Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Phil Vischer lets the cat out of the bag

As many of you are aware, there has been an ongoing dialogue between myself, Phil Vischer (Christian thinker and podcast host), and Tom Gilson (Christian apologist and strategist) regarding the meaning of faith--in orbit around the ideas of Peter Boghossian--and the reliability of it. Though this was not directed at me, in a comment thread on Phil Vischer's recent blog post about Peter Boghossian, I feel that Vischer taps into an essential point, and I'd like to share.
Picture provided in lieu of a permalink since those don't appear supported
For those who can't see the text, it reads:
Yes, but “faith” isn’t how you learned about the Resurrection of the Body. Your faith is the confidence you put in that doctrine. Your source of the knowledge is Scripture – revealed truth. So Scripture is the source of the knowledge – faith is the confidence you invest (or not) in that knowledge, right?
Vischer has honed in on the core Christian belief--the Resurrection--and has explained exactly how that belief is supported. In doing so, he's letting the cat out of the bag.

Faith isn't how you learned it...

Exactly right. No, faith isn't how you learn something. Faith isn't that kind of a method, and that's a key point. People do not come to new knowledge by faith. Faith is used to attempt to justify (more accurately to warrant, following Alvin Plantinga's careful teasing apart of those words, rightly recognizing that faith cannot justify a belief), not to learn. That is to say that faith isn't what's leading to what the religions claim as knowledge.

Faith is the confidence put in doctrine.

Exactly right again. The problem is that the degree of confidence put in any statement should match the evidence supporting that degree of confidence. Thus, immediately bearing upon faith is whether or not it leads someone to hold a justified amount of confidence in the article of belief in question. It does not.

To clarify by generalizing, saying that "faith is the confidence put in X" is unlikely to be what is properly meant with the word "faith" in this context. Otherwise it would be superfluous. The evidence for X justifies a certain amount of confidence for it. Hence, I have every reason to suspect that a better way to put this would be "faith is the additional confidence put in X that isn't justified by the evidence." To back this up, I hearken back to Tom Gilson's remark from the other day, in which he said that faith "goes beyond provable knowledge."

If we really want to split hairs here and make sure we're getting this right: there is a gap between the confidence justified by evidence and the confidence held in the belief, and faith is the unjustified confidence filling that gap. Put more briefly, faith is unjustified confidence in a belief.

That means that Vischer is right to identify "your faith is the confidence you put in that doctrine," at least if we take care to identify that what is meant is the unjustified confidence going beyond the support of available evidence.

Your source of knowledge is Scripture.

Exactly right yet again. And this is a problem. It's not a problem in the sense that scripture cannot provide a certain kind of knowledge (specifically, at the least, knowledge of what the scripture says). It's a problem in that the reliability of that claim to knowledge--note that we are now talking about knowledge claims, lest that slip under the rug--is now bound up in the reliability of the scripture itself.

Not to sound demeaning, but faith even the size of a coconut in the knowledge that Hogwarts Castle exists, that knowledge coming from Harry Potter, leaves me subject to the reliability of the Harry Potter series in terms of holding beliefs about buildings in the north of Britain.

Scripture [is] revealed truth.

There it goes! Did you see it? This is precisely where Vischer let the cat out of the bag. Combining this with the previous sections, we get: faith is confidence put in knowledge whose source is revealed truth.

I'm glad Vischer didn't make this hard on me. He's done all of the heavy lifting for me when it comes to explaining how reliance on scripture as a source of knowledge about reality is a problem: its source is "revealed truth."

The uber-relevant question here is How can someone determine that revealed knowledge is objectively true, even in principle?

Revelation in general suffers the unfortunate circumstance of being indistinguishable from imagination, invention, or insanity. It also suffers, as a claim to knowledge, a complete lack of theoretical description for how it would work, if real. Additionally, it suffers a complete lack of credible evidence for any hint of any ability to ever produce reliable predictions. If we get specific about religious claims of revelation or those presented in ancient scriptures, the list of what revelation suffers, as a claim to knowledge, gets multiplied many times over.

Of course, noted theologian and Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga gives multi-volume accounts of this in his "reformed epistemology," in which he tacitly admits that revealed knowledge cannot be justified by arguing instead that it satisfies a different criterion he calls warranted. (The reader should note that these terms were considered synonymous prior to Plantinga's efforts, which teased them apart, making it a tacit admission that "warranted does not imply justified," even if the opposite implication is true.) (The reader should also note that the Great Pumpkin, from the comic strip Peanuts, has served as a substantive objection to Plantinga on this front.)

Without a solid answer to the question of how revealed notions can be known to be true, we arrive back to my claim: faith is the additional confidence, that part not justified by evidence, placed in a belief. That is, faith "goes beyond provable knowledge" (Tom Gilson). That is, faith is putting more confidence in a belief than is supported by evidence. That is, faith is pretending to know what one doesn't know (Peter Boghossian).

And so, I have to say it:

Phil Vischer, I think you'd do better not only to drop this particular case against Peter Boghossian, but also to stop claiming to know what you do not know and repudiate all faith-based epistemologies--Christianity among those. 

82 comments:

  1. Hey! Gimme my cat back!

    I think you misunderstood what I said. I said faith isn't how you KNOW about a claim. It's your choice to invest CONFIDENCE in a claim you already know about.

    So if I read a sign that says "The sky is falling," the sign itself (and my process of reading it) is how I become aware of this claim. Faith is not how I become aware of the claim - faith would be the choice to put confidence is this claim.

    So "putting confidence in" a claim is not how you gain knowledge. It also isn't how you verify or dispute a claim. Faith isn't a means of gaining knowledge, nor of verification of knowledge. It simply means I am relying on the representation made by the source of this statement.

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    1. I believe I understood you precisely, then. Like with "pretending to know what you don't," here "letting the cat out of the bag," I'm not accusing you or anyone of doing this *on purpose*. In this case, I'm just saying that the words that you've said say all that needs to be said to really understand why faith isn't a reliable way to claim knowledge--or if you'd rather, to put confidence in it.

      Other comments you've made on this same blog post indicate for me that you really understand this--you talk quite saliently about the width of various epistemic gaps when challenged about the airplane example (in particular). I realize it's unlikely you've read my analogy with the bridges, but I'll put it here briefly for you.

      We always have gaps between ourselves and "truth" or potential knowledge (epistemic gaps). We might imagine that we're over here and knowledge is somewhere over there on the other side of a abysmal chasm. To claim knowledge, we have to get to it. There are various ways to build bridges to cross the chasm, e.g. the scientific method puts down planks in a manner we know we can trust, and though there are gaps between the planks, we know that they're well-fitted and thus that the bridge can be crossed with very high confidence. Indeed, via attempts to falsify hypotheses and careful statistical analysis, the scientific method can tell you exactly what tiny proportion of the space between us and potential knowledge is not covered (less than one part in three million to claim that some physical object exists is the standard in particle physics). Thus, we get a tightly fit bridge that we can safely cross AND a clear assessment of how likely we are to go wrong by crossing it.

      Faith, as I'm arguing, is the act of pretending that there are planks in some bridge where there are none or that the planks present are wider than they are. Where evidence that isn't anything like evidence is claimed, we could call that a pretended plank that isn't--and here's revelation and personal subjective experience. Where evidence that isn't very good evidence is claimed, we could call that an exaggerated plank--and here's scriptural reports of eyewitness testimony from some years (or decades) earlier.

      The difference is that we should only claim knowledge in proportion to the quality and quantity of the planks that get us to it. When I say I think the Higgs boson exists, what I mean is that I'm something like 99.99999% sure that there is some phenomenon in nature that is modelled by the Higgs particle in the Standard Model, which I have even better confidence makes accurate predictions and descriptions of real phenomena (whether or not it is the "true" description of reality doesn't matter, in fact). I can cross that bridge very confidently and thus am justified in claiming that as knowledge; there are very few reasons to doubt that it will mislead me. With articles faith, there are far more reasons to doubt, not least the existence of superstition, confirmation bias, later modification of texts, reliance on revelation as a source of information, etc., and there are no methods to indicate that the planks on that bridge are as big as believed or, in many cases, there at all.

      I hope that makes sense.

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    2. I don't think you're getting him right, even after your clarifying comment. He's talking about faith as trust. You can trust something that you have good reasons to trust, and you can trust something that you don't have good reasons to trust. Presumably you wouldn't trust it if you didn't think you had good reasons to trust it, but you can certainly be wrong and end up trusting something without good reasons. I'm sure you think that's what goes on in every case of religious faith. But that doesn't mean faith is by its nature like that. Any case of trust is a case where it could be well-supported, or it could fail to have enough support. When you trust science to deliver results like "the Higgs boson exists" you're still trusting that the methods the scientists use are well-grounded. Unless you go through all their mathematical reasoning, you're trusting them as an authority. Maybe it's legitimate to do so. Hume didn't think it was rational, but he thought we don't really have a choice. Others think it's perfectly rational to trust scientific authorities. But it's certainly trusting them, unless you actually go through every bit of their reasoning and consider any possible objections, which might require decades of study to learn the discipline yourself. And this kind of trust happens whenever we get in the car and expect it to work the way it has in the past and every time we do pretty much anything. The fact that it's faith doesn't tell you one way or the other whether there are planks in the support that are illusory and really are gaps in epistemic support. Maybe there are, and maybe there aren't. That's a debate to be had. But the mere fact that it's trusting something doesn't answer that question, and that's what he's defining faith to be. And this is indeed how the biblical authors use the term, and Augustine continued this usage. By the time of Thomas Aquinas, you see the term used to indicate a lower epistemic status than knowledge (but one better than opinion), and some of the early moderns continued this (e.g. Locke, although Leibniz, for one, insisted on the older usage). It isn't until Kierkegaard, on one popular interpretation anyway (I've been told by one expert that it's not the correct one) that you get the notion of a leap of faith where there's really no epistemic support, as if that's part of the definition of the term.

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    3. No, I really do understand what he's saying. Please note that I was a Christian for the majority of my life, and I am not now. That means I understand both from the inside and the outside how the term "faith" is being used.

      You can try to reduce it to a synonym for "trust" all you want, but then why ever use the word "faith" at all when it would be so much more economical and clear just to use the word "trust"? That there's a time when the word "trust" applies and a time when the word "faith" applies differently indicates something. Trust, in fact, I think implies a reasonable expectation that we might be wrong whereas I don't recall *ever* using faith to mean anything of that kind--or hearing it use that way from any believer except when getting slippery to defend the confidence they put in their beliefs.

      That's why I'm really honing in on the idea of faith being the placement of *more* confidence than is justified. It's a method to ignore, rather than close, the epistemic gap.

      Regarding science and authority, this just makes us look at why we can trust scientific authority (not authorities--the people aren't authorities in science, cf. Linus Pauling for a great example of what happens when people screw this up). It's because we understand the method that is used, and we know it to be a reliable one. The reason we know it is reliable is not simply as Dawkins put it ("It works!") but rather because the whole of it depends on the attempt to falsify or disconfirm that which is held to be tentatively true. That is, the *methods* of science make it justifiably reliable, and thus what which passes peer review (especially after some time passes) can be taken to be reliable knowledge in the sense I described above (modelling and predictive power).

      In the bridge analysis, this is scientists laying what they think are planks and then poking them with a stick to see if they're real and what they really cover, and this is how they build the bridge. That keeps them from pretending to know there are planks where there are not. Maybe it would be best to add that the bridge-building is done blindfolded, then.

      Faith does not seek to disconfirm. It seeks to confirm or at least to shield from disconfirmation. It has no falsification process except squabbling over exegesis and the occasional deeply felt convictions in certain people's minds, with the occasional acquiescence to philosophy or social pressure, which is not a falsification process. Can you name a method by which faith seeks to disconfirm its hypotheses?

      In fact, can you name a single valid hypothesis that couldn't be held or defended by faith?

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    4. Dang, Jeremy - you summarized that much better than I've been able to.

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    5. Jeremy's related comment on Gilson's blog: http://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2014/01/phil-vischer-james-lindsay-faith-knowledge/#comment-79507

      "And I should say that Phil is on the side of history here. This is how the NT authors used the term, and it’s how Augustine used it. By the later medieval period, there is a shift to seeing faith as something with lower epistemic status than knowledge (but higher than mere unsupported opinion), and that continues into the early modern period with John Locke (but is resisted by Leibniz, who prefers the Augustinian use). It isn’t until the 19th century that the term is ever used to mean completely unsupported belief."

      To modify this to draw out a point:
      "And I should say that [belief in demons] is on the side of history here. It isn’t until the 19th century that the [germ theory of disease implicated pathogens."

      Sometimes later understandings are more accurate ones, particularly when the earlier ones have their roots in the most superstitious periods of history.

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    6. Sometimes later ones are less accurate, though. There was a time when the population panic of the 70s was the latest thing, but it turned out to be barking up the wrong tree. It's not about population growth but distribution of resources. The world can handle a much larger population than we've even got now. Feminism had to reverse course when they realized that what they'd been thinking of as progress in trying to apply what is true of men to women turned out to be a kind of oppression in trying to make male standards apply to women (and we got the less-healthy preference for formula over breast-feeding, the idea that it's inferior to be a stay-home parent, and the assumption that emotions cannot be part of ethics, all of which are largely viewed today as steps in the wrong direction.

