Sunday’s Sermon: on Faith/faith

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Please excuse me if I use the “F” word often. I realize that many people are afraid of that word and are disgusted by its frequent use in contemporary letters. Even tough-minded scientists like Jerry Coyne are quick to correct themselves if the “F” word sneaks out. In a recent Point of Inquiry podcast, Coyne, in talking about his book Why Evolution is True, says “most evolutionists take it [the evidence for evolution] on faith … well, not faith…”. He immediately corrects himself and restructures the sentence. It was as if he had used the other “f” word in a church or mosque.

Faith is the “F” word that people either love or hate.

Much of the problem with the “f” word comes about because of a built in ambiguity between capital F and small case faith. Faith/faith: Faith = belief without compelling evidence; while faith = trust, or beliefs that are knowable in principle. For example when my Catholic acquaintance eats the wafer he has Faith that it will transubstantiate; when I go to start my car in the morning I have faith that it will start. If my car does not start it is possible in principle for me or a mechanic to determine what’s wrong. If the wafer does not change to the flesh of Christ conversion is the only solution.

In science, William James notes, we can afford to await the outcome of investigation before coming to a belief, but in other cases we are “forced,” in that we must come to some belief even if all the relevant evidence is not in. If I am on a isolated mountain trail, faced with an icy ledge to cross, and do not know whether I can make it, I may be forced to consider the question whether I can or should believe that I can cross the ledge. This question is not only forced, it is “momentous”: if I am wrong I may fall to my death, and if I believe rightly that I can cross the ledge, my holding of the belief may itself contribute to my success. In such a case, James asserts, I have the “right to believe” — precisely because such a belief may help bring about the fact believed in. This is a case “where a fact cannot come at all unless a preliminary faith exists in its coming”.

Faith is required for religious belief. Faith is the way of knowing for the religious believer. Faith is, in this religious sense, more like hope.

Remember 9/11 was a Faith based enterprise.

For the scientific minded Faith is merely an emotion, a state of mind. It is to believe without any evidence. Tertullian’s “I believe because it is absurd” catches this sense. I’ll let Nietzsche have the last word:
“’Faith’ means not wanting to know what is true.”

Recently we talked about truth using the same notion of capital T/ small t to unpack the ambiguity that abounds in the use of the term. As you can see faith works in much the same way. Just think for a minute of all the Catholic parents who had FAITH that their children were safe with the friendly parish priest. Those parents would never do anything to put their children in danger. They were certain that all was well in the safety of the church.

But as we learned here certainty is demonic.

Papers from grad students


Univie Summer School – Scientific World Conceptions (USS-SWC) July 1–12,

The main lecturers are

Prof. Rachel Cooper (Lancaster University),
Prof. Dominic Murphy (The University of Sydney) and
Prof. Tim Thornton (University of Central Lancashire).

The program is directed primarily to graduate students and junior
researchers in fields related to the annual topic, but the organizers
also encourage applications from gifted undergraduates and from people
in all stages of their career who wish to broaden their horizon through
crossdisciplinary studies of methodological and foundational issues in

The topic of the two-week course is “Philosophy and Psychiatry”:

By its very nature, psychiatry – the medical specialism devoted to
mental healthcare – raises as many conceptual as empirical questions.
The philosophy of psychiatry is a rapidly emerging field which draws
broadly on philosophical traditions – centrally analytic philosophy and
phenomenology – to address a range of questions as broad as the demands
made on psychiatry to address problems of human suffering, distress and
disorder. It is also an area where philosophical methods, accounts and
theories can be applied to and thus tested against psychiatric and
psychopathological phenomena. But at its heart lies the question of
whether, since psychiatry sees itself as part of medicine, the medical
conceptualisation of illness and disease can be articulated in such a
way that it properly applies to the distinct ‘problems of living’ that
psychiatry addresses in response to the crisis of legitimacy often
raised. This summer school will address a number key questions which
impact on mental health care.

Application form and further information:

The Main Lecturers:

Rachel Cooper (Lancaster University)

Dominic Murphy (The University of Sydney)

Tim Thornton (University of Central Lancashire)

Guest lecturer:
Raffaella Campaner (Università di Bologna)

The official name of the summer school is: “The Univie Summer School –
Scientific World Conceptions (USS-SWC)”.

USS-SWC operates under the academic supervision of an International
Program Committee of distinguished philosophers, historians, and
scientists. Its members represent the scientific fields in the scope of
USS-SWC, make contact to their home universities and will also support
acknowledgement of courses taken by the students. USS-SWC is organised
every year by the Institute Vienna Circle of the University of Vienna.

Venue: Kapelle, Institut für Ethik und Recht in der Medizin, Campus der
Universität Wien, Entrance 2.8
Time: Monday, July 1, 2019, 9 a.m.

