Privileging?

This is a further reply to Bernard, who stakes out some interesting ground for the reasons behind his agnosticism, which are in the various threads of comments on several of my last posts.  I need to say up front that I think Bernard has a very reflective and thoughtful take on his position.  All I can do is respond to what I think I “hear” in Bernard’s reasoning.  I may be way off base.  Also, even though I think Bernard to be off base here, I respect his honesty and the reasonable tone he keeps throughout.  I think one thing Bernard is keen on doing is bringing some humility to these questions.  What I am going to suggest though, is that there may be some hidden and unrecognized privileging going on that perhaps Bernard has never noticed or thought about.  I don’t think it is overt or even intentional.  I think it may just be there hiding in the shadows and part of the many unexamined presuppositions that we all have and carry with us.  Here is the last quote from Bernard where he speaks of the reasons behind his agnosticism:

“The reasons I withhold belief at this point is because I have no taste for some of the logical implications of committing to one or other belief (theism or atheism). I don’t think it’s wrong to believe, there’s no should involved, but when I examine the implications, which I claim as logical necessities, I find myself thinking ‘I’d rather not… Because one of my claimed implications is the need to privilege one’s own beliefs”

First, I would suggest there are reasons (the “implications” you speak of) it bothers you (doesn’t suit your taste—or doesn’t sit well with you) that to commit to either belief or unbelief suggests, to you at least, that we must privilege one narrative over another if we were to choose.  I would suggest to you that such a line of reasoning alone is a narrative based sensibility.  It is hardly a coincidence that your “taste” happens to fit within the modern western sensibility (which is narrative driven) that “private” beliefs must remain so and to “privilege” one over the other as being true in a “public” way is just wrong or unwise, for various reasons.   There are still “reasons” behind the distaste you feel at what you think is “privileging” one narrative over another.  Of course, this even begs the question because it assumes you are in a neutral objective position to “grant” truth to this or that narrative—to even give it privilege.  It posits one as the referee, the umpire.  We should ask: How did you come to be thus?  That is the modern conceit.  We imagine we are neutral objective observers granting or taking away “privilege” based upon whether or not something “sits well with us”, or, if we are talking about some meaningful issue (like God’s existence, good, evil)—whether or not it might actually be true or false or even a serious matter.

I have already noted that I think using the word “taste” or “preference” to be inappropriate (because of dictionary meaning, common usage, and context) in this conversation (and using such already indicates a narrative source—more about that in a bit), but let’s allow it for a second.  The word “taste” is a loaded word.  I’m not sure if you are using it sometimes to mean “certain positions don’t sit well with me—I don’t feel good about them,” or if you mean poor or bad taste in the sense of laughing during a funeral.  I think either use reveals much regarding hidden presuppositions.  Even cultural matters of taste ( in either sense) are narrative driven although they address secondary matters that people care about but would never die for or would move them to overcome great obstacles or bring deep change to a culture (war, civil rights, slavery, poverty, etc.,).  People might consider it bad taste to spit (or not “feel” good about doing the same) on the sidewalk.  Where did that come from?  Were we born with that sense of bad taste or sensibility?   No, we were acculturated from within a grander narrative, part of which, included what counts as good or bad taste—or what should “sit well with us”.  Something to consider: Why isn’t a logical implication of your position that if one believes one narrative to be truer than another- it is in “bad” taste—or they should feel uncomfortable doing so?  Even on this secondary and rather meaningless level, how is that still not privileging your position?  It could even be interpreted as a sort of cultural snobbery—again the word “taste” carries all sorts of baggage.  Is it possible this is a hidden, unintentional, and just different type of privileging?

Another issue with using words like “taste” and “preference,” is that it, a-priori, signals that one doesn’t even believe the issue under discussion rises to any level of seriousness.  To use those words telegraphs that issues like those discussed here, God’s existence, issues of good, evil, beauty, and meaning, do not even rise to the level of being different than a discussion over what type of wine is better or if it “sits well with us” to choose a French wine over a Napa Valley wine.  When one says he doesn’t want to decide whether or not jazz is better than classical music because he thinks it would be in bad taste—or he doesn’t have the taste for choosing—we would all agree that such was a rational response.  Why?  Because no one really cares which one is better, other than on the most meaningless level.  It is an irrelevant choice ultimately.  Everyone knows that all such decisions are subjective matters of taste.  To then approach the issue of God’s existence in the same way, already tells us that the person believes that choosing between atheism and theism is sort of like choosing between jazz or classical music.

We don’t privilege the truth that the earth is flat.  We recognize the truth already present.  To assume that it is different with matters of God’s existence is (besides committing a philosophical category error) to assume that no narrative can be true or a recognition of truth unless it can be proven empirically.  In other words, one is already committed to a way of knowing (empirical) that then automatically leads to having to “grant” or “privilege” one narrative over another, instead of acknowledging that if one were really true—it is a recognition—not a “privileging.” 

Both the atheist and the Christian are saying they “granted” nothing—they “privileged” nothing, but simply were captured by a truth that was already present—was already there.  Truth is not created; it is discovered or revealed.  If one sincerely and deeply believes a narrative to be true, how is that privileging?  Are we to disavow the very thing many of us feel changed our lives for the better or touched us profoundly and deeply, because we might have the bad “taste” (or should feel bad) to not afford the same status to a narrative that is in complete opposition to ours?  In my mind, such would be dishonest and completely in bad “taste.”  It should not “sit well” for any person to do such.  A person who would do so never believed in that narrative in the first place.  He believed in a greater narrative that valued not “privileging” one narrative over another, which is rather ironic if one thinks about it.  The very use of the word “privileging” is freighted with baggage that is entirely narrative driven and sourced.  It assumes that a single narrative cannot capture the truth of existence.  The whole idea of “privileging” one narrative over another is simply the conceit of modernity, in that it still holds the “secular” to be a neutral space from which it can grant this “privilige” to be true.  It is entirely narrative driven. 

Finally, one of the reasons I posit that we all live by faith, that the narratives by which we have been captured cannot be “founded” by a simple appeal to empiricism, is so that one cannot “privilege” their narrative.  If we all stand by faith, in these ultimate questions of existence and meaning, then we all stand on equal ground.  Why would anyone refuse to stand there?  Why would they want to stand over “there” and point out that they are just a neutral, objective, observer who happens to have better “taste” than the rest who have committed?  Now, one might say, “I’m not saying my taste is better, just different.”  To which I am tempted to say, “Really?”  Come on.  Please.  In telling someone that their taste (or feelings about something) is not poor or bad, just different, are we not just being polite?  Isn’t this just a patronizing pat on the head—again, another type of privileging?  Could it be interpreted that way?

I guess what I don’t understand is why you fear or are concerned if agnosticism were found to be narrative driven.  You seem to be saying that you recognize in every other area of your life and beliefs that they are narrative driven (comprehensive world-view that tells a story that you believe is true and makes sense of existence), but in this one area, this one slice, you believe you step outside of that narrative—it is just a matter of taste (or feeling), completely floating outside any narrative.  Untouched.  Pristine.  Does that really seem reasonable?  Why the reticence to admit it is narrative driven?  Do you feel you give something up?  I just don’t understand.  If we take narrative as I have talked about it, as it has been articulated by post-modern philosophers and theologians, why the need, in this one area, to argue that this rather important decision (to be agnostic) remains outside any narrative of meaning.  In fact, if we take “narrative” to mean what I’ve been suggesting it means (comprehensive—and true) then how is this even possible?  At one point, you wrote this regarding what you thought “narrative” meant:

“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.”

It is not far at all.  So how does “taste” escape an “overarching” frame?  You noted “all” our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.  And yet, in this one area, this (bad) “taste” (A feeling? A thought? A belief?) you experience as far as “privileging” one narrative over another, you are telling us it lies outside and escapes the narrative you inhabit?  And at the same time, when we hear your reasons and lines of thought when you address every other area or topic—they spring from the Enlightenment/secular/scientific narrative of modernity.  But we are to believe, in this one tiny area, none of that influences your “taste”? 

Another telling point:  I wouldn’t waste two seconds writing and conversing on a blog over differences of taste or because something just didn’t “sit well” with me.  Who cares?  Why would I waste a second trying to convince someone that the Twilight movies are drivel and a sure sign the demise of Western Civilization is upon us—in other than a cursory way as simple conversation over differences?  Or why waste time trying to convince someone that Hawaii is a better vacation spot than Tahiti?

