. Mind you, I haven’t read the Bible for years. I have tried on numerous occasions but I just can’t stick with it. Perhaps one day I’ll be more successful, but until then I’m not qualified to comment on this point.

5. I’ve seen miracles.
Perhaps you have seen them, perhaps you haven’t. The important thing is that you believe that you have. I simply cannot argue with that and I wouldn’t even try.

6. I may be wrong here, but there isn’t one prophecy that you mention that couldn’t be a case of post facto rationalisation. Sorry, I just don’t buy it.

7. Atheists rarely show they understand me.
That is probably because they don’t. You said previously that atheism is a religion like any other. That simply isn’t true. Theism is belief in a religion; a-theism describes someone without that belief. It is not a religion because the term focuses on what a person is not, rather than what they are.
A belief in evolution requires a certain amount of faith, so I suppose that evolutionism could be described as a kind of religion, but the terms “evolutionist” and “atheist” are not necessarily interchangeable.

As for you other article: “Arguments for the Existence of God”, I’m afraid that I cannot accept that that is what they are.
They appear to be a collection of statements based on your understanding of science, blended with nebulous philosophy (sorry but that is how it looks to me). I’m sure that a lot of what you say has some basis to it but I’m afraid that it just gets lost in the rhetoric. I didn’t see one argument for the existence of God, but what I did see was a lot of arguments for how scientists must be blinkered and/or stupid. That may or may not be true, but it doesn’t really say anything.

All in all your arguments appear to be philosophical ones and to a large extent, so are mine. The problem with those is that they are almost impossible to argue with, at least in this format.
My original premise was that faith is either the product of a religious experience, or else it is blind faith, instilled into a person by their society from an early age.
Your counter claim seems to be that there is another kind of faith (the kind you have) that is the product of reason.
I would argue that if faith is the result of reason, then it isn’t faith. No doubt you would disagree, and I think that here we are doomed to reach an impasse.

However, your beliefs certainly seem to work for you and good luck to you.
Please feel free to comment further. I’ve never been afraid of an impasse.

10:43 am  
Blogger Adam Richard said...

Thanks for your reply.

"It would be futile for me to comment on the introduction to this piece because it is a personal account that is particular to you. The only thing I would say is that your understanding of the term agnostic is incorrect. You describe it as “someone who is undecided whether God exists”; when in actual fact the term agnostic should be applied to those who believe that ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable. A small point but worth making."

But obviously God or whatever the ultimate reality is is unknowable, by us now. That renders the term "agnostic" meaningless, because everyone is an agnostic. However, I see that dictionary.com favours your definition, so I guess I can go with that. But we still need a word for someone who doesn't believe in God and doesn't disbelieve in God. What term do you propose we use?

"Regarding the rest of the article, I’ll address it point by point.
1. I expect nothing to exist.
Neither do I. I think where we differ is that I can accept that “stuff exists”."

Oh, of course I believe that stuff exists. I just can't get over the weirdness of that fact. Don't you find it weird? If not, then I guess that may be a faith issue; but if so, that's a point in favour of the supernatural, is it not?

"2. It doesn’t explain why I’m me.
True, but does religion? (That is a genuine question by the way.)"

Religion, as I understand it, is belief in the supernatural. So no, it doesn't necessarily explain why I'm me. On the other hand, if there are supernatural things, then it's no longer a problem that I'm me.

Physicalism, on the other hand, says that only matter or the physical exists. But I'm something that's not physical - a point of view, experiences, etc. are things that exist that are not physical things. So physicalism contradicts that I'm me, while religion doesn't necessarily. That means that either religion, or [naturalism but not physicalism] is true. And I think with the latter you'll run into other problems. (Though, to be honest, I haven't looked very hard into what specifically they are.)

"3. The universe is orderly…
Sorry. That just isn’t true. Enough said."

Well, OK, but I'm pretty sure it's quite orderly. Or how about beautiful? Things tend to obey regular laws, as far as I can tell. Of course, it's far from perfect.

"5. I’ve seen miracles.
Perhaps you have seen them, perhaps you haven’t. The important thing is that you believe that you have. I simply cannot argue with that and I wouldn’t even try."

