Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Faith - trust

I was meditating other posts, while I found this objection by Andrea to my last one, that deserves a general answer of explanation:

The "faith" between disciple and teacher has nothing to do with religious faith. It should be called trust instead. The teacher gives the disciples the means to learn and walk by themselves, and this requires that the disciples trust the teacher initially. It is like that in any discipline, this is how we (and other animals ) learn. The scientific method is a framework to select ideas, once you learn it, by initially trusting that it works, you are free to apply it to any idea. The fact that the framework is, itself, and idea which survived a relatively long selection, to become the most trusted approach to formulate theories that describe (or better that model) reality, validates the initial trust, taking away the need to have "faith in the system". It might not be the definitive way to look at reality, better methods may show up in the future, if so, they will be evaluated accordingly and accepted, but so far the scientific method is unsurpassed.
Is the Pope trying to prove that the scientific method is a gift of a "teacher-God"? I hope not because that is a dangerous path to follow…
Paradoxically, applying the same logic I wouldn't be able to prove that atheism isn't.
Religion is an idea, reason a way to select ideas, science is a framework produced by reason, therefore comparing faith and reason is like comparing apples and wheels.


No, dear Andrea, I don't agree with you, on several regards.

First: the "faith" between disciple and teacher has everything to do with religious faith. I pray you to revert from English to Latin. English is a mixture of Latin (taken from the French of the Norman invaders of the 11th century) and of Anglo-Saxon, so it allows the use in different context of words that in the original had more or less the same meaning: such are faith, from fides, and trust.

Fides translates the New Testament Greek pistis. It is a word that might mean simply persuasion of the truth of something, in a sense close to the English belief, which would equate then what you call "religious faith" with any other such persuasion, unless we could specify what religious means. In the New Testament (where by the way the word religion doesn't exist, because it is again a Latin word taken by Roman pre-Christian use) such a specification is given by the use of the word to mean the fact of being persuaded by someone, whom, if you like, we trust as teacher.

Now, who is a teacher? Or better, what does a teacher do? I saw what you said, which I'd like to rephrase by saying that he is someone who teaches us something by enabling us to understand what it means. But there is more: he is one who, by so doing, introduces us to a world, or, vice versa, opens a world for us. So, for example, a Shakespearean teacher opens for us Shakespeare's world; a math teacher opens for us the world of mathematics; and so on with whatever example you like.

A religious teacher, I'd say, is someone who opens for us not a world, but the world. Having just said this, it came to my mind the fact that actually our parents do the same for us, so I try to specify better: a religious teacher is someone who in the course of our human and intellectual growth introduces us to the ultimate understanding of things (speaking in a bit more technical theological language, I could say that he introduces us to the eschata, the "last things"). All such teachers refer back, in Christianity, to Jesus Christ, the teacher par excellence, who introduces us to God, i.e. to the divine life of which he himself shares.

You can see here how faith-trust comes everywhere into play. In the original use, the Latin word stressed more than the Greek one the trust aspect: it meant the credit enjoyed by someone with someone else, so that one is made confident enough to participate in the world of the other. And notice then how the ordinary meaning of the word shades into a theological one.

Should I keep on going? I would recall first of all that for Christians Christ is the logos incarnate. Now, in Greek logos means at the same time "word" and "reason". It is not meant however reason conceived primarily in the modern fashion as a subjective faculty, but the reasons ("ratios" or proportions) that make of things a world, a cosmos, an ordinate whole, which the word discloses. By way of faith in Christ, therefore, men were given access to that understanding of the world which eventually developed into modern science.

This is what the Pope doesn't tire of reminding us since his Regensburg address.

What I myself humbly added in the previous post is that the science of science, which we call epistemology, cannot overlook, if it really wants to be scientific in the account it gives of the exercise of human understanding, of embracing in it also the faith-trust that ties disciple and teacher. Overlooking this, makes every discourse on scientific method a deception.

No one of the great most celebrated scientists – the like of Galilei, Newton, Einstein – ever arrived at their discoveries by following the procedures the so called scientific method prescribes. If he had followed them – observes Paul Feyerabend in his well known Against Method – Galilei would have never become "galileian", but he would have staid "Aristotelian". It doesn't exist any scientific method, as a peculiar way of selecting ideas: unless we mean by it the ordinary exercise of human understanding, that makes any man whatsoever test his ideas in reality.

One last thing. "Religion is an idea", you say. No, religion is a reality: the reality discovered by putting one's limited ideas to the test of the challenge represented by a true teacher. No less than Thomas Aquinas thought therefore that we can have a science of religion, and that such is theology.

I know the objection: he didn't mean by science the same thing as we do today. The trouble is that what we mean by science today is not quite clear. The same epistemologists who lay stress on method to decide what is science, cannot reach an agreement on it. So in the name of science we abdicate science.




Andrea said...

