Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Extra credits on faith

And now for something a bit different. Another commentary on a video well 3 videos discussing a religion related topic but from outside the atheist community or youtube community for that matter.

In this case I'll be responding to extra credits a penny arcade show discussing the more artistic/technical aspects of games and game design. Over Christmas they decided to address the topic of religion in games spread over 2 videos and a third responding to the ensuing controversy. I actually really like the show for the most part but I think they really mangled their discussion of faith in games so after thinking it over I'm this is a response to them. More particularly where they went wrong discussing faith in games.

5.16 Religion in games part 1

This video introduces the ideas they will discuss and how they will break down religion into 3 parts: Mechanics, Lore and faith. Then they discuss mechanics and lore leaving faith for the 2nd video. Ultimately I have very little problem with this part (though they keep using Witcher 2 when Witcher 1 would be more appropriate) but I think I will pick out one chunk.

"The problem with how discussions of religion and games take shape and even how we were thinking about talking about it originally is in thinking about religion as one indivisible irreducible concept. Doing so often leads to our conversations becoming scattered we try to sweep up too many disparate ideas into one generalized whole or equally disastrous we each use the term religion in games to talk about completely different specific aspects of the large concept of religion resulting in a tangled frustrating mess of a conversation."

I find this chunk from the start of Part 1 to be particularly prescient in hind sight. Ultimately what seems to be the problem with the discussion of faith is this. They don't define faith and lump many different epistemological ideas and problems together as one thing. Ultimately leading to discussions that just run past each other.

5.17 Religion in games part 2
Here is where we start to get to the meat of where people are objecting. Here is how the video starts its discussion of faith:

"And today we'll be discussing how they deal with faith. To me faith is the heart of all religion. It's something that many of  us struggle with our entire lives. It's something that affects each of us profoundly whether we have it or not. It has defined so much of our history and is one of the hardest concepts to wrap your head around. It's also one of the most deeply personal and profoundly emotional parts of our lives as human beings and yet video games don't explore the concept at all. "

So instead of starting with a definition to put us all on the same page we get a hodgepodge of things amounting to faith is important and a hard concept to wrap your head around. Well this is exactly why any discussion of faith should begin with a definition (even a tentative incomplete one) so that we can have this conversation.

"We never see the priest without magic powers. The priest who has no tangible proof of their god trying to reconcile their faith with a world where terrible things still happen to good people. We never see the scientist struggling to align reason and belief. We never live through the heart breaking loss of faith or the finding of faith when all else is lost. Though we've come close to addressing it a handful of times."

This is actually part of the video I like I think we should try to explore these issues in games. I may have my own biases on these questions and experiences but I have no problem exploring them through games. Note that these are all very religious views of faith. Faith as belief or knowledge against conflicting information. The priest tries to reconcile his belief in god with the evidence in the world that bad things happen where a god could stop them (problem of evil). The scientist tries to reconcile religious ideas say the existence of an afterlife with neuroscience that seems to show that our memories, behaviors all that makes us who we are is part of the brain (dualism vs monism or materialism). This faith could be described as Merriam Websters does "firm belief in something for which there is no proof".

"If we've gotta use this kind of binary system wouldn't it at least be a little more interesting to have a faith skepticism bar instead of just one of good and evil"

I actually like this idea though I'm not sure what game would make good use of it. There's also a serious risk in our society of it just becoming a good evil bar with the way non believers are often portrayed as nihilists. There's also the possibility of skepticism just becoming flat out denial in the supernatural events that go on around you which would also be a ridiculous situation. Then again you could do something similar with faith becoming the worst aspects religion . I'm really not sure where it would get us and we'd be better ditching the bars all together (though maybe that's a different conversation).

"Why? Why do we never touch on faith in games? Why is it somehow a more taboo subject then the extremities of violence or the notion of good and evil? It's hard to say but if we're truly honest with our selves its due in part to the fact that within our community there is some hostility toward faith and to be fair people of faith have show us a fair bit of hostility in the past."

I'd say the problem is in part our societal favoritism towards religion where arguing challenging or discussing religious ideas is seen as more taboo. Some religious leaders and groups don't think the articles of their religion should ever be discussed or challenged. From a marketing point of view in an industry that loves established IP and hates taking risks its not surprising that playing it safe on faith means not discussing it for the most part. But onto the meat of our disagreement.

"But this is just silly. All reason is based on faith. All logical systems by necessity have to start with a group of postulates that have to be taken on faith. All of our math is built up this way and all of our science lies not on exhaustive proof  but rather on being the most probably thing that hasn't been proven wrong."

