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Dynamic Faith in Pancritical Rationalism
Lincoln Cannon   Mar 15, 2012   Ethical Technology  

We have faith, even the most atheist among us. Our faith is not necessarily explicit or associated with “God”, and hopefully it’s not irrational or dogmatic. Yet we must trust, and we do trust, to the extent that we act, speak or even think. In the least, we trust in the possibility of meaning, even if it’s no more than something like a hope for or will toward a primitive connectivity or a basic cooperation within experience.

In the comments on an H+ Magazine article on “Why Christianity and Transhumanism are not Enemies”, philosopher Max More disagreed with my assessment of faith. Here’s the exchange, including an opening comment from someone named “Ben”.

Ben: “Christianity is based on FAITH. Transhumanism is based on SCIENCE. What more is there to say?”

Lincoln: “Science also depends on trust in non-contradiction, spatial and temporal uniformity, causality, etc. Faith is inescapable, but we don’t need to be irrational.”

Max: “No, that’s just not true. That’s a common argument, and understandable enough. But you should read Karl Popper and William Warren Bartley. Pancritical rationalism shows why NOTHING need be taken on faith. I summarize this line of thinking here: http://www.maxmore.com/pcr.htm.”

I responded to Max that I want to press him on this further, and this essay is aimed at that end. Before I proceed, though, I want to say a few things about Max. I had the opportunity to meet and interact extensively with Max during the Transhumanism and Spirituality Conference 2010 organized by the Mormon Transhumanist Association in Salt Lake City. The experience was a pleasure. His speech at the conference was excellent, side discussions with him were intriguing, and on a personal level I found him to be engaging and friendly. My respect is particularly high for his broad contributions to and influence on Transhumanist thought.

At the beginning of his article on Pancritical Rationalism, Max appeals to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism as an example of ideologies that would negate faith:

“Superficially and officially Objectivism opposed blind faith, dogma, unquestioned authority, and unexamined assumptions (‘check your premises!’). Independence and rationality were core virtues; those who could not or would not think critically for themselves were branded as second-handers, mystics, or Witch-doctors.”

Max’s use of the expression “blind faith” probably reveals the source of our disagreement. When I use “faith”, I don’t mean blind trust. I mean only trust, with no more blindness than necessary at a given time and place. I also don’t mean dogma or any unquestioning or unexamining attitude. Rather, I mean that no matter how many questions we ask, and no matter how much we examine and press the frontiers of our knowledge, there are more questions to ask, and there are more matters to examine, and that may always be the case. So, whether we like it or not, we find ourselves in a context that requires faith in practice. Life and death hang in the balance, and we cannot wait for absolute answers (even if they exist) before we act.

Even when we have the luxury of time, we cannot make progress without at least tentatively agreeing on basic premises. Science typically posits causality and uniformity as basic premises. Some will argue that these are proven by science, but that’s not true, as the empiricist philosophers, Hume and Berkeley, taught us. No matter how many times we think we’ve experienced something, no matter how many places we think we’ve experienced it, it could change at another time or place. Well, some may respond, at least we have probabilities? Strictly speaking, no, we don’t even have probabilities. Probabilities are derived from memories. Can we demonstrate that erroneous memories were not fabricated in our minds moments ago by an evil demon? A matrix architect? No. We cannot, but we don’t worry much about that because it’s not practical, or at least so we judge based on our memories, even if that’s circular reasoning.

The same is true of logic. We require some basic axioms and methods, taken unproven, in order to do any work at all. For example, most logical systems assume non-contradiction, and various operations for coupling, decoupling, and otherwise operating on propositions. Logic doesn’t prove these axioms and methods. They are assumed, which is an act of faith, as I’m using the word.

Max proceeds to note that Rand and others failed to live up to the promise of Objectivism, instead becoming “true believers dogmatists suffering from a hardening of the orthodoxies”. He attributes their failure to claims (or at least attitudes) of completeness and closure. They chose some assumptions, considered them sufficient and final, and proceeded dogmatically from there, without going back to question and improve their initial assumptions.

Intending to provide a better example of ideologies that would negate faith, Max contrasts Objectivism with his own Extropianism:

“Extropians affrim reason, critical inquiry, intellectual independence, and honesty. We reject blind faith and the passive, comfortable thinking that leads to dogma, mysticism, and conformity ... Extropians therefore feel proud by readily learning from error rather than by professing infallibility ... We choose challenge over comfort, innovation over emulation, transformation over torpor.”

Max calls this systematic openness a “pancritical rationalism” or “epistemological fallibilism”, to which I respond with support, so long as it is approached practically. We should re-examine our premises, assumptions and conformities. We should seek out and acknowledge our limitations. We should engage in and welcome criticism. All of this, over time, strengthens our knowledge, much like the brutal hardships of nature have shaped our anatomies through billions of years of evolution. However, there are practical limits, and perhaps no philosophical movement has better addressed these limits than the Pragmatist school. As William James once described it, you can wait for a long time for hard evidence that a woman loves you, or you can make a move. You can stand in front of a charging bull calculating the probability that it will trip, or you can run. You can wait for more evidence that anthropogenic global warming will harm our civilization, or you can begin cleaning up your act. Furthermore, because you are limited, and because you will always be limited, you will always find yourself dependent on this faith, this trust in the knowledge at hand at any given time, according to whatever education or experience you were lucky to have had (or at least presume yourself to have had) prior to needing it.

