Tag Archives: faith

On Faith

7 Jun

Faith is not a reason. Uttering “because I have faith” only changes the question from why do you believe to why do you have faith. The only difference is that you removed “evidence” from the list of possible answers. Faith is simply believing that something is true because you want it to be true. That is neither honest nor something to base real world decisions on.

This quote, from the atheist website truth-saves.com, on a friend’s Facebook page criticizes those who rely on faith. But we all rely extensively on faith every day.

I’m going to examine this website a bit and scrutinize their dismissal of faith. It’s an interesting site, though with lots to disagree withI could spend a couple more posts talking about related topics. But on faith:

Ask yourself, why do you believe what you believe? When you claim something from the Bible is true are you doing so because of evidence and honest reasons or simply because you want it to be true? If the evidence your claim is based upon ends up being proven false would you stop making the claim? If your claim is based only on wishful thinking then you are being dishonest with yourself. There is a difference between hoping that something is true and claiming that it is true.

Let’s start with the question of  why do you believe what you believe? I think the underlying question is how do we perceive information and come to conclusions about the information we are presented? I’m admittedly no expert in the field, but I’d presume that people make decisions on beliefs based upon how any particular idea conforms or relates to previous experiences and existing beliefs. By which I mean (much more simply) that we all have prejudices and biases that affect how we take in and process information, formed since childhood. Most people are driven more by intuition and less by rationality.

As humans, we can never be truly objective and rational in assessing all the information we take in.

Faith: When no evidence can be presented many resort to faith. If faith is your reason for saying something is true then ask yourself why? Claiming that something is true because of faith is in fact the same as claiming that something is true because you want it to be true. Faith is not a reason to believe in something, it is the lack of reason to believe in something. Faith is simply an excuse to avoid giving a reason.

Faith is not necessarily a lack of reasoning or evidence. You have faith that whatever evidence (or intuition) you have, and your interpretation of it, is good enough to make further assumptions; that you have adequately considered a sufficient amount of available information to make a decision.  Unless you are omniscient, you may not have enough information to a fully-informed conclusion. Faith comes in where you believe you have at least enough information to form an opinion, if perhaps not all information; you may have available, or be able to process, only a limited amount information, and this decision to have faith filling in the gaps could be supported by previous experiences and resulting biases, which might not be concrete “evidence” per se.

Atheists share in this faith when they conclude that no god exists. And while, strictly following the scientific method, you cannot believe there is a god or any higher power unless there is evidence, that still doesn’t necessarily mean there is none (but c.f. Russel’s teapot). People use both a religious tradition and spiritual experiences to create faith in a religion. Similarly, we don’t know for sure that the big bang theory is what really happened, but many take this on faith based on whatever evidence we have.

(But I’m not here to argue the truth of god or the big bang, simply to argue that we all have faith.)

People also use faith (“trusting faith” — see below) any time they believe anything someone says without being able to first verify every facet of the idea themselves, given the impossibility of verifying every fact ever.

Two Types Of Faith: There are two types of faith, trusting faith and blind faith. Trusting faith is a predicted trust based on evidence. Blind faith is the belief in something despite the evidence. Neither forms of faith are reasons to believe in something. Only the evidence which trust is based on or which blind faith disregards serves as an honest reason to base believe [sic] on.

 In other words (if I’m understanding this right), the site proposes that we can trust only evidence we have about any topic, and based on that evidence can form beliefs (which I would call a trusting faith, which is not to be trusted per se, but only when strictly based on the evidence available). But can you be certain any conclusion even based on evidence is 100% true given the limits of forming objective opinions and making fully-informed decisions as discussed above?

I’d argue that “blind faith” is simply believing something despite (an apparent) lack of (independently verifiable) evidence, not necessarily contrary to evidence.  Atheists obviously don’t take any sort of supposed spiritual evidence of the existence of god as legitimate, and would label that belief based on “blind faith”, while those who believe in a god would argue that they do have some form of legitimate evidence (spiritual experiences, for example, which granted, are not really following the scientific method, but…). What appears to be “blind faith” to some may simply be a disregard for the legitimacy of their evidence. Of course, there are surely people who will believe whatever they want despite all evidence to the contrary, but this isn’t faith, this is stupidity.

(The site lists some fringe  issues like “Murder By Faith Healing”, for example, which I think are not majority beliefs and therefore unfair. Similarly, a number of beliefs being broadly criticized may not be commonly held across all Christians. The site’s generalization of Christian belief could be a whole ‘nother post. )

“Trusting faith”, however, is common and necessary for simply carrying out everyday life and decision-making. We have faith that earning a college degree will be a good investment resulting in a better job. I have faith that I have read enough of this website to make some sort of judgment on faith (though I could certainly stand to read more on the topic, and certainly wouldn’t call my opinions here “truth”). This faith fills in where uncertainty and incomplete knowledge, facilitating a sort of educated guess based on past experiences and existing knowledge, in order to use the resulting information for future decisions.

