Sunday, March 11, 2007

All Faiths are Not Created Equal

To Ben Avuyah on the matter of the equivalence of all faith claims:


"Of course, people can claim they have faith in God's overwhelming morality, but that is the end of all reasoned argument, as all faith claims, dependant on the absence of evidence, are equall, and get dumped in the same hole with healing crystals and scientology."

It's easy to disregard faith. I've done it myself for quite some time, but I think eventually one must realize that if you don't want to sink into the bottomless pit of existential meaninglessness then you need to put your faith in something.

There comes a point where so much argument is just white noise.

Naturally, evidence-based thinking is superior in most respects, but when one reaches the limits of human knowledge I believe we ought to allow ourselves a measure of guiltless speculation.

I do not believe all faith claims are equal as some are coherent while others are not. Some are internally consistent while others are not. Some conflict with the known facts while others exist external to them.

I see little wrong with a coherent, internally consistent belief system that conflicts with no known facts. That's hardly science, of course, but that is religion. It has its place.

34 comments:

zach said...

I do not believe all faith claims are equal as some are coherent while others are not. Some are internally consistent while others are not. Some conflict with the known facts while others exist external to them.

Which faiths do you believe are internally consistent that do not conflict with "known facts"?

Orthoprax said...

Zach,

There are many. How about the belief that the world we perceive is a real world? A solipsist would disagree and say that we could just be a brain in vat. Both beliefs are not based on data but the skepticism of the solipsist just seems silly to me.

How about the belief that the universe is ultimately understandable by the minds of men? That's a classic belief in the nature of science and the universe.

Or the belief that mankind can one day live in peace and harmony? Or the belief that the universe is not the consequence of cosmic happenstance. Or that moral sense is not just an artificial human construct.

Things like that.

XGH said...

Good post. I agree.

alex said...

"internally consistent belief system"

We should probably allow for the possibility that what one person considers inconsistent, another person will consider consistent.

Orthoprax said...

GH,

Thanks.


Alex,

Indeed! Let the debates begin!

jewish philosopher said...

Some supernatural claims are based on rock hard evidence, for example Torah from Sinai.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: I think eventually one must realize that if you don't want to sink into the bottomless pit of existential meaninglessness then you need to put your faith in something.

That's a rather large assumption... or are you talking about a very wide definition of 'faith'?

Orthoprax said: Naturally, evidence-based thinking is superior in most respects, but when one reaches the limits of human knowledge I believe we ought to allow ourselves a measure of guiltless speculation.

There's nothing wrong with a good bit of speculation and theorising......

Orthoprax said: I see little wrong with a coherent, internally consistent belief system that conflicts with no known facts.

Sounds reasonable...

Orthoprax said: Or the belief that the universe is not the consequence of cosmic happenstance. Or that moral sense is not just an artificial human construct.

...and that's where you lost me... [grin].

Miri said...

"Or that moral sense is not just an artificial human construct."

see but you never hear the phrase "artificial animal construct" or "artificial plant construct." I mean, at least, not the same way. Doesn't that in itself imply something about humanity and human morality? (btw, even supposing morality is a "man-made-thing" wouldn't it be more accurate to call it an organic evolution than an artificial construct?)

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"That's a rather large assumption... or are you talking about a very wide definition of 'faith'?"

As I see it, anytime you act on a basis that is not fully rational then you are acting on what is essentially an article of faith. I think this comes to a head especially well when it comes to value judgements.

"...and that's where you lost me... [grin]."

Eh, stick around, maybe we'll be able to figure it out together. ;-)


Miri,

"see but you never hear the phrase "artificial animal construct" or "artificial plant construct." I mean, at least, not the same way. Doesn't that in itself imply something about humanity and human morality?"

Yes, human behavior is not limited in the same way that most animal behavior is. We can think outside of our genes in ways that far exceeds any other organism.

"(btw, even supposing morality is a "man-made-thing" wouldn't it be more accurate to call it an organic evolution than an artificial construct?)"

