1 of 6
1
The Usefulness of Faith
Posted: 05 June 2009 09:18 AM   [ Ignore ]  
Newbie
Avatar
Rank
Total Posts:  8
Joined  2009-05-18

First off, I would like to announce that I am a great admirer of Harris’ work; I think he is, undeniably and despite his still young career, one of the most compelling and intellectually equipped writers of modern time.

Anyway, off to my point.

Harris mentions in his book and rather frequently during his debates that one of the three ways in which the faithful tend to rise to the defense God is by invoking the usefulness of such belief. He then rightly argues that the social or personal utility of a faith based claim is a complete non sequitur to the question of whether such claim is true or false. I uttlery agree. 

However, Harris also identifies himself as a consequentialist. So, my question would be” If a belief in, say pink unicorns, turns out to actually make people feel good, if it helps them get through their day with equanimity, if it induces a feeling of compassion towards their neighbors, and if it ultimately causes them to behave better as civilized human beings, would this proposition be, although certainly intellectually indefensible, morally defensible in his eyes?

In other words, If a preposterous belief, no matter how ludicrous, were IN FACT useful and conducive to human happiness, would it merit some public promotion?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 05 June 2009 07:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1587
Joined  2006-10-20

No. 

If I knowingly gave you false directions from A to B how would you feel after you found out I deceived you?  Later, when you hollered at me for the deception, how would you feel if my response was, “So what?  You weren’t physically hurt by the misdirections.”

 Signature 

“All extremists should be killed!” - neighbor’s bumper sticker

Profile
 
 
Posted: 05 June 2009 11:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
Newbie
Avatar
Rank
Total Posts:  8
Joined  2009-05-18

Well ok, but my hypothetical remark required that the delusion or lie actually lead to happiness. Your example assumes that I will eventually find out that I was lied to. And yes, that wouldn’t be a good feeling, but that’s why I made sure I specified that the faith based belief would REALLY lead to ultimate happiness.

Take for instance the belief in Santa Claus. It makes children happy for the better part of their childhood. In moral terms, this belief maximizes happiness and is really harmless. Even though children later find out it isn’t true, it is not a belief worth abandoning.

Same goes for placebo pills. Are these pills a useful delusion? Yes. Are they at odds with science or morality? Not quite.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 06 June 2009 07:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
Jr. Member
RankRank
Total Posts:  94
Joined  2008-08-14

Hmm… is the cure worse than the disease? It seems delusion can be beneficial (and mostly harmless) in some cases, as Thalamus pointed out. However, in a religous context, it is the mindset that makes delusion beneficial in the first place that needs to be corrected. The truly rational do not need the delusions of religion to be happy, fulfilled, and cooperative members of society. And this (the rational mindset) is what we should strive for in future generations.

But in a specific, hypothetical case where a belief in pink unicorns elicits more desireable behavior than non-belief in pink unicorns, then we might say that that person has a mind disease and the cure for that disease is the placebo of belief. This may be preferable, in some instances, than withholding the medicine (the placebo of belief) and risking undesireable behavior. 


Ron

Profile
 
 
Posted: 07 June 2009 04:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2136
Joined  2006-02-20
Thalamus - 05 June 2009 01:18 PM

In other words, If a preposterous belief, no matter how ludicrous, were IN FACT useful and conducive to human happiness, would it merit some public promotion?

It’s probably safe to say that most people who go to a doctor don’t want to be told to ‘quit smoking,  eat a healthful diet,’ etc.  They want a pill; a quick fix.

Human beings evolved a big brain and lost their primordial sense of well-being.  Self-consciousness, the past and the future, eclipsed life in the present.  The will to live morphed into fear of death.  HELP!  Quick!  Is there a doctor in the house?

Instead of making the effort to see what their ‘new improved’ mind/brain was doing to cause this dis-ease, most people opt for a quick fix - “Swallow this and all will be well.  Give your burden to Jesus,” etc.