Beyond the practical necessity, there may even be a creative power in faith. If the universe (or the multiverse) is not finite, if real creativity and genuine novelty are possible, it will not be those who wait for evidence that will be the creators. It will be those who act, despite not knowing everything in advance. We might imagine this faith at its creative zenith in the power of Gods creating (or computing) new worlds, but we need not look so far. The creative power of trust may be seen even in matters as common as love. As we exercise trust in each other, and as the strength of that trust grows, we gain love for each other, and this love in turn moves us to do that which we would not otherwise do, changing our relations and world. Don’t underestimate the creative power of love!

Of course, we should examine and reexamine. We should question and learn more, of course. Yet there are still practical limitations. Should we randomly test hypotheses of how best to terminate our relations? Should we test hypotheses of how best to annihilate the Earth? Perhaps there are some detached and indirect, relatively non-consequential, ways to test these hypotheses, such as through simulations. However, our faith shapes the approaches we take to criticism and examination. We don’t proceed arbitrarily or indiscriminately.

Max mentioned in his original comment to me that I should take a look at Karl Popper, and at the beginning of his article’s section on “Rationalism and Justificationalism”, Max quotes Popper while expounding on the value of criticism:

“We could then say that rationalism is an attitude of readiness to listen to critical arguments and to learn from experience. It is fundamentally an attitude of admitting that ‘I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth’.”

I support this attitude, and perhaps ironically, I view it as an expression of faith! Acknowledging limitations is trust that those limitations can be overcome. I don’t start with evidence of that, and even after much learning I don’t have evidence that all of my limitations can be overcome. The effort to continue, to remain open, to question and seek answers, is itself an expression of faith. Certainly, it’s not the blind unquestioning faith against which Max and Karl would warn us. Yet it is still faith of the anticipatory sort.

Max next expounds on some of the matters I mention above, digging into the complexities of competing premises, deductive and inductive limitations, sensory limitations, and the necessity of practical action in life. Clearly, nothing I’ve written above is news to Max, except perhaps my perspective on “faith”. Now, he might argue that my use of “faith” is so unusual that it should be considered a complete redefinition. I understand why he or others unfamiliar with my religious background would think that, and perhaps there’s some truth there. However, this is the definition and usage of “faith” that I learned as a child, particularly in Mormon settings, and it’s the meaning that continues to resonate with me as I study religious texts as an adult. I’d even argue that the irrational or blind sorts of faith employed by so many religious persons, particularly Christian fundamentalists, are not faith at all. As the Bible puts it, faith without works is dead. As the Book of Mormon describes it, knowledge results after exercising faith. As Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism taught it, faith is a principle of action and power.

Of course, this presents some concerns, and Max expresses them. If we must all act in faith, from premises that are themselves unproven, “why not accept as your standard the proclamations of the Pope, or the urgings of your feelings, or the will of the people, or the assertions of der Füehrer?” The problem goes even deeper. Why care at all? In my late teenage years, I encountered such a crisis. I recognized my limitations. I found no grounds for choosing one direction or another. I felt the weight of meaninglessness pressing on me. It may sound melodramatic now, but it was quite serious for me at the time. Many others have passed through such experiences, and probably most have found one way or another to get out of the funk without killing themselves. I don’t know how everyone has done it, but I know what worked for me, and embracing faith, not of the dogmatic irrational sort but rather of a dynamic arational sort, was essential.

Where did I direct my faith and why? The answer is complex, and I’ll provide only a brief explanation here. I began with what I could identify of my own basic wills and desires. I didn’t want meaninglessness, so I embraced the possibility of meaning, a hope for some primitive connectivity or a basic cooperation within experience, a will to knowledge. I also didn’t want meaning only for me, so I embraced the possibility of sharing meaning, abstracting across subjective experience to objective laws and existence, combining knowledge into rules and truth. I trusted in meaning and sharing, and I identified that as love: both for myself and my body, as well as for our relations and world. However, this trust was not blind. Connection, to whatever extent it attained, was clearly accompanied with observed and imagined tensions and conflicts. If individual wills, anatomical desires, communal rules and environmental laws would be connected, it would be through an ongoing perhaps unending exchange or reconciliation. I called this reconciliation “atonement” (intentionally alluding to the Biblical example of Jesus engaged in moral reconciliation), and I saw us all participating in this atonement in every aspect of our lives, perpetually. Science is the epistemic atonement: reconciling experience, knowledge, truth and existence. Politics is the ethic atonement: reconciling desire, will, rule and law. Art is the esthetic atonement. Each aspect of atonement affects the others and itself in feedback loops. To help visualize these ideas, check out my matrices.

In summary, I put my faith in love and atonement: trusting in a perpetual work of epistemic, ethic, and esthetic reconciliation. Accordingly, I don’t accept the proclamations of the Pope without considering the laws of biological evolution, I don’t follow my feelings without consulting friends and experts, I don’t embrace the will of the people without investigating the feelings of the individual, and the assertions of der Füehrer are only one, but still one, variable in an aggregate of tensions and conflicts between and among desires, wills, rules and laws.

