Tuesday, October 04, 2005

What is faith? part 4

Another scripture sometimes used to support the notion of "belief without evidence" is John 20:29 which says, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Again, it is wrongly assumed that "not seeing" equates with "not having reasons to believe," which is clearly false, and the context bares this out. In the context John writes, "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). The entire gospel of John, then, is an apologetic. John was giving reasons to believe in Jesus. He would've been in a hopeless contradiction if, on the one hand, he gave reasons to believe, and then on the other hand told us "blessed are those who believe without reasons." Thomas had prior reason to believe in Jesus even before he saw him. He had the testimony of his companions that they had seen Jesus alive. So the lesson being given in the story of doubting Thomas isn't that we should believe without reasons, but that we are blessed to have a basis for belief in Jesus without having to see him with our own eyes.

One other passage used to support blind faith is 2 Corinthians 5:7, which says, "We live by faith, not by sight." Again, lack of sight is wrongly taken to mean lack of reason. If we keep in mind Hebrews 11:1, we can see that the contrast between living by faith and living by sight is not a contrast between living without reasons and living WITH reasons, but rather, it's a contrast between living with hope and living with the realization of our hope. We live by faith in the sense that we hope for what we don't yet have rather than by having the thing we are waiting for, namely the resurrection. Check out the context, and you'll see how well this understanding fits. Paul is talking here about our desire to be with Jesus, so he's clearly talking about hope for something in the future. He's not talking about believing something we have no reason to believe.

Part 5

31 Comments:

At 10/04/2005 5:41 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

Hi Sam,

I noticed the latest comment you left on VMan's blog, in response to neogex. You said "Would it be fair of me to dismiss everything you say merely on the basis that you obviously have an ax to grind?"

You know, I think the answer should be yes, it would be fair. I think we can be justified in dismissing a post if we think it is biased to a degree which is unreasonable to us. It can be hard work fully evaluating an argument, and I think the more (unfairly) biased the author is, the more likely they are not being intellectually honest when they are presenting their information/points.

This is an inductive argument for dismissing a post, but in everyday life it is a useful principle because we don't always have time to evaluate every single argument that comes our way.

This doesn't mean that you never listen to opposing viewpoints, it's just that those you do listen to should be open-minded, fair, intellectual, and courteous. For example, the author of ttp://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/ seems to be of this category; though he's atheist, he seems open-minded and presents himself well (I haven't read too much, but from what I read he sounds reasonable -- you should check out the site sometime). On the other hand, there are also quite a few close-minded and ad hominem-happy atheists who probably wouldn't be of this disposition. And the same goes for Christians; some are quite stubborn but there are others who are willing to listen. For example, you and Paul would probably be of this latter category; even those who don't necessarily agree with your positions would be willing to listen to you because you seem fair and reasonable to talk to.

I think in ancient Greek rhetoric (from Artistotle), you would call this the author (or speaker)'s ethos (appeal to the character of the speaker).

A related example would be, who would you trust to more accurately present an argument for the existence of God: one published by Platinga himself or by an atheist named XiansDie on infidels.org?

Not everyone can evaluate arguments that fast and that well, and by applying a principle on the author's character, we can minimize being misled by misleading arguments.

Would you agree?

 
At 10/04/2005 7:14 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Dale, why didn't you make this post on Vman's blog instead?

I do think bias is something we ought to take into consideration, but I don't think you should dismiss what somebody says merely because they have a bias. If that were so, there would be no point in having a criminal take the witness stand. There would be no point in believing anybody who has something to gain by us believing him. Does that seem reasonable to you?

 
At 10/04/2005 8:22 AM , Blogger Jeff said...

In regard to Dale's comment. I would say that in practice, a person's past history in regard to quality of argumentation might make a difference.
But in theory, it doesn't have a thing to do with the argument itself. In fact, we have to assess the argument to decide if it's biased, ad-hominem, or whatever.

 
At 10/04/2005 5:06 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

I didn't want to post at Vman's blog because it'd probably put the conversation on a tangent.

Does that seem reasonable to you?