And yet, you do spend time on the issues discussed on this blog and those like Eric’s.  You are reflective.  You are serious.  You care.  This “privileging” aspect bothers you.  Again, this leads me to believe that all these matters rise to a level far beyond mere taste or preference for you as well.

So that is where I am, as far as what I “hear” you saying and what I can gather.  Again, I could be completely wrong.  I don’t pretend to know your inner thoughts, will, or intentions.  I am simply trying to understand where you are coming from.  I hope I have not misrepresented your position to an unrecognizable degree.  I think you still may have some hidden and unrecognized presuppositions that are completely narrative driven.

And thus is why I still maintain that we all live by faith.
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47 Responses to Privileging?

  1. Burk Braun says:

    “Of course, this even begs the question because it assumes you are in a neutral objective position to “grant” truth to this or that narrative—to even give it privilege. It posits one as the referee, the umpire.”

    Aren't we all in this position with regard to actually factual claims? If a claim has truly logical, compelling support, like the sun being warm, then we are in an objective position to grant it truth. So it isn't our presumption that creates this situation, but the quality of the claim.

    So what Bernard is saying that neither atheism nor belief creates such a position, so the the neutral position is not to involve one's self in all the desiterata of making (believing) one claim or the other, of which, surely on the side of belief, there are very many.

    ” If one sincerely and deeply believes a narrative to be true, how is that privileging? Are we to disavow the very thing many of us feel changed our lives for the better or touched us profoundly and deeply, because we might have the bad “taste” (or should feel bad) to not afford the same status to a narrative that is in complete opposition to ours?”

    But if you can't muster a rational case for that narrative, then no matter your degree of belief and your view of its positivity, the philosophical case for privileging it is very weak, other than by taking a purely subjective route (I like Dickens.. he moves me deeply but may not move you the same way). That is why taste is the model, evidently to your distaste.

    If your claim is about the degree of your belief and your view of the narratives' positivity, then you have all the evidence you need. But if you are trying to make this an argument for the narrative's truth, that isn't going to work, at least to a non-theological philosophy. Is reason a “narrative” as well?

    ” The whole idea of “privileging” one narrative over another is simply the conceit of modernity, in that it still holds the “secular” to be a neutral space from which it can grant this “privilege” to be true. It is entirely narrative driven.”

    Sorry, you are running off the rails here. Many narratives are true, as per science, history, and other critical, rational pursuits. Others are very subjective. Distinctions need to be made. The secular space provides individuals the peace of a neutral ground in civic/political affairs, and the freedom of conscience to hold to minority narratives, especially in religious affairs, but also in science and many other pursuits.

    “Finally, one of the reasons I posit that we all live by faith…”

    But Bernard specifically challenged you to show how he lives by a faith that is not of a trivial sun-comes-up-tomorrow sort. That was the question- do we all live by stunningly unbelieveable faiths, or do some of us not?

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  2. Hi Darrell

    Perhaps it's helpful to take a step back and look at what exactly it is about privileging point of view that I personally have no taste for. It is when we move from what we accept is a personal narrative, to a claim that a particular state of affairs is true. This is because, when we claim something is true, then we are by implication claiming some other thing is untrue. So, to hold that the Christian narrative is correct is to hold that Muslims are on some level incorrect, for example.

    Now, very many times I think other people are incorrect. I think they lack crucial evidence, or their reasoning is faulty. But, when we move into territory where such can not be demonstrated (and some metaphysical claims, say purposeful or purposeless existence, appear to fall into this category) to claim one's view is still, nevertheless, correct, (in other words to form and hold a belief) is to privilege your own world view over that of others.

    Now, you seem to think that just by making this case I am privileging my own world view. Specifically, you wonder if my own distaste for such privileging isn't itself a belief flowing from a world view. And this might be the crux of our difference. My distaste is absolutely a cultural product (as is my distaste for certain types of literature), and with regard to our tastes, I have no problem privileging my own over others, because these tastes apply only to me (and here's where my relativist view of tastes kicks in). If I say I prefer ice cream to cake, I am not implying that you should too, or that there is something wrong with your taste if you disagree.

    It is this contrast with belief, where my belief that A is true forces me to conclude those who believe B are incorrect, that answers your challenge in this case.

    To repeat, and I've put this challenge a few times now, what is the belief you think I hold, that by the very act of holding it, privileges my world view over those who believe differently? A single counter example will collapse my case, and this is where, respectfully, I'd focus my attention if I were you. I say this with no real confidence, there may well be counter examples and I very much want to know about them.

    Finally, and I've said this many times, I do not think that religion is simply a matter of taste, like taste in music, with no truth underlying it. Quite the contrary. In all likelihood, God either exists or he doesn't. This is in contrast with the perfect chocolate cake, or the ideal poem, which I suspect, due respect to Platonists, makes little sense. My taste decision refers not to the truth or otherwise of theological statements, but to the desirability or otherwise of a certain type of privileging. Whether or not this is desirable is, I would claim, only relatively true (not true for me, might be true for you).

    Bernard

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  3. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    Clearly, we will need to move on and hope that further communication will bring more to light here. It appears I will just be repeating myself here:

    “It is when we move from what we accept is a personal narrative, to a claim that a particular state of affairs is true.”

    This already moves beyond what I have pointed out over and over now regarding how I am using the term “narrative” and how it is used in the literature. They are not “personal” stories. They are those comprehensive “overarching” meta-articulations of what we really, deeply, and sincerely believe is true about existence and they become the narratives of entire cultures.

    “Now, very many times I think other people are incorrect. I think they lack crucial evidence, or their reasoning is faulty. But, when we move into territory where such can not be demonstrated…”

    I addressed this in my post and your reasoning here is completely narrative driven. It is to believe that only those claims that can be “demonstrated” in a specific way (empirical) can be true. How is that not privileging your view? This is the belief I think you hold. I thought this is what I had been pointing out over and over???

    This is the modern secular Enlightenment/scientific story that assumes it is the public, neutral, objective arbiter of any narrative that arises from “subjective” “personal” private, religious or spiritual sources and cannot be proved empirically or by “right” reason.

    “To repeat, and I've put this challenge a few times now, what is the belief you think I hold, that by the very act of holding it, privileges my world view over those who believe differently?”

    I believe I did in this current post and I believe I have in this response. What am I missing?

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  4. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    I followed your exchange on another post and it's very interesting to see how difficult it is to be understood, especially when coming from so different places. Now, this is your conversation and I don't want to interfere. But perhaps, as you hinted in the other thread, a comment form an outsider could be useful.

    Bernard writes:

    But, when we move into territory where such can not be demonstrated […] to claim one's view is still, nevertheless, correct, […] is to privilege your own world view over that of others.

    You interpret this as equivalent to:

    […] your reasoning […] is to believe that only those claims that can be “demonstrated” in a specific way (empirical) can be true.

    These statements say very different things. Bernard's certainly doesn't say that only “empirically demonstrated” claims can be true – you seem to read much more than he actually writes. Perhaps sorting out this small point would be useful.

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  5. HI Darrell

    I enjoy your perseverance, and shall attempt to match it.

    You raise two points here. On the first, JP is absolutely correct. I do not hold that only things that can be demonstrated in a specific way can be true. Far from it. And so I am as careful as I can be to formulate my statements such that it can't be interpreted as such. The quote you provide from me does not suggest any such thing. I was trying only to point out that, as you agree, some of our foundational 'facts' are based upon certain standards of reasoning and evidence. You and I agree the sun is hot simply because some conclusions are not particularly narrative sensitive.

    I do not say, however, that when we move beyond our shared understandings, we are necessarily leaving truth behind. I am saying only, as we move into interpretation, our narratives play a part in deciding how we interpret. Now again, this is central to your own case, it's one of the many things we have in common. In other words, interpretation is narrative sensitive, in a way core 'facts' are not. This is nothing more sophisticated than stating a definition, in that we call things facts precisely because they are widely accepted.

    With regard to the term personal narrative, I absolutely understand what you mean by narrative and mean exactly this. I use the word personal simply to be sensitive to the fact that even within cultures, or indeed even for an individual over time, narratives can show variation. It is not meant to shade the phrase with the connotations of 'a made up story' or any such thing. You may rest easy there.

    Bernard

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  6. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    Here is the full quote:

    “Now, very many times I think other people are incorrect. I think they lack crucial evidence, or their reasoning is faulty. But, when we move into territory where such can not be demonstrated (and some metaphysical claims, say purposeful or purposeless existence, appear to fall into this category) to claim one's view is still, nevertheless, correct, (in other words to form and hold a belief) is to privilege your own world view over that of others.”

