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Open Letter to Sam Harris on “The End of Faith”

 
KathleenBrugger
 
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KathleenBrugger
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07 May 2016 17:56
 
SkepticX - 07 May 2016 08:32 AM
KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 07:37 AM
SkepticX - 06 May 2016 10:26 AM
KathleenBrugger - 06 May 2016 09:11 AM

Of course what SH was trying to do with this book is bring about the ‘end of faith.’ He wrote: “I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.” This sounds like the thought police to me.

I wouldn’t use such hyperbolic terms (abyss), but he really just saying that reality matters, and that when we choose to believe things that don’t mesh so well with it, that can be problematic. I don’t seen an issue there.

I am totally in agreement that reality matters. But I don’t think that means we have to give up on the existence of a non-material reality. There are people who are working towards a scientific spirituality. One author who I really admire is Ken Wilber. His integrative approach involves bringing empirical testing to the ‘inner’ realms.

Accepting reality includes accepting the unknown. Slipping some sort of presumption/fabrication into one’s set of beliefs about reality is inherently contrary to the whole reality matters schtick. What we don’t know is part of reality—ignorance isn’t some sort of realm in which we can somehow make anything we want real. It’s the unknown, the reality of the unknown is that we don’t know about that which properly falls under that description. When we start “choosing to believe” things about it (if that’s even really possible) we’re rejecting that definitive fact about the unknown—about reality.

I agree with this. I made this note while reading Dawkins: This is a good point: religion often makes a virtue out of not understanding—no need to figure this out, let it be a mystery, God did it.

But…I hope Poldano will write more about this concept of reality. I am intrigued by where that discussion would go.

 
 
KathleenBrugger
 
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KathleenBrugger
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07 May 2016 18:01
 
icehorse - 07 May 2016 09:33 AM
KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 07:54 AM
icehorse - 06 May 2016 09:26 AM

kathleen:

These are direct quotes from the theodicy section. I laughed aloud while reading it because his arguments were so ridiculous. This is what I mean by shallow and centered on the God of the Bible. There are many conceptions of God that are much more subtle than this and I haven’t seen Harris or Dawkins address them.

Of course what SH was trying to do with this book is bring about the ‘end of faith.’ He wrote: “I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.” This sounds like the thought police to me.

On the other hand, apologists often twist the very definition of “religion”. The most common understanding of “religion” is that sacred texts are an essential component. To declare that attacks on scripture are “shallow” is to be evasive.

I am not defending religion, be sure of that. Am I being evasive? Please explain.

SkepticX - +1

Kathleen,

The authors you’re criticizing are up against overwhelming odds. Us atheists and especially us anti-theists are a tiny, tiny minority of the population, and we see enormous, species-threatening problems with mainstream religion. So I think you have to allow these authors some room for rhetoric, no? Additionally, Harris has said over and over again that he loses no sleep worrying about the Amish. On the other hand, while your particular, rare form of belief is probably benign, it can give cover to the religions that ARE problematic. When you defend religion, you’re running with a dangerous crowd. smile

What if I like running with dangerous crowds? No, not that kind of dangerous.

Btw, did you see the Pew research poll from November 2015 that found that 8% of atheists believe in God or a Universal Spirit?

Although the literal definition of “atheist” is “a person who believes that God does not exist,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, 8% of those who call themselves atheists also say they believe in God or a universal spirit. Indeed, 2% say they are “absolutely certain” about the existence of God or a universal spirit.

 
 
icehorse
 
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07 May 2016 18:15
 

Hey Kathleen,

Btw, did you see the Pew research poll from November 2015 that found that 8% of atheists believe in God or a Universal Spirit?

I didn’t, but that would probably include me. Technically I’d call myself an agnostic, anti-theist, but for most folks “atheist” is close enough. It comforts me to think of something like “the force” in Star Wars, and I’d say that it’s not totally implausible. It’s always struck me that I’m more than a chemical reaction that got kicked off 59 years ago, and that at some point that long-running chemical reaction will just stop. Another argument that gives me some comfort is that energy is not destroyed, it has to go somewhere. I might be mis-attributing this to Thich Nhat Hahn but I like this analogy: “We’re like waves in the sea that exist for some time and then simply return to the sea.”

So I guess I’m hoping for a “universal spirit”.  smile

But I can say all of those things and still be a militant anti-theist.

