All Evidence is Interpreted Evidence

I’ve posted this before, but given the last several posts and the comments–I will post it again. Some quotes:

The reasons you must give, however, do not come from outside your faith, but follow from it and flesh it out. They are not independent of your faith – if they were they would supplant it as a source of authority – but are simultaneously causes of it and products of it; just as Harris’s and Dawkins’s reasons for believing that morality can be naturalized flow from their faith in physical science and loop back to that faith, thereby giving it an enhanced substance.

The reasoning is circular, but not viciously so. The process is entirely familiar and entirely ordinary; a conviction (of the existence of God or the existence of natural selection or the greatness of a piece of literature) generates speculation and questions, and the resulting answers act as confirmation of the conviction that has generated them. Whatever you are doing – preaching, teaching , performing an experiment, playing baseball – you must always give a reason (if only to yourself) for your faith and the reason will always be a reason only because your faith is in place.

Now, this is not to say that one cannot change his world-view/faith—his deepest held convictions regarding the big questions of life. But it is to say that there is a huge and significant difference between changing my mistaken view that the mean distance from the earth to the sun is 139.6 kilometers, when I am shown evidence that it is, in fact, 149.6 kilometers—and changing my views about why there is something rather than nothing, is there a God or not, the origins of the universe, why am I here, or what is the meaning of life. All the big questions of life—the questions most people care about—which have been summed up and reflected in philosophy, literature, art, music, and culture from time immemorial are not answered or addressed by measuring or weighing “evidence.” Frankly, does this difference even need to be pointed out? Isn’t this difference obvious?

David B. Hart put it best:

“…And this, I venture to say, is why atheism cannot win out in the end: it requires a moral and intellectual coarseness—a blindness to the obvious—too immense for the majority of mankind.”

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13 Responses to All Evidence is Interpreted Evidence

  1. Burk Braun says:

    “The reasons you must give, however, do not come from outside your faith, but follow from it …”

    That is fideism, pure and simple. All the rhetoric in the world isn't going to resolve the primacy of faith over evidence.

    The crux of the matter is the definition of truth. If you hold to correspondence truth- that our models of reality are true only insofar as they accurately correspond to reality- then you can not give reasons from faith, but have to give reasons from evidence.

    Dawkins's reasons for believing the morality can be naturalized is … that morality is already naturalized to start with. Morality, whether written down in ancient books or arrived at by contemporary debate, arises from our cultivated and reasoned human desires and feelings. It is great to have lots of people thinking about these questions, whether they call themselves bloggers or theologians, but there is no valid authority other than what we devise for ourselves. Which is to say that there is no authority other than the individual conscience, which happens to be a natural phenomenon.

    “… generates speculation and questions, and the resulting answers act as confirmation of the conviction that has generated them.”

    That is apparently how faith operates in its fideist mode. But it is not how actual investigations using the correspondence truth work. They can find answers that do not act as confirmation- something that the faith system clearly and proudly evades.

    And to claim that the “big” questions do not concern evidence is to evade all notion of truth, again confirming one's fideist position. For it turns out that fideism works day and night to create meaning in life. If that meaning were evident and free for the taking, there would be no need for such strenuous effort. What the evidence shows is that meaning is not hidden, or obscure, or external in any sense. It is internal and constantly prone to loss and creation.

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  2. Darrell says:

    “Dawkins's reasons for believing the morality can be naturalized is … that morality is already naturalized to start with.”

    Thanks for making the point.

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  3. Darrell says:

    You are missing the entire point. It is self-evident or axiomatic to Christians that existence does not explain itself, that there must be a cause and an answer to our deepest questions and desires. That is the whole point. It is much more reasonable to argue that from existence, the material world, and our experience that such makes it self-evident that transcendence exists since that has been the majority view now and from time immemorial. It has not been your position that has been “self-evident” at all to most people or cultures—so be careful when you talk about what is supposedly self-evident.

    And correspondence does not help you. The Christian also believes that their view of life and the world does correspond to the material world and their experience of it. They believe it to be true in that sense as well.

    “All the rhetoric in the world isn't going to resolve the primacy of faith over evidence.”
    “…then you can not give reasons from faith, but have to give reasons from evidence.”
    “What the evidence shows is that…”

    Every one of these assertions reveals you still don’t get what is being said here. It is not “faith over evidence” it is that evidence is interpreted through our world-view/faith. You have yet to even address what is even being asserted by Fish or me.

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  4. Burk Braun says:

    Well, firstly, that existence is mysterious is not in dispute. The issue is whether you know any more about than non-theists. And you don't, in point of fact. This is a prime example of assertion and faith over evidence, in a fideist mode. Evidence only shows a mystery for the time being, though reduced substantially from the prior state of utter human ignorance when the exact same theistic fantasies were trotted out not only to explain existence, but to explain every other unusual occurrence within it.

    Secondly, and in the same vein, correspondence helps quite a bit, since it provides the criterion by which the historical accounts of religion have been blown up completely. None of them are remotely plausible as given in their supernatural elaborations- it is all myth and tall-tail-ery, set in more or less historical settings, depending on the tradition. Correspondence truth is the way of evidence, whereby we test whether appearances of the virgin Mary are authentic, or are contrived. You can probably guess the answer already, 100% of the time.

    So, the fact that Christian “believe” that their view of life and the world does correspond is exactly the impeaching statement. It does not in fact correspond, in hundreds of specific points, each of which have had to be massaged with all the sophistry that theology can bring to bear. Take the second coming- has it happened already, or will it come soon, or what? There are many answers, but zero evidence either that it has, should, or will ever arrive. It is an imaginative figment, completely without foundation and unnecessary to speculate over.