No, that's slightly different. It depends on the amount of bias and what situation you are in. I'm talking about informal circumstances. In a court room you have lawyers to analyze the arguments and others trained to catch mistakes. But in everyday life you are the only one able to analyze the argument. This makes it harder to catch mistakes. Additionally, if the person who gave the argument had a lot of bias and seems close-minded and untrustworthy, then you can be extremely skeptical about what they say by the principle of minimal bias. At this point, if what's wrong with their argument escapes you, you should be justified in dismissing it on the basis that there are probably some flaws in it due to bias, even if you can't point them out right away.

Dale

 
At 10/04/2005 7:03 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Dale - I think I understand where Sam's coming from on this one.

Even if a person has a bias it doesn't mean that what they are saying is in fact false. In fact, I believe its an ad hominem to dismiss someone's comments on the basis of who they are rather than the nature of their argument.

What you're arguing for is some form of subjective truth, where one takes into account the perspective of the person speaking in order to evaluate the truthfulness of what their saying.

Either what they are saying is true or it isn't!

 
At 10/04/2005 7:05 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Moreover, if bias precludes you from speaking to anyone but your own bias, you'd have a very introverted world.

I really enjoy listening to Sam (even though I pester him with comments) and his viewpoint on philosophy and religion - I learn a lot!

If I only listened to people with my own bias, I'd unfortunately have a very insulated and narrow view of God and religion.

 
At 10/04/2005 8:52 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

Steve,

When I say biased, I don't mean that one simply holds a different position than yourself; I mean that one's character is so engrained in a position that they can not participate in an honest and open-minded discussion. In my original comment, I mentioned why people with different opinions wouldn't mind listening to Sam because his writings seem fair and open-minded, but they might have a hard time listening to others who tend to insult and mischaracterize anyone who disagrees with them. This is an example of considering a person's character when choosing whether to take what they say seriously.

My point isn't that if the person is biased (inclined to be unfair), then what the person is saying is necessarily false (that's a fallacy), but that the greater they are biased, the more likely what they are saying is false, and the more justified you are in not putting time and effort in listening to them. It's a practical, every-day method, not a formal one.

Dale

 
At 10/05/2005 12:43 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Dale, it sounds like we agree. A strong bias in a person gives us reason to be suspicious of what they say, but it isn't, by itself, enough to conclude that the person is lying.

 
At 10/05/2005 1:26 AM , Blogger Steve said...

hmmm... so Sam you're saying that a bias isn't sufficient to say they are lying, but you are saying it counts against them?

 
At 10/05/2005 2:26 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

It counts against them in the sense that if they have a strong motive to say something, then we can't take their word for it with the same confidence as we could if they had no motive to say it. Basically, we should should treat biased sources with more caution than unbiased sources.

 
At 10/05/2005 3:42 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

Remember the story The Boy Who Cried Wolf? I think it is a perfect illustration of the point.

In case you've forgotten,

Once upon a time there was a boy who lived on top of a hill above a small town. The boy was naughty and bored so he decided to fool the townspeople, and one day he shouted "Help! Help! A wolf is coming!" When the townspeople heard him, they dropped everything and ran up the hill. When they reached the top, they found there was no wolf. The townspeople told the boy not to lie, and then they went back home. But the boy found it fun so the next day he shouted again "Help! Help! A wolf is coming! I'm serious this time!" So the townspeople dropped everything and rushed up the hill, but again they found no wolf. The townspeople, now noticeably irritated, sternly told the boy not to do it again, and then they went back home. But the boy wouldn't listen to them, and on the third day he cried, "Wolf! Wolf! There's really a wolf coming this time! I'm not lying!" The townspeople rushed up the hill once more, but again found no wolf. This time they were quite angry and warned the boy, "next time you cry wolf, we won't be coming." The next morning the boy went out on the hill, and this time he saw a real wolf coming towards him. So he cried "Wolf! Wolf! There's a wolf coming!" but nobody listened to him. So he cried again "Help! I'm not lying this time, honest! There's a wolf coming! Help me, please!" But still, nobody believed him. And the wolf ate the boy.

 
At 10/05/2005 3:58 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

I don't think the boy who cried wolf is a good comparison. The reason they didn't believe him in the end is because he had a history of lying. It wasn't because of his bias that they didn't believe him.

