Re: virus: Church of Virus/Memetics/Faith

David McFadzean (
Wed, 21 May 1997 19:19:20 -0600

At 06:55 PM 21/05/97 -0600, J. Houston Williams wrote:

>I'm assuming some of this is yorn, since you're the only name claiming
>ownership on the Church of Virus page that I've seen so far. Hmm...
>'Course, it doesn't say it's you specifically, so my assumption may,
>indeed, be incorrect.

No, you are correct. Though I can't take all the credit for the web
site I will certainly take all the blame.

>I'm very impressed by the rational way that you order your material
>on-line, and I applaud your efforts to develop a meaningful interpretation
>of life. It's something I've been very concerned with, and have enjoyed
>poking around in. Although my direction has been a little different, I
>think the goal is somewhat the same... :-)

I think when it comes right down to it, most if not all people's goal
is to have a meaningful life. At least I hope so.

>I'm not nearly half-through with the material on-line yet, but I do want to
>reference something you've said and give you something to consider... at
>[] you say the following under "3
>Senseless Sins:"
>>Through some twist of fate western society has come to regard faith as a
>>virtue. To hold an idea as true despite all evidence to the contrary is an
>>abdication of reason. Convictions are the end of knowledge, not the
>>beginning; they are the enemy of truth more than lies.
>As you've defined faith here, I can see "faith" as being irrational.
>However, I'd argue that your definition of faith is rather unfair. I think
>it's more appropriate to define "faith" as "holding an idea as true,
>despite the absence of sufficient proof." This is a better definition, in
>my opinion, for two basic reasons:

Could you elaborate a bit on what you mean by "sufficient proof"? I think
it perfectly reasonable to provisionally accept something as true when
there are no better explanations available, and I wouldn't call that
faith in any sense.

>1) It broadens the meaning of the word. As defined in your text, if a
>Unitarian and a Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ (a small ultra-Pentecostal
>faction) adherent both use the term "faith," both seem to claim that they
>believe in something despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This,
>of course, is not the case. Many Unitarians have "faith," but it is not a
>prereq of this faith to abandon logic -- as, indeed, it is with COLJC. This

I'm not familiar with the COLJC. I take they are fundamentalists?

In any case, what do you gain by applying the same word "faith" to
these two quite radically different types of beliefs?

>unfairly shorts the Unitarians, and those like them, from claiming to have
>"faith," and poisons discourse between those who define as you do, and
>those who define as I do (as, in many cases, neither of us will be aware of
>a radical difference in definition). My experience with many religious
>people is not that they see "faith" as existing apart from, and contrary
>to, rationalism -- but something that fills in the gaps Science and
>rationality have not yet managed to fill. Many of us who have "faith"
>modify our beliefs constantly to mesh with what we learn every day. Often,
>to distinguish between rational faith & anti-rational faith, the term
>"blind faith" is used for the later.

Rather than confusing matters by having rational faith and irrational
faith, it makes more sense to define all faith as irrational (and I
don't think you have to stretch the definition at all to do just that).
Of course some types of faith are more irrational than others.

>2) It strengthens the position, and purpose, of the Church of Virus. First
>of all, *faith* is what allows us to make claims that are not completely
>proven. We "believe," or "have faith," that something is true. Example: I

There isn't a single statement that anyone can make that is "completely
proven" so that is a non-issue.

>have faith that you are the author of this statement. Therefore, I act to
>send you this message. I may be incorrect; in which case I'll modify my
>behavior accordingly. This, you'll note, is similar to the Church of Virus
>position on the role of philosophy/religion:

You had some good reasons to assume that I was the author of the
aforementioned statement so no faith is necessary. You could have
been wrong, but that is beside the point.

>>The core ideas are based on evolution and memetics because one of
>>the primary design goals was survivability through >adaptation
>>(religions die, not because they grow old, but because they
>>become obsolete).
>However, to first act on an assumption, we must first have faith that our
>assumption is reasonable; if we wait until it's proven, we may already be
>too far gone. Yes, to hold an idea as true despite all evidence to the
>contrary *is* an abdication of reason, but to hold an idea as true when
>there is little evidence for or against (at the moment) is a thesis.

You don't need faith to have a reasonable assumption. There is a well
established process for evaluating the reasonableness of hypotheses,
including but not limited to: How well does it fit with empirical
evidence? Does it postulate any unnecessary or unknown entities or
forces? Does it contradict any of our existing assumptions? etc.

>On that basis,
>>Convictions are the end of knowledge, not the
>>beginning; they are the enemy of truth more than lies.
>I'd argue that this statement is incorrect; knowledge is the end of
>conviction. Conviction, IE, "belief" or "faith" (as I've termed it) offers
>us a starting point from which to consider and test other ideas. Knowledge

People with convictions have no need to test them. That's why they
are convictions. They are beyond doubt.

>comes from this. Knowledge itself, then, is an end. (I'm baised towards
>this since I am quite fond of knowledge...) It is, indeed, faith that
>drives rational thought. Faith that there is reason, faith that there is
>purpose, faith that you are correct. It's faith that drives Science -- on a

Using "faith" in this sense implies that there are no good reasons to
believe that there is a reason, purpose or that you are correct. That
does not apply to scientists. They don't believe anything without good
reason (theoretically).

>broad scope, the faith that "everything" can eventually be explained[1],
>and on smaller scales, the basic faith that lies at the expectance of the
>most mundane of theories (IE, gravity). These working beliefs -- this
>"faith" -- allows the building of something much greater.

I am not at all convinced that using the word "faith" for "working beliefs"
is going to reduce any confusion. I think it would have the opposite effect.

>The sin lies not in the faith, then, but in putting the faith in the "end"
>position, not the "means" position. That is why religions die; they hold on
>to their "faith" bits, forgetting that faith is only a vehicle to real
>knowledge, and therefore refusing to change them later. And, this is the
>cause of Nihilism -- a recognition that "faith" is *not* a suitable end or
>form of actual knowledge, and therefore the belief that belief and faith
>themselves are worthless. It's only after we learn the proper place for
>faith (at the beginning, not the end) that we can progress beyond, say,
>Trent Reznor.

Hey, what have you got against NIN? :-)

Belief is unavoidable. Faith (here defined as belief without sufficient
reason) is avoidable and should always be avoided.

>Anyhoo, that's my thumbnail defense of the sadly, and unjustly, maligned
>word "faith." Much abuse has been heaped upon it by believers and
>non-believers alike. :-)

Obviously I still disagree, but I look forward to your response.

>Thanks for your time and effort -- I'll be sure to sign on to the mailing


David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Church of Virus