I don't believe so because it isn't the forces of evolution that guide it. Social progress and reason have been far more important factors to the progress of morality than have been evolutionary selective pressures - especially so in recent times.

I like to point out that as humanity continues to succeed at shaping nature to its needs, rather than nature shaping humanity, we have largely freed ourselves from the forces of natural selection. Given the wealth of medicines and foodstuffs and so on nowadays, so many of the most unfit individuals for a 'natural' setting can survive and live full lives.

Miri said...

"I don't believe so because it isn't the forces of evolution that guide it. Social progress and reason have been far more important factors to the progress of morality than have been evolutionary selective pressures - especially so in recent times."

think evolution in terms of its definition apart from Darwin. you don't think that "social progress and reason" are evolutions of their own? or, at least, a direct result of all the other evolutionary processes that came before?

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: As I see it, anytime you act on a basis that is not fully rational then you are acting on what is essentially an article of faith. I think this comes to a head especially well when it comes to value judgements.

In that sense we act 'on faith' every day of our lives. I think that it would be an odd person indeed who rationally understood everything about everything they did or encountered.

Orthoprax said: Eh, stick around, maybe we'll be able to figure it out together. ;-)

Well... I *do* keep coming back... [grin].

Orthoprax said: Yes, human behavior is not limited in the same way that most animal behavior is. We can think outside of our genes in ways that far exceeds any other organism.

Totally agree.

Orthoprax said: Social progress and reason have been far more important factors to the progress of morality than have been evolutionary selective pressures - especially so in recent times.

Agreed - though not sure why you mention 'recent times'.

Orthoprax said: I like to point out that as humanity continues to succeed at shaping nature to its needs, rather than nature shaping humanity, we have largely freed ourselves from the forces of natural selection.

Not true. Natural Selection still operates. It's just that we're only now having an impact on it on a truely global scale. We're still being selected though...

Orthoprax said: Given the wealth of medicines and foodstuffs and so on nowadays, so many of the most unfit individuals for a 'natural' setting can survive and live full lives.

Only really in the developed nations and only then for the last hundred years or so. The impact on the human genome is likely to be negligable.

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

"think evolution in terms of its definition apart from Darwin. you don't think that "social progress and reason" are evolutions of their own?"

Ok, then evolution just means 'things changing over time.' You could talk about the evolution of the US from 13 British colonies to the superpower it is today. I don't see how your use of evolution is at all relevant.

"or, at least, a direct result of all the other evolutionary processes that came before?"

Yeah, and? When a blacksmith shapes the iron of the earth into an ax he is using materials that are a direct result of planetary evolution. So?


Cyber,

"In that sense we act 'on faith' every day of our lives. I think that it would be an odd person indeed who rationally understood everything about everything they did or encountered."

Indeed. That's why I think it gets a bit absurd when people give faith such a hard time when they rely on it every day of their life.

Faith does not necessarily mean a sense of certainty, but simply a confidence enough by which to act.

"Agreed - though not sure why you mention 'recent times'."

As opposed to prehistoric times when we were much like our chimpanzee cousins.

"Not true. Natural Selection still operates. It's just that we're only now having an impact on it on a truely global scale. We're still being selected though..."

Selected through survival of the fittest? Not really. Of course it still operates on the most fringe cases, but it is far less active under these easy living conditions.

"Only really in the developed nations and only then for the last hundred years or so. The impact on the human genome is likely to be negligable."

As humans have progressively made nature bend to our needs than the other way around, we have loosened the hold natural selection has on us. This is still true in the most primitive of human societies, though to a lesser extent than the most advanced.

The effect on the global human genome is then, essentially, an accumulation of poor traits that would have otherwise lead to culling through natural selection - though alleles for other traits may become more prevalent due to other selective pressures (sexual, for example) or genetic drift.

Eventually, I predict that humanity will take full power of our genetics and not allow the fickleness of nature to remain in control. This is already beginning.

Welcome to the age of artificial selection.

