Faith? Intuition? What?

Because so many of the comments regarding the post “Nagel: A Voice of Reason” brought up the issue of “faith” and “intuition” I thought it might be helpful to re-post the following, which was originally entitled “No Apologies.”

If I were to sum up how I understand my faith (more about that word in a moment) this essay is what I would point towards as a very good example of that understanding. I would hazard to guess that this is very close to what Eric Reitan means as well when he talks about his faith in the Christian narrative or God of the Bible.
Many will completely miss-read and misunderstand the writer’s point about emotions and feelings. He is not simply saying his faith is based upon “feelings” or emotions alone. He has thought this through. His point is that, at the end of the day, we make these sorts of deep-in-our-bones core decisions based on more than 2+2=4 or rational assent to propositions or abstract notions alone. We fall in love for “reasons” that most of us could never fully explain. I dare someone to tell us they married or have been in a long-term relationship with their significant other based upon some calculable algorithm that is entirely rational.
 
Further, everyone else does the very same thing—they just don’t call it or think of it as religious. The atheist dreams, hopes, wonders, sorrows, rages, “feels!”, and carries many dispositions and theories about life that are entirely unprovable in any sort of empirical way as to why he should dream, hope, or sorrow over this or that. That I should emote a certain way about the 1% having more than the 99% cannot be “proved” like one can show that 2+2=4. If someone were to try and show us by graphs, statistics, or equations, that we should emote anger (or joy) over information, we would rightly suggest they immediately go to the nearest ER for a cat scan. Because, of course, their appeal after showing us the graphs, statistics, or equations (information) would be based on the notion that we should feel and emote a certain way—not simply because of the information—but because of an assumption that things should be “ought” as opposed to the “is”. The assumption is that such (an unprovable moral view) is already present and simply waiting to be triggered by the “correct” or “moral” way to interpret the information—the evidence—if you will.
No one can “prove” their love for their spouse, but each knows how they “feel” about the other. Their outward actions, their time together, and other surface factors/indicators are secondary to an inside “faith” or disposition…a feeling…a way of “seeing” and believing the other.
 
As to the word “faith” I am using it in its philosophical/theological sense, which is something most atheists never get. They “hear” and read the word in an entirely different way (they immediately think fideism), which is why they are usually lost in these conversations and make points or strike out in areas completely having nothing to do with anything anyone is saying. Most conversations atheists have are with themselves because we stop listening once we figure out the atheist hasn’t a clue how anyone is using terms or concepts.
 
As I’ve noted ad nauseum, “faith” in these conversations does NOT mean “in spite of or without” evidence or reasons. Faith considers all the evidence and weighs it out reasonably. But faith is that deep decision making process that considers the intangibles along with the tangible. I can have all the evidence, but I still must make a decision. Faith is risky. It is making that decision to love (or forgive) someone for the rest of one’s life, even though one doesn’t know what 10 years will bring, let alone tomorrow. 2+2=4 is certain. Faith is uncertain, but would any of us for that reason say it is any less important or less true? The most important decisions we ever make are never those having to do with certain things like 2+2=4, but those that exceed calculation and thus why the information (the evidence) is critical but always secondary to how my heart (which includes my mind/reason) interprets that evidence.
Faith is the remainder. If we were to use Caputo’s interpretation of Derrida, we would say that faith, like justice, is the thing that cannot be deconstructed. The law can be deconstructed but justice cannot. A law could be just or unjust. Justice is that thing that escapes calculation or certainty. Justice hovers over a law, but a law is never capable of exhausting or capturing justice—and as already noted may not be just at all. Justice may have left it or it may have never touch the law to begin with. We all hope a judge not only understands the law and all the “facts” and “evidence”, but more importantly we hope he or she understands justice. In other words, we hope a judge uses both his head and his heart. A law can be certain (three strikes and you’re out), but justice is risky and uncertain. A judge, upon sentencing a person to life in prison because they have triggered the calculated, literal, empirical, number of offenses (3), might know with his head he followed the law and that reason and the “evidence” were all on his side. However, if his heart and conscious bother (haunt) him as to whether justice was really accomplished then perhaps the ghost of justice now wanders the halls. If a person cannot see this difference, if one cannot see the remainder here, the ghost in the machine, the “faith” element that trumps calculation, trumps the literal, trumps the empirical, trumps the surface, then I feel sorry for that person. They are impoverished, to say the least.
 
