In response to JP, and RonH’s comments regarding narrative in the last comments thread, I am re-posting something I posted a couple of years ago.  Again, I am not using the words world-view, narrative, or faith based upon my own personal ideas.  I’m not that smart.  I am using the words as they are used by philosophers and theologians writing in these areas.  I have read widely in this area, but there is much no doubt I still do not understand.
I am basically taking my position (among others) from James Olthuis (1968-2004)Here he writes of world-views.  I might quibble a bit with some of this or state it slightly differently, but for the over-all gist of what I mean when I use the words world-view, narrative, and faith I agree with what Olthuis writes here.
Hopefully this will help when in the future you read me using these words.
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34 Responses to World-View/Narrative/Faith

  1. Burk Braun says:


    I gotta tell you that hanging your whole argument on this narrative thing is a problem. I don't disagree with the Olthuis article.. we all have our points of origin and approaches.. our world view. But how is it that some things transcend each of these individual world views, and becomes a fact, like the world is round?

    It does so by escaping all the biases and blinkered ideas and ideologies that pollute our world views, via evidence that is so compelling as to command assent on logical + empirical grounds. Now you may say.. hold on there! Reason itself is the devil's whore and an incarnation of the enlightenment world view, etc.. And that would be a consistent and quite traditional, if not majority, theological position.

    But if we can get past that one, (?), we are then launched on considerations of evidence, interpretation, and who is more reasonable than who else, and so forth. And all Bernard is saying, if I understand him correctly, is that there are plenty of areas where having a world view doesn't give you any power or right to say that you have “truth”.

    And that having faith, and calling it truth, is a disservice to our capacity of separating well-attested, well-evidenced findings about the world from far more speculative adventures … adventures worth poking our noses into, but not jumping into feet first.

    We could even have faith and recognize its paltry foundation, and lack of truth, as Eric sometimes sort of gets towards, but then backs away from. We could live some an hypothesis in an honest way, without making it pose as a “truth”, which it is not.

    And saying that some belief is personally “truthful” to/for you while it is in such a unproven state from broader philosophical perspectives is no help either. It amounts to saying that you segregate yourself off into an intellectual ghetto where you make up your own truths.

    In the end, world views don't justify anything, philosophically. They may justify from a psychological perspective, (you just believe in X really, really hard), but that isn't what you want either.


  2. Darrell says:


    “I gotta tell you that hanging your whole argument on this narrative thing is a problem.”

    And now you are going to tell me why I’m wrong, right? And the way you are going to do that is by speaking out of your world-view. So you are “hanging” as much as the rest of us here.

    “I don't disagree with the Olthuis article…”

    Well, with your other assertions here you either disagree strongly or I read a different essay.

    “And saying that some belief is personally “truthful” to/for you while it is in such a unproven state from broader philosophical perspectives is no help either. It amounts to saying that you segregate yourself off into an intellectual ghetto where you make up your own truths.”

    I don’t say any truth is just truth for me. I believe God exists whether or not anyone else believes so. I have no idea what you are suggesting here. It is you that believes morality and other meta-physical truths are “made up” and only true privately/subjectively therefore it would be you who is susceptible to creating a tribal mentality, an intellectual ghetto. Given the tiny number of atheists in the world, isn’t this already true?

    Your “unproven” charge here goes back to committing philosophical category errors.

    “In the end, world views don't justify anything, philosophically. They may justify from a psychological perspective, (you just believe in X really, really hard), but that isn't what you want either.”

    We could turn this around and say the same thing of your world-view. That you believe there is no God, just really- really hard. But such would be begging the question.


  3. Darrell says:


    Some quotes that may interest you. I most certainly agree with these:

    “There is another important implication of understanding worldviews in this way. If we recognize that though our faith is affirmed and nurtured in terms of our worldview, still our worldviews do not flow from our faith alone, then we have the room as well as the obligation to acknowledge and honor other world-views as being significant and worthy formations of a common underlying faith. Such recognition allows us to endorse our own worldview enthusiastically even as we recognize and learn from other worldviews.”

    “Even though we can do nothing other than confess and use our perception of reality as true for us – if we didn't so believe, we would have another perception – we may not canonize our interpretation of reality as the infallible blueprint for life. Such absolutization of our views conveniently absolves us from the need constantly to test and refine our own perceptions, and it negates the possibility of seriously considering any other perception of truth and reality. Indeed, it blocks us from being truly open to God's revelation.”

