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A Rabbi’s Absurd Take on the Reason Rally

A rabbi named Brad Hirshfield has a commentary at Fox News declaring the Reason Rally to be entirely unreasonable. But his arguments are shallow, nonsensical and intellectually dishonest. For example, he uses the “faith in reason” dodge:

Saturday’s rally will mark the formal birth of secularism/atheism which, although not the same, are both being used by the organizers almost interchangeably, as one more faith-based group seeking to assert its political and cultural influence on the rest of us. And yes, I meant what I wrote about the rally being “faith based.” It’s not my faith, but it is a faith nonetheless.

The organizers of this rally and most, if not all, of the 38, yes 38 (and I thought a synagogue was long on sermons!), speakers planned for Saturday’s event, put their faith in having no faith.

This is a disingenuous argument in all its many commonly heard forms. By using the word “faith” to mean any belief, no matter how logical or well-supported it is, the believer attempts to put his faith-based beliefs in the same category as evidence-based beliefs. Sorry, that just isn’t accurate. If you say the earth is 6,000 years old because your holy book says so and I say the earth is 4.5 billion years old because the evidence says so, we don’t both hold “faith-based beliefs” — my belief is supported by mountains of evidence and yours is not.

And that is not Hirschfield’s last equivocation:

That is, to be sure, a position which deserves the most vigorous defense, no matter how deeply most Americans say they disagree with that conclusion. In fact, making that defense is part of what makes this nation so special. We actually fight for the rights of those we think are wrong.

I wish the Reason Rally folks would do the same.

From its best-known speaker, Professor Richard Dawkins, to the event’s website, to its very name, this rally is not simply about protecting the rights of non-believers, but about the inferiority of religious belief.

Isn’t that interesting? He’s talking about rights to start with, then suddenly switches to criticism, implying that because secularists criticize the beliefs of religious people we there won’t defend the rights of religious people to believe what they want. That is, again, fundamentally dishonest. One simply has nothing to do with the other. One can criticize a viewpoint and still defend the right to hold and express that viewpoint, and nearly all secularists do exactly that. Indeed, the freedom of religion is far safer in the hands of secularists than it is in the hands of religious fundamentalists.

Comments

  1. Michael Heath says

    I get a kick out of how so many religious people make an argument against rational people by claiming their evidence-derived conclusions are no better than their own faith-based approach. Essentially they attempt to win an argument by metaphorically punching themselves in the face while falsely claiming their opponent is doing the same.

    Faith is an infantile avoidance mechanism to avoid reaching a minimal normative standard of emotional maturity and emotional intelligence, i.e., wisdom. At least some of religious people at least subconsciously concede this is both humorous and sad.

  2. Johnny Vector says

    I say the earth is 4.5 billion years old because the evidence says so, we don’t both hold “faith-based beliefs” — my belief is supported by mountains of evidence

    I see what you did there.

  3. says

    this rally is not simply about protecting the rights of non-believers, but about the inferiority of religious belief.

    That’s rich, coming from a guy who thinks his group are the chosen people of the creator of the universe.

  4. says

    Religious bigots and con-artists keep on insisting that atheism and “materialism” are based on “faith” in certain unproven assertions — but they never actually specify what those unproven assertions are. Hirshfield doesn’t specify what those beliefs are either, which means he either doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or is knowingly repeating a lie.

    Oh well, at least his “they’re no better than we are” schtick can be taken as an admission that one more advocate of religion can’t think of a better defense than “you do it too!”

    And what’s this about atheism/secularism being “born” last Saturday? Is this guy even trying to sound serious?

  5. Mattir says

    The good rabbi probably missed the fact that one of the groups handing out literature was the Society for Humanistic Judaism and that one can have holidays, traditions, and fun without crippling beliefs in a magic sky fairy.

  6. d cwilson says

    That is, to be sure, a position which deserves the most vigorous defense, no matter how deeply most Americans say they disagree with that conclusion. In fact, making that defense is part of what makes this nation so special. We actually fight for the rights of those we think are wrong.

    Since when?

    Jessica Alquist certainly got a taste of that “vigorous defense” of her rights by those who thought she was wrong.

