Wednesday, 6 April 2011

What do I mean by 'Godless Faith', anyway?

Let's try and look at a really fundamental point about what I'm trying to communicate about, and as, in this blog. The phrase is right up there in the title - Godless Faith. I even clarify it in the text 'about me', by saying I'm a non-theist Quaker. I do realise that the meaning of this isn't apparent, and nor is why anyone should care... this rather rambling post might help with the meaning - as for interest, I wouldn't like to say.

Well, firstly, I don't believe in any god or gods. That's what I mean by both 'Godless' and 'non-theist'. The immediate question that comes to mind is "why don't you say atheist?". The answer is a little subtle and a little weird, but it's partly to do with the loaded meanings that come with that term. Atheists don't believe in any god or gods, and that is the major defining characteristic; in fact, they specifically state that they believe there are no such things, or at least that there's no evidence for them (yeah, some believe it on grounds no more clearly reasoned than most religious people, too). I can get on board with that. However, on the same evidence-based grounds, they generally deny anything 'parapsychic' or 'supernatural' as well - nothing wrong with that, I'm just not so comfortable doing so. Many assert, and I believe them, that they would happily change their opinion in the face of evidence. I'd agree with that as well.

My difference comes in on the question of what constitutes evidence. When it affects what I believe, but not what I tell others they should believe (which I tend to avoid), then surely subjective evidence counts. It certainly counts for me. The essential summary is that I feel the evidence of my own experience suggests that there are many things beyond the current understanding, or even measurement, of science. I don't think that should satisfy anyone but me, and I expect science will get along there at some point. Most importantly, if there's evidence that contradicts what I think, I'll happily consider it and alter my view. Ultimately, the outlook isn't too different.

Many people, however, take atheist to mean "there's nothing uncanny/non-physical/whatever", and I don't like avoidable misunderstandings, so I take the alternative non-theist. I don't believe in theistic gods, as the constant interference of such beings would be noticeable. I think deistic gods aren't worth talking about, as they (by definition) wouldn't impact our lives. I think talking about life-after-death is largely pointless, as there's no way to actually gather any evidence, even subjective, about it - until such time as we have people verifiably coming back from the dead and explaining it to us. However, I think there's more to life and existence than obvious physical reality. As to exactly what that is, well, that would take a lot more space...

So that's the godless/non-theist bit taken care of. If you want to understand Quaker, then stay tuned and you'll pick up a lot of bits and bobs, but you can get more right now by going and reading about it. Lots of sources are available, Google and see what you find. Just take care of American sources - most European Quakers are what would be called 'Liberal Quakers' in North American parlance. Given what I've said above, especially my feelings regarding evidence, it seems an apt question to ask what I mean by faith.

That's where the conclusions I've tentatively reached come in, and I cover a bit of the details...

I quickly reached the view, much as the American Founding Fathers' 'self-evident truths', that people are basically equal. That doesn't mean the same, but equal in some horribly-difficult-to-describe way. I'll put effort into that in other posts. I also reached the conclusion that violence is inherently 'wrong' (whatever that means), although it can be the 'least wrong' course in some situations. One of the most difficult things I concluded was that honesty and openness are good things; I concluded this from the basis of the merits of extending knowledge. Ultimately, people can only make choices and understand the choices they make if they know everything they could reasonably know. As with everything else, there are exceptions, but the base should be honesty and openness. My 'faith', and that word isn't ideal, but it suits the attitudes of society, is in those principles.

Really, they are axioms - there is no way they can ever be proved. Perhaps they can be disproved, and new axioms will be needed, but for now those are my axioms. Where a scientist uses axioms to perform reasoning, they are showing faith in those axioms, because otherwise they could have no expectation of the correctness or applicability of their work. Any time that anyone reasons anything, there are axioms - there must always be a starting point for the reasoning. Axioms are always present, and there's nothing wrong with that; it is simply one of the characteristics of science and rationality to be prepared to adjust the axioms of they are shown to be false. One should also distrust axioms that cannot possibly be shown to be false, but that's a whole other kettle of fish. Read some Popper :)

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