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There’s an interesting piece on

There’s an interesting piece on the BBC about America’s deep Christian faith. It’s a fact about the US that many of those who look to that country for its technology and science forget: this is a country (literally) in love with God. And, of course, it’s a fact that’s completely forgotten by those who claim the US is “godless”.
Personally, I’ve long thought that religion will one day be looked upon as a form of mental illness – a desire for a universal father that will take care of us and a refusal to respond rationally to the world. I’m not so sure these days that’s true of all forms of spiritual belief, as I think that certain kinds of animistic beliefs and Buddhist teachings have a more interesting foundation, and less pathological consequences, but for monotheistic religions I think it’s pretty much true.
But then, I am genuine “godless”.

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  • http://bluejoh.com/abyss/ joh

    Are you a genuine ‘godless’?

    You would need to do a better job of defining the god that you don’t believe in… The majority of non-judeo-christian religions still involve a ‘god’ of some form. It all depends on how you view it.

    If you are claiming that you are completely without religion, and that religion has no place in our society, then you are very wrong. What you seem to have missed is that the religion of the times is science and technology. Once we had the judeo-christian god, then we had the god-of-the-gaps, and now, now we have science.

    It is what we believe in and put our faith in.

    (personally, better that than praying…)

    My point is that the human condition to respect and worship has not gone away ’round here. We just don’t need it to have a beard any more!

    (I hope this rambling makes some kind of sense!)

  • http://www.ludicrous.org.uk Ian Betteridge

    The whole “science is a form of religion” thing is, to be honest, crap. Religion, of whatever sort, is based on faith. Science, on the other hand, is based on testable, refutable hypotheses.
    Now you could argue – and some have – that this statement that all knowledge is derived from testable hypotheses is itself an article of faith. But that doesn’t wash. There are (long) cogent, rational explanations of why science is not about faith, that don’t depend on simple belief. Read Popper, for example – or, if you want to go further back, read Kant on why belief in the existence of God is not a matter for rational explanation, and you’ll see what I mean.

  • http://bluejoh.com/abyss/ joh

    Goodness. I have hit a nerve there!

    Ok. I will support my position tomorrow (I don’t have the time today to do the argument justice.)

    This could become interesting…

    (By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask if you are the Ian Betteridge that used to work at BCT… Are you?)

  • http://www.ludicrous.org.uk Ian Betteridge

    You mean there’s more than one Ian Betteridge? :-) No, that one’s not me.

  • http://www.gyford.com/ Phil

    One of the biggest surprises when I lived in the US for a while was how religious people were. While we, in the UK, are familiar with what seems like all American culture, this just doesn’t seem to come across. It was perfectly common for people to talk about someone or something at “my church,” which doesn’t happen often over here.

    Another demonstration of the difference is how every US President talks a fair bit about God, to one degree or another, whereas Tony Blair seems a bit odd because he occasionally mentions his faith.

  • http://bluejoh.com/abyss/ joh

    With regards to your name, I used to work with an Ian Betteridge at BCT (now City College Brighton and Hove) about five years ago. He was a DBA with a degree in either English or Philosophy (I forget). He left to commute to a job in London working in a technical role for a medical corporation…

    I thought I should check, just in case.

  • http://www.ludicrous.org.uk Ian Betteridge

    Blimey! And I thought I was the only one… apart from the Australian folk singer of the same name (I kid you not).

  • http://bluejoh.com/abyss/ joh

    Bizarrely, I was there the day the Ian I knew went looking for all the other people who had the same name as him and found out about that singer. We made a lot of jokes that day.

    Odd world.

  • http://www.ludicrous.org.uk Ian Betteridge

    I actually have signed photos of the Other Ian Betteridge. He has the same mullet hair I had in 1981…

  • http://bluejoh.com/abyss/ joh

    With regard to my original point:

    I seemed to have stumbled into the middle of a debate that it would take a severe amount of study to totally clarify my point. (In my defence, I always avoided philosophy of religion, because it is really uninteresting to me.)

    Pretending that we have defined religion, faith and belief as I want them defined, then, as far as I can tell, my previous claims are admittedly faulty. But not completely wrong.

    My problem was that I used the word ‘faith’ when I should not have done.

    I could argue that “testable hypotheses is itself an article of faith”, if I wanted, but that is not at all relevant to the point I thought I was making, and would take hours and hours of the history of the philosophy of science…

    But that was not what I was thinking.

    I was thinking of science as ‘something to believe in’ as opposed to ‘having faith in’ – a epistemological rather than metaphysical point – which is not ‘crap’.

    (Incidentally, can you clarify exactly how you think Popper and Kant are relevant counter-examples? I can’t quite see which of their claims you are referring to.)

    Does this help, or do you wish to have a proper argument over it?

  • http://bluejoh.com/abyss/ joh

    Wow. Signed photos. :-)

  • http://bluejoh.com/abyss/ joh

    If it helps, here are my views on religion in general…

  • http://www.ludicrous.org.uk Ian Betteridge

    I see what you mean, but I think you’re making a fundamental mistake. Belief in a god relies purely on faith – in fact it’s almost definitive of religious belief that no possible state of events can convince the believer that god does not exist. It relies on faith, not reason.
    Science, of course, takes the opposite course. If it isn’t testable, if there are no conditions under which a hypothesis of science can be refuted, it isn’t science (hence my point about Popper). In that sense it is something that is open to rational discourse, including rational discourse over its methodology.
    Kant comes in because he shows that God is not a possible subject of experience, and beyond the limits of reason itself. You can’t “prove” the existence of God, although as I remember Kant took the line that you could show His existence through other methods (it’s a while since I read the Critique of Pure Reason). But what Popper and Kant have in common is a realisation that religion isn’t a proper subject of Knowledge (with a capital K), because it is fundamentally different to reason and science.
    So do I “believe” in science? In as far as science is an extension of reason, and that reason is a more powerful tool for understanding the way the world works than faith, yes. But it’s not the same kind of “belief” that a True Believer has.

