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The portrait is Charles Darwin, age 31, in 1840

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Comment by Marc Draco on February 6, 2009 at 9:09am
Done, Dr. Meaden. I hope we can continue this over there and that us "usual suspects" can bring our posts over there.

I brought (that thought experiment) up with a highly-skilled, agnostic and auto-didactic designer I work with; he thought about it for moment, went a little pale and then professed that his head was about to explode.
Comment by Dr. Terence Meaden on February 6, 2009 at 8:48am
Marc, you may take the lead on this---on starting a discussion topic named "Origins of Faith"--- if you wish. In that case, try transferring a slightly modified version of what you wrote, and/or encourage the others to do the same.
Comment by Marc Draco on February 6, 2009 at 5:49am
Certainly an idea - we have slipped off topic somewhat. ;-)
Comment by Dr. Terence Meaden on February 6, 2009 at 4:45am
Don, Marc Draco, Alex Donovan, Richard Thomas: You have all written very well indeed on what faith really means. Thank you.
Alex Donovan, your essay-like answer is brilliant.
I now wish that a named discussion topic--called, say, ORIGINS OF FAITH--had been running.
If anyone wants to start such a topic, and transfer comments or repeat comments there, please do so.
Comment by Richard Thomas on February 6, 2009 at 12:54am
Claudia M. Mazzucco writes
"This conception of Faith as the gift or ability to believe in something that is not provable is difficult to be understood by the atheist’s mind but it is sufficiently manifest in the large number of scientific theories which are based in quantum mechanic."

I have no problem if you wish to believe in something that is not provable. What is difficult for myself is to understand by what means you come to belive in something unprovable ine the first place. In other words precisely what convinced you of the existence for which there is no evidence in the first place?

And since I have read up on quantum mechanics I would be delighted to hear just what you find manifest in quantum mechanics that supports the item you have already declared to be unprovable.
Since quantum mechanics is a manifestation of the physical world and a measurable quantity it hardly qualifies as being "unprovable".

So please do present the arguements that quantum mechanics provides to your assertions.

"Faith is thought by Father Steven Pavignano, a Franciscan Friar, as “the highest level of trust.” Even as atheist we trust that somewhere there is the theory that could explain everything, that carries the secrets of the universe (and God) in a mathematical equation. This is an “Atheist Faith,” one part intuition and one part the sense of a necessary order in a chaotic world."

It is hardly a matter of trust that drives science toward a possible theoryy of everything since we do not know if such a thing actually exists. Perhaps we will be undone by the structure and laws of the universe itself and never come to a complete understanding.
For science this is no problem because it merely follows in trying to describe what it is that we do observe. We may well never know how it all works and be only able to make educated guesses.
However, science does eliminate possible scenarios with the acquisition of knowledge but science is never certain.
Only religions have the arrogance to claim to know things for which there is no evidence and, indeed, is the reason for faith in fist place.

"The fact that faith makes you believe in a “Man-who-knows-everything” (God) is, indeed, a by-product of this mental capability to know – not to believe – that which is not provable."

Ok exactly how do you know that which is not provable? f you know something it is a given that you must be able to demonstrate that knowledge in some way. If I say that I love my wife I cannot prove it to you in terms of my emotional feelings being directly felt by you,however, I can have you observe my wife and I interacting and thereby demonstrate to you that I do love her.{ Assuming of course that we agree on what love is by definition first}

So can you demonstrate the God that defines your faith as well?
Comment by Alex Donovan on February 5, 2009 at 8:26pm defines faith as:

Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one's supporters.
often Faith Christianity. The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will.
Faith in a religious sense is only necessary in the absence of objective fact. If any objective evidence existed, then faith would not be necessary. It is a rather sad and telling accomplishment of Christianity that believing in things without any evidence has somehow been ennobled when any reasonable person would not believe in such outlandish claims without extraordinary evidence. As Carl Sagan once said, "extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence." What are the dangers of faith without facts to back that faith up? Here are just a few examples:

Faith Negates Reason
A true system of understanding anything inherently rests in the principles of logic. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), staunch promoter of the Copernican heliocentric view of the solar system, said: "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forego their use." In other words, why would a god give mankind the ability to use logic and reason only to negate that ability by requiring that it be cast aside for "faith?" Some fundamentalist Christians will use the argument that God is not logical and cannot be known through logic. The problem with this approach is that when they try to argue for the illogical nature of their god, they use logic to do so. If logic has no meaning in attempting to understand God, then you can't use logic to refute a logical understanding of God.

Faith Negates Knowledge
There was a period between the Fall of Rome and the Renaissance known as the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages cast out science as evil and relied only on faith in the Church as interpreted by the Clergy. The "science" of the Dark Ages allowed for such wonders as killing off all the cats in Europe as witches' "familiars," which led to overpopulation by rats, which led to the Black Plague. The "Science" of the Dark Ages determined that an effective cure for the Plague was to carry a pocketful of poesies (hence the children's rhyme). Scientific progress was effectively ground to a halt by the Church. Faith was the rule of the day. Why do you need scientific learning when you have faith? Faith allows you to believe the most outrageous claims without evidence. In fact, evidence negates faith. If you demand evidence for your beliefs, then faith becomes unnecessary and you become a heretic. This technique is nothing new. It is used by confidence men (or "con men") today.