    I disagree with your assertion here. I disagree that to do such is to “privilege” anything. I don’t think Burk is “privileging” his narrative that holds God does not exist. I think he truly believes it to be thus. At least I grant that respect to his belief. He is not looking to me to agree and “privilege” this belief over others. He is asserting, “This is true whether you agree or not.” And I make the same counter claim. To “privilege” something is to assume that two things are the same and then to unfairly choose one over the other. It is to believe that every narrative dispute ends in a tie and to choose one is somehow naming a “winner” over the other. The very use of the word gives the game away so to speak.

    Back to the quote and specifically JP’s comments and your echo, why should we not read what you are saying as contrasting two ways of knowing, where we “move” from one “territory” to another? One way of knowing is empirical because we are talking about crucial “evidence” and faulty “reasoning.” But this other “territory” where we cannot “demonstrate” truth claims in the same way, we would be “privileging” one claim over another to say that it was “correct” as opposed to the other. If you are not contrasting two ways of knowing, what are these two “territories?” And I realize you are not saying that only empirically established assertions can be true (note to Burk), but that is not the point. The point is that you are (or seem to be) asserting that to choose a meta-physical claim is true is “privileging” one over the other because neither can be “demonstrated” to be true in an empirical manner.

    Again, we don’t “privilege” the truth that the sun is hot. We recognize or discover a truth that was already present. To assume we are “privileging” meta-physical truths because they cannot be demonstrated as being true in the same way we can the hotness of the sun is just that, an assumption—one that is narrative driven. When it comes to metaphysical truths, we may be right, we may be wrong. But we are certainly are not sitting in the judge’s chair and “choosing” one side over the other as if this were a dispute brought before us so we could “rule” and make a choice.

    The quote above is the “belief” you hold. It is the “reason” you give for your agnosticism. And it is entirely narrative driven (modern/Enlightenment/Secular/Scientific). And I just don’t hear anything here that would lead me to believe otherwise.

    Bernard, it is difficult to follow someone who claims over and over that he agrees with everything I say, but then comes to a significantly different conclusion. At some point you need to identify where we part ways. It will be at that very point where you will reveal the narrative you believe more deeply. I believe you have done so in your assertion here regarding “privileging” one narrative over another. My point has always been that once you began to unpack, articulate, and tell us why you were agnostic, that you would then tell us what narrative it was that you held by faith. That is all I’ve been trying to say and I think this exchange has born that out.

    JP and Burk, I hope this addresses your comments as well and I thank you for them.

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  7. Burk Braun says:

    Darrell-

    “Again, we don’t “privilege” the truth that the sun is hot. We recognize or discover a truth that was already present. To assume we are “privileging” meta-physical truths because they cannot be demonstrated as being true in the same way we can the hotness of the sun is just that, an assumption—one that is narrative driven. When it comes to metaphysical truths, we may be right, we may be wrong. But we are certainly are not sitting in the judge’s chair and “choosing” one side over the other as if this were a dispute brought before us so we could “rule” and make a choice.”

    Well, this is certainly worth unpacking.

    1. It is good to hear that the-sun-is-hot is not “interpreted” or narrative-diven, or any of your other formulations.

    2. But you claim on your own account to have discovered god, Jesus, etc. in the same way as others view scientific claims- as something that is indubitably true, which is already present as a fact about the world, and which you have the good fortune and good news to have had revealed to you in some fashion. Thus you “believe” in it. Faith equates with this claim that god exists, is true, preexists, indeed is eternal, etc. You are indeed making a choice of your metaphysics as well as your physics here.

    3. This claim and your belief in it forms the privilege, since, in crucial distinction to the matter of the-sun-is-hot, the evidence is in hot dispute, not at all evident to skeptical, or even disinterested, parties.

    Thus if you “believe” something whose evidence is so poor, you are privileging your belief over what is quite evidently equally (and probably more) reasonable opposite belief, or over what is perhaps the wisest course, which is complete lack of belief.

    In normal rational pursuits, belief prior to evidence would be termed an hypothesis, held no further than evidence allows / compels. There is no privilege because belief does not run ahead of evidence. Why does religion hold to such different standards, creating this presumption/faith/privilege?

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  8. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    I think I addressed those questions in my post on philosophical category errors. I'm not going to try and rehash all that in the comment section here. I hope one thing is relatively clear at this point. None of my posts on these topics are stand-alone in the sense that every day is a new day. They all are linked and build upon one another. They only make sense as we track and keep the points in (as many as any wish to read) mind.

    This post can only be understood in light of the one on category errors (anticipating your questions) and why that one was first.

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  9. Hi Darrell

    Again, this isn't what I'm saying, any more than you are saying the bible is literally true.

    I chose the word privileging to attempt to capture some essence of my personal distaste for deciding somebody is wrong, while at the same time fully acknowledging that there is nothing unreasonable about the way they have reached their conclusion. That's all.

    So, to put this back to you, why is it that you think you and Burk reach different conclusions, if broadly speaking you are both aware of the same lines of evidence, and are both rational in the way you process it? If I have you correctly, you think it's because you view the issue through different lens (or world views). Now, at the point that you choose to believe your conclusion, you are presumably on some level assuming your world view leads to correct conclusions and his doesn't. Is this right? That's the thing I have no taste for.

    So, I've never claimed we're privileging metaphysical truths. I've claimed only that to reach a metaphysical conclusion, we must assume our world view is better at arriving at the truth than the alternatives. This is not a belief, it's a logical implication of the assumption that I think you make, that world views ultimately lead us to interpret the shared evidence in different ways.

    Now, either you don't mean that at all, and you think there is some other reason why you and Burk reach different conclusions, in which case I'm interested to know what that is, or I'm just making an observation.

    You say 'the quote above is the belief you hold' and I'm not at all sure which quote you are referring to. A belief is a claim that a particular state of affairs is true. Humour me a little more here, and more explicitly state what this belief you think I hold is. Remember, I don't hold that only empirical means can lead us to true statements.

    I do observe that broad consensus has developed around many empirically backed claims (the sun is hot) and hence one can adopt these without having to push one's own beliefs ahead of those of others'. And I also say that if a person's claim about the physical world contradicts the empirical data (watch me step in front of this speeding bus, it won't hurt a bit) we may reasonably disagree with them. But again, unless we can find people who disagree with this approach, then there's no privileging involved.

    Bernard

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  10. Burk Braun says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    As a courtesy, I have reread what you point to.

    “God is not some “thing” or “object” like something else we are familiar with.”

    Same with evolution. You set up a straw man here. From what I understand, the argument is not that god wears a beard (though it is always referred to as “He” for some reason) but that it has other properties inferred from evidence, like having a son through partly non-corporeal means, creating everything, leading the nation of Israel via selected leaders, giving us an afterlife, in either heaven or hell, inspiring biblical scriptures, making snakes talk, secretly interacting with our souls, etc.

    There is a great deal to this proposition, even if it does not involve an explicit beard. It covers both metaphysical and quite physical aspects of reality with specific claims. Is this not true?

    “God is, rather, the reason you can read this right now—the reason anything exists at all.”

    Well, if this is all it was, we could agree on simple deism and call it a day. But I don't think that is what you have in mind, and thus you come into dramatic conflict with science, with history, and critical logic, among other pursuits.

    Then you go into a long story-telling of the supposed history of Christianity, which is apparently evidence for your views. Now evidence is important, though when a scientifically (or historically) minded skeptic points out the holes in this story you hide behind non-evidence.. how all evidence is “interpreted”, and everyone can come up with their own stories and suppositions, etc. It makes me ill, frankly, and it is hard to believe that Bernard has the patience to take this philosophical stuff seriously.

    “Why? Because of their profound, deep, and significant relation to every area of knowledge and culture in Western history and even world history. The distance between those events, their gravity, and their significance, makes exceedingly clear (or should!) that trying to compare such with a belief in Santa Claus or other fictional character is something only a rather dim-witted freshman philosophy major could dream up.”

    This focus on Christianity being historically important, which seems to you to indicate that it is also true.. is odd. Suppose the Nazis had won the war. How would our empirical culture and history books read now? Victors write history to suit themselves. That is why the history of this area is so hard to reconstruct in any reliable way.

    “The facts and evidence, including our scrutiny of history, could be argued either way- for belief or unbelief.”

