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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

coherent atheist faith

original from slashdot

TOR NØRRETRANDERS
Science Writer; Consultant; Lecturer, Copenhagen; Author, The User Illusion

I believe in belief—or rather: I have faith in having faith. Yet, I am an atheist (or a "bright" as some would have it). How can that be?

It is important to have faith, but not necessarily in God. Faith is important far outside the realm of religion: having faith in other people, in oneself, in the world, in the existence of truth, justice and beauty. There is a continuum of faith, from the basic everyday trust in others to the grand devotion to divine entities.

Recent discoveries in behavioural sciences, such as experimental economics and game theory, shows that it is a common human attitude towards the world to have faith. It is vital in human interactions; and it is no coincidence that the importance of anchoring behaviour in riskful trust is stressed in worlds as far apart as Søren Kierkegaard's existentialist christianity and modern theories of bargaining behaviour in economic interactions. Both stress the importance of the inner, subjective conviction as the basis for actions, the feeling of an inner glow.

One could say that modern behavioral science is re-discovering the importance of faith that has been known to religions for a long time. And I would argue that this re-discovery shows us that the activity of having faith can be decoupled from the belief in divine entities.

So here is what I have faith in: We have a hand backing us, not as a divine foresight or control, but in the very simple and concrete sense that we are all survivors. We are all the result of a very long line of survivors who survived long enough to have offspring. Amoeba, rodents and mammals. We can therefore have confidence that we are experts in survival. We have a wisdom inside, inherited from millions of generations of animals and humans, a knowledge of how to go about life. That does not in any way imply foresight or planning ahead on our behalf. It only implies that we have a reason to trust out ability to deal with whatever challenges we meet. We have inherited such an ability.

Therefore, we can trust each other, ourselves and life itself. We have no guarantee or promises for eternal life, not at all. The enigma of death is still there, ineradicable.

But we a reason to have confidence in ourselves. The basic fact that we are still here—despite snakes, stupidity and nuclear weapons—gives us reason to have confidence in ourselves and each other, to trust others and to trust life. To have faith.

Because we are here, we have reason for having faith in having faith.

2 comments:

Galen Horton said...

What a load of guacamole! Your entire argument is a hypocrisy of logic; you're an atheist, but believe there's a "hand backing us" but in the sense we are all survivors?!!? By your analysis of 'survivors', it implies the theory of survival of the fittest, hence a competition to survive, but how are you supposed to have trust in someone or something that is trying to survive & will do anything to do that? You have a point, man has an inate desire to believe; but that's not a result of surviving. It is an integral part of our makeup that we were created with by our Creator.

By the way, if you're a real athiest, where did all this come from & defend the monumental odds of any of this (life, creation) happening. Big bang . . . where did everything come from to supply the material for an explosion that in turn created everything? How come they can't identify or duplicate the process that would have started life at a single, cellular level?

jdwyah said...

>What a load of guacamole! Your entire argument is a hypocrisy of logic; you're an atheist, but believe there's a "hand backing us" but in the sense we are all survivors?!!?


Me: Yep. But first off, I should clarify that this was the work of TOR NØRRETRANDERS and not myself, as I mentioned in the post. I do happen to agree though, so here goes.


>By your analysis of 'survivors', it implies the theory of survival of the fittest, hence a competition to survive, but how are you supposed to have trust in someone or something that is trying to survive & will do anything to do that? You have a point, man has an inate desire to believe; but that's not a result of surviving. It is an integral part of our makeup that we were created with by our Creator.

Me: You claim we argue that 'the desire to believe is a result of survival', but you think it's integral to our natures. This is not at all the case. The desire is not a result of survival. All it states is that faith is a crucial element of humanity and that 'subjective conviction is the basis for action.'

I believe you would agree with that statement, we agree that faith is necessary. What you balk at comes afterward, when he de-couples his faith from a divine entity. "How are we supposed to trust in something that is concerned with it's own survival?" Is this your point? Well we're not. It never says that we need trust others directly. Only that we do need to develop faith that life, human interaction, and the world, will work out for us. We need faith if we are to function. The question is whether or not we need divine power(s) to have faith. We say no. We say that you can have faith without it.

Let's illustrate. Our situation is not unlike the Bourne Identity. We've woken up we do not know ourselves. Eventually we perceive that we are good at some things (killing people in the movie version & surviving evolution in the human one). We continue to find proof of these skills wherever we look. Matt Damon notices that he can use sniper-rifles. We realize that we have the warm happy feeling of conviction that things will work out and that this is scientifically justifiable since we are demonstrably survivors. Eventually, we may convince ourselves with rigorous logical assurance that we are indeed survivors and then we can begin to have a certain, coheren, 'faith.' This faith satisfies the human need for faith as the prologue to action and thus we can function. No need for divine beings were harmedin this conclusion.



Oh and just the general 'how can you not see that God must exist thing' is a little bit of a bigger topic and that I'm really an agnostic (ever since Descarts evil demons). Let's just say that in general I think science has done a darn tooting time of figuring out good answers to the sort of questions you ask, but that religion and faith's record is pretty much in the toilet (0-53029) when it comes to these things eg (world being flat, earth at center of universe, evolution). In short if you had to ask me whether religion seemed more likely to be 'divinely inspired' or 'a contruct of mankind,' well... I think you can guess where I come down on this one. This is just an opinion though. I'm am still looking, but if I get hit by a bus and end up in line for St. Peter, I'm just going to have to hand it to him and get on the down elevator.