Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The immorality of belief part 2

So to get to the topic, is belief immoral ? Not in itself, no. While it seems obvious that most beliefs are immoral, one can easily imagine counter-examples. The typical one is that of an old person who is nearing death and holding on to her religious beliefs to appease her fears. Since there are no long-term negative effects possible, it would be cruel and pointless to try to deconvert such a person. You don't tell the condemned prisoner on his last meal to start eating low-fat.

However, we're not done quite yet. Belief is nothing more than a concrete form of faith. Faith is immoral, because rationality is an essential virtue. Man needs rationality in order to survive and flourish. Even religious believers still manage to live relatively well because they apply some form of rationality to most of their daily decisions. Ignoring empirical data and logic altogether would quickly lead to death (if only because you wouldn't be able to eat).

A virtue is a mental attitude that is conductive to moral behaviour. Rationality is a virtue because using rationality as a standard, and committing myself to seek reality, will not lead me astray. On the other hand, using faith as a standard will definitely lead me astray, even if it is correct in a specific instance. As the maxim goes, one lie upheld on reason is better than ten truths upheld on faith - even if I'm right, the fact that I reject reality means that I'll never have any way of understanding why I'm right or when I might be wrong in the future. Reason, on the other hand, is self-correcting.

So believing is immoral insofar as faith is immoral, and belief is an expression of faith.

And this does not only apply to religion, either. One can believe in scientific principles, for example, and by doing this completely miss the point. Scientific principles are valid precisely because they are self-correcting and try to preclude "belief" as much as possible. There are unfortunately many atheists whose minds are still in the "believing" attitude, and seek inter-subjective confirmation of their atheism instead of trying to think for themselves.

Beyond this, not much can be said about belief per se. It's simply too general a topic. We can talk about how religion is immoral (which is pretty much the topic of this entire blog), how cults are immoral, how politics is immoral, how utilitarianism is immoral, how New Age beliefs are immoral, how pseudo-science is immoral, and so on, but these are all species of belief. So we should always be circumspect when we tread these murky waters of unreason.

An article at the turn of the year asked scientists what they believed. Some of the answers are rational, some aren't. What I would answer to this is that I have no beliefs, I have hopes. I hope that human beings can eventually know everything, that the human brain is capable of grasping a hypothetical "theory of everything", or at least is able to build something that is.

I also hope that we can win the cultural war. I have very little confidence that we can, mainly because most people working for our side - a lot of scientists especially - are too busy having a life to bother to repel their attackers. That is why people like Richard Dawkins are a precious commodity. And despite our small numbers, we still undermine each other. Providence knows I've been attacked far more than my fair share, but who's counting ? The important thing is that I don't give up, because there would be no point in giving up.

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At 2/04/2006 4:03 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

A colleague of mine mentioned that he happened to believe in Feng Shui. However, it is worth noting that he had recently moved in with his new Asian girlfriend, who also believes in it. The foundation of faith is usually an emotional appeal.

At 2/05/2006 3:03 PM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...

The funniest thing about this article was the end. Franc actually used the word Providence.
Here's a clue: Providence is divine guidance or care (cf. Merriam Webster's online dictionary at Franc are you pulling a Flew on your flock?

At 2/05/2006 3:10 PM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...


Feng Shui has it origins in Taoism and therefore is not a belief oriented religion, although some versions do believe in gods or ghosts etc.

Please demonstrate how the foundation of faith is "usually" an emotional appeal.

At 2/06/2006 9:47 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


What does Taoism have to do with it? To believe in Feng Shui without any credible evidence is to have faith in the truth of the claims made by the practice. That's called faith- look it up in your Merriam Webster's.

How do you want me to demonstrate something as "usually?" That makes no sense, guy. I chose an imprecise adverb specifically because unless all positions of faith are examined, you can't know precisely. In my expreience, however, most instances of faith are rooted in some kind of emotional appeal. I gave an example of one in the above comment. Do you deny that it is rooted in an emotional appeal?

At 2/06/2006 10:21 AM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...


"What does Taoism have to do with it? To believe in Feng Shui without any credible evidence is to have faith in the truth of the claims made by the practice"

That's just it Zachary, they don't make any "truth" claims. It is not a creedal religion as such.

What do you mean "rooted" in an emotional appeal? Cognitively recognizing one's own sinfulness is not simply based on emotions.

In regards to morality, no appeal to emotion should work if morality is not based on some objective standard. For example: If I say to someone: You are going to hell if you commit x sin. If the person does not believe that there is an absolute standard of right/wrong why would this illicit an emotional response?

At 2/06/2006 11:26 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


Keep focused, here. I'm not talking about Taoism. I'm talking about Feng Shui. A colleague of mine believes that the principles of Feng Shui are true. He has no evidence to back up this belief. He has not held this belief until recently. He recently moved in with his girlfriend who also believes that Feng Shui is true.

Do you think that his belief in Feng Shui is based on his emotions or not?

At 2/06/2006 11:40 AM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...


I am focused. You said:

"A colleague of mine mentioned that he happened to believe in Feng Shui"

You then said:
"The foundation of faith is usually an emotional appeal."

I then pointed out that Feng Shui is a derivative of Taoism. Taoism has not creedal beliefs, and makes no truth claims. The point that I am making is that belief in Feng Shui may very well be emotional based on your friends desire for the affections of his girlfriend etc., however if you are inferring that belief in Christianity is indeed also an appeal to emotions,I am attempting to point out the difference.

Objectively speaking Christianity makes a truth claim thereby distinguishing itself from Taoism and other folk religions. The foundation of my faith is not emotions, as they change. The foundations of my faith is a rational acceptance of objective truth found in the bible.

At 2/06/2006 1:06 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


You're missing the point. It doesn't matter whether one philosophy or another makes a truth claim. Philosophies aren't invested in emotion- people are. A person can make a truth claim (for example, the colleague the I mentioned regarding Feng Shui) about anything, regardless of whether or not there exists a philosophy around it. For another example, one might say, "I believe in fairies because they make me happy." In this case, the emotion of happiness supports the truth claim of the existence of fairies.

Whether or not objective evidence for Christianity exists isn't relevant to faith. Check your dictionary again, guy, faith is believing without evidence. But yes, Christianity does make a truth claim, and time and time again in the Bible it also advances a very emotionally-charged concept: Hell. Every Christian is deathly afraid of Hell, you can't deny it. Fear is a powerful emotion, one that can make people forego every other value. Do you mean to say that, even if you didn't have any objective evidence of the truth of Christianity, the concept of Hell alone wouldn't be enough to make you believe?

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