 
 
KathleenBrugger
 
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07 May 2016 19:41
 
icehorse - 07 May 2016 06:15 PM

Hey Kathleen,

Btw, did you see the Pew research poll from November 2015 that found that 8% of atheists believe in God or a Universal Spirit?

I didn’t, but that would probably include me. Technically I’d call myself an agnostic, anti-theist, but for most folks “atheist” is close enough. It comforts me to think of something like “the force” in Star Wars, and I’d say that it’s not totally implausible. It’s always struck me that I’m more than a chemical reaction that got kicked off 59 years ago, and that at some point that long-running chemical reaction will just stop. Another argument that gives me some comfort is that energy is not destroyed, it has to go somewhere. I might be mis-attributing this to Thich Nhat Hahn but I like this analogy: “We’re like waves in the sea that exist for some time and then simply return to the sea.”

So I guess I’m hoping for a “universal spirit”.  smile

But I can say all of those things and still be a militant anti-theist.

YES. I think you have said it very well. Anti-theist. Theism is the belief in the interventionist creationist God of the bible and that God is an absurd joke. I’m anti-theist also. It’s definitely possible to be anti-theist and agnostic/open-to-the-concept-of-Universal-Spirit at the same time.

 
 
SkepticX
 
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07 May 2016 20:03
 
KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 05:46 PM
SkepticX - 07 May 2016 08:32 AM
KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 07:37 AM
SkepticX - 06 May 2016 10:26 AM

What sort of problem do you have with what he said there, anyway?

Are you suggesting Harris and Dawkins must tackle those concepts of God even if they aren’t at issue then?

Harris does address this though, when he talks about ad hoc god concepts—gods/religions of one, basically. It’s not entirely reasonable to expect a critic to address all conceptions and variations of the idea they’re criticizing. Instead they mention the ones they address, and we can ask questions about any others. We seem to be socialized to see it the other way around when it comes to religion though. It’s obviously not reasonable in other contexts, but that same sense is generally inactive when the subject of criticism is God or religion.

Yes they must tackle those concepts. How are they not at issue? Harris didn’t title his book “The End of Judeo-Christian-Muslim Faith.” Dawkins didn’t title his book “The Abrahamic-model-of-God Delusion.” They are tackling GOD. If you are going to argue that people have to stop having faith in God, or that God is a delusion, wouldn’t you think you would feel compelled to address as many people’s interpretation of God as possible? I’m not sure where you are referring to Harris’s reference to ad0hoc god concepts, I don’t remember that in End of Faith but I could have missed it.

Are you considering Harris’ stuff according to his use of the term faith, or yours?

And no, to address faith you don’t necessarily have to address gods at all. It’s not about whether there’s a god or not. It’s not even really about whether we practice some sort of religion. It’s about faith, and some religious practices don’t even require belief, so faith may not even be in that picture.

I’ll see if I can find the “religion of one” comment. It may have been in Letter to a Christian Nation—possibly even an elaboration on either book in a speech, but I’m pretty sure it’s actually in either or both TEoF/LtaCN.

I’m splitting these up because I’m like Jeff (jdmd)—I don’t like long posts.

No problem—works for me.

 

KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 05:46 PM

Faith in what? What is faith? Unfortunately I don’t own End of Faith or I would look to see if Harris defines faith in there.


Here are some quotes from The End of Faith to explain what Harris is talking about. It’s important not to equivocate from the form of faith at issue (I suggest you remove this intro comment and the quotes—aside from any you want to address of course—to cut way back on the length of the quote in your response):

“Faith is the mortar that fills the cracks in the evidence and the gaps in the logic, and thus it is faith that keeps the whole terrible edifice of religious certainty still looming dangerously over our world.”


“As we have seen, there is something that most Americans share with Osama bin Laden, the nineteen hijackers, and much of the Muslim world. We, too, cherish the idea that certain fantastic propositions can be believed without evidence. Such heroic acts of credulity are thought not only acceptable but redeeming ? even necessary.”


“Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence what so ever.”


“Surely, if we could create the world anew, the practice of organizing our lives around untestable propositions found in ancient literature—to say nothing of killing and dying for them—would be impossible to justify. What stops us from finding it impossible now?”


“Faith drives a wedge between ethics and suffering. Where certain actions cause no suffering at all, religious dogmatists still maintain that they are evil and worth of punishment (sodomy, marijuana use, homosexuality, the killing of blastocysts, etc). And yet, where suffering and death are found in abundance their causes are often deemed to be good (withholding funds for family planning in the third world, prosecuting nonviolent drug offenders, preventing stem cell research, etc). This inversion of priorities not only victimizes innocent people and squanders scarce resources; it completely falsifies our ethics. It is time we found a more reasonable approach to answering questions of right and wrong.”