    “Worldviews, if they are to remain viable, need to be changed continually – as faith deepens, as insight into reality grows, and as individuals and cultures themselves move on to new stages in their development. Not allowing reality to question or correct one's views, not modifying one's views to meet changing reality, is to isolate oneself and one's views more and more from the reality of life. Eventually we will be forced to retrench as we continue to deny reality, or else the dam will break and we will have to abandon our views altogether. The subjectivity of being human, the changing nature of life, and our sense of our own fallibility all help us to realize that insight into the truth is and remains open-ended, on the way, in process. Worldviews develop in the reciprocity between faith and the rest of life experience. Not only do worldviews develop in process, but individual members of a community subjectively appropriate their worldview in stages and phases which correspond to the developmental stages of their lives.”

    “At the same time, these features of subjectivity, relativity, and continual development need not lead us to the relativist position that any one worldview is as good as any other. On a very existential level, some worldviews have shown themselves to prevent growth and to promote injustice. Moreover, as we noticed much earlier, adopting a vision of life involves committing oneself to the ultimate (or at least what is taken to be ultimate) as the unconditional ground of existence. Thus, although the vision I adopt is my vision, I adopt it because it affords me the experience of total peace and healing. That is its compelling character. And if it compels my allegiance, shouldn't it do the same for others? If not, why do I believe in it? What we believe to be most true for ourselves, we must also implicitly believe to be worth the commitment of others.”


  4. Hi Darrell

    Thank you for that.

    The final sentence reflects precisely the sentiment I have no taste for. “What we believe to be most true for ourselves, we must also implictly believe to be worth the commitment of others.”

    Notice, in our conversation we were speaking only of those aspects of belief that extend beyond the empirical and rational sphere. So, we are not talking about those things we believe will make others feel better. This is an empirical claim, albeit a difficult one to test. And, with regard to these aspects of world view, those where convergence through careful thought and observation can be achieved, I'm all for looking for the statements that ultimately yield consensus.

    So, to the extent that this is relevant to our previous conversation, we are speaking explicitly of those beliefs about which reasonable and fully informed people could disagree. Now, here is an example. I believe Waiting for Godot is one of the most important literary works of the twentieth century. A great many people don't. While I might wish to share my enthusiasm for the piece, and attempt to explain the profound beauty I find in it, I would never expect anybody else to commit to the opinion that it is a great work. For even if there is such thing as the platonic version of a great play, who am I to believe my tastes are in tune with it, when so many clearly disagree.

    So, the writer asks, 'if not, (with regard to the allegiance of others) why do I believe in it?' The answer is, I don't believe in it, not in the sense intended. My claim is not that one can exist outside of a world view, but that one can construct a world view that references as true only those facts communally held.

    In our last conversation, I challenged you to provide a counter-example, a belief within my world view that is not commonly held. You offered the example of my distaste, suggesting with regard to those things I find distasteful, I also hold some truth position on. I explained I didn't (see Godot) , and you told me you didn't believe me. To which there is no counter, obviously.

    I am, as ever, open to a genuine counter-example.



  5. Burk Braun says:


    “I don’t say any truth is just truth for me. I believe God exists whether or not anyone else believes so. I have no idea what you are suggesting here.”

    This is just what Bernard et al. are talking about. How could you possibly sustain such a claim on any rational, good-faith(!) basis? You can't. You are just pitting your non-rational faith against those of others, by force of will, by social dominance mechanisms (“community”) and whatever other non-philosophical tools you can bring to bear. It is the ultimate expression of presumptive privilege, in an intellectual sense.


  6. Darrell says:


    Let’s turn this around: “I don’t say any truth is just truth for me. I believe God does not exist whether or not anyone else believes so.”

    As an atheist, do you believe that statement or not? You have asserted or implied that same statement for years now. Are you telling us you now believe that your atheism is only true for you?

    “This is just what Bernard et al. are talking about. How could you possibly sustain such a claim on any rational, good-faith(!) basis? You can't.”

    I can and I have. I do. And so do you every time you assert your atheism.

    “You are just pitting your non-rational faith against those of others, by force of will, by social dominance mechanisms (“community”) and whatever other non-philosophical tools you can bring to bear. It is the ultimate expression of presumptive privilege, in an intellectual sense.”

    The very same charge could be turned on you. I believe your atheism is a non-rational faith belief. Remember that Bernard is attributing exactly what you are noting above also toward the atheist. And where is the “force” of will? Am I forcing anyone to believe? Perhaps you were thinking of the atheistic elite did in Soviet Russia? Or do you mean to suggest that actually beleiving something true is by its very nature an offense against you? Wow.

    And of course the rest of what you assert here is completely irrelevant because of the philosophical category errors and the presumption that we can only know if something is true if we know it empirically. Ask and answered many times now. You are just begging the question with such assertions.