Faith presides over (officiates) the marriage of head and heart. It is not opposed to reason nor the heart; it is, rather, the mediator that brings head and heart together—and that is wisdom. We all, the atheist, the theist, and the agnostic, live out of our faith. We all stand on equal ground. To suppose that one is basing their deeply-held core-life views only on the “evidence” while others are basing their lives on some sort of “blind” faith is the height of arrogance and ignorance. Such is the exact opposite of wisdom.
 
It is something we would expect to hear from, as noted in an earlier post, a 15-year-old, who has just started to read some grown-up stuff, and is embarrassingly confident everyone cares or wants to hear their opinion on things grown-ups have been struggling with for centuries. What are we to say to such a person when spouting such abject nonsense? After staring in silence and trying not to laugh in their face, how about: “Go brush your teeth and go to bed—you have school tomorrow.”
 
From the essay:
 
That’s what I think. But it’s all secondary. It all comes limping along behind my emotional assurance that there was mercy, and I felt it. And so the argument about whether the ideas are true or not, which is the argument that people mostly expect to have about religion, is also secondary for me. No, I can’t prove it. I don’t know that any of it is true. I don’t know if there’s a God. (And neither do you, and neither does Professor Dawkins, and neither does anybody. It isn’t the kind of thing you can know. It isn’t a knowable item.) But then, like every human being, I am not in the habit of entertaining only those emotions I can prove. I’d be an unrecognisable oddity if I did. Emotions can certainly be misleading: they can fool you into believing stuff that is definitely, demonstrably untrue. Yet emotions are also our indispensable tool for navigating, for feeling our way through, the much larger domain of stuff that isn’t susceptible to proof or disproof, that isn’t checkable against the physical universe. We dream, hope, wonder, sorrow, rage, grieve, delight, surmise, joke, detest; we form such unprovable conjectures as novels or clarinet concertos; we imagine. And religion is just a part of that, in one sense. It’s just one form of imagining, absolutely functional, absolutely human-normal. It would seem perverse, on the face of it, to propose that this one particular manifestation of imagining should be treated as outrageous, should be excised if (which is doubtful) we can manage it.
But then, this is where the perception that religion is weird comes in. It’s got itself established in our culture, relatively recently, that the emotions involved in religious belief must be different from the ones involved in all the other kinds of continuous imagining, hoping, dreaming, and so on, that humans do. These emotions must be alien, freakish, sad, embarrassing, humiliating, immature, pathetic. These emotions must be quite separate from commonsensical us. But they aren’t. The emotions that sustain religious belief are all, in fact, deeply ordinary and deeply recognisable to anybody who has ever made their way across the common ground of human experience as an adult.
 
It’s just that the emotions in question are rarely talked about apart from their rationalisation into ideas. This is what I have tried to do in my new book, Unapologetic. Ladies and gentlemen! A spectacle never before attempted on any stage! Before your very eyes, I shall build up from first principles the simple and unsurprising structure of faith. Nothing up my left sleeve, nothing up my right sleeve, except the entire material of everyday experience. No tricks, no traps, ladies and gentlemen; no misdirection and no cheap rhetoric. You can easily look up what Christians believe in. You can read any number of defences of Christian ideas. This, however, is a defence of Christian emotions – of their intelligibility, of their grown-up dignity. The book is called Unapologetic because it isn’t giving an “apologia”, the technical term for a defence of the ideas.
 
And also because I’m not sorry.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Faith? Intuition? What?

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Darrell-

    “My belief is made of, built up from, sustained by, emotions like that. That's what makes it real.”

    I like classical music too, but what kind of an argument is this?

    “We fall in love for “reasons” that most of us could never fully explain. I dare someone to tell us they married or have been in a long-term relationship with their significant other based upon some calculable algorithm that is entirely rational.”

    Precisely. So we are emotional, intutitive creatures. Does that mean our philosophies have to be likewise emotional and intuitive, or can we ask for a smidgeon more reason to them?

    “As I’ve noted ad nauseum, “faith” in these conversations does NOT mean “in spite of or without” evidence or reasons. Faith considers all the evidence and weighs it out reasonably. But faith is that deep decision making process that considers the intangibles along with the tangible.”

    I.e. intuition, right? The whole glory of our conscious and modern existence is, beyond the additional stuff and emotions we can access, our ability to reason through and even against our intuitions, coming to new and more deeply insightful realizations. I.e knowledge and philosophically valid inference.

    There is no doubt that we need to jump into some things with faith, as you note. But bad philosophy is not one of them. Inferring god is very much icing on the existential cake, not necessary, and indeed not indicated by evidence at all. It takes the kind of faith we do not really need- the blind kind.