Miri said...

orthoprax
"Ok, then evolution just means 'things changing over time.'"

sigh. yes. this is my point. evolution as a process of gradual, natural, organic change. of the thought process as well as everything else. (although, if we're talking about morality, there's evidence of morality in man from at least Biblical times and onwards...)

my original point was about morality as "an artificial human construct."
I believe this term is faulty bc:
1)if in fact morality is a natural and organic evolution, then it's natural and organic, not an artificially man-made thing.

2)bc we have evidence of human morality codes and conscience from ancient times (think code of Hammurabi if you don't like Tanach,) there is an implication that morality and concsience are things which are found naturally within the emotional make-up of man. even if sensibilities and sensitivities have changed over the generations, man has always had a concsience of some sort.

therefore, I consider your idea of morality as faulty, and quite possibly completely false.

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

Practical morality has both natural and man-made components. The original moral sense stems from the natural social living that mammals and especially primates live.

The artificial part stems from man's reason and cultural progress through which the natural self-serving morality was widened and deepened.

For instance, the idea of 'human rights' is not something natural selection picked out. It is a human construct based on reason, history and therefore culture.

My point however, is that morality is not just a human construct (nor is it just a selected adaptation) but that it is a real and measurable characteristic of humanity in society. Part of it was blindly adapted by natural selection and part of it was figured out through human reason, but ultimately it exists in the universe. We discover morality, not create it.

If you note, I had specifically phrased the belief that the 'moral sense is _not_ just an artificial human construct.'


Further, as I see it, if you believe that morality is only based on it being a common selected adaptation then it has no more force behind it then does the common selected adaptation for a fear of heights. It turns 'don't kill' into a statement as meaningful as 'don't fly planes.'

And that is an idea of morality I find deeply flawed.

Miri said...

orthoprax
"My point however, is that morality is not just a human construct (nor is it just a selected adaptation) but that it is a real and measurable characteristic of humanity in society. Part of it was blindly adapted by natural selection and part of it was figured out through human reason, but ultimately it exists in the universe. We discover morality, not create it.
If you note, I had specifically phrased the belief that the 'moral sense is _not_ just an artificial human construct.'"

yeah, ok, I agree.

"Further, as I see it, if you believe that morality is only based on it being a common selected adaptation then it has no more force behind it then does the common selected adaptation for a fear of heights. It turns 'don't kill' into a statement as meaningful as 'don't fly planes.'"

I didn't mean to imply that morality is ONLY based on being a common selected adaptation; rather that it starts out as an inborn itch that is developed through societal experience + reasoning etc.
also, selected adaptation for a fear of heights? as someone with a very strong fear of heights, I'd like to mention that I don't find the analogy is entirely apt. also, I fly frequently. just saying.

Ben Avuyah said...

Shucks, I missed all the hooplah, ah well...

In any case, I think I worked my way to this point over on my blog as well, and that is:

I don't like the choice of the word faith to describe human action in the face of partial or minimal information.

I think we do act realistically on minimal information understanding that we very well may get burned for it....

We do not, by some necessary perogotive, have to bolster up a faith that what we do is well based, we can function from the unknown or unsure just with more trepidation doubt and keeping an eye out for the consequences.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: Welcome to the age of artificial selection.

Well... It's about time we took direct control over our genes.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: but ultimately it exists in the universe. We discover morality, not create it.

Say what now.....??? How can we 'discover' morality? In the same was that we discovered gravity or the existence of genes? Are you saying that morality is an external 'thing' that we can stub our toes against? [looks *very* confused].

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

"also, selected adaptation for a fear of heights? as someone with a very strong fear of heights, I'd like to mention that I don't find the analogy is entirely apt. also, I fly frequently. just saying."

It's apt because it is a 'natural' feeling - as is morality. But if the only force behind morality is this feeling then you ought to be as free to disregard moral feelings as you are free to disregard inborn fears.


Ben,

I responded on your blog.


Cyber,

"How can we 'discover' morality? In the same was that we discovered gravity or the existence of genes? Are you saying that morality is an external 'thing' that we can stub our toes against? [looks *very* confused]."

I think it is an intrinsic characteristic of human society. Suppose human society was a triangle (I know, a strange analogy but work with it) then morality would be like having three corners.