The most dangerous aspect of using faith to replace knowledge and inquiry is in the precept of claiming "God did it" whenever a mystery which cannot be explained by science is encountered. This is a favorite tactic of fundamentalists. This argument usually takes the form of "God must exist, because you're here." This is just the First Cause argument warmed over. The technique has been named "God of the Gaps" because it is used any time a fundamentalist encounters something that can't yet be understood by science. This is obviously the origin of the god myth in the first place, as primitive Man sought explanations for death, disease, famine and other natural disasters.

The problem with the God of the Gaps is that each time a scientific discovery is made, the God of the Gaps gets a little smaller. For example, floods and famines were once seen as sent by God to punish the wicked. We now know that floods and famines are the result of natural phenomena such as weather patterns and climate conditions. Therefore floods and famines are no longer within the realm of the God of the Gaps.

Faith as a means of knowledge successfully kills inquiry of any kind ("don't question, just believe") and the danger of such a position is that it could lead to a return to the Dark Ages or worse. If anyone doubts that such a thing could happen in this day and age, consider the occasional movements to have evolution thrown out of public schools, or just take a visit to a fundamentalist Christian school like Bob Jones University or Pensacola Christian College and see what passes for science in their curriculums.

Faith Negates Free Will
The free will argument is used by fundamentalists to explain why there is evil in the world: "If Man chooses to stray from God, then the evil is a result of that straying." Free will is seen as Man's freedom to consider arguments for and against the existence of the Christian god and to choose whether or not to follow the Christian god. Investigation by any rational person must include elements of logic, reason and the pursuit of knowledge. To negate these elements of investigation by simply declaring "don't think, don't question, just believe" is to negate Man's ability to utilize his own free will in order to make a determination about the truth or falsity of the Christian god. If asked to believe in the Christian god without any evidence other than the proselytizer's demand that he do so, the investigator may as well be asked to believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, or the Invisible Pink Unicorn for that matter.

In a writing traditionally attributed to Paul, Hebrews 11:1 states: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (KJV). This is often quoted by fundamentalists as some sort of noble ideal, but what does it really mean? Note the word "evidence." What sort of evidence does faith produce? The "evidence of things not seen." This type of evidence could be produced by having faith in any imaginary playmate of your choosing.

This passage also states that faith is the substance of "things hoped for." As in, "I hope there's a heaven," or "I hope that by judging everyone around me as a sinner God will think I'm special." In other words, the "substance of things hoped for" is the substance of wishful thinking. Faith is just that, wishful thinking as a substitute for critical thinking. But then, it is always easier to just have someone else do your thinking for you than it is to take the time and trouble to investigate life for yourself.
Comment by Marc Draco on February 5, 2009 at 3:58pm
As though experiment, so would I, but this is the interesting psychology, we have pretty indisputable evidence that life evolved (and a lot of other "proofs") - yet millions still think Goddit; and worse, think we're wrong just as we do them.
Comment by Dr. Terence Meaden on February 5, 2009 at 3:56pm
"clinching indisputable evidence of a god (any god) or even an afterlife, how many of us would refuse to see the evidence.>

Well, I for one would accept "clinching indisputable evidence" if it appeared. That is what scientists do.
But I am a strong-minded atheist because there has never been any sign of any evidence, let along "clinching indisputable evidence".
Comment by Marc Draco on February 5, 2009 at 3:31pm
Right on Don. I haven't read Harris on this but I agree that he sums faith up rather well. I'm having a fascinating debate with a "believer" over email and so far we've not had a cross word: which is amazing considering how these people often behave. I always think (and have even seen) that faith is a universal get out of jail free. I've a blog post on Gary Graham (of some Star Trek and JAG fame) is crying about abortion being murder and then admits to funding THREE! He's apparently got a conscience now but reading between the lines, it looks more like a failing actor trying for some adoration... which he's getting.

It's quite sickening to have such double-standards.

I can't imagine a theory of everything. Douglas Adams and I independently concurred on this but he put it rather better... I won't spoil this for everyone else though by explaining his view.

Psychologically though (in my book) I'm discussing the possibility that some people are genuinely unable to become atheists because years of programming won't let them.

This lady in my current email debate is a classic example - she just cannot see the arguments even when you spell them out for her. It's like she filters out everything that doesn't agree with what she's been told.

This is interesting, because I'd love to know if we're capable of doing the same thing.

For instance, if we suddenly got, clinching indisputable evidence of a god (any god) or even an afterlife, how many of us would refuse to see the evidence.

Of course, I'm being hypothetical, but it's an interesting thought experiment, don't you agree?
Comment by Dane Eidson on January 30, 2009 at 12:05pm
I book marked this site. It looks very interesting. I appreciate you informing me about it. Thanks for the invite and I am glad that I joined!

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