    So on what basis is one preferred over the other? Doesn't this logically lead to agnosticism? What was the point of all the above?

    “We must still articulate what we think all this evidence, research, and our own subjective responses to it all might mean. We must still put all of it in a comprehensive matrix of holistic sense.”

    Nope, we could wash our hands of the whole mess and declare it unworthy of our precious time and attention, at least the portion trotted out by positive theology
    .

    “In all this, we can choose to believe that at the heart of everything is a primordial and infinite peace and love to which all creation longs, desires, and tends (The Judeo-Christian narrative), or we can believe that at the heart of everything is a primordial void, an abyss, a meaningless merciless accidental confluence of matter-in-motion, without purpose, embedded in amoral laws of survival alone.”

    Well, not really. If you look around carefully, you will realize that we have much less choice in this matter than you give yourself. Sure, you could believe in Peter Pan and Rumplestiltskin, or in crystals and Mayan chronology.. you can, in this country, legally believe in anything you want. But if you want to believe something that relates to reality in some philosophically sound way, then evidence and empiricism is the key way to get there.

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  11. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    Here is the quote again:

    “Now, very many times I think other people are incorrect. I think they lack crucial evidence, or their reasoning is faulty. But, when we move into territory where such can not be demonstrated (and some metaphysical claims, say purposeful or purposeless existence, appear to fall into this category) to claim one's view is still, nevertheless, correct, (in other words to form and hold a belief) is to privilege your own world view over that of others.”

    Again, I have said over and over in this thread why I think the above and the rest of your unpacking demonstrates how your view is narrative sensitive. And frankly, I don’t see anyone really addressing exactly what I am saying. There is just a repetition of the same statements, without, it seems, taking into consideration the argument I am making. Can you actually take something I’m saying (instead of what you think I might be saying) and tell me where you disagree? That is one reason I am quoting your very words back to you. I am trying to not misrepresent what you are saying.

    I didn’t understand your comment regarding the Bible. Are you saying I am taking you too literally? Are you speaking metaphorically? If so, you need to let us know.

    These conversations demand rather precise language. If you are using the words “privileging” “taste” “narrative” or other key words in this conversation differently, it would be really helpful to know that.

    I think I have answered your challenge. You may disagree, but hopefully you at least understand why I still feel that we all live by faith.

    Like

  12. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    I don’t see a single assertion here or question that isn't addressed in my post. I’m sorry, I just don’t. You may disagree. But it looks like everything you are appealing to or asserting just begs the question. In other words, your assertions here and questions–are the purpose of the post!

    For instance, you claim I am setting up a straw-man. How? If the appeal is constantly to physical evidence and empiricism, it is the same as suggesting that God is similar to a superman or super alien or some other image we are familiar with or some physical object or force, which I also noted. But if you wish, forget the old man with a beard—my argument still stands.

    You forget a very simple but key point. I know you don’t believe God exists. For a second however, assume such a being does and is responsible for existence. How in the world would you then have a problem with the rest such as all that is contained in the Biblical stories and Church history? What are those compared to existence! As already noted in the post, it can all be interpreted differently but to the question, “How do you know none of it is true or happened?” your answer always seems to be, “Because God doesn't exist.” Well, that just begs the question.

    And the whole point of the post is to show that one must understand the difference between categories and how they are “founded” so to speak. I believe your materialism demands that you interpret the world such. There is no evidential or rational basis to appeal to that “proves” your position when it comes to these types of questions. It is choice, a sensibility, a desire, a willingness to see the world in the way that you do.

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  13. Burk Braun says:

    Darrell-

    “For a second however, assume such a being does and is responsible for existence. How in the world would you then have a problem with the rest such as all that is contained in the Biblical stories and Church history?”

    That is a good thought experiment. The answer is that one does not bear on the other. Some deity might very well have founded everything. What then? We would still know nothing about it. It might be an equation or particle of some kind.

    To think that this deity has all the activities and proclivities that Christianity posits, one has to go far beyond the bare deism about which we know absolutely nothing, and turn to evidence of signs, wonders, mystical feelings, hopes and dreams, scriptural tales, historical claims … all those things that are either explicitly contrary to any reasonable understanding we have now of reality, or which are wildly non-probative- subjective feelings and projections that mean nothing at all philosophically.

    This is not a category issue, it is one of applying intellectual standards to one's evidence in this specific matter. Nor is it a matter of choice, in any valid philosophical sense. Rather it is an abdication of philosophical rigor. If one “chooses” to throw standards to the winds and assume what one is seeking to believe … that virgin births give rise to people who raise others from the dead, etc.. or perhaps the tenets of scientology … then one can believe anything.

    So, you seem to return inevitably to matters of evidence yourself, when it is convenient. If not, you would be a fideist, simply believing for no reason whatsoever but that you wanted to do so. Another philosophical dead end, but at least an honest one.

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  14. With regard to belief, I am saying I have a distaste for considering my conclusion correct when I know that others, following the same evidence, could reasonably conclude otherwise. Hence, I am sensitive to your claim that this is a double standard, in that I’m doing exactly this, simply by making the claim.
    So, somewhere in the paragraph you quote, you believe I am not just influenced by narrative (of course I am) but that this influence leads me to forming a belief that a reasonable person, with access to the same evidence, might reject.
    So let’s look at them a little more closely to see if we can find a contestable belief lurking here. First I make the point that we can still validly disagree on an issue, if we believe a person has access to different evidence, or is failing to apply shared standards of reasoning. (So, if a person claims the bus collision will cause no harm, we are able to, at the very least, help them re-examine the evidence they are using, and the deductions they make following the evidence). Now, if a reasonable person can disagree with my claim here (essentially the claim that, when modelling the physical world, we should be mindful of the physical evidence) then I’d be interested in what the alternative belief I am dismissing is.
    My second point is that metaphysical claims aren’t like this (and this is a point that you yourself make again and again). The clue is in the word. We can not find slam dunk shared evidence for or against a purposeful universe, for instance. We are forced to interpret what we see, and we ought to accept that another person, viewing the same evidence, may well reach a different conclusion. Again, is there a reasonable alternative that I am dismissing in making this claim. If so, what is it?
    Now, if we can not identify the alternative beliefs I am dismissing by making this statement (in the way that believing in God dismisses the belief that there is no God) then there’s no equivalence here, and my aversion to this type of privileging is entirely consistent. So, over to you.

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  15. Darrell says:

    Burk,

    You switched subjects. This issue wasn’t how would we know. This issue was that if a God or whatever was responsible for existence and greater than such (assume that for a second), how would a miracle or resurrection be a problem. Just address that question.

    Like

  16. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “With regard to belief, I am saying I have a distaste for considering my conclusion correct when I know that others, following the same evidence, could reasonably conclude otherwise. Hence, I am sensitive to your claim that this is a double standard, in that I’m doing exactly this, simply by making the claim.
    So, somewhere in the paragraph you quote, you believe I am not just influenced by narrative (of course I am) but that this influence leads me to forming a belief that a reasonable person, with access to the same evidence, might reject…So let’s look at them a little more closely to see if we can find a contestable belief lurking here…”

    I’m a reasonable person, right? I have the same evidence you do, right? And here is what I wrote:

    “I disagree with your assertion here. I disagree that to do such is to “privilege” anything. I don’t think Burk is “privileging” his narrative that holds God does not exist. I think he truly believes it to be thus. At least I grant that respect to his belief. He is not looking to me to agree and “privilege” this belief over others. He is asserting, “This is true whether you agree or not.” And I make the same counter claim. To “privilege” something is to assume that two things are the same and then to unfairly choose one over the other. It is to believe that every narrative dispute ends in a tie and to choose one is somehow naming a “winner” over the other. The very use of the word gives the game away so to speak.”

    You are assuming (lurking belief) that to recognize that others can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions is tantamount to privileging one view over the other. I think that is a false assumption. I think every day, people in all walks of life, see the same things but think they mean different things. I think both can agree to disagree and go on their merry way respecting each other’s differences while still believing that they are correct and the other person wrong. That is called respect. Since it isn’t based upon some unassailable “fact” or piece of “evidence” it is also a humble position. I may be wrong, but deep down I also owe myself some respect for holding to a belief/event/encounter that changed my life.

    What am I missing? Clearly I am missing something!

    Like

  17. Burk Braun says:

    Darrell-

    It would be a problem for several reasons.