Returning to Max’s article, he goes on to describe pancritical rationalism (PCR), which he considers to be a solution to the epistemic problem of relying on faith. First, he points out that PCR requires no authorities, either those of a communal sort (scientists or kings) or those of an anatomical sort (experience or intellect). Instead of authoritarian justification, PCR espouses unbounded criticism, even of its methods of criticism, holding nothing beyond criticism. The whole process, as Max characterizes it, becomes perpetually investigational rather than justificational. As I see it, PCR is a meta-epistemology, abstracting across the philosophical investigations and turmoils of the centuries, and observing what it is we’ve actually done to achieve epistemic progress, even if all the while we were doing it naturally and ignorantly.

A key point in Max’s explanation of PCR is the idea that even the practice of holding everything open to criticism should be held open to criticism, but he notes, “perhaps someone could produce an argument demonstrating that some of the critical standards necessarily used by a pancritical rationalist were not only unjustified but uncriticizable, that even the pancritical rationalist must accept something as uncriticizable if circular argument and infinite regress are to be avoided.” He then expresses doubt regarding the possibility that someone will come up with such an argument.

I’ll leave it to Max to tell me whether the following is such an argument: we cannot engage in PCR without faith in meaning itself, which is something shared: the love or trust in reconciliation that I describe above. Even if approached egotistically, within the mind of a single person, meaning is relational, shared between concepts, distinguished from a meaningless chaos even before they enter our conscious and volitional mind. Indeed, something of the beginnings of this faith in meaning or trust in reconciliation may be built into us by evolution, itself shaped according to the contours of the environment in which we find ourselves. Can we consistently doubt? Can we consistently deconstruct? As we devolve into flashes and noises, can we persist into the darkness? From darkness to nothing? From nothing to that toward which “nothing” points without pointing? This reminds me of my thoughts twenty years ago as I struggled with nihilism. Even criticism, it seems, must have direction. We must trust in meaning, according to whatever desires we may have for it. As we do, relations between the distinctions are formed, and order arises. The alternatives are some combination of suicide and the mental hospital, and whatever of darkness and its lack lies beneath that which has no bottom.

Max points out that, in practice, PCR does not necessitate perpetual deconstruction and paralyzing self-criticism. While our memories may have been implanted into us a few moments ago, we need not take the idea seriously, he says, although we should not rule out in principle the possibility. An adherent to PCR, Max argues, can still be convinced of positions without being dogmatic about them. This, however, is exactly the kind of faith that I advocate. We live and act, as best we can, without turning to dogmatism, either of the sort that permanently ignores possibilities or of the sort that permanently insists on them. Yet, we do this only because we care. What do you tell the person that doesn’t care? That doesn’t share in our common faith in meaning? That would sooner throw feces and squawk at you than reflect on his desires? I don’t know, but whole industries have grown around the effort to help them care, reflecting the fact that most of us do care, and that’s part of what makes meaning possible.

In conclusion, I trust (notice the faith) that Max can still teach me something here, not merely to respect him, but because of that respect, which facilitates a communication aimed at meaning. Let us, indeed, increase in knowledge, but let’s do it in a manner that promotes life, sustainable and genuine, compassionate and creative, rather than death and nihilism. Knowledge is not inherently good or evil. We can learn as much about the slide to hell as we can about the ladder to heaven. Yet only one of the two perpetuates our power to continue choosing between them. I trust in that.

Lincoln Cannon is a technologist and philosopher, and leading advocate of technological evolution and postsecular religion. He is a founder, board member, and former president of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. He is a founder and advisor of the Christian Transhumanist Association. And he formulated the New God Argument, a logical argument for faith in God that is popular among religious Transhumanists.



COMMENTS

Excellent article., and haven’t found amything to disagree with yet! I also get annoyed when people regard faith and science as somehow opposed, or use the word “faith” exclusively or primarily to mean faith in God or some kind of religion.

Question though: what, from your perspective, is the link here (if there is one) with Mormonism specifically? I know this isn’t an article about Mormonism, but I’m interested to know how you see this fitting in. Would you agree that the faith you advocate here, and which I basically share, is fully compatible with progressive versions of other religions, and indeed atheism?

Being biased towards sociology-politics, what I like about pancritical rationalism is it can be used against such as Rand, plus all of today’s libertarians to show how libertarianism fails by its own lights—it is a totalitarian individualism albeit useful to motivate individualists in a similar manner to how Marxism motivates collectivists to advance the rights and privileges of workers all ‘round the world.
In other words ideologies and religions offer myths to live by. It isn’t merely the utility, but also the accessibility of a creed:
the leveling simplicity of Christianity, for instance, has been more accessible than for instance agnosticism.

That is, this is another reference to necessary fictions based on handy traditions. But of course a clergyman cannot tell his flock:

“the more time you local yokels spend in my church, the less time you will have to misbehave and get yourselves in trouble.”

The above is a factor you cannot deny.. and should not. I am interested in the philosophy of what you all write of in these topics; yet also how it relates to day-to-day life.

As for how it related to day-to-day life, the following excerpt from Lincoln’s article speaks to me, and indeed quite closely mirrors my own experience at a similarly impressionable age:

“Why care at all? In my late teenage years, I encountered such a crisis. I recognized my limitations. I found no grounds for choosing one direction or another. I felt the weight of meaninglessness pressing on me. It may sound melodramatic now, but it was quite serious for me at the time. Many others have passed through such experiences, and probably most have found one way or another to get out of the funk without killing themselves. I don’t know how everyone has done it, but I know what worked for me, and embracing faith, not of the dogmatic irrational sort but rather of a dynamic arational sort, was essential.”