  7. Darrell says:


    By no means am I shutting down the conversation. I hope the conversation continues. I just think I have demonstrated my point (that we all live by faith) to a degree here that we are just repeating ourselves and it is time to move on and try to re-frame or come at these issues from some other avenue to see if it can help all of us to perceive things anew if you will.

    “The final sentence reflects precisely the sentiment I have no taste for. ‘What we believe to be most true for ourselves, we must also implicitly believe to be worth the commitment of others.’”

    Yes, you’ve noted your distaste. I get that. The problem is you have no argument (that I can see) against the inherent logic of the statement by Olthuis. Clearly, what we believe to be “most” true (let’s not torture children), then “implicitly” we believe such is worth the commitment of others to also believe. Or if we believe it important to hold that only empirically arrived at knowledge can be universally and objectively true, we “implicitly” believe such to be worth the commitment of others.

    Or are you saying that there is not a single thing you believe that you could care less whether others believe it or not? Human rights? Environmental conservation? War? Tolerance? Equal rights? Animal rights? What about that we should agree that only empirical truths should be considered universal and objective truths? Do you wish others shared that belief?

    As to the rest of your comments, Bernard, I hear in your over-all reasoning (over time on Eric’s blog and here) that you believe in a story, a story that is proximately contained within the Enlightenment/Secular/Scientific/Modern narrative. Thus, because of that, you must believe that meta-physical truths can only be subjective, private, personal beliefs—beliefs that may be true for you, but not true for others. Because of that story, that narrative, that world-view, you must (logically) also believe that only those truths that can be established empirically can be universal and objective.

    Thus your distaste over the “process” you describe and its “logical implication”. Such a position is ubiquitous throughout the modern secular west (although less and less because of postmodernism), especially in the academy and in the natural sciences. You are saying nothing new or anything radical. The only difference is that you use the word “distaste” instead of “wrong” or “illogical” or “unreasonable” or other such words. I think such is a distinction without a difference—a subtly that melts away under the least scrutiny. Even Burk used the word “privilege” to restate what you are asserting bothers you—even he recognized that such is what you meant.

    And again, the story you believe in- I assert you believe by faith. I think I’ve established that. I don’t even think you disagree at this point, so what counter-example would I need to give. Your constant plea for one escapes me entirely. I have no idea what you think it would prove or mean.


  8. Hi darrell

    Am I saying there's not a single thing I believe that I couldn't care less whether others believe it or not?


    Do I believe metaphysical beliefs can only be subjective, personal, private beliefs?


    The reason I am interested in a counter example is because, as with the above, the examples you furnish are things I don't believe.

    You think the distinction between 'distaste for A' and 'believing A is wrong', is one without difference. Are you thus saying, that if you have a taste for vanilla ice cream, you also believe vanilla ice cream is objectively better than other flavours? Or in this case, does the distinction hold?

    My hope is this. At the point where you see there is a different between distaste and belief, you will accept agnosticism is not, of itself, a faith based narrative. Or you will provide a counter example, and show me I am wrong. Either would be a highly satisfactory conclusion to this discussion, don't you think?



  9. Darrell says:


    I have to admit that I now have no idea what you are talking about. I'm completely lost. No idea. We must be talking completely past one another.

    Since I believe that metaphysical beliefs are not matters of taste, I see no analogy between saying “I believe in God” as the same as saying “I like vanilla ice cream.” I do see the difference between distaste and belief. Do you see that to assert that the difference between metaphysical beliefs are matters of taste is a belief in and of itself and thus narrative based?

    I guess we just do not get each other at all. RonH, maybe you can help out. What am I completely missing here that I cannot understand Bernard at all? Any idea?


  10. RonH says:

    Hi, Darrell & Bernard…

    Well, Darrell, the last time I tried to bridge the gap between you two I got nowhere. However, I can't quite shake the notion that we're missing something here and could arrive at a good solid point of clear disagreement if we had a night in a pub to work it over. I suspect it goes directly to why these types of discussions often devolve into what Bernard calls “trench warfare”. Still, far be it from me to have sense enough not to butt in…

    I don't see that Bernard is making any conscious faith claim based on his worldview, like a Christian does when he says “I believe Jesus was raised on the third day.” However, I think Darrell's contention (if I may be presumptuous) is that the worldview itself cannot exist without what are essentially faith claims. The term “faith” may be a bit loaded here, but here's what I mean: Our narratives/worldviews contain both assumptions and the conclusions we derive from them. In logic, an assumption (or proposition) is a truth statement which is just taken as a given — it hangs in the air. You don't arrive at assumptions via reason; you reason forward from assumptions to conclusions. In fact, if you are doing any reasoning at all then somewhere there must already be propositions which you take to be true and that are not themselves conclusions.