  7. says

    Religious bigots and con-artists keep on insisting that atheism and “materialism” are based on “faith” in certain unproven assertions — but they never actually specify what those unproven assertions are.

    In the rare instances I do get a troll to specify those assertions, they’re typically just the generally undisputed axioms everyone needs to get beyond solipsism. Or at least they’re undisputed until the religious troll preaches solipsism in his efforts to preach his religion.

  8. Sqrat says

    He’s talking about rights to start with, then suddenly switches to criticism, implying that because secularists criticize the beliefs of religious people we there won’t defend the rights of religious people to believe what they want.

    I think perhaps you meant “…we won’t defend the right of religious people not to be persecuted for their beliefs.”

  9. Sastra says

    The insistence that not using faith is itself a form of faith always reminds me of the equally silly argument that being against intolerance is itself a form of intolerance — ’cause now you’re bigoted against bigots, see? By the time you’re seven years old you start to catch on that there’s some sort of trick there.

    “… this rally is not simply about protecting the rights of non-believers, but about the inferiority of religious belief.”

    So?
    The rabbi is of course conflating what a person believes with what the person is. That’s how faith works: you ultimately choose what you believe because of the kind of person you are. You respond, you accept, you embrace, you acknowledge, you surrender, you submit to the conclusion. You don’t tentatively confirm or falsify a hypothesis — like the atheists want you to do.

    The gnu atheist movement wants people to stop conflating belief with identity. Criticizing a fact claim isn’t taking away someone’s right to be who they want to be without interference. The rabbit’s complaint here is based on the assumption that in religion, belief is identity and the atheists ought to recognize that.

    No. We won’t. Because it’s not true — and it’s the reason we’re so despised. That perspective means that the real reason atheists don’t believe in God has little to nothing to do with what we claim are the reasons (lack of evidence, better explanations, etc.) It’s because our identity is in opposition to everything good and true. But no offense to us, of course. They respect us anyway … as long as we shut up and blend in.

    Yeah, right.

  10. abb3w says

    @4, Raging Bee:

    Religious bigots and con-artists keep on insisting that atheism and “materialism” are based on “faith” in certain unproven assertions — but they never actually specify what those unproven assertions are.

    Actually, a few of them do point to some things. (IE: that there is an external reality that we can perceive through our senses; that the universe is composed only of matter and energy, with no supernatural forces at play; and so on.) The catch is that they generally don’t point to the most basic assumptions.

    For example, science relies on the validity of mathematics as an abstract language. This effectively means that it is taking the Zermelo-Frankel axioms (or functional equivalent axiom schema) as part of its philosophical basis. Axioms are taken without justification from priors; as such, they indeed involve “faith” in “certain unproven assertions”. It’s just a very uninteresting sort of faith… and difficult to avoid hitting a functional equivalent.

    Of course, you can also take the Refutation instead of the Assertion. Mostly, that just makes for some translation difficulties.

  11. scienceavenger says

    …because secularists criticize the beliefs of religious people we there won’t defend the rights of religious people to believe what they want.

    The rabbi’s equivocation is a tacit admission that the religious can’t intellectually defend their views, thus criticizing them DOES take away their ability to believe, in the same way revealing a magician’s tricks removes the ability to believe in magic.

  12. Sastra says

    Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the author of “You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism”

    The title of the book — along with the rest of the article — indicates to me that the rabbi is putting his emphasis on what’s been called the Doctrine of Equivalence: the belief that all religions are only different paths to the same place and express and reflect the individuals needs and background. Thus, we do not talk about right or wrong, or true or false, when we talk about religion: what matters is what works for each individual. The most disrespectful thing you can do, therefore, is to tell someone their religion is wrong.

    Bull.

    I’ll let Dawkins respond:

    What amazes me is that they like to set themselves up as having a slightly finer sensibility than you or me but in fact they are completely intellectually irresponsible. They used to come up with very bad arguments for their faiths but at least they felt that there was something they should provide. Now mere wilfulness has triumphed. This is what I describe as the egocentric approach to truth. You are no longer interested in reality because to do that you have to be pretty rigorous, you have to have evidence or do some experimentation. Rather, beliefs are part of your wardrobe. You’ve got a style and how dare anybody tell you that your style isn’t right. Ideology is seen as simply a matter of taste and as it’s not right to tell people that they’ve got bad taste, so it isn’t right to tell them that their opinions are false. I’m afraid that the caste of mind of most people is the opposite of scientific.

