Faith

I enjoyed this post by Mark B as well as Paul Gray’s op ed to which he linked and many of the comments on Mark’s post. A few days ago I picked up a book of essays by G Lowes Dickinson and here is an extract of the last lecture in a set of lectures he delivered in 1905 entitled “Religion: A criticism and a Forecast”.

Being brought up by devout athiests, I’m fond of describing my own religious orientation as that of a lapsed atheist, or of a God fearing agnostic. Unfortunately I’m afraid I can’t quite make it towards being a believer, however I do look upon a lot of atheism – of the Richard Dawkins variety for instance – as a fairly simple kind of philistinism. A term coined by the philosopher R.G. Collingwood comes to mind – ‘anti-metaphysics’. Collingwood’s terminology encapsulates his low opinion of ‘anti-metaphysics’. As he argued, going back to Hegel, metaphysics is inevitable, the only choice is between being unaware of one’s metaphysics or of having some awareness of them.

Perhaps what I’ve just said gives Lowes Dickinson’s concept of faith some interest. He introduces the essay with the following comment.

What I have wished to indicate is an attitude of what I may call active expectancy – the attitude of a man who, while candidly recognising that he does not know, and faithfully pursuing or awaiting knowledge, and ready to accept it when it comes, yet centres meantime his emotional, and therefore his practical life about a possibility which he selects because of its value, its desirability. Such I conceive to have been the attitude of Plato when he wrote his myths. . . . I think it is an attitude that is possible to maintain, though I recognise the readiness with which it might lead into the illegitimate position of believing a thing to be true because we desire it. I also think it an attitude that is good, for it keeps the horizon open. The mistake of agnosticism, so it seems to me, has been that it has said not merely “I do not know,” but I will not consider”. Such a position, I think, is hampering, not only to life, but to truth. For the impulse to truth is desire; and all discoveries are prompted by hope and by faith. For this reason the unknown may be more important than the known. Knowledge itself may cover the eyes with scales; and such scales it is the business of faith to purge away.

Thus emboldened, I read the entire series of lectures. They’re not on the web from what I can see, but I’ve scanned in ten or so pages comprising the last lecture on ‘faith’. I think the last few pages are particularly good. Here is the link (pdf file)

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Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

Thanks, Nicholas, and nice post. I’ll have a read of the pdf and respond soon! (When I will have achieved my aim of sleeping through the horrendous 24+ minimum Brisbane summer nights for the first time in four days or so by religiously downing a good South Australian sauvignon blanc!)…

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

Interesting. I certainly agree that religious truth is not the same thing as empirical knowledge. The equation of the two is peculiar to the West, and limited in time to the post Reformation period – where it became important to assert that religious dogma could be contained in propositional statements. However, as a lot of interesting stuff in the philosophy of religion demonstrates, this is a dead end insofar as such statements do not have the same sort of reference point as empirical statements about the world, and I’d argue, also give you an overly rationalistic and thus deracinated religion.

Thanks, Nicholas.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
15 years ago

Can’t speak for any other but religious truth and empirical knowledge are two different things in Christianity.

It is faith that is all important. Given that no-one has and will come back from the dead to testify about either Heaven or Hell!

mind you both Jesus and some apostles brought people back from the dead yet people were not impressed.

no time for a theology lesson but those two sentences are not contradictory.

Shaun Cronin
15 years ago

I’ve speculated that some the hard core manifestation of atheism ala Dawkins is a response to the extremes of religious fundamentalism. I’m a mild atheist so to speak. But that comes from my ideal that religious belief (or lack thereof) is a personal matter.

PZ Myers has a strong but well argued piece on atheism, science and Dawkins that is worth reading as well as the discussion
http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/in_praise_of_godless_science/

But I am still sympathetic to Gould’s concept of NOMA. I don’t think it is a broken as critics say it is. What I find amusing is that NOMA was criticised by both the religious and irreligious.
http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html

derrida derider
derrida derider
15 years ago

Jeez, Gruen, don’t go all god-bothering on us now. Faith is indeed the substance of things hoped for – but an honest person tries to shape their hopes to their understanding, not their understanding to their hopes.

derrida derider
derrida derider
15 years ago

Oh, and Mark, to say “religious truth is certainly different from empirical knowledge” is the oldest dodge in the book from people wo don’t want this “truth” critically examined. It’s of a piece with “true liberty is following the church’s (or the mullah’s, or the guru’s) teaching” or “fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom” – all excuses for copping out of the hard questions, and all put forward by authority figures who have a vested interest in scaring or subduing you.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

I disagree, dd. The point I’m trying to make is that claiming religious beliefs are verifiable propositions devalues them religiously, as well as sets up absurd debates about how you would verify a statement such as “God created the Universe”. It’s what leads to fundamentalism and to insanity like ID.

Anyway, the point isn’t original to me. I think Wittgenstein probably put it better!

Fyodor
15 years ago

That’s funny, Mark. I always thought it was religious beliefs that lead to fundamentalism and to insanity like ID. Happy to be proved wrong if you have the empirical evidence. Just satirisin’…

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

I don’t see anything particularly religious about fundamentalism, Fyodor. It seems to be a nasty mix of rigid dogma and social control.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
15 years ago

It depends on what you mean by fundamentalism as Bill Clinton would say.

If Fyodor means fundamentalism in its original meaning then there is nothing wrong with the term as after all it is only referring to the fundamentals of the bible.

A problem these days is to accuse religious types of fundamentalism is that these very people actually understand their religion better than the accusers. A good example is wahabbists.

derrida derider
derrida derider
15 years ago

Yeah, and I’m on a mission from Bog.

Mark, I think it would come as a surprise to the mullahs, holy rollers and Vatican bureaucrats to be told they were not religious. And don’t tell me that’s not “true” religion. That’s just playing games with the meaning of words, as in ‘the USSR is the only true democracy’.

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

That’s just playing games with the meaning of words, as in ‘the USSR is the only true democracy’.

Conversely, dd, that implies that democracy is a concept susceptible of definition and a category whose membership one could circumscribe.

Fyodor
15 years ago

Otlichno, DD. Sovyershenno otlichno.

“I don’t see anything particularly religious about fundamentalism, Fyodor. It seems to be a nasty mix of rigid dogma and social control. ”

You’re too funny, Mark. One of these days your sarcasm’s going to get you in trouble with Crusader Lads.

Homerkles, you’re getting closer: “wahhabist” is better. Now learn “salafi”.

morganzola
morganzola
15 years ago

Homer: “A problem these days is to accuse religious types of fundamentalism is that these very people actually understand their religion better than the accusers”

That’s a bit like saying that fish understand the structure and function of water better than scientists.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
15 years ago

these ‘fundamentalists’ usually study their books with rare studiousness and determination.
The men that were involved in 11/9 for example were highly learned in terms of the Koran and Hadiths and thus convinced their act was a holy one leading to Paradise.

Thanks Imam Fyodor