Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Believing for the 'wrong' reasons

Suppose that a person of ordinary intelligence and no particular belief about God were to sit down and read some scripture. Suppose then &mdash since I've been hitting the old bong a lot lately — that this scripture is chock full of deep, profound, sensible content. Then that person would believe the scripture for the wrong reasons: She would believe it because it made sense.

A lot of books have deep, profound content that an intelligent reader believes because it makes sense, because the text is rationally persuasive. What distinguishes specifically religious texts, though, is that the content isn't rationally persuasive on its own merits, it persuades because the reader has faith that it's true by God's authority.

Without that dependence on God's authority, wisdom is just wisdom. We're entitled to conclude that the human author might be wise, or knowledgeable, or learned, but if the text is rationally persuasive on its own merits, there's no need to invoke God. Wise people might not be a dime a dozen, but they're more numerous than deities.

The more you persuade me that some scripture is sensible, is rationally persuasive on its own merits, the more you persuade me that the scripture is not actually scripture, which needs God's authority to be persuasive. Scripture has to be illogical, irrational; it can't make sense on its own.

10 comments:

  1. I'm mostly with you for a lot of this, except that a god would be free to write any kind of scripture they like. A god would not be constrained to only writing nonsensical scripture.

    In fact, there are good reasons why a god would want their scripture to be sensible. For one, they presumably would want such scripture to be understood and obeyed by people - so some level of sensibility is critical - perhaps even at risk of people like you and like me finding it harder to believe that the god, not man, was the author.

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  2. If it made sense, faith would be unnecessary.

    If it didn't make sense, faith would be nothing more than self-delusion that it did (somehow) make sense.

    I'll stick with objective evidence and the scientific method, thanks.

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  3. Well I'm one of those "reality based" types, so that scripture stuff is bunk. I'm also an artist who subscribes to Tolstoy's aesthetic that a work of art should stand on it's own merit, not requiring an explanation for why it should be appreciated. So with that in mind, shouldn't scripture get it's message across on it's own? Why would you ever need someone to persuade you to accept it or to explain it to you? Likewise, if you need a few bong hits before it makes sense...

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  4. godma:

    If a god were to exist, it would be free to write whatever it pleased (how would I make it do otherwise).

    But if a god were to write so as to be rationally persuasive, it would be writing as one thinking being to another, it wouldn't be writing scripture. If a text is rationally persuasive on its own merits, then by definition I don't have to have any particular opinion about the author to find it persuasive.

    Hence, a Christian could assert that it's rational to not bear false witness, and I would agree. But precisely because it is rational to not bear false witness, I don't need to believe in Yahweh at all — much less believe that Yahweh wrote the Bible — to endorse that ethical standard.

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  5. PhillyChief: My point is that any work that gets its message across on its own is by definition not "scripture".

    Likewise, if you need a few bong hits before it makes sense...

    Dude, reality needs a few bong hits before it makes sense.

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  6. Barefoot Bum wrote:
    But if a god were to write so as to be rationally persuasive, it would be writing as one thinking being to another, it wouldn't be writing scripture. If a text is rationally persuasive on its own merits, then by definition I don't have to have any particular opinion about the author to find it persuasive.

    I heartily agree with all of this, except the part where you say "it wouldn't be writing scripture". You are using too limited a definition of "scripture". (If you can find a reference to support it, I'd love to see it). According to every definition I've seen, and the contexts in which I've seen the term used, all that is required for a writing to be considered as scripture is that is must be sacred (i.e. an object of worship and veneration). Being rationally persuasive does not disqualify a writing from being scripture.

    But this is beside the original point that I took exception to: your claim that scripture must be illogical because a logical scripture would not require God's authority to be persuasive. Scripture is scripture merely by virtue of it being considered as worship-worthy (i.e. "sacred"). The means of persuasion is irrelevant to whether something is considered worship-worthy or not.

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  7. You are using too limited a definition of "scripture".

    Pffft. I'm a philosopher, not a lexicographer, and thus not limited by such pedestrian concerns as typical usage or even dictionary definition. Think Humpty Dumpty, not Noah Webster.

    The means of persuasion is irrelevant to whether something is considered worship-worthy or not.

    Hmmm? Are you saying that some text that's worshipped might not be thus persuasive?

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  8. From The Barefoot Bum:
    I'm a philosopher, not a lexicographer, and thus not limited by such pedestrian concerns [...]

    :-)

    Are you saying that some text that's worshipped might not be thus persuasive?

    I wasn't saying that, although that is the kind of thing I would say, particularly w.r.t. much of Abrahamic scripture.

    I say scripture shmipture. The real problem as I see it is people pretending that faith is a valid way to justify beliefs.

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