I guess you’d call it the classic existential crisis, and I think it’s pretty common. I even wonder to what extent it’s really limited to intellectuals. Some people go through life never really questioning their core beliefs, and their discomfort occurs when faced with those with different beliefs. They tend to find this very threatening. One advantage those of us who have looked in the void have is that we are no longer scared of it. I think this is what drives a lot of humanity’s conflicts and “dialogues of the deaf”: fear of the void, that feeling of emptiness and unease (not to mention status anxiety) that we would experience of we were to realise (let alone admit publicly) that the people with whom we most profoundly disagree might actually have a point.

Fantastic article Lincoln. I think you and I are very close in the way we see the world. I misapprehended your post on my article and got a wrong impression.

I agree that faith is more about questions than it is about certainty. I would go as far as to suggest that a blind certainty is not faith, and I have seen others who have said as much.

The existential crisis is not as common as you might think Peter. More and more people these days are simply living life without ever giving much consideration as to its meaning and purpose. I agree with the rest of your comment on the effect of the crisis on one’s ability to think critically. It is funny how having once hung out over the abyss of meaninglessness makes it much easier to deal with the lesser crisis of perhaps being wrong in our understanding.

No doubt, Pete, as usual you get to the heart of it; but conversely the random, personalized, arbitrary and often somewhat capricious nature of our faiths/ideologies/core beliefs ought to be factored in vis a vis our discussions.
For example a hardnosed self-respecting Mormon is not going to be taken in by us and we are not going to be taken in by Mormons wink
As for intellectuals, intellectuals if nothing else unlike the maddening crowd are not almost entirely dominated in their thinking by TV, Hate Radio, the Omnipotent Rimbaugh. Please, please say it is different in Europe. Please.

Want to hastily add that I do not reject religion, but after what has happened in the last couple decades in America
(America, not Canada, not Belgium; no globaloney if you will, thanks) being diplomatic with Rubes doesn’t work; cannot stress this enough: Americans like the humble but only respect the feisty—the squeaky wheel gets the grease and those of you who would deny it are liars.
What I accept most is the leveling simplicity of Christianity, how it was open to women and everyone else starting right away in the first century CE.

“More and more people these days are simply living life without ever giving much consideration as to its meaning and purpose.”

For once we agree, Alex; the empty head is to be filled by TV, Hate Radio, the Omnipotent Limbaugh. And don’t write we should listen more carefully to what the Rimbaughs say—we know very well what they are saying!

“Please, please say it is different in Europe.”

Not much, frankly. Sorry. Human nature is pretty much the same everywhere, and will remain so until Hank gets his way and has us all drinking the empathy drug in our tap water. (And such.) You said something on another thread about rubes respecting people who yell at the Rimbaughs of this world, and you’re absolutely right. It would be lovely to believe that polite, rational discourse wins the day, but it doesn’t. People just aren’t that rational. What it does do is enable those of us who are capable of it and value it to refine our thinking and build consensus between ourselves. And even then, as you allude to, positions can be quite entrenched, and their underlying cause is not always what we think (still less say) it is.

Hey, I just watched a TED video on youtube that seems to relate to this article.  Its called Religion,evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence.  I’ll put the link right here for anyone to see it.  It might be something worth posting on this site (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MYsx6WArKY&feature=plcp&context=C473b009VDvjVQa1PpcFOgb-F9cIn-JfLQ8kxfmjqVTYVlN1E7LJ8=).

Yes, that is a very interesting video. I don’t agree with all his conclusions, but there is plenty of substance for debate there.

@ Pastor_Alex

Out of curiosity, which of his conclusions do you disagree or agree with?

I have a problem with the field of evolutionary psychology problematic. It seems to be arguing in a circle to say that because we have a particular behaviour that it must have evolved since if we didn’t need it, it wouldn’t have. I also found the idea of the two mindedness a little too simple. I don’t know that we can say that we just have a lower mind and an upper one, especially an upper one that is only reachable almost by accident. I think we are more complex than that.

He talked about coming together for good and showed huge crowds, but with the exception of one shot of Hitler he didn’t address the problem of mobs and the harm that large groupings may do.

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I hope Max will provide some feedback. Have you ever noticed that the Internet has to some extent already realized the ancient aspirations of conjurors: if you know and recite the key words, you can summon someone or access privileged knowledge … you know, search engines and alerts and so forth.

Peter, you asked for more about the link to Mormonism. Here’s the short reference I made to Mormonism in the essay: “This is the definition and usage of ‘faith’ that I learned as a child, particularly in Mormon settings, and it’s the meaning that continues to resonate with me as I study religious texts as an adult. I’d even argue that the irrational or blind sorts of faith employed by so many religious persons, particularly Christian fundamentalists, are not faith at all. As the Bible puts it, faith without works is dead. As the Book of Mormon describes it, knowledge results after exercising faith. As Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism taught it, faith is a principle of action and power.”

