A few days ago James Lindsay pressed “pause” as he put it, on the “faith discussion.” I took a bit of a breather myself at the same time. He didn’t stay out of it for long, taking opportunity to show his own epistemological inconsistencies, not to mention his condescension. But I have responded to him there already.
I’ve used this pause to reflect. It’s time to seek more clarity in the faith debate. and it seem to me the best way to do that is to state my opponent’s position, not my own. It is a mark of respect, for one thing. It’s also one of the best ways to ensure understanding. I’m expecting that James will tell me I’ve gotten some of this wrong. If so, I’ll have the opportunity to re-adjust and re-calibrate my understanding of his position.
I’m making it my goal to score at least 75% – 80% on this. I’m hoping I understand James’s position at least to that level.
I will remain on a summary level, of course. His posts on this subject have totaled over 20,000 words, so I only intend to hit the most central points of all that. I’ve re-read those posts, taken notes, and organized those notes into natural groupings. Based on that informal analysis, here’s what I understand James to be saying. The numbering is of course mine, not his.
1. Faith is a way of knowing. It is a method of knowing, a means by which the faithful draw conclusions about the nature of reality.
2. Faith is an unreliable way of knowing. Its unreliability is apparent in both its methods, which are disconnected from evidences, and in its results, which lead to multiple contradictory conclusions—various religions, for example.
3. Faith’s disconnection from evidences is most egregious in that it offers no methods by which its conclusions could ever be falsified. Not only does it offer any such method, it resists them.
4. This resistance is a manifestation of various epistemic dysfunctions on the part of the faithful, including confirmation bias, selective attention to evidence, and misattributing evidence.
5. Faith relies on revelation, authority, and tradition, rather than reliable means of knowing.
6. Faith fills in the epistemic gap between what can be known reliably and what the faithful assume (pretend) that they know beyond that point.
7. No way of knowing can be considered reliable unless it:
a. Restricts the confidence it places in its conclusions to what the evidence will support
b. Is supported specifically by statistically assessed methods, including confidence levels
c. Is associated with some means by which it could conceivably be falsified.
8. Christian truth in particular is epistemically suspect because (for reasons James has detailed in his books, not on his blog) the plausibility of God is very near zero; therefore (among other reasons) it is virtually impossible to take seriously any evidences offered in support of Christianity.
9. Those who claim faith are pretending to know what they do not and cannot know. This pretending serves to stabilize their belief, protecting it from disconfirmation. The faithful believe because they want to, not because they have any legitimate reason to believe.
10. The definition of faith therefore legitimately includes “belief without evidence” and “pretending to know what one does not/cannot know. This dual-sided definition is not necessarily the only one (contra Boghossian’s view on that) but it is the only one relevant today, in view of the fact that religious faith necessarily is evidence-free and therefore a pretense at knowledge.
That’s it in short form.
James, have I represented your position fairly? What would you add, subtract, or amend? I’m especially interested in 7b. You spoke this more than once, so I have written it down as something you believe; yet it seems unlikely that you adhere to it in practice, so perhaps you would want to nuance it a bit, at least.