Further Information

Since 2010 USS-SWC is a part of the curriculum of the doctoral programme
“The Sciences in Historical, Philosophical and Cultural Contexts”

There is an exchange programme with Duke University (North Carolina):

For further inquiries, please send email
or consult the IVC’s Web site

Robert Kaller
Institute Vienna Circle
Spitalgasse 2-4, Hof 1, 1090 Wien
Tel. +43-1-4277-46504

Scientific director:
Prof. Martin Kusch

Martin Kusch
University of Vienna

Professor of Philosophy of Science and Epistemology
Principal Investigator ‘The Emergence of Relativism’

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New book

Muhammad as Prophet of Peace
My new book

Dear Friends:   My new book, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires, is out Tuesday Oct. 9.  I thought you would enjoy this review of it, which is enthusiastic and comes from a perspective I hadn’t expected, of an Evangelical World History teacher!

cheers,   Juan Cole

Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires — Juan Cole

An illuminating and balanced exploration of the life of Muhammad and his original teachings

In his new release, Juan Cole tackles the life and times of Muhammad and the founding of Islam. His argument, expertly made throughout the book, is that Muhammad promoted peace when Arabia was in the midst of war. The Roman Empire (in the form of what we now call the Byzantine Empire) and the Sasanian Empire were in constant battle, and the Arabs were pressured to align with one or the other. Muhammad, in contrast, taught the principles of peace he saw in the Bible and other sources in order to shape his new religion.

This is both enlightening and important in our current context, as Islam is seen as a religion predicated on violence and conquest. Cole breaks down these preconceived notions throughout the book. Muhammad did not promote anything resembling sharia law. The clashes that are mentioned during Muhammad’s life were defensive struggles. His “conquest” of Mecca was more akin to Martin Luther King’s “March on Washington” than an attack. Jihad, when the word is used in the Qu’ran, always refers to internal struggle rather than a “holy war”. The examples continue, and Cole spaces them remarkably to keep the focus on his main argument. It is interesting to see the ways that Islam has changed since Muhammad, and Cole spends the conclusion of Muhammad detailing these changes as compared to Muhammad’s teachings. As a historical argument, it is highly compelling.

As an evangelical Christian, I found Cole’s treatment of both Islam and Christianity extraordinarily fair to both religions. From my knowledge of both Muhammad’s teachings and the history of Islam since then, he approaches the topics without partiality and using historical documentation responsibly to make his points. He also is very upfront on the similarities between Muhammad’s teachings, Judaism, and Christianity. Muhammad often paraphrases parts of the Talmud or the Bible, and Cole points out a plethora of examples.

Pluralism and inclusivism also provide major themes in Muhammad, as Cole defines each and uses those definitions to investigate how Muhammad thought and taught of those from other religions. Pluralism is the belief that multiple religions provide equally valid paths to God. Inclusivism is the belief that all religions provide some truth, but certain religions provide more complete truth than others. His analysis of Muhammad’s religion on these grounds is enthralling:

The Qur’an embraces pluralism on the level of salvation but inclusivism at the level of theology. It allows that members of other faith communities can reach heaven. At the same time, it sees the older religions as somewhat corrupted by ideas and practices introduced over time that departed from the pure, exemplary faith of Abraham, and it does not hesitate to reproach them for these lapses. Still, God will forgive everything but outright polytheism.

This nuance to Muhammad’s beliefs about salvation and theology were so interesting to me because of the way it compares to Christianity. Christianity is inherently exclusive. Although Cole does not compare Islam and Christianity outright on those grounds, he makes clear that even as there are many similarities between Muhammad’s teachings and those of Jesus, there are irreparable differences. Here is the quote that stood out to me:

The Qur’an goes so far as to present peace activism and beneficence as the vehicle of redemption from the fall, rather than, as in Christian theology, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

That is the divergence. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is everything to true Christians, including our redemption from Adam’s sin. If Jesus is not the Son of God but only born of a virgin, a teaching put forward by Muhammad to begin his religion, that changes everything and will never be reconcilable.

For those interested in Islam, world history, or a comparison of three major world religions as of the 7th century, I would encourage you to pick up Juan Cole’s Muhammad. The details and thinking contained within are highly illuminating and thought-provoking.

From Yale

This week at Yale Environment 360, Canadian journalist and author Ed Struzik writes about a little-known impact of the steadily increasing number of wildfires around the globe: the threat to drinking water supplies and freshwater ecosystems. Struzik explains that as wildfires become more frequent and destructive in a warming world, they are leaving in their wake debris and toxic runoff that can do significant damage to watersheds. Some municipalities, Struzik writes, are even having to upgrade their water treatment methods to counter the new danger.