    Now, to me, “faith” is that which gives base propositions their truth value. It is “the evidence of things not seen”, if you will. You can ask why a person holds a conclusion (they can give you their reasoning), but it makes no sense to ask why they make an assumption — they just do. Some assumptions are more useful than others. Some assumptions lead to contradictions, and so must be discarded (“loss of faith”). Sometimes what we think are assumptions are really conclusions based on deep and maybe unrecognized assumptions. But somewhere, back there, assumptions will always exist, and the entire worldview depends on them.

    Given the above, everyone who has a worldview is basing it on one or more assumptions which they make without any basis — “on faith”, as they say.

    This seems to me like a largely innocuous claim. Why is it that important? Well, until we identify these root assumptions in competing worldviews, we are doomed to trench warfare. The easiest way to spot a contradition in the opposition's reasoning is to overlook (or actively disregard) one or more of his assumptions. Folks try to win arguments using these “aha! gotcha!” maneuvers, but they really only work on people who haven't thought through their worldview much. In order to have a constructive worldview discussion, you've got to identify and compare the ungrounded, “faith-based” assumptions. That's hard to get started when one or more parties will not admit to having any.



  11. RonH says:


    Now, nontheists at this point may be thinking this is all well and good, and — okay, sure — they have some of these base assumptions (though they don't like to use the f word), but that as far as the “public sphere” is concerned, the only assumptions that should be considered true are the ones that are shared by everyone. But this has two problems: 1) we haven't really identified what those assumptions are which are actually shared by everyone; and 2) that claim is itself a base assumption which is clearly not shared by everyone! It is a pointless claim to make. If a person is willing to consider as true only the assumptions he shares in common with you, then you will inevitably arrive at the exact same conclusions if you both reason correctly. In other words, reasonable people will always eventually agree. Of course, if that were truly the case we'd not be having these discussions in the first place. And it's patently obvious to everyone except Burk that reasonable people do not agree (because for Burk, theists disagree precisely because they are unreasonable).

    If I may engage in a bit of empathic speculation… Apologies in advance if I'm off-mark, it is not at all intentional or with a mind to misrepresent or oversimplify. Bernard, I think what Darrell's understanding when you say you make no belief claims is that you essentially claim to have no a priori assumptions. This is, frankly, impossible as I understand logic, since without a priori assumptions you cannot reason. Darrell, I think what Bernard's getting at in his request for a counter-example is an illustration of where he is making an a priori assumption which you do not already share and thus is unique to his narrative/worldview. I myself have not been able to identify an explicit one, but that doesn't mean there isn't one — and I think Bernard is genuine in his desire to have it pointed out if it exists. Perhaps the assumption I allude to in the previous paragraph regarding the public sphere meets that criteria. I don't know.

    As for the whole “taste vs morality” thing… I'm starting to wonder if it's something of a red-herring. Near as I can tell, there's no practical difference between how Bernard is using taste and how I use objective right/wrong. We both have strong feelings, and we both have extents to which we are willing to impose those feelings on others who do not share them. Bernard maintains consistency with his narrative assumptions by referring to these feelings as subjective tastes. I maintain consistency by referring to these feelings as objective morality. I suppose an interesting exercise would be to identify where we're willing to impose different feelings on others, and why. That also might lead to uncovering a priori assumptions which we do not have in common.

    Hope this helps a bit.



  12. Hi Ron

    Thanks for the thoughtful analysis.

    You're right, my claim is not that there are no baselines assumptions. From the get go, I've been as clear as I possibly can be about some of my base assumptions (that the world has enough regularity for expectation to make sense, that the rules of deductive logic apply in these conversations, that the other minds in this conversation exist…)

    I was responding to Darrell's claim that my world view privileges certain beliefs, and I figure if we can find some beliefs that are required to sustain my view, but are not common across what we would cal the reasonable and well informed, then Darrell has an excellent point.

    The example you offer would work if I made that assumption. I don't. I think it is perfectly reasonable for people to consider their non-public assumptions to be true, I just think to do so has certain logical implications that I prefer to avoid. That's all.

    So please, anyone, if there is an example out there, throw it my way. It would be genuinely illuminating. More than that, it would force me to adjust my entire world view, which is a tremendously exciting process.



  13. Hi Darrell

    Yes, I do see that to assert metaphysical differences are purely a matter of taste is to privilege a narrative based belief. It's why I don't make that assertion.

    I think that for very many metaphysical beliefs, the difference will be an objective one, that some people will be speaking truth, and others incorrect. Furthermore, I believe it is quite possible that the methodologies promoted by that side will indeed prove to have been warranted and accurate.

