Brandon 3: One more turn around the dance floor

Brandon comes back to take his strawman on one more turn around the dance floor. It’s fairly lengthy, and involves a few small tweaks to his original argument, but it’s still the same strawman, plus an interesting explanation of why he feels this is a personal issue for me but not for him. I’ll give him this, though: he starts out with a thorough documentation of his sources (links below are his).

The Professor at “Evangelical Realism” has responded to my response to the response to my response to the response to Macht’s post. It’s a much better response, and worth reading, but I am certain it still does not adequately address the issue.

I’ll look at the high points of his argument, but first, for convenience, I’ll restate the example formula we’ve been working with, based on Geisler and Turek:

95% evidence + 5% faith = 100% conclusion

By using the unambiguous word “conclusion” to describe the belief you derive by combining faith and evidence, we eliminate the equivocation fallacy that comes from using the same term (“faith” or its synonym “belief”) to refer both to the 5% faith and the 100% conclusion. Brandon, however, is not interested in adopting this simple clarification.

Let’s start with the rhetorical question, “Does not the term ‘knowledge’ apply to the part for which you do have evidence, and ‘faith’ apply to the part for which the evidence is lacking?”, to which the obvious answer is, No, that would be an unreasonable use of terms.

That leaves the 5% part undefined, but ok. He has the right to define his own terms as needed to present his own case. I will point out, however, that his quibble over the correct usage of the term “faith” is a disagreement with Geisler and Turek, who said:

We mean that the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa). Faith covers a gap in knowledge.

Geisler and Turek are quite unmistakably using the term “faith” to refer to that part of the sum which decreases as evidence increases. Brandon may feel that it is unreasonable to use the term “faith” in this way, but Geisler and Turek are undeniably using it in precisely that way.

Brandon is determined to give his strawman legs, however:

It assumes that, because faith and evidence are in inverse ratio, that faith is privation of evidence. But the latter does not follow from the former. The former is the claim:

x and y are in inverse ratio (i.e., the more x, the less y, and vice versa)

Where x can be taken to indicate the property or feature ‘being evidentially supported’ and y ‘involving faith’. The latter is the claim:

No belief in the category of things that have property x is in the category of things that have property y.

Quite a lot of wordplay going on in there, isn’t there? First of all, let’s notice that, in place of Geisler and Turek’s simple formula of “evidence + faith,” Brandon has substituted the tweaked wording of “(the property or feature being evidentially supported) + ([something or other] involving faith)”. As I said, that’s fine, but it’s not what Geisler and Turek are saying. They aren’t saying “the less evidence you have, the more (something involving faith) you have, and vice versa.” They’re saying simply “less evidence = more faith and more evidence = less faith”. If that’s not legitimate, then Brandon is proving that Geisler and Turek are wrong.

Second, let’s look at what we can learn from two things being in inverse ratio. If you have x and y in inverse ratio, that means that x + y = 100% of the result. If x goes up, y has to go down, so that the contribution of each can add up to 100%. So if x + y = 100%, and y = 100%, x must equal 0%, right? When you have 100% faith, how much evidence do you have? Perhaps Brandon would find this equation easier to solve if it were stated like this: “Faith and evidence are related by inverse ratio, such that the more evidence you have, the less faith you need, and vice versa. A certain atheist believes something for reasons that are 100% faith. How much evidence does he have?”

If you answered “none,” you have correctly understood what inverse ratios tell us about the mutually distinct quantities involved. If faith and evidence were not mutually distinct quantities, then when faith reached 100%, you would (or could) have some non-zero amount of evidence as well. But if you assert that faith and evidence are inversely proportional to one another, then when you go to the faith extreme, you have 100% faith, and no evidence, Q. E. D.

To further confuse the issue, Brandon makes the illogical claim that, if you say x and y are mutually distinct quantities when in an inverse ratio, you are claiming that “No belief in the category of things that have property x is in the category of things that have property y.” In other words, he’s once again raising the strawman argument claiming that any presence of faith requires the absolute absence of evidence. He is correct that this argument cannot reasonably be drawn from the premise that faith and evidence are inversely related. However neither I nor Geisler nor Turek nor anyone else that I know of is making this argument.