      But you're bringing together two things that ought to be distinguished. The germ theory of pathogens turned out to be right. But that's a substantive issue, where a view that was wrong got corrected. It makes sense to speak of more or less accurate views on such questions. But that's not what's being debated here. It's not as if there's this Platonic Form of faith that's out there being latched on to by the word 'faith', and we just need to figure out which definition of the term is the one that more accurately matches the real meaning of the word. That's not how language works. Words mean what we use them to mean. Historically speaking, the word 'faith' (and words translated as "faith" in English) were usually used as synonyms of "trust". The vast majority of New Testament uses of the word for faith/belief ("pistis" in noun form, "pisteuo" in verb form) are used for trusting in someone, usually in God or in Christ. Its object is not propositional but a person, although often there is content to what's believed in the process of trusting in the person, and often it's used to indicate that someone believes what someone says. Augustine tended to use it the same way, and he goes as far as insisting that faith is a kind of knowledge, which means he certainly doesn't see it as having a lower epistemic status. You find this usage pretty clearly present in the 17th century work of Leibniz, as he commented on Locke. You find it very strongly in the Reformed tradition within Christianity and within certain Catholic circles. It's pretty common in some of the philosophers writing about religion today, e.g. Alvin Plantinga. The word simply is used this way. It's also used the other way, but that doesn't mean it's inaccurate to use it in the historic, biblical sense.

      I'm not sure anything substantive turns on this, though. If you don't like using the word this way, don't. But charity to those who disagree with you requires that you understand what they mean by the term and stop trying to read into what they're saying something foreign to their approach.

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    7. As for the disconfirmation issue, there are two things that I think are worth saying. First, faith as Phil has been using it is something that happens once you've concluded that something is true. You've done your homework, analyzed the evidence, looked at the arguments, figured out if you think something is going on that might threaten your belief, and ended up finding yourself believing it and thinking your belief is reasonable enough. Then you act on the basis of that belief, and you allow it to guide your actions. That step is faith. It's perfectly compatible with having done your homework beforehand. It's perfectly compatible with being open to good arguments to the contrary. If I go out to my car and turn the key, and it gives me trouble starting it, I'm not going to continue in my assumption that the car it working fine. I'll revise my expectation that it's working. But that doesn't mean that most of the time I'm wrong to assume that it's fine. I usually go out and start it, and I expect it to start. I even rely on that, because I don't start the engine a half hour before I have to leave just in case. I allow my experience of its having started fine last time be my guide in starting it when I need to leave and just leaving. I'm trusting my experience and the fact that it's been working every time recently to guide my life. But the first inclination I get that it's not starting right, I'll assume it needs to be looked at. It's faith in my engine that's certainly revisable in the light of further evidence.

      Second, there might be a genuine epistemological disagreement here being buried beneath all the disagreement about what the word means. I suspect you're of the Cartesian high-standards sort of mindset that dominated in the early modern period. According to Descartes, you should reject anything that you don't have certainty about. A lot of philosophers don't think that's right, though, because you'd have to be a skeptic about nearly everything if you hold such a view (as the example of Hume shows; he actually applied this approach consistently, but few have followed him in that). It's quite popular today in epistemology to take an approach closer to that of Thomas Reid, where you assume our reliable natural faculties lead us to truth, and you're justified in assuming that, unless you have evidence to the contrary. Descartes insists that you reject any view unless you're 100% certain of it. Reid insists that you don't reject any view that our natural faculties lead us to unless you have good reasons to reject it. This tends to go more with externalist views in epistemology, as opposed to Descartes' internalism, but I don't know how up you are on current debates in epistemology. Externalism right now is more popular among those working on these questions (and I think is correct), but it doesn't sound to me like you'd agree with it. I think that's a more substantive element of what Phil is saying. But that's a separate question from the meaning of the word 'faith'. I think you're bringing the two together when they should be distinguished.

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    8. Jeremy: "Words mean what we use them to mean."

      It's like you understand Boghossian's call for analysis exactly, then! Faith means what it is used to mean: pretending to know things that people don't know.

      "[Faith's] object is not propositional but a person"

      Kind of awkward when that "person" is a god that no one can know exists without pretending it. Even accomplished and celebrated theologians agree that you've got to start with God to get there. (Cf. John Loftus quoting Bill Craig, et al., in Why I Became an Atheist).

      "I suspect you're of the Cartesian high-standards sort of mindset ... [which says you should] reject anything that you don't have certainty about."

      You think I require certainty regarding my beliefs? Have you read anything I've written? Surely you haven't! I'm very nearly Bayesian, which means it all comes down to estimating epistemic gaps that are almost never certain.

      I differ from typical Bayesianism in that I think some almost certain plausibilities may be required to describe the likelihood of some (most, actually) hypotheses. Indeed, I have a pretty solid case in Dot, Dot, Dot that the existence of God is an almost surely zero plausibility hypothesis.

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  2. But you're still using a non-historical definition of the word "faith." (Which, if we conclude this new definition is now the accepted definition, would result in me ceasing to use the word entirely and simply switching to "trust.")

    If faith is "putting trust or confidence in a person or thing," you have faith in reason, faith in science, faith in the explanatory power of your bridge metaphor...faith in all sorts of things.

    But faith doesn't PROVIDE confidence. Faith means you have GIVEN confidence. Faith isn't a source of confidence, correctly understood. It is simply a word that indicates you have concluded something or someone is reliable. You've decided your bridge metaphor is reliable. You have faith in it. That's what faith is, at least historically understood.

    My assumption all along has been that Boghossian's issue isn't with "faith," per se, but with religious claims and the idea of revealed truth. Which is a whole separate conversation. It feels like the word "faith" is being used as a stand-in for much larger, more complex topics.

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    1. The difference, Phil, is that I know why I know those things work.

      Do you see, then, how desperately an analysis of the term "faith" is? Why are we using "faith" to mean "trust" (which doesn't always work since they're not really synonyms)?

      Let me ask you, though, are you suggesting that your understanding of "faith" is "that granted confidence which fills the gap between ourselves and knowledge that allows us to believe and act"? I feel like this is how you're trying to portray and defend it.

      If you want to understand plainly where I'm coming from, I'm saying that this granted confidence has to be analyzed, and if there is disparity between the justified confidence and the exhibited confidence, then there's a problem of the "pretending to know something you don't know" sort, though I'd argue that revelation is *always* pretending to know something you don't know if taken to be veridical.

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    2. I think there's a difference in how we justify confidence in different sorts of claims. When a Christian says "my confidence in the Bible/Jesus/God is justified," they mean the results predicted by Christian doctrine have been realized. Therefore, "I believe my confidence was well-founded."

      In other words, Paul teaches that if you are "filled with the Holy Spirit," your life will manifest the "Fruit of the Spirit." (Peace, joy, love, etc.) In my own life, I have found this claim to be absolutely true. So if you say, "I find the idea of a supernatural entity like the 'Holy Spirit' implausible based on my reasoning," I would not dispute that. Your reasoning DOES in fact make this idea appear implausible. No argument. But my EXPERIENCE makes Paul's proposition plausible, after the fact. So in this sense, the "leap of faith" is me saying "I'm going to trust Paul and try this out. Then I'll check the results and see if he's right." According to my experience (and the experience of many others), he's right. This lends credibility to the rest of the claims of Christianity. Scientific credibility? No. Experiential credibility? Yes.

      So in one sense, we're talking different languages. Experiential evidence is obviously more subjective than, say, math. But most people live their lives - especially in relating to other "human agents," which is where most of our lives are spent - by experiential evidence. We trust people and ideas because of experience, not because of math.

      That's where our descriptions of "trust" might be on different train tracks.

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    3. The relevant question here, then, Phil, is how it can come to pass that every religion--including patently irreconcilable ones (like Islam and Christianity)--can make exactly the same kinds of claims that then are "justified" by experience, leading to unshakeable faith in whichever one of those has the most personal or cultural weight for the individual considering it.

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    4. PV: "In other words, Paul teaches that if you are "filled with the Holy Spirit," your life will manifest the "Fruit of the Spirit." (Peace, joy, love, etc.) In my own life, I have found this claim to be absolutely true."

      This is not a claim; it's two deepities trying to pass themselves off as a test and confirmation.

      PV: "We trust people and ideas because of experience, not because of math."

      I agree with this. I wish you would pursue that line of reasoning with something closer to rigor. Because if the above "spirit" check is your example of testing your experiences then I think that you have not actually tested anything.

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    5. Vischer, I disagree with almost everything you have said in this. Perhaps you might respond to my extended post at the bottom of these comments, which I hope contributes to the conversation? Namely to the dilemma that faith is either epistemically culpable in the Boghossian sense discussed, or it is superfluous.

      I might add, furthermore, that I object to the apologists here seeming to propose that the bible is a kind of scientific text which only operates on rigorously defined terms, and that Christians are all philosophers with rational metaphysical beliefs. On the contrary, and as James has already demonstrated, the term faith has a number of different traditional connotations. Furthermore, most Christians I know of have no knowledge of theism, and there is a real problem with them using the term 'faith' in an epistemic sense as a supplement for justification.

      (Don't equivocate theism with the Christian religion proper.)

      Pretending this doesn't commonly occur is simply dishonest. And if you want to conflate 'faith' with rational "confidence", then (1) you are rendering faith a superfluous term, and (2) why not allow this to be a point of agreement between theists and atheists, where we can both help each other in our common interests in this respect: to inhibit people from uncritically claiming to be certain of things?

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    6. PV : "When a Christian says 'my confidence in the Bible/Jesus/God is justified,' they mean the results predicted by Christian doctrine have been realized. Therefore, 'I believe my confidence was well-founded.'"

      But this is where the problem lies. The Christian has used bad reasoning to reach this conclusion. Furthermore, before you can test what's predicted by Christian doctrine you've got to believe it first, so all that ends up happening is that you engage in pro-actively seeking confirmation bias.


      PV : "In other words, Paul teaches that if you are "filled with the Holy Spirit," your life will manifest the "Fruit of the Spirit." (Peace, joy, love, etc.) In my own life, I have found this claim to be absolutely true."

      But you've got to first believe that the "Holy Spirit" actually exists and has a certain set of characteristics and modus operandi *before* you can "evaluate" its alleged effects. Again this is just confirmation bias in action probably coupled with the power of suggestion and group expectation which is how Derren Brown performs some of his tricks. In fact, Derren used to be a Christian until he started exploring his career as an illusionist whereupon he found that many psychological control and influence techniques matched what he experienced as a Christian.

      PV : "But my EXPERIENCE makes Paul's proposition plausible, after the fact."

      But there's nothing in your experience which cannot be explained by more probable reasons. You've just interpreted things to confirm your preconceived beliefs. This is how religion works, it's how it sucks people in and keeps them from ever thinking that their experience was caused by something more mundane or that the experience itself is questionable.

      Your statement "after the fact" perfectly highlights the faulty reasoning that Boghossian and Shermer talk about in their books. You have done things backwards. If the claim doesn't make sense before hand, and the evidence before hand doesn't point to the claim being true then the only logical conclusion is that it's not true. What you've done is start off believing it and it's therefore no surprise that you reach the conclusion that it's true.

      PV : "So in this sense, the 'leap of faith' is me saying 'I'm going to trust Paul and try this out. Then I'll check the results and see if he's right.'"

      So your leap of faith was to first believe a claim that you just admitted was not plausible, i.e. there was no good reason to try it out. But once you do "try it out" you get involved in a psychology which is self feeding because just by doing so you have started to believe it and then there's the whole issue of being in a group of believers who are all seeking to reinforce and confirm your beliefs and so on and so on.

      PV: "According to my experience (and the experience of many others), he's right. This lends credibility to the rest of the claims of Christianity. Scientific credibility? No. Experiential credibility? Yes."

      The problem is that many other people have tried it and have bad experiences so this should mean it's disproven but I guess you'll concoct some theological excuse. Another problem is that the brain creates experience and just because you experience something doesn't mean it's real. There are well known psychological tricks that your brain engages in with religious experiences.

      [more to follow>]

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    7. PV : "We trust people and ideas because of experience, not because of math."

      I don't always trust people because of their experiences because I know that they can easily be fooled. If someone said they had an experience of alien abduction I wouldn't believe them, no matter how sure they are that it seemed real. I would require actual evidence. Likewise with your "experience" of the "holy spirit". Like the alien abductee, you are wrongly attributing the experience due to preconditioning, you freely admit that it's implausible yet you somehow expect us to believe it's true despite the fact that you've yet to show that it's anything other than religious psychology at work.

      Experience in and of itself is not sufficient to claim reality. Can't you see that?

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  3. Hi Phil and James, I've been following the dialogue and felt the need to jump in. James, I think you are now arriving at a more accurate understanding of the word faith but we still need to bridge the gap here, (pun intended). I downloaded the first sample chapter of Boghossian's "Manual" last night and decided not to purchase the book, nor read the rest of it, because of Boghossian's disingenuous usage of the word "faith." Boghossian is himself pretending that the word faith means something other than what is. Therefore, to engage in authentic dialogue will be impossible if we can't first agree on terms. The very first definition of faith on both Dictionary.com and in my "The American Heritage College Dictionary" (3rd Edition) is:

    "1. confidence or trust in a person or thing."

    And that is the definition the Bible uses. Even the Dictionary app for iOS provides the clear, Christian, theological definition as follows:

    "8. Chrisian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved."

    So let's stop faking the definition of faith because even if Boghossian succeeds in redefining the word "faith" he will fail because we don't even need the word. We can clearly express the Judeo-Christian usage of the word "faith" in these defined terms without using the actual word "faith."