    I suspect that a lot of the Nones believe in the Doctrine of Equivalence — and thus dislike outspoken atheism for the same reason they hate proselytizing theists.

  13. daniellavine says

    For example, science relies on the validity of mathematics as an abstract language. This effectively means that it is taking the Zermelo-Frankel axioms (or functional equivalent axiom schema) as part of its philosophical basis. Axioms are taken without justification from priors; as such, they indeed involve “faith” in “certain unproven assertions”. It’s just a very uninteresting sort of faith… and difficult to avoid hitting a functional equivalent.

    I don’t really think one must assume the ZF axioms to justify the use of mathematical techniques by scientists. In fact, since the quest for mathematical axioms didn’t really get going until the 19th century, you can do mathematics without assuming the ZF axioms (unless you want to deny that people like Liebniz, Descartes, Newton, etc. were doing mathematics). There’s an entire approach to philosophy of mathematics, intuitionism, that’s based on the premise that you don’t need to axiomatize mathematics to do it or use it.

    The only two assumptions you need to bootstrap naturalism are !(brain in vat) and (other minds). Once you establish that there is a real world populated by other sentient agents with whom you can communicate every other part of naturalism can be inferred. Please note that any form of theism also has to make these same assumptions and more besides.

  14. says

    Actually, a few of them do point to some things…

    And the things you go on to list are not “assumptions,” nor are they “beliefs” based only on “faith;” they’re conslusions based on observation. I don’t ASSUME or BELIEVE that what I see and feel immediately around me is real, I CONCLUDE it’s real because I OBSERVE that it consistently ACTS real (based on obseravble differences between how things act in dreams and how they act in waking life). That’s where this whole “atheists/materialists rely on faith too” argument fails: they’re blatantly misusing words like “faith,” “assumption,” and “belief” to lie about the underpinnings of rational thought.

  15. says

    We actually fight for the rights of those we think are wrong.
    I wish the Reason Rally folks would do the same.

    Funny, I seem to recall that one of the things Greta Christina was explicitly Pissed Off [tm] about is religious people screwing over other religious people for being the wrong kind of religion.

    ….this rally is not simply about protecting the rights of non-believers, but about the inferiority of religious belief.

    But beliefs which are a poor match to the evidence are inferior to those which are well supported. Assuming, of course, one thinks that truth is superior to error (I know, that’s a radical idea, and considered a bit gauche in some circles).

  16. jjgdenisrobert says

    Well, you said rabbi, right? The word “absurd” then has to be the next one, by definition. Absurd Rabbi is like Immoral Priest. The adjective is superfluous and implied in the substantive.

  17. says

    Axioms are taken without justification from priors…

    Those axioms are not taken arbitrarily, they’re taken because they are observed to conform with what we see in the real world (and because a different set of axioms just don’t work). It is important to note that “not mathematically proven” is NOT the same as “not based on any observation of real-world events.”

  18. The Lorax says

    Saturday’s rally will mark the formal birth of secularism/atheism which, although not the same, are both being used by the organizers almost interchangeably, as one more faith-based group seeking to assert its political and cultural influence on the rest of us. And yes, I meant what I wrote about the rally being “faith based.” It’s not my faith, but it is a faith nonetheless.

    Looks like Rabbi didn’t listen to one of those 38 speakers:

    Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.

  19. sivivolk says

    “Indeed, the freedom of religion is far safer in the hands of secularists than it is in the hands of religious fundamentalists.”

    Well, safer. But in some places, like Quebec, there’s definitely a tendency towards a type of secularism that has no issue with impinging on personal freedoms in the name of removing religion from public or governmental spaces.

  20. says

    Raging Bee @14: I believe David Hume would take issue with your “conclusion”. As @13 says, we have no choice but to assume that our sense experience mediates to us a self-consistent external world (and those with disrupted brain chemistry can’t even assume that). But that does not license a complete epistemic relativism — given that basic, observable, world, certain conclusions follow which are potentially accessible to anyone, while certain other conclusions have a way of turning out to rely on ideosyncracies of the speaker.