    “If a person cannot see this difference, if one cannot see the remainder here, the ghost in the machine, the “faith” element that trumps calculation, trumps the literal, trumps the empirical, trumps the surface, then I feel sorry for that person. They are impoverished, to say the least.”

    Oh, good heavens, how sentimental. We all have emotions and intuitions- I will stipulate that. That does not mean we have to believe in unnecessary fairy tales. We can sensitively deal with justice without taking on all the baggage of theology.

    “It all comes limping along behind my emotional assurance that there was mercy, and I felt it.”

    There- an unreasoning intuition, from which he infers the whole ball of theological and historical hokum. I have nothing against his personal belief and attachment, but as philosophy and as the several sciences of prayer, historical analysis, supernatural inference, and the rest of it, it is a sorry unfounded mess.

    Like

  2. RonH says:

    Hey, Burk…

    Inferring god is very much icing on the existential cake

    Yes! I love icing on cake!! My youngest son only eats icing, in fact. Might have a point there.

    Remember, Burk: Good news!

    Like

  3. RonH says:

    BTW, speaking of both Justin Brierley and Spufford, the Unbelievable? podcast recently ran a conversation between Spufford and Philip Pullman. I'd never heard of Spufford. Pullman I knew from the Dark Materials stuff (saw the film, haven't read the books) and a few bits and snatches I'd read on the internet, although he sounded much more pleasant in real life.

    Like

  4. Ron

    re: the icing, my young sons delight in Santa Claus: the narrative adds immeasurable to their lives. I both think my boys should believe in Santa, and that the belief is unreasonable.

    Bernard

    Like

  5. Hi Darrell

    Here's a thing that always confuses me, and perhaps it's no more complicated than people using the word belief in different ways.

    You speak eloquently of the emotional equivalents to religious commitment that make up our every day lives. As an example, you mention one's love for one's spouse, suggesting I think that knowledge of our love comes to us in a way analogous to religious faith. And I'm missing something here because I don't see the comparison.

    Can I speak with confidence of my love for another person? Yes, sure. Why? Because I am reporting upon an internal feeling, to which I have direct access. I am saying, I believe I am experiencing a particular feeling. In the same way a religious person may report, without fear of contradiction, that they are indeed experiencing a feeling of oneness with creation. This is a reasonable thing to report.

    Now, I've always assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that when a person reports they believe in God, they are referring to something more than the experience they are having. They are making a claim about how the world actually is, namely that God exists (as opposed to the claim that feelings about God exist, which few would challenge).

    Now, when we assess whether the person loves us back, we are indeed making a leap of faith. But I would suggest that requiring evidence to lend support to the proposition that somebody loves you is a socially prudent step, the reason the older generation feel it their duty to provide cautious advice in the face of youthful exuberance.

    Bernard

    Like

  6. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    “My belief is made of, built up from, sustained by, emotions like that. That's what makes it real.”

    “I like classical music too, but what kind of an argument is this? “

    You miss the point. A “belief” is different from a preference.

    “Precisely. So we are emotional, intutitive creatures. Does that mean our philosophies have to be likewise emotional and intuitive, or can we ask for a smidgeon more reason to them?”

    You miss the point. No one is saying this is a philosophy based upon intuition or emotions. In fact, the whole point of the post was to say the very opposite. Simply put, our philosophy is never divorced from our reason or logic. However, we are holistic persons, and one is a fool if he thinks he is not making decisions where his emotions, experience, and “gut” if you will, are not playing a key role as well. Once a person has employed his logic, reason, and philosophical powers, he must still make a decision (or withhold judgment). However, it is here, in questions of this nature, that he must reflect upon how he is touched or feels about it. He must ask questions about its beauty, narrative power, and how compelling it is, holistically. So, whether the theist, atheist, or agnostic—at this point we are coming to our conclusions (even if the conclusion is “I don’t know.”), by faith.

    “I.e. intuition, right? The whole glory of our conscious and modern existence is, beyond the additional stuff and emotions we can access, our ability to reason through and even against our intuitions, coming to new and more deeply insightful realizations. I.e knowledge and philosophically valid inference.”

    I don’t really like using the word “intuition” for this very reason. It is too freighted with meanings I don’t think apply here, which is why I think the word “faith” is better. And of course it touches on our emotions and so forth, but again, it encompasses our logic, reason, and philosophy. But the whole point is that clearly we are talking about more than “just” intuition or emotion.

    “There is no doubt that we need to jump into some things with faith, as you note.”