To elaborate a bit further, I’ll add the Mormonism is rather Pelagian. While grace (or opportunity, perhaps, to use a more secular word) is certainly an important aspect of Mormonism, it is considered insufficient without works. One of my favorite passages of the Book of Mormon depicts a military leader chastising his people for their passive expectation that God will deliver them from their enemies without any effort. He goes on to explain that God only provides means for deliverance, and its up to them to do the rest. This is a particularly important idea in Mormonism because we teach that we should become God. It seems rather silly to imagine becoming God without learning to act as God, and even sillier to imagine learning to act as God without the opportunity to do so. Consider too that becoming God seems to entail more than merely repeating exactly what some other has done or would do, since without some extent of independent creativity there’s not much Godhood manifest. Faith of the sort I’ve described in my essay seems essential to authentic creativity, and thus essential to the pursuit of Godhood. A similar chain of thoughts can be used to associate the kind of faith I’ve described with compassion, which is the other essential characteristic of any God that I would care about.

When discussing theosis (deification) with non-Mormons, there’s always a risk of offending unintentionally. Some think Mormons aspire to replacing God or raising themselves above others. While certainly some Mormons are egotistical, and we (humans) are all arrogant to some extent or another, that’s really not the point of Mormon aspirations. The God we would become is one of community and relationships. We cannot become this God without each other. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say (despite disagreements from some of my fellow Mormons) that God needs us as much as we need God. Power is in itself meaningless. Even though you might be the greatest, smartest, fastest, bandwidth-iest being in all the multiverse, it won’t have enduring meaning without relationships. Relations, based in creativity and compassion, stemming from trust in their initial possibility and continual flourishing, are what ultimately makes any of this worth anything. Bringing this back down to Earth, relations are what motivate us to participate at the IEET.

Nietzsche seemed to toy with the idea that power provided purpose, but then his projection (named “Zarathustra”) would run back and forth from solitude to his friends. Despite my love for Nietzsche’s writings, I wonder whether that repeated scurrying to friends reveals one of his weaknesses. Did he ever figure out how supermen could commune? I suggest that starts with more than merely will to power, because power can be coercive and deadening. We should trust in the power that comes naturally, without compulsory means, through persistence in compassion and creativity. I wish I could tell you that was my idea, but I stole it from Joseph Smith, and I repeat it here just to give you a bit more flavor of the relation between Mormonism and the ideas in my essay.

Many thanks for this, Lincoln. One of the attractions of Mormonism for me is that it is still very much a minority interest (just 14 million worldwide according to the Wikipedia entry), so it still has an exotic feel to it compared with mainstream Christianity. Also the fact that there seems to be a flourishing transhumanist tradition within Mormonism (although I’d be interested to know just how mainstream that is within the LDS movement generally). And I very much like your take on faith, relationships, and the idea of “becoming God”.

What I’m wondering, I guess is how you feel about the obvious kookiness at the origins of Mormonism (e.g. believing that the native Americans were actually Israelite tribes?). Still, I guess we don’t want to turn this into a thread about Mormonism. Once again, great article, and thanks for taking the trouble to indulge my curiosity!

@Peter re “there seems to be a flourishing transhumanist tradition within Mormonism (although I’d be interested to know just how mainstream that is within the LDS movement generally)”

This is an interesting question. I will be in Salt Like City in a few weeks for the MTA conference and I look forward to ask this question to non-transhumanist Mormons (I guess there must be some grin.

The comments to this article/podcast on a mainstream Mormon website may offer some insight:
http://mormonmatters.org/2012/03/13/81-82-mormonism-and-transhumanism/

Most comments so far seem transhumanist-friendly, but I will keep monitoring it.

@Giulio…Looking forward to the results of your monitoring!

Peter, I invite you to post that question and any related questions to transfigurism@googlegroups.com. You’ll get many interesting answers from members of the MTA.

Peter and Giulio, most Mormons have never head of Transhumanism. However, it would be revealing if you ask mainstream Mormons this question: “do you believe you should become like God?” Some will be shy about answering directly because we know it’s a controversial issue among Christians, but almost all believe the answer is “yes”.

Thanks again Lincoln - might well take you up on that suggestion!

Will start ontopic and drift off to digression.
If “most Mormons have never head of Transhumanism”, how much less are members of other creeds aware of h+? Good that LDS is not Calvinist; problem IMO with religion is similar to that of libertarianism, Marxism, etc.- nothing wrong with the faiths/ideologies per se, it is the members:
men want “sin” more than piety;
men want power more than freedom;
men want rank more than classlessness,
Without sufficient genuine piety, what good are community and relationships?: virtually a nonstarter unless it is a veneer for public consumption, a standard of conduct we wink at.
Not that I disagree necessarily with religion. Yet taking the Limbaughs of the world as examples, though they cannot be proved wrong, the inconsistency (for those who value consistency) is obvious. Limbaugh himself is more or less an entertainer; however for those who are more serious about matters of faith, there is a lack of priorities, of strategic coherence.

However LDS may be a cut above this.

...guys, let’s confess:
the greening of religion may refer to the color of the money in the offering baskets wink

I think you have piety and community and relationships reversed. There can’t be true piety without community and relationships.

We have to be careful to not let our skepticism devolve into cynicism.

Sorry Lincoln but I find this extremely unhelpful.  You start by saying: “We have faith, even the most atheist among us.”  Wrong.  I may not be ‘the most atheist’, but I am an atheist and I don’t have, want, or need, faith.  But I think (because I hope, being a wishful person) that our disagreements are merely of a semantic nature.  As is all too common, you are using terms such as trust, faith and blind faith without properly defining them.  Once we do we may find ourselves in agreement.