    Having cleared that up, whether we are discussing the claims of evolution or the claims of Christ or the claims of atheism, we either find a claim reasonable/probable and we place our faith (trust) in it or not. The act of placing trust in evolution means, having weighed the evidence to a large extent (e.g. Dawkins) or to a small extent (e.g. a typical teenage, Dawkins layperson), the individual that has placed that trust in said claim is now operating as though the claim were so, trusting in the claim. Contemporary biologists operate as though the claim of evolution were true, whether they fully understand the probabilities of it being true or not. Atheists operate as though it were true that God does not exist, i.e. whether or not they fully understand the probabilities and regardless of whether or not He may actually exist. Christians operate as though the promises of Yahweh and Christ are true, i.e. although they may be false and regardless or whether or not they have fully weighed those probabilities. In every of these cases you see individuals with varying degrees of having actually critically analyzed the likelihood of the object of their faith--none with 100% certainty, but all either true or false claims at the end of the day--and all operating as though the claim or object were true. Additionally, any individual would have varying degrees of willingness to change their mind concerning a claim they have placed their trust in, if new evidence were to surface that clearly refutes their object of faith. Therefore, Unwillingness to change our mind concerning an object in which we have placed our trust would be a bad thing if the object turned out to be false but a good thing if the object turned out to be true. I believe this should, from this point forward, have made the issue of faith and certainty concerning probability and trust quite clear.

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    1. :Sigh: I was hoping I wouldn't have to do this.

      First, Peter Boghossian is performing an analysis on the word faith as it is used.

      Second, let's look at that theological definition of faith--as it is the relevant one, indeed the one of most relevance. "Chrisian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved." This is literally nothing more, not an iota more, than question begging combined with confirmation bias in action if there is no God. If there's not a way to establish that God exists first, this is nonsense. If there's not sufficient reason to trust that scriptures are more than ancient literature, this is nonsense. If there's not sufficient reason to believe that the claims underlying words like "saved" in context have grounding in reality, this is nonsense. It's all based on pretending to know things that are not known, even if the person isn't aware of pretending anything, i.e. is very sincere.

      Thus, we certainly haven't "cleared anything up." You're essentially dodging a contemporary analysis of the word faith as it is used in favor of definitions that predate the analysis. In other words, this "clearing up" is actually ignoring.

      You appear to have (willfully?) completely missed the point about the fact that we understand why the scientific method is reliable--and that we have copious evidence that it works very well in practice. Thus trust in biology, evolution, etc., does not depend on knowing all of the specific probabilities involved. It relies upon knowing that those probabilities have been estimated and have been challenged repeatedly. Indeed, that is exactly how those probabilities *are defined*. Without challenging them, they cannot be assigned at all. Thus, scientists are operating with knowledge of probabilities that are justified, and theologians are unable to justify any probability they put forward (I talk about this point in chapters 12 and 13 of my book Dot, Dot, Dot).

      As a believer, though, please indicate for me what degree of willingness you have to change your mind about Jesus' divinity. I'm also interested in knowing exactly how you would consider the articles of those beliefs falsified. If you cannot do this without appealing to at least one unfalsifiable claim, then you have no justification to assign a plausibility to that claim at all, and it's all riding on pretending there's justification where there is not.

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  4. That said, James, it appears to me you believe Christians have not weighed the probabilities or the likelihood, of their faith prior to placing faith in it. That may be true for some Christians but it is false for others, such as myself. There is little dispute among historians as to whether or not Jesus existed, so the question for us is whether or not Jesus was God that there should be a religion which worships him as such, e.g. Christianity. Let's first take C.S. Lewis' observation into mind, which applies quite well to Boghossian's argument. An individual speaking with authority, and claiming 100% certainty, would be a liar or a lunatic, i.e. a pretender or inauthentic. This is what Lewis observed about our recorded claims of Jesus, that he spoke with authority as though he were certain. Jesus would, therefore, be either a liar or a lunatic. There is, however, a third possibility. Jesus would, in fact, be certain in his claims if he were actually God. So Lewis expands the category, a category that would rationally apply if indeed both Jesus claimed to be God, resurrected historically and historically, in general, had powers which transcended the material world (miracles). Therefore, we have three choices concerning Jesus, he was a liar (or lied about by others), a lunatic (or hallucinated about by others) or he was actually God and thus spoke with authority and certainty and additionally possessed power over matter, i.e. his creation (revealed, certain, truth from a creator to the created).

    I'll cut this as short as I can. We can get into the theories and alternate theories concerning the life, death and resurrection of the historical Jesus but what we're looking for here is probability and explanatory power. Evidences are not limited to science (scientism) but the whole of human experience and academics. Science, sociology, biology, psychology, math, music, morality, reason, art, beauty, relationships, human inclination to worship/religion and so forth. These are all evidences that must be considered. The classical atheists (Nietzsche, Foucault, Sartre) knew that if there is no God then morality, or any law for that matter, is not truly real, nor is there a reason to obey any law, but that rather the obedience to any law or the observance of any truth claim is simply a happenstance dictated by our DNA, a preferential feeling. There is no ought from the is--appeal to nature fallacy. And that's fine, but if I place my trust in atheism and I call something good or bad, e.g. "fakers" are bad, then my position is intrinsically unsound. Fakers aren't really bad, that's just my personal preference and I want to impose it on everyone else not because it's true but because it's what I want--it's my "will to power." No God, no real law--just me and what I want as primarily determined by physical processes outside of my control. All honest atheists must eventually, and have, come to this conclusion. If Jesus was actually God, however, then there is both real moral law and there is also Gospel grace. If that case is true then Christians aren't faking it. In contrast, Nietzsche knew that if there is no God, that any position which invokes any sort of value is fake. So if we're all faking it then, what does it matter to you or a guy like Boghossian? But if Jesus really is God then there actually are some people that are pretending and some that are not.

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    1. To continue:
      You: "it appears to me you believe Christians have not weighed the probabilities or the likelihood, of their faith prior to placing faith in it"

      Indeed. I think many or most have thought about it, but they have not weighed them. In fact, I don't think such plausibilities can even be defined saliently. See Dot, Dot, Dot.

      "An individual speaking with authority, and claiming 100% certainty, would be a liar or a lunatic, i.e. a pretender or inauthentic."

      Or a legend, or another superstitious apocalyptic preacher at a hard time in Jewish history, or a symbolic/literary figurehead of a small movement of the same, or some combination of those things. Delusion plus passion plus years of legend making can lead to one hell of a story. If you haven't seriously considered how this is plausible (Cf: I bet if you think about it, you would have no problem doing it for stories about Muhammad or Joseph Smith or Osiris), then you have not seriously weighed the plausibilities related to Christian hypotheses. To note: we know that we have *stories that* Jesus spoke with authority (in quantity varying widely from one Gospel to another, following a clear path of legendary development in the agreed-upon timeline of the authorship of the Gospels). Worse, we do know that at least one of those stories, the earliest, has been tampered with after the fact! We don't *know* Jesus spoke with authority--or at all--particularly about the claim of "being God"! In short, I strongly suspect Lewis was blinded by his faith.

      We don't have to get into the details of anything written in them to reveal that the scriptures aren't reliable. History and the fact that their alleged source is revelation is more than enough to do the job.

      "Science, sociology, biology, psychology, math, music, morality, reason, art, beauty, relationships, human inclination to worship/religion and so forth. These are all evidences that must be considered."

      And you can't name a single one of these that doesn't admit to a persuasive account on strict naturalism.

      "The classical atheists (Nietzsche, Foucault, Sartre) knew that if there is no God then morality, or any law for that matter, is not truly real, nor is there a reason to obey any law, but that rather the obedience to any law or the observance of any truth claim is simply a happenstance dictated by our DNA, a preferential feeling."

      There's been some considerable development in these fields since these fellas. Have you read Sam Harris, for instance? Surely you disagree, but then you should take his Moral Landscape challenge and show the world how wrong he is.

      "if I place my trust in atheism"

      Category error.

      "If Jesus was actually God, however, then there is both real moral law and there is also Gospel grace."

      If. If! IF! Don't let "if" mislead you to jump from possibility to plausibility (to certainty).

      "So if we're all faking it then, what does it matter to you or a guy like Boghossian?"

      You vote--often for people who really, really ought not be in any position of public power. You also have a good number of other issues that end up causing people to suffer needlessly over this belief or that about whatever socially pressing topic hasn't been wrested from you yet. We also care about you. You suffer a delusion, and that sucks.

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    2. Boghossian performed an analysis on the word faith as it commonly can be mis-used, by people like Boghossian. The theological definition of faith provided above is nothing more than, and virtually the same as, the first definition--meaning trust (faith) in the object (God and salvation). It looks like Jeremy also cleared this up with you above. The object of faith stated above re: theology may bring into question, "Who was Jesus? What is salvation?" but that by no means disqualifies the trust component of the faith definition. Theological definition 8 is simply an application of definition 1. What I find interesting then is that we Christians here are not using Boghossian's definition. Is Boghossian's definition then truly the definitive, contemporary definition used by Christians? Or are we not ourselves contemporary? Is the dictionary also then out of step? How much of a stretch will this have to become for Boghossian? Or is his aim to simply preach to his choir?

      The reliability and historicity of scripture becomes the issue, as you state. It's a massive can of worms so for sake of brevity we can just trust that we each have studied the issue and have come to different conclusions. I've come to the conclusion that the NT is predominantly reliable taking into consideration any relevant factors and you come to the conclusion it is predominantly unreliable taking into consideration any relevant factors.
      Different academic disciplines have different methods. The scientific method, falsifiability and so forth, is reliable but not as an applicable method for gaining knowledge about all things, only what it philosophically and methodologically was designed for, and does, acquire knowledge of. Probabilities still apply. This does not rule out theology as a legitimate discipline for gaining knowledge unless you are pre-supposing naturalism or scientism. So first naturalism must be true for theology to be false and likewise God true for naturalism false.

      Errors did occur between scribes and the circulation of the early NT manuscripts but nothing that seems to refute that Jesus' divinity was a later development. In fact Jesus' divinity was declared in the earliest writings of the NT, the letters of Paul.

      Yes, I would change my mind about the divinity of Christ if Christ is, indeed, not the divine. This could be falsified several ways, primarily historically. Historical claims are indeed considered falsifiable claims--miracles, such as the resurrection, being the case for divinity. To transcend, master and control the death/life of oneself and others would be to possess god-like, divine, power and authority. Secondly if Jesus' teachings are inapplicable, misconstrued, lies etc. If Jesus' world view and philosophy possesses no explanatory power concerning the nature of man, the purpose of life and the order or the universe then it is clearly falsified. But likewise with any other world view, atheism, Islam, Mormonism etc.
      How are legends, myths and superstitions not simply additional instances of lying? And yes, I have weighed the cases and historicities surrounding Muhammad and Joseph Smith against the case of Jesus. Likewise, if Jesus existed he either spoke with authority or he did not and we either have his teachings or we do not so we must look at the historical reliability of the text. That brings us back to the historicity and reliability of scripture, so we may be at an impasse.

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    3. What do you mean that you suspect Lewis was blinded by his faith? What definition of faith are you using? The Bible's/dictionary's or Boghossian's? I think I detect an enthymeme here. Also, you presuppose naturalism to out-of-hand dismiss divine revelation. Another enthymeme. The question is first, is naturalism most probable to be true that we should place our faith (trust) in it to then dismiss divine revelation out-of-hand as James A. Lindsay does?

      I also have not heard any convincing or sound argument from Sam Harris or yourself that that there has been any progressive development concerning morality and the atheist world view. I have been following Harris and I do not find his argument sound. It is circular reasoning and an appeal to nature fallacy to derive a utilitarian morality from our natural state. I suspect he knows this now and doesn't need convincing but rather that his challenge is a publicity stunt because he is in fact changing his position because it was made clear as unsound.

      Do you not believe or trust that it is most probable that there is no God? If not, how are you then an atheist and how did I make a category error?
      The if/then statements weren't addressing plausibility but addressing the inherent rational consistency if said position were assumed. You'll need to demonstrate how any value claim made by an atheist is not simply illusion, or delusion for that matter, within the system of atheism itself.
      And we both, I'm sure, have voted for people who should, likely, not be in office so I don't see what your illustration is saying. Our preferences for government do not bear upon whether or not our moral positions are truly right or wrong. In fact, it could, theoretically, be the case that a right moral position would cause suffering--so let's stop kidding ourselves with false analogies and offer a sound argument for the legitimacy of our values and moral positions given our framework.

      Lastly, it is not an argument to call someone deluded. You think I'm deluded and I think you're deluded--that's a given. Let's engage in real discourse here. And lastly, in what system of values is it the case that delusion sucks? What is your moral authority to make this claim? Or are you simply expressing your personal "anti-delusion" preference?

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    4. Jonathan M, you are all over the place with mere assertions, misrepresentations, etc. that I think I could print out any of your comments, throw a dart, and take apart pretty much any sentence you've written.

      You should slow down.

      For what I hope will be the last time (but I'm so certain it will not), this is not a discussion about the proper definition of faith. I don't know if it's possible to convince you how unimportant it is to agree that henceforth "faith" properly means "knowing with justification" or something along that line. That's because defining or re-defining a word does not change reality. I'm going to say this again: defining or re-defining a word does not change reality. If you tell me that the proper definition for wrong in relation to arguments is "arguments that are right," this does not mean that all invalid arguments magically transform themselves to valid ones. It means you've re-defined a word. And all that matters in discussions like these is that we agree on definitions.