    – Reeks of wishful thinking and mythic imagination.

    – Is inconsistent with much better attested regularities of the present day.

    – Is on its own terms, such small beer. I mean- if Jesus wanted to bring world peace, why not bring world peace? Why beat around the bush with a few wonders and doltish set of apostles, and then get strung up for his efforts? If god can do anything, why does the world keep going to heck, as it were? I realize you like the dramatic arc here, but honestly, the distance between promise and fulfillment begs explanation.

    – If one takes your method of reasoning seriously … “assume god”, then one is powerless to conclude anything whatsoever about our place in reality, physical or metaphysical. Everything is up for interference from a super-being by turns malevolent, cranky, and passive-aggressive. No law holds, and no logical conclusion can be relied upon. We are putty in its hands, whatever “it” is. I can see the appeal to some tempraments prone to massochism and passivity, but… Not only is this repugnant, it is far from reflecting our actual position, which occupies a world where miracles do not occur, ever, on a carefully considered empirical basis.

    – Continuing with the above point, the hypothesis of god eliminates the possibility of its own investigation and proof. If anything is possible within reality, how are we to tell what is a sign and wonder and what is not? We are cast adrift in a sea of uncertainty and philosophical vacuity, unable to see through a fog where god may have placed all the fossils to fool us, faked the moon landings, … who knows where it would end? Even god's existence would be impossible to show or not show, since whatever signs we interpreted from it might be the engineering of some other god behind the one we putatively theorize about. The whole possibility of philosophy would go up in smoke. Truth itself could be so much putty in its hands.

    So, not only do you have to assume the deistic god, but you have to assume much else not currently ascertainable, to say the least. Or contrary to what is ascertainable.

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  18. Hi Darrell

    This is perhaps tremendously easy to resolve. We simply need to ignore our slightly different use of the word privilege. Let's take that word out of the conversation all together.

    You write (Of Burk) “He is asserting, this is true, whether you agree or not, and I make the same counter claim.”

    And that is precisely the thing I have personal distaste for. You say it is incorrect you use the label privileging to describe this process, and rather than challenge you to dictionaries at dawn, let me drop the word, which is unimportant to my case, and we will refer now not to the name, but to process, precisely as you have described it here.

    So now, any difference of belief you assumed we had regarding what privileging is, comes off the table. My distaste, upon which my agnosticism largely rests, remains, and there is apparently no claim of the type 'this is true, whether you agree or not' that I am making, at least that I can see.

    As always, I am interested in the counter examples.

    Bernard

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  19. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    You still have reasons for your distaste whether I agree of not with them, correct? Are you not saying, “I have a distaste for this sort of thing, and I have reasons, and those reasons and my distaste remain whether you or Burk agree with me or not.” Or, are you saying that if we disagreed—it would make your reasons and distaste untrue? Or are you saying you have no reasons, you just “feel” bad or are uncomfortable choosing and you don’t know why? Do you see the problems here?

    I’m afraid at this point the cat is rather already out of the bag if you will. It doesn’t matter now what word we use. You have already admitted what this “process” entails for you and why it leads to your “distaste.” My argument would still be the same. Again, you are assuming (lurking belief) that to recognize that others can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions is tantamount to (choose whatever word you want) one view over another. You still have this concept of a “winner” or that we are “siding” unfairly with “this” narrative over “that” other one. Again, such is entirely narrative driven and a presumption you hold by faith. And I have no idea what you are looking for in a counter-example. Counter to what?

    My question to you Bernard is why does it bother you to think your agnosticism is founded in a faith narrative?

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  20. Hi Darrell

    With regard to taste, absolutely, my distaste in this case absolutely extends beyond reason. That is the whole point, and why I choose to attach no truth value to my taste statements.

    If, to say that when we choose to believe one thing, we are by definition rejecting the alternative belief, is indeed itself narrative sensitive , then I am curious as to what the alternative way of seeing that I am hence rejecting is.

    Bernard

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  21. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    I don’t believe I suggested your distaste extended beyond reason. Remember, when I use the word “faith” and “narrative” I am including both mind and heart—both reason and emotion. You have given reasons for your distaste, right? I don’t think at any point you’ve just said, “Oh, I just don’t feel right about it.”

    We are all saying that to choose to believe one thing is by definition rejecting an alternative. As you have pointed out many times, such is the logical implication. What you have done though is unpack your “reasons” for why it doesn’t suit your “taste” to then choose. Whether or not you now want to use the word “privilege” or not matters little. We get your point. You have communicated your reasons—the general idea behind your distaste. I responded. I have several times in fact. I really don’t have anything else to suggest.

    So my question again: Why does it bother you to think your agnosticism is founded in a faith narrative? It could be that to explore your answers may actually help us understand this whole conversation better.

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  22. Hi Darrell

    My concern is to ensure my motivation for being agnostic is consistent with the stance of agnosticism.

    Now, one of reasons (I use the word deliberately) for choosing agnosticism is that I have distaste (itself entirely unreasonable, nothing but a personal preference) for choosing to believe something is true, if by implication I must believe another entirely reasonable and well informed person's belief is utnrue.

    So, to be explicit as I possibly can be, I reason simply that if a particular mindset demands an action which I find distasteful, I could avoid it by avoiding the mindset. The mindset in this case is of course the mindset of narrative sensitive belief.

    Now, my personal narrative absolutely informs my taste. No two ways about it. But, what I am wishing to avoid is not the act of having subjective preferences, but the act of framing these preferences in such a way that they entail the claim that some other person's narrative sensitive belief is wrong.

    Now, to check this is a valid stance, I've invited you throughout this conversation to show me any belief included within my description of agnosticism that implies that some other, reasonably held belief, is wrong.

    Thus far, you have offered a range of possibilities, but without exception they have either referred to things that are not beliefs (like my distaste for a certain stance, the only belief here is that I have such a taste, and that is uncontested) or beliefs that I'm not contradicting at all. In fact I hold them.

    So, to restate, I prefer agnosticism because it allows me to avoid believing my own narrative guided beliefs are correct, while other people's narrative guided beliefs are incorrect. And I value being able to avoid that, because I find the thought that by some stroke of luck the truth has been revealed to me but not to my neighbour, well it makes me cringe, frankly.

    Now, I don't think it makes you cringe at all. You appear happy to believe the truth is known to you, but not to your atheistic or Muslim brethren. Or at least, you feel the benefits far outweigh this particular cost. And all power to you in that. I criticise it not one jot. I just become puzzled when people claim either, that they aren't putting their own narrative beliefs first (I don't think you do claim this) or when they claim they do, but so does everybody else. (You might be claiming this, and agnosticism stands as the counter example).

    Is that at all helpful?

    Bernard

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  23. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    Thank you for taking the time to unpack this even though I know both of us probably feel that we are just repeating ourselves and maybe secretly wondering why the other guy can’t understand me! We all know what we mean, but it is certainly difficult to get that across to another person—especially in philosophical conversations. So thank you for sticking with this even though I know it can be frustrating.

    What I read and “hear” in your response, still, are many underlying presuppositions and narrative driven beliefs, or maybe we just might call them sensitivities or leanings. For instance, I still think we understand “narrative” differently.

    I don’t know how to put a finer point on it, but narratives are those overarching stories that sum up what we really believe is true about existence, deeply believe, and we believe it to be true whether or not anyone else agrees. We don’t view it as just our personal subjective opinion. Belief in God falls into the same category of what we believe about good, evil, honor, duty, and other bed-rock type believes. It falls into the category that if we were to disavow the belief, we would feel like we had betrayed ourselves. We would feel like we had broken a wedding vow or a promise we had made. For instance, I believe the torture of children to be wrong in this sense. Therefore, it would not bother me one whit if my belief meant that some counter-narrative (that the torture of children is good or neutral) by logical implication is therefore “wrong.” Of course it means that! So what? Why should I feel bad about that? Why should I find that distasteful? Again how can the word “taste” even be used here?

    In other words, I am saying that given the way I am using the concept of “narrative” it is impossible to assert something like this: “So, to restate, I prefer agnosticism because it allows me to avoid believing my own narrative guided beliefs are correct, while other people's narrative guided beliefs are incorrect. And I value being able to avoid that, because I find the thought that by some stroke of luck the truth has been revealed to me but not to my neighbour, well it makes me cringe, frankly.” –And still mean what I mean by that term. It is impossible… (Continued)

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  24. Darrell says:

    (Continued) …Our “narrative” is the only thing any of us really believe is correct or true with a capital “T”. If you don’t believe your own narrative is correct, then it isn’t your narrative! And whatever reason or reasons you have for not believing it, are actually part of the narrative you believe. Do you see how this becomes inescapable?