“What one believes happens after death dictates much of what one believes about life, and this is why faith-based religion, in presuming to fill in the blanks in our knowledge of the hereafter, does such heavy lifting for those who fall under its power. A single proposition – you will not die – once believed, determines a response to life that would be otherwise unthinkable.”


“Believing a given proposition is a matter of believing that it faithfully represents some state of the world, and this fact yields some immediate insights into the standards by which our beliefs should function. In particular, it reveals why we cannot help but value evidence and demand that propositions about the world logically cohere.”


“While religious faith is the one species of human ignorance that will not admit of even the possibility of correction, it is still sheltered from criticism in every corner of our culture.”


“The point is that most of what we currently hold sacred is not sacred for any reason other than that it was thought sacred yesterday.”


“In the face of God’s obvious inadequacies, the pious have generally held that one cannot apply earthly norms to the Creator of the universe. This argument loses its force the moment we notice that the Creator who purports to be beyond human judgment is consistently ruled by human passions— jealousy, wrath, suspicion, and the lust to dominate. A close study of our holy books reveals that the God of Abraham is a ridiculous fellow—capricious, petulant, and cruel—and one with whom a covenant is little guarantee of health or happiness. If these are the characteristics of God, then the worst among us have been created far more in his image than we ever could have hoped.”


“How is it that, in this one area of our lives [religion], we have convinced ourselves that our beliefs about the world can float entirely free of reason and evidence?”


“This is not to say that the deepest concerns of the faithful, whether moderate or extreme, are trivial or misguided. There is no denying that most of us have emotional and spiritual needs that are now addressed—however obliquely and at a terrible price—by mainstream religion. And these are needs that a mere understanding of our world, scientific or otherwise, will never fulfill. There is clearly a sacred dimension to our existence, and coming to terms with it could well be the highest purpose of human life. But we will find that it requires no faith in untestable propositions—Jesus was born of a virgin; the Koran is the word of God—for us to do this.”


“Because most religions offer no valid mechanism by which their core beliefs can be tested and revised, each new generation of believers is condemned to inherit the superstitions and tribal hatreds of its predecessors.”


“It should go without saying that these rival belief systems [Judaism, Islam, Christianity] are all equally uncontaminated by evidence.”


“Religious faith represents so uncompromising a misuse of the power of our minds that it forms a kind of perverse, cultural singularity ? a vanishing point beyond which rational discourse proves impossible.”


“The idea, therefore, that religious faith is somehow a sacred human convention—distinguished, as it is, both by the extravagance of its claims and by the paucity of its evidence—is really too great a monstrosity to be appreciated in all its glory. Religious faith represents so uncompromising a misuse of the power of our minds that it forms a kind of perverse, cultural singularity—a vanishing point beyond which rational discourse proves impossible.”


“The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not ‘cowards,’ as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith—perfect faith, as it turns out—and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.”


“120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer.”


“Man is manifestly not the measure of all things. This universe is shot through with mystery. The very fact of its being, and of our own, is a mystery absolute, and the only miracle worthy of the name. The consciousness that animates us is itself central to this mystery and ground for any experience we may wish to call “spiritual.” No myth needs to be embraced for us to commune with the profundity of our circumstance. No personal God need be worshiped for us to live in awe at the beauty and immensity of creation. No tribal fictions need be rehearsed for us to realize, one fine day, that we do, in fact, love our neighbors, that our happiness is inextricable from their own, and that our interdependence demands that people everywhere be given the opportunity to flourish. The days of our religious identities are clearly numbered. Whether the days of civilization itself are numbered would seem to depend, rather too much, on how soon we realize this.”


“Nothing that a Christian and a Muslim can say to each other will render their beliefs mutually vulnerable to discourse, because the very tenets of their faith have immunized them against the power of conversation. Believing strongly, without evidence, they have kicked themselves loose of the world. It is therefore in the very nature of faith to serve as an impediment to further inquiry.”


“The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism.”


