Subject: Re: Is religion different from the other disiplines? Summary: Getting down to the

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Path: ncsuvm!ncsuvx!mephisto!tut.cis.ohio-state.edu!cs.utexas.edu!turpin From: turpin@cs.utexas.edu (Russell Turpin) Newsgroups: talk.religion.misc Subject: Re: Is religion different from the other disiplines? Summary: Getting down to the real issues, Mr Wingate (seems to) grant my points. Message-ID: <7484@cs.utexas.edu> Date: 1 Jan 90 21:22:27 GMT References: <8121@cbnewsm.ATT.COM> <7476@cs.utexas.edu> <21567@mimsy.umd.edu> Organization: U. Texas CS Dept., Austin, Texas Lines: 194 ----- In article <21567@mimsy.umd.edu>, mangoe@mimsy.umd.edu (Charley Wingate) writes: > Let us suppose that the prophet Bob tells you that God establishes thus and > so as the standard of proof for religious belief, a standard which you would > be loathe to accept in other fields. OK, then: how do you make a judgement > on this principle? Good question. Do you believe every prophet Bob? Since you are a Christian rather than a Moslem, it would seem not. Why not? > These questions do appear in christianity. The scriptures do endorse faith; > in some places they endorse what appears, at first reading, to be a > paradoxical faith. Attacking this on the basis of principles which you > prefer is illogical and prejudicial. May I presume that you would consider criticisms of Islam from Christian principle also prejudicial and unfair? You have already enjoined me from criticizing religion on the basis of the 'atheistic' standards that apply to all other realms of knowledge. You previously suggested that I cannot even make a fair reading of the Koran until I adopt Islamic principles. Given Islamic principles, I imagine the Koran looks pretty good. What does that leave us to criticize the words of the prophet? Given your strictures, selecting a religious belief becomes an exercise that, from the intellectual point of view, is totally arbitrary. One may prefer one or the other because of one's culture, from how one encounters a religion and how it affects one's life, from the religious experiences it engenders, or because of one's emotional makeup, but as far as reasoning about the validity of one religion over another (or none), there is nothing left. > Well, basically you are saying that, because there are problems with the > kinds of hypotheses presented, you refuse consideration. The whole problem > here is how to proceed in *spite* of these problems. Mr Wingate, you have several times stated that thinking about religion requires principles not used when thinking about other things. I will comment on this idea below. But if you are going to continue with it, you should at least propose what you intend as religious reasoning. In short, how do you plan to proceed with *thinking* about these issues in spite of declaring 'prejudicial' the principles that apply to every other realm of knowledge, and insisting that the only fair way to read a religious text is after having adopted its assumptions. Note that I am not asking how to think within a particular religion's tradition, but about how to think about all the various religious beliefs, so that one may determine which one, if any, is likely to be true. > The third problem is more subtle. Religion is different from the sciences, > and indeed from every other realm of knowledge, in that it concerns not just > the things that can be known, but the mechanisms of knowledge and the stuff > of truth itself. ... You will have to fight the philosophers over this turf. More seriously, you are engaged in something very common in religious argument, and something I consider quite odious because it verges on the dishonest. You ask, what happens when god "establishes thus and so as the standard of proof for religious belief, a standard which you would be loathe to accept in other fields"? There are two issues here, and they must be separated. In one sense, the question is personal or perhaps ethical: When god says believe this way, do you do so? I will discuss the normative issues of belief in my next posting. In another sense, the question is epistemological: What if god says knowledge means this-and-that? An easy answer is that we now have a word with overloaded meanings. Knowledge means what god says it means, while knowledge is what we meant by knowledge all along, and we just have to keep the two straight. (Knowledge is religious knowledge; knowledge is ordinary knowledge.) Unfortunately, religious folks won't keep the two meanings straight. When they say they know something, they expect the rest of us to treat them as if they know something. When an atheist comes along and talks about knowledge, and why various religious arguments do not provide us knowledge of god, the religious folks do not respond, "That's true. We only know god, which is something very different from knowing." Instead, they try to confound their knowing with knowing so that people will accord the same respect to their religious knowledge as is given to the usual kind of knowledge. To a large extent, all I am trying to do here is point out the difference. Knowledge (in the ordinary sense) of a belief does not mean just believing it, even when it happens to be true. It also means knowing, in some sense, why the belief is (likely) true. To know a belief is also to know its good provenance, or at least to know where to find its provenance. You can gain belief in many ways, but knowledge is harder to come by. And just because prophet Bob declares that god tells everyone "know such-and-such", doesn't mean that you can really know such-and-such. You must first have an argument from "prophet Bob declares that god says X" to X. So far, Mr Wingate, you have not even made the first steps. > I think the reason rational justification hasn't progressed further > is that it's basically a finished process, at least for now. ... So where is the rational justification? Theologians may have finished their search, but that doesn't mean their search was successful. From what I see, mostly they are frustrated and have given up the attempt as futile. To cover this, they talk around it. They rationalize that justification isn't desirable when talking about the gods, or that it doesn't mean the same thing that it means everywhere else. Sound familiar? [On the unimportance of religion to other fields] > That's mostly a function of the determination of the other fields > to ignore religion as an issue. ... Or perhaps of religion to spurn the kinds of criticism which are necessary to these other fields? > Three defects of argument appear in virtually every atheistic criticism > of christianity. First, there is the trivial problem that some people > here seem to think that raising a question is tantamount to a disproof. > This principles of this sort of argument are questions of formalism, the > sort of thing that is NOT covered by the list of possible errors, and > the kind of thing which does vary greatly from field to field. ... It doesn't vary from field to field at all. Unless you can put justification behind your belief, it isn't knowledge, just your guess. This is called "the burden of proof", and in *every field* its onus is on the person making the claim. This is one of those basic principles of reason to which I have referred. This one you will find this discussed in almost any freshman logic and composition text. If I were to claim that I know no gods exist, you would be right to step back and say "go ahead, hot shot, give me knowledge". But I don't do that. What I say is something more subtle, that there is no reason to believe a god exists. (And I have explained to you elsewhere just what this "there" means: I have found no reason, no one I have read or listened to has been able to provide such reason, and you -- so far -- have failed to do so, though you claim the theologians have done so.) You make the claim that you know there is a god: it's your onus to put up or shut up. The nature of your objections and why they dodge the issue becomes clear if you try to apply them to any other subject. Consider the dialogue below. You: I know there is a planet with pink unicorns on it. Me: How do you know this? You: They're pictured in this crystal ball, which I call prophet-Bob. Me: Yeah, so? That's hardly evidence. You: It is for pink unicorns. Me: If you make special rules for pink unicorns, then you don't really know what you claim. You: What it means 'to know' pink unicorns is different from what it means 'to know' other things. Me: You're playing with words, and not very honestly at that. You: All you do is ask questions and criticize the answers. Can you prove pink unicorns don't exist? Me: No, of course not. But you claimed the knowledge, not me. You: Ahh. You're criticizing me from an ordinary point of view. In the field of pink-unicornology, I don't have the burden of proof. Me (disgusted): Feh. More and more, we are talking in circles, despite the fact that we almost agree. You claim it takes special kinds of 'reasoning' to 'justify' religious belief, and that these lie outside what is reasonable in talking about anything else. You claim religous 'reasoning' is excepted from the criticisms that apply to every other field of thought. I agree with you. In fact, these are precisely my points. It may come as a surprise to you, Mr Wingate, but I am not going to tell you how to think. If you don't like the 'atheist' prejudice that pervades the ordinary reason used in every other field of thought, by all means choose your own rules. All I want is a certain amount of honesty. Use whatever rules you like, but when you claim that you 'know god exists' and that 'religious belief is rational', have the honesty to admit that you are using the words 'know' and 'rational' in a way that is very different from their use everywhere else. Don't deny an atheist's charge that yours is a bald faith, because the ordinary sense of 'bald faith' matches pretty well your use of 'knowledge'. You don't need to dress religious belief in words that have gained honor and respect with ordinary meanings very different from those you attach to them. Religion has quite enough impetus and success without this kind of tactic. Russell

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