From “The New York Times” read the essay here.
EDITORIAL / Hykel Hosni
THE REASONER SPECULATES
– Alice is not impressed by the Sorites Paradox / Jeff Paris
– Ampliative Reasoning in the Sciences – 5th Work- shop on Logic, Reasoning, and Rationality, May 18–19 / Dunja Seselja, Mathieu Beirlaen and Erik Weber
– Summer School in Social Epistemology, 28 August–1 September / Gloria Andrada
WHAT’S HOT IN…
– (Formal) Argumentation Theory / Sanjay Modgil
– Medieval Reasoning / Graziana Ciola
– Uncertain Reasoning / Seamus Bradley
– Philosophy and Economics / Conrad Heilmann
– Evidence-based medicine / Michael Wilde
– Courses and programmes
– Jobs and Studentships
“It’s not what we don’t know that hurts us, it’s what we know that ain’t so” – Will Rogers
Anecdote a) In my first year at VIU I was a psychology student taking the required statistics class taught by Kim Iles. Kim was an engaging teacher, that much I knew, but the subject, like most things mathematical in nature, never clicked. Unfortunately for me, Kim was the type to pick people in class whether their hands were raised or not, just to check if they were listening. When they got it right, he might toss them a little chocolate bar. When they were bullshitting or guessing, they suffered an acute public shaming. It was always one or the other. I knew I was not even close to sweet chocolaty understanding, so each time he scanned the room I sunk in my seat and looked away. Bless the guy, he usually spared me. But one day my time came and indeed I couldn’t make an educated enough guess to show an even faint grasp. I gave the only answer I knew: “I don’t know”. He threw me a full-sized Snickers bar and said “Good answer.” I rejoiced.
I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic until he gave us a brief aside on how IDK is always a good answer to any question you genuinely don’t know, how so many problems in the world are attributed to people pretending they know something they don’t. This is the lesson that stuck with me most in that class, which I ended up technically failing (but given the minimally passing grade anyway on account of being smart in “other ways”). The next year I found philosophy, the only place not knowing seemed to work.
Anecdote b) I later had a boyfriend who was a devout Christian. I was so in love but couldn’t reconcile his faith. “If you don’t believe in anything then you’ll never move forward” he’d say. “I’d rather be suspended in doubt than deluded” I’d say back. Our fundamental issue was not so much whether God exists, but the irreconcilable difference of me believing the assumption of doubt is healthy and that beliefs should be true, and him believing that doubt is paralyzing and beliefs should make you feel good.
Anecdote c) My latest ex, a politically opinionated atheist, accused me of being too dogmatic with my belief in doubt. He wanted me to take a side on issues. I’d rather not pretend I know something about which I only have or can only have partial knowledge. He’d rather fill in the gaps with whatever logical fallacies he can get away with. I’d rather not, and I’d rather he not.
I know that doubt is a virtue. When we doubt our mind is open to other possibilities which are more likely to be correct. I know that when I am feeling insecure or not comfortable about being unsure, I’ll make more assumptions and thus an ass out of myself. I know that being caught in false claims of knowledge makes us less credible to our peers over time and that being around know-it-alls is fucking exhausting. I am pretty sure I’d rather be in doubt than be wrong and find out later, or even be living a blissfully ignorant but less optimal timeline.
But only one out of these three examples led to a happy ending. So, to what extent is doubt a virtue? About what sorts of things? Am I denying myself happiness or progress by trapping myself in suspended disbelief about things that I can never know anyway? Are there certain situations where faking it until you make it, or believing for the sake of it, is the way to go?
I just don’t know.
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, 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”
Last week 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 last week certainty is demonic.
Listen to a cool radio program about Faith. Weird, catchy, long.
Review – What Is Buddhist Enlightenment?
by Dale S. Wright
Oxford University Press, 2016
Review by Bob Lane
Jan 24th 2017 (Volume 21, Issue 4)
King Lear is a play as profound as it is puzzling. It seems to be uncompromising in its attitude to the nature of things. Either its last scene is a powerful continuation of the theme of self delusion or it is an intimation of immortality.
Does philosophy of religion currently deserve its name? If you examine the content pages of the most popular textbooks, or relevant undergraduate syllabuses, you’ll see that the discipline often has less to do with religion than it has to do with theology. But theology doesn’t exhaust religion. Religion is a tapestry of sociological, anthropological, and psychological phenomena often accompanied by a theology. If only to be worthy of its name, philosophy of religion has to have interests that go beyond the purely theological. Terence Cuneo’s book is an important contribution to this task.
J.L. Schellenberg’s book is an attempt to spell out his well-known argument from divine hiddenness against theism patiently and systematically so that anyone can understand it. One can see it as an atheistic mirror to the kind of book one sometimes sees theistic philosophers write where the author takes the fine-tuning argument or kalaam cosmological argument and tries to find a way to equip the average church goer to understand and profit from it. If one is familiar with the theistic equivalent, then one should realize that it can be hard to balance technical due diligence and the demands of addressing such a broad audience. If that’s the right way to think about the kind of book Schellenberg has written, however, I think it is largely successful. The average person on the street can pick up this book, and a trim 142 pages later, they’ll understand what the hiddenness argument is and why it is for many an important piece of evidence against theism.
Since the exact terms of Schellenberg’s argument (though not the spirit) have changed a bit over the years, let’s begin by quoting the version given in the book.
- If a perfectly loving God exists, then there exists a God who is always open to a personal relationship with any finite person.
- If there exists a God who is always open to a personal relationship with any finite person, then no finite person is ever nonresistantly in a state of nonbelief in relation to the proposition that God exists.
- If a perfectly loving God exists, then no finite person is ever nonresistantly in a state of nonbelief in relation to the proposition that God exists (from 1 and 2).
- Some finite persons are or have been nonresistantly in a state of nonbelief in relation to the proposition that God exists.
- No perfectly loving God exists (from 3 and 4).
- If no perfectly loving God exists, then God does not exist.
- God does not exist (from 5 and 6) (Schellenberg 103)