Dear Hp, I won't delve further into the syntactic nuances of the faith vs trust argument, because your analysis is more than complete. I understand your point when you say that tracing back to the first teacher (in the believer's case: Jesus) one may apply recursively a "Teacher/Student" pattern up to modern times and conclude that faith in the teacher one met personally equals faith into the "nth" teacher back in time (the one that was met at least by someone up the chain)
However let's not confuse a method of selecting ideas with one for generating them. The scientific method is not a method for generating ideas therefore I agree with you, the scientific method alone is useless if you do not have an idea in the first place. That idea may come from a dream, an inspiration of any kind (divine?), whichever the source, once the idea is conceptualized, if it tries do describe reality via any sort of model or if it tries to make predictions of any kind, that idea is a good candidate for evaluation through a scientific approach which involves applying a scientific method. Why is it like that? Well on an experimental basis the scientific method has proven itself very accurate in selecting those types of ideas. The results being the progress we have made in the fields of Medicine, Physics, Biology etc.
As far as validity is concerned if you adopt the scientific method it is irrelevant wether the Christians or the Muslim made the initial statement, wether the statement id 2000, 200000 , or two million years old. And even the creative process that brought to the statement are irrelevant.
I am aware that religion is a reality only in the sense that it is a real phenomenon, but theology is not a science, I'm sorry it has none of the characteristichs of a science.
Why? Simply because the validity of the teachings of religion do not comply with the scientific method, the level of probability of their hypothesis pertaining to such things as the origin of the Universe, or the existence of a Loving God, are considered by science very low, too low to be given credit (at the present time at least) and this is confirmed by experimental evidence. Religion, when making statements about the origin and state of things does not pass any scientific test, it is therefore treated as any other idea, that is selected (and discarded) by a method of selecting ideas.
You may question the validity of the method, I agree, but then it's up to the level of coherence you want to comply with in your existence, to decide wether different methods should be applied to describe reality, when one of the two as proven itself valid. We are free to come up with a new method that marries the ideas of religion, but it will have to be at least as good as the scientific method on previous findings. Any scientist will be ready to embrace it once it is formulated.

Humbly Presumptuous said...

Dear Andrea, just a couple of words, to say that perhaps we are more in agreement than it seems. When I have time I'll try to enlarge on the thing.
When I say "science", and enclose in it theology, I place myself with the first thinkers who raised the question of defining what is truly knowledge: Plato and Aristotle. They called it "episteme", translated into latin with "scientia", the name later appopriated and restricted by the theorizers of the so called "scientific method". You are right in saying that this is a way of selecting ideas, but it is so, as you recognize, inside specific fields of reality. From Plato and Aristotle the question was wider: how to deside of the truth or falseness of any kind of statements whatsoever. This includes the statement: this is science. But that is precisely what the followers of the "scientific method" cannot do: to say why their way of selecting ideas is truly knowledge, while others are not so.
My basic approach, in a way consonant with classical philosophy, is that of cultural anthropology: to find, in the socio-cultural differences among peoples, the constants of human living by understanding the world. In this approach modern science (ruled by the alleged scientific method, which has never been followed, I repeat, by the great scientists, but only by the routiniers of science) ha no privileged status, but is one case among others of historic and ethnographic evidence.
Is science in the platonic-aristotelian, and thomistic, sense possible? I think yes.

Andrea said...

Dear HP,
On what basis should such and enlarged definition of science be considered the correct one? While placing yourself with the fist thinkers you cannot skip on the fact that what you ascribe to them had not even been conceived at the time they lived.
The Scientific Method was in fact born with Galileo, and the detachment from Philosophy is the very attribute that gave science the edge over other disciplines in its ability to describe reality.
There is a demarcation problem between these disciplines and it has been correctly addressed by Kuhn: the value of science through its continuous paradigm shift lies in its ability to suggest solutions to new problems while continuing to satisfy the problems solved by the paradigms that are replaced.
In this sense non scientific, or pseudoscientific are to be considered all disciplines that fail to provide explanations within such a paradigm.
And that is exactly how theology (and much less noble disciplines like astrology) fail in describing and adhering to reality, despite the numerous efforts of reconciliation with science via a broader definition of the latter.
These efforts imply countless somersaults to ease the increasing friction between what is written in the Scriptures and the ever progressing findings of science.

How to decide on the truth or falseness of a statement of any kind?
That is an interesting question, truth has to do with reality, reality is only a model of something that may exist even without us, but that we can only discern through our limited senses. Our senses allows us to conceptualize a specific model and call it reality. there is no need or urge to define things in an absolute sense, as an example we are limited in our ability to make absolute claims regarding the infinitely small or infinitely big, as we can only model those indirectly.

In this sense knowledge may be defined as "the progressively refined, most possibly accurate model of what surrounds us", which means it is never "true at one point in time".

how would you decide on the falseness of the following sentence?
"It is impossible for donkeys to fly".
Would you suspend your judgment until donkeys are extinct and we have witnessed that all of them could not fly, or will you take a shortcut?