You cannot have society without some sort of morality - and we can discover or figure out the details of that morality to lead to more ethical human activity. This is akin to making the triangle corners sharper - increasing the 'triangleness' of the triangle.

Ultimately it is possible to imagine a perfect triangle through deductive reasoning even while no such object exists in the universe. Likewise I believe there is a 'perfect' moral theory that can account for all human activity. It is not discoverable in the sense that we can 'stub our toe against' it but that we can discover its intrinsically most true properties.

Miri said...

orthoprax-
"It's apt because it is a 'natural' feeling - as is morality. But if the only force behind morality is this feeling then you ought to be as free to disregard moral feelings as you are free to disregard inborn fears."

why should I disregard inborn fears? I like to think of my fear of heights as self-protective. you know, if you fall from someplace high up you could get severely hurt or killed.
likewise with morality? if you disregard it you might get hurt?

I liked the idea of discovering morality though. it leaves reality as something objective, while simultaneously creative. I don't think that's how you meant it, but I like to think of it like that.

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

"why should I disregard inborn fears? I like to think of my fear of heights as self-protective. you know, if you fall from someplace high up you could get severely hurt or killed.
likewise with morality? if you disregard it you might get hurt?"

Then you shouldn't fly in a plane - yet you do, like you said. Therefore you've disregarded your fear. If you could do the same for morality then morality would be nothing. People would just be able to 'get over' their irrational moral sentiments and turn into efficient nazis.

"I liked the idea of discovering morality though. it leaves reality as something objective, while simultaneously creative. I don't think that's how you meant it, but I like to think of it like that."

That was actually what I was getting at. Obviously moral standards have changed over time and obviously the inspired minds of men have created new theories of morality, but if we see morality as just a subjective construct for behavior then it loses all sense of dutiful force.

Miri said...

orthoprax
"Then you shouldn't fly in a plane - yet you do, like you said. Therefore you've disregarded your fear. If you could do the same for morality then morality would be nothing. People would just be able to 'get over' their irrational moral sentiments and turn into efficient nazis."

who said I disregard my fears? It's pretty hard to ignore when you're standing next to a thirty foot drop with sharp rocks and you're shimmying along a 2-inch ledge with nothing to grab onto. it is however easier to pretend you're not flying when in a plane. also, statistically, flying is still the safest way to travel. point being, I don't get over my fear of heights. I just get scared.

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

Do you not understand what I'm saying? You are not acting as your fears dictate.

If morality was of the same source then you could just as easily not act as your morals dictate.

Miri said...

so you're defining "disregard" as acting against inclination. fine. what was the original point here?

"Then you shouldn't fly in a plane - yet you do, like you said. Therefore you've disregarded your fear. If you could do the same for morality then morality would be nothing."

I don't think so, quite. here's the difference; you say that if I act against my instincts I am disregarding them. But I disagree, in the case of inborn fear and in the case of morality. in both situations, the fact that you have acted against your instincts DOES NOT REMOVE THE INSTINTS. It simply means you're having a difficult time. I can climb mountains, even though I know I'll be scared and possibly freak out. and I can do something wrong, and my concsience will still bother me. Maybe if I did these things frequently, the instinct would be eventually negated, but...no, scratch that. I fly at least four times a year, and I've been on more mountain tops than I care to remember, and it still scares me every time. sorry, I guess I'm just going to have to disagree here.

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

It doesn't matter if you still feel afraid or if you still feel that something is wrong. The point is that neither would hold any compulsion for you. There's no reason not to fly planes - even though you feel fear - nor would there be any reason not to kill - even though you would feel it is wrong.

So you feel that stealing is wrong. So? If you really want something then you should let greed overcome your silly moral feelings. Why not? Guilt becomes something to overcome for your best interests, not something you would allow to rule your behavior.