    I note no such thing. No one is “jumping” into anything. Again, you think of “faith” incorrectly here. What I want to know is how you can read the post and the essay and think that somehow we are saying jettison logic, reason, and one’s philosophy and just intuit your way forward? And that you cannot address the remainder issue, like justice, as opposed to a law, tells us much.

    The rest of your responses are question- begging, at best. Clearly you either do not understand what is being asserted or you are unable to address it.

    Like

  7. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    But in that very creation, where you acknowledge, that it would be reasonable to report a subjective/objective response (and creation is a real physical presence), we do have “evidence” if you will—of a response that someone loves us. And, that response is encapsulated in the Gospel narrative. You may not believe it. You may not think it credible. It may not be compelling to you. And yet, there it is. The “Good News” is that God came to us. Humbled himself. Became one of us. Suffered. Died. A person can be moved by a narrative just as he can be moved by the physical presence of someone.

    And you presume correctly. When the believer subjectively responds to his experience, the human experience, the physical universe, others, and the Gospel narrative, he finds his subjective experience corresponds or matches how the objective world “really” is or, more importantly, is supposed to be.

    But, I would really like you to engage the other deeper aspects of the post and the essay. It seems to address many of the issues you bring up.

    Like

  8. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    Just to echo one of RonH's points. I don't think you or anyone has satisfactorily shown how the atheist or agnostic is not also making his final decision (after considering his logic, reason, emotions, experience, history, and philosophy) by faith or intuition.

    Thus, are you saying your intuition is superior?

    Like

  9. Hi Darrell

    I think our key difference is simply this. For those stances which require me to reach beyond the shared stock of evidence and lines of reasoning, (where comparative likelihoods can not be assigned) I assume no truth value for the narrative conclusion. I may say, here is a way of thinking about the world that I enjoy, but I not claim further that this thinking reflects any aspect of reality (beyond the reality of my preferences).

    In this sense, it is unfair to claim that we all use 'faith' in the process of modelling and interacting with our world. Because there is an alternative available, (we can own narrative as nothing more than an expression of personal preference) we are able to make a clear distinction between faith-based and non-faith based approaches.

    I think it is precisely this distinction that many atheistic commentators are getting at, which is why we might wish to take the point seriously before dismissing their claims as juvenile.

    Note, this doesn't imply there are no intuitive leaps required for me. There is at least two crucial points, regarding knowability, where I do make such leaps – that there is an underlying reality, that it exhibits sufficient regularity to make prediction meaningful. Which is to say, I find it reasonable to state that the sun is hot, as I think we all do. But as you rightly note, the crucial point is how we then interpret the data we thus construct.

    Bernard

    Like

  10. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    Here is an example of where we definitely part ways and where it becomes clear you still do not understand what “narrative” means in the sense I am using it and how it is used in the literature, at least where it addresses questions of this type.

    You still assume that “narrative” means a preferred fictional story or something made-up to help us process information. It goes much deeper than that. “Narratives” make up the story about what each of us “really” believes true about ourselves, humanity, and the physical universe. In other words, there is nothing more true for each of us than the narrative we inhabit. My claim is that we all inhabit one and it has the last word in our lives about what it true.

    What I am proposing to you, is that your agnosticism is your true belief about how the world really is and part of that belief system is a bar or measure that “God” or transcendence would have to meet before it can become part of your narrative. And what I am saying is that your bar or measure process is part and parcel of the narrative you believe in, which is really just the standard scientific skepticism and soft empiricism of our time. This is so clear from your articulations and defense of agnosticism that I’m surprised I would even need point it out.

    And that standard scientific skepticism and soft empiricism is a narrative and it is faith-based. Is it faith-based when the question is: Is the sun hot? No. But so what? That isn't what we are talking about. We are talking about a narrative that also tries to address questions of existence. And when the question is: Does God exist? If the answer is: “I don’t know and I don’t think anyone can know?” then one is answering from within a faith-based narrative and is giving a faith-based answer.

    Rather than seeing this as an issue of superiority, why not try and see it as an issue of common ground. In questions of this nature, we all stand by faith. I believe by faith. You believe we can’t know, by faith. Burk believes God doesn't exist, by faith.

    By the way, I would still like you to engage the entire post and essay as it, as noted already, seems to address these questions.

    Like

  11. Hi Darrell

    Fascinating. This is your central claim, isn't it? That a faith-based narrative is essential before we can pass judgement on things like knowability. And we do differ on this. Before you dismiss me as simply wrong, however, perhaps you would do me the service of considering why I (and many others) take this stance.