His confusion stems from his basic confusion between “faith” (referring to 100% of a conclusion based on a combination of faith + evidence) and “faith” (meaning the 5% faith that, when added to the 95% evidence, leads to the 100% conclusion). A simple, unambiguous lexicon would add so much clarity to this discussion, and I’m rather surprised at his reluctance to adopt it. Apparently, though, he finds this lack of ambiguity quite distasteful: he goes on at some length implying that I am changing the subject and even stacking the deck (so to speak) by making a clear and unambiguous distinction between the factors that contribute to a given result, and the result itself.

This simply assumes the move noted above. For Geisler, what is actually being divided up, so to speak, is a belief, not a conclusion (the point is not semantics, because by changing the term to ‘conclusion’ the Professor has simply changed the subject entirely); but it is not divided up into parts (so that one part is evidentially supported and the other is not).

And that, of course, is nothing remotely like what I said. I said “95% evidence + 5% faith = 100% conclusion,” not “95% conclusion A + 5% conclusion B.” I have consistently used the singular “conclusion” when referring to the distinction between the factors that contribute to a conclusion and the conclusion itself. It’s not the conclusion that is divided up into inversely-proportional parts, but the factors that lead to the conclusion. Brandon’s problem is a consistent failure to recognize the difference between the conclusion and the factors on which it is based.

Brandon also thinks I’m being unfair to Geisler in particular.

Does Geisler elsewhere say things that rule out the notion that faith is belief without evidence?

Yes, and in many places.

That’s fine. I never claimed that Geisler was being self-consistent when he and Turek claimed that “the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa),” so enough said about that.

We’re just about done here. In fact, I’m including this last quote mostly for its entertainment value. Are you ready for Brandon’s explanation of why this is a personal issue for me and not for him?

The interest on the Professor’s part, though, was personal (not in the colloquial sense of taking things personally, but in the straightforward sense that it was the Professor who was being held up as the person in error, which is a personal interest if there ever was one). I’m certainly risking very little; at worst I have simply misunderstood the Professor’s argument and read as fallacious an argument that is not.

Isn’t that marvelous? The reason it’s a personal issue for me is because there’s a possibility that I might be wrong. That’s apparently not an issue for Brandon, despite the number of ways I’ve pointed out the errors in his thinking and the spurious nature of his attempts to attribute fallacious reasoning to those who use the “faith = belief – evidence” sound bite. But no matter–he can’t really be wrong. At worst, he can only be guilty of having misunderstood me. So to him, this whole issue is no big deal. Which is why his third post alone was over 2,000 words long.

I notice in closing that, though I took some pains to point out, in my last response, that the real issue regarding faith and evidence was the lack of evidence for Christian beliefs specifically, Brandon not only avoids addressing my remarks, he does not even mention them. Unless, of course, he is referring to them when he says:

If the Professor decides to say something in response that seems to take things in a new and interesting direction, I might respond, but regardless, for the reasons I’ve given, I think the Professor should get the privilege of the last word.

And that’s the goal folks. Confront them with the real world truth, and it takes away all the fun they get out of witnessing. They can argue abstract, philosophical propositions forever, and keep you endlessly guessing through the use of ambiguous terminology and subtly conflated ideas. Bring it around to God’s real-world failure to act like He believed the Gospel, though, and they’re stuck in a place where they can neither deny the facts nor explain them away. They may try, but they won’t enjoy it, because takes them out of the comfortable realms of faith and forces them to engage an uncooperative reality.

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One Response to “Brandon 3: One more turn around the dance floor”

  1. The Professor Says:

    Made a couple small edits to the above (changed the paraphrased quote to a direct quote in talking about Geisler’s self-consistency, and added a bit more explanation to the part about what it means for x and y to be mutually distinct quantities in inverse ratio).