      Here's the problem: let's accept that faith means "knowing with justification." Great! But that then calls into question how it is that Christians hold the beliefs they do, and why they aren't persuasive in the way that all other justified beliefs are. Because if Christian beliefs were known with justification, then they would be persuasive just like all other justified beliefs are. So, if you want faith to mean "knowing with justification," then you'll have to invent a new word that covers your religious beliefs. I would propose "bat shit crazy," but let me know if you prefer a different term. (Was it Tertullian who called the beliefs "absurd?" So, maybe the Greek for "absurd" would seem more grand.)

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    5. Cal, if you go back and read through my first two posts I think you'll see I agree with you re: the word "faith." My initial point was that the word is, at the end of the day, not necessary for the conversation. But if we're going to use it we'll have to define what we mean by it.

      And yes, my most recent post here probably seems all over the place b/c I was addressing James' comments in the order that he gave them, so you'll need to read through the thread. But claims of assertion/misrepresentation will need to be pointed out and explained, not just asserted as well.

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    6. "Yes, I would change my mind about the divinity of Christ if Christ is, indeed, not the divine. This could be falsified several ways, primarily historically."

      How about this one: Try to get him to fulfill his promises. Pray for something in faith, like having him bodily appear to you and travelling to the CNN newsroom to perform miracles on the spot, including regrowing amputated limbs, on a live broadcast to the world.

      Whatever you pray for in faith, you will receive, after all.

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    7. Haha. I think you're crossing your definitions of faith again. ;)

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    8. Also, to correct an error--in a statement I happened to make about error--above (that made no sense):

      "Errors did occur between scribes and the circulation of the early NT manuscripts but nothing that seems to demonstrate that Jesus' divinity was a later development. In fact Jesus' divinity was declared in the earliest writings of the NT, the letters of Paul."

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    9. "But claims of assertion/misrepresentation will need to be pointed out and explained, not just asserted as well."

      Well, no. If you are going to make willy-nill assertions throughout your comments, you can expect the same. But I'll go one step further than you appear to have, and do you this favor.

      From your first comment here:

      You: "Boghossian is himself pretending that the word faith means something other than what is."

      You then go on to quote some dictionary definitions, completely ignoring the entire point of Boghossian's book (and these series of posts by our host) -- that the word faith needs to be re-defined not as it has been traditionally, but in the way that it is actually used. Boghossian is more polite about this, but faith appears to be used in a way that is equated with "making shit up."

      So, contrary to your blithe treatment in your first comment here, you have not "cleared that up," but missed the only salient point and, it seems, tried to divert the discussion.

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    10. In GDWD, I call apologetics (and really theology) the art of "making stuff up." Totally fits.

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    12. Cal, thanks for the response. Boghossian's definition of faith is as follows:

      1. Belief without evidence.
      2. Pretending to know things you don't know.

      Boghossian is free to define or redefine faith as he wishes, but I don't know of many serious theologians or thoughtful, practicing, Christians--living or dead--that would cede to his definition. As you stated, it may be better to abandon the term for sake of discourse because it is so loaded. We can define the term "faith" how we are individually using it, as we have or as Boghossian has, but we won't get very far if we present a straw man of the Christian position on "faith" from the outset.

      If "the entire point of Boghossian's book" is, as you state, that the word "faith" needs to be redefined as he thinks it is used, he's already lost the audience he's trying to persuade. As I stated earlier, Boghossian, even if successful in redefining "faith," will not make much of a difference because the term "faith" can be expressed otherwise as expressed and defined here by Phil, Jeremy and I. This is why I think Boghossian is preaching to his choir and seriously engaging few outside his support group. If Boghossian really believes Christianity is false, let's hear a real argument concerning historicity or philosophical plausibility without resorting to strawmen, ad hominem attacks, genetic fallacies and red herring distractions about "faith."

      James, if there is a God it would, rather, be the case that atheists are therapeutically "making stuff up." So these sorts of "pretending" accusations don't advance the discourse. If you believe naturalism is most probably true, and wish to convert the "pretenders" to it, then please persuade us with a sound argument. I think Phil, Jeremy and I were all just trying to give you guys a boost in your effort because we saw you were off track from the get-go (courtesy of Boghossian).

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    13. Jonathan, you GROSSLY trivialize what is an important point. To acknowledge that 'Faith' is deemed superfluous due to rational concepts, or otherwise it is irrational, is no small concession!!! In effect, this demands that the faithful must engage in philosophy and science if they wish to have their beliefs respected--something which most believers would fight tooth and nail.

      I made a longer post at the bottom of these comments which responds to many of the apologetic claims in this forum, including some of yours. I would appreciate your response to it.

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    14. Brad, rational belief vs. willful obedience is a false dichotomy. In Christ, God is a father. If God exists, and we love him, it is both rational to believe in him and we will willfully obey him. I have been trying to demonstrate how everyone, including you, has "faith" as per the dictionary definition I provided. An atheist's faith isn't in God but rather in naturalism, or the non-existence of God etc. Atheists aren't just non-theists but by necessity possess positive beliefs: "The universe is purposeless without design," "humans create their own meaning," "moral values are illusory by-products of evolution," etc. Everyone practices faith because, as Boghossian points out, no one is certain about anything--verificationism is rationally absurd. So Christians aren't going to abandon the word "faith," it remains relevant, we're just trying to communicate to you what it is that Boghossian got wrong. A quick read through the letter of James may help clear things up for you.

      But I reiterate, we can scratch the word "faith" for sake of discourse if you'd like b/c the real issue here is between naturalism and Jesus' divinity. Christians can express our concept of faith by means of other words, like in the dictionary definition, to get the same idea across. Once we have God vs naturalism settled we can work out the kinks re: "faith," "belief," "trust," "confidence," etc.

      I'm doing a lot of "as I stated" and "I reiterate" which means it's time for me to check out of this dialogue. Good luck in your endeavors, folks. It was a fun conversation. I wish for us all to not be deluded.

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    15. Jeremy, though I know you said you're checking out of the conversation--for which I don't blame you--I think I need to correct you on an important point.

      "James, if there is a God it would, rather, be the case that atheists are therapeutically 'making stuff up.'"

      No, that would not be the case. In this case--more on what this entails momentarily--atheists wouldn't be making anything up but would be failing to recognize something that is but quite clearly is not obvious. The difference would still be one of lavishness (believers--making stuff up) and prudence (atheists--trying only to follow the justification of evidence). This is why Boghossian plainly states repeatedly in his book and interviews that this isn't about atheism. It's about getting people to think clearly and critically. Atheism is a consequence of thinking clearly.

      Another quick point to make: Boghossian's book plainly isn't written to reach believers. It's very plainly written to atheists who want to help believers out of their beliefs. To criticize his book as being unlikely to reach people it's not intended to have been written for isn't an actual criticism, but it does reveal that either you didn't read his book or didn't understand it.

      Now, about that if.

      Theologians get a lot (meaning all) of their play riding on the conditional word "if." "If there is a God, then..." Yes, if. And that's not established. But there's more.

      It's not just "if" and let go, because that presents the notion that there's some probability that God exists, making the use of the conditional meaningful. I suppose there's always some plausibility value for a hypothesis, e.g. the God hypothesis, but I've argued in two books now (with much more detail in the second, Dot, Dot, Dot) that there are good reasons to accept that the probability value entailed by a mere possibility, of which "if God exists" would be an example, is zero (almost surely--a technical term). I've gone on to describe the quality of "extraordinary evidence" required to overcome a probability zero prior for an existence claim (the answer is almost surely certain evidence).

      So, your "if God exists, then..." statements all hinge on the plausibility hidden by that "if." Without a reasonable degree of plausibility, the statement is utterly empty and should be treated the exact same way you would treat "if unicorns exist, then their blood will keep you alive on the edge of death, but at a terrible price." In short, it is insufficient justification even to talk seriously about the topic, hence Boghossian's identification of it with the "Kids' Table."

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    16. Jonathan, you are wrong.

      "I have been trying to demonstrate how everyone, including you, has "faith" as per the dictionary definition I provided. An atheist's faith isn't in God but rather in naturalism, or the non-existence of God etc...I'm doing a lot of 'as I stated' and 'I reiterate'"

      Maybe stop reiterating yourself and understand the opposition? Now to reiterate myself, I already made the point that you must interpret 'faith' in rational terminology for it to be respectable, so it is a superfluous and misleading term. So quite using the religious terminology in philosophical and scientific contexts! For what you really must be saying is:

      "I have been trying to demonstrate how everyone, including you, has [rational confidence] as per the dictionary definition I provided. An atheist's [rational confidence] isn't in God but rather in naturalism, or the non-existence of God etc..."

      And obviously I accept this. But if we leave this passage uninterpreted, then the many connotations of "faith" invites one--almost begs them--to make the false equivocation and think that I reject Christianity (or believe evolutionary theory, logic, etc.) on false or otherwise nonexistant premises.

      I simply find your response to be either fundamentally confused or dishonest, but definitely disappointing...

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    17. And I just recognized this:

      "Brad, rational belief vs. willful obedience is a false dichotomy."

      This is NOT the dilemma I posed. See points 5 and 6 of my post again. Please, once again, don't just reiterate yourself but try to understand what I am saying.

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    18. JM : "An individual speaking with authority, and claiming 100% certainty, would be a liar or a lunatic, i.e. a pretender or inauthentic."

      The Liar, Lunatic or Lord is a false trichotomy which has been killed off almost as soon as it was first published. There are many other options.

      Did Jesus lie? Yes, he was human and all humans lie.
      Was he a lunatic? Not by current definitions but I guess he was a delusional religious zealot with a false set of beliefs which were handed down from his parents and his social group. There were many people in the first century who were making similar claims to those reportedly made by Jesus and even performed the same set of miracles.
      Was he lord? Nope and he never really claimed to be. Many of the stories about Jesus were made up, embellished and changed by believers in the centuries that followed his death. You can see this if the study the gospels chronologically. The divinity of Jesus slowly starts to creep in until you get to John which is clearly a fabricated theological treatise. It's no surprise that it's the last gospel, the divinity myth had plenty of time to gain wings (and stories) by his time.

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  5. The idea that religious commitment begins or significantly begins by way of logical assessment at least in many is something that needs to be substantiated within sociology, psychology, the cognitive science of religion or related fields. I suspect that it does not but rather the employment of the term faith is more likely an attempt by the logic and language centers of the brain to explain something that takes place primarily in emotional and intuitive centers (or something like that). That is not to say that serious believers do not consider the foundations of their commitment.

    Francis Collins:

    As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.

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    1. I don't think it's accurate to say that Boghossian's definition of faith isn't based upon its contemporary use. Anyone here heard the term "a leap of faith"? What's the "leap" if not a placing of trust in the veracity of a proposition that goes beyond what's justified by the evidence? "Leap" is meaningless when applied to a belief proportionate to the evidence.

      How about the common term "having a crisis of faith"? In my experience, this is used to describe somebody who's startting to doubt their religious beliefs, including the existence of God, and almost never somebody who's conviction in the existence of God remains unshaken, but who nevertheless is starting to trust him less.

      What about the term "lost his/her faith"? Likewise, this almost never means "believes in, but no longer trusts, God" and pretty much always means "no longer believes in God and other propositional claims integral to the religious traditional that they formerly belonged."

      Corroboratively, when I've challenged Christians on their beliefs in the past, I've often received the response (or some variant of) "well, I just have faith", by which they quite clearly *don't* mean, "well, after carefully weighing up the available evidence I have determined that God is exceptionally likely to exists and, *in addition*, to fulfil his promises". What they actually wish to convey is something closer to "well, there's little point trying to argue me out of my religious beliefs logically when I arrived at them via faith (i.e. sheer conviction)": a meaning quite fairly translated by Bogossian to "pretending to know things you do not know".

      Theologians may not use the term faith in a way that pertains to Boghossian's reformulation but I'm yet to be persuaded that the majority of Christians don't.

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    2. I've just considered how well the concept of "a leap of faith" fits into James's analogy of epistemically sound knowledge acquisition as bridge-building. As far as I can tell, the leap denotes dispensing with the need for a bridge altogether and simply leaping over the evidential chasm, claiming knowledge upon arrival.

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    3. Josh, this is where Boghossian's definition is wrong and the dictionary and the Bible are right. The dictionary's definition still applies-- and actually it applies to yourself and Boghossian as well. A "leap of faith" is "placing trust or confidence in." Evolution by natural selection is most probably true so biologists place faith in it, trusting it and conducting biology through the lens of it. There is, however, always the slight probability, however unfalsified a hypotheses, that it will become falsified--as has often been the case throughout scientific history. In such a hypothetical situation scientists would experience "a crisis of faith," no longer knowing what theory to trust, and will "lose their faith" in that hypothesis until another hypothesis may develop that is stronger in explanatory power as it makes predictions and stands the test of falsifiabilty. The leap of faith is between the likelihood/probability and the "placing of confidence in." That leap can be very small. For example if by critical analysis we deduce that evolution by natural selection is 99% probable our leap of faith bridges that 1%--we trust the theory as we conduct our research. But as you know nothing is certain in science. We simply view contemporary data in light of our best, working, unfalsified, hypotheses.

      Likewise a Christian can place their faith in Jesus without weighing the probabilities--and that is a larger leap of faith--but if, in the end, Jesus turns out to be God, then no harm done. Likewise a Christian can place their faith in Jesus with extensively weighing the probabilities--and that is a smaller leap of faith--and if Jesus truly is God, then no harm done. Substitute "Christian" with "biologist," "Jesus" with "evolution" and "God" with "true" and you have the same scenario re: the practical, dictionary, Biblical, working definition of faith.