  21. says

    As @13 says, we have no choice but to assume that our sense experience mediates to us a self-consistent external world…

    Replace “assume” with “conclude” and your sentence is correct.

  22. eric says

    Saturday’s rally will mark the formal birth of secularism/atheism

    He’s joking, right? No educated person could actually believe that.

    Not even the U.S. Constitution could be considered the start of secularism, but in terms of ‘coming out’ as a philosophy, secularism should be considered at least that old. And atheism? Written records of it go back to B.C. The good rabbi should know that.

    this rally is not simply about protecting the rights of non-believers, but about the inferiority of religious belief

    I am very tired of people playing the attack card as if arguing against someone’s faith is a horrible, immoral thing. Racism, sexism, ageism – those are horrible things because they attack people for implicit, biologically determined traits that the individual has no control over, and which have empirically (i.e., rationally!) been shown not to be related to things like job capability, intelligence, etc.

    But attacking religious or political opinions is not such an “ism,” because these are not implicit traits, not biologically determined. They are voluntary, chosen, opinions. If you choose to believe the moon is made of green cheese, that belief is absolutely fair game to be attacked as inferior.

    So I would suggest to the good rabbi that, whereas he may be correct to dismiss racist arguments without a counterargument, antireligious arguments cannot be so dismissed. If someone is wrong in claiming your political or religious belief is inferior, you should be able to come up with an answer as to why it’s not.

    To treat religious beliefs as one does race or age or sex is, ironically, to gut the whole meaning of faith. With an exception to Calvinism, western faiths are centered around the concept of freely chosen belief – that it’s your choice of what to believe that matters to God. When you start treating what you religiously believe like its (e.g.) skin color, you are basically saying its not your choice. In order to save the patient, you killed him.

  23. crowepps says

    Public or governmental spaces are paid for and therefore owned by “the public”, and not available to be coopted by sectarian religions who want to promote their own beliefs by insulting those of others.

    It would be very interesting to see what a nonsectarian, inclusive ‘spiritual’ event would be like, one that succeeds in recognizing both the validity of all faiths and the humanity and civic equality of those who have no faith, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that done successfully yet. In fact, I’m not aware that religious organizations have ever been willing to make the attempt.

    Unfortunately, the professional religious who claim the right to represent organized religions are unable to hide their smug satisfaction with the superiority of their own beliefs, and unable to resist their compulsion to proselytize. It is never correct to invite yourself over for the purpose of sneering at and insulting some of your hosts.

  24. laurentweppe says

    Saturday’s rally will mark the formal birth of secularism/atheism which, although not the same, are both being used by the organizers almost interchangeably

    You know, had he stayed there, he could have provided a valid criticism: personally, I still don’t know if this was an atheist demonstration, a secularist demonstration (and if this was the case, to Nate Phelps who called it “This is the largest secularist gathering in the history of the world“, I’d like to answer: “Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahaha: Dream On, Noob“), or an atheist demonstration where religious secularists were welcomed the way FoxNews welcomes its FoxNews liberals.

  25. says

    “We actually fight for the rights of those we think are wrong.”

    Who exactly is “we”? I don’t know anything about this rabbi in particular, and American Jews have mostly been strong supporters of civil liberties and religious freedom (for obvious reasons), but in general the most religious are also the most intolerant of people who believe differently. It’s those damnable secularists who have been at the forefront of protecting other people’s rights.

  26. eric says

    It would be very interesting to see what a nonsectarian, inclusive ‘spiritual’ event would be like, one that succeeds in recognizing both the validity of all faiths and the humanity and civic equality of those who have no faith, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that done successfully yet.

    Why would you even want to do something like that?

    Seriously, I am not sure how “recognizing the validity of all faiths” helps. The only thing that does is render the adjective “validity” meaningless.

    ***

    Tangentially, this brings up yet another problem with the good rabbi’s position. He acts as if person x calling person y’s faith inferior is a new thing only atheists do. Not so – religious people have been doing that to each other for thousands of years. And they still do it, and see it as their right to be able to do it. That’s what proselytization is – an attempt to convince someone that your faith is superior to the one they already have.