And what about when you must apply that belief to a something larger, or to a complex system? (later)

Are Science & Faith Compatible??  No, they are two opposite methods of forming answers. Science provides answers based on a critical and honest examination of evidence. Faith provides answers based on personal desires and opinions with a disregard of the evidence. If evidence supports a claim there is no need for faith.

Faith fills in where the available information or ability to understand it is lacking.

I believe (have faith, or intuit?) that, based on my experiences in my region and with Christians, not all that many are so very closed off to science. But I don’t have all the data; perhaps in other regions, or with groups of people far different from those I generally encounter, the case is different, in which case they should face some scrutiny for completely disregarding science. But based on my experiences of people who seek truth and have faith (a spiritual faith), chiefly at Catholic universities, the two needn’t be mutually exclusive, and as I’ve pointed out, I believe faith is necessary for secular and non-spiritual/non-religious life as well. While Catholics have indeed persecuted science at times, at others they’ve helped it along, including (for example) founding hospitals based on natural science.

“Science does not purvey absolute truth, science is a mechanism. It’s a way of trying to improve your knowledge of nature, it’s a system for testing your thoughts against the universe and seeing whether they match.” -Isaac Asimov

Truth is defined as conformity with fact or reality. What is defined as truth is based on the most current available evidence and facts, not personal opinions, traditions or authority. On this site we never claim “absolute truth” and are always having our work checked and rechecked to ensure the most accurate content.

“Truth” ought to be an undeniable, unalterable fact; defining something as “truth” based only on the “most current evidence and facts” means that does not necessarily make it “true”.  For something to be “true”, the facts must be absolute (or at least have a qualifier); if updated evidence and facts can alter a “truth” it was never (and still may not be) “true”, it is simply (presumably) more true (or truthier?)

And when a truth changes, how do we measure the affect this shift has on further ideas and beliefs based on this evolved truth? In complex systems where many facts rely on each other, such a shift could be complicated. (This may be why, for example, the Catholic Church is so adamant at defending certain dogma.)

Additionally, whether “truth” can be known at all is arguable, both due to limits to the capacity of individual understanding, as well as due to bias; as Nietzsche said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.”

Take global warming as an example. Is global warming “true”? It depends on who you ask. Many (if not most) scientists who study the topic say yes. Many people, likely including a few dissenting scientists, are critical of the idea.

While it might be safe to at least trust the hard data collected on temperature and other factors all over Earth, the exact cause(s) and implications of any recorded changes in these data over time are arguable; the planet has extremely complex systems that might not be able to be completely understood by any one person. When trying to determine what has caused statistically increasing temperatures over a few decades or even centuries, we have only our best guesses, not undeniable proof. Even if increasing temperatures are correlated with an increase in CO2 due to human actions, correlation doesn’t imply causation. When trying to determine the effects of warming  temperatures, we can only give our best estimates. If the weather man can barely predict tomorrow’s weather accurately, why should we believe scientists trying to determine the causes and effects of global warming? [compare my earlier post]

Is supply-side or demand-side economics (more) true? Do the rich create jobs; does their wealth trickle down?

These issues have surely been extensively studied by experts, and yet we cannot come to a unanimous agreement. (Social psychologists like Jonathan Haidt attribute this to humans’ natural intuitiveness, not rationality, and our differing base values based on different worldviews. [see NYT article, book “The Righteous Mind”, which I have admittedly not quite gotten through yet) But we must have faith that a particular set of reasoning is legitimate if we are to act to try to improve a slouching economy. We have faith in certain experts who have studied the topics, and in their theories for how the economy functions. We also have faith that the ones we disagree with have misinterpreted the data, or are perhaps even lying. We cannot examine all the data on everything ourselves from a completely objective point-of-view — we all have inherent biases that color our perception — but we must use beliefs based on the data we have, and our faith that others’ data is also accurate and as unbiased as possible, in order to make further decisions. [See “The Most Important Problem in the World”, which I have also admittedly not quite gotten through yet]

Compare Norman Lear’s musings:

For the record, I am someone who defines myself as a Christian and I also believe in evolution. When non-religious friends ask how someone “like me” could believe in something I can’t prove or see, I pose the same question. “Why do you believe your parents, or spouse, or partner love you? You can’t prove it. Maybe they fed, clothed and supported you simply out of obligation, or to avoid being arrested for child abuse or neglect. Maybe your spouse or partner is only with you for strictly financial reasons or for your insurance. You can’t prove he or she’s not. My point is we all use some form of faith to get through life. I won’t judge where you use yours if you won’t judge where I use mine.

Granted, perhaps faith in