“My correspondent then went on to point out, as many have, that each of us has to get out of bed in the morning and live his life, and we do this in a context of uncertainty, and in the context of terrible certainties, like the certainty of death. This positive disposition, this willingness to set a course in life without any assurance that things will go one’s way, is occasionally called ‘faith.’ Thus, one may prop up a disconsolate friend with the words ‘have faith in yourself.’ Such words are almost never facetious, even on the forked tongue of an atheist. Let me state for the record that I see nothing wrong with this kind of ‘faith.’
But this is not the faith that has given us religion. It would be rather remarkable if a positive attitude in the face of uncertainty led inevitably to ludicrous convictions about the divine origin of certain books, to bizarre cultural taboos, to the abject hatred of homosexuals, and to the diminished status of women. Adopt too positive an outlook, and the next thing you know architects and engineers may start flying planes into buildings.”

[ Edited: 07 May 2016 23:58 by SkepticX]
 
 
SkepticX
 
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07 May 2016 20:10
 
KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 05:46 PM
SkepticX - 07 May 2016 08:32 AM
KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 07:37 AM
SkepticX - 06 May 2016 10:26 AM

What sort of problem do you have with what he said there, anyway?

Are you suggesting Harris and Dawkins must tackle those concepts of God even if they aren’t at issue then?

Harris does address this though, when he talks about ad hoc god concepts—gods/religions of one, basically. It’s not entirely reasonable to expect a critic to address all conceptions and variations of the idea they’re criticizing. Instead they mention the ones they address, and we can ask questions about any others. We seem to be socialized to see it the other way around when it comes to religion though. It’s obviously not reasonable in other contexts, but that same sense is generally inactive when the subject of criticism is God or religion.

Yes they must tackle those concepts. How are they not at issue? Harris didn’t title his book “The End of Judeo-Christian-Muslim Faith.” Dawkins didn’t title his book “The Abrahamic-model-of-God Delusion.” They are tackling GOD. If you are going to argue that people have to stop having faith in God, or that God is a delusion, wouldn’t you think you would feel compelled to address as many people’s interpretation of God as possible? I’m not sure where you are referring to Harris’s reference to ad0hoc god concepts, I don’t remember that in End of Faith but I could have missed it.

Are you considering Harris’ stuff according to his use of the term faith, or yours?

And no, to address faith you don’t necessarily have to address gods at all. It’s not about whether there’s a god or not. It’s not even really about whether we practice some sort of religion. It’s about faith, and some religious practices don’t even require belief, so faith may not even be in that picture.

I’ll see if I can find the “religion of one” comment. It may have been in Letter to a Christian Nation—possibly even an elaboration on either book in a speech, but I’m pretty sure it’s actually in either or both TEoF/LtaCN.

I’m splitting these up because I’m like Jeff (jdmd)—I don’t like long posts. Faith in what? What is faith? Unfortunately I don’t own End of Faith or I would look to see if Harris defines faith in there.

KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 05:46 PM

So you are saying that Harris is just arguing that people should stop having faith in anything unseen that lacks empirical evidence, and that includes all sorts of things besides god? Which is why god is tangential to the argument?

More or less, yeah—I’m saying that to address faith it’s not necessary to address any given object of it. It may be useful to do so, but it’s not a requirement, and much less so to address all forms of a given object of faith in order to address the faith aspect of that given equation.

But more importantly here, in order to discuss faith it is necessary to have some meaningful degree of agreement upon what’s being said when the term is used in the given discussion, and to avoid equivocating from that use within the discussion.

 

KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 05:46 PM

Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that string theory, after decades of research, does not have one shred of empirical evidence to estabish its veracity. So if I have faith in string theory Harris would tell me that I should give that up because it’s not evidence-based?

I can’t speak for him of course, but I’d guess Harris would suggest you take it for what it is. It’s a highly complex mathematical model that predicts the way nature/reality works using multiple dimensions. I’m not sure how string theory compares to religious beliefs/theism, but I’m pretty sure Harris would say that no religious faith is required to take string theory for what it is.

 
 
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07 May 2016 20:21
 

In this context is faith always coupled with religion? Or do you think Harris is also talking about the faith I have that the Sun will rise in the morning? I think he’s talking only about faith coupled with believing the supernatural.

 
 
KathleenBrugger
 
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08 May 2016 09:38
 
SkepticX - 07 May 2016 08:03 PM
KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 05:46 PM

Faith in what? What is faith? Unfortunately I don’t own End of Faith or I would look to see if Harris defines faith in there.