    So, belief is a perfectly reasonable choice. I choose not to believe, because I find that's what suits me. It makes me happiest. Unlike the choice to believe, this choice has makes no statement about what is or is not true in the world, and as such does not privilege one view of the truth over another.



  14. Burk Braun says:


    Your obfuscation is not very enlightening.

    Let me make this even simpler. World views provide prejudices, not knowledge.

    Does your world view allow you to call white black and black white? No. I think you agree thus far.

    At the next level, if we know nothing about, say, how many gumballs are in a jar, does a world view allow you to know the number? Does it allow you to pontificate about what you know the number is, in perfect truth and faith? Perhaps, but it is rather presumptuous and “taking privilege”, not to mention rude, to do so. Some things are just unknown, and no amount of personal conviction or world view otherwise can fix it.

    At the next level, can world views provide an epistemology that is unavailable to the reasonable observer, the unbiassed person, and similar locutions denoting someone not beholden to particular ideologies and strong prejudices on the particular matter at issue?

    Does religion communicate special knowledge through people's navels and scriptures, and the like? All the evidence we have is that no.. that way never leads to knowledge, though inspirations lead to all sorts of other things, like good deeds, bad deeds, wars, group-ishness, hate, love, etc..

    That perhaps is the core issue, since religions are based on mystical knowlege about things that mere mortals are barred from. Why else do you have unshakable conviction in something so undemonstrable and unreasonble? Why else do you take what the pope says seriously? It all comes down to epistemology, and the modern model of human knowledge that, yearn as we might for explanations of all things, and deluded as make ourselves and others with made-up stories about everything under the sun, some things really are unknown.


  15. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    One more thing occurred to me that might be a source of disconnect, and might also be relevant to your challenge.

    There may be base assumptions that you hold which you are taking to be baseline assumptions for Darrell as well, but in fact aren't. You may both hold the statements to be true, but not for the same reasons. If in your case it is a baseline assumption but in Darrell's case it is a conclusion derived from a different baseline assumption, then from Darrell's perspective your assumption is indeed not one of his own.

    Say, for example, Christian Ron vs. the French Revolutionary. I'm going to oversimplify for the purpose of example. We both agree that human individuals have a right to liberty. The Revolutionary asserts that this is simply an innate truth. For him, it is an a priori assumption. For me, it isn't an assumption at all… Rather, it is a conclusion derived from my own a priori assumptions about God. I'm assuming on faith that God exists, and concluding (eventually) that individuals therefore have a right to liberty. The Revolutionary holds no assumption about God, and instead postulates directly that individuals have a right to liberty. In this case, while the notion that individuals have a right to liberty is a common truth we share, he is asserting it directly on faith and I am not (but am doing so transitively).

    Something like this might be in play between you and Darrell. He sees you making claims which he concludes must be faith-based, because they are a priori. You think they don't qualify as faith claims because they are not narrative-exclusive and Darrell holds them as well. But from Darrell's perspective, he may not be holding them as faith claims at all, but rather derived conclusions from other faith claims which you do not share. Thus, your challenge can be satisfied by a truth claim which he still holds, but not as an a priori assumption.

    This is subtle, and in some way may even feel like cheating a bit. But in my experience, people do this all the time. Conclusions we hold for various reasons often get “pulled up” to the level of assumption, because then they no longer require justification. The belief in a right to individual liberty was initially derived from Christian assumptions (at least in Europe), but by the time of the Enlightenment was being elevated from a conclusion to an assumption — thus making the prior Christian assumptions unnecessary to sustain the desired truth claim. Of course, discarding the prior assumption itself can have unforseen consequences… which may well have contributed to why the French Revolution went the way it did, in contrast to the American Revolution (in which the population by and large retained the prior Christian assumptions).

    Does this make sense?


  16. Hi Ron

    Yes, that makes good sense. I don't think it's in play here. My reasoning is thus: I'm attempting to see what can be constructed from a world view that takes at its foundations the current best guesses/models of the physical world, which I suspect are agreed upon, and the rules of inductive and deductive logic which are shared in the sense that without them conversations like these don't seem to make much sense.

    Beyond that, my agnosticism kicks in. So, while I imagine Darrell holds there is a reason that our rule sof reasoning work at all, and this is indeed grounded in his meta-narrative of a purposeful universe, I don't deny that belief at all. I have no idea whether the universe is purposeful. Nor do I have an opinion on it.

    So, what we're looking for, I think, is a case not where we have beliefs that don't overlap, ut where one of my beliefs explictly denies a belief we can nevertheless agree is reasonable.



  17. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    So, what we're looking for… is a case… where one of my beliefs explictly denies a belief we can nevertheless agree is reasonable.

