GoingPostal

Greetings and questions

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Hello, I'm new here. Came to ask a couple questions, and I couldn't find a Q/A forum, so apologies if I've posted this in the wrong place.

I have a friend with a bachelor's in mech engineering, and he's pretty steadfast in his belief in the bible, down to having quote locations memorized. He knows about faith vs reason, creationism vs evolution, etc. In many ways, he's got a far better grasp than me on what those things are defined as. I've only recently taken a deep interest in a proper academic study of philosophy.

Recently, I have been trying to explain to this friend that accepting God exists is taking what someone told you on faith - the "leap of faith" that Christians talk about - when in fact there's no reason to believe in any of it, because it isn't proveable by the scientific method.

He identified I had brought up "Faith vs Reason". Then said his social sciences teacher taught him "Faith and reason co-exist". An example he used, you have faith in what your parents say, and your reason is that you trust them. He seemed to be fine with there being "a reason" for believing in things. It just seems to be misappropriate usage of the word with respect to faith vs reason. A definition I gave him was dictionary.com's "reason: a logical, rational, analytical argument". But he kept incessantly restating reason as a simple "why you did something".

He went on to another fine example. This is the gist of what he said. "You're approaching a traffic light, and its green. When you go through the light, you are taking it on faith that people headed the other way will stop at red, when you really have no way of knowing they will stop." To which I said, people go through green and stop at red because its enforced by law. He then retorts "Then you're taking it on faith that they'll obey the law".. I replied I follow the law because if I don't I'll go to jail, whether those guys do it or not - I don't even think for or about the other people on the road.

Then we went on to talking about Physics (my major). He said something like "Do you believe in electrons?" I said, obviously I do. He replied "Then you're taking it on faith that authors and textbooks are right." So I listed out a bunch of experiments I'd actually done myself that help confirm we have electrons, in addition to reading a logical argument supporting the observable evidence, and finding myself in a state of agreement. Plus the fact that there's an extremely important commodity called "electricity" that actually applies the science behind it all, in everyday use. He said "Do you believe in neutrons?"

...

So here's the questions. First, I'm wondering why everything I was saying was just bouncing off him without effect. Its like.. he has developed the mental capacity to question the reasons of things he's courted, but doesn't question the things that came without any. Secondly, is it probable that he's too late to be "fixed"? He's already well-read and graduated, plus he's lived a sheltered life under church. Otherwise, I don't expect the friendship to last long, now the cat's out of the bag.

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In many ways, he's got a far better grasp than me on what those things are defined as.  I've only recently taken a deep interest in a proper academic study of philosophy. [...]

He identified I had brought up "Faith vs Reason".  Then said his social sciences teacher taught him "Faith and reason co-exist".  An example he used, you have faith in what your parents say, and your reason is that you trust them.  He seemed to be fine with there being "a reason" for believing in things.  It just seems to be misappropriate usage of the word with respect to faith vs reason.  A definition I gave him was dictionary.com's "reason: a logical, rational, analytical argument".  But he kept incessantly restating reason as a simple "why you did something".

Let's start with definitions. My first suggestion is: Don't rely on dictionaries for definitions. Dictionaries generally don't define ideas, but only record common usages of words. Those common usages may or may not be valid, and even when the supposed "definitions" are valid they may be worded sloppily. For definitions of philosophical terms (and the ideas they label), go to philosophers.

For example, for a definition of reason, you might start by looking up "Reason" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. This book is, I believe, the single-most important single-volume book for a beginning study of Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. For each term/idea, such as "Capitalism," the editor, Harry Binswanger, included one or more excerpts from Ayn Rand's many writings. Usually, the first excerpt is the one that defines the term/idea. Subsequent excerpts expand the idea or show applications of it.

So, when you have a copy of ARL, you might look up "Reason" and "Faith."

Second, Ayn Rand has formulated guidelines for forming concepts so that they are valid, that is, so that they are drawn logically from the facts of reality. Definitions of concepts have a special role in our thinking, and she has offered guidelines for forming them and using them too. She discusses definitions in Ch. 5 ("Definitions") of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, the first 87 pages of which deserve a slow reading by every serious student of Objectivism at some point in his studies of the philosophy.