Miri said...

orthoprax,
not really. here's where I disagree; you say the fact that we are capable of acting against our instincts means that these instincts have no hold on us. but I think that's wrong. I think that the fact that we act against our instincts doesn't lessen their hold on us, it's simply that we deliberately defy them when we need to.
for example, it isn't that there's no reason not to fly planes, but rather that there is a very strong need to fly them; ie, fastest way to get from Israel to America and back. were it not for that, I'd never fly them if I didn't have to.
in terms of moral behavior there is very rarely a need to ignore our instincts that way; barring life and death situations, of course, in which the moral setting naturally changes.

Anonymous said...

>Selected through survival of the fittest? Not really. Of course it still operates on the most fringe cases, but it is far less active under these easy living conditions.

To me, one of the fascinating things about this topic is the impact of birth control on the evolution of humans. Over the long term, people or societies with traits that predispose them to use more birth control will be selectively weeded out of the population. This is why Western Europe (just a few decades after the invention of the Pill) is already in danger of being replaced by Middle Eastern immigrants. These forces will have an enormous impact over the next 500 years. If the humanists want to be around then, they'll have to incorporate family values into their belief system.

Mikeskeptic

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

"in terms of moral behavior there is very rarely a need to ignore our instincts that way; barring life and death situations, of course, in which the moral setting naturally changes."

If you say so. I think the Nazis disagreed. Morality is a weakness. Get rid of it and you can rule the world.

'Feeling' has no compulsive power at all.

People also feel lots of other stuff - things that I suppose you would find immoral. Why should a pedophile not abuse children? He feels good about it.


Mike,

Indeed. I worry about democracy when I see what can be termed 'demographic warfare' as immigrants can potentially overwhelm the native population through out-reproducing them.

How will the natives respond? Let themselves be so conquered through their liberal values? Engage in a wasteful 'arms race' to outperform the immigrants? Legally reduce the political influence of immigrant groups through stripping them of rights? Or even do something along the lines of ethnic cleansing or genocide?

In America this is less of a problem since we are all immigrants and this country is founded, at least theoretically, on the values of being a place of opportunity for anyone. But in more nationalistic or ethnically-minded countries this could be a big problem. Israel, for one, is already grappling with this type of problem.

Miri said...

Orthoprax,
I stick to my idea. I think the analogy holds very well against your example. When there is a need to fly a plane - ie, going home to see my family - I fly them. when there is a need to be immoral - ie, the Third Reich is going to do horrible things to your family if you don't follow orders - you ignore your sense of inner morality to survive. A hell of a lot of Nazis were way messed up bc of stuff they did in the war. Ignoring morality to that extent takes a tremendous toll on people. and in the end, the Nazis did not take over the world. the Communists haven't yet either. wonder why?

"People also feel lots of other stuff - things that I suppose you would find immoral. Why should a pedophile not abuse children? He feels good about it."

first of all, you don't actually know how the pedophile really feels about what he's doing. unless you are one. I would venture to say that he doesn't actually think what he's doing is morally correct. he may rationalize and justify himself out of such an opinion. but people who allow themselves to act on these PHYSICAL, not rational or spiritual, urges, have a tendncy to be not all there for various reasons. again, not really an apt example.

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

"A hell of a lot of Nazis were way messed up bc of stuff they did in the war. Ignoring morality to that extent takes a tremendous toll on people."

Ah, finally you see. You've changed your argument. It's not enough just that we have moral inclinations, not abiding by them has destructive results.

Unfortunately, even with that addition, the concept still fails. It becomes a matter of economics. Is stealing this money worth the inner turmoil? Many will say 'yes!'

And what can you say to answer them? This is my point. Why should I be moral if not being moral is to my profit? I may fear heights, but there's a lot of money in flying airplanes.

"and in the end, the Nazis did not take over the world. the Communists haven't yet either. wonder why?"

Because they were combatted around the world by people of other views. You will not find a single historian who will tell you Nazi Germany fell because of internal moral weakness.

"I would venture to say that he doesn't actually think what he's doing is morally correct."

So what? That, again, is my point. Who cares about morality if it's just a feeling?

Miri said...

orthoprax-
"Ah, finally you see. You've changed your argument. It's not enough just that we have moral inclinations, not abiding by them has destructive results."