This is why you need a definition going it because here is where you start equivocating (if one is being less generous this is where the lack of a definition makes the equivocation less noticeable . This is still obvious in your opening when you say "[faith] is something that affects us profoundly whether we have it or not". This comes  off as those who have faith and are religious and those who don't and aren't especially in the subsequent very religious conversation  The figures drawn are a person surrounded by a fiery glow and a second person sans glow (and a smile but I'll ignore the subtle implications) which also works well under a religious view of faith. Comparing that to this last part where you claim all reason is based on faith. Does this mean that the person without faith is without reason? Are they just denying the faith in the reason they hold? Do you maybe need to be more clear on what faith is?

The faith one has in science is in no way like religious faith. Faith in the broad sense you seem to be defining it is very different then the kind of religious faith that tries to reconcile a belief in the face of counter evidence. Where as the faith in science is closer to a confidence in  its base postulates even on a conditional basis. This conditional basis is largely why I and others wouldn't use faith for it. Each element of science even its base assumptions are open to questioning none of them are held as being beyond examination and ideally any of them can be dropped the moment they prove to be false or no longer useful (many false ideas are still useful as approximations of reality in a given situation see flat earth when building a house for example).

"At the beginning of the 20th century some very rational people atheists, skeptics and agnostics believed that we were only 1 or 2 problems away from solving all physics. From completely understanding how everything in the physical universe works. They believed in Newtonian physics much in the same way we believe in our science with certainty and conviction. And yet with just a few short years it was discovered that we were no where near solving physics and that some of the premises they based their reasoning on that we had had faith in were dead wrong."

To start with being an atheist, skeptic, or agnostic in no way makes you rational as we in the Atheist skeptical community experience all the time. We do not believe in science with certainty and conviction, at least not if you understand science. Everything in science is tentative and can ideally be overthrow when new information is presented. Some people stick to the old theory despite this but that isn't how science should be it should embrace the evidence where ever it leads. This kind of transient support really shouldn't be talked about as a certainty. Now on being "dead wrong" I think everyone should go read an essay by Issac Asimov called the relativity of wrong. The thrust of the essay is that we think of right and wrong as absolutes when they aren't they are a gradient. To take just a chunk to for those unwilling or able to read the essay:

"Nowadays, of course, we are taught that the flat-earth theory is wrong; that it is all wrong, terribly wrong, absolutely. But it isn't. The curvature of the earth is nearly 0 per mile, so that although the flat-earth theory is wrong, it happens to be nearly right. That's why the theory lasted so long."

This is what happened with Newtonian physics its postulates and premises work very well on the scale of the universe we live on and continue to work well on that level (see NASA rockets which are entirely Newtonian problems). They weren't wrong they were incomplete and when new evidence came along so did the idea that it would solve everything because that belief wasn't strong faith belief but a very conditional one.

"The only difference between science and religion is that science takes faith as the starting point where as for religion faith is the central tenant."

No not really. Science takes nothing on faith everything that can be tested is tested. Even the validity of our senses can be tested. I can see a mug of cocoa, feel the warm porcelain and wet water, maybe hear the liquid slosh as I walk, taste the contents, smell the steam. They confirm and check against each other and can be compared with the senses of someone else.

"Even if we've had bad experience in the past with people claiming to be of faith, we shouldn't have a knee jerk reaction to the concept of it or reject it out of hand without being willing to explore it at least."

I honestly hate the way you start that as if the only problem someone might have with faith is a bad experience with someone. When most atheists talk about faith defined as a belief without evidence or worse in the face of evidence. We see real problems with this kind of thinking and the way these thoughts lead to actions that are often harmful. This doesn't mean we can't explore them. I'd love to see them explored more but that doesn't mean I won't criticize the sloppy way you use the word or the thematic message of the story or how such an exploration is done. Literary criticism is part of having an exploration of a subject there is no sacred cow exempt from it.

I'm just going to ignore the Einstein quote at the end as it just continues to raise the same questions about how you define your words particularly mystical and religion/religious. Atheists have no lack for the sense of awe and wonder but I really don't know how religious or mystical would fit into those beyond a metaphorical symbolic level.

5.28 God does not play with dice
This is a video discussion of the backlash to their last video on faith and their response to it. The continued problems of the equivocation of religious faith with tentative belief in an untested value continues to muddy the conversation. It's similar to discussing hot foods. Talking about baked, boiled roasted before bringing up hot salsa. While you can have a discussion of hot foods and hot foods in either context you need to clearly define your scope going in to avoid conflating different ideas.

"But science doesn't really need to be defended against the concept of faith only some of its misuses. It saddened us that so many people on the boards had such hatred of religion and such veneration of science that they couldn't even look at the places where they might gain from one another. The best thing we can do for the things we venerate is question."

I agree science doesn't need to be defended against the concept of faith but I find your sloppy definitions (or non definitions) frustrating. Even under your own very open faith any supposition no matter how tenuous science is ultimately at odds with all suppositions and with anything based on faith. It seeks constantly to try to explain, explore and  justify every supposition and everything you might claim to be held on faith. They're all fair game as much as anything can be and as much as possible science aims to eliminate all suppositions. I don't see what science as a method of learning about reality can learn from a concept of taking things for granted and not exploring or testing them as faith is often treated.