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    4. Joshua, the bridge building thing and "leap of faith" aren't completely separate. In GDWD, I called the gaps that they cross by faith (read: bare assertion and apologetics) "chasms of non sequitur." It's a metaphor that's been playing around in my mind for a while, though I was pretty excited to think up the bridges thing just a couple of weeks ago.

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    5. JM : Evolution by natural selection is most probably true so biologists place faith in it,

      No they don't place faith in it, at least not in the same way people have religious faith. You are equivocating. Scientists don't unquestioningly place any faith in evolution theory, they are in fact constantly questioning it and testing it because they know that more evidence will shape the theory or even radically change it.

      Contrast that with religious faith which gives people 100% false confidence in their beliefs which they don't question, which they actively protect from scrutiny and which they will not change regardless of what evidence or reasoned argument they are shown.

      JM: trusting it and conducting biology through the lens of it.

      This is different from faith. The "trust" that scientists have in any theory is tentative and conditional on it being supported by evidence. This again is totally contrary to religious faith which is not based on evidence or sound reasoning.

      JM: There is, however, always the slight probability, however unfalsified a hypotheses, that it will become falsified--as has often been the case throughout scientific history. In such a hypothetical situation scientists would experience "a crisis of faith,"

      You can phrase is perversely like that if you wish to equivocate the meaning of "faith" to include science but this is a dishonest trick that I've seen theists perform time and time again because they can't accept the fact that the scientific method is *way* better at finding things out than their religious faith. But theists simply cannot accept it and try to drag science down to their level of bad reasoning. It's nothing more than a cheap trick.

      JM: no longer knowing what theory to trust,

      What rubbish. They will "trust" the theories for which there is evidence at levels which mean it's sensible to think they are accurate. You have no idea how science works.

      JM: and will "lose their faith" in that hypothesis until another hypothesis may develop that is stronger in explanatory power as it makes predictions and stands the test of falsifiabilty.

      Again just more dishonest equivocation with the word "faith" in an attempt to level the playing field. Not all beliefs are the same and scientific theories are obtained by a completely different and far more reliable method than religious faith and belief. No amount of equivocation will change that.

      JM: The leap of faith is between the likelihood/probability and the "placing of confidence in." That leap can be very small. For example if by critical analysis we deduce that evolution by natural selection is 99% probable our leap of faith bridges that 1%--we trust the theory as we conduct our research. But as you know nothing is certain in science. We simply view contemporary data in light of our best, working, unfalsified, hypotheses.

      That's not how science works at all, though I can see why you would want to make it seem like there's an irrational leap of faith involved because you want science to be the same as religious faith so that you can claim that it's somehow just as valid as any scientifically held view. Unfortunately for you this is not the case and scientific view are on far more solid ground.

      JM: Likewise a Christian can place their faith in Jesus without weighing the probabilities--and that is a larger leap of faith--"

      And here's the bait and switch. You've jumped to a different meaning of 'faith', one which is closer to the contemporary meaning of having a belief without sufficient reason or evidence and then claimed that this is the same as the 'faith' you were wrongly using in your analogy with science.

      JM: but if, in the end, Jesus turns out to be God, then no harm done.

      But you've reached this conclusion because of the original irrational leap of faith, not because there was any evidence for it.

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    6. JM: Likewise a Christian can place their faith in Jesus with extensively weighing the probabilities

      No, they do it without correctly weighing the probabilities. How can it be right to believe that Jesus is God on the basis of "faith" which you have clearly defined as a lack of knowledge (e.g. the 1% that you say scientists have in NS)? How do you even evaluate the probability of Jesus being God? What you've done in your post is to perfectly highlight the description of faith that Boghossian uses. The leap of faith that you are making is to believe that Jesus is God without any good reason or evidence to do so. Heck, even before you've made that final leap you've got to have *already* believed that Jesus is a real supernatural character who is magically still alive somewhere, why else would you place trust in him otherwise? That in itself is a leap so instead of having a larger leap of faith then the 1% that you allege scientists have, you end up with a 100% leap of faith and we get back to the definition of faith which is believing something without evidence or reason.

      JM:--and that is a smaller leap of faith--

      But it's still a leap of faith, which means you've used a 100% leap of faith like I just said. Using your analogy, 20% of the leap (the small leap) is placing faith in Jesus and the other 80% is having faith that he's God. It all adds up to a 100% faith position.

      The problem then arises that religious psychology then takes over and sends you hurtling in the direction of believing the whole set of faith beliefs like a snowball getting bigger as it goes down hill after the initial push.

      JM: and if Jesus truly is God, then no harm done.

      The idea that Jesus is God is part of your leap of faith, you can't therefore assert that it's true. It's the conclusion you've reached because of your leaps of faith, i.e. it is not on solid epistemological ground. It's not a belief you've reached based on sound reasoning. It's a circular argument.

      JM: Substitute "Christian" with "biologist," "Jesus" with "evolution" and "God" with "true" and you have the same scenario re: the practical, dictionary, Biblical, working definition of faith.

      Unfortunately you don't. All you have is poor equivocation in a vain attempt to make scientific views look like they're the same as religious faith views. The substitution doesn't work for the reasons I've outlined above, this shows that your equivocation is false and dishonest and also shows that "faith" doesn't have the meaning that you want it to have. Scientists don't have faith that evolution theory is accurate, they have masses of solid verifiable evidence. There is no evidence that Jesus is God. Scientists don't take leaps of faith into believing theories, they believe theories because that's what the evidence shows. This is completely opposite to faith. With science, evidence and reason come first then the conclusion second. With faith you have no evidence and therefore *have* to take leaps of faith which is just the same as believing something to be true because you want to. They are polar opposites.

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    7. *jumps back in the ring*

      OK, you guys apparently had a field day after I checked out but I'll go after bagguley here for sake of brevity. bagguley, this reply also addresses your comment about Lewis' liar, lunatic, lord statement.

      "Contrast that with religious faith which gives people 100% false confidence in their beliefs which they don't question, which they actively protect from scrutiny and which they will not change regardless of what evidence or reasoned argument they are shown."

      bagguley, you both present a straw man and beg the question in your reply. It is perhaps the case that some Christians feign certainty, but so do some atheists--so let's not falsely represent each other. But Jesus, if he claimed divinity, would have either been 100% certain, or feigned 100% certainty--for he would have to be certain, or feign certainty, if he were actually God or claimed to be God. From what we know, at least, is that Jesus challenged his first century followers--as he did, likely, the pharisees and other first century Jews/Romans--to revise their beliefs from what they already, pre-existingly, were committed to. Strictly, historically speaking, it would be the case, then, that the arguments of Jesus, and/or his early followers, were persuasive enough to cause thousands of Jews and Romans to amend their respective Jewish and pagan world-views. That, however, does not mean that the arguments of Jesus and his followers were, by necessity, sound, but it does, at least, mean that their arguments were persuasive to those individuals. The followers of Jesus, thus, must have changed from a prior position, as a result of persuasion and reasoning--whether sound or unsound in argument. This much we know, that the early followers of Jesus dialectically engaged with others in discourse--everyone from Roman sophists to Jewish peasants--and successfully persuaded thousands to revise their beliefs and world-views to conform with the claims of the Christian religion--which continued to spread across race and class at that time--just as those claims are spreading across race and class today.

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    9. The difference between us then, bagguley, is that you would, by necessity, have to rule out theology as a discipline of knowing if you have presupposed, or have "placed trust and confidence in"--i.e. have faith in (as I continue to unequivocally use the word as I first presented it in its dictionary definition)--naturalism. Of course all confidence in theology would be seen as a false confidence if we have a prior commitment to naturalism--that's a given. But I believe you have a false confidence in naturalism, so such claims get us nowhere--this difference is already understood. The real questions then, are, "Did Jesus historically claim to be God?" and if so "Is Jesus, actually, God?" and if not "Is naturalism true?" If you simply say "No, Jesus was not God" then your endeavors remain futile until you can first make a persuasive, well reasoned, case that the historical Jesus was, in fact, not God. Preferably by a sound argument that would rule out a historical resurrection. If you can, in fact, offer a sound argument, that rules out the resurrection, you would thereby eliminate at least Christian theology as a discipline.

      The dictionary definition of faith that I have presented here--"to place trust or confidence in"--thus stands, used unequivocally as such throughout my statements. Such a definition of faith stands regardless the actual truth concerning the matter of the existence of God. Therefore, it remains no matter if you continue to reiterate, in various ways, throughout your response, that "religious faith [is not] based on evidence or sound reasoning" because that is no Christian's claim or position here. That is either a straw man representation of the Christian and dictionary definition on faith, or is at least begging the question as per your justifications for declaring as much. We first need your sound, persuasive argument that the historical Jesus was most likely, in fact, not God, and that naturalism is, most likely, true, in order to provide a reasonable foundation to justify and accept your declarations--i.e. that the Christian religion is not based on sound reasoning and that also theology should be considered an illegitimate discipline.

      Lastly, the earliest documents in the NT are Paul's letters, the earliest of which is likely 1 Thess, which clearly speaks of Jesus' divinity. To believe Jesus' divinity is a late, legendary, concoction is to work against the evidence as the claim predates even the Gospel accounts.

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  6. "The relevant question here, then, Phil, is how it can come to pass that every religion--including patently irreconcilable ones (like Islam and Christianity)--can make exactly the same kinds of claims that then are "justified" by experience"

    I don't think all belief systems (including ones that posit a supernatural universe) make the exact same kinds of claims, other than the claim that "We will improve your life." And the belief systems that survive and thrive do so because they, in some appreciable way, deliver on that claim. Islam doesn't make a claim, as far as I am aware, for internal transformation through supernatural enablement - it's much more of an external system. ("Conform to this manner of living and you will have peace with Allah.") People who ascribe to the tight morality of Islam very often do see benefit from that sort of living. Mormonism has a similar readily apparent benefit - focus on healthy families through a commitment to morality. The Marriotts, the Osmonds, the Romneys... these families have clearly benefited from their association with Mormonism.

    So belief systems (including Marxism, communism, Mary Kay-ism, Amway-ism, etc.) only survive if some benefit is achieved through association. I don't deny that the teachings of Buddha might benefit me. But the claims of Christianity are fairly unique, and, in my personal experience, I have found them to be predictive of results I have actually witnessed.

    What that looks like in reality is another discussion. (Probably a significant blog post ... or an e-book or something.)

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    1. If you imply that it's one that you're writing, you're welcome. I'll check for my name on the acknowledgements page when the time comes.

      Maybe you should really back it up by doing like some atheist is doing this year and taking some period of time (a month each, I think) to really try to take on some religion (for you: another religion) throughout the year and really study, practice, and get involved in it to see what all the fuss is about. I don't know if it should be a requirement that you do Islam over Ramadan or not, but watch out for the moment when you decide to move on if you go there.

      Are you, by the way, supernaturally enabled?

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    2. I am! Thanks for noticing!

      You probably know from growing up in church that I'm speaking of "sanctification," the process of becoming more Christ-like throughout your life through various spiritual disciplines and the assumed "supernatural" working of the Holy Spirit.

      Obviously, there are a whole lot of premises in that last sentence that you can accept or reject as you see fit. I certainly don't take offense if you label all that "hooey."

      I lost a business (really a lifelong dream) about 10 years ago, and for the first time in my life really got to a point where I had nothing to rely on but my relationship with God, through the Bible. And this was, by far, the richest period in my life. My pursuit of God through the Bible, and new trust/faith/reliance on/in him profoundly changed my life. And, semi-honestly, I sort of feel like I'm developing superpowers. Not x-ray vision or anything like that, but supernatural peace, love, joy, gratitude, patience...

      My wife is sort of amazed. My kids notice. My life isn't necessarily "easier," nor is my work more successful, but I'm really, really happy. Profoundly so. Regardless of the circumstances.

      So if you say, "Why don't you stop looking to Jesus and instead pray toward Mecca five times a day for a month?" I'd say, "Why on EARTH would I want to do that??"

      A personal relationship with God is why I get out of bed in the morning. Islam makes no claim this is even possible - it isn't a part of Islamic teaching. Buddhism says there is no creator-God, so that's out. Hinduism says... dang... a zillion gods and cows are holy. And caste systems and wives self-emoliating to imitate their favorite gods. Not very compelling. And Mormonism takes a big chunk of Christian doctrine and then throws in a bunch of new stuff derived from a document of profoundly questionable historicity.

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    3. Anyway - I'm sorry I'm not giving you what you're looking for - a rock solid intellectual argument. This is all pretty weak, intellectually speaking. My own pursuit, since I also grew up in the Christian church, wasn't to see if I could PROVE the claims of the Bible, but if I could honestly say it wasn't UN-reasonable to believe them. So I did a ton of reading in late high school - Ravi Zacharias, Josh McDowell - the usual suspects in the early 1980s - and concluded that a reasonable person COULD actually believe the claims of the Bible.

      I lived that way - more or less in my head - because of my intellectual orientation and upbringing (my sister has a PhD in pedagogy, my brother is a Harvard Law grad and the dean of a law school in the midwest, my mother's PhD is in spiritual formation) for close to 20 years, always fearing the next argument against my beliefs that might suddenly prove to me Christianity wasn't "reasonable" after all. My brother walked away from his faith as an undergrad, and then came back to it at Harvard.

      And then I lost everything. (I had a company with about 200 employees, making my "dream" come true. It collapsed spectacularly.)