Substitute trust for faith.  I trust that the sun will rise tomorrow, because I have experienced over 20000 days and each time the sun did rise in the morning, so I have a fairly good reason to trust that it will do so again.  I can trust my friend because over many years he has never betrayed me.  I can even trust total strangers not to stab me in the back while exposing myself in public, and I can trust not to fall down when putting one foot in front of the other while walking.  I couldn’t live without this trust but it helps to be aware of its nature: there’s no certainty about anything, and the given examples imply a range of probabilities.

Faith by contrast is ‘trust’ in the absence of supporting evidence.  If I was a stage four cancer patient with the physicians having given up on me, I could place faith in a last minute intervention by some higher power, and this could make me and others feel good, and even become a source of strength which might contribute to a ‘miraculous’ (miraculous being shorthand for ‘inexplicable given the current state of knowledge’) remission, but as there isn’t one documented case of this kind of intervention having occurred, it would essentially be a nonsensical action.

I am in fact a (not as late stage) cancer survivor and my attitude throughout has been and is one of optimism (“I’ll survive, but if not I’ll accept”), and this has been a source of strength without the need to violate logical principles.  Some call it hope, but I dislike the concept because of its implied emphasis on reduced odds and its nature as a mechanism to fend of despair.  It’s really just another manifestation of trust.

I regard all faith as blind, so ‘blind faith’ is just a pleonasm.  But for the sake of clarity in this discussion I can accept the definition of blind faith as ‘faith in the absence of awareness that there is no supporting evidence justifying it’.  The difference is subtle, but a person exercising faith might say: “There is no evidence, and thus no logic to what I’m doing, but I don’t care”, while someone exercising blind faith might (not) say: “There is no evidence, and thus no logic to what I’m doing, but I don’t know”.

So if you call faith what I call trust, we are in agreement, even though I would insist on my terminology for the sake of clarity. If you mean something different I remain at a loss, and there are various other issues that I am not sure I can agree with.

In relating your formative experience you place emphasis on the significance of meaning. This is commonly and frequently done, but I don’t see why, especially when the term is ill defined.  Meaning is important in the realm of symbols, which is very extensive.  There are cultural symbols such as words, signs, sounds etc. and their meanings need to be defined and agreed upon to facilitate communication (as I have been harping about).  Then there are natural symbols like in the encoding of perceptions (where for instance colours ‘mean’ a certain range of frequencies of light).  Note that these symbols and their meanings are increasingly subject to alterations through technology.  But if you accept, like I do, the possibility of the existence of a realm beyond or behind that of symbols, there meaning becomes meaningless.  Unless of course what you really mean is something like ‘purpose’, in which case why not use that perfectly fine term?  My answer to the question: “but what does it all mean?” is: “nothing at all, and why does it have to – but if it makes you feel better you can project any meaning onto it you like, remembering that at best you’re engaging in speculation.”

You also throw in some other concepts as love and atonement, and I respectfully acknowledge your attempts to define them, but find your definitions unacceptable.  Trusting in meaning and sharing is a rather narrow definition of love, and Jesus notwithstanding nothing is gained by redefining reconciliation as atonement, both terms being well defined on their own and quite distinct in their respective meanings.  Muddying the waters in this manner makes it difficult for me to discern any contribution of this article to the ‘Faith/TH’ discourse, even though I remain hopeful that it is in there somewhere.

I will not presume to speak for Max, but in conclusion I will tell you that “we cannot engage in PCR without faith in meaning itself, which is something shared: the love or trust in reconciliation that I describe above” is not the argument he is referring to, and I don’t need to, in fact cannot, even examine if it demonstrates “that some of the critical standards necessarily used by a pancritical rationalist were not only unjustified but uncriticizable” simply because of the inconsistencies inherent in your statement. 

Please enlighten me - René Milan

Hi Rene. Thanks for responding to my article!

From the beginning and consistently throughout, my article uses “faith” in terms of “trust”, and acknowledges there may be negative applications of faith. However, it is ideological dogmatism, whether from a fundamentalist or an atheist, to insist that we apply “faith” only to the kinds of trust that celebrate ignorance. In any case, while I don’t celebrate ignorance, we can’t avoid it. As mentioned in my article, even the tools we use for overcoming ignorance are themselves inescapably founded in ignorance or, perhaps more accurately, in trust of the sort that does not and cannot arise from probability, as we have no probability for the basic positions on which the possibility of probability depends: causation, consistency, uniformity, etc. So we trust, creating a context for probability; then, within that context, the feedback loop of probability increases our trust. Yet, even then, we sometimes trust against probability, for good reason: doing so may change probability in our favor.

When discussing meaning, I explained it as something like a primitive connectivity or a basic cooperation within experience, in opposition to nihilism. Neither of us know (or can know) whether there is anything beyond or behind the symbols of experience, but that doesn’t matter, by definition as you pointed out. All that matters, by definition, is within the symbols of experience. In the special case of meaning as purpose, you tell me it means nothing at all, but I tell you that’s a choice. Actually, though, it’s a choice you’re not making in practice in any consistent way. At one level, you’re positing reality as meaninglessness beyond our symbols, but why do you engage so predictably, to the point that I can understand? Why not throw feces and squawk? Why not overdose on morphine? Despite your appeal to an imagined fundamental meaninglessness, you’re exhibiting a real trust in meaning, even in the special case of purpose: whatever goal motivated your communication with me.

