Faith and Evidence: Brandon repliesOctober 11, 2007 — Deacon Duncan
I am pleased to see that Brandon is willing to continue the discussion on faith and evidence, albeit somewhat reluctantly, apparently. It’s a thoughtful response, and I’m delighted to address it, though it does start off with a rather strange assessment.
[F]or ‘The Professor’ it is a personal point, defending reasoning actually made. For me it is not; it’s rather more abstract, an interesting case, ‘in the wild’, of an interesting form of fallacious reasoning…
I’m not sure why Brandon thought it would help his case to begin by “poisoning the well” with insinuations that I’m taking things personally instead of impartially and objectively, as he asserts is the case with himself. But the discussion improves somewhat after this point, so let’s just let that pass.
Brandon asserts that I’m guilty of “an interesting form of fallacious reasoning”
namely, the inference from a claim of inverse ratio (“The more x, the less y, and vice versa”) to a claim of exclusion or categorical distinction (“x and y are distinct categories of things, where x is the category of things that have a given property, and y is the category of things that don’t have it”).
This is the same strawman fallacy he attempted to erect earlier. I am not making an abstract argument about “x is inversely proportional to y, therefore x belongs to a category of things that have a certain property (z), and y is a member of a category of things which do not have property (z).” What values would you fill in for x, y and z in that equation? According to Geisler and Turek, x might be “evidence” and y might be “faith” (or vice versa), but what would z be? It appears that z should be “evidence” also, since Brandon wants to claim that I’m fallaciously concluding that faith is belief without evidence, but that messes up the formula.
Since Brandon’s strawman version of my argument is not merely fallacious but downright nonsensical, I think I’ll simply agree with him that that argument is not valid. Let me just skip ahead for a moment, though, and have a look at another “formula” of his:
To determine on this formula how much faith someone has, we look to see both how much evidential support and how this compares to a case of knowledge. So suppose that someone believes some belief B (it doesn’t matter much what it is), and the available evidence supports that with 95% certainty. The quantity of faith is determined by taking this degree of evidential support and comparing it with the 100% case; and we find that they are not all that different. It doesn’t need much faith, and it’s almost knowledge; but we do believe it with a bit of faith. Now it is clear when we do something like this that faith, understood in this way, is not belief minus the evidence; it’s the belief we have on our evidence, given that our evidence does not give us 100% certainty.
So for 100% of the conclusion, we have 95% evidence, and (wait, let me get a calculator), 5% faith. The amount of faith is small because the evidence is large, as per Geisler and Turek. Notice I used the word “conclusion” instead of belief here. Brandon’s error is an equivocation error: he’s equivocating between what faith contributes to the conclusion, and the conclusion itself. The conclusion is based on 95% evidence and 5% faith; the faith part of that sum is the 5% for which there is no evidence. Brandon, however, is using the term “faith” to also refer to the conclusion, and hence his indignation that anyone would dare suggest that faith is belief minus evidence.
So you see, I don’t think Brandon actually disagrees with me, though he argues at length about how wrong I am and how fallacious my reasoning must be (or at least, his version of it). It’s all in the semantics. The 5% of the conclusion that is not covered by evidence is covered by faith, just as Geisler and Turek claim. That’s faith without evidence, folks, because the evidence is already covered by the 95% part. It is the conclusion, and not the inversely-varying parts of the sum, that is at least partially based on evidence.
All that uproar over a mere semantic quibble over which part of the sum is referred to as “faith.” I was talking about the 5% part, and Brandon was, well, not making a clear distinction between the 5% and the 100%. But still just a semantic quibble, so let’s call that one settled, and move on to Brandon’s other objections, shall we?
My post was on the curious tendency to attribute to certain religious believers a view of faith in spite of the actual evidence about what they believe; this was done with Macht and it was done again with Geisler. The post I was responding to explicitly attributes the ‘faith is belief without evidence’ to Geisler, despite the fact that Geisler is clear, on many occasions, that his view is that (1) faith is compatible with evidence, and in fact requires it; (2) that it is a form of belief that occurs where the evidence is incomplete; and (3) the quality of faith increases with an increase in the evidence. It is this, in fact, that is the whole argument of the book the post mentions, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, namely, that Christianity is a higher quality and more rational form of faith than atheism is because it is a form of faith that has more evidential support.
Which is why atheists have more of it, right? After all, the Geisler and Turek book is entitled I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to be an ATHEIST, [capitalization theirs]. 😉
I should clarify here that Brandon does indeed have some justification for his objection, in principle, to the idea that “faith = belief – evidence.” Let’s face it, that’s a sound-bite. It’s a label, a convenient oversimplification, even a bit of a gratuitous put-down. My point, however, is that it’s a double-standard to object when atheists use “faith=belief-evidence” to talk about what Christians believe, while at the same time excusing Christians like Geisler and Turek when they use “faith=belief-evidence” to talk about what atheists believe.
The real issue, however, is not whether faith, in principle, is belief without evidence (or “belief where evidence is incomplete,” as Geisler puts it). The real issue is that Christianity is a belief for which the evidence is either entirely missing, or is merely superstition, subjective imagination, hearsay, speculation, and other unreliable, biased, and thoroughly human sources. It’s one thing to agree that faith should be supported by evidence. It’s another thing to actually have the evidence.
The biggest piece of missing evidence is God Himself. According to the Gospel, God loved us enough to die on our behalf so that we could be together forever. He does not, however, show up in the real world to participate in that direct, real, two-way personal relationship which He allegedly made possible via the Cross. Believers have only what they could obtain from an imaginary friend, and there’s no consistency of experiences and beliefs, such as would result from an objectively-real Spirit lending a common point of reference to different people’s perceptions of Him. They even need taboos against “testing” God, so that they have a ready excuse for God’s failure to intervene in the real world in any tangible, verifiable, objectively-real sense.
This is a tremendously significant piece of evidence. Not only does God’s absence conflict with His alleged desire to be with us, but it makes faith in God not even possible, since all we have at hand to put our faith in are the stories, superstitions, and subjective feelings of men. We can look at the evidence which does exist, and try and manufacture some kind of contrived, plausible-sounding connection between the facts we find and the doctrines we want to believe, but when all is said and done, God still hasn’t shown up in the real world, and we’ve only put our faith in more stories told by men.
That’s not the only evidentiary problem with Christianity, but it’s a big one. If you’re willing to believe that God loves you enough to die for you, even though He demonstrably does not love you enough to show up and say “Hi,” then there’s not much else they can feed you that you’ll have trouble swallowing. So I’ll leave Brandon to thrashing at that poor straw man and trying to score some points against me personally, since that kind of stuff doesn’t really matter in the long run. What matters is that, in the real world, whether I’m a genius or a moron, God does not behave as though He believed (or was capable of) the things men say about Him in the Gospel.