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Accusing you of having "faith" in the existence of electrons is a fallacy of equivocation. "Faith" has now become a catch-all word, meaning trust, hope, and a belief in something without having a reason to. All of these three things are mushed together as if they were one and the same thing, which they aren't. The word originally meant only the latter "belief" part, but now has grown to mean much more.

So you have to ask yourself, do you have trust in the scientists' word that there are electron, and do you have reasons for your trust? If yes, you don't have faith, you have a rational trust. Or maybe you just take scientists at their word, even though maybe in your experience they've always been wrong in the past (hypothetical example). If that's the case, then believing them would be an act of faith.

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So here's the questions.  First, I'm wondering why everything I was saying was just bouncing off him without effect.   

Ask HIM. That's something he knows better than anyone else. Generally, before I get into discussions with theists, I ask questions to probe their motivation like "Why is religion important in your life?" "If you didn't have religion, what would you miss?" "What questions does religion answer for you that reason doesn't?"

As for "faith," that means something specific - "acceptance of an idea without evidence or with evidence to the contrary."

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A definition I gave him was dictionary.com's "reason: a logical, rational, analytical argument".  But he kept incessantly restating reason as a simple "why you did something"....First, I'm wondering why everything I was saying was just bouncing off him without effect.... Secondly, is it probable that he's too late to be "fixed"?

To begin with, we are volitional beings, so, in general, it is certainly possible for people to change their ideas throughout the course of their life. But, again speaking in general, the more ingrained a way of thinking has become, and the older a person gets, the more difficult it is to affect a basic change. However, based on experiences with and observations of others over the years, I have found that the singlemost important factor for change is a concern for and commitment to facts and reality.

Several times I have related elsewhere the story of a young Hasidic Jew that I befriended (Hasidics are about as deeply religious as it gets), with whom I enjoyed having passionate discussions about ideas. As a result of our discussions he eventually shed his religious trappings, read Atlas Shrugged and joined the real world as a researcher for IBM. But what made such a dramatic change possible was the nature of his character; his concern for facts and reality eventually won out over the religious doctrine that had been drummed into his mind from almost the day he was born. So, in regard to your friend: yes, in general, such fundamental changes in ideas is possible, but the likelihood of it occurring is ultimately dependent on your friend's concern for what is right and what is real.

With that said, the more clear and precise your own thinking the better equipped you will be to offer your friend reasonable arguments and facts for him to consider. In that regard, and considering the details you related of your conversations with your friend, it might be helpful to here briefly focus on the standards we use in reaching knowledge.

Ignorance and certainty are two endpoints of the process by which we learn. Ignorance is the absence of knowledge, and certainty is a state where we have removed any doubt as to the truth of what we know. But there are epistemological states in between these two; the possible, and the probable. Something is "possible" when there exists some minimal amount of evidence in support, and no evidence to contradict. The "probable" is that for which we have accumulated some substantial amount of evidence but have not yet reached the surety of all doubts being removed. There is then a continuum within "probability," ranging from low to high probability depending on the extent and quality of the evidence that has been accumulated. When all doubt has been removed -- when all of the substantial amount of evidence has been logically validated, and nothing exists to even suggest the possibility of an alternative -- then we reach the highest degree along the knowledge continuum, holding our knowledge as being certain.

Now, I mention all this for several reasons, an important one being that the issue you framed for your friend in terms of faith vs. reason may in fact be better seen as an issue of standards for knowledge. Clearly your friend has the capacity for reason; he offers arguments that even you have some difficulty in making your position clear. But if in response you frame your arguments in terms of the epistemological status of the knowledge you hold, then perhaps you will stand a better chance of disarming him.

The issue is not one of faith vs. reason in regard to the traffic light question, but rather an issue of the state of your knowledge. The proper answer is that you cannot be certain that no one will ever disobey their red light, but in any given instance of you going when your light turns green, there is no evidence to suggest that you should not feel safe. It is still prudent to carefully observe those around you even though, based on evidence you have accumulated, you can expect to be safe with high probability. So it is not faith that is the relevant point here, but the extent of your knowledge.

This is even more clear in regard to the electron example. Faith is not the alternative to certainty. You may not be certain of the nature of the electron, but the evidence that you do have reflects the state of your knowledge.

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