Friday, February 24, 2012

FacePlant of the Day - Debunking Christianity: Faith is an Irrational Leap Over the Probabilities

I can't decide whether or not  its amusing or pathetic whenever John Loftus posts a blog post attempting to explain why faith is irrational. I think it's pathetic because it doesn't matter how many times he is corrected he seems to ignore it. Better people than me have pointed out his errors but he continues in them.

You can quote me on this. Probability is all that matters. Faith is irrational. I want to drive this point into the ground once and for all.

Let's see if he can prove this.

The problem is that practically nothing is certain. So the word "faith" is used to describe any conclusion of ours that leaves room for doubt. Is it possible I'm dreaming right now? I suppose that's an extremely remote possibility. Is it possible a material world does not exist? Again, I suppose that's an extremely remote possibility. Is it possible a good omnipotent God exists given the world-wide massive and ubiquitous suffering in it? Again, I suppose that's an extremely remote possibility too.

The way John Loftus describes "faith" is not the way the Bible uses the word. "Pistas" does not mean that room is left for doubt. The way that  "Faith"/"Pistas" is used in the Bible there is no room for doubt. Loftus starts his whole discussion by mis-defining "faith". Is he using it the way 21st Century Americans use the word "faith"? Yes. But that is not the way the writers of the New Testament use it. That is why he fails. I realize that many people would use Hebrews 11:1 to illustrate what the Bible means by "faith", and it is sufficient but I want to use another of the New Testament writers to show what I mean. Let's look at what it says about doubt:

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.  - James 1:2-8

James is talking about faith and what it isn't. And you can't fit Loftus' definition into it. As a matter of fact the Bible contradicts him.

So what? Probability is all that matters. Accepting some conclusion because it's merely possible is irrational. We should never ever do that.

Just because something is probable, does not mean that is real.  It's just potentially true. It does not mean that it's real.What we should never accept is something that is not a part of reality. This may not have anything to do with whether a conclusion or event is probable.

I suppose its possible someone can jump off a building and fly, right? After all, he could instantaneously grow wings, or a huge burst of air could keep him afloat, or a supernatural force could propel him around in the air. It's even possible that such a person is dreaming, and in that dream he can fly, or that there isn't a material world and in the world of his mind he can fly. Okay, I understand all this. All of these scenarios are remotely possible I suppose, so much so, that I consider them "virtually impossible," like one in 1 million (and that's being very very generous).

Get the point?

Nope. Given that we know enough about gravity and physics we can exclude some of the possibilities. But considering possibilities is putting the cart in front of the horse. You must first answer the question: Did the dude fly? Then you can try to figure out how. And flying in the mind doesn't count. Given that physics tells us people can't fly under their own power, if it happens it must be a miracle - which is one of the options Loftus gives. This does not mean you can't  immediately conclude that it didn't happen without examining the evidence. And here is something else to consider: what if the man did? What effect would that have on you today? I'd posit that if a man did such a thing it would mean nothing to me one way or the other.

By contrast, consider the opposite scenario. It's probable that if someone jumps off a building he will fall to the ground. How probable is this? Well, since it's possible he won't fall (per our examples above) then we cannot say we are certain he will fall. But it's "virtually certain" he will, like a 99.9999% chance (and I think that's being very very generous).

With the change of scenario the stakes are a little higher - especially if the man says he flew and I can do it too. Here is where careful examination of evidence would be helpful. I'd ask the man to show me he could fly.  I wouldn't just take him at his word and jump off a building myself

In between these two extremes there are a lot of different odds for something, stretching from extremely improbable, to very improbable, to improbable, to even odds, to slightly probable, to probable, to very probable, and to extremely probable.

Again I think the Loftus is confusing probable with possible. Something can be extremely improbable and still be possible. But it's a contradiction to think something to be impossible and probable  simultaneously. Also in order to conclude that something is improbable sometimes requires omniscience because a  human being you can't know all the possibilities.  One can say that it is impossible for a circle to have 3 sides and 3 angles. But you cannot say Jesus' miracles and Resurrection are impossible.

We don't have a word to differentiate between the odds on that continuum stretching from virtually impossible to virtually certain. But does anyone really want to suggest the word "faith" applies to all of these different probabilities, that there is the same amount of faith required to accept any one of them? If so, that is being irrational.

Get the point?

No. Back up. Loftus only successfully demonstrates that his misunderstanding of Biblical faith is irrational. I agree. Good Job!!!!

If believers want to say that more faith is required to accept something that is "virtually impossible" and less faith is required to accept something that is "virtually certain," then what can they possibly mean? What is faith at that point? Faith adds nothing to the actual probabilities at all. Having more of it or less of it does not change anything. If it's possible to accept a "virtually impossible" conclusion by having more faith, then that's irrational. And if we have a "virtually certain" conclusion we don't need faith at all.

If you define faith the way Loftus has defined it then you don't need faith at all. But his :logic also comes up useless because there is such things as things we can know for sure are impossible - like a circular square and other logical contradictions. There are basis and things we can build on. You can't even think without those foundations.

What about something that is only slightly probable, one might ask. What if we accept something that only has a 60% chance of being true? I still don't see where faith can change the actual probabilities. Faith cannot change a thing, you see. Faith adds nothing. It's irrational.

Christians don't believe that faith changes things. We believe that the God whom our faith is in changes things. And yes, Loftus' faith is indeed irrational. Fortunately it has nothing to do with what the Bible says "faith" is.

Who in their right mind would fill in the probability gap with anything more than what the probabilities actually show us?

Not me.

Actually when you conclude that Bible is wrong and that there is no God based on your imperfect understanding of those probabilities filling "in the probability gap" is exactly what one is doing. 

The ONLY sense I can make of the way believers use the word "faith" is that it's an irrational leap over the probabilities. They fill in what the actual probabilities are with faith to move an "extremely improbable" or "improbable" conclusion to reach a "very probable" or an "extremely probable" or even a "virtually certain" conclusion, and that is quite simply irrational.

Well, since that is all Loftus is capable of understanding it makes sense. The Bible tells us that not everyone is going to understand it and that God himself gives that understanding if you do see it. Such Wisdom only comes from God.  Back to James chapter 1. If you want to understand, ask God for the Wisdom. He will give it you. Biblical faith is trusting God based on what you know of God and I know He keeps His promises because He has kept his promises to me. 

Faith cannot go "beyond reason" because that means it's going beyond the probabilities. There is no rational way faith can trump reason, or go beyond it, or be based on it.

As has been pointed out ad nauseum that reason needs faith. All of modern science is based on the idea that we live in a comprehendable universe based on rules and laws that we can understand if we study them. That's an example of Biblical faith - not ignoring the apparent probability that it was pointless to look.

A probability is a probability is a probability. There are nothing but probabilities.

Sure keep saying that and it might come true...sounds like blind faith to me.

Debunking Christianity: Faith is an Irrational Leap Over the Probabilities

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