Here are some quotes from The End of Faith to explain what Harris is talking about. It’s important not to equivocate from the form of faith at issue (I suggest you remove this intro comment and the quotes—aside from any you want to address of course—to cut way back on the length of the quote in your response):

“Faith is the mortar that fills the cracks in the evidence and the gaps in the logic, and thus it is faith that keeps the whole terrible edifice of religious certainty still looming dangerously over our world.”
“As we have seen, there is something that most Americans share with Osama bin Laden, the nineteen hijackers, and much of the Muslim world. We, too, cherish the idea that certain fantastic propositions can be believed without evidence. Such heroic acts of credulity are thought not only acceptable but redeeming ? even necessary.”
“How is it that, in this one area of our lives [religion], we have convinced ourselves that our beliefs about the world can float entirely free of reason and evidence?”

These quotes above seem to address what SH means by faith, which, it seems, is belief without evidence. So would you say SH is OK with belief in God with evidence? The dictionary definitions of faith I see online include a lot about religion, e.g. Merriam-Webster’s defines faith: (a) strong belief or trust in someone or something (b) belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs (c) a system of religious beliefs. So I think it is understandable if people like me see the title of the book and take it as an attack on God, not religion. This quote does seem to imply that Harris is envisioning a spirituality based on empirical evidence:

There is clearly a sacred dimension to our existence, and coming to terms with it could well be the highest purpose of human life. But we will find that it requires no faith in untestable propositions—Jesus was born of a virgin; the Koran is the word of God—for us to do this.

 

 
 
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08 May 2016 09:50
 
SkepticX - 07 May 2016 08:10 PM
KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 05:46 PM

So you are saying that Harris is just arguing that people should stop having faith in anything unseen that lacks empirical evidence, and that includes all sorts of things besides god? Which is why god is tangential to the argument?

More or less, yeah—I’m saying that to address faith it’s not necessary to address any given object of it. It may be useful to do so, but it’s not a requirement, and much less so to address all forms of a given object of faith in order to address the faith aspect of that given equation.

But more importantly here, in order to discuss faith it is necessary to have some meaningful degree of agreement upon what’s being said when the term is used in the given discussion, and to avoid equivocating from that use within the discussion.

I totally agree with this and think definitions must be the foundation of any useful discussion so we know we’re talking about the same things. I was hearing SH say ‘end of religious beliefs’ when I read ‘End of Faith’ because I know SH is an atheist. And the book is a diatribe against religious belief. Perhaps if SH had started the book with a stronger assertion of his position about what he meant by faith it wouldn’t have been so confusing.

SkepticX - 07 May 2016 08:10 PM
KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 05:46 PM

Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that string theory, after decades of research, does not have one shred of empirical evidence to estabish its veracity. So if I have faith in string theory Harris would tell me that I should give that up because it’s not evidence-based?

I can’t speak for him of course, but I’d guess Harris would suggest you take it for what it is. It’s a highly complex mathematical model that predicts the way nature/reality works using multiple dimensions. I’m not sure how string theory compares to religious beliefs/theism, but I’m pretty sure Harris would say that no religious faith is required to take string theory for what it is.

But I’m not talking about taking string theory as it is, which is just a theory. If I say I have faith that string theory describes the way the universe works and I draw pictures of higher dimensions and assert these diagrams are reality—and I have no empirical evidence that this is true—aren’t I just as deluded as a religious believer describing the unfolding of the universe as a expression of God’s purpose? What’s the difference? Math? What’s the basis for deciding whether something provides adequate evidence? And who decides what’s adequate?

 
 
icehorse
 
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08 May 2016 10:05
 

Kathleen said:

But I’m not talking about taking string theory as it is, which is just a theory. If I say I have faith that string theory describes the way the universe works and I draw pictures of higher dimensions and assert these diagrams are reality—and I have no empirical evidence that this is true—aren’t I just as deluded as a religious believer describing the unfolding of the universe as a expression of God’s purpose? What’s the difference? Math? What’s the basis for deciding whether something provides adequate evidence? And who decides what’s adequate?

A couple of things leap to mind here:

- First would be the nature of the person who’s demonstrating faith. Typically the scientist will abandon a theory when it’s demonstrated to be false.
- Second, theories like string theory are designed to be falsifiable.
- Third, repeatable, predictable evidence.
- Fourth, admission of what’s not known.

 
 
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08 May 2016 15:25
 
icehorse - 08 May 2016 10:05 AM

Kathleen said:

But I’m not talking about taking string theory as it is, which is just a theory. If I say I have faith that string theory describes the way the universe works and I draw pictures of higher dimensions and assert these diagrams are reality—and I have no empirical evidence that this is true—aren’t I just as deluded as a religious believer describing the unfolding of the universe as a expression of God’s purpose? What’s the difference? Math? What’s the basis for deciding whether something provides adequate evidence? And who decides what’s adequate?