      I grew up around old, retired missionaries and pastors. And many of them were just astonishing - the most beautiful, happy people I've ever known. The impact of walking with Jesus for a lifetime. Guys like Dallas Willard - who taught philosophy at USC, but walked with Jesus for 70 years and just died a couple of years ago. He just glowed. I spent a couple hours with him a year or two before he died, and all I could think was, "Man - I want to be just like you when I grow up." Astonishing.

      And at the age of 47, I realize that is what I am starting to become. And it's amazing.

      Can I explain it scientifically? Of course not. I don't have an argument for this that will work for you. And I'm sorry about that. I wish I could do better.

      But someone who has honestly walked with Jesus for a lifetime has a light about them that I've seen up close and I long for personally. These aren't famous people - quite often truly walking with Jesus PREVENTS you from becoming a "highly visible Christian leader." We worship "youth" in America, so we've got all these megachurch pastors in their 30s. I've never seen this light in someone that young. It takes time. And it takes shutting up and listening. And our culture doesn't reward either age or patience or quiet. Even our church culture. We like young, fast and loud. So the most beautiful people - these 70 year-old quiet saints - don't even get noticed.

      Anyway... sorry for the long, highly irrational answer. I have a "little bit" of superpowers. I'm starting to see a "little bit" of the light in my life that I've seen in others who have gone before me. And I love it.

      That's all I can say.

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    4. PV: So belief systems (including Marxism, communism, Mary Kay-ism, Amway-ism, etc.) only survive if some benefit is achieved through association. I don't deny that the teachings of Buddha might benefit me. But the claims of Christianity are fairly unique, and, in my personal experience, I have found them to be predictive of results I have actually witnessed.

      It doesn't matter if they are unique or not (Scientology claims to transform people for the better and they testify that it works). It doesn't even matter if the claims do work because false beliefs can have powerful and real effects on people, this is a well known fact.

      What you've got to show is that the cause of the effects is this magical supernatural trans-dimensional being for which there is zero evidence and not because of the many reasons we already know cause such effects or that the effects are not incidental or accidental coincidence.

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    5. PV : Anyway - I'm sorry I'm not giving you what you're looking for - a rock solid intellectual argument.

      I know, that's because there isn't one. It's not rational or logically sound to believe Christianity. The whole premise of it is immoral anyway and as for the bible, I've read it and if that's what your god is really like then I sure don't want to worship it even if it did exist.

      I don't doubt that your beliefs have helped you, like I said earlier, false belief and false belief systems can improve people and have positive effects on them, this doesn't mean the supernatural claims are true, it just means they have certain psychological effects which ultimately come from within you. We are all capable of transforming ourselves if we just believe in ourselves. Some people find this easier to do via the proxy of an imaginary bronze-age tribal god but as an atheist I know that this transformational power comes from within and everyone has it; you don't need to believe in mythical beings to unlock it and it's sad that people can't see this because you actually get more empowered when you realise that it's *you* doing it and that it's *your* strength. Projecting this strength onto an imaginary friend only weakens its power in my experience because god will let you down (because he's not there) and you will blame yourself or wonder where he's gone. If you realise that it all comes from within you anyway you can learn to harness it and use it whenever you want. It's far more amazing than any set of religious beliefs I've ever encountered. You should try it sometime, it really works, trust me, I've experienced it! :)

      Seriously, try it for a week or a month or longer. Try believing in yourself and that you are the one doing things, making things happen, getting results. If god's real, would he mind such an experiment?

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    6. Vischer, I respect the tone of your recent replies. But I think you need to give more thought to the value of intellectual honesty. Proving the positive benefits of a belief (or that something is good) is not the same as proving that something is true. I don't doubt that blissful states can be attained through religious rituals, or that believing in an afterlife can calm a persons anxiety about death, but these psychological facts do not validate the metaphysical stories of religions. And ignoring this has real consequences concerning our values of honesty and intellectual integrity which should not be ignored.

      I think we can get the positive psychological effects experienced by many religious people without pretending to know things that we do not know.

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    7. Thanks, Brad. I respect your tone as well! (And your thoughts!)

      "Proof" and "true" are both complex ideas that have different applications in different contexts. How they are applied in a mathematical context is very different than how they are applied in a historical or philosophical context.

      In other words, "Prove that 2+2=4 is true," is very different than "Prove that the statement 'George Washington crossed the Deleware in a rowboat' is true," is very different than "Prove that Neitzsche's concept of the 'Will to Power' is true."

      Math is the closest thing we get to certainty. Scientific inquiry into natural processes and natural phenomena can never arrive at certainty (because it relies on unprovable philosophical assertions like uniformitarianism and the reliability of human observation), but it appears to be reliable over the long term.

      Metaphysical assertions are obviously unprovable via mathematics, so that level of certainty is unachievable. Scientific inquiry can really only look at claims of metaphysical (or supernatural) causes/agency manifesting in natural results. If I say, "faeries are having a party in my attic," scientific inquiry can disprove this claim by showing the agents of the disturbance are, in fact, squirrels.

      So if I say, "The God of the Bible is the only possible explanation for lightning," I've made a claim that can be examined by scientific inquiry, and I can very quickly learn that my assertion is wrong.

      Examining claims of the involvement of "God" in the natural world is quite difficult, because it's much easier to establish what God DIDN'T do ("God clearly didn't cure that man's cancer. He's dead.") than what God DID do. ("God cured that man's cancer!" "Really? Are you sure there isn't another explanation?")

      This is why I am very skeptical of claims of divine healing, unless they absolutely defy any natural explanation. (A friend of mine once put his hands on a stranger's tumor and prayed for healing, and while he was praying, the tumor literally "melted away" under his fingers. I haven't come up with a naturalistic explanation for that one yet, though I'm still open to the possibility.)

      My point being that I wouldn't immediately jump to the conclusion that I'm being intellectually dishonest. And I'm definitely not "pretending" to know things I don't know, because I'm speaking in terms of belief, not certainty. (And the word "pretending" ALWAYS carries the assertion of deliberate misrepresentation, which means that regardless of his use or misuse of the word "faith," Boghossian is, at very least, misusing the word "pretend.")

      Anyway... my Christian belief is the accumulation of numerous smaller beliefs and conclusions (biblical reliability, possibility of reality beyond the natural world, personal perceptions of divine agency, etc., etc.) which couldn't all be addressed without writing a fairly substantial book. Which isn't what I'm attempting to do here.

      Humbly accepting the fallibility of my own thought processes, but also firmly asserting that I believe I am being intellectually honest.

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  7. Very interest work here, James! Coincidentally, I have been working on an essay which makes a number of similar points, in response to an argument I got into with my Christian relatives over the holidays. The thesis of my essay is the following:

    If one values having true beliefs (and strong views consisting thereof), then one also values the principles of argument, logic, and mathematics; and it follows from this that “faith”, insofar as it is inconsistently distinct from these things, is epistemically culpable for poor decision making—or otherwise it is superfluous.

    And I seek to demonstrate this through an analysis of the Monty Hall Game Show problem , which I hold to be a model of rationality that is as poignant here as it is simple.

    The problem begins as follows:

    "Suppose you are on a game show, and you are presented with three closed doors. Behind one of the doors is a car, and behind the two other doors are goats. You have no more information than this, so you arbitrarily pick, say, door number one."

    The first point to be made is that a person’s initial decision here is random. Baring that a person is clairvoyant, or otherwise has an ability that allows them to divine true propositions from false ones, then he purely has a one in three —or 33%—chance of uttering the one true proposition and winning the car at this point. But let’s continue:

    "Monty, however, does not immediately open the door which you have chosen. Rather, since he knows what is behind every door, and since no matter what choice you initially make there will always be at least one other door with a goat behind it, Monty opens a door other than the one you choose and with a goat behind it—say, door number three. And he asks you, 'Would you like to switch your pick from door number one to door number two?'"

    Now assume we adopt a strategy of decision making here that is inconsistent with the principles of rationality and evidential reasoning—say one where the contestant instead values intuition and answers the dilemma posed by Monty by trusting, or remaining loyal, or having faith in his initial gut decision. In this case, it’s easy to see that the product of this thinking doesn’t raise the initial odds of one’s making a true utterance and winning the car, because one’s decision remains no less random than it was to begin with, regardless of how much conviction he holds it with. Perhaps we can do better?

    So now we are going to look at the rational approach to the dilemma posed by Monty, which will utilize all the information available in making a decision. I’m going to now be brief (one should see my link above for a fuller analysis), but one should update his probability distributions to account for the information Monty provides—namely, that the value of door 3 is 0%. Because from this, it follows that door two has a two-thirds—i.e. 67%—likelihood of entailing the car. And, by this inference, we have now proved that the proposition “The car is probably behind door number two” is a true one.


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    1. And a number of important points, relevant to the present concerns now follow:

      1. The less quality information a person has in a particular circumstance, the more random their decision inevitably becomes.

      2. The value of logic and mathematics, etc., doesn’t come from the subjective, biased opinions of scientists and philosophers. Rather, as evidenced by the example above, their value is of a pragmatic nature in that their principles are proven to work in a way conducive to acquiring true beliefs.

      3. Opting for a more complicated (less ideal) example which does not permit of such rigorous analysis does not help the apologists case, for the reason of point number one above.

      4. The ideally, perfectly rational person is one whose confidence function of belief corresponds with a propositions true probability distribution. And insofar as a person fails to maintain this ideal, then his beliefs are epistemically culpable.

      5. If one chooses t define ‘faith’ as trust, where trust is then conflated with the term “confidence” in rational decision theory, then faith is superfluous. We merely need to speak in the defining terms of rationality, and avoid all the confusing connotations ‘faith’ brings into discussions.

      6. If, on the other hand, one claims faith to be inconsistent with the principles of rationality, where it entails a “leaping” either to conclusions or of ones confidence in certain propositions, then faith is culpable in the Boghossian sense discussed.

      So, to finally conclude, it seems that the apologists in this forum are inconsistently jumping between the horns of 5 and 6. And I think the only direct option left is one Vischer ultimately appears to take: bite the bullet of 6 and opt for a religious Volitionalism epistemology, such as that of Paul Moser, where God is proposed not to value rational belief, but rather willful obedience. (See <a href= "http://www.amazon.com/The-Oxford-Handbook-Skepticism-Handbooks/product-reviews/0199836809/ref=sr_1_1_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1” here</a> for my brief analysis of this.)

      [When I claim this of Vischer, I am responding to his statement above:
      “So in this sense, the "leap of faith" is me saying "I'm going to trust Paul and try this out. Then I'll check the results and see if he's right." According to my experience (and the experience of many others), he's right.”]

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    2. Here is the link I meant to provide above: HERE

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    3. Interesting. I hadn't thought of using the Monty Hall scenario as a way of approaching this. Thanks, that's something to think about.

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    5. Brad, yeah, I like the Monty Hall analogy as well.

      I think it's so interesting that theists can't come to grips with the circularity of their faith -- everything is a version of "IF God exists he would give us good historical evidence, and therefore I believe that God exists because of the Bible."

      Another problem I see over and over with theists is a kind of quasi-induction, where (and we can see this with Phil with his "spirit" example) the "evidence" for God's existence is all the good they already see in their lives. In other words, they "test" for God by seeing things that give them fulfillment, etc. In some ways I'm sympathetic to this, because I loves me my induction, and because I think that it provides a path to exiting from a delusion. The trick, I think, is to help them find ways to practice greater rigor on this "test", and this will, I think, help them start to free themselves from a delusion while taking away much of the fear of that transition.

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    6. If I've understood Peter Boghossian right, Cal, the trick to getting them to apply more rigor to the "test" is to get them to recognize that it's okay (indeed, respectable) to admit to not knowing these things.

      One of the terrible grips of religion is that the so-called "unconditional" love hypothesized of God is merited on the condition of full assent to the relevant beliefs. That's doxastic closure. It seals the beliefs from doubt, keeping all of their quasi-inductive vectors pointing toward the center (where they imagine God is in their lives), which we know produces circularity.

      Aside: If I may take a moment to feel proud of myself, I feel like I just mixed metaphors like a pro.

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  8. Firstly, thanks to all involved for a fascinating exchange.

    I think that Brad has stated very plainly what this whole debate should reduce to in statements 5 and 6 of his comment:

    "5. If one chooses to define ‘faith’ as trust, where trust is then conflated with the term “confidence” in rational decision theory, then faith is superfluous. We merely need to speak in the defining terms of rationality, and avoid all the confusing connotations ‘faith’ brings into discussions.

    6. If, on the other hand, one claims faith to be inconsistent with the principles of rationality, where it entails a “leaping” either to conclusions or of ones confidence in certain propositions, then faith is culpable in the Boghossian sense discussed."

    Phil can either:
    1. Claim that faith is warranted or justified trust, in which case faith is superfluous. We can then turn our attention to how he justifies his belief in this particular supernatural claim, and whether this constitutes acceptable epistemological practice.
    2. Claim that faith is a leap over probabilities, in which case Boghossian has defined the term correctly.

    Regardless of how we decide the term is defined, the question at hand is whether any religious person can, in an intellectually honest way, say that they have proportioned their belief to the evidence available, free from the clutches of any confirmation bias, the answer to which, I suspect, is no.

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    1. Hi - Phil here, responding to Richard.

      I like your conclusion, pulled from all of the above:

      "Phil can either:
      1. Claim that faith is warranted or justified trust, in which case faith is superfluous. We can then turn our attention to how he justifies his belief in this particular supernatural claim, and whether this constitutes acceptable epistemological practice.
      2. Claim that faith is a leap over probabilities, in which case Boghossian has defined the term correctly."

