Sunday, June 10, 2007

Philosophy verses religion

I'm busy working through Richard Carrier's Sense and Goodness Without God. Here is a quote that I found quite interesting, where Carrier outlines what he believes is the difference between religion and philosophy (page 26):

Philosophy is . . . fundamental to our lives. It should be our first if not our only religion: a religion wherein worship is replaced with curiosity, devotion with diligence, holiness with sincerity, ritual with study, and scripture with the whole world and the whole of human learning.

The philosopher regards it as tantamount to a religious duty to question all things, and to ground her faith in what is well-investigated and well-proved, rather than what is merely well-asserted or well-liked. Instead of keeping her nose ever in one book, she reads widely and constantly. Instead of aligning herself with this or that view and keeping only like-minded company, she mingles and discusses all views with everyone. And above all, she commits herself to the constant study and application of language, logic, and method, and seeks always to perfect, by testing and correcting, her total view of all things.

What do you think?


CyberKitten said...

Sounds good to me.......

I'm just (finally) getting in to philosophy in a big way so I certainly agree with the sentiments expressed in the quote.

Juno Walker said...

Actually, I pretty much completely agree with what Carrier said. True skepticism requires a mind open to what is probable and not what is merely possible.

Keeping one's beliefs open to revision - so long as the evidence warrants it - is essential for living one's life authentically. "The unexamined life is not worth living", right?


unkle e said...


I am a christian who is also anti-religious. (I define christian as one who believes in and tries to follow Jesus, and I define religious as trying to work out ways to manipulate God into doing what I want, enjoying religious ceremony, enjoying being dogmatic, etc.)

Christianity has the Bible as a sort of fixed centre (only sort of because its interpretation isn't fixed) but also has the Spirit as a dynamic change agent.

So I can actually believe in Jesus and guardedly endorse Carrier's ideas as well. I think some important things are fairly "fixed", but so far beyond my full understanding that there is still so much to discover. But most things are not settled and require me to stay open-minded, open to the voice of God and ready to change my mind, my direction or my underpants. : )

So those are my thoughts in answer to your question.

Thanks and best wishes.

Wayne said...

Hi Kevin,

I have looked through some of the posts on your blog and have not found an account of your original conversion to Christianity. Can you tell us the story of how you originally became a Christian?

Jason said...

I think that philosophy is useful and good, to a point. I think it's importance is often overstated. One problem I have is that while philosophy does perhaps answer many questions about the way the world is, and indeed it helps us to think more clearly and to hold more logically consistent positions, it often fails at answering the questions that we really want answered. Questions of morality and God come to mind. I think many/most modern philosophers would agree that "you cant derive 'ought' from 'is'". Does knowing the nature of the world really tell us how we "ought" to live our lives? Does it give us any meaningful guidance?


Jason said...

"In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning...when all of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, it is necessary that... a reason should be this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it." -David Hume (Treatise of Human Nature)

Laughing Boy said...

I agree with the second paragraph (of Carrier's quote) completely as would just about every Christian I know. I am curious, ironically, about the first paragraph; and when I put both paragraphs together I see a problem for Carrier.

First, about his two lists, one of religious practices (RPs) and one of what I assume he thinks are nobler secular concepts (NSCs):

worship/curiosity, devotion/diligence, holiness/sincerity, ritual/study, scripture/whole world and whole of human learning.

I wonder if he means to imply some conceptual connection between these pairs of terms (e.g. worship/curiosity), or is it just two lists of five terms assembled in no particular order to create pleasant-sounding prose?

Second, is he is saying those who find value in RPs do not value NSCs?

Third, Carrier ostensibly proposes an open minded, all-encompassing approach to understanding the world by searching for insight in all places and by any means other than through worship, devotion, holiness, ritual, or scripture. For example he is mildly scornful of the woman with her nose in one book and suggests that a better course of action would be to read all other books except that one.

I have other questions but you get my point I hope.

After thinking about Carrier's quotes for a bit I got the following mental picture:

A large outer room containing a smaller inner window-less room accessed through a self-closing door.

According to Carrier, I, as one who values RPs, am in the smaller inner room surrounded by said RPs. Being in the inner room I am either: 1) unaware of the NSCs in the outer room, or 2) aware of them but don't value them.

Carrier, of course, is in the larger outer room with his NSCs. He is aware, however vaguely, of RPs, but he does not value them so he does not enter the inner room.

