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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I hope this is perfectly clear - John Haught's definition of faith

"Faith, as theology uses the term, is neither an irrational leap nor 'belief without evidence.' It is an adventurous movement of trust that opens reason up to its appropriate living space, namely, the inexhaustibly deep dimension of Being, Meaning, Truth, and Goodness. Faith is not the enemy of reason but its cutting edge. Faith is what keeps reason from turning in on itself and suffocating in its own self-enclosure. Faith is what opens our minds to the infinite horizon in which alone reason can breathe freely and in which action can gain direction. Reason requires a world much larger than the one that mere rationalism or scientific naturalism is able to provide. Without the clearing made by faith, reason withers, and conduct has no calling. Faith is what gives reason a future, and morality a meaning." (God and the New Atheists, page 75)

Okay, now we've cleared that one up ...

19 comments:

Mandrellian said...

Oh, for [deity]'s sake.

I wish these people would proofread for clarity - and I further wish their subeditors would get medieval on their arses.

Getting very tired of people substituting cogent, reasoned arguments with Capital Letters and fluffy post-modernist deepity.

\m/

MH said...

Thanks, John, I'll make a note of that.

What's wrong with good, old-fashioned necessary and sufficient conditions?

Darrick Lim said...

Well, now that we know one man's definition of faith, let's go right ahead and apply it to all discussions of epistemology.

*rolls eyes*

Sean (quantheory) said...

Haught's relationship with his experiences of God has always struck me as resembling that between addict and drug. There's actually an unintentional and embarrassing candor here; to him, faith is not the actual thing that in practice one finds it to be. Instead, faith is the high that it provides, a simple array of pleasurable reactions devoid of intellectual content. Those feelings that relate to meaning and truth and awe and beauty and love, those can be evoked by faith.

I'm sure that Haught and any number of other religious people would feel that the world is cold and grey without religion. If deconverted, they might very well experience terrible, even self-destructive withdrawal from previous experiences of floating in an endless ocean of love. That signifies only that they have a dire psychological dependence, not that a naturalistic worldview intrinsically evokes any particular set of inferior mental/emotional reactions.

Which is all besides the point anyway. Even if some kind of faith really was necessary to feel an adequate sense of value or meaning or purpose or whatever in one's life, it does not of course follow that it's a conduit to truth. You can imagine that someone with a terminal illness might only feel physically secure if they believed that they would be magically cured. This does not make such a belief epistemically reasonable, only psychologically useful in a self-deceiving sort of way.

Haught's arrogance lies in taking his personal experience and treating it as an objective feature of the world. Then he can easily scold others for not taking into account "facts" that are nothing other than the subjective feelings of a minority of believers. It's a bit like scolding others for not realizing that broccoli is objectively the most evil vegetable, based only on a few people's personal feelings of disgust. And then expressing that any troglodyte who doesn't feel similarly, simply hasn't opened themselves up to a thorough consideration of all the ways in which it is truly awful.

musubk said...

"Bulshytt: Speech (typically but not necessarily commercial or political) that employs euphemism, convenient vagueness, numbing repetition, and other such rhetorical subterfuges to create the impression that something has been said." - Neal Stephenson, Anathem

Kel said...

I'm sure that means something to someone. Not to my unsophisticated GNU ears, however...

Anonymous said...

Give credit where it's due - how many other writers can cram so many dead metaphors into so few words?

If I weren't such a shallow person, I would understand that definition.

Kiwi Dave

Wowbagger said...

What's with the capitalisations? 'Being', 'Meaning', 'Truth', 'Goodness' – are we supposed to take such fluffy reasoning more seriously because of the pseudo-gravitas of words that start with capital letters?

Jambe said...

Reason requires a world much larger than the one that mere rationalism or scientific naturalism is able to provide. Without the clearing made by faith, reason withers, and conduct has no calling.

This guy's just an ass, apparently.

Irreligion begets irrationality! We lot of faithless faux-reasoning heathens ought to find some real inspiration, that our worldviews and motivations might by suitably grounded!

Never heard that before...

Lincoln Cannon said...

Meh. Come on, guys. You're not even coming close to persuading me that you've put mental effort into parsing that explanation of faith.

There's value in it, at least so far as I understand it. Perhaps a bit more simply stated, faith is an archaic word for trust, which can be perfectly rational and practical, and is essential to all acts of creativity and compassion. We do not create without intentionally transcending ourselves, which necessitates trust in ourselves. We are not compassionate without intentionally making ourselves vulnerable to others, which likewise necessitates trust in others.

bad Jim said...

Cannon, you're being too generous. What does trust have to do with something like this? "Reason requires a world much larger than the one that mere rationalism or scientific naturalism is able to provide."

I'll also take exception to your assertion that "We do not create without intentionally transcending ourselves, which necessitates trust in ourselves." Trees, for example, engage in sex and creation without discernible intent, transcendence or trust. For that matter, I don't recognize my own acts of invention in your terms.

It's nothing more than windy rhetoric, a game anyone can play.

Russell Blackford said...

I get the idea of developing trust in someone or in certain of our own abilities, but that trust had better be based on some sort of track record.

Without wanting to flog the book toooo much, Prabir Ghosh has a very good discussion of this in 50 Voices of Disbelief.

Sean (quantheory) said...

