Friday, February 10, 2006

Vodka Is Not A Belief System

Ernie's has added his most recent contribution to our discussion, "Absolut Beliefs". The true foundation of Ernie's beliefs turns out to be ... vodka? Perhaps not.

I had posed to Ernie the question "What would it take for you to stop believing in Christianity." Apparently Ernie cannot let me say anything without rephrasing it, but as usual he has done well with his replacement:

What would it take for your understanding of Christianity to change so much that you wouldn't consider it compatible with orthodoxy (or vice versa)?

Whether he was thinking of this or not, it reminded me of a statement I made not too long ago:

And I have left [Christianity] behind, because ... I have found that much of what I would call Christianity, as well as other theistic religions, have substantial deficiencies, and what is left cannot be properly called Christianity.

So Ernie's replacement question is quite satisfactory. But what about his answer? That was what I was most curious to learn. To answer the question, Ernie has referred us first to his manifesto, which I recommend reviewing. I'll wait... OK? Good. Now I am not entirely sure what everything there is intended to mean, but there is nothing that I find unreasonable. If everyone somehow based their lives on those principles, I am sure the world would be a better place than it is today.

Ernie has said several times now that we have to believe something before we can know anything. Now I had thought I understood roughly what he meant by this before. I thought he was talking about having to start with some kind of epistemological framework. But if I understand his last post, he has treated the contents of his manifesto as the beliefs that precede his knowledge. While the manifesto touches on truth, belief and knowledge, it does not really match my expectations for the kind of belief that is required for knowledge.

Perhaps because of that mismatch, the connection between Ernie's next two steps confuse me. He asserts that Christianity aligns well with his principles and that other belief systems do not align well. While I may not agree, I can accept that he sees things that way. But the final step is to answer my question, where he says he would change his beliefs if he found either "a) a belief system disjoint from Christianity that better expressed my principles, or b) principles with greater explanatory power than mine".

One reason I find these steps confusing is he seems to be starting with a few abstract things that he assumes to be true and arriving at something far more wide-ranging that he also considers true. Christianity entails far more than what is included in his basic principles, in which there is no hint of God or an afterlife. If his manifesto represents (all) his most basic beliefs, why add so much baggage? (It is almost as if he were saying "I believe X is true; Y implies X and Z; A, B and C do not imply X or imply ~X. Therefore I will believe Y and (therefore) Z.") This is a particularly troubling question to me because of the way he turns things around to answer my question. He says he would need a belief system disjoint from Christianity, but I wonder why it could not be a belief system that is a subset of Christianity, and in particular a subset that contains (for example) some of the moral instruction but excluding the theistic parts. ("Y = P + Q; P implies X; P does not imply Z. Why then choose Y over P?")

I hope I have explained that well enough that Ernie can respond sensibly and hopefully clarify. No doubt he will restate things far more clearly than I have been able to do.

Ernie also reformulated one of my stated goals (imagine that) as "It is better to believe truth than to be self-deceived." He asks if that is what I meant, and offers some further clarifications. Generally, I would agree with this formulation as well, though I am unsure what he means by equating or correlating "imperfect humanity" with "self-deceived." A little help, Ernie? There are a couple other clarifications that I might offer, but I need to get some sleep tonight, so I will try to pick this up tomorrow.

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