Most people are made religious addicts in childhood, and very few of those will ever be free.  They are taught to feel vastly superior to animals, and superior to those who don’t share in their convictions.  They are taught that they are ‘the master species’, the ‘chosen people’.  They are supremacists.  Their way is the only way.  In that frame of mind, how could they ever notice that their thought process, their ego, was making a monkey out of them?

Their faith is useful.  They no longer worry or fear death.  But they are unable to notice the devastating political side effects of their quick fix; unable to notice that the price, (which used to be a goat, or their daughter), is now their natural-born sanity and reason!  They are unable to notice that others are independent and free without swallowing ludicrous things.

 Signature 

“The simple fables of the religious of the world have come to seem like tales told to children.”  - Nobel Prize recipient - Francis Crick

“It is time we recognized the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved.” - Sam Harris

Profile
 
 
Posted: 08 June 2009 04:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
Newbie
Rank
Total Posts:  21
Joined  2009-03-23

I think you’re overlooking something here.  Present-day faiths do not fir the context you are describing.  You talked about a belief that ONLY made people act morally, and ONLY made them feel good, when many faiths do the opposite.
Look at all of the insidious things that faith has brought to our world.  The Crusades, the Holocaust, centuries of faith-based bias; faith often does the opposite of what it was created to do.  People develop superiority complexes on behalf of faith, thinking they’re above the atheist or agnostic because THEY went to church for an hour last Sunday.
Would I (And possibly many others) have such problems with organized religion if it didn’t have such horrendous side effects?  Possibly, because the world would be a very different place.  But personally, much of my grudge against Christianity (and faith itself) exists solely because people invest so much time into something silly, something that is ultimately destroying our world and doing the opposite of what it’s supposed to.

 Signature 

My Mind.  http://whatlucsthinking.blogspot.com/

Profile
 
 
Posted: 08 June 2009 01:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1183
Joined  2007-08-07
Thalamus - 06 June 2009 03:42 AM

Well ok, but my hypothetical remark required that the delusion or lie actually lead to happiness. Your example assumes that I will eventually find out that I was lied to. And yes, that wouldn’t be a good feeling, but that’s why I made sure I specified that the faith based belief would REALLY lead to ultimate happiness.

Take for instance the belief in Santa Claus. It makes children happy for the better part of their childhood. In moral terms, this belief maximizes happiness and is really harmless. Even though children later find out it isn’t true, it is not a belief worth abandoning.

Same goes for placebo pills. Are these pills a useful delusion? Yes. Are they at odds with science or morality? Not quite.

I think the question presupposes people are inherently infants and immature and cannot deal with handling the truth.  To some degree, I think this is a feedback loop problem that needs to be sheared away from.

I think it’s the advocacy of faith, of clouding the facts—however painful they may be—with ideas that comfort us instead, that leads to immature people who cannot stand to deal with the reality in which they live (i.e the types of people unsmoked describes above).

In a short term sense, on a practical day-to-day level, this may seem to be harmless, or ok.  But what you are doing is setting people up to be even more traumatized by an unconscious nature and by the reality of events that are completely unmoved by our appeal to comforting stories or beliefs.

How are we going to grow up as a species if we are forever swathed in the security blanket of ignorance, which is precisely where faith leads us?  Would you advocate for parents who kept a child ignorant of the machinations of the world, and who forever chained that child to their crib, because it would preclude harm coming to them?  I seriously doubt it.

Happiness from ignorance is a delusion, and you would have to prove delusion to be healthy and acceptable state of mind in order to advocate its implementation.  And if you argue that to be deluded is good for humanity, you will immediately find yourself in one of those enjoyable little paradoxes where your premise is deconstructed by your conclusion.

I think people should be taught how knowledge is acheived, how to think critically, how to recognize emotional desire vs. actual need, and how to face reality as it happens to be.  Not because it might make them unhappy (it will invariably created a panoply of emotional resonses in fact), but because it’s real, and true, and gives them the best options possible to make choices for their personal development.