    What does it mean to agree that a belief is reasonable? In the sense I'm using it above, a belief is an assumption. It is not “reasonable” in the sense that it is not derived using reason — it is postulated a priori. What you arrive at via reason is a conclusion, and not a belief/assumption at all. We use the phrase “I have a reason to believe…”, but technically what we're doing there is not believing. You cannot maintain that all your beliefs are reasonable therefore — only that your conclusions are. But then what were the a priori beliefs on which those reasonable conclusions were based?

    There are two kinds of truth statements: a priori ones (assumptions) and derived ones (conclusions). If we agree something is “reasonable”, it means we agree it is a valid conclusion given the chosen assumption set. We might even both be able to arrive at the same conclusion using different assumptions, but regardless we'll both consider the conclusion to be reasonable. If I find an assumption you hold which denies a conclusion (i.e. “reasonable belief”) which you also hold, I've demonstrated a contradiction and you've got a problem — but this is true irrespective of Darrell's assumption set and whether or not it leads to the same conclusion. It says nothing about agnosticism per se.

    If you agree that you hold a priori assumptions (as clearly you must), then for you to say “I am an agnostic” (as you've defined agnosticism) then something along the lines of “All my a priori assumptions are held a priori by everyone else” must also be true. That statement would not be difficult to falsify, however, as I point out in my previous comment. If you hold an a priori assumption which Darrell does not also hold a priori, then you're making a faith claim (relative to Darrell, at least).

    What do you think?


  18. Darrell says:


    “World views provide prejudices, not knowledge.”

    Well, in your case this is certainly true. You are adding nothing here Burk, other than confirming what happens when one is blind to his own prejudices. You said that you agreed with Olthuis, but clearly you do not if you think world-views provide prejudices. Oh, you just meant everyone else’s world-views. Got it.

    And by the way, Bernard doesn’t believe anyone is “privileging” their own view. He may have said so at one time, but now he’s changed his mind. I guess. So you will have to make that charge on your own.

    Again, I will point out that everything you are saying here would apply to your atheism, so be careful. Remember that at one time you said you were trying to “convert” people to atheism. You think atheists are right and believers wrong. How is that different than what you are busy accusing others of here?

    Oh, that’s right, it’s different because you are right and everyone else is wrong. Basically, that is your argument.

    And again, your “black and white” and “gumball” examples are irrelevant because you are making philosophical category errors again with your appeal to empiricism.


  19. Darrell says:

    Bernard and RonH,

    I took a break today to particpate in that cultural religious ceremony we call here in the states, the SuperBowl. So I will read through the recent comments and try to jump back in.

    After looking at some of the comments, I want to remind that I am using Olthuis's take on world-view, so we don't have to speculate too much as to what I mean. I would also ask that you really read through what he says to get a good sense of what I'm talking about.


  20. RonH says:

    Oh, I realized later that I didn't explicitly address probable assumptions arrived at via induction, which would be most (all?) of science. But that doesn't really change anything. In order for induction to work, you already have to have things that you've concluded were true from a priori assumptions. Eventually, you're going to end up talking about causality and how we know anything exists, etc. Sooner or later, one of you says “God” and the other says “No, this other thing” and voila: differing faith claims.


  21. Hi Ron

    Not quite. Eventually one says God, and the other says, I don't know. The second does not contradict the first.

    Now, you say it won't be difficult to find an a priori assumption that denies one of Darrell's. I'm not so sure. So, over to you for an example.



  22. Burk Braun says:


    “You think atheists are right and believers wrong. How is that different than what you are busy accusing others of here?”

    Did I (or you, for that matter) indicate that truth was impossible?

    No, we agree that we can gain truth about things in some cases… cases where there is compelling evidence that transcends, via logic & evidence, our various ideological and biassed starting points.

    Thus it is possible in any issue for one side to be wrong and the other side right, quite apart from their “world views”, faith, etc.

    The question then is.. for those who are pushing a positive belief, in male gods, efficacy of prayer, resurrections, etc… where's the beef? Is there an argument that is compelling, not on narrative and affective grounds, but on evidential and logical grounds?

    Conversely, the job of the skeptic is far easier. If the evidence isn't there, then she is in her rights, indeed is duty-bound, to withhold belief in such positive propositions, and if interested, investigate further, or if not, proclaim agnosticism and be done with it.

    This is an argument a simple as can be.. only about the form of what can and should be accepted into belief. Then of course we get to questions of evidence and the like, but those have been extensively churned through by the higher criticism, science, jistory, anthropology, and many other fields.

    But of course, you don't accept empiricism because it does not support your faith in how the world works. That is too bad.


  23. Darrell says:


    You are just begging the question here. The post on philosophical category errors covered all this.