    So, you agree that we can, without recourse to a faith based judgement, agree that the sun is hot. This implies some system of gathering knowledge (via shared evidence and accepted lines of deuctive/inductive knowledge) does exist.

    Now, my claim regarding knowledge about God is only that the methods used to establish the heat of the sun do not apply to the existence of God. And we agree on this. This is not narrative based, in that it is a deductive argument, challenging the logical validity of those who attempt to prove from first principles the existence or non-existence of God.

    You and I agree on this, and we may well both be wrong. But if we are wrong, it will be because our reasoning is faulty (and given the complexity of the philosophy involved, we shouldn't rule this out), not because of some aspect of our faith-narrative.

    Now I make a further deductive step, which is to say if a person believes God exists, or doesn't exist, they must lean upon a faith-based narrative to do so. This, it seems to be, can be logically inferred from our prior assertion that non-narrative thinking (that thinking which deliversup the heat of the sun) can't do the trick.

    And that's all I'm claiming regarding knowability. Hence, your claim that my stance on the knowability of God is faith-based appears to be incorrect. My question then becomes, can you see a place in the reasoning I'm offering where faith, rather than shared standards of evidence and logic, is coming into play?

    In general I agree with you regarding the role of narrative, but I think you are perhaps overenthusiastic in applying it. There is, we both agree, a realm of knowledge untouched by contested narrative (e.g the sun again) and what you would need to show is precisely how the case I am advancing moves beyond the boundaries of that realm. Over to you.

    Bernard

    Like

  12. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “Now, my claim regarding knowledge about God is only that the methods used to establish the heat of the sun do not apply to the existence of God. And we agree on this. This is not narrative based, in that it is a deductive argument, challenging the logical validity of those who attempt to prove from first principles the existence or non-existence of God.”

    No, the fact that we cannot settle the two questions the same way is indeed narrative based. The materialist believes, because of the narrative he inhabits, that they must be settled the same way. It is not a deductive argument at all. It is a philosophical argument that recognizes philosophical category errors. God is not an object like the sun or a force like heat.

    “Now I make a further deductive step, which is to say if a person believes God exists, or doesn't exist, they must lean upon a faith-based narrative to do so. This, it seems to be, can be logically inferred from our prior assertion that non-narrative thinking (that thinking which deliversup the heat of the sun) can't do the trick.”

    “And that's all I'm claiming regarding knowability. Hence, your claim that my stance on the knowability of God is faith-based appears to be incorrect.”

    Bernard, please re-read your two above assertions here. Unless I am incapable of basic reading comprehension, they seem to be completely contradictory. In the first assertion, you say the very same thing I am saying: “…which is to say if a person believes God exists, or doesn't exist, they must lean upon a faith-based narrative to do so.”-which you seem to agree with.

    But then you write: “Hence, your claim that my stance on the knowability of God is faith-based appears to be incorrect.”

    What? You’ve lost me here.

    Like

  13. Thanks for your patience Darrell, we are perilously close to understanding one another.

    You say the fact that two questions can not be settled the same way is narrative based. In what sense? You and I both claim that physical evidence can not be used to establish the existence of the metaphysical (but it can be used to establish physical models). I think one can deduce one's way to this conclusion, are you arguing this can't be done?

    You then state that the materialist believes they must be settled the same way. And that this requires a faith-based narrative. Maybe so. But I don't believe that. Not at all.

    With regard to the apparent contradiction, I am neither a theist nor an atheist. I make no claims regarding the truth status of the proposition God exists. I claim, in order to make statements of belief of this nature, one must lean on faith narratives. But I, as far as I can tell, am making no such statement of belief. I don't believe there is no God. Nor do I believe there is a God. Nor do I believe agnosticism is more reasonable than theism or atheism. What is this thing you think I believe, with regard to God, that forces the contradiction?

    Bernard

    Like

  14. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    If it were that easy to “deduce” the fact that we cannot settle questions like “Is the sun hot?” and “Does God exist?” in the same way, then why hasn't Burk deduced such? I can tell you why. Because the narrative he inhabits will not let him. I would assume you agree that most reasonable adult people, with normal educations, can use basic powers of deduction. They why this discussion? Why the fact that so many clearly do not “deduce” the difference? It’s not that it’s impossible; it’s the matter that it requires some abstract philosophical understanding. It requires a narrative that allows for the difference.

    “You then state that the materialist believes they must be settled the same way. And that this requires a faith-based narrative. Maybe so. But I don't believe that. Not at all.”