    So, I guess we have to conclude that Hirschfield is not upset a people bashing religion so much as the idea of atheists horning in on religious folk’s ‘exclusive’ right to bash each other. ‘How dare those atheists do what I consider it my right as a theist to do!!!’

  27. says

    eric: criminal gangs can agree and work with each other much more easily than they can deal with people who want to abolish organized crime.

  28. abb3w says

    @13, daniellavine:

    I don’t really think one must assume the ZF axioms to justify the use of mathematical techniques by scientists.

    Which is partly why I added “or functional equivalent axiom schema”. Earlier mathematics merely weren’t explicit in some of the assumptions — IE, that for any integer, you can always add 1 to it to get a larger integer.

    Additionally, ZF isn’t about justifying the use of mathematical techniques in science, as the existence of the mathematical techniques for science to use.

    @13, daniellavine:

    There’s an entire approach to philosophy of mathematics, intuitionism, that’s based on the premise that you don’t need to axiomatize mathematics to do it or use it.

    Yep. IMO, it’s pretty much horseshit; essentially, informal “intuitive” conceptions become what you use for axioms. It’s even more faith-like than the axiomatic approach. It also often fails to be internally consistent, as the “set of all sets” headache from circa 1900 demonstrated.

    @13, daniellavine:

    The only two assumptions you need to bootstrap naturalism are !(brain in vat) and (other minds).

    I’d disagree. First, for preference taking them as inferences (though taking them as axioms saves tedium); and second, the potential of having language of some sort (even if it’s not “mathematics”) also requires some justification.

    @14, Raging Bee:

    And the things you go on to list are not “assumptions,” nor are they “beliefs” based only on “faith;” they’re conslusions based on observation.

    However, for such conclusion to avoid being an assertion not dependent on priors, it requires an axiomatic basis for the conclusion.

    Furthermore, while the alternative is perverse, it’s not necessarily the correct conclusion. The usual approach to get to science involves positing that reality produces experience with some class of pattern. (Doing so with mathematical rigor sets “pattern” as “something recognizable by some ordinal degree Turing hypercomputation”). This must be taken as an axiom (or inference from equivalent). One may instead with equal validity take Refutation rather than Assertion; in which case, any appearance of order may be a local island in a sufficiently large Ramsey sea of chaos. That the alternative is silly does not make it invalid… which may say something about philosophy.

    @14, Raging Bee:

    I don’t ASSUME or BELIEVE that what I see and feel immediately around me is real, I CONCLUDE it’s real because I OBSERVE that it consistently ACTS real (based on obseravble differences between how things act in dreams and how they act in waking life).

    Such conclusion requires a basis for the conclusion, and resolving (at least partially) Hume’s Problem of Induction (as Eamon Knight alludes to @20). The aforementioned assumption of pattern allows inferring a basis; nonetheless, it involves taking an axiom, whose refutation would yield an internally self-consistent (though boring) alternative. There may be other ways to get to the same end — but they all need a beginning.

    @14, Raging Bee:

    That’s where this whole “atheists/materialists rely on faith too” argument fails: they’re blatantly misusing words like “faith,” “assumption,” and “belief” to lie about the underpinnings of rational thought.

    I’d disagree. Rather, I’d say the failure is firstly at considering the amount of faith particularly profound, since their own creed implicitly relies on equivalents (and more specific forms, which thus may be testable under criteria constructed via more general expressions); and secondly in equivocation, by using the term “Faith” to refer not only to the specific taking of propositions without reliance from priors, but to encompass all aspects of religion and religious practice.

    @17, Raging Bee:

    Those axioms are not taken arbitrarily, they’re taken because they are observed to conform with what we see in the real world (and because a different set of axioms just don’t work).

    Actually, at the level I’m talking about, the axioms are indeed pretty arbitrary. ZF is the gold standard, but there’s at least a dozen other such starting points. Going back and forth between them involves some translation, as between English and French; or, as what Euclidean geometry might describe as a “circle”, a non-Euclidean geometry might describe as a “line”. ZF has the advantage that some of its abstractions correspond pretty well to fairly intuitive-seeming human notions; but that’s mostly a convenience, not a necessity.