    There is the possibility that one can believe, deeply, powerfully, that one’s narrative is correct but also remain open to the possibility one is wrong. You don’t seem to accept or see that difference. Now the Christian narrative actually has an advantage here, which again, is why I think it resonates and seems to capture what many experience. Part of the Christian narrative is that we are flawed. We are broken to an extent. We are limited by our humanity. We are not “God.” We can only know in part. We are on a journey—we are learning. And we can “see” things the wrong way. We can be selfish. We can often want to “see” things in a way that only benefits us. So there is a humility component built into and part of the Christian narrative. Do many Christians seem to lack this component? Of course! But it is still there in the narrative. In fact to become a Christian is to have the very moment you speak of wherein one realizes he was terribly wrong about significant things (his prior narrative or world-view) and one does cringe.

    Your stance is completely reasonable if we were talking about whether or not red wine is better than white. However, we are talking about those things that literally change people’s lives—things they are willing to die for. And perhaps that is your point. If we all thought about our narratives in the way you do, then maybe the world would be less violent. However, that very idea is part of the Enlightenment/secular/modern narrative, so again, I think it inescapable. As an aside, I also think such a view false as modern states historically have been much more violent than any other.

    Now, you may say my view of “narrative” is wrong or that you have something else in mind. If so, you would need to unpack why and tell us how you are using it. My guess however, is that such would only reveal…your narrative!

    Here is a link to a post I did where I unpack what I mean by faith, or world-view, or narrative (interchangeable). I am using them all in the sense noted in this post. http://byzantinedream.blogspot.com/2010/04/inseparability-of-faith-and-world-view.html

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  25. Hi Darrell

    I see you think I believe my narrative is true, with a capital T, because that is the very definition of narrative. Let's say I accept that. It's still not a game changer, unless it can be shown that my agnostic narrative either relies upon , or yields, non-collective beliefs.

    And so, again, I ask you to identify a single belief you think I hold to, that thus refutes beliefs held by other reasonable people. Just one example would resolve this discussion.

    To repeat, I don't think religious belief is matter of taste in any objective sense. You ask, 'why should I find that distasteful?' and the answer is, from my relativist vantage point, there's no should about it. A claim about personal taste is not a claim about global desirability.

    Anyway, if you're still keen to continue, a counter example is all that's needed. Until then, to say we must all rely upon narrative sensitive beliefs stands refuted by my counter example, agnosticism.

    Bernard

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  26. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “I see you think I believe my narrative is true, with a capital T, because that is the very definition of narrative. Let's say I accept that. It's still not a game changer, unless it can be shown that my agnostic narrative either relies upon, or yields, non-collective beliefs.”

    I have no idea what a “non-collective” belief is. Why are you bringing it up now?

    “And so, again, I ask you to identify a single belief you think I hold to, that thus refutes beliefs held by other reasonable people. Just one example would resolve this discussion.”

    I have…several times now. Here it is again:

    “The quote above [the same one I’ve showed you several times] is the “belief” you hold. It is the “reason” you give for your agnosticism. And it is entirely narrative driven (modern/Enlightenment/Secular/Scientific). And I just don’t hear anything here that would lead me to believe otherwise.”

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  27. Hi Darrell

    By non-collective, I simply meant contestable, in the sense of a belief which implies other reasonable people are wrong. This has been central to the case I've used all along, sorry if the term was unclear.

    Now, to stick with this, you say I hold some belief, that is the reason I give for my agnosticism. Against this, I say this belief contains nothing that dismisses as untrue some alternative belief that can be reached using the same evidence and standards of reasoning (i.e is narrative sensitive).

    So, you can claim what I am saying is narrative driven, but what we need to establish to carry your case is a.) a claim I am making about some thing that is true in the world, and b.) the counter claim that is hence being dismissed.

    Perhaps I can do the work for you? Here's the quote you nominate:

    “Now, very many times I think other people are incorrect. I think they lack crucial evidence, or their reasoning is faulty. But, when we move into territory where such can not be demonstrated (and some metaphysical claims, say purposeful or purposeless existence, appear to fall into this category) to claim one's view is still, nevertheless, correct, (in other words to form and hold a belief) is to privilege your own world view over that of others.”

    If we remove our different use of the word privilege, and replace it simply with the logical implication that to believe A is to believe people who believe not-A are wrong, we can now look for individual statements of belief.

    Belief A – a person can be incorrect about something, simply because they lack crucial pieces of information, or because they have made a faulty deduction ( a person who thinks the world is flat, for example).
    Belief B – Metaphysical statements can not be resolved by empirical data and reason alone.
    Belief C – In such cases, when we form beliefs, we are also implying other people with alternative beliefs are incorrect, despite them working from the same base of observations and reasoning.

    So, you have dismissed these beliefs as being narrative dependent. Can you, therefore, outline the alternative to any one of these three statements that fully informed and reasonable people might hold?

    Bernard

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  28. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “By non-collective, I simply meant contestable, in the sense of a belief which implies other reasonable people are wrong. This has been central to the case I've used all along, sorry if the term was unclear.”

    “Now, to stick with this, you say I hold some belief, that is the reason I give for my agnosticism. Against this, I say this belief contains nothing that dismisses as untrue some alternative belief that can be reached using the same evidence and standards of reasoning (i.e is narrative sensitive).”

    Of course it does. I’ve already pointed out exactly where it does. But first, it does matter that you’ve been using “narrative” to mean something entirely different than the way I’ve been using it. Once you use it like I’ve been using it, it becomes impossible to assert much of what you’ve been asserting. That is rather a huge problem, don’t you think?

    Second, as to the point where you hold a belief that dismisses as untrue alternative beliefs, it is summed up in your use of the word “privilege.” Regardless that you now want to drop the use of the word, you have used it (it was your word, not mine) to convey the reason for your distaste. Even if we dropped it, it still conveys your line of reasoning. Again, we don’t “privilege” the truth that the earth is flat. We recognize a truth already present. Our choosing (or not choosing)matters not at all as to the truth of the matter. Theists and atheists are asserting the same thing in that regard. So your belief here holds both theism and atheism to be personal subjective beliefs only and only possibly true (one day we may find out or in eternity) in any objective sense. And I’ve pointed out the narrative driven nature of that type of reasoning.

    “If we remove our different use of the word privilege, and replace it simply with the logical implication that to believe A is to believe people who believe not-A are wrong, we can now look for individual statements of belief.”

    It doesn’t matter that we remove the word “privilege.” My argument against your “logical implication” idea still stands. (Continued)

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  29. Darrell says:

    (Continued) “Belief A – a person can be incorrect about something, simply because they lack crucial pieces of information, or because they have made a faulty deduction (a person who thinks the world is flat, for example).
    Belief B – Metaphysical statements can not be resolved by empirical data and reason alone.
    Belief C – In such cases, when we form beliefs, we are also implying other people with alternative beliefs are incorrect, despite them working from the same base of observations and reasoning.”

    “So, you have dismissed these beliefs as being narrative dependent. Can you, therefore, outline the alternative to any one of these three statements that fully informed and reasonable people might hold?”

    Where in the world have I “dismissed” these beliefs as being narrative dependent? What I have asserted is that your reaction to assertion C is narrative dependent. Assertions A and B are simply recognizing that we cannot make philosophical category errors, and I agree.

    What you have made an issue out of is assertion C. You have basically said that you don’t like the logical implication (and it is logical) that to assert that meta-physical belief #1 is true is to assert at the same time that meta-physical belief #2 is false. And then when you have unpacked the reasons behind your “distaste” or what it is you don’t like we find either a misunderstanding of the concept of narrative or the narrative driven assumptions I noted above. And frankly, what I have noted several times now.

    Here, this is what you need to address as to assertion C:

    “Belief in God falls into the same category of what we believe about good, evil, honor, duty, and other bed-rock type believes. It falls into the category that if we were to disavow the belief, we would feel like we had betrayed ourselves. We would feel like we had broken a wedding vow or a promise we had made. For instance, I believe the torture of children to be wrong in this sense. Therefore, it would not bother me one whit if my belief meant that some counter-narrative (that the torture of children is good or neutral) by logical implication is therefore “wrong.” Of course it means that! So what? Why should I feel bad about that? Why should I find that distasteful? Again how can the word “taste” even be used here?

