Re: virus: Church of Virus/Memetics/Faith

David McFadzean (
Sat, 24 May 1997 19:17:38 -0600

> From: J. Houston Williams <>
> Date: Saturday, May 24, 1997 11:58 AM
> 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

What about the pool of people (this particular group counts a number of
pancritical rationalists among them) who believe that nothing can be
proved? Sure some beliefs have an enormous amount of evidence to
support them, but everything is open to revision, and therefore not

> >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
> "faith,"
> 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.

OK, I can see why you would want to do that if you happen to be talking
to a fundamentalist or a unitarian (and also happen to know that they are
in fact a fundamentalist or a unitarian). So if you are willing to adapt to
them, then why not us?

> 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
> demonized.

First, I don't think calling faith anti-rational redefines it in the least.
Second, I don't see how that would "turn over the whole of human history
and most western art to be defined and controled by the likes of Jerry Fallwell."

> 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

Or you tied for first, or no-one finished the race, or ....

> not. I have the genitals of a male, or I do not. These, as a whole, do not

Or you were born with genitals that are somewhere in between male and
female. The point is the your so-called tautologies are not. There are no
analytically true statements because they all depend on meaning which
depends on context which makes them synthetic.

> 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.

Not so obvious now, is it?

> 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,

OK, if I adopt your definition for now, I will have to say that literally all
our beliefs are based on faith. Would you agree with that?

> 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.

Since I've pointed out that faith now encompasses all beliefs, would you
agree it may be overly-broad?

> This definition is also the *basis* for the oft-heard statement about
> Athiests having *faith* that there is no God.

Oft-heard, yes. But true? Nope. I'm sure some atheists have faith that
there is no God (i.e. back to my definition, belief without good reason),
but that is certainly not true of all, or even most atheists. (
is not the only site I host, come visit

> 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.

OK, if you are saying you had better reasons to believe that I would not
respond, yet you chose, against logic, to believe that I would respond
anyway, then I agree you had faith. Is that what you are saying?

> 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

I don't have to believe a hypothesis is true in order to test it. No more
than a logician does when she assumes the negation of an axiom in order
to derive a contradiction and thus proving that the axiom is true. If you
asked she would say that she never believed the negation, it was only a
step in the proof.

> 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.

So what did you decide in the end?

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

Yes, but that says to me that when you say "faith" I should
tranlate it to "belief".

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

For instance? (I'm not saying it isn't often misapplied. Almost as bad
a Heisenburg's uncertainty principle. I literally winced when the UC was
referenced in The Lost World.)

> 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.

I agree with the above, and would add that it is a mistake to equate
the two.

> >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.

Yes, scientists are guilty of it too, they are only human after all. But that
still doesn't mean it isn't a mistake. People believe in God because they
don't understand the difference between good and bad reasons for
belief. I know that sounds condescending but the evidence supports it. I would
like to be proven wrong if you would like to try.

> >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
> ultra-pentacostals.

If you are implicitly accusing me of being in that group of people then
I deny it. (Both groups :-) You seem to be attributing logical positivist
beliefs to me because they are easy to attack, not because I have
said anything that would indicate that what I think.

But if you can't back up (offer good reasons for) your beliefs then you
have to admit you are indistinguishable from all the loonies with nonsensical
beliefs. Not all good reasons have to be published in a peer reviewed
academic journal (though that often helps).

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

The higher ground can see where the middle ground has been misled.
No, I don't mean that. I'm just trying to illustrate that making assertions
of this kind doesn't really mean anything.

> NIN is great; but the message is just as destructive as fundamentalist

OK, I didn't pay much attention to the lyrics.

> 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

There is no easy answer to how to nail down what constitutes sufficient
reason. But that doesn't mean we have to dispense with the idea. It is
merely a starting point. Once we agree on that much, then we can move
on to discussing it in more detail.

> 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....)

Funny thing about those Heaven's Gate kooks, at least their beliefs
(in a space ship following the comet) were physically possible as opposed to
most mainstream religions.

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Church of Virus