Edward Struzik

Edward Struzik has been writing about scientific and environmental issues for more than 30 years. A fellow at the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, his numerous accolades include the prestigious Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy and the Sir Sandford Fleming Medal, awarded for outstanding contributions to the understanding of science. In 1996 he was awarded the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and spent a year at Harvard and MIT researching environment, evolutionary biology, and politics with E.O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin. His 2015 book, Future Arctic, focuses on the effects of climate change in the Canadian Arctic and the impacts they will have on rest of the world. His other books include Arctic Icons, The Big Thaw, and Northwest His He is an active speaker and lecturer, and his work as a regular contributor to Yale Environment 360 covers topics such as the effects of climate change and fossil fuel extraction on northern ecosystems and their inhabitants. He is on the Board of Directors for the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, a citizens’ organization dedicated to the long-term environmental and social well-being of northern Canada and its peoples. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

Read his report.

Letter from a Pessimist


Fig A: Supreme court judge lying under oath

Dear Bob,

Oh god. There’s just so much bullshit, Bob. And none of it is even being used for compost. I’m losing hope. 

Be like a boat, they say. Just keep the water out and float on. Don’t let it overcome you. Easier said than done, I say.

There are two kinds of negative feeling that overwhelm: the kind of our own making that time and self-talk help pass, and the kind that is a perfectly appropriate reaction to the reality of the situation; that is, to name one element of this mess we’re in, that we are basically inhabiting a spaceship piloted by incompetent, amoral megalomaniacs who live lives with dire consequence for anyone but themselves. Who choose to sacrifice this life – our lives – either for some afterone they’ve been promised in a book, or simply because it benefits them. It is slowly but surely heading towards the sun, and our efforts are too few and too late to turn it around. So what do we do then? Is the only option to delude ourselves?

I’m asking you because you are my oldest friend, at – how old are you now? – and probably wisest, and you’d think if things were really as bleak as I say, that you of all people have a much more effective coping strategy or else you would have pressed the “eject” button by now.

Knowing you, you would just give me some ambiguous quip if I just asked for your secret, and while I do admire your constant sense of humour, I want real answers, so I have compiled this list of questions on the topic of Having A Good Time Despite It all.

Thank you,


What is the most useful influence religion has on coping with the unpleasant truth of the world? (that doesn’t require supernatural belief)

Is peace more than just absence of suffering?

How much attention should we give to world politics?

Do you meditate, why/why not?

Can words change our outlook?

Have you been lucky in life? Or do you possess a quality that attracts what some call luck?

Have you ever had a mental breakdown?

How can we be happy?

Migration and poverty

Conference Call

 Please forward to interested colleagues. Thank you.

Interdisciplinary Conference: Migration and Poverty

Dates: 19 and 20 September 2019
Venue: University of Salzburg
Submission deadline: 31 January 2019
Conference Website:

Keynote speakers:
Ilse Derluyn (Ghent, Social Work)
Cathy McIlwaine (King’s College London, Geography)
Corinna Mieth (Bochum, Philosophy)
Julia O‘Connell-Davidson (Bristol, Sociology)
Annelies Zoomers (Utrecht, Development Studies)

The Centre for Ethics and Poverty Research (CEPR), University of
Salzburg, invites the submission of proposals for single papers,
thematic panels (2, 4 or 6 papers), and roundtable sessions (3-5
discussants plus 1 chair) on the relation of migration and poverty.

This conference aims to bring together researchers and scholars from
different disciplines, approaches, backgrounds and experiences working
on the complex and manifold relation of migration and poverty. Much
migration within states and across borders is driven by poverty and
the hope for a better well-being and improved living standard but
migration is also risky and opens new vulnerabilities. Once migrants
reach their chosen destination – if they reach it all – they face new
difficulties and are often among the poorest and most disadvantaged in
their new home society. On the one hand migration can be a tool to
escape poverty, on the other hand it can lead to poverty and social

This conference has no disciplinary or geographical focus and welcomes
papers on intra- and transnational migration in all its forms
(voluntary, forced, impelled, seasonal etc.) and its relation to
(relative, absolute, monetary, multidimensional etc.) poverty,
inequality and social exclusion. Papers exploring normative issues of
(social and global) justice, human rights or ethics in relation to
migration and poverty are welcomed.

This conference aims at bringing together established as well as young
scholars and academics from diverse backgrounds. Submissions of
scholars working in the Global South are particularly encouraged and
support by a lower conference fee.

The registration fee for participants is 100€ and covers the
conference folder, a guided city tour on Friday, coffee breaks, two
lunch snacks and the conference dinner on Thursday. Students as well
as participants from countries classified as low-income or
lower-middle income economies by the World Bank pay a subsidized fee
of 75€.

Child care is available at the conference venue at no further costs.

The time allocated for each paper presentation is 20 minutes followed
by 10 minutes of discussion.

Paper givers may also participate as discussants or chairs in
roundtable sessions.

For more information please visit the conference website:

For more information about the Centre for Ethics and Poverty Research
please visit:
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