A couple of things leap to mind here:

- First would be the nature of the person who’s demonstrating faith. Typically the scientist will abandon a theory when it’s demonstrated to be false.
- Second, theories like string theory are designed to be falsifiable.
- Third, repeatable, predictable evidence.
- Fourth, admission of what’s not known.

Those are good things. But what is the nature of ‘repeatable, predictable evidence’? Let’s do a thought experiment. I have a theory that when I am less judgmental of other people I have better interactions with people I encounter. I can test this theory. I’m willing to abandon it if the theory is incorrect (I like being judgmental!). It’s falsifiable. I think it’s obvious there are plenty of things we don’t know about human interactions. But how do we measure the evidence? How can I prove to you that my interactions improve since this is largely a subjective matter—both the existence of my judgments and my perception of my interactions?

So for me the issue is still the nature of evidence. Is the only admissible evidence things that are in the physical realm? That would leave out a lot of mathematics since certain forms of math are completely conceptual (imaginary numbers, e.g.) I will quote from Ken Wilber’s book The Marriage of Sense and Soul; as I said before, he is one of the people I know of who is trying to show there can be an empirically-based spirituality. He addresses mathematics:

This interior mathematical experience is part of the essential ground of mathematical knowledge. We run the equations ‘through our head’ and see if they make sense—not sensory sense but mental sense, logical sense (following any number of logics, from Boolean to n-dimensional, none of which can be seen with the eye of flesh). In mathematical proofs, we follow a mental empiricism, a mental experience, a mental phenomenology, and we see if the patterns connect correctly.  We then check our interior experience with others who have run the same interior experiment, in order to see if they experienced the same result. If the majority of people who are qualified report the same interior experience, we generally call this a ‘mathematical proof,’ and we consider it a case of genuine knowledge.

“Thus, a direct, interior, mental experience (or empiricism in the broad sense) has guided our every move through the mathematical domain, and these inwardly experiential moves can be checked—confirmed or rejected—by those who have performed the same interior experiment (run the proof through their minds).

His argument is that in the same way, inward experiential spiritual states can be checked and confirmed or rejected by others who are qualified through study and practice.

Wilber concludes:

The real battle is not between science, which is ‘real,’ and religion, which is ‘bogus,’ but rather between real science and religion, on the one hand, and bogus science and religion, on the other. Both real science and real religion follow the three strands of valid knowledge accumulation, while both bogus science (pseudoscience) and bogus religion (mythic and dogmatic) fail that test miserably. Thus, real science and real religion are actually allied against the bogus and the dogmatic and the nonverifiable and the nonfalsifiable in their respective spheres.

 

 

 
 
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08 May 2016 15:26
 
KathleenBrugger - 08 May 2016 09:50 AM
SkepticX - 07 May 2016 08:10 PM
KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 05:46 PM

So you are saying that Harris is just arguing that people should stop having faith in anything unseen that lacks empirical evidence, and that includes all sorts of things besides god? Which is why god is tangential to the argument?

More or less, yeah—I’m saying that to address faith it’s not necessary to address any given object of it. It may be useful to do so, but it’s not a requirement, and much less so to address all forms of a given object of faith in order to address the faith aspect of that given equation.

But more importantly here, in order to discuss faith it is necessary to have some meaningful degree of agreement upon what’s being said when the term is used in the given discussion, and to avoid equivocating from that use within the discussion.

I totally agree with this and think definitions must be the foundation of any useful discussion so we know we’re talking about the same things. I was hearing SH say ‘end of religious beliefs’ when I read ‘End of Faith’ because I know SH is an atheist. And the book is a diatribe against religious belief.

Well, most religious belief anyway—arguably all at least to some extent perhaps, but a treatise against different forms of religious beliefs for very different reasons. That absolutely can’t be ignored. Harris himself is rather given to a sort of grounded semi-mysticism ... no? He also praises the Jains and some aspects of particularly meditative Eastern religions. This is why I’d say he singles out faith rather than just going after religion as a whole. But again, I can’t speak for him. Religion and faith are synonyms, but not in the context Harris is generally talking about them, as in his first title.

 

KathleenBrugger - 08 May 2016 09:50 AM

Perhaps if SH had started the book with a stronger assertion of his position about what he meant by faith it wouldn’t have been so confusing.