    The question of conformity to the real world is much more advanced — that’s the territory of physics and the other sciences. Where I’m talking about is the terrain of mathematics, which is about building a language to allow talking about “conformity”, as well as addition, multiplication, exponentiation, and so forth.

    @20, Eamon Knight:

    As @13 says, we have no choice but to assume that our sense experience mediates to us a self-consistent external world (and those with disrupted brain chemistry can’t even assume that).

    Well, it can be taken as an inference from other axiomatic assumption. Or rejected, if you don’t mind being silly.

  29. says

    Such conclusion requires a basis for the conclusion…

    Yes, the basis is the observation, as I explicitly said: I observe that certain things act real, my observation is corroborated by others, and I see absolutely no evidence to the contrary.

    I’d disagree. Rather, I’d say the failure is firstly at considering the amount of faith particularly profound, since their own creed implicitly relies on equivalents (and more specific forms, which thus may be testable under criteria constructed via more general expressions); and secondly in equivocation, by using the term “Faith” to refer not only to the specific taking of propositions without reliance from priors, but to encompass all aspects of religion and religious practice.

    How is that word-salad even remotely related to the comment of mine to which you were pretending to respond? Seriously, this whole comment sounds like a Sokal hoax.

    Actually, at the level I’m talking about, the axioms are indeed pretty arbitrary.

    Examples, please?

    ZF has the advantage that some of its abstractions correspond pretty well to fairly intuitive-seeming human notions; but that’s mostly a convenience, not a necessity.

    Where do you draw the line between “convenience” and “necessity?” And why are such abstractions “convenient?” Because they conform to the real world in which we have to make our way. What you call “convenience,” I call “proof.”

  30. abb3w says

    @30, Raging Bee

    Yes, the basis is the observation, as I explicitly said: I observe that certain things act real, my observation is corroborated by others, and I see absolutely no evidence to the contrary.

    The observation is not the basis; which is to say, the general rule allowing inference of a conclusion from the observation. Your conclusion implicitly requires such an additional proposition, on the lines that “when things act real, the observation is corroborated by others, and absolutely no evidence to the contrary is seen, the inference that they are real is valid”.

    Granted, the rule may “just seem obvious”. But that’s more or less how the religious justify the conclusion that when the universe’s creator tells you to to do something, you ought to do it. Both steps require an additional rule, however.

    You probably prefer thinking “two plus two equals four” is a basic fact; I understand it as a theorem, derived from more basic propositions. Similarly, the rule you implicitly require, I prefer to take as inference from more basic notions (which process also makes explicit the rule’s limits).

    @30, Raging Bee

    How is that word-salad even remotely related to the comment of mine to which you were pretending to respond?

    I’m saying they’re functionally more wrong than right, because the degree of “faith” for science is
    1) Trivial
    2) Effectively unavoidable
    3) Implicit to their own religion’s creed
    …but they’re technically correct that “faith” is involved. They’re merely not interestingly correct.

    @30, Raging Bee

    Examples, please?

    One of the better-known is that von Neumann–Bernays–Gödel set theory axioms, which are provably equivalent in result to the Zermelo-Fraenkel (plus Choice) axioms. The slightly different starts lead to the exact same end.

    There’s a couple others; Wikipedia mentions a few. Some have minor differences — Axiom of Choice or its Refutation, and so on.

    @30, Raging Bee

    Where do you draw the line between “convenience” and “necessity?

    To give an analogy, you can get from New York to LA by jet, by car, by walking, or by somersaulting. Jet is easier, and thus more “conveninent”. However, it’s not necessary; you can also do it the harder ways.

    With less analogy….

    Axiom schemas correspond to rules for a grammar, which correspond to a program for a universal turing machine. One UTM can emulate another; some do so more efficiently than others (running an emulation in polynomial rather than exponential time). More efficient ones correspond to “convenient”. However, you can’t emulate a UTM with a finite automaton; another UTM is “necessary”. In the same way, one can’t model the natural numbers if you’re limited to an axiomatization schema that only produces finite groups. It’s necessary to use something roughly ZF-powerful; but you can use clumsier things than ZF instead.