@Cannon,

Partially guilty, I suppose, but I've heard very similar language from Haught before and wasn't all that motivated to revisit it. Taking a closer look, I stand by my statement that Haught is essentially describing a feeling he gets and not something with intellectual content. I've certainly had a feeling of suddenly accessing a limitless wellspring of wisdom which might be poetically described as Haught describes "faith". While this certainly makes one enthusiastic about whatever caused this experience, I certainly don't consider having this feeling to be a justification for anything in particular. And all the language that refers to the subject of this feeling as being an actual "deep dimension"? It appears to mean nothing beyond the pretty image it evokes. What is a "dimension of Being, Meaning, Truth, and Goodness", other than a way of reifying certain concepts which I apparently don't even share with John Haught, and which he's incapable of clearly communicating to me?

I also flatly disagree with your last two sentences. The penultimate one actually makes the matter worse, since I don't know what "transcending oneself" even means. In fact, it seems incoherent, like it should almost be definitionally the case that a thing cannot transcend itself; do you mean that one part of someone overcomes another part of the same person? If so, which part overcomes which? Or does one only "transcend" one's previous limitations? What does this have to do with trust? And why is this necessary for creativity?

This too: "We are not compassionate without intentionally making ourselves vulnerable to others, which likewise necessitates trust in others."

Much of what is in empathy is involuntary. Certainly compassionate actions involve intention, but anyone who is not an utter psychopath is vulnerable in this way, whether they want to be or not. So the vulnerability itself isn't necessarily intentional. And feeling compassion for someone absolutely does not require trusting them in the conventional sense.

Besides which, this is now talking about the everyday, normal sort of trust, which can be justified with a combination of empiricism (Are people demonstrably trustworthy?) and game theory (What psychological or social advantages accrue to being trusting even when that trust is sometimes betrayed, and can these be either discerned by the individual or acted upon by evolution?). This is extremely distant from Haught's use of "trust" as a way to actually establish that the trusted entity even exists. I can trust my friend not to steal things out of my house. But I cannot trust that the genie that lives in my lawnmower will not betray me by turning out not to be real.

Kel said...

Lincoln Cannon, I do wonder how your defence of the word faith fits with statements "I have faith that God exists" or "I have faith that Jesus died for my sins". Because to me, it seems a bit deceptive to downplay the extremes to which are said to be matters of faith.

Is such a redefinition to exclude the way that faith is exercised by many people, or as an apologetic for it?

Lincoln Cannon said...

Jim, I don't consider trees particularly creative. You're right, of course: it's all rhetoric. Yet we do seek to communicate, and when we speak of creativity, I understand a recognizable degree of intention to be implied.

Russell, I agree that track record is an important aspect of trust. In my experience, most understandings of gods are only partially worthy of trust, at best, but almost none is entirely devoid of value. I recognize, in this audience, perhaps no gods are worthy of trust. I disagree with that. I'm one of those crazy God trusters.

Sean, trust and justification illustrate the chicken and egg problem. Trust can be a pre-requisite to justification. For example, the basic axioms of math and logic have no ultimate justification. We first posit them in active trust and then experience the consequences, which have been excellent for all of us, it appears. The subsequent experience is a justification only in context of trust in axioms we haven't gotten around to identifying or acknowledging. If you disagree, you're far more confident in your epistemic capacity than I am.

Also, Sean, all rhetoric is incoherent unless we engage with trust that communication can produce meaning. Without that trust, we are merely apathetic or antagonistic. It's easy. You and I could do it all day, appealing to the limitations of each other's words without much effort at understanding - directing effort rather at securing social standing. However, if you're interested, I'll make more time to explore further my explanations of the relation between trust and creativity and benevolence. Maybe I'll learn something from you.

Kel, my perspective on faith is not particularly intended as an apologetic, although it can be used in that way to some extent. I have been a skeptic, and I still value the tool, but it has been leading me to perspectives I didn't previously imagine. Here's a web site that will give you more of an idea of where I'm coming from: http://www.new-god-argument.com

Kel said...

Lincoln Cannon:
"Kel, my perspective on faith is not particularly intended as an apologetic, although it can be used in that way to some extent."
Don't you find such a view somewhat disingenuous. When someone claims it a matter of faith that the bible is the inerrant word of God, it's hard to recognise that what they mean with faith could even possibly come to mean how Haught defined it above, or how you defended it in your initial comment.

When someone says that they find faith problematic, redefining (or refining) faith in your terms doesn't deal with the underlying problem in how people use it. When people speak of faith being problematic, it's not the word that needs addressing - it's the way it's used!

Lincoln Cannon said...

Hi Kel. No. Rather than disingenuous, I find it honest. The word "faith" has meaning, and that meaning is not what dogmatists (of the religious and non-religious sorts) sometimes insist. When someone uses the word to support Biblical inerrancy, I just disagree.

Kel said...

"When someone uses the word to support Biblical inerrancy, I just disagree."
But that's what I asked initially!

"The word "faith" has meaning, and that meaning is not what dogmatists (of the religious and non-religious sorts) sometimes insist."
Non-religious dogmatists?

So when someone says "It's a matter of faith" that they believe in Jesus resurrecting from the dead, or that God healed their cancer, that they're using the word wrong?

Lincoln Cannon said...

They're using the word in one of many appropriate ways, just like "trust" can be used appropriately in many ways. The problem is when someone insists that "faith" can or should only be used in a particular narrow way -- and, yes, I have interacted with many non-religious persons who are quite dogmatic about this. So, to clarify, I acknowledge there are persons who have faith in the inerrancy of the Bible; I don't share that faith, nor do I even consider such faith to be called for in the Bible (which should matter for such persons, it seems, but they're not part of this discussion).