Even better, How would you decide on the falseness of this other sentence :
"We think the universe is billions of years old, instead we must accept that God created us 5 minutes ago with all memories of an unlived life, and fossils carefully buried to give us the illusion of time"

I feel that Believers with their urge to absolutize everything, with the (noble) purpose of elevating the meaning of our existence fail to discern that there is no such thing as an absolute constant of human nature. That constant exists only in a limited span of time, it is only a photography that will blur. Science has shown us that species are a mere classification of a series of snapshots of a unique life form in continuous evolution. There is no such thing as the first man, as there is no first rabbit or ant.
He who fails to accept that, which is a true scientific finding nowadays, (or at least true in the aforementioned sense) must reject science altogether, and rely on astrology next time he fills hill, instead of going to the hospital.
This meaning of mankind is very likely to have human origins not divine, I cannot state that this last sentence is true, but as far as probability is concerned we have the means to state that it is more likely to be true than the opposite. Our current findings give more probability of correctness to the justification of a divinity via the KNOWN IRRATIONALITY of mankind. The justification of our existence as th product of an UNKNOWN divine RATIONALITY being much less likely.

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Andrea said...

HP, the deleted comments were simply reposts of the same one, due to funky error message received, that made me kept on reposting while nothing was going wrong. Sorry for the inconvenience. You may delete those and this one. Regards. Andrea

Humbly Presumptuous said...

Dear Andrea,
I'll try to give you a "public" articulated answer in another moment. It is a bit demanding, and I spent a day writing (by the way, about ideality and reality in the Bible) so now I am too tired to do it.
I can assure you that I have as much respect for modern science as I don't have for the alleged scientific method. So let me say that Galilei didn't invent any such thing, but it is only contemporary mythology that attributes it to him (please, again, read Paul Feyerabend's Against Method, and anything else he wrote).
I had the chance to meet a true scientist (do you remember the distinction I made with the routiniers of science?) who was also a real teacher, capable of disclosing for me the world of math and physics in the limits allowed by my lack of a previous mastery of their technical language. What he made me see is that science doesn't have to do with building models, according to changing and shifting paradigms, in order to account for otherwise brute experiences, but it regards the experience we can have of the intelligibility of things.
Of course I am aware that by stating this I haven't really said much. Much more in fact is due to answer to the basic question, "How to decide on the truth or falseness of a statement of any kind". So for now mine is just an appeal to trust that it is possible to grasp the intelligeble relations among things that make the world manifest a higher rationality, and to communicate it - i.e. to make true statements about it.
"A higher rationality", I said. Let me give just one example of what it means, drown from your last reference to the irrational over against the rational. This is false separation, and it is shown primarily by math. Rational are the numbers we can divide; irrational are therefore the zero and the infinite, which cannot be devided; and yet algebra requires both: take zero and infinite away from it, and algebra collapses. So algebra embraces the rational and the irrational.
Don't tell me that the example is not proving, because math is just a construct of mental operations with no correspondence in reality. It is not so, because what math represent here with numbers is the difference of "discrete" and "continuous" as inseparable aspects of our ordinary experience of reality
I should, but I can't examplify, because, as I said, I am too tired to write the full post that your intervention deserves.

Andrea said...

Dear HP, I will eagerly wait for your next intervention,
please make sure you clarify on the criteria by which rationality can be classified in lower and higher types.
As far as scientists are concerned, I am interested in finding out about the work of the scientist you mentioned, and if you consider his approach to science of higher quality with respect to that of scientists such as Einstein, Feynman and Hawking.
Coming to the mathematical argument. Well the meaning of rationality in math hasn't much to do with that of rationality as intended when we mean the ability to exercise reason. In the first case rational means simply: capable of being expressed as a quotient of integers (or as a fraction if you prefer). Any parallelism between the two definitions is founded on mere assonance. Irrational numbers have nothing that is irrational about them in the first sense.
Some of the truths that had been previously stated as absolute have fallen miserably under the progress of our ability to exercise reason, therefore we have an experimental proof about the need to be very careful with what we say is absolute at one point in time. The only so called absolute truths that have survived in the minds of some of us are those against which no confuting proof has yet emerged, most of the times unfortunately it is not because of the power or the essentiality they express but because of the generalness (and, allow me, sometimes vaporness) of their statement that makes them intrinsically unfalsifiable (remember my hypothesis about "God creating the universe 5 minutes ago"?). In this sense statements such as "Because God wanted things to be like that" cannot be considered scientific, which brings us back to the problem of bringing rationality and faith together…A problem that, I think, has currently no solution whatsoever.

Humbly Presumptuous said...

To rank higher than Einstein is hard, but of Feynman and Hawking, well, yes, I think that my friend had a better approach.