Re: virus: Church of Virus/Memetics/Faith

J. Houston Williams (
Sat, 24 May 1997 13:58:33 -0400

Nicities. Now that that's done with, let's just jump right in, shall we?


At 07:19 PM 5/21/97 -0600, David wrote:

>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.

A difficulty; what is sufficient for one person is not sufficient for
another. I'll define "sufficient proof" as "enough proof that most people
in a certain pool can consider the issue at hand to be proved." Note that
this is not true proof; and that the pool can fluctuate on the basis of
what is being discussed. For example, my opinion on the existence of a Top
Quark would be next to worthless (Dammit, Jim! I'm an English student, not
a physicist!), whereas for my opinion on the continued existence of my
chair beneath me, I could be considered purt-near an expert.

>>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?

Worse. The COLJC is a pentacostal-group of the first order; we're talking
congregations of twenty, holier-than-thou contests (the primary reason
congregations are under twenty), many splits and splinter groups... Fundies
tend to be politically involved. These pentacostals are total isolationists.

(Note: You may know of a Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and it might be
rather innocent. It may not even be the same group that I'm thinking of.
It's not a particularly original name, eh?)

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

I gain in that I can understand the meaning of the word in both contexts.
If a fundamentalist says "faith," I know what he means. If a unitarian says
I know what he or she means. This is nessicary precisely because I am not
applying the term to them -- they are using it themselves, most often.

>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.

Two things:
I'll agree that faith is irrational -- ie, not entirely based on logic.
However, I'll refine my statement and say that to see faith as
"anti-rational," as "actively opposed to rational thought," is to deny what
"faith" has been called by many people for many centuries, and turn over
the whole of human history and most western art to be defined and controled
by the likes of Jerry Fallwell. I will NOT let them re-write and re-define
these concepts, and demonize these words the way that feminism has been

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

Not so, but close enough. There are those niggly tautologies that Aristotle
covered; IE, I either came in first in the footrace (unlikely) or I did
not. I have the genitals of a male, or I do not. These, as a whole, do not
concern us: but they do not concern us because they can be obviously
proven. We wouldn't care if we couldn't argue about them.

Why this is an issue is that I'm calling the cognative decision to treat
something that is *not* completely proven (most things) *as* such as
"faith." Granted, in many cases this may not be a long trip. Nevertheless,
there has got to be a point where you say, "close enough for government
work," and get on with your life. I do not feel that this is an
overly-broad definition, because most of the people I know of who have
faith have come to this definition *before* hearing mine. Or talking to me.
This definition is also the *basis* for the oft-heard statement about
Athiests having *faith* that there is no God.

>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.

I had good reasons not to take the chance: embarrasment. Wasted time
investment. Etc. Not only did I have to assume that you were the author, I
also had to assume that the site was still active, and that your e-mail
address was functioning and correct.

>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.

Er. You see, what I'm saying is that to make an assumption, you have to
believe -- "have faith" -- that it is true. I could just as easily say that
the process that you have described is a process of testing our faith to
make sure it is reasonable. Most Athiests/Agnostics (including me, for a
time) went through this low-level and rudamentary argument: God is all good
(belief). God is all powerful (belief). Bad things happen all the time
(truth). Bad things happen when you are being good (judgement call).
Therefore God must either be:
a) not all Good.
b) not all powerful.
c) not.

Note that this tests fit with empirical evidence; it considers
contradictions -- and it considers the issue of an unknown entity.

(I have some basic problems with Occam's Razor as I generally hear it
applied, incidentally).

Perhaps there is a difficulty here. I'm basically equating "faith" with
belief, which may be inapropriate. It is, however, interchangeable in the
vocabulary of most religions.

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

I admit to bending the definition of "conviction" a bit to far to fit my
arguemnt. +1.

>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).

Neither does anyone else. Why do you think people believe in God? For
*fun*? Sometimes, it's habit -- scientists are guilty of this. Sometimes,
it's something that has happened to an individual. Sometimes, it's concious
decision to believe.

>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.

It would only increase confusion among that group of people who have
dismissed all relgion and beliefs not based on scientific data to be
nonsensical, irrelevent, and an emblem of stupidity; likewise, among the

The middle ground will grasp it -- has grasped it -- quite clearly.

>>..that we can progress beyond, say,
>>Trent Reznor.
>Hey, what have you got against NIN? :-)

NIN is great; but the message is just as destructive as fundamentalist
Christianity -- which is why we're making a Church of Virus, right? To get
past this nihilism crap?

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

Sufficient reason here is a key-word. Sufficent on who's basis? Who
decides? Will you decide what is sufficient for me? I you? Oftentimes, this
is agreed on -- IE, the scientific community. The world at large (how many
church-goers called Heaven's Gate kooks, I wonder? My pastor did, from the
altar, right after a plea for shutting down children's Sunday Soccer
because it desicrated Sunday. I think Rev. McCready is a Baptist in
Methodist's clothing....)

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

What fun would it be otherwise?


John Williams ICQ Address: 1213689
Various Artists: Raising the Tide of Mediocrity for Two Years