I've been following the recent arguments over faith and beliefs, and it reminded me of a question I've had for some time. Is it possible to argue a point using logical and evidentiary methods with someone who has accepted the existence of (a) God on faith?

I have had many arguments with folks like this in my time, usually because they've stopped me on the street, or turned to harangue me from the front of a cab, or stood up during speeches to heckle. There seem to be two types. One type I can argue with; usually they are the ones who pose a thoughtful question, or offer an argument that is enticingly difficult to break apart (sometimes I can't, natch). I have found that these folks, even though they have accepted certain large portions of their worldview on faith, are able and more importantly willing to keep their beliefs and their argument separate (unless, of course, we're arguing about beliefs, which I try to avoid).

The other type of person who I end up arguing with and trying to avoid are those who seem to feel that their beliefs constitute a part of reality that is not only firm and unshakable to them - that's fine - but also should be visible and obvious to me. They seem unable to make a distinction between a truth accepted on faith, and a fact that is supported by evidence and/or experiment.

I think many of the problems that arise between 'believers' and atheists* over communication (does that make them metaproblems?) spring from the presence of either the former type of person above, or their counterpart, the atheist who treats all truths based on faith as logical negatives. I find I can't argue with either, lending more credence in my mind to the hypothesis that it's not faith but zealotry that is the problem.

*: I realize that atheist is a bad term here; it isn't the antonym I"m looking for (...it isn't the antonym I'm looking for...). However, my mind is blanking here, and I need to keep writing. (...I need to keep writing...) Move along. (Move along.)

Note: Modified to remove a question at the end which was at odds with the statement in the node title. Thanks proj2501 for the constructive crit.

The problem is a general one, but the believer/non-believer instance is the most obvious one. When presenting a case, each person proceeds from certain assumptions - when these assumptions are different and irreconcilable, you have a problem. I find this happens when I'm debating cannabis law reform (some operate on a different set of assumptions concerning the effects than I do), political theory (libertarians have some funny assumptions going on, especially if they're objectivists), as well as theology (I met a creationist the other day who had the assumption 'humans are exempt from certain biological effects that other organisms may be subject to'. The case in point was evolution).

The only way to solve these arguments is to either:

  1. Reconcile the assumptions - show that the two differnet sets are not incommensurable after all. If the two sets of assumptions can be shown to be in line with one another, then the conclusion reached from them should be acceptable to both parties. (this assumes that both parties follow a similarly logical path from the assumptions. big if.)
  2. Change one set of assumptions. YMMV with this one, depending on what other assumptions the person has, like 'observable facts take precedence over what the Bible/my parents/the tentacle from Xibalbi told me' or whatever.
If the two parties still operate on different assumptions, your best bet is to smile and withdraw, and look over the assumptions of your own that have been called into question.
themusic: The point is that attempting to argue with people by making claims they do not agree with is not going to work. fullstop.

I think the whole point about having beliefs is that they do constitute a part of reality, whether they concern a scientific or a religious cosmology, or a political universe. To speak of the believer/non-believer instance in terms of assumptions is a little weak to my mind.

It has always seemed to me that what we strive for is a way to have everything we can't explain, or can't bear, or can't stop, mean something--with the possibility that we might live with it, or even change it. Only belief can do that.

As an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, I used to spend many pleasant hours talking with a variety of religionists on the streets.

We had the questions in common (I think anyone who thinks does), even the partial answer--belief--but I always felt they had put their hat in a place that didn't allow them to grow.

While Your beliefs are your concern, just please don't let them creep into our secular argument may simplify the secular argument for the secular partner in the argument, for the other it is as impossible not to let his belief creep in, as it is not to breathe.

After all, belief is nothing more than looking.

What The Custodian is saying is that he/she/it is unwilling to conduct a debate if the other person brings in something to it to which The Custodian cannot personally relate.

You wot??

People's belief are part of who they are - whether they be beliefs in God or in the equality of all men or the ultimate reasonablesness of science. If you can't talk to someone because their personal point of view differs greatly from your own, you're going to find yourself having narrower and narrower discussions.

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