    Another clear implication of your thought process (where your “non-collective” issue come into play) here is that if we cannot establish a truth empirically we cannot say it is capital “T” true (although one day or in eternity we may find out it is), we can only think it true (for now) in a subjective personal way. And again, such reasoning is entirely narrative driven.

    Clearly though, it is assertion C and your “logical implication” issue that is entirely narrative driven. I would also add that using narrative the way you have been is catastrophic. Once you use it the way I am using it, much of your reasoning simply goes away.

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  30. Hi Darrell

    Well, it may be we agree after all. There is no narrative sensitive belief in play in the three assertions, correct? Excellent.

    Now, you claim that my reaction to C is narrative dependent, and I agree, of course it is. My distaste for this is personal, and a function of my world view. But note, my distaste holds no statement about what is or is not true in the world (other than the assertion than I feel this distaste, which I assume you accept).

    The things you think I need to address here, are tings I actually already accept. I don't claim that one can only see metaphysical statements as being subjectively true. Not at all. Nor is it implied by my stance.

    I think this is where the confusion stems from. You seem to think, because I personally feel distaste for a stance this implies I think the stance is distasteful in some objective sense (I don't) or that because I choose not to make truth statements about metaphysical beliefs, that this can't be done (I don't believe this either).

    And this is where we keep running into trouble. I ask you for one belief that arises out of my personal narrative, and you offer only beliefs I don't hold, nor are they logically implied by my stance.

    Bernard

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  31. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    Sorry, we do not agree, which is fine.

    “Now, you claim that my reaction to C is narrative dependent, and I agree, of course it is. My distaste for this is personal, and a function of my world view. But note, my distaste holds no statement about what is or is not true in the world (other than the assertion than I feel this distaste, which I assume you accept).”

    Again, a catastrophic misunderstanding of how I’m using world-view/narrative/faith. They are not “personal” subjective preferences, taste matters, or feelings. And your distaste, as I’ve noted over and over here, is based upon reasons. It does hold a statement about what you believe is true. You believe that it is [put whatever word, phrase, concept, idea, etc., you want here—but whatever you use it means “bad” or not “good” or not “wise” “unfair” or some other negative connotation, right, thus the distaste] to choose between two different meta-physical beliefs because it would mean asserting the other person (perhaps the atheist or the theist) is right and the opposite wrong.

    As I’ve already noted, or course it implies the opposite view is false, because of the very nature of what world-view/narrative/faith means. I gave you several examples of what of it would mean. It would be to disavow our faith—our world-view narrative. We would feel like we broke a promise. We would feel like liars and bums.

    “I think this is where the confusion stems from. You seem to think, because I personally feel distaste for a stance this implies I think the stance is distasteful in some objective sense (I don't) or that because I choose not to make truth statements about metaphysical beliefs, that this can't be done (I don't believe this either).”

    I think the reasons you give for your distaste are narrative driven (which means one believes them to be objectively true or true with a capital “T.”) And you do make truth statements about metaphysical beliefs. Here is it again:

    “But, when we move into territory where such can not be demonstrated (and some metaphysical claims, say purposeful or purposeless existence, appear to fall into this category) to claim one's view is still, nevertheless, correct, (in other words to form and hold a belief) is to privilege your own world view over that of others.”

    And again, forget the word “privilege.” Use whatever word or idea you want to there. It would still communicate the same idea, the same reason for your distaste (unless of course all of a sudden you don’t mean this anymore). And how is it not implied in the above that empiricism is not privileged over other ways of knowing or finding truth?

    I think the confusion stems from a completely different understanding of narrative/world-view/faith, among other problems.

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  32. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    Here is a clear example of not using world-view/narrative/faith in the way I am.

    “My distaste for this is personal, and a function of my world view.”

    World-view/narrative/faith are the concepts we really believe are true with a capital “T”. They are not personal private subjective beliefs. I believe God exists does so with or without your agreement. It is stuff like that.

    What am I missing that I cannot get this across? I mean at least say you don't agree, that you think world-view means something else, but it would be very helpful to quit telling me you understand how I am using these words/concepts and then use them in a completely different way. Is that a reasonable request?

    Otherwise, communication becomes impossible.

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  33. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    Maybe this will help, maybe it won't, but there is something about your definition of world view…

    You say such a narrative consists of the concepts we really believe are true with a capital “T”. Fine. But when I try to figure out what I would put at the top of my world view, as the things/values I find most important, there is not much that falls in this category, if anything. Of course, there are all those things we agree are true about reality – results from science, etc. But this is not what you're talking about… I think.

    The things or values or beliefs that make me tick, so to speak, that give meaning to my life, if you wish, are not at all things I would qualify as True in any meaningful sense. Language is tricky and it's easy to be misunderstood but, as an example, I could say things like “we need to help the poor” or “the future of the planet is a moral issue” – that kind of things, you know what I am talking about.

    But, and I want to be very clear about this, I wouldn't mean any of these beliefs as expressing a Truth. I would always mean them as a personal thing – very deeply felt, of immense importance, and all that – but in no way would I believe they represent some form of universal truth.

    So, your definition does not seem to fit very well, at least for what I think as most important. I understand it works well with religious faith but not all world views are like that.

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  34. Hi Darrell

    Ad always, thanks for persevering in good faith. I think we are very close to nub of our disagreement here, which is heartening.

    You say that when I register my distaste, I am by implication making some sort of belief statement, that I am asserting some state of affairs is true. And I am not. I am simply saying, I have no taste for this. So when you say my distaste is based upon reasons, you are missing the essence of my agnosticism. My taste is entirely without reason (but not without cause, for I am a function of my environment, or course).

    If, as you insist, we think of narrative/world views referring to those things that we believe are true, then my distaste is not in any way narrative dependent. The only claims to truth it makes are claims that are generally accepted (the sun is hot, two contradictory statements can not both be true…) They are summarised in the three assertions I gave in the previous note, and as far as I can tell you accept these.

    So when you invite me to choose a word to complete the phrase (bad, not good, not wise, unfair) I would say no such word completes the phrase for me. It is this very principle that lies at the heart of my style of agnosticism, and I am sorry if I have been at fault for not making this clear.

    To say I have distaste for a certain action is to say only, as JP notes above, that it has a certain impact on me. And this may not be a trivial impact, some of the most important things in my life are important simply because of my taste for them. To express distaste is to say nothing about whether such a thing is desirable in any objective sense (I don't know if objectively desirable things exist, nor do I know how I would discover them if they did).

    You see me as making a statement regarding truth (and hence contradicting myself) because you appear to think that an expression of distaste reflects a view regarding desirability. And this is a natural way from somebody who believes in objective truths to think. But I, it will not surprise you to hear, am agnostic with regard to objective truths regarding desirability, and hence do not think this way.

    I think, to complete your argument, you could either provide the circuit breaker, an example of my contestable belief, or you could alternatively demonstrate the logical necessity of belief, given taste (which would imply the example, even if you can't find it).

    Bernard

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  35. RonH says:

    (I think blogger ate this the first time I posted, so I'm trying again…)

    Hi, fellows…

    I hope you don't mind my chiming in here, in the interests of helping you guys nail down precisely where the disgreement is.

    In considering whether an action is a matter of objective morality or taste, is that decision itself a belief based on one's narrative?

    For example, let's take killing and eating strangers whose car broke down on the deserted road to your farmhouse. We'll call this act C (for cannibalism). I think I'm justified in assuming that neither of you have or intend to commit C. And I suspect you wish other people felt similarly, to the extent that if you became aware of someone engaging in C you would attempt to stop them were it within your power.

    (Note that both of you are making positive assertions, because both of you are willing to act in the Really Real World(tm) to bring it in alignment with your position on C.)

    Darrell believes C is objectively wrong. Bernard believes C is a matter of preference/taste. Whether or not C is a matter of objective morality or simple taste cannot itself be resolved by appeal to morality or taste because that begs the question. In other words, it is as much circular for Bernard to decide C is simply distasteful because appealing to objective morality is distasteful as it is for Darrell to say C is objectively wrong because appealing to simple taste on an issue like C is objectively wrong.