      Regarding #1, I wouldn't claim that faith is "justified trust," because it is simply trust. It can just as easily be UN-justified trust in something or someone. As I mentioned before, I can put my faith in a parachute to save my life when jumping from a plane, or I can put my faith in a Magic 8 Ball to save my life when jumping from a plane.

      I can put faith in either. Assuming I have at least a modicum of knowledge about and/or experience with parachutes and Magic 8 Balls, the only rational choice is to put my faith in the parachute.

      Jumping out of the airplane with the parachute is STILL a "leap of faith," because I don't know - with absolute certainty - that the parachute will perform as represented. Parachutes do, in fact, fail. (But they USUALLY perform as represented, so my "leap of faith" is not irrational.)

      I agree that, when used as a synonym for "trust," faith is more or less superfluous as a word. (Either that or "trust" is superfluous. Or "confidence.") Which is why an evangelist will say, "Put your faith in Jesus" and "Put your trust in Jesus" more or less interchangeably.

      As to point #2, I think faith - OR trust - is a leap over UNCERTAINTY, not a leap over probability.

      Referring to James' bridge analogy (which is a good one), the reality is that the bridge NEVER reaches the other side, assuming the other side represents 100% certainty. There is always a gap that needs to be jumped. In math, the gap is smallest. In science it is larger. In philosophy, it is larger still. Metaphysical claims have, almost by definition, larger gaps than physical claims. But regardless, there is always a gap that must be jumped if we are to draw any actionable conclusions about life whatsoever - and it is jumped by putting trust/confidence/faith in the process that has gotten you where you are in your bridge building, and then extrapolating out to your conclusion.

      The content of the claims of Christianity and my reasons for investing confidence in them is a whole separate conversation, which wasn't the topic of my essay (regarding Boghossian's definition of "faith") that began this discussion.

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    2. (A) Phil, can you respond directly to my initial points 5 and 6? Because I think they are stated more precisely.

      (B) You keep relying on examples where inductive logic is used. I have personally gone skydiving. Before I participated in this activity, I researched what percentage of people die while performing such acts, and I looked at the safety rating of the nearest skydiving businesses. I gathered what information was available and inductively inferred that if I parachuted out of an airplane with Skydance Sky Diving, in Davis California, I would most probably have an awesome time and not get injured. And, as it turns out, this decision was correct. Furthermore, we do this same thing at a more subconscious level when we cross bridges or enter buildings, etc--namely, utilize information to infer a probable conclusion

      So if you are saying faith is like this, then it is a superfluous term. Many very intelligent people over many years have worked out theories of inductive logic and probability theory. "Faith" on the other hand is a kind of non-rigorous folk term, with a number of ambiguous connotations. And if we are going to have a conversation about very complicated issues (such as the origins of humans, the universe, etc.) then the folk terms need to be ditched for the more rigorous, scientific languages.

      (C) What the heck does this statement mean?

      "As to point #2, I think faith - OR trust - is a leap over UNCERTAINTY, not a leap over probability."

      Are you now negating my point number 5 and accepting point number 6? If so, then you are intentionally doing something irrational that warrants critique

      (It seems that you are confused about how some of us are using probability theory as a measure of rational confidence. Here is a link to a rather rigorous, free textbook about this, titled Probability Theory: the Logic of Science. This is a very good book which I am working through now, and I hope you find it as full of insight as I have.)

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    3. This is why I think my analysis that the God hypothesis (hypotheses?) have almost surely zero plausibility is so important.

      It's one thing to look at something like a trip to Earth orbit in a vehicle like the Space Shuttle and realize that there's roughly a 99% chance of surviving and then deciding to take that risk (faith that you will return safely is not needed--there is trust in the 99% chance that you will and hope that you're not in that unlucky 1%). It's quite another to decide to arrange and order your life around a hypothesis with either (a) a 0% chance of being right, almost surely, or (b) an indeterminate and indeterminable chance of being right, even without realizing that nearly everything points away from its being right.

      Phil seems intent to construe a "leap" of far less than a tenth of a percent in many cases as being roughly on part with a leap of the entire 100%. This is the point I keep making. If we examine the confidences we have, we can decide whether or not that confidence is good enough to act upon--and without committing to it.

      Lots of people organize their lives around things that are very unlikely to be true, and I would only care a little except that we don't live in vacuums. I mean, ideally, I want the best for them, and I would want them to find that best by navigating their lives with reliable methods, but more pressingly, I want them to navigate *our* lives with reliable methods.

      Just like I want to live in a nation that values and pays for education because I want to live in a nation filled with educated people more than one that isn't, I want to live among people who are able to use reliable methods to discern reality--even if they still get things wrong about it from time to time. Being wrong sometimes is part of the process. Signing up for a bad method to navigate the waters no longer is.

      So, because I don't think it's in anybody's best interests to live in a situation where people who hold or control any significant political power believe in and are thus deeply misinformed by 40,000 variants of some Bronze and Iron Age Near-East legends, I think it's really, really important to distinguish between the two kinds of faith as "trust" that Phil seems intent on equivocating between.

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    4. I'm fine using "trust" in place of "faith." A "leap of faith" could be called "a leap of trust" without changing the meaning, just as a "trust fall" could be called a "faith fall." In either case you're taking a chance by putting confidence in the representations of others. ("You guys are going to catch me, right? I'm putting faith in what you say!")

      James - what you're discussing above is how to determine what is worth our trust. What is worth putting faith in.

      That's a whole different conversation. As I mentioned above, "Should I trust the parachute? Or trust the Magic 8 Ball when it's time to jump out of the airplane?" Knowledge about parachutes and Magic 8 Balls says "trust the parachute."

      Some people are overly trusting. They believe everything they read on the internet, for example. Another word for this is "gullible."

      If your confidence in the reliability of the Bible is very low, then anyone who puts their trust in the Bible as a source of truth would be, in your opinion, gullible. (Or foolish, or an idiot or whatever you want to call them.) Because they put trust in sources you believe to be unreliable.

      My point being that whether you say, "You have faith in the accuracy of the Bible??" or "You trust the Bible??" doesn't really matter. You're saying the same thing. There isn't anything magical about the word "faith" that makes it distinct from "trust," which is why the dictionary and the Bible use the words almost interchangeably.

      Whether or not the Bible is trustworthy is a debate that has raged for at least 1000 years, without resolution. I'm pretty sure we aren't going to solve that one on this blog tonight.

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    5. Brad - looking at your last message again.

      "5. If one chooses to define ‘faith’ as trust, where trust is then conflated with the term “confidence” in rational decision theory, then faith is superfluous."

      Faith is defined as "trust in someone or something." So, yes, faith is defined as trust. But neither term is necessarily related to "rational decision theory." The world is full of unwarranted faith and unwarranted trust. There is also warranted faith and warranted trust. There are people who believe their trust in some specific person is warranted, only to find out later it wasn't. ("Hey - my wallet's gone!")

      What we trust/put our faith in may or may not be rational or warranted. Everyone trusts things for various reasons. Some trust their horoscopes as a source of direction. Some trust their friends, even if their friends aren't all that bright. Most people trust modern medicine, though some do not. Most people trust airplanes, though some will not set foot on them.

      Faith and trust are fairly interchangeable. So Boghossian can't state that he TRUSTS things but puts FAITH in nothing. That requires a new definition of the word faith. (And that new definition can't use the word "pretend," which is always, in every case, deliberate misrepresentation or fictionalization. If someone believes they are the Queen of England, they aren't "pretending" they are the Queen of England. They believe it to be true. If someone believes the Bible is reliable, they aren't "pretending" the Bible is reliable. Boghossian's definition is poor use of language.)

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    6. And I might add one further remark, Phil, while I have a moment--before I head out cycling, to enjoy the sunny drought that is occurring in Northern California.

      I realize that, given the position you have already allied yourself with, the dilemma of point 5 and 6 can be uncomfortable. And your strategy so far, as it appears to me, has been to try to split the horns of this dilemma. But I ask you, please give 5 and 6 some more thought, and ask yourself if the strategy of splitting them really makes sense and is promising.

      I don't see any coherent way of doing this--it is a real (simple) dilemma. However, I don't think it is so threatening after all, and that the solution is really quite forward. Accept point 5! :) And lets just agree to try to be as rational and well informed in our thinking as possible, and to criticize those who aren't. You lose a word--at least in technical contexts--but why does that really matter? It is merely syntax at this point. And you get in return a whole language in scientific rationality of rich, useful concepts--which you seem to already value and want to defend. You should, however, also become skeptical of the people who have appeared to maintain the tenets of Christianity upon the 'faith' of point 6; but is that really such a troubling thing? Aren't we ultimately seeking truth, after all? (This is what my thesis is about in my initial post.)

      Obviously, I am trying to reach out here, because I think we can shake hands at this point. I don't really see what we are disagreeing over, if you agree that people utilize "faith" in terms of point 6 and that they deserve criticism (not admiration) for doing so. I think that is merely the point which many atheists, including Boghossian, are trying to argue. And I don't think it's so controversial...

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  9. Okay, Phil. I think we are getting closer to connecting.

    "Faith is defined as 'trust in someone or something.' So, yes, faith is defined as trust. But neither term is necessarily related to 'rational decision theory.' The world is full of unwarranted faith and unwarranted trust. There is also warranted faith and warranted trust"

    But you still haven't got this part right. These terms, as they are presently being used, are most CERTAINLY related to rational decision theory. First, rational decision theory is divided into two different studies: how people actually reason and how people ought to reason. It sounds to me like you are just making a point about how people commonly make decisions--which is with intuitive and emotional heuristics. (Or you are just confusing this distinction altogether.) See the book Thinking Slow And Fast, by nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman.

    And the terms 'faith' and 'trust' are merely nonrigorous, common language terms which refer to certain aspects of our intuitive decision making. And what we are concerned with here is if these terms refer to methods which are consistent with principles of how we ought to reason and make decisions. It turns out that such intuitive decision making is rather reliable in common, everyday situations where a person has plenty of experience and background knowledge (e.g. making snap judgements about "trusting" the structure of a bridge or building, etc.). And they are less reliable when people don't have this background experience (e.g. making snap judgements of persons one has never met and knows very little about.) I think point one of my example above captures this truth pretty well.

    What is more, peoples intuitions about things like the evolution of humans or the origins of the universe are entirely bogus. People don't have background experience in these difficult problems! (See point number 1 again.) Phil, you also keep making the mistake of equivocating common everyday scenarios with complex, abstract philosophical scenarios--which are not analogous and require very different rational approaches. It is absolutely inappropriate to rely on intuitive reasoning (and folk concepts of this reasoning) when making decisions about such deep philosophical/scientific issues. (Faith is superfluous, again.)

    Surely people do just put their trust in theories about the origins of the cosmos, but this is not how they ought approach the subject. And this is very common, widespread information (again, see Kahneman's popular book which is available everywhere) which I think we should assume any adult conversing in related subjects should be aware of. And if they are aware of this information, but are intentionally ignoring it because of some misplaced sense of "trust', then they ARE epistemically culpable and pretending to know things they don't. See points number 4 and 6. (Or else they need to hit the books and get up to speed on things before preaching poor ideas irresponsibly.)




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    1. In other words, to summarize the point of this long winded response, when discussing faith we ARE concerned with rational decision theory. And if one means when they say "I have faith in the truth of the Bible", etc., that they hold well informed, rational confidence in their beliefs, then they need to not short-cut what they mean with the ambiguous term 'faith' and get straight to the rationality.

      If on the other hand, one, in spite their awareness of all the many fields of science and philosophy pertaining to logic, cognition, decision making, biology, chemistry, cosmology, history, etc. etc., means when he says "I have faith in the truth of the Bible" that he trusts what it says is true, regardless of these fields of study and their relevant information, then he is being irrational. This is pretending to know what one does not know, which many people in modern western society are guilty of. In fact, enough knowledge existed over 2000 years ago for Socrates to begin critiquing people of doing this. This is a real problem, which is rather embarrassing of modern society that it is still so widespread. People ought to know better, and we should hold each other to higher standards.

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  10. Hi Brad - hope the cycling was good. (I’ve got a foot of snow on the ground here in Chicago, so I’m not doing a whole lot of cycling these days.)

    I guess I’m not grasping your dilemma correctly. Probably my fault.

    Faith probably IS a superfluous word, since it can be used interchangeably with many other words/phrases. (“trust,” “confidence,” “reliance,” etc.)

    But I don’t see faith/trust/confidence as PART of a decision-making process, I see it as a RESULT of a decision-making process. I put my trust in a bridge because of my thought process - assessing risks/rewards, probabilities, experience with similar bridges, etc. I run through a whole host of factors in my head, and then decide to trust the bridge - or not.

    When you get into areas like biology, chemistry, cosmology, etc., I tend to agree with the historic positions of guys like Francis Bacon, who advised that we read the “book of nature” and the “book of Scripture” side by side. In other words, scientific observations about the world help me interpret the Bible, and biblical teaching (in addition to basic reason) helps me recognize when certain scientists overstep their bounds and become armchair philosophers, throwing out statements that exceed what the data suggests.

    Hope that makes sense. Always open to being wrong. (I appreciate the time you’ve taken to write out your thoughts for me!)

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    1. Cycling was nice, but boy I am out of shape. And I have a relative in Chicago and know it has been pretty cold there lately--I don't know how you guys tolerate the piercing chill of the wind.