One of the things that has always intrigued me about some of the more militant atheists is just what is driving their militancy. Most people who have abandoned theistic belief and organised religion are, as Giulio observed some time ago, “so secular we don’t even bother to call ourselves atheist”.

To some extent this is about how we want to use language, of course. Do we find “God” a helpful word to use or not? Is it better to use “faith” in Lincoln’s sense or in Rene’s? But I certainly prefer Lincoln’s choice on this latter point. In common English usage, at least when we’re not discussing religion, “faith” is basically a synonym of trust. “Keeping the faith” means staying true to the cause. It doesn’t necessarily require us to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

As Lincoln implies, it is logically inconsistent to get all passionate and upset in defence of the idea that life is meaningless. I mean, what would be the point?

Hi Lincoln, thanks for your response which appears to confirm my expectation that much of our disagreement is of a semantic nature.  Please let me respond in detail.

[From the beginning and consistently throughout, my article uses “faith” in terms of “trust”, and acknowledges there may be negative applications of faith. However, it is ideological dogmatism, whether from a fundamentalist or an atheist, to insist that we apply “faith” only to the kinds of trust that celebrate ignorance.]

If you use faith in terms of trust in the sense in which I have defined that term, many of my disagreements do disappear.  But please note that trust thus understood precedes consciousness itself, and certainly any kind of religious mentation, which is why I feel uncomfortable using faith in its place.  I don’t know who “insists that we apply…”, I certainly don’t, but I can’t see why those who do would be exhibiting “ideological dogmatism” as we are still talking about nothing more than semantics, assigning meanings to terms.  My definition of faith (in contrast to blind faith) contains no reference to ignorance, but acknowledges a certain defiance which here doesn’t work for me even though I can’t help harboring a degree of admiration for defiance in principle.  Ignorance, as manifest in blind faith, is a different problem altogether, and I’m not sure it can be celebrated except by those not completely subject to it, which imparts a sinister quality to that sort of ‘celebration’.

[In any case, while I don’t celebrate ignorance, we can’t avoid it. As mentioned in my article, even the tools we use for overcoming ignorance are themselves inescapably founded in ignorance or, perhaps more accurately, in trust of the sort that does not and cannot arise from probability, as we have no probability for the basic positions on which the possibility of probability depends: causation, consistency, uniformity, etc. So we trust, creating a context for probability; then, within that context, the feedback loop of probability increases our trust. Yet, even then, we sometimes trust against probability, for good reason: doing so may change probability in our favor.]

I think I understand and agree with what you’re saying here even though I would put it in different terms.  As trust precedes reason I explain trusting against (low) probability as a survival mechanism, while the cunning and particularly human strategy of trusting with the objective of changing the odds clearly exceeds my definition of trust.

[When discussing meaning, I explained it as something like a primitive connectivity or a basic cooperation within experience, in opposition to nihilism.]

If a symbol is a pointer then meaning is what it points to, while nihilism is an attitude, so semantically the two cannot be in opposition.

[Neither of us know (or can know) whether there is anything beyond or behind the symbols of experience, but that doesn’t matter, by definition as you pointed out. All that matters, by definition, is within the symbols of experience.]

That’s debatable, as there are plenty of people (religious ones foremost among them) claiming to have direct, unmediated experience of ‘reality’, who may of course be wrong; but if or how that can be determined is the subject of an altogether different discussion.

[In the special case of meaning as purpose, you tell me it means nothing at all,]
I do no such thing.
[but I tell you that’s a choice.]
And that’s exactly what I said.
If you parse my sentence:
“My answer to the question: “but what does it all mean?” is: “nothing at all, and why does it have to” refers to choice, my choice in particular, while “if it makes you feel better you can project any meaning onto it you like” again refers to choice, anybody’s choice in this case.

[Actually, though, it’s a choice you’re not making in practice in any consistent way. At one level, you’re positing reality as meaninglessness beyond our symbols, but why do you engage so predictably, to the point that I can understand? Why not throw feces and squawk? Why not overdose on morphine? Despite your appeal to an imagined fundamental meaninglessness, you’re exhibiting a real trust in meaning, even in the special case of purpose: whatever goal motivated your communication with me.]

I think I see, and appreciate, what you are communicating here, but you seem to miss the point that I don’t need meaning.  Apparently you assume that to me the absence of meaning must be so frustrating as to cause me to want to ‘throw feces and squawk’.  Why?  If I ever found myself engaged in such activity it would be just for the fun of it, but as I don’t find it funny I never have and probably never will.  If I needed meaning to keep myself from committing suicide I could always make up some, or appropriate someone else’s.

Let this further illustrate my attitude: among those who assume a creative agency (which you may be surprised to learn includes me as long as no distinction between this agency and ‘its creation’ is implied), there circulates the rather charming idea of the observable multitude of phenomena (Maya in Hindu terminology) being a consequence of the successful attempt by this agency to remedy the original potential experience of loneliness and boredom.  This idea carries the added bonus of neatly explaining the subjective experience (short of attaining ‘cosmic consciousness’) of limitation – after all there’s no point of playing with, or against, oneself if the pretend player entities can anticipate each other’s moves.  Among the many models of meaning I like to flirt with, this is one of the few I actually have taken as a lover, but I don’t see myself committing to any one of them in marriage and don’t suffer from my bachelor status.

