Faith

The End of Faith

The End of Faith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Conference Website: https://bcgradconference18.wordpress.com/

 

The topic of faith, religious and non-religious, has received renewed philosophical attention in recent years. This conference will continue these discussions about the nature, value, and rationality of faith across philosophical traditions, bringing new perspectives on faith into conversation with each other. We are interested in papers that consider the topic of faith, including but by no means limited to work addressing the following questions:

What is faith? Is it solely a cognitive attitude?

What makes faith valuable?

Under what conditions is faith undesirable?

How should faith and doubt interact?

What is the relationship between faith and trust/hope/knowledge?

What is required for faith to be considered rational?

Does faith between persons function similarly or dissimilarly to religious faith?

Graduate student presenters will be given 25 minutes for presentation and 10 minutes for Q&A. For consideration, please submit anonymized abstracts of no more than 500 words in an attached PDF to bcgradconference18@gmail.com by November 4, 2017. Author details, including Author’s Name, Paper Title, and Institutional Affliation, should be included in the accompanying e-mail.

Please direct any questions to bcgradconference18@gmail.com.

On faith

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”.


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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.

The Ethics of Belief

More discussion on the beliefs of anti-vaxers . . . Should they have a legal duty to vaccinate? Do they have a moral duty to vaccinate?

[This is from an earlier post on Episyllogism.]

The Ethics of Belief: “A shipowner was about to send to sea an emigrant-ship. He knew that she was old, and not overwell built at the first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often had needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him that possibly she was not seaworthy. These doubts preyed upon his mind, and made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly overhauled and and refitted, even though this should put him at great expense. Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely through so many voyages and weathered so many storms that it was idle to suppose she would not come safely home from this trip also. He would put his trust in Providence, which could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere. He would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors. In such ways he acquired a sincere and comfortable conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched her departure with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance-money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales. ”

Above is the first paragraph of a classic essay on the relationship between morality and belief. Written in 1877 it is still worth reading and thinking about as William K. Clifford argues that we have a moral responsibility to assess our beliefs. William James was spurred by this essay and took great pains to present a defense of faith. James makes a very different sort of case in The Will to Believe.

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Sunday’s Sermon

squirrelIn my classes I always used William James`s story about the tree and the squirrel to open discussion of paradox, discovery, and pragmatism.

James wrote:

SOME YEARS AGO, being with a camping party in the mountains, I returned from a solitary ramble to find every one engaged in a ferocious metaphysical dispute. The corpus of the dispute was a squirrel – a live squirrel supposed to be clinging to one side of a tree-trunk; while over against the tree’s opposite side a human being was imagined to stand. This human witness tries to get sight of the squirrel by moving rapidly round the tree, but no matter how fast he goes, the squirrel moves as fast in the opposite direction, and always keeps the tree between himself and the man, so that never a glimpse of him is caught. The resultant metaphysical problem now is this: Does the man go round the squirrel or not? He goes round the tree, sure enough, and the squirrel is on the tree; but does he go round the squirrel?

In the unlimited leisure of the wilderness, discussion had been worn threadbare. Every one had taken sides, and was obstinate; and the numbers on both sides were even. Each side, when I appeared therefore appealed to me to make it a majority. Mindful of the scholastic adage that whenever you meet a contradiction you must make a distinction, I immediately sought and found one, as follows: “Which party is right,” I said, “depends on what you practically mean by ‘going round’ the squirrel. If you mean passing from the north of him to the east, then to the south, then to the west, and then to the north of him again, obviously the man does go round him, for he occupies these successive positions. But if on the contrary you mean being first in front of him, then on the right of him, then behind him, then on his left, and finally in front again, it is quite as obvious that the man fails to go round him, for by the compensating movements the squirrel makes, he keeps his belly turned towards the man all the time, and his back turned away. Make the distinction, and there is no occasion for any further dispute. You are both right and both wrong according as you conceive the verb ‘to go round’ in one practical fashion or the other.”

Although one or two of the hotter disputants called my speech a shuffling evasion, saying they wanted no quibbling or scholastic hair-splitting, but meant just plain honest English ‘round’, the majority seemed to think that the distinction had assuaged the dispute.