    In both cases, a claim is being made in regards to the nature of C, and that claim is I suppose rooted in narrative. Neither of you are inconsistent in your positions with respect to your narratives, near as I can see. But your narratives are different…

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  36. Hi Ron

    I don't believe C in this case is a matter of taste. For all I know, it may be a matter of objective right or wrong. Such is the nature of my moral agnosticism. this is the subtle but important difference between finding something distasteful, and believing it is distasteful. There is no belief in play here (beyond the belief that I find it distasteful, on which my action is grounded). Hence, no circularity.

    Bernard

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  37. JP says:

    Hi Ron,

    There's something that doesn't seem to work here. Aren't the following statements contradictory? (1) Proposition P is objectively true; (2) Proposition P is narrative-dependent.

    One cannot claim that your (C) is objectively true while at the same time arguing it's dependent on a narrative. If it's objectively true, it cannot become false under any narrative.

    You can't have it both ways.

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  38. Burk Braun says:

    Let me add another chime…

    Sorry if this is old-hat, but I think this all boils down to the availability of evidence. If there is enough evidence for something, we all agree on it as a fact … end of story(!)

    If there isn't, then some regard it as a virtue to believe it anyhow (thence the “privilege”). And some, of Bernard's sort, think the opposite- that such belief is not only not virtuous, but is distasteful, even dangerous, and beyond that, if insufficient evidence exists, it is best not to discount or disbelieve or be skeptical, but to foreswear any view on the matter whatsoever, given the strong feelings and presumptions of truth trumpeted by both sides.

    Darrell tends to question whether someone can hold to Bernard's postion without taking some kind of position. But I think it is the typical story of the staunch believer smelling the rat of disbelief (i.e. contrary belief) under the ostensibly diffident cover of agnosticism. I am sure it is a very personal issue, but rest assured, not everyone has to have some overarching belief in the nature of the universe. Plenty of people just struggle to get through their days… or disclaim knowledge (and faith) on rational grounds. Hypotheses can also be entertained without faith.

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  39. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    I'm afraid I don't understand your comment there. I don't understand the difference between “finding something distasteful” and “believing it is distasteful”. If you find something distasteful, well… why? If you had objective evidence, you wouldn't be appealing to taste.

    I was just trying to jiggle some definitions around to see if we could lock on to an agreement about the points of disagreement, and that apparently didn't work. I've conceded before that I personally can't see where you're making a faith claim. You are without question the most consistent agnostic I've ever run across. 😉 I think what you do and don't find distasteful is itself a product of your genes, environment, narrative, etc. If I understand you, you wouldn't dispute that. Darrell seems to be suggesting that where narrative is involved, faith is inevitably in play, but I'm starting to wonder to what extent that is the case. It seems that most people work within a narrative that they've inherited and continue to evolve over their lives. Remaining within that narrative is natural and default — it takes no faith. It is only the jump from one narrative to another (i.e. “conversion”) that would seem to require faith… a reorienting, an intentional and explicit trading out of base assumptions. Making an assumption is an act of faith, but we all operate on assumptions we're not necessarily aware of and thus haven't really made in the first place.

    There's an important point of disagreement here, and the fact that you two are still having this conversation has got to be a clue, somehow…

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  40. RonH says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  41. RonH says:

    Hi, JP…

    No contradiction. The statement “I am justified in saying C is objectively wrong” is the statement which is narrative-dependent, not the statement itself that “C is objectively wrong”. If C is objectively wrong, it is wrong regardless of what either Bernard or Darrell say. How likely they are to recognize its truth is narrative-dependent.

    Hi, Burk…

    If there is enough evidence for something, we all agree on it as a fact … end of story(!). No, not really. Evidence must be interpreted.

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  42. JP says:

    Hi Ron,

    Thanks, I had not seen this distinction. Let me see if I get you right (I probably don't…)

    You're saying that the statement “C is objectively wrong” (S) is meant to express a universal truth, independent of any world view. Of course, S may not be meaningful in all world views, so to this extent, there is some amount of dependency but this is probably not crucial.

    Now, you say that the justification (J) for believing S is narrative-dependent – no claim is made to the effect that J has universal validity. But them, from within the given world-view, it does not seem that one is justified to claim S. One cannot go from a narrative-dependent proposition to a universal truth. Or, alternatively, one must assume universal validity for J, contradicting the assumption of dependency.

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  43. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    Bernard, as much as I want to give you the benefit of the doubt, I just can’t see how this isn’t disingenuous at this point. You have already told us the reasons for your distaste. You don’t like the idea of one person (or you) choosing their own metaphysical belief over another’s, when both are reasonable people and both have reasonable views of the evidence. And in fact, you have told us such over and over just in different ways. You’ve even referred to this reasoning process (logical implication) on Eric’s blog. There is no way of backing out of this unless you were to tell us you were just making that part up or something. But I don’t think you were. I think you were telling us the truth.

    “If, as you insist, we think of narrative/world views referring to those things that we believe are true, then my distaste is not in any way narrative dependent.”

    I should point out that I am only using the term as it is used in many philosophical and theological sources by those writing in these areas. And again, “distaste” stands as a marker, a sign, an idea of something you do not like, some “negative” thing. And you have told us repeatedly what that is. And, in response, I have shown how the underlying presuppositions (for instance your reaction to Belief C) are narrative driven (Enlightenment/secular/scientific/modern/empirical).

    “So when you invite me to choose a word to complete the phrase (bad, not good, not wise, unfair) I would say no such word completes the phrase for me.”

    Bernard, seriously? There is no word or phrase or idea, but you do know you don’t want to do such (choose)—but you have no idea why? No reasons whatsoever? But you wouldn’t use the words “good”, “wise”, or “fair” to describe your distaste-you do know that much, right? Interesting. And your distaste for choosing just happens to align perfectly with the general modern Enlightenment narrative or the narrative of soft materialism? Interesting.

    I’m sorry. I just find this a little hard to believe. Forgive me. I do believe you are sincere, you probably have just said more than you wanted to. We will just have to agree to disagree here. I stand by my assertion that we all live by faith. I privilege no position in that regard.

    Thank you for the conversation!

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  44. RonH says:

    Hi, JP…

    One cannot go from a narrative-dependent proposition to a universal truth. Umm… why?

    We may be operating with some different definitions here. Let me try again.

    Say I believe C is objectively wrong. By “objectively”, I mean it's wrong for everyone regardless of what they feel about it. I don't mean “objectively” in the sense that everyone can clearly see it is wrong. Now, I may believe this because I have intuitions which I weave together with a narrative about objective morality, gods, whatever. That C is objectively wrong (indeed, that objective wrongs exist in the first place) is based in my narrative. But that doesn't necessitate that I'm wrong about C being wrong. Now, someone else with a different narrative (say one which rejects the existence of objective morality or one in which the term “wrong” is effectively meaningless) may disagree with my proposition that C is objectively wrong. At this point I have to contend with the reality that my objective truth isn't universally apparent, but that isn't evidence that it isn't true (or even that I'm unjustified in believing it).

    If you're a thoughtful person, I most likely can't convince you of my objective truth if our narratives are dissimilar enough — so I don't really try. Some people will try, however. You can identify those people because they say things like “deep down you know I'm right” or “if you were just rational, you'd agree with me”.

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  45. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    If you would kindly indulge me, I'd like to press a point a bit further. Going back to killing and eating a strangers whose car broke down on the deserted road to the farmhouse… If you were aware that someone was doing this, and it was within your power to stop him, would you? If so, is that not privileging your taste over his? How is that distinguishable from simple imposition of your morality on him?

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  46. Hi Ron

    I'm very sorry I'm being so unclear. The reason I choose agnosticism is because of my distaste for considering I have found a mainline to truth that has eluded other thoughtful, reasonable and well informed people.

    Yes, I would stop them. Why, because that is consistent with my desire to protect the innocent. Do I believe what the killer is doing is objectively wrong? I have no idea. Am I privileging my taste over his? Yes. I have no problem with privileging taste in this manner. I have a distaste for being hit in the face. I will privilege this taste over the taste of the person who wishes to hit me. I think I've made this point before.

    But, nowhere in this scenario, is the other thing I have a distaste for (other than senseless killing and being punched) in play. At no point do I think, the reason I am stopping you is because I know what the universe truly desires, and you don't.

    Bernard

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  47. Darrell

    I'm sorry you believe I am being disingenuous. On this point, at least, I can confidently assure you that you are mistaken.

    I am sorry too that you are to leave this conversation unresolved. We were getting very close to a shared understanding here. And that, according to my tastes, is a worthy goal. There is far too much shouting across the trenches, and by shutting down this conversation, we are supporting such tribalism.

    Bernard

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