    This discussion is rather unnerving, really, being a small example to account for the low repute in which the legal profession is held, due to its tendency to adopt premises and worldviews at the convenience of its clients and pocketbook rather from a more correspondence-worthy standard. In mitigation, in human affairs these things are often (not always) fungible and flexible, depending on one's position and circumstances, history, subjective view, and much else. Morals are not objective, after all. In philosophical and cosmic matters, not so much, however.

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  5. Darrell says:

    “Well, firstly, that existence is mysterious is not in dispute. The issue is whether you know any more about than non-theists. And you don't, in point of fact.”

    But the “why” of that mysteriousness is in dispute. The issue is that both the Christian and the atheist make positive statements about that mysteriousness as if they both do know something about it. And they make those statements based upon the same evidence and they both think their conclusions correspond to reality. Again, why? You have never attempted to answer that question. Your basic response is, “Because we have evidence—you don’t.” Wow, that is really helpful as we all sit here and look around at the same evidence.

    The rest of your comments, ironically, almost comically, simply make Fish and mine’s point. Your comments about the Second Coming are laugh-out-loud funny. After all, science tells us all the time that the answer to some quandary (like the mind/brain issue) is coming. Really? When? You need to read Fish’s article again…slowly this time.

    And my responses don’t come from the area of the “law”; they come from centuries of philosophical reflection including the current thinking in these areas and my study in those areas.

    I think Fish is entirely right and you miss the point when you note: “That is fideism, pure and simple,” because Fish is saying such is exactly what the atheist does as well.

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  6. Burk Braun says:

    How can you posit whys when you don't know whats?The atheist makes no positive statement at all, but to profess ignorance, of the why as well as the what, as far as bare existence goes.

    Therein lies the difference- humility before the lack of evidence in this case, and an unwillingness to accept the varied popular and time-honored narcissistic superstitions on the matter.

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  7. Darrell says:

    “…varied popular and time-honored narcissistic superstitions on the matter.”

    My case in point. Thank you.

    Once the atheist says “there is no God” and argues his assertions regarding all areas of life he is no longer professing ignorance.

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  8. Darrell says:

    Whoops, I forgot this: “Therein lies the difference- humility before the lack of evidence in this case…”

    Again, this sidesteps the very issue under discussion. This has nothing to do with a “lack” or abundance of evidence. It has to do with how we interpret the evidence we all have and experience.

    It is rather rich to hear someone talk about everyone else's “narcissistic superstitions” based in ignorance while his own views are based in fact and “evidence” and the notion of “humility” at the same time.

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  9. upwardcall says:

    Burk,

    Your faith in your own agnosticism or atheism or whatever you want to call it exemplifies the very thing you criticize in Christians. A wonderful example of “the pot calling the kettle black.”

    The wonderful thing about it is that the more you protest, the more obvious your faith in your own faithlessness becomes. You can run from it but you can never get rid of it. You are human and humans run properly on high octane faith.

    You are a man of faith whether you like it or not. It is in the spiritual “DNA”.

    “The emperor has no clothes” as the saying goes.

    Please, keep right on proving our about faith. refuting. Keep it up, my faith is growing by the minute.

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  10. Burk Braun says:

    Hi, Upward-

    So, what do I have faith in, pray tell?

    If there is no evidence that something exists, say Xenu of the scientologists, are they correct in citing my “great faith” in not believing in Xenu? Such attempts to equate the unequivalent and paint everyone with the black brush of faith simply won't do.

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  11. upwardcall says:

    Burk,

    Faith is not about what you don't believe in, but what you do believe in. Into what or whose “hands” do you cast your ulitmate trust? From the perspective of what or who do you make your most important decisions — the kind upon which your life depends?

    Not a rhetorical question. A real question. Really. We all have something or someone in which or whom we invest ultimate allegience and therefore trust.

    Sorry but none of us have the option of not doing that as human beings.

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  12. Burk Braun says:

    Hi, Upward-

    I think your axiom is overly broad. I have a perspective, as everyone does. But that perspective need not depend on any “hands”, person, or phantasm. My life depends on nothing but the plain workings of nature, physics, society, etc.

    Nor even do I have any “ultimate” trust in anything- that would be unjustified. Our world might be struck by some cataclysm tomorrow with no wisp left of us, material or immaterial.

    All this trust and faith is quite unnecessary, though I agree that humans tend to indulge in it quite a bit.

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  13. upwardcall says:

    Burk,

    A P.S.

    What are you willing to die for? What are you willing to pour out your life in defense of? On whose behave are you willing to step out and say, “take me instead of him/her?” About what do you ultimately care enough to give your life?

    I am talking about life and death. I am talking about being willing go the distance without recanting… One of my disciplines is to read the accounts of such people in the history of the Church.

    This is the territory where faith can be detected. It is the place where a person is willing, really willing, to be called a fool all day long and still believe.

    I don't pretend to say that everybody has faith in a cause or “God” that you or I would call noble or reasonable or worthy of ultimate trust. I would say that there are people who have faith in things that wind up being destructive and unworthy of ultimate trust and allegience. But, I cannot deny that they have the ultimate allegience however foolish or unworthy or desturctive the object of their faith may be, in my estimation.

    What I am talking about is the existence of an essential need to ultimately trust in something or someone. Everybody does… You do.

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