  • http://bluejoh.com/abyss/ joh

    (Darn. I just wrote a long response, which was carefully argued and brilliant, and then accidentally shut the window… Forgive me if some of this is flawed. It is getting late.)

    I think I have spotted a second area on which we are at odds. To me “animistic beliefs and Buddhist teachings” are also forms of religion. The impression I get is that to you the term religion presupposes a ‘god’.

    To me the claim that it is “definitive of religious belief that no possible state of events can convince the believer that god does not exist” is patently false, whereas working under your tighter definition of religion I would not necessarily disagree. (The fact that you use the singular ‘god’ rather than ‘their god’ or even ‘gods’ suggests that you are thinking in terms of the classic judeo-christian god…)

    “Belief in a god relies purely on faith” I’ll agree, but belief in a religion does not imply faith in a god. In any religion (my defn.) there is a belief network which is (normally) internally sound, just lacking in foundation. (Quinian) The foundation comes from the metaphysics, which (as I have said) I am not debating here. However, a religious belief-set is internally consistent, which allows for “rational discourse” within that net.

    The difficulty lies in whether that network is reflected in reality. However, since justified true belief does not necessarily constitute knowledge (Gettier conditions) any claims to knowledge become less decisive.

    The advantage that ‘science’ has is that it is a completely cohesive network (give or take a few Kuhn shifts) that is easily demonstrated to be self-consistent.

    I think that was everything. Suffice to say, it is my belief that scientific reason is very different from ‘True belief’, and I would probably agree with you if I were arguing under your definitions.

    Under the argument I have been making, we have culturally moved away from a (hopefully demostrably) flawed belief-set (normally involving a bearded and/or vengeful god) to a more cohesive belief-set based on experience of the world. It is still a belief-set (I just like to believe it is a bit more rational!).

  • http://www.ludicrous.org.uk Ian Betteridge

    Buddhism, strictly speaking, is a practice rather than a religion. You do Buddhism, rather than believe in it. That’s why it’s more interesting. Animism is, as I said, more interesting and with less damaging consequences than religions that have gods that look like you and I.
    I don’t think the statement that the believer will not be convinced otherwise is patently false. Under what conditions can a religious belief be proved false? Science, on the other hand, has it’s own falsification position – God arrives from the heavens on a cloud of thunderbolts, and tells us it was all our fault – then we’ll know that science was wrong.
    It’s not that science is a bit more rational – it’s that it’s rational. Religion, on the other hand, is based on belief rather than reason.

  • Therese Z

    Ian, you wrote: “Belief in a god….relies in faith, not reason.” And in a later comment you also oppose belief and reason.

    The opposite of the word “faith” is NOT the word “reason.” Reason, or certitude, in its philosophical sense, co-exists perfectly with a life of faith in an Absolute Creator, an Original Source. 5 minutes with Aquinas will demonstrate that resoundingly.

    You want proof? The fruits of properly-lived belief ARE the proof. Science depends much on predicted results, and so does faith; in that they are identical.

    Faith is not only a reasoned and reasonable response to the question of why we’re here, and how were we made, and what we’re supposed to be doing, but scientists, struggling to find the right words, have lately said that we are “hard-wired” to believe in a Supreme Being. That’s how I would expect a system that relies on proof (as it should) to say about whether or not there is a God and whether or not there was a definite beginning point of the universe.

    Just because you haven’t figured it out yet doesn’t make it not so. Your opinion is only your opinion, and you are entitled to it, But you might wish to qualify your statements.

  • http://bluejoh.com/abyss/ joh

    As far as I am concerned I have made my case now, and it is sound. However there are a few points I wish to clarify and/or raise before I call it a day…

    To clarify. When I use the term religion I use it in a broader sense which does not presume a deity. Under my definition the claim that it is “definitive of religious belief that no possible state of events can convince the believer that god does not exist” is patently false, because you do not need a deity to have a religion. It is not a necessary feature of religion that there be an anthropomorphic deity involved…

    If I were using your definition, on the other hand, which equates religion to organised-religion-involving-an-anthropomorphic-deity I would not necessarily disagree with that statement.

    I used it as an example of how over very different definitions of what constitutes a religion are at odds. Neither of us are likely to win this argument as we are using different terms!

    There are two other points I would like to raise though.

    1) This gives some arguments for considering science a religion and this gives an example of my original thinking about the belief set we are given by ‘rational science’.

    2) Poppers falsification theory does not have the status in philosophy that it once did. It is generally accepted by philosophers of science that scientific theories are just that, theories. The problem is that Poppers falsificationism protected several metaphysical claims made by science from criticism. I can refer you to papers on the subject if you are interested. Science is still a belief set (trust me on this – I can refer you to many, many hundreds of papers which support this claim!)…

    I suspect we may be better off if we agree to disagree. This discussion could go on for decades otherwise!