    @30, Raging Bee

    And why are such abstractions “convenient?”

    As I was using the term, because working with “sets” and “elements” has similarities to “sacks” and “stuff to put in sacks”; thus, cognitive structures developed in the toddler years (if not outright instinctive) can be harnessed to short-cut developing advanced cognitive structures.

  31. had3 says

    When I read the Rabbi’s article in HuffPost and his use of the word “faith,” I flashed back to The Princess Bride: I don’t think that word means what you think it does.

  32. says

    Your conclusion implicitly requires such an additional proposition, on the lines that “when things act real, the observation is corroborated by others, and absolutely no evidence to the contrary is seen, the inference that they are real is valid”.

    Yeah, whatever, but that proposition, again, is not an unfounded belief, it’s a rule based on experience. IOW, the theists are still dead wrong when they say that atheists/”materialists” rely on unfounded beliefs of the same sort as belief in supernatural beings.

  33. KG says

    Your conclusion implicitly requires such an additional proposition, on the lines that “when things act real, the observation is corroborated by others, and absolutely no evidence to the contrary is seen, the inference that they are real is valid”. – abb3w

    It would do for the conclusion to be certain, but we don’t require certainty, which is just as well since your additional proposition is obviously false. A valid inference is one that follows logically from the premises, and it does not follow logically from “things act real, the observation is corroborated by others, and absolutely no evidence to the contrary is seen”, that they are real. Pragmatically, we have no choice but to assume that the (apparent) external world and other people are real, but this is a defeasible assumption, or high-level hypothesis: not only can I imagine circumstances in which I would abandon it, I occasionally do so, when I become aware, in a dream, that I am in fact dreaming. To call such a defeasible assumption “faith” is absurd.

  34. John Kruger says

    Of course, if you criticize and point out the problems with a religion it can become nearly impossible to believe it anymore, so I suppose in that sense you are taking away the ability of someone to believe. I don’t see how believing in nonsense should be considered a right, though.

    It is true that at the beginning both science and religion must make up arbitrary theories that have no evidence for them. This is not an act of faith, nor a problem for science. The difference is that scientific theories are completely beholden to the ruthless scythe of experimentation and evidence, whereas the religious ones are not. Step 1 is indeed the same, but if you add predictions and experimentation to religion I don’t think you can really call it religion any more. “Faith” is the express exclusion of the last 2 steps.

    Or, “Science: Because it works, Bitches!”

  35. daniellavine says

    Earlier mathematics merely weren’t explicit in some of the assumptions — IE, that for any integer, you can always add 1 to it to get a larger integer.

    Additionally, ZF isn’t about justifying the use of mathematical techniques in science, as the existence of the mathematical techniques for science to use.

    The mathematical techniques existed long before the axioms — in some cases as much as 5000 years. So no, the axioms are about justification, not existence.

    Yep. IMO, it’s pretty much horseshit; essentially, informal “intuitive” conceptions become what you use for axioms. It’s even more faith-like than the axiomatic approach. It also often fails to be internally consistent, as the “set of all sets” headache from circa 1900 demonstrated.

    Then you simply don’t know what you’re talking about. Axiomitization hasn’t really been successful, it isn’t very useful for doing mathematics, and intuitionism is a much more rigorous and well-developed approach than you seem willing to admit.

    I’d disagree. First, for preference taking them as inferences (though taking them as axioms saves tedium); and second, the potential of having language of some sort (even if it’s not “mathematics”) also requires some justification.

    ? You can’t infer that your sense experience is representative of reality. This has been successfully argued since 400 BC or so with no real solid rebuttal yet proposed. And you can’t infer that other people have minds. They can always be robots. If you think there is a more fundamental assumption from which these things can be inferred feel free to let me know, but I honestly don’t understand what you’re trying to say.

    And I disagree that language requires “some justification.” Do you think the first human users of language saw a need for language and then axiomatized a system for it? Of course not. Language is an outgrowth of biological evolution, a natural phenomenon. It is it’s own justification. It doesn’t need first principles for justification any more than snowflakes do to form.

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