I thought he was pretty clear, and he emphasized which aspects of faith he was addressing as he wrote. Frankly it sounds more like a reflexive kind of defense mechanism compelling you to jump in front of bullets not aimed at you. It’s a reaction that results from the sense of threat—react first, figure out why later. It’s a very natural and highly functional human reaction taken into the realm of the abstract because we’re able to do that, and because we invest in abstractions, often quite heavily.

 

KathleenBrugger - 08 May 2016 09:50 AM
SkepticX - 07 May 2016 08:10 PM
KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 05:46 PM

Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that string theory, after decades of research, does not have one shred of empirical evidence to estabish its veracity. So if I have faith in string theory Harris would tell me that I should give that up because it’s not evidence-based?

I can’t speak for him of course, but I’d guess Harris would suggest you take it for what it is. It’s a highly complex mathematical model that predicts the way nature/reality works using multiple dimensions. I’m not sure how string theory compares to religious beliefs/theism, but I’m pretty sure Harris would say that no religious faith is required to take string theory for what it is.

But I’m not talking about taking string theory as it is, which is just a theory. If I say I have faith that string theory describes the way the universe works and I draw pictures of higher dimensions and assert these diagrams are reality—and I have no empirical evidence that this is true—aren’t I just as deluded as a religious believer describing the unfolding of the universe as a expression of God’s purpose? What’s the difference? Math? What’s the basis for deciding whether something provides adequate evidence? And who decides what’s adequate?

Ignoring for the moment the fact that religious presumptions are pretty arbitrary, culturally dependent, math-free, and don’t lend themselves to or accept much if anything in the way of genuine scrutiny very peaceably—just as deluded on an intellectual level, perhaps, but unless you find some way to order your life around string theory and do so with zeal and devotion we’re still talking about at least an order of difference here. And then there’s the additional detachment if we don’t ignore the fact that religious presumptions are pretty arbitrary, culturally dependent, math-free, and don’t lend themselves to or accept much if anything in the way of genuine scrutiny very peaceably.

 
 
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08 May 2016 19:31
 
SkepticX - 08 May 2016 03:26 PM
KathleenBrugger - 08 May 2016 09:50 AM

Perhaps if SH had started the book with a stronger assertion of his position about what he meant by faith it wouldn’t have been so confusing.

I thought he was pretty clear, and he emphasized which aspects of faith he was addressing as he wrote. Frankly it sounds more like a reflexive kind of defense mechanism compelling you to jump in front of bullets not aimed at you. It’s a reaction that results from the sense of threat—react first, figure out why later. It’s a very natural and highly functional human reaction taken into the realm of the abstract because we’re able to do that, and because we invest in abstractions, often quite heavily.

I’ve decided to get the book out of the library again and read the first chapters to see how SH defines faith. I’ve got a quick business trip the first part of this week but I’ll get back to you on this. :-}

SkepticX - 08 May 2016 03:26 PM
KathleenBrugger - 08 May 2016 09:50 AM
SkepticX - 07 May 2016 08:10 PM
KathleenBrugger - 07 May 2016 05:46 PM

Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that string theory, after decades of research, does not have one shred of empirical evidence to estabish its veracity. So if I have faith in string theory Harris would tell me that I should give that up because it’s not evidence-based?

I can’t speak for him of course, but I’d guess Harris would suggest you take it for what it is. It’s a highly complex mathematical model that predicts the way nature/reality works using multiple dimensions. I’m not sure how string theory compares to religious beliefs/theism, but I’m pretty sure Harris would say that no religious faith is required to take string theory for what it is.

But I’m not talking about taking string theory as it is, which is just a theory. If I say I have faith that string theory describes the way the universe works and I draw pictures of higher dimensions and assert these diagrams are reality—and I have no empirical evidence that this is true—aren’t I just as deluded as a religious believer describing the unfolding of the universe as a expression of God’s purpose? What’s the difference? Math? What’s the basis for deciding whether something provides adequate evidence? And who decides what’s adequate?

Ignoring for the moment the fact that religious presumptions are pretty arbitrary, culturally dependent, math-free, and don’t lend themselves to or accept much if anything in the way of genuine scrutiny very peaceably—just as deluded on an intellectual level, perhaps, but unless you find some way to order your life around string theory and do so with zeal and devotion we’re still talking about at least an order of difference here. And then there’s the additional detachment if we don’t ignore the fact that religious presumptions are pretty arbitrary, culturally dependent, math-free, and don’t lend themselves to or accept much if anything in the way of genuine scrutiny very peaceably.