 
At 10/05/2005 4:16 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

It's true that they didn't believe in him due to bias.

But it illustrates very well the general concept that you can be justified in dismissing what someone says on the basis of their character without directly evaluating the truth of what they say.

And it also illustrates the point that although you can be justified in dismissing what someone says on the basis of their character, what they say might actually be true.

Both these points are relevant to the topic at hand.

 
At 10/05/2005 4:21 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

I still don't agree. His character had little to do with why they didn't believe him. He could've been a shady individual, and they still would've believed him the first time. The reason they didn't believe him in that particular case is because they used inductive reasoning. Every time in the past he had said that same thing, he was lying, so they assumed he was lying the last time, too.

 
At 10/05/2005 4:34 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

No, I think we agree.

The fact the boy has lied repeatedly contributes to him having a bad character. The fact that we think he's going to lie reflects that we think his character is untrustworthy.

We are talking about the same thing.

 
At 10/05/2005 4:48 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Oh, okay.

 
At 10/05/2005 3:22 PM , Blogger Steve said...

well, i guess I could see more where you guys are coming from if you defined "bias" and how that relates to whether or not we should believe someone.

 
At 10/05/2005 6:15 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

One way to define bias according to this principle is:

Bias: Having a strong, opinionated stance on an issue, and possessing a close-minded attitude to the point where it is plausible that the author, intentional or not, has a greater chance of presenting arguments which are flawed, erroneous, or misleading.

 
At 10/06/2005 3:25 AM , Blogger Steve said...

well what if a person is close minded because they agree very deeply with their opinion? I mean, should a person be open minded on all issues?

I mean, being open minded on some issues could actually be a bad thing!

Thus, based on that definition of bias, we could be dismissive of some people even though they are not necessarily wrong.

 
At 10/06/2005 1:09 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

We could be wrong, but the principle isn't for finding absolute truth; it's a practical, everyday method for weeding out probable bad arguments by looking at the character of the speaker.

When you mention that it's bad to be open-minded on some things, then aren't you sometimes following this principle as well?

If someone told you that they believed they didn't exist, you'd probably think they were nuts or not serious (both reflections on their character); then you probably wouldn't take them very seriously because you think they have a disposition against common sense. That's an evaluation on their character.

 
At 10/06/2005 7:21 PM , Blogger Steve said...

but inherent in that statement is the assumption that you're in a capacity to understand common sense.

If "common sense" were in fact a universal attribute, then the person should not be defying the generalization.

Moreover, I could redefine "common sense" to be "prevailing wisdom" and all of a sudden Galileo's logic doesn't seem like its just the ranting and ravings of an individual. Just because he defies "common sense" doesn't mean Galileo is wrong, maybe our assumptions about the universe are wrong!

 
At 10/06/2005 8:54 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

I'm not saying that Galileo is necessarily wrong, but I'm saying that I have the right to be very skeptical of what he's saying, because he's making very controversial statements.

I'm sure you've heard of the phrase "extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence." This is one example of what I'm talking about.

But the principle is broader than that. If Galileo presented his arguments like a gentleman, being courteous and politely responding to any initial objections to his theory, then the principle says "go ahead, listen to what he has to say." But if he acts like a crazy-man, ranting and insulting anyone who disagrees with him, then no, the principle says, "this guy's a lunatic; unless you have time to critically evaluate his arguments, then do something else." It doesn't mean the crazy-man is wrong, he could very well be right; but in reality most crazy men are not right, therefore inductively he's more likely not to be right either, so you can be justified in walking away. That's the principle in a nutshell -- looking at one's character (whether it's bias, their state-of-mind, and so on) to determine if it's worth listening to what they have to say.

 
At 10/06/2005 10:02 PM , Blogger Steve said...

"If [insert person here] presented his arguments like a gentleman, being courteous and politely responding to any initial objections to his theory, then the principle says "go ahead, listen to what he has to say." "

Ok lets say Im sitting in oh say a Temple and this crazy guy comes in and kicks out all the moneychangers! Thats not very gentleman like or polite!

You sir, would have just dismissed Jesus!