    You are basically saying, “Everything I'm accusing everyone else of doing is okay for me to do, because I'm right.”

    Appeals to evidence would work if we were talking about God as Superman or material force/object. The other areas you speak of, “higher criticism, science, jistory, anthropology, and many other fields…” even to this day are contested and none of these areas “prove” anything, they simply lend credence or tend toward showing one view is stronger than another. Many feel that those areas favor the Christian narrative. Again though, all those areas can do is provide evidence and such still has to be interpreted.

    You have faith in a world-view that demands a certain epistemology–empiricism. And that would serve you well if we were talking about whether or not the world was flat. Your faith steps in when you assert that all questions can only be settled empirically.


  24. RonH says:

    Not so fast, Bernard. At some point, before you get to the “I don't know”, you get to an a priori assumption. You have to have them for scientific induction to work. Even if you assume something which Darrell does not assume but concludes (on the basis of a different assumption), then you are essentially making a faith claim relative to Darrell. Your assumption does not have to deny something which he affirms.

    In other words, your agnosticism is consistent if the set of your a priori assumptions is either equivalent to or a subset of the set of Darrell's a priori assumptions. Is this a restatement of your challenge which you can affirm?

    My purpose for chiming in here wasn't to meet your challenge, but to try to restate it in a way that both you and Darrell could accept. You were saying “You haven't met my challenge”, while Darrell was saying “Yes I have, because you said X” and you were replying “No, that's not a belief I hold” and it was just going 'round and 'round. My objective is to try to get agreement on whether or not the challenge is met.

    Now, personally, I suspect the challenge is quite “meetable”, though I don't know that I have the expertise to do it. Whence my confidence? Well, as I understand it, the object of the whole Enlightenment Rationalist project was exactly this: establishing a set of a priori assumptions that could do the work previously done by God, so that the assumption of God could itself be discarded. So to the extent that your views about the world inherit in some way from Enlightenment Rationalism (which is highly likely), you almost certainly hold one of these assumptions. If Darrell posits God a priori instead of an assumption posited to replace God (though the statement may still have truth value in Darrell's worldview as a conclusion of his assumption about God), then you two have differing faith claims. I find it hard to believe that this is untrodden ground, and were I more well-versed in the principles of Enlightenment Rationalism I might well have such an assumption ready-at-hand. The best I can offer is to get back to you at a later date should an epiphany strike. Frankly, I don't have a whole lot invested in getting you to make this admission, since you already appear to at least admit the possibility that I am justified in holding my Christian beliefs, even if you are unpersuaded by them. That leaves lots of room for interesting discussion. Burk cannot admit that possibility at all, which is why with him it's pretty much just hit-and-run grenade lobbing (something I think we both find not to taste.).

    So, how about it? Does my restatement of the challenge seem clear to all parties?


  25. Darrell says:

    Bernard and RonH,

    “I was responding to Darrell's claim that my world view privileges certain beliefs, and I figure if we can find some beliefs that are required to sustain my view, but are not common across what we would call the reasonable and well informed, then Darrell has an excellent point.”

    The privileging comes in the very framing of the issue and the use of the words “taste” and “privilege”. I’ve pointed out why now for several paragraphs and in several posts. Such is what sustains your view and is entirely narrative driven as explicated by Olthuis.

    And they are not commonly held at all. Most reasonable and well-informed people do not hold that either questions of God’s existence or matters of morality are matters of taste or privilege. Most believe that they are questions of truth in the sense they would be true even if a majority of people disagreed and true in all times and in all places.

    So why don't I have an excellent point?


  26. Darrell says:


    Yes, you capture much (if not all) of what I am saying to a fair degree.

    And I agree, I don't really care if Bernard wants to believe his agnosticism is somehow neutral or entirely without reasons or narrative/world-view sensitive (although I do think such impossible). So much of what is said and asserted in every other conversation makes the narrative Bernard believes in pretty clear–wouldn't you agree, Bernard? Or do you not have reasons in those areas (say the hard problem of consciousness) too?

    I just think if we could all see the faith based (which doesn't mean “not true”) nature of our beliefs in these areas, we could get past the whole, “I'm reasonable and right because I have evidence and the facts on my side,” sort of hammer that all fundamentalists want to use.


  27. Darrell says:


    That “hammer” and “fundamentalist” comment wasn't directed at you. I don't think you attempt to do this at all. I'm just pointing out why I think our understanding of narrative is so important.

    And I still don't understand why it is important to you that your agnosticism somehow sit outside of narrative.


  28. Burk Braun says:

    Ron, all-

    “Well, as I understand it, the object of the whole Enlightenment Rationalist project was exactly this: establishing a set of a priori assumptions that could do the work previously done by God, so that the assumption of God could itself be discarded. So to the extent that your views about the world inherit in some way from Enlightenment Rationalism (which is highly likely), you almost certainly hold one of these assumptions.”