[ Edited: 08 June 2009 01:48 PM by Keep The Reason]
 Signature 

Faith-free since 1985

Profile
 
 
Posted: 08 June 2009 05:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  651
Joined  2006-12-08

Anyone who believes “in” anything is reaping the benefits (or suffering the consequences, depending on your point of view) of faith.  Maybe not religious faith, but faith nonetheless.  For example:

MrRon - 06 June 2009 11:27 AM

The truly rational do not need the delusions of religion to be happy, fulfilled, and cooperative members of society. And this (the rational mindset) is what we should strive for in future generations.

MrRon believes in “the rational mindset.”  The “rational mindset” is a “better” path to being a “happy, fulfilled, and cooperative member of society”  than delusions are.  Where does this belief come from?  Faith.  Note that he’s also taking it on faith that it’s better to be a happy, fulfilled, blah blah blah than not.

How about this one:

unsmoked - 07 June 2009 08:29 PM

Their [religious addicts’] faith is useful.  They no longer worry or fear death.  But they are unable to notice the devastating political side effects of their quick fix; unable to notice that the price, (which used to be a goat, or their daughter), is now their natural-born sanity and reason!  They are unable to notice that others are independent and free without swallowing ludicrous things.

Unsmoked believes in our “natural-born sanity and reason,” that it’s better to be “independent and free without swallowing ludicrous things.”  Why does he believe this?  He obviously prefers to be independent and free himself without swallowing ludicrous things, and so he believes it to be an objective truth.  Again, pure faith.

Here’s another:

zromm3212 - 08 June 2009 08:52 AM

But personally, much of my grudge against Christianity (and faith itself) exists solely because people invest so much time into something silly, something that is ultimately destroying our world and doing the opposite of what it’s supposed to.

Zromm3212 apparently believes in doing the opposite of destroying our world.  But is it an objective truth that destroying our world is wrong?  Of course not.  He’s taking it on faith, just like everyone else.

One more:

Keep The Reason - 08 June 2009 05:45 PM

How are we going to grow up as a species if we are forever swathed in the security blanket of ignorance, which is precisely where faith leads us?

Keep The Reason believes in growing up as a species.  Again, that’s his own personal preference—nothing wrong with that—but he’s taking it on faith that growing up as a species is “better” than believing in an imaginary God.

Is there anything wrong with believing in any of these things and taking it on faith that they’re true?  Of course not.  What’s hypocritical is saying that the things I take on faith are objective truths because I believe them, whereas the things you take on faith are “just” faith.

 Signature 

Do-gooding is like treating hemophilia—the real cure is to let hemophiliacs bleed to death, before they breed more hemophiliacs. -Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Profile
 
 
Posted: 08 June 2009 05:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2821
Joined  2005-04-29

Nicely put, KTR. Dean Adell recently talked on his radio show about the issue of placebos, and he said that for a doctor to directly prescribe a placebo is considered to be unethical. In fact, it’s almost impossible, as pharmacists are generally not inclined to agree to trick patients by attaching misleading labels to drug containers. Dr. Dean lacked your particular eloquence on the subject, but noted that doctors commonly get around the placebo ban by prescribing vitamins when none are needed.

By the way, are you going to participate in the Reason Project forum at some point? I hope to see you there.

 Signature 

Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Profile
 
 
Posted: 08 June 2009 06:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2821
Joined  2005-04-29

ASD, you need to invest in a really nice dictionary, or at least perhaps visit a library in order to find out how faith and belief have been defined and used.

 Signature 

Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Profile
 
 
Posted: 09 June 2009 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  651
Joined  2006-12-08
unknown zone - 08 June 2009 10:41 PM

ASD, you need to invest in a really nice dictionary, or at least perhaps visit a library in order to find out how faith and belief have been defined and used.

I’m responding to Thalamus:

Thalamus - 05 June 2009 01:18 PM

In other words, If a preposterous belief, no matter how ludicrous, were IN FACT useful and conducive to human happiness, would it merit some public promotion?

“Preposterous” and “ludicrous” are subjective, of course, but given the context, I interpreted them to mean a “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.”  Which is the definition of faith (sense 2) in my American Heritage dictionary.

Which dictionary are you using?