    Here is the problem. If I ask you why you don’t believe such, you will begin to, what?…spin a narrative…. And your “why” your “story” will consist of reasons, arguments, articulations, ummm, philosophies! Narrative. It is impossible to escape my friend. In fact, throughout this conversation you have been sharing a narrative of “why.” As already noted, it is the standard modern western narrative of the superiority of science and a soft empiricism (Enlightenment-Scientific Revolution-narrative).

    Bernard, I think you are trying your best to privilege your view here. You want to believe that the theist and atheist are coming to their conclusions, ultimately, by faith (as I've described faith-I hope!). And you would be correct. But you want to create another space to inhabit, where you can feel you are different. That somehow you have escaped this conundrum and have come to your conclusion (agnosticism), by way of deduction or some other concrete evidential/logical basis. That is what I hear, anyhow, in your responses. If you feel the need to do this, it is fine with me, really. I will still believe you’re coming to your agnosticism by way of faith, by way of a narrative; we will just disagree on this. To me it makes more sense that we acknowledge, when it comes to these type questions, that we all start from this common ground. And it could be though that as we continue the conversation, one of us may change our opinion, either way.

    I think we all want safety. We don’t want to play the fool. We want to know that our beliefs are sound, rational, logical, and sure. And if we can’t have that, we don’t want to put our “neck” out there—so to speak. It is almost like the young man at the dance. He wants to ask that girl across the way, but what will she answer? Maybe “yes” maybe “no.” And he can’t live with that. So he reasons it is better not to ask at all—it is better not to know.

    I just think such is a poor way to live and I think we are fooling only ourselves with such an approach. Sometimes the most rational, logical, and sound thing one can do is give themselves to something that is mysterious and not certain. I think that’s called love. And why would we ever want to be agnostic about that or anything similar?

    Like

  15. Hi Darrell

    If you are right, you will be able to show me where narrative kicks in. So here's the challenge. Show me one thing you think I believe, that can not be established using the the same combination of deduction/evidence that we use to establish, say, the distance of the earth from the sun.

    To answer your implicit challenge, how does one deduce that physical and metaphysical questions can not be answered in the same way? Well, we observe the method by which physical questions are settled, and note the role played by shared data, i.e repeatable experiment. We then turn to metaphysical questions and note no such shared evidence (or interpretation of it) exists (straight observation). Hence we conclude, off the back of this observation, that the same method does not work.

    Burk, by the way, accepts this. In fact, it is the central plank of the case he makes objecting to religious conclusions.

    So, while one may claim there needs to be a narrative in place to settle such philosophical differences, I am claiming that accepted rules of logic and evidence will get us there.

    Are you able, beyond suggesting that narrative is involved, to show me precisely where it is involved in this, or any other case of my beliefs you might choose? If you can't, then you will perhaps understand my scepticism?

    The boy at the dance, of course, may act through hope without believing. Indeed, I find this an excellent and rewarding strategy, although on this matter, absolutely, each to their own, and I respect that here our tastes diverge.

    Bernard

    Like

  16. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “If you are right, you will be able to show me where narrative kicks in. So here's the challenge. Show me one thing you think I believe, that can not be established using the the same combination of deduction/evidence that we use to establish, say, the distance of the earth from the sun.”

    Well, you can’t believe the question of God’s existence is unknowable (I think you believe that) the same way you can deductively conclude the sun is so many miles from the sun. I thought we went through this? The narrative kicking in has been obvious throughout your responses here and on Eric’s blog. Again, am I saying anything here that is not fairly clear? I’m at a loss again.

    “Well, we observe the method by which physical questions are settled, and note the role played by shared data, i.e repeatable experiment. We then turn to metaphysical questions and note no such shared evidence (or interpretation of it) exists (straight observation). Hence we conclude, off the back of this observation, that the same method does not work.”

    “Burk, by the way, accepts this. In fact, it is the central plank of the case he makes objecting to religious conclusions.”

    Yes, but you are leaving out a very important point. Burk then (and you as well) then makes the further claim, by faith, that such “means” (note the interpretation here) that metaphysical questions can never rise to the level of “truth” or lead us to believe in God, or, in your case, lead us to believe that we can know either way. The narrative that Burk inhabits leads him to believe that because the method does not work for both questions (the only method available to us to know what is true!), then we should conclude that God does not exist, because the belief does not meet my bar, which is knowing in the same way we can know something like the distance to the sun. So who cares if he accepts the difference? What he does with the difference is what matters here.