I’m going to come up with a string-theory religion complete with rituals to amuse myself while I travel.

 
 
Poldano
 
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08 May 2016 20:46
 
KathleenBrugger - 08 May 2016 07:31 PM
SkepticX - 08 May 2016 03:26 PM

...
Ignoring for the moment the fact that religious presumptions are pretty arbitrary, culturally dependent, math-free, and don’t lend themselves to or accept much if anything in the way of genuine scrutiny very peaceably—just as deluded on an intellectual level, perhaps, but unless you find some way to order your life around string theory and do so with zeal and devotion we’re still talking about at least an order of difference here. And then there’s the additional detachment if we don’t ignore the fact that religious presumptions are pretty arbitrary, culturally dependent, math-free, and don’t lend themselves to or accept much if anything in the way of genuine scrutiny very peaceably.

I’m going to come up with a string-theory religion complete with rituals to amuse myself while I travel.

Each universe in the multiverse could be a referent to an eyeblink of Vishnu, a concept I came across in Joseph Campbell’ s The Power of Myth. So, in at least one sense, a string-theory religion already exists. The mathematics os string theory are only needed to make it work with existing mathematical theories that work but are incompatible with each other.

String theorists do base their work on empirical evidence that already exists. What it lacks is unique evidence that could only be the case if it were true and there were no better (more minimal, simpler, less grandiose) theory for it. That’s the way it seems to me, anyway.

 
 
pat2112
 
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09 May 2016 08:15
 
KathleenBrugger - 05 May 2016 03:40 PM

I will agree that Harris’s critique of religion is very shallow. I recently read Dawkins’ The God Delusion and was shocked at how shallow his arguments are. At times it sounds like the New Atheists have only heard of Western culture, the East doesn’t even exist for them (which is quite odd in Harris’ case since he’s studied with Eastern masters), and as a result they argue against some absurd God of the Bible as if that is the only concept of God that exists on the planet. In addition, as you say pat2112, these atheists seem to know very little about religion or any philosophy that is supportive of some kind of non-materialist, non-reductive perspective.

This is what I wrote in my journal after reading The End of Faith:

This book was a best-seller for an obvious reason: it is filled with diatribes against Islam, soon after 9/11, and against Christianity, including the scary fundamentalist beliefs of some of America’s politicians in power in this era. But he argues almost exclusively against the Abrahamic God. His argument against God in particular is confined to a very brief theodicy discussion that takes less than one page. He talks about there being sacred elements in life. He even admits that reincarnation might be true. In the end, this may be an effective anti-western-religion book. But not an anti-God book. He mentions Hinduism and Buddhism in passing.

Here’s what I wrote about The God Delusion:

Dawkins attacks the easiest targets. He picks out the most absurd religious believers and theologians and uses them to ridicule religious belief.

He doesn’t seem to have read any philosophy; about the only philosopher he quotes is Daniel Dennett who is one of the new atheist tribe. (Does quote Kant some of course.)

Dawkins could badly use a lesson in the evolution of consciousness. He seems to have no clue why people in earlier times might have magical or mythic beliefs. Quite a lapse in Dawkins’ understanding—he’s this huge advocate of evolution in the physical world, yet he seems to have never thought about there being an equivalent evolution in the way the mind apprehends reality. Perhaps this is because that would give too much credence to the mind.

His ideas for why humans developed religion are preposterous. His premise is that religion is a by-product of some trait that is useful in evolutionary terms—of course religion itself could not be useful—and he suggests that it’s the by-product of gullible children. We survive better if, as children, we listen to our parents’ admonishments. So we have evolved to be gullible in our youth, to believe what we’re told. Thus we believe everything our parents tell us, both the pro-survival advice and the superstitious nonsense. But! This is a theory for why religion propagated, not for why it originated. And he seems completely unaware of that.

His arguments against God are equally lame. First, he is only addressing a personal God, of course. Secondly, it’s all couched in this ‘improbability’ language. But he never really nails it, he just keeps repeating that God is more improbable than a universe starting from simple origins and evolving to more complex. But how simple is a Big Bang? And how improbable is something arising out of nothing?

Plus I get so tired of reading books that never even mention religion outside of the Abrahamic Big Three. How can these New Atheist authors be so oblivious to ignoring half the planet? I don’t get it.

Thank you Kathleen.

 
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