"I had  hopes that the episode would spawn a rational discussion of how we could use faith without being blinded by it. But instead I saw the very same knee jerk hostility we mentioned in the episode. I saw people not differentiating between religion and faith when we had just spent two episodes talking about how faith is an important element of religion but not all of it and certainly exclusive to it. That faith is universal and applies to everyone's life in someway or another."

The continued problem is that you have failed to define faith in a religious sense and by your own admission it can be absent from peoples lives. If you'd try to actually work out a definition of faith to better ground people in what you're talking about you'd be less frustrated when people start using definitions of faith different then the one you use. However you would define it it's obvious that none of the definitions in say Merriam Webster fit http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/faith . You need to address this if you want a better conversation.

"It seemed like most of the comments were making two arguments  First that science is about observation and second that it relies on logic. So lets dig into those two statements and see if science is devoid of faith. First lets take science is based on observation, to that argument I say I agree 100% but that very statement necessitates the inclusion of faith in science. I mean to base anything on observation demands a great deal of faith. You must trust that your observations are true observations and you have all the standard examples how do you know you're not in the matrix, how do you know you're not dreaming, are your obsrvations more valid then those of someone who's colour blind I mean if they can have observations that aren't true why can't you?"

Once again you need to define faith. Most of solipsism is ultimately pointless. Regardless of if any of this is real we can investigate the nature of this experience. We can see if elements of it are consistent. If they are consistent we can begin to examine how they behave and what patterns or rules govern them. If an idea like you're in a virtual reality or the universe was created 5minutes ago can be put forward without evidence its fairly safe to reject them without evidence.

When it comes to colour blind people you can actually prove to them that colour exists and you can see it even if they can't. Imagine a parking lot of 2000 cars all identical to the naked eye of a group of color blind people. If one is how ever in fact green when the rest are red then they can simply randomize the cars and you can easily recognize the green car among the red every time. They may not understand it immediately but  they can tell that there is something that distinguishes this car to you and not them. Further more you could then do a chemical analysis of the paint or examine the wavelength of the reflected light and see that it is in fact different (colour is just a indicator of the lights wavelength after all).

There are also plenty of times when are observations are wrong. Stage magic, optical illusions etc this isn't a matter of faith its a matter of careful observation and being aware that we might be wrong and have to reevaluate the situation.

" Descartes who I consider one of the father of the scientific method goes into the question of what can be known with certainty a great deal in his meditations."

Nothing can be known with certainty. Even Descartes one truth the fact that his thoughts exist may not be true as we learn more about decision making and free will. I'm personally open either way but it is an open question as far as I'm concerned. What ultimately matters is how likely something is to be true and how we can best assign likely hoods. If you'd move beyond black and white true or false, certain or uncertain it would really help.

We get into a discussion of euclidian math and postulates.

The same basic things I've bee saying apply here too. False and incomplete are different ideas. To most definitions of faith tentative belief in a postulate is different then a certain belief in the face or absence of evidence but your definition of faith lumps these ideas together as equivalent.

"You'll always find something you're just going to have to simply believe."

Again not necessarily. You can always try to test these things to some extent. You mentioned dreaming earlier. It's possible to test if you're in a dream based on your experiences of dreaming. Pain is absent in dreams, reading is never a consistent experience.  With these possible tests you can try to determine if you're dreaming right now.

"Looking into it helped James realise that math and science don't lose something because they aren't some absolute objectivist truth."

Exactly but this doesn't mean that there's a leap of faith involved. At least not in the colloquial definitions of faith (this is why again you need to define your non standard use of the term).

"James actually does this a lot, he likes to play word games in our episodes from time to time where he likes to say exactly what he means and see if  it kicks peoples consciousness into thinking about it"

I have no idea if your inability to define your muddled term was one of these games but this is really a time when we need you to say exactly what you mean by faith so we can have a discussion.

Sigh at this point I'm just too frustrated with this lack of definition to continue nor do I really care about Einstein. The problems in these videos keep coming back to the same point. You never defined your terms which is probably the most important (and often overlooked) step in having a discussion.  Making sure everyone is on the same page.

1 comment:

  1. Why did they spend most of their video talking about Science and Faith, and not about Faith implemented in video games.
    Here are a few examples:
    The idea of taking the Chekhov Gun for granted.
    Trusting certain NPC's for rewards.
    Distorting reality with the gaming experience and mixing it with story events.
    Implementing that Faith Bar idea.

    Why didn't they spend the video talking about that stuff. What a shame. This is why I can't stand James. He's more interested in messing with his audience and peers then actually staying on task and laying down objective foundations for his arguments.