 Signature 

Do-gooding is like treating hemophilia—the real cure is to let hemophiliacs bleed to death, before they breed more hemophiliacs. -Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Profile
 
 
Posted: 09 June 2009 06:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  5404
Joined  2006-09-27
Antisocialdarwinist - 09 June 2009 10:34 AM

I interpreted them

In fact, you are not distinguishing between a “belief” and an “opinion”, and you imply that your “opinion” is “educated”. Furthermore, you are perpetually-confused about how sure you should be that religion causes society, rather than the reverse. This is because your position is in defense of religion. That you are forced to make bad arguments in order to do this should “educate” you in some way, but does not. Therefore, your primary belief is not based on evidence, and rather functions like faith for you.

 Signature 

INVEST in cynicism!

Profile
 
 
Posted: 09 June 2009 08:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  651
Joined  2006-12-08
Salt Creek - 09 June 2009 10:46 AM

In fact, you are not distinguishing between a “belief” and an “opinion”


Opinions are based on beliefs.  Even if you take the position that “destroying the world is wrong” is only an opinion, it’s an opinion based on some underlying belief which is itself without logical proof or material evidence.

Salt Creek - 09 June 2009 10:46 AM

This is because your position is in defense of religion.

My position is that it requires faith (belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence) to believe “in” anything.  It’s true, I have nothing against faith per se, but it’s a pretty big leap from there to your accusation that I’m defending religion.

 Signature 

Do-gooding is like treating hemophilia—the real cure is to let hemophiliacs bleed to death, before they breed more hemophiliacs. -Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Profile
 
 
Posted: 09 June 2009 11:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  5404
Joined  2006-09-27
Antisocialdarwinist - 09 June 2009 12:19 PM
Salt Creek - 09 June 2009 10:46 AM

In fact, you are not distinguishing between a “belief” and an “opinion”


Opinions are based on beliefs.

If opinions were never based on data, you might have a point. In essence, you are living off a semantic quibble here.

Opinions are based on beliefs? How can you suggest that beliefs are not based on opinions? You useless twat.

 Signature 

INVEST in cynicism!

Profile
 
 
Posted: 09 June 2009 11:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2492
Joined  2008-04-05

WTF? I sure as hell hope some people base their opinions on facts, at least once in a while.

The fact is that my primary tax rate is 25%, and it is my opinion that that is just too damned high!!!

har, har. smile

 Signature 

‘Every reflecting mind must acknowledge that there is no proof of the existence of a Deity’

‘If ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, knowledge of nature destroys them’

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Profile
 
 
Posted: 09 June 2009 03:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1183
Joined  2007-08-07
Antisocialdarwinist - 08 June 2009 09:06 PM

Keep The Reason believes in growing up as a species.  Again, that’s his own personal preference—nothing wrong with that—but he’s taking it on faith that growing up as a species is “better” than believing in an imaginary God.

I disagree with this interpretation, because it’s not just a “belief” that we are growing up as a species, it’s clearly a demonstrable fact that we are progressing from a more primitive to a more complex state as humans and society evolve.  If it were just a belief, it wouldn’t be demonstrable, but with our technological growth, our scientific understanding, our loss of superstition as the knee-jerk reaction of how things work, our ability to be more tolerant, our growing moral and ethical sophistication… these are each hallmarks of forward momentum, and therefore not just some casual belief that cannot be quantified in some way.

Is there anything wrong with believing in any of these things and taking it on faith that they’re true?  Of course not.  What’s hypocritical is saying that the things I take on faith are objective truths because I believe them, whereas the things you take on faith are “just” faith.

What’s different is that I’m saying that if the merits of the axiomatic claim that any demonstrably delusional belief or belief system is a healthy and efficacious method of knowledge, then you are in a logical death spiral:  You have no way of discerning whether or not the axiom is true or delusional in and of itself.  It establishes a paradox because it is a self-collapsing argument.

 Signature 

Faith-free since 1985

Profile
 
 
   
1 of 6
1
 
‹‹ Dogmatism      What If... ››
RSS 2.0     Atom Feed