      Okay, so what is the dilemma?

      "I put my trust in a bridge because of my thought process - assessing risks/rewards, probabilities, experience with similar bridges, etc. I run through a whole host of factors in my head, and then decide to trust the bridge - or not."

      First, just as in my example of the Monty Hall problem, you say you make a decision based on a rational assessment of your available information. And this assessment will more likely than not, if one is being rational and honest, lead him to evaluate a proposition with some degree of probability--something less than certainty, though. Likewise, one does not either have absolute trust or absolute distrust of a proposition as a result of his decision making, if he is rational; but rather he has varying degrees of trust which OUGHT TO CORRESPOND to the degree of probability one has assessed of a propositions being true or not. I tried to demonstrate this in my example and with point number 4--given the information available in the example (where we calculated an approximate 67% chance of the car being behind door two) we concluded that the game participant should, not assert with certainty that the car is behind door two, but rather think that it probably is and act accordingly.

      What is needed in our decision making are the principles of rationality: logic, math, argument, etc. For we are presented with all kinds scenario's in life as well as information, and what we need are systems of processing this information which can help us distinct true propositions from false ones--if not definitely, then at least with varying degrees of probability--so to make good decisions. The key question now is: Where could faith, given any of its connotations, contribute in this? I say, "Nowhere!"

      It is at best a superfluous concept, if one wants to conflate it with rational probability assessments and there corresponding degrees of confidence. Let me reiterate this: a person's varying degrees of confidence in a propositions truth is dictated (or at least it had better be) by their rational assessment of it's probability. So there is no distinct role for faith to play above rationality in determining confidence, as you want to claim, Phil.

      However, if 'faith' refers to an instance where one holds a level of trust or confidence in a propositions being true which is inflated from a rational evaluation of its probability (due to either ones ignoring relevant information, or rationality in general), then this is a cognitive vice and one is epistemically culpable in the Boghossian sense.

      That is the dilemma. Nowhere in my textbooks in logic, math, or critical thinking are the principles of faith discussed. If this is an error, then please someone write a textbook. I linked to a very good source on the "Logic of Science"--someone please present the principles which are not equivalent to the ones in the text, but nevertheless increase ones likelihoods of inferring true propositions. Otherwise, it seems very likely the case that a person in referring to a faith in a belief is doing so in the attempt to skirt rationality in a respectable way; but I have shown I think very thoroughly that this is not respectable, but problematic--if one values true beliefs and honesty.

      What do you think, Phil? If the dilemma is not now clear, then I think I might just give up on myself in regards to such matters of discussion as a delusional failure. (Because I think I have explained what I mean quite clearly at this point. Given that propositions are evaluated rationally, and that ones confidence in the truth of a proposition is dictated by, in that it ought to correspond with, ones rational evaluation of a probability--provide a function which faith serves other than one resulting in irrational, cognitive vice. )

      Peace :)

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    2. Oops, that last statement got muddled. Here it is again:

      Given that a propositions truth is properly evaluated by the principles of rationality (usually in degrees of probability), and that ones confidence in the truth of a proposition is dictated by, in that it ought to correspond with, ones rational evaluation of a propositions truth--provide a function which faith serves other than one resulting in irrational, cognitive vice.

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    3. Hi Brad - sorry for the delay. Been traveling the last few days.

      I agree that faith is not a part of a decision-making process. It is the result of it. I put faith (trust, confidence) in someone or something because I have done the mental math. Do I think this person (or bridge or airplane) will do what they have promised they will do? (Feed my cat, carry me safely over a river, or across the country.)

      Faith isn't a part of that process at all. It's the outcome. Putting faith in my friend who has promised to feed my cat means putting that trust into action and actually leaving town with my cat in their possession.

      That's biblical faith. Using faith as a JUSTIFICATION for declaring a bridge safe or a friend reliable is nonsensical. And faith isn't why a Christian decides there is a God or decides the Gospels are reliable record of the life of Jesus.

      Qualification: At least historically. Post-Enlightenment, particularly the last 100-150 years, attacks on the claims of Christianity have revealed that many Christians are unable to fully articulate a defense of their beliefs. Not because there isn't one, but simply because they don't have the knowledge or critical thinking skills to articulate one. As I mentioned in my original paper on Boghossian's definition of faith, I suspect he and others are reacting to these sorts of "faith defenses" from less knowledgable Christians.

      You could, of course, bump into VERY knowledgable Christians, hear their reasoning behind their conclusions regarding the Bible, etc., and still disagree with them. Say you remain unconvinced. But that doesn't mean they aren't thinking rationally or are using "faith" as a defense.

      That's my point here. Knowledgable Christians have reason for their beliefs, and use reason to arrive at their beliefs. Faith isn't a part of that process. It's a result.

      Claiming the Bible is reliable may not be provable, but it also isn't unreasonable. (Many of the cases against such a claim on atheist websites and such are grossly overblown.) A whole heck of a lot of brilliant thinkers have concluded the Bible is reliable as a source of key truths about reality. The primary difference between them and you is philosophical, not factual. (And it has nothing to do with the word "faith.")

      So argue against Christianity all you want. But "faith" isn't why Christians believe what they believe. It isn't an epistemology.

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    4. Sorry to jump in here, Phil (hope you've been well, by the way--we haven't communicated directly in quite a few days now), but I'd like to say something or somethings.

      First, thanks for your clarification on how you are using the word faith. I find that very useful to consider. If I'm understanding you correctly, you're saying that biblical faith is what you end up with when you consider certain things, say the Bible, and decide that you're going to trust what it says to be true. Please correct that if I'm wrong.

      In that case, would you be willing to go further and say that faith is the justification for acting upon that trust, or is that what you're calling nonsensical? Just curious to really get to the bottom of how you're using this term.

      I am very curious about another point you've implicitly raised. You noted, quite rightly, that many Christians are unable to fully articulate a defense of their beliefs. I have an issue with this, if I might temporarily grant some of the premises of many mainline Christian belief systems, and I hope you can offer some useful insight here.

      I find it surprising that the God believed in by Christians, if I'm reading their claims about this being correctly, would put something so important in position that requires a lot of careful defense. It seems a bit capricious to me, to be honest with you. Though I'm quite sure you don't find it capricious, do you find it surprising?

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    5. Phil, I appreciate your participation in our conversation, and we agree on what matters, I think: That we need to be rational in adopting our beliefs and in the degree to which we hold them to be true. (Your conception of faith seems quite impotent and cognitively uninfluential--so I don't see a need to critique it.) But you have said some things that are just blatantly untrue, which I cannot accept and will quibble over now. Namely, you said:

      "... faith isn't why a Christian decides there is a God or decides the Gospels are [a] reliable record of the life of Jesus...many Christians are unable to fully articulate a defense of their beliefs. Not because there isn't one, but simply because they don't have the knowledge or critical thinking skills to articulate one...Knowledgable Christians have reason for their beliefs, and use reason to arrive at their beliefs. Faith isn't a part of that process. It's a result...[Faith] isn't an epistemology."

      First, your first statement appears to directly contradict your second statement. If many Christians (I think we can even use the word "most") do not have the knowledge or critical thinking skills, as you say, to articulate a defense of their Christian beliefs, then how the heck did they rationally come to adopt their Christian beliefs in the first place??? It would seem that the answer is through a kind of irrational faith--adopting as true propositions without concern for evidence or justification--that is currently being critiqued. Furthermore, I have direct personal experience of Christians (and other religious people) defending exactly this behavior and use of the word 'faith'. So either your first statement is false, or "many" Christians aren't really Christians, because they have come to and maintained their religious beliefs uncritically as you say a "Christian" doesn't do (I don't want to be the one to inform them of this). Either way, there is a non-arbitrary problem here that one cannot be criticized for criticizing.

      But I am not done yet. One of my epistemology textbook titled "What Can We Know", by Christian philosopher Louis P. Pojman, has a section on "The Debate over Faith and Reason." Here, Pojman says that historically two opposing positions have been maintained: one that holds faith and reason as commensurable and another that denies this. The latter position entails a position that " faith is higher than reason... that natural theology is inappropriate because...to reason about faith is to assume the standpoint of unbelief; it 'makes reason a judge over Christ'"(327). Included in this camp are Calvin, Barth, Worlterstorff, and Plantinga. Pojman himself defends a commensurable position, but he says "Few have gone as far as Immanual Kant and Richard Swinburne in maintaining a complete harmony between reason and faith (i.e. a religious belief within the realm of reason alone)"(326).

      And this appears to contradict your claim about "knowledgeable Christians".

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    6. But I have more to say. The article titled Faith on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in section three, titled "Faith as Knowledge" says:

      "One model identifies faith as knowledge of specific truths, revealed by God...On Plantinga's version, theistic beliefs count as knowledge because they are produced by the operation of a special cognitive faculty whose functional design fits it for the purpose of generating true beliefs about God."

      In section four, titled "Faith and reason: the epistemology of faith", it says:

      " It is thus widely held that faith goes beyond what is ordinarily reasonable, in the sense that it involves accepting what cannot be established as true through the proper exercise of our naturally endowed human cognitive faculties—and this may be held to be an essential feature of faith."

      Furthermore, W. L. Craig says in an interview (which can be seen at approximately the 13:24 mark of philosopher Matt McCormick's video ):

      "[We] need to understand the proper relationship between faith and reason...the way in which I know Christianity is true is first and foremost based on the witness of the holy spirit in my heart. And this gives me a self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true, wholly apart from the evidence. And therefore...if the evidence I have available to me should turn against Christianity, I don't think that controverts the witness of the holy spirit. In such a situation [I should expect] that the evidence, if I could get the correct picture, would support exactly what the witness of the holy spirit tells me."

      And this all contradicts your final statement about faith not being an epistemology. I really don't mean to be an ass, but I think I have quite thoroughly shown every claim you have made about faith to be false. I don't want to keep arguing this, so lets please agree that there are issues concerning the rationality of Christians "faith", both layman and "knowledgeable" ones alike.

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    7. James first, then Brad!

      James - "Faith" in the Bible is very specifically related to promises/claims made by God/Jesus. Hebrews 11 praises people who believed God would do what he said he would do, and acted on that belief. As far as believing there IS a God or that the Gospels are accurate, that isn't a topic of biblical faith. Today, in the face of post-Enlightenment textual criticism, the notion of having to "believe the Bible by faith" has emerged. But this is a modern idea, not related to biblical faith.

      Why hasn't God made it easier to defend the Bible? Don't know. Heck, there are lots of questions like that I'd love answers for. I don't consider that question unanswerable, I just don't have the answer. (Like gaps in science that we assume will eventually be filled in.) Calling it capricious, though, is a leap to judgment made in the absence of full knowledge. (Knowledge which may be, for now, inaccessible.)

      "would you be willing to go further and say that faith is the justification for acting upon that trust, or is that what you're calling nonsensical?"

      I wouldn't say faith is the justification, no. If you're acting on trust ("I trust this balcony will support my weight") because you want a certain benefit ("the view out there will be awesome"), you're assessment of the balcony ("looks strong to me") is your justification. The trust itself is a byproduct of the assessment. The action ("I'm standing on it!") is a byproduct of the trust - or simply putting your trust into action.

      Abraham leaving Ur because he was convinced some sort of deity had promised him a blessing if he did so is similar to the balcony. Abraham wanted the blessing, decided he trusted the source of the promise, acted on that trust. Stood on the "balcony," so to speak. Got the blessing.

      (Whether or not that account is historical is unrelated to how it functions as an illustration of biblical "faith.")

      Hope that answers your questions.

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  11. Brad...

    "If many Christians (I think we can even use the word "most") do not have the knowledge or critical thinking skills, as you say, to articulate a defense of their Christian beliefs, then how the heck did they rationally come to adopt their Christian beliefs in the first place???"

    They accepted what they were taught. Same way a history student accepts that Abraham Lincoln was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth. Same way a biology student accepts that Darwinian evolution fully explains the diversity of life. Very few students have the inclination or the resources to fully research the claims they are being taught. Most just accept these claims, based on the perceived expertise/authority of the teacher.

    "So either your first statement is false, or "many" Christians aren't really Christians, because they have come to and maintained their religious beliefs uncritically as you say a "Christian" doesn't do (I don't want to be the one to inform them of this)."

    I didn't say Christians who lack critical thinking skills or deep scriptural knowledge aren't Christians, merely said they aren't knowledgeable, critical thinkers.

    Regarding Pojman, Platinga, Craig, etc. ... I'm not familiar with this school of Christian philosophy, so I'll readily yield that if represented here accurately, there are some Christian thinkers who promote a more epistemological view of faith. I could be proven wrong! (Although what Craig and Platinga seem to be referring to is the "witness of the Holy Spirit," which would mean the word "faith" is being used pretty broadly as a "catch-all" for a number of theological concepts.)

    I think, though, that what is really being criticized here (and by Boghossian) is the idea of revealed truth generally, and the specific Christian teachings on the Holy Spirit, interaction with God, etc. If these concepts result in new knowledge, then perhaps this is the "flawed epistemology" Boghossian is really gunning for - labeled, possibly inaccurately, as "faith."

    I appreciate the conversation, guys! I won't take anymore of your time. As a Bible teacher, I like to be sure I understand what I'm teaching, and the conversations have helped clarify the points of confusion.

    And Brad, I may have to give you a research credit if I end up writing a book on all this! :-)

    Your theistic buddy,

    Phil

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    1. Phil, I enjoyed our discussion, and good luck on the book. You will have to keep us up to date on your progress.

      Brad

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