Subject: How faith is private (was: Newton's religion) Summary: In how it causes belief, n
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Russell Turpin)
Subject: How faith is private (was: Newton's religion)
Summary: In how it causes belief, not in outward signs.
Date: 29 Aug 90 18:44:59 GMT
In article <email@example.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org (Charley Wingate) writes:
> And I disagree with the characterization of faith as being basically
> solitary. Particularly in a religion which is organized around the
> passing of the Good News from believer to convert, faith is as public
> as anything else. ...
> Russell has slipped into the typical use of "faith" as a synonym
> for "poorly justified belief". ...
I really think that Mr Wingate is missing my point about faith,
because otherwise his criticism would be more incisive. Hence, I
will attempt to express it again.
In the postings in this thread, I have not used faith as a
synonym for poorly justified belief, but as a synonym for
justification that lies outside of discourse, and because of
this, that is essentially private in a way that most other
justification is not. Obviously, faith can be publicly professed
and publicly urged, and those with a common faith can participate
in common activities. The privacy of faith concerns how it causes
Suppose John asks Lilith why she believes something. Her
verbalized response can take two different forms. In the first
form, she talks *about* the cause of her belief, that cause not
itself being the things she says. In second form, she provides
reasons that are themselves the cause of her belief. If John
understands the reasons and finds them sound, then they will also
generate belief in him. If he does not find them sound, he can
explain his belief in their unsoundness, and his explanation will
also follow either the first form or the second.
As long as discourse includes only statements of the second form,
all causes of belief are public (or more realistically, can be
made public). If, for example, John asks Lilith why she believes
the mean value theorem, she can show him a proof that is both the
cause of her belief and that will also cause his belief if he
understands it and finds no holes in it. If he provides a
counter-example, again that is both the cause of his belief that
she is mistaken, and can become a cause of Lilith also believing
that she was mistaken.
Assertions of the second form have an interesting quality:
agreeing to the assertion means that a rational person also
agrees to the belief it is supposed to explain. If one agrees
that a statement is a correct proof of the mean value theorem,
then one agrees that the theorem is true. (Obviously, someone
could accede that the proof was correct and still deny the
theorem, but this person becomes mired in contradiction.
Communication becomes either impossible or nonsense.)
Some very important causes of belief cannot be made assertions of
the second form. In particular, experience cannot be directly
relayed by talking *about* it. If Lilith asks John why he
believes there is a panther in the neighborhood, he can say that
he saw a partially eaten sheep. Now this assertion may not
cause Lilith to believe that there actually is a partially eaten
sheep, even if she believes that he is telling the truth about
his experience as best he knows it. Perhaps John reads too many
Lamour mysteries and due to neurological problems is prone to
Fortunately, many kinds of experience can be made public
evidence, because the physical world through which we communicate
is also the physical world in which most of our experience takes
place. John takes Lilith by the hand, leads her to the site of
the carcass, and together they look at it. (In fact, we tend to
take people's assertions about their experiences as evidence of
what really occurred when a variety of conditions are met: we
have no reason to suspect them of deceit, we consider them
qualified to make the kind of judgment that is required, etc.
This allows us to learn much more than would otherwise be
There are two kinds of evidence that are essentially private.
The first is unrepeatable experience. Only Antigonus knew for
sure Alexander's last words. If Ptolemy Soter doubted, there was
no way to step back into time and repeat the death scene. For
this reason, the study of history takes a very different turn
than the study of the natural sciences, which for the most part
concern experience that is public in the way described above.
The second kind of essentially private evidence is when someone
claims reasons that are neither discursive nor about experience
in the world through which we communicate. John communes with
his god, but he cannot lead Lilith by the hand and show her his
god the way he did with the sheep carcass. Peter "just knows"
that god is. When this "reason" for belief is put on the table,
Lilith can accede to it: the reason Peter believes is because he
"just knows". But in acceding this, it does not become a cause
for Lilith to believe. Mark claims it takes a leap of faith to
believe, and Lilith believes this also, but again, without
believing in Mark's god. All these reasons have the first form:
the statement of them is not itself a cause of belief, but merely
a talking about the cause of belief. Moreover, the real cause is
essentially private. John cannot lead Lilith to his god, Peter
cannot give Lilith his god-bit, and Mark cannot justify his leap
of faith. For all the talking about of their causes of belief,
the cause is neither the things they say nor something that they
can publically show. It lies in a private world, either in their
own mind or in a supernatural realm that one either sees or not,
and which even if one sees it, cannot be used to communicate with
others. (The ability to use the supernatural world as a
communication channel with some minimum baud rate would
consistute good evidence that it was there.)
On another topic, Mr wingate writes:
> I find it interesting that you have "corrected" both my parable
> and one of Ed Turner's analogies. ...
That is because in ways important to the point of the analogies
they are unfaithful to reality.
> ... I don't agree with your correction of either; indeed, if I
> may correct your correction, I would say that the second child
> is really the bastard son of the same father, but refuses to
> admit this.
I do not accept this correction for very good reason. For the
analogy to have meaning to our discussion, the second child is
the unbeliever, in particular, me. Here my experience is simply
this: when I see my brother the believer speaking to "our
father", I SEE NOTHING THERE. It is not a matter of refusal, Mr
Wingate, because I have looked where and how my believing brother
has directed. And still I see nothing.
By including the nonbeliever, your parable speaks about my
experience. I corrected your first version because what your
parable said about my experience was wrong. Your revision above
is an attempt to again tell me what my experience is. Again, I
reject this. I do not mind parables, but I do object when they
are used as a way to distort my experience. If you are going to
tell parables about me, Mr Wingate, I think you should allow me
to point out where the points they make about my experience are
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