No, I have not changed my argument. my argument was, and remains, that morality is more than just a feeling. if it were just a feeling, ignoring it wouldn't have so many dire psychological consequences. the fact that ignoring it affects ppl so badly proves that it's something stronger, an actual force with the power to destroy you if you defy it. as far as I can tell, you have in no way disproved this theory.

"Why should I be moral if not being moral is to my profit? "

my point is that ultimately it isn't to anyone's profit, bc it corodes the inner self. ppl ignore it bc they are overcome by other things; greed, desperation, psycosis. however these things all lead to self-destruction in the end. the fact that ppl aren't able to accuratly account for the ultimate ecenomic result doesn't make that any less true.

"Because they were combatted around the world by people of other views. You will not find a single historian who will tell you Nazi Germany fell because of internal moral weakness."

historians, no. but what about a war vet? or a Holacaust survivor?
come to think of it, I'm not even sure you're right about historians...should I ask the professor of my Holacaust course tomorrow?

Orthoprax said...

Miri,

"the fact that ignoring it affects ppl so badly proves that it's something stronger, an actual force with the power to destroy you if you defy it. as far as I can tell, you have in no way disproved this theory."

That's because you proposed it for the first time just now. ;-)

It's not hard, just look at the past half dozen of your posts and you can see how morality changed from an inborn instinct and you asked 'why I should I not follow it?" into a 'powerful force' that will do you psychological harm if you cross it.

There's nothing wrong about having your views change through debate and there's no reason to feel like you've lost when you've gained in understanding.

"my point is that ultimately it isn't to anyone's profit, bc it corodes the inner self. ppl ignore it bc they are overcome by other things; greed, desperation, psycosis. however these things all lead to self-destruction in the end."

That is highly speculative and I suspect not true for many people. But in any case, suppose a person could get over his moral senses and the internal conflict, is he then free to do whatever he wishes? What's to stop him? Why should he submit to these irrational moral sensibilities?

I think you also run into trouble when you compare different societies. I am confident that the Aztec priests felt no internal conflicts as they were eating the hearts' of the human sacrifices they offered. Does that mean it was ok?

Hell, 200 years ago, slavery was considered morally sound in America. I don't think the wealthy plantation owners had pangs of regret while lying in bed.

"historians, no. but what about a war vet? or a Holacaust survivor?
come to think of it, I'm not even sure you're right about historians...should I ask the professor of my Holacaust course tomorrow?"

Sure, ask everyone if they believe the Allied armies had nothing to do with the fall of Nazi Germany.

Miri said...

orthoprax-
"bc we have evidence of human morality codes and conscience from ancient times (think code of Hammurabi if you don't like Tanach,) there is an implication that morality and concsience are things which are found naturally within the emotional make-up of man. even if sensibilities and sensitivities have changed over the generations, man has always had a concsience of some sort."

this was my real original point, since the original-original point was based on something I mis-read. I can see how you would say that my point has evolved, and that is true to some extent, but I'm still basically saying the same thing. I'll try and explain how.

in the beginning I was arguing about morality being something which is naturally inborn in man, and which goes through an evolutive transformation over time due to environment and experience. in my last couple of comments I claimed it (based on your idea) that morality is a force of its own in the universe. I think both of these things are true. I think that man is born with e sense, or senso, foro this force in the universe, a sense that sharpens or changes over time. my personal sense or lack of sense, for this force, does not add or detract from its power. therefore, I can shut it off if I like, but it'll come back to bite me in the end. I think this is more or less what I'm saying.

"Sure, ask everyone if they believe the Allied armies had nothing to do with the fall of Nazi Germany."

you know that's not what I meant. WWII was an extremely propagandized war, especially in America. the general prevalent sense was that Nazis=evil and anyone fighting them, ie the allied forces=good. it was a very bad-guy/good-guy war. no one back then would have enied that it was a war about morals. I'm not saying that military might had nothing to do with it, I'm just saying that esp with WWII, you can't remove the moral aspect from it. anyway, I'll let you know what the professor says.

Miri said...

she said we won bc we were stronger.