Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Some More Thoughts on Faith.

In the previous post's comment section, commentator Brockman asked the following:
Question: Can you come up with a short list of statements, your knowledge of which comes largely or entirely through this extra sense, rather than through normal senses, indoctrination, etc?

Clearly there could be some statements which one person believes because of indoctrination -- "I believe Jesus rose from the dead because authority figure X told me to believe in it (or else!)" -- where another might believe because of the extra sense -- "Well, I read this old book, and this part about Jesus really seemed completely inescapable".
Sure.  In My personal case, some of the propositions are:

1) There is such a thing as objective reality.
2) Catholicism is the "most right" religion.
3) Theft is intrinsically wrong.
4) Moral precepts bear the same relation to reality as physical things. The wrongness of lying is as real as the keyboard in front of me.
5) The non-perfectibility of man. (The doctrine of Original Sin)
6) The existence of God.

First a bit about myself. Without this faith sense, the person who would be my closest intellectual mirror is Roissy.  My natural tendencies drift towards atheism, hedonism and objectivity. To a certain degree, my religion runs against my grain. Now, whilst I was indoctrinated in some of the above beliefs as a child, there is no way that I would accept any of them if I thought they weren't true. In my adolescence, I held them as convenient beliefs, to be ditched when necessary, I was an effective situational ethicist.

If, for example, God didn't exist, life would be eventually meaningless. But as much as I would hate that meaninglessness,  it would be a fact of life; something I'd have to get used to. Comfortable thoughts are useless if they are lies, and I'm repelled by the thought of believing in bullshit and living my life according to it.  I religion is a lie then despair or hedonism are the only logical choices left.

Rationally, all the propositions listed above fall short of logical certitude and there is room for rational doubt in all, but this faith sense tells me that the above are true, not because of probabilistic calculations, but because I intuitively experience the truth of the them.  Stripped of its religious connotations and thinking about it as an epistemological mechanism,  it as a faculty which lets you recognise truthful propositions which cannot be demonstrated according to strict empirical criteria.

Another non-religious example that worth thinking about, is how can we prove that we are not connected to the Matrix?(A movie which illustrates Berkeley's subjective idealism) There is no objective way as self referential systems cannot validate themselves.  Yet I know that I'm not connected to the Matrix, I know that matter is real and exists independently of my being. When I'm dead, the atoms that make up my body will still exist, they are not figments of my imagination.  Still I cannot logically demonstrate this, the only way of  Berkeley's Matrix is not with logic but with faith. It's this faith sense that asserts convincingly that the world is real.

For many people faith=religion, whereas it really should be faith=sense, the religion is a derived product from the sense.

Commentator Thursday made the following comment:
This is essentially the argument from religious experience. The problem is that such experiences do not interpret themselves. They may reflect something real, or they may be the mind playing tricks on itself.

There also seems to be the problem that such experiences seem to be artificially inducible. IIRC, scientists have induced mystical experiences through stimulating certain parts of the brain. But one need not refer only to modern science: the use of drugs in religion has a long history

Yes and No. It's not necessarily a religious experience. It's more often than not an unwanted intellectual conviction. More factual than emotive. The C.S Lewis example in the previous post, illustrated this phenomenon quite nicely, in that Lewis was being nagged by something that he didn't want. In the end he acceded to the conviction that there was a God: there were no angels, fairies or mystical visions. In Lewis's case, it seems to be an effect that operated through rationality.

The thing is though, that faith seems to be doled out by God arbitrarily, he "calls" us through it. That's why the phenomenon is so incomprehensible to those who don't have it. Being outside this subjective experience they cannot relate to it. The question is though, does this subjective experience have any bearing on reality or not? It would appear however that the insights gained from Christian faith seem to correlate rather well with human happiness and well being on objective measures. It's either a series of extraordinarily consistent "lucky guesses" or there is something to it.

It is true that the mind can play tricks due to a variety of internal and external factors and that the insights gained may not reflect reality. That's why the Church fathers instructed that everything be put to the test as they understood that it was a sense with poor acuity. Faith may cause an assertion of the unprovable but the insight is false if it asserts the falsifiable; since faith and truth cannot contradict. If after having a few beers, you were to suddenly develop the insight that God said it was alright to fornicate, you would be contradicting a substantial amount of Christian tradition. Therefore either Christian tradition is wrong and the Christian conception of God is wrong, or you're wrong. A lot of the mystical experiences, drug induced or not, are immediately rejected by this type of analysis.

I'm not a biblical scholar but I do understand that there were may other gospels circulating around in the early Christian period. That fact that the Chruch only settled on four tells you that a lot of the "mystical" experiences felt by the early believers were felt by the Church leaders to be rubbish.