    “So, while one may claim there needs to be a narrative in place to settle such philosophical differences, I am claiming that accepted rules of logic and evidence will get us there.”

    If that were true, then are you saying that RonH, me, and the great majority of people do not use or understand the “accepted rules of logic and evidence?” That seems to be exactly what Burk is saying. And again, then why the issue at all? You could just teach us the rules of logic and evidence, right?

    Remember, it is exactly this “narrative” business I am speaking of that informs how we will use, view, understand, and apply the result of using the “accepted rules of logic and evidence.” We interpret these things differently when it comes to questions like those discussed here.

    Again, it appears to me, you are trying to carve out a place that doesn't exist—a place outside of a greater narrative.

    Like

  17. Hi Darrell

    No, I don't believe the question of God's existence is unknowable. Only that the knowledge can not be obtained via the same methods we use to obtain our knowledge of the physical world.

    So where's the narrative?

    Bernard

    Like

  18. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “No, I don't believe the question of God's existence is unknowable. Only that the knowledge can not be obtained via the same methods we use to obtain our knowledge of the physical world.”

    First of all, a narrative is always and already present. Second, we agree that the knowledge cannot be obtained the same way. That is not the issue. The issue is that you then interpret such to mean that we cannot say anything “true” about those types of questions—those that are the focus of this blog and ones like Eric.

    Your interpretation is narrative driven, because it derives from those things you already believe as I have pointed out already (Enlightenment/Scientific Revolution/Empiricism). You have articulated them very well.

    What am I missing?

    Like

  19. Burk Braun says:

    Darrell-

    So what I am hearing is that you believe that your metaphysical methods can indeed provide truths that supply sufficient warrant so that you can “believe” in your conclusions about supernaturalism, god, etc. Which I will note contravene regular scientific understandings in quite a few instances, but that is another matter.

    Over the years, I have heard that this method comprises something like “faith”, “everything in my life”, as well as the mystical navel-located feelings that Eric traffics in. Perhaps love is another method. Is that really the philosophical epistemology that gives you these earthshaking cosmological truths?

    If so, that is what Bernard is interested in hearing- how this warrant actually works. For all the theology that has been spilled on this question, here and elsehwere, it is still thoroughly mystifying to an onlooker how this can be called reasonable.

    I realize that to the shamanically inclined, this mystical inference seems like the most “reasonable” thing in the world, but that is the whole idea of epsitemology, to categorize our various resources of knowledge in a realistic way, reflecting not their popularity, but their track record.

    Like

  20. Hi Darrell

    If a narrative is always and already present, then we can not establish any knowledge independent of narrative, including the distance from the earth to the sun. However, I think we can establish this independent of narrative, which is to say we will agree on the distance no matter what our narrative background. So it's not enough to say there's always a narrative in play.

    Now, eventually I'll tire of pointing this out, but the agnostic does not say we can not say anything true about God's existence. Either God exists or He doesn't, which means either theists or atheists are indeed saying something true about it.

    So, the interpretation you charge me of is not one I am making, simple as that.

    What I do conclude, purely through observation, is that when narratives are applied to the existence of God, they come up with a wide range of often contradictory answers. We can simply compare atheistic, Christian. Hindu and Muslim explanations and observe the divergence. No narrative in play here.

    And, given this divergence, belief requires us to assume our own narrative has delivered up the correct answer, while alternative narratives have failed, without being able to show why this has occurred. This is the bit I, and I suspect Burk, are uncomfortable with.

    This discomfort is a matter of personal taste, I make no claims about its truth properties.

    So, again, can you find a claim I am indeed making regarding God's existence that is narrative dependent? My claim is that you can't, but I remain open to counter examples.

    Bernard

    Like

  21. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    I think we clearly are not using the idea or word “narrative” in the same way. I frankly have no idea, at this point, how you are using it. I did not come up with my conception. I am referencing the framing of the idea as it has arisen over the years through the writings of postmodern philosophers and others. Outside that understanding, we clearly are talking past each other. Whether you agree with the postmodern conception or not, you would at least have to understand it, and work within it, to understand and carry on a conversation like this one. Hopefully I can do a better job of articulating that concept in future posts. I think for now, we will simply have to agree to disagree.

    Just as an aside, I find it utterly amazing that one would expend any effort whatsoever engaging others over a personal preference or taste issue. I would not waste a single second engaging someone seriously over the fact they liked Jazz and I did not. I could care less in the slightest. I might politely listen to their reasons and appreciate their view, but I wouldn't for a moment try and tell them I thought their view distasteful or “wrong” somehow.

