If Faith in God to Heal your Child Is not Faith – What Is It?

On a couple of my previous posts, particularly this one, How Religion Does Not Save (about the children of “faith-healing” parents), and this one, “Because I Love Her” Is a Rational and Logical Response, the discussion seems to return to “what really qualifies as faith.”

I defined faith as belief in something without or in spite of evidence.

Once when I was  in conversation with a Catholic missionary discussing this topic, he said his faith coincided with reason and that his religious worldview was more rational than mine as a result. He said that he loved learning about new scientific discoveries because they increased his faith. I asked him a simple question. “Is there any sort of discovery that would result in a decrease of faith?” He looked at me puzzlingly for a moment. Then he replied, “No!” I said, “So your faith only slides one way, whether discoveries are made, not made, and regardless of the results of the discovery — the faith-slider simply goes toward increase?” He agreed. So my question is… is this faith? And if it is, doesn’t this deny any room or role for reason?

Now I am an advocate for recognizing emotion as a source of our knowledge and as a large part of our decision-making faculty (that was the subject of my last post). I think that “evidence” comes in a wide array of flavors (such as intuition or instinct). But again, simply recognizing that we may intuit an aspect of “truth” and then allow that intuition to influence our logic, I do not think that is faith… I call that normal human decision-making. What do you call it?

Why I Love “Loving Wisdom”

Today I begin teaching a new semester of Philosophy 111. As I sat last night contemplating what to talk about, I made these notes… and thought I would share them with you…


Philosophy is the “love of wisdom.” It comes from the Greek phílos (loving, dear) and sophia (skill, wisdom, knowledge). But when I began to read philosophy, it was not for the love of wisdom. I read from a trivial curiosity or, perhaps, a curiosity of what could be made trivial. It was a desire to know — not to understand — what “thinkers” thought. I was not reading to be taught, not to learn, I wanted only to wield those insights in conversation — to have the appearance of being smart. Of course, if I picked up something useful along the way, so much the better, but I remember that in those days the taste of philosophy wasn’t always pleasant – as you may already know wisdom is not always sweet, and it seldom satisfying. It is sometimes salty, sometimes bitter, sometimes spicy. It can be a mouthful of sand, and sometimes philosophy can taste like nothing at all.

Those were the days of lottery philosophy — hoping for a payoff without a big investment. Then, somehow, through an odd and fortuitous sequence of events, I ended-up a philosophy major in college. It was then I started to look to philosophy for answers. I didn’t expect a fully-formed set of instructions (this was not religion after all), but I hoped for answers that might strengthen my bearings in the world, give me a stable orientation, comfort. I hoped philosophy would teach me what sort of being a human was — and what sort of human being was Tyson Koska. In its accumulated wisdom, I hoped to find a metaphorical armchair, a comfy, fluffy spot to observe the world. But that isn’t what I found. I found a hole.

And the more I studied, the deeper the hole. The more I dug into the details of philosophy, the more it seemed to disconnect itself from the world — it seemed, almost, unwise in its microscopic attention to argumentative detail, to its all-consuming fervor over pinpoints of logic, rock-hard technicalities, and a few random/sandy metaphysical flourishes of thought — fact and feeling, reason and intuition, virtue, conviction, and passion. Wisdom is, if not infinitely deep, impossibly wide. You can get lost in those thoughts, in the dug-out caves of complex ideas, of insights both dirty and depressing… that is, until your spouse or child or parent calls to you from the next room, pulling your head out of that monumental idea and displacing it with the need to make dinner or take out the trash…

But let us say you keep digging, you dig so ridiculously deep and below anything seemingly real that you, at some point, probably unwittingly, pop out the other side. Let us say you dig yourself back into the sunshine. Now that is philosophy. What do you see in this new sun? Well, you see that dinner needs to be made and that the garbage needs taking out — that everything has, if only vanishingly significant, importance — it’s got its place. So too does the moment of your child’s first steps, or your grandmother’s funeral, or the day you fell, or will fall, in love. Everything is quite literally integral to everything. The daily detritus of living, the flashing moments of importance — the menial is lofty and the lofty is menial.

What you take from philosophy is up to you. You can get lost in the details and never emerge, you can disregard those same details as so much mental masturbation — or you can make careful observation and critical thinking a part of your life. What you do with the things you learn can be life-changing in importance. Will you say, “Oh yes, very interesting, that makes sense” and then go on believing whatever it was you believed before? Or will you let the implications of your knowledge become part of a new and expanded worldview?

What I have learned is that philosophy will not make you clever, and it certainly will not give you answers to live by — but it can make you comfortable in a world with so many competing and seemingly conflicting answers. Maybe it’s not the comfy, fluffy armchair I’d hoped for, but it can give you the tools to navigate, not just your intellectual, but your lived-world. As I have come often to reapeat: If life is an ocean, then philosophy is learning to swim.