I think that those who thought he was ranting and raving maybe should have objectively listened to him rather than dismissing him as a crazy man, as you suggest they do to Galileo!

 
At 10/07/2005 5:56 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

I only said that they should consider dismissing Galileo if Galileo "[acted] like a crazy-man, ranting and insulting anyone who disagrees with him." But I assume that Galileo didn't actually do that, but instead presented his argument intelligently and fairly. So, they should have listened to him in that case. (But if they didn't listen to him, then really they were the ones not being fair, and that reflects on their bad character, and therefore by the same principle you should be less inclined to believe them if they rejected Galileo.)

Steve:

Ok lets say Im sitting in oh say a Temple and this crazy guy comes in and kicks out all the moneychangers! Thats not very gentleman like or polite!

You sir, would have just dismissed Jesus!


You can't dismiss Jesus just because he overturns tables, because there's more information available that you can gather to evaluate his character. Immediately after he overturns the tables, he says "It is written, he said to them, "My house will be called a house of prayer," but you are making it a "den of robbers"" ". Here he backs up his previous actions. It's now clear that he wasn't insane, but that he was in a proper state of mind yet (reasonably) only following through to his logical conclusions. Jesus explained himself (intelligently) after He overturned the tables; therefore, His character remained intact (to the moneychangers).

(Also, if the moneychangers ignored Jesus just because they were angry that Jesus shut down their business for the day, then they are the ones that should be listened to with skepticism because they are unreasonably biased, not Jesus, and therefore more inclined to be close-minded when they speak about Jesus; therefore, what they say about Jesus is limited by their own bad characters, which is another example of the principle in action).

I hope that makes sense. If not, I can clarify.

I think we all naturally use this principle in some form or another on a daily basis. Take some examples:

(i) Who would you be more likely to believe if they came up to you and claimed that they just solved the Riemann Hypothesis?

(A) A 6-year-old boy in kindergarten

(B) A 40-year-old mathematician at Harvard

(ii) Who would you be more likely to believe if they came up to you and claimed to see a UFO?

(A) A crop-circle enthusiast and conspiracy theorist

(B) James Randi

(iii) Who would you be more likely to believe if they came up to you and claimed that the price of gas is not the fault of the gas station owners?

(A) A gas station owner

(B) An economist lobbying against high gas prices

There are many examples besides those which demonstrate how the principle is applied; it doesn't mean (A) is necessarily thue or (B) is necessarily false, but that in real-life (B) is more likely to be true than (A) is, just on the basis of their respective characters.

 
At 10/07/2005 6:30 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

Sorry, the last sentence should read:

There are many examples besides those which demonstrate how the principle is applied; it doesn't mean (B) is necessarily true or (A) is necessarily false, but that in real-life (B) is more likely to be true than (A) is, just on the basis of their respective characters.

 
At 10/07/2005 6:46 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Dale, I think bias is a factor when it comes to taking somebody's word for something, but not when somebody is making an argument. When somebody is making an argument, you don't need to take their word for it. You can evaluate the soundness of their argument. Their bias is irrelevent to the soundness of their argument.

 
At 10/07/2005 7:17 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

But what if you're poor at evaluating arguments or if you don't have time to evaluate the arguments? Don't you think you could use character to at least make some sort of determination on whether or not the argument is true or false?

 
At 10/07/2005 9:04 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Yeah, I guess you could, Dave. In some cases, when I can't understand somebody's argument, I'll take their word for it if I have prior reason to believe they're pretty smart and know what they're talking about. I guess that would be my bias working.

Sometimes my bias has nothing to do with their character, but with what it is they're arguing for or against. Take Zeno's paradoxes of motion for example. There are four of them, and they are all supposed to prove that motion is impossible. But I have such a strong belief that motion is possible that I'll go on believing in motion even if I can't solve Zeno's paradoxes.

 
At 10/07/2005 12:04 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

Why are you calling me Dave, all of a sudden? lol

 
At 10/07/2005 12:14 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

I guess you could say that you're taking it on faith that the person knows what they're talking about. lol

 
At 10/07/2005 6:27 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Sorry Dale. I don't know what I was thinking.

 

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