What do you mean, it's important that I believe I've seen miracles?

"6. I may be wrong here, but there isn’t one prophecy that you mention that couldn’t be a case of post facto rationalisation. Sorry, I just don’t buy it."

Um... isn't all reasoning (or at least, all historical reasoning) post facto rationalisation?

"7. Atheists rarely show they understand me.
That is probably because they don’t. You said previously that atheism is a religion like any other. That simply isn’t true. Theism is belief in a religion; a-theism describes someone without that belief. It is not a religion because the term focuses on what a person is not, rather than what they are."

Whatever; it's just semantics. I was just trying to make the point that believing that God doesn't exist is still a belief, in much the same way that 0 is still a number. But it's not really an important point.

"A belief in evolution requires a certain amount of faith, so I suppose that evolutionism could be described as a kind of religion, but the terms “evolutionist” and “atheist” are not necessarily interchangeable."

Of course.

"As for you other article: “Arguments for the Existence of God”, I’m afraid that I cannot accept that that is what they are. They appear to be a collection of statements based on your understanding of science, blended with nebulous philosophy (sorry but that is how it looks to me). I’m sure that a lot of what you say has some basis to it but I’m afraid that it just gets lost in the rhetoric."

Well, thanks anyway; I didn't know people viewed them that way. Still, is there any specific problem you can see with any of them? I.e. are they invalid, or are any of the premises untrue? It's all well and good if we just go off we me thinking they're convincing and you thinking they're nebulous philosophy, but it would be much better if we could more specifically find the source of our disagreement.

"I didn’t see one argument for the existence of God, but what I did see was a lot of arguments for how scientists must be blinkered and/or stupid. That may or may not be true, but it doesn’t really say anything."

I certainly don't think scientists are stupid. In fact, did I mention scientists at all in those arguments? I don't at all see this as religion versus scientists. I don't think either group's beliefs/knowledge is problematic to the other's.

Are you saying there's scientific evidence that contradicts one of my premises? If so, what is it?

"All in all your arguments appear to be philosophical ones and to a large extent, so are mine. The problem with those is that they are almost impossible to argue with, at least in this format."

There are 3 reasons why they might be impossible to argue with. First, because they're sound, in which case, if you're rational, you'll believe in God. Second, because you can't think of a way to put into words what's wrong with them, in which case I invite you to think of it more and if you find a way to explain it sometime in the future, please tell me at that point. Third, because we have faith in different things, in which case I'm hoping you can tell me specifically what you have faith in that I don't or what I have faith in that you don't. Only in the 2nd case have we reached a temporary impasse at this point; but in no case have we (yet) reached a final impasse. They might indeed be overly philosophical, wordy, or whatever, but it's still possible to argue with such things.

"My original premise was that faith is either the product of a religious experience, or else it is blind faith, instilled into a person by their society from an early age.
Your counter claim seems to be that there is another kind of faith (the kind you have) that is the product of reason.
I would argue that if faith is the result of reason, then it isn’t faith. No doubt you would disagree, and I think that here we are doomed to reach an impasse."

I don't disagree with that second last sentence; but one of us may be confused about what "faith" means. I define it as something you believe without any evidence or any arguments, as I've said. That is not the result of reason. For example, math (the overall validity of math, that is, as opposed to specific mathematical statements) is something I believe in by faith.

On the other hand, belief in God, which is completely different than faith, is something that I think can be arrived at through reason. And I'm not sure why we'd be at an impasse over that.

"However, your beliefs certainly seem to work for you and good luck to you."

If they're not true, then they don't "work" for me. I want to believe what's true, not what "works". Hence, if atheism (or agnosticism, or whatever you believe) is true, I sincerely hope you can convince me of it.

And I don't believe in luck.

2:06 am  
Blogger Carmel said...

I don't believe in blind faith for those who have a mind of their own and for those who have a good sense of who they are. Being brought up in a certain way is one thing when you are a child, but what you believe in when you are an adult and have kept your faith because you believe it to be the truth, then thats a concious choice of you own, just the same as if you lose your faith.

12:48 am  

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