    So that you would engage the way you do on this blog, on Eric’s, and perhaps on others as well over a matter of taste to you—a preference like preferring white wine over red—is really fairly incredible. Like I said, I wouldn't waste a single second over such things other than in the most informal perfunctory way—the way we might make casual conversation with someone at a Christmas party for instance.

    Now, you may say, “Exactly, and what I don’t understand are those people, like you and Burk, who make their 'preferences' or differing 'tastes' into universally true and accurate pictures of the world—true for everyone.” Well, first of all, that you would view such as a matter of “taste” or personal “preference” is a view that could only come from a narrative—a comprehensive way of looking at the world—that allows you to categorize some things into matters of “taste” and others into matters of “TRUE” truth. And remember you are also running afoul of Burk's question: “I like classical music too, but what kind of an argument is this?”

    In other words, you give yourself away, every time you articulate these things.

    That is all for now—I’m happy to let you have the last word on this thread. If I feel your response needs to be addressed, I will take it up in a further post. Thank you for all your thoughtful responses.

    To you, RonH, and yes, even Burk, I wish a very Merry Christmas.

    Like

  22. RonH says:

    Hi Darrell…

    As a spectator, I'd be interested to see you and Bernard work through this. I'm not entirely clear on the boundaries of “narrative” here, but I have to concede that Bernard may have a point. Atheism is, indeed, the assertion of a narrative, i.e. naturalism. What's more, most “agnostics” I've run across ultimately admit that, while God's (non)existence is impossible to know, they suspect God doesn't exist and live accordingly — in other words, “soft” atheism. If I read him aright, Bernard isn't going that far, and thus appears to hold the most consistent agnosticism I've personally encountered.

    Now, Bernard may have some narrative to the extent that he believes the physical world to be intelligible through science. However, this is a narrative all of us on this blog apparently share, and thus isn't particularly interesting. Burk's narrative goes further, asserting positively that the physical world is all there is. Our narrative extends in the other direction, asserting positively that the physical world isn't all there is. But Bernard refuses to collapse this superposition at all.

    Are these three distinct narratives? Are these one “base” narrative with two factions (but not the third) building onto it? It sounds like you're approaching the question from the first perspective, while Bernard sees the second. If that's the case, I could see Bernard's resistance to the term “faith”, as even to me faith implies some sort of positive action beyond the base narrative we may share. Faith may be the evidence of things not seen, as Hebrews 11 says, but seen things are their own evidence and do not involve faith.

    Many apologies if I'm misrepresenting anyone's views. This seems like an interesting point of disagreement and might be worth exploring.

    Thanks for the provocative blogging, Darrell. Merry Christmas!

    Like

  23. Darrell says:

    RonH,

    Good points all around. I will try and post (or re-post) some things that unpack what I mean by the word “narrative.” Also see my last response regarding “tastes” and “preferences.”

    Cheers.

    Like

  24. Hi Darrell

    I certainly would like to continue the conversation at some stage, but fully understand your frustration at this point.

    I suspect we're not using narrative differently at all, but rather in our attempts to tease apart how the term applies to this conversation, we're veering down different paths.

    For the record, I think of narrative as the overarching framework within which we think. Not a story added on to our thinking, but rather the cultural superstructure upon which all of our thoughts, feelings and beliefs function. I doubt this is far from your own definition.

    All I've been attempting to do is explore what happens when we distinguish between those beliefs that are impervious to narrative, that all narratives accommodate (we often call these facts – our belief that the earth is round etc and I would suggest it claims also the rules of deductive and inductive reasoning) and those which are apparently highly sensitive to narrative shifts (and spiritual belief seems a strong candidate here).

    The agnostic's approach (or at least my version of it) is to resist narrative-sensitive beliefs. My claim is that we can build a coherent world view in this way. Yes, we still rely upon our shared narratives to do it, Kant was right to observe that human thought is trapped within certain paradigms (time, place, causation), but given the shared nature of these narratives, the problem of priviliging doesn't arise.

    My personal intellectual heroes are those ancient Greeks who, upon observing the variety of belief systems as they came into contact with new cultures, concluded that perhaps there was no way of deciding between them: 'The fire burns the same way everywhere, but the law of the land differs from place to place.' Protagoras, 5th century BC.

    Wishing you a happy and holy Christmas, this is a time of year when your personal narrative pays dividends! All the best.

    Bernard

    Like

Comments are closed.