My motives for engaging in this manner are several: I am interested in the subjects of this debate and I enjoy the processes involved, those furthering agreement as well as those leading to delineation of respective positions, as both contribute to greater understanding, and I think you discern them correctly, but I deny that this constitutes “a real trust in meaning”, and I don’t see why it should come as a surprise.

Best - René

@Peter:

§ 2:  But we are discussing religion so confounding faith and trust is an unnecessary obstruction.

§§ 1,3:  If any of your statements refer to me, you are in error, probably due to not having read or understood my input.

@Rene I agree that we should not completely confound faith and trust. The two words are indeed used in somewhat different (though overlapping) ways, even when we don’t discuss religion. But to take your example of the sun rising, the idea that it is sensible to “trust” that the sun will rise tomorrow because it has done several thousand times since I was born only makes sense to the extent that I believe that the past is a good guide to the future. Indeed, the interpretation of any data as evidence in support of a prediction requires one to believe that the past and the future both exist, and that the former is a good guide to the latter. Without that initial belief, which certainly falls into your definition of “faith”, there can be no such thing as evidence. Faith has to come first; only then can the data we perceive be interpreted as evidence.

Rene, thanks for sharing your additional thoughts. I’m something of a panentheist too. She is our mother, and we are the cells of a God in embryo.

Rene:

“You say “I trust that the sun will rise tomorrow, because I have experienced over 20,000 days and each time the sun did rise in the morning, so I have a fairly good reason to trust that it will do so again.”

This is circular reasoning. You are relying on memory & what you were told by others, official documents like birth certificates & so forth. You only experience the here and now. You don’t have an experience memory and observable evidence in the present. You remember in the here and now. So, how do you know memory is reliable? You can not prove one memory without relying on your memory or trusting others without verification.

How do you know you weren’t created yesterday, grown in a vat, given memory implants like the replicants in PKD’s DADOES or the movie Blade Runner? Did you count all the days the sun rose? Or are you simply taking your assumed age and multiplying by 365? Please show us your record. Words prove nothing. You are still relying on faith and a high level of abstraction as well. Everyone draws the line of skepticism and faith arbitrarily. Why should we accept one standard and not another?

How do you know you are awake right now? Prove it. What you think is reality seems real when you’re awake, but so do dreams. Now you might bring up lucid dreams. How do you know a lucid dream from a lucid awakenesss that is really a dream? I’ve had dreams within dreams where I woke up and thought I had woke from a dream, but was actually in another dream. This was before I saw Inception, IIRC. But either way, the experience of “dreams within dreams” has been reported or described in movies and art long before Inception. So, how do you define reality and dream? How do you know that definition is right? You do need meaning, and you take meaning on faith all the time. In truth,  you have no justification for anything except based on arbitrary biases.

Rene: “My motives for engaging in this manner are several: I am interested in the subjects of this debate and I enjoy the processes involved, those furthering agreement as well as those leading to delineation of respective positions, as both contribute to greater understanding,”

This seems to exclude a possibility of learning from the facts and ideas shared by others, or even changing your views. You boldly claim you don’t need meaning. It’s like saying you don’t need air, at the same time you continue to inhale and exhale. If you really don’t need meaning, why communicate at all? Why not be silent, make up your own language, or talk gibberish, and make things up constantly? What DO you need? Please enlighten us.

“when I use a word, it means what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less… The question is which is to be master— that’s all.” (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6).

You seem to be arguing for argument’s sake. You quibble over the meaning of “faith” and “insist” your definition be used to achieve clarity. The discussion is plenty clear for others. Maybe you should clean or remove the windows of your own mind. Most people rely on dictionaries, books, tradition, and common use. In that regard, there are several meanings in Strong’s Concordance.

(pistis)
1) conviction of the truth of anything, belief; in the NT of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervour born of faith and joined with it
  a) relating to God
  1) the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ
  b) relating to Christ
  1) a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God
  c) the religious beliefs of Christians
  d) belief with the predominate idea of trust (or confidence) whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the same
2) fidelity, faithfulness
  a) the character of one who can be relied on

Saying “there is no meaning” doesn’t make it true. Any more than saying “there is no God” makes that true. People say anything. As a result, much of what they say is false, vain, empty, meaningless, and trivial (tautology). You seem proud of boasting what you don’t need and the meaning of life, but until some future time (perhaps) you remain ignorant (like all the living) about questions of ultimate meaning, God’s existence, the after-life, etc.

panopticon if there is no perceivable difference between A and B then A and B are identical. There is the possibility that we are created new every day with all the memories of our past. There is no way to prove or disprove this concept. The only choice then is to live as if our memories are real and functional until proven otherwise.

While I like looking at original Greek, it is only really appropriate in the context of discussing the koine scriptures. Referring to the Greek word pistis in order to define faith in a discussion outside of scripture is like arguing for a different connotation of witness based on the germanic root. Faith in the Oxford English Dictionary is defined thus:

faith

Pronunciation: /feɪθ/
noun
[mass noun]

  1 complete trust or confidence in someone or something: this restores one’s faith in politicians

  2 strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof: bereaved people who have shown supreme faith
  [count noun] a particular religion: the Christian faith
  [count noun] a strongly held belief: men with strong political faiths

This gives a bit closer concept of faith to what Rene is talking about without complete agreement. It is interesting to hear how he uses the word. I don’t completely agree, but why should I? What does happen is that we may know better what the other means, which is the opposite of Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carrol.

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