Carrier suggests that I should come out of the inner room leaving the RPs behind, and experience the world of NSCs. He claims to be in a superior position that allows him to "mingle and discusses all views" and "seek always to perfect, by testing and correcting, a total view of all things."

I think this is an accurate, if simple, analogy of Carrier's proposition. If so there are at least two problems with it.

1) Anyone who investigates Christianity seriously and with an open mind (ironically, it seems Carrier recommends we don't) as well as anyone who has at least two or three Christian friends will know that those who practice worship, devotion, and the other RPs also value diligence, sincerity, and the other NSCs. So as one who values RPs I am not confined to the inner room but I am in the outer room with Carrier and indeed all the RPs and NCSs are in the outer room as well, all mixed up together.

2) But Carrier is correct, there remains that small window-less inner room, but it is not a sanctuary for defenseless RPs that would succumb to philosophical natural selection if released among the NSCs. Rather, it's a place to stash inconvenient ideas that a person wishes to ignore. In Carrier's case, RPs. So contrary to his assertion, the outer room does not afford Carrier a "total view of all things" since he can't see the RPs he has shut up in the inner room.


Thanks again Kevin for the thought-provoking post.

KenC said...

Well said laughing boy!

In this post-modern world, Carrier should further define what is "well-asserted or well-liked".

I'd argue that the anti-Christian philospophy that he is espousing is itself very narrow and in direct opposition of his own advice.

Along the same lines, having not read the bood - I'd assume that he is postulating that morality "goodness" can be formed without "religious" foundation.

I'd like to see an example of "goodness" that does, and understand what foundation he builds upon.

Lui said...

I have always found the "you have to be religious in order to be good" argument extremely weak. You can't say to someone, for example, "want to be good? Then you have to be religious" because if it's clear that the person ALREADY wants to be good and they've done it without religion, then what need to appeal to religion in order to help them acquire something they already have? The desire for morality is primary; religion is very much secondary. The latter seeks to co-opt the former and claim it for itself. We invented religion partly to sanctify our morality (or the morality of a particular tribe or that of its elders) with the veneer of divine mandate.

Anonymous said...

Ladies and gentlemen, I perceive that much learning doth make thee mad!

Bunc said...

Hi kevin - I just popped over to say hello to a fellow atheist blogroller.

I left all religion behind when I was about 14 and have been an atheist ever since. Its not easy leaving behind the "comfort blanket" but I am a great believer in staring reality in the face and I know many atheists are like minded.

Although I am an Atheist my own blog is not so much about atheism (probably because I have been one for so many years its mostly not an issue for me). The only thing that really gets me going is the "fundy" religious types - in particular those pesky creationists and IDer's.

Anyway this was just going to be a quick hello so I'll stop before this becomes a book.
C ya said...

You need to check out the accuracy of the May 15th Prophecy in regards to what is happing in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria and the return of the Hidden Imam

Kevin Parry said...

Wayne wrote
Can you tell us the story of how you originally became a Christian?

The main reason why I haven’t posted my conversion story is because this blog is about how I left Christianity, not about how I originally became a Christian. But I think, like you, other readers will also be wondering about how I became a theist. So I will write a post about it and publish it in the next month or so. Thanks for the request.

Jason wrote
Questions of morality and God come to mind.

kenc wrote
Along the same lines, having not read the bood - I'd assume that he is postulating that morality "goodness" can be formed without "religious" foundation.

Thanks for the comments, Jason and kenc. The reason why I like Carrier’s book is that, unlike many other books on atheism, it focuses on what atheists are rather than on what they are not. Instead of spending the whole book criticising theism, Carrier devotes most of his time building (and arguing for) the world view of metaphysical naturalism. He does cover the issues of God and morality in the book, but I haven’t yet reached those sections yet. I will keep everyone posted.

Laughing Boy wrote:
I think this is an accurate, if simple, analogy of Carrier's proposition. If so there are at least two problems with it.

Hi Laughing Boy. Good argument. You know, I actually agree with you on this one. I think Carrier’s mistake (if I’m interpreting him correctly) is that his comment is based on binary oppositions (i.e., if you practice RPs, you can’t and won’t practice NSCs; if you don’t practice RPs, you will be able to only then practice NSCs). No middle ground is allowed. But as you (and others in the comment section) have correctly pointed out, there are many Christians who practice RPs AND NSCs.

Laughing Boy said...

Furthermore, within Scripture, Christians can find admonishments to practice all the listed NSCs. So an argument can be made that NSCs are a subset of RPs, and that by removing them and "selling" them independently, they loose much of their value.