More on Non-Physcial Existence

This is the kind of reasoning we get when we assert that non-physical, non-material things exist. You may recall that over the past couple threads I have argued that concepts (like the number 2) are physical because they exist as ideas in our heads — and ideas in our heads have a physical component. They are structured by the interconnection of neurons in our brains — something I think we can all agree is physical. Outside of the “idea” of 2, I am not willing to say that 2 exists… but I am, as always, open to arguments!

In any case, here is a Young Earth Creationist using the notion that ideas (logical proofs in this case) are non-physical, non-natural “objects” and therefore necessitate, among other things, the existence of God, the truth of the Bible, and a 6000 year old earth.

If naturalism were true, it would be impossible to prove anything. Proofs involve use of the laws of logic, such as the law of non-contradiction, which says that you can’t have A, and not-A at the same time and in the same relationship. The laws of logic are not part of nature. They are not part of the physical universe. So, if nature ( the physical universe) is all that exists and if laws of logic are not part of nature, then they can’t exist. But they are required for rational reasoning. So, the naturalist view is actually self-refuting. So the naturalist view is actually self-refuting. If it were true, it would be impossible to reason. Yet naturalism is what secular scientists use as the foundation for their thinking. We will show why this explains many of the incorrect conclusions drawn by secular scientists, such as evolution and an old Earth.

The bold and underline is mine. You can read a full review of the book this quote came from here.

Tyson Cut Back to Part-Time

I have news! Gleefully wonderful news! I won’t be posting nearly as much as in the past (which you have likely already noticed) — because I’ll be teaching an evenng Philosophy course.

The class is at Anne Arundel Community College, starting January 26th. I am hurridly cobbling together my syllabus and making plans to both excite and torment my students’ minds…

I’ll still blog, but not nearly as often. Brain will pick up some slack, and perhaps Roger as well. 

For now, some questions:

  • For those of you who took Philosophy in college, what did you like best — and least?
  • For those who did not take it, what do you fantasize such a class would be like?

Thanks for any insights you can share…

Science as a New Cultural Tradition

I was watching Richard Dawkins dialog with Aubrey Manning (approx. 50 minutes long) the other day and some of the points they discussed made me think.

Many of the traditions we practice have religious orgins, which of course needn’t be bad in itself. Obviously, tradition and ritual have a place in building solidarity and socializing individuals. However, it seems to me that the question many ask in an increasingly secular world is what will we have instead? As Manning points out, science is a human activity which has value in itself. It not only gives opportunity for wounder but also invokes both emotions of joy and dispare.

No science is too hard to understand, at least not on a principial level. One problem is that the papers submited for peer review obscure science from lay persons. Yes, there is a point to using certain kinds science-speak; however, scientists should be obliged to not only help us understand, but also to intrigue us and to appreciate their knowledge. Those school books with nothing but formulas and constants don’t do the job.

And this is why I recommend these videos. It is a Berkeley course called Physics for future presidents by Richard A. Muller. The emphisis is on concepts and an idea of magnitudes instead of formulas and specific numbers. In my mind it should have the title “Physics for Everyone,” and while it’s alot to watch (26 episodes of ~1 hour each) I consider it a duty.

Science is also an enterprise in which we all partake. Our current advancement in technology and welfare comes from science. We only need to take the example of penicillin. Before its discovery far more diseases ran rampant through our populations. Now one may say that science of medicine represents a moral good, whereas the science of physics does not. Yet I believe there is a moral component in simply getting closer to truth. In other words science should, indeed must, be central to a modern tradition.

In his book Unweaving the Rainbow, Richard Dawkins wrote the following: “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.” We should celebrate our opportunity to be here, taking part in the world. Our means of celebrating should be through understanding — that is to say, through science.

Do Unwritten Songs Exist?

Over on another post, we’ve gotten into a discussion about something I find quite interesting (but which you might find boring as hell), and that is… Can something be said to “exist” that is in no way “physical.”

The discussion started based on the description of a ghost being supernatural or “non-physical.” I find it difficult to understand just what such a description actually means. As I see it, “to be” is to be physical. Now, as I commented over in the other post, that doesn’t mean something must be made of matter. A photon, for example, has no “at-rest” mass, it is pure energy that behaves (sometimes) as a particle — but that doesn’t mean a photon is non-physical or supernatural. It is natural, and it is physical. How something can be, but be in no way “detectable”how it can be said to exist, but its existence leaves no trace or imprint — seems to me a fundamental contradiction. Furthermore when we “detect” a ghost, does that mean we are “seeing” somethingthat is non-physcial, what could that possibly even mean?

Then commentor Anna made this excellent point:

I am not sure we should equate being with the physical, or we cannot say that numbers or information or thoughts exist. Or most money, for that matter, which is no longer in physical form. Continue reading

Test Time: Do you have to be lucky to be good?

Check out the Moral Sense Test, courtesy of Harvard U. and a boom in Experimental Philosophy — that is, Philosophy grounded in real life research, or at least more concerned with real life happenings than say“the thing in itself.

I took it. I don’t know what to say other than the situations are a bit of a bitch — but then, it is designed to probe one’s morality. It’s the same sort of questioning one would expect to see in an introductory ethics textbook– the “should I kill one person to save 5” type scenario. Continue reading