Trust vs trust

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I think it’s also worth mentioning that their are two kinds of trust. Our friend murk seems to think that only believers acknowledge that their beliefs are based on trust, and that skeptics are mistakenly assuming they don’t need to trust. He seems to think that this is because only God is trustworthy, and skeptics don’t want to trust God.

What he’s overlooking is the fact that there are two kinds of trust: there’s reality-based trust, which skeptics have, and then there’s the kind of trust where you believe what someone tells you, even though it isn’t really consistent with what we find in material reality. That latter form of trust has acquired a bad name: gullibility. But why is gullibility a bad thing? Because we’ve learned through experience that gullibility deceives you and makes you more likely to be wrong. Yet among believers, believing what you’re told, despite the evidence, is considered a spiritual virtue. It’s called “faith,” and it’s seen as a sign of closeness to God and as a source of spiritual insights. Small wonder, then, that this kind of “faith” leads to so many different kinds of belief.

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Superstition and necessity

One of the things I’ve been observing during my interactions with presuppositionalists is that at least some of them seem to have a strange view of what “necessary” means. The presuppositional argument declares that there are two types of entities: necessary things and contingent things. A contingent thing depends on something else for its existence and characteristics, whereas a necessary thing exists because it must necessarily be real. There follows a certain amount of philosophical discussion (and/or hand-waving, and/or smoke and mirrors) gradually working its way to the conclusion that everything depends on God being real, and therefore God must be real. And not just any God, but a specifically Christian, Trinitarian God to boot.

The obvious flaw in this argument is that, even if we accept the existence of a necessary being, there’s no reason why it should have to be any sort of god, or even any sort of person. God might arguably be a conceptually possible being, but if He’s only a possible being, then by definition He’s not the necessary being. Yet presuppositionalists (or at least some of them) clearly believe that God is not just a possible being, but a literally necessary one. And I think I might have some understanding as to why and how they think that.

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Honest inquiry vs. rationalization

One of the reasons why so many people believe wrong things is because it is so easy to rationalize things to make them sound true when they’re not. What’s worse, it’s very difficult to recognize rationalization when we’re the ones doing it. And that goes double when it’s someone else trying to convince us that we’re rationalizing. But there is at least one significant difference between rationalization and honest inquiry that helps clarify which one we’re actually employing.

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Gospel Hypothesis 1: The nature of revelation

[This is the first post in a series comparing the Gospel Hypothesis with the Myth Hypothesis in the light of Occam's Razor.]

One of the reasons apologetics does so well with a lot of people is because skeptics try to prove that religion is wrong. In other words, the issue focuses on a binary question regarding religion: is it true or is it false? So long as believers can come up with an answer—any answer—to skeptical objections, they will feel justified in continuing to believe regardless of the evidence. And because humans are so good at rationalization, there will always be some answer.

Instead of focusing on the question of whether religion is flat out wrong, we want to take a comparative approach, demonstrating that, even if someone thinks they have good reasons for believing in religion, there are even better reasons for believing that religion is a myth. This makes the apologist’s job more difficult, because then it’s not enough to think up some random, unverifiable rationalization. In fact, random, unverifiable rationalizations may even begin to hurt the case for religion, by highlighting the fact that skepticism doesn’t need them.

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Worldviews in the balance

The observation is often made (and often by religious people) that each of us has our own worldview, by which we understand and interpret things in the world around us. When this observation is made during a debate over religion and/or science, it is often claimed that your conclusions owe as much to your worldview as my conclusions do to mine, and therefore I have just as much right to my conclusions as you do to yours.

This argument overlooks the fact that not all worldviews are created equal. There are two kinds of worldview, rational worldviews, and rationalizing worldviews, and they differ by the degree to which they accurately reflect the world they’re supposed to be viewing. In general, we want to avoid the rationalizing worldview because it tends to isolate us from the truth and leads us to make mistakes that are both painful and avoidable. But how do we know which kind of worldview our worldview is?

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Ockham and Twain

One of the things that used to bother me about Ockham’s Razor was the almost coincidental way it “just so happens” that the simplest solution is most likely to be correct. Oh really? How convenient for us simple-minded investigators! Are you sure there isn’t some kind of scam going on here?

As it turns out, there isn’t. In a world where “true” and “false” are consistently meaningful terms, the law of parsimony will always apply. The correct explanation will be the simplest explanation that accounts for all the facts.

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Defining superstition

One of the problems we frequently encounter when discussing religion (especially in the context of science) is that a lot of people have a hazy understanding of what superstition is. They think superstition means “silly things other people believe,” and if we describe any of their beliefs as superstition, they think we’re merely insulting their beliefs without making any substantive criticism. This in turn allows them to get away with a lot of superstitious thinking, at least in their own estimation.

For that reason, I’m always on the lookout for a nice concise, comprehensive definition of what superstition actually is, so that we can share it with people and say, “This is why I describe your belief as a superstition.” So far, the definition I like best is this one:

Superstition is when you arbitrarily associate some particular effect with some particular cause in the absence of any plausible or verifiable, non-magical connection between them.

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Why the Church is wrong

A few years ago, my home state amended its constitution specifically to prevent gay couples from being allowed to marry. They called it “defending” marriage, but of course what they really meant was “denying marriage to anyone who does not fall in love the same way we do.” I stewed about that for quite some time, and then decided that I was going to start a blog about religion (“better to light a candle” and so on).

For a while, the fight against homophobia was both depressing and infuriating, as state after state joined the mad rush to stomp on teh gey. But now it looks like public opinion may be swinging against this sort of bigotry at last. That is to say, the tide is turning in most arenas except one: religious conservatism. And that, to me, does a beautiful job of exposing what’s fundamentally wrong with the Church.

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The poverty, perversity, and pointlessness of purpose

Ok, one more post on purpose, and then I’ll be done (for a while at least). There’s all kinds of nice, alliterative lessons we can learn from looking at the Bad Catholic’s post regarding purpose. For example, after suggesting that we develop leukemia and then watch a family member die, in order to appreciate how hard it is to “be content without … answers, meaning, or purpose,” he then goes on to state this:

CLAIM 1: Suffering is the result of sin. … When we sin against others — when we steal from them, malign their names, or harm their bodies — we cause them suffering. When we sin against our nature — when we isolate ourselves, or demean our bodies — we cause our selves suffering. Suffering is the result of sin.

Behold the poverty of purpose. It’s fine to notice that yes, we can cause each other to suffer, but what about suffering that’s not caused by people? Blaming the victim is such a poor excuse, don’t you think? Why did you get leukemia? Because you deserved it, you sinner. Why did your three-year-old develop a brain tumor and waste away over the course of the next 18-months before finally dying? Because you (and/or your baby) deserved it, you sinners. And guess what? No matter what you do, Christianity is going to find something you do that it calls a sin. You can’t say, “I’ll just stop sinning, and then I won’t suffer any more.” Blaming the victim is intellectually impoverished: it neither knows nor cares what the actual, material causes of your suffering are, and it provides you with nothing you can use to reduce or avoid such suffering. All it gives you is an extra load of guilt on top of your suffering. Thanks a ton.

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