    This was helpful to me, at least laying out the level of assumption being engaged. The enlightenment was not really about discarding god or not.. that was a side effect. It was a search for truth. But that is another topic.

    For our needs, the question is … what is this alternate assumption that the enlightnement allowed thinkers to engage in? I would characterize it as the utterly different and far more swallow-able assumption that physical existence is more or less as it presents itself to us, and that at least for all practical purposes, the authority on what is real is empiricism.. i.e. direct consultation with that reality, rather than Platonic forms, scriptures, etc.

    This had many effects- hugely productive in practical understandings of reality, huge advances in our understanding our our place in the universe as far as can be reliably determined, and a de-emphasis on metaphysical questions which turn out to be, very often, meaningless.


  29. Hi Ron

    When you write 'your assumption doesn't have to deny something he affirms' then we've wandered slightly from the only point I wished to make. Which was that my world view, with all its various faith based components, does not deny something affirmed by those who share the same evidential and logical base.

    I wouldn't argue that there is no faith at work in my view, of course there is, nor would I argue that my baseline assumptions are always shared, because this is not the point I'd wish to get at. I'd argue only that the agnostic is in the happy position (for me) of not having to dismiss alternative beliefs, something the Christian, for example, misses out on (just as the agnostic misses out on many things available to the Christian).



  30. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    Thanks for that. I am genuinely perplexed then at what the point of contention was between you and Darrell. Darrell's been trying to get an admission of an appeal to faith in your worldview, and it seemed to me at least (and apparently to him) that you were rejecting the notion. Here it doesn't sound as if that is something you dispute. Ah, well, language is a tricky business, and subtleties can get lost when we philosophize via blog. Still, that one can engage at all semi-real-time in a philosophical discussion with a person thousands of miles away is truly a wonder, is it not?

    An advantage the agnostic has is indeed that he does not have to dismiss alternative beliefs. A disadvantage is that he is not free to believe them either (and remain agnostic).




  31. Hi Ron

    Yes, language is tricky, and necessarily so, I think. Who was the philosopher who said of his craft: we make the odd addition to a category, refine the odd definition, it's a living.

    I think there is a substantive disagreement beneath all of this, but it's very hard to get at. It has something to do with what lessons we take from disagreement. For the non-believer, one of the most striking things about belief, is the ability of the devout to conclude that countless millions have just got it wrong. Weirdly, I find this easier to understand from those who are certain of their beliefs, for they can conclude the other side are missing vital evidence, or are just stupid. For the more sophisticated believer, however, this doesn't seem to be an option. And so I imagine, but don't know, that you construct some sort of narrative that explains how you came to the truth while the rest of us missed it. And when I try to put myself in those shoes, I struggle to see what sort of a story I would go for there. So it does fascinate me.

    And yes, quite remarkable that one can engage in stimulating conversation across the globe, and indeed across theologies. Quite excellent. Thank you.



  32. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    The problem you raise is hardly a new one, although the increasing numbers of unbelievers in “the West” (that term hardly seems accurate, but I can't think of a better one at the moment) does bring it more to the fore these days. There are ways of thinking about it that are consistent with Christianity without being distasteful. We all bear the image of God, even if we don't necessarily recognize it, and I don't at all think that no truth about God can be discovered outside of Christianity. As poor a job as Christians often do of telling the story, one can hardly blame folks for not seeing the truth of it. But a particularly horrible production of Shakespeare doesn't justify rejecting Shakespeare as an unskilled hack.

    In this life, I think we're responsible for seeking truth and responding to it when we recognize it. Ultimately, like Eric Reitan, I think there is a good case to be made that God manages to defeat all opposing arguments — with love.

    In many ways, the challenge presented by intelligent unbelievers has been God's gift to Christians. I can't help but wonder if they get “extra credit” for that. In Chesterton's semi-allegorical short novel, The Ball and the Cross, two men (an atheist and a Roman Catholic) are trying to have a duel over the matter of religious belief. Every time they try to settle the duel, they are thwarted by various figures and circumstances — not the least being the law, which forbids duelling. Though sworn enemies at the beginning of the story, the two become friends as they realize that they are the only ones around them who think the matter is important enough to fight over — the rest of the world has slipped into apathy. It's an amusing tale, from a man who regularly crossed swords with his friends George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Bertrand Russell.



  33. Thanks Ron

    Should you ever feel the urge to articulate how you make that work, it would be of interest.




  34. Burk Braun says:

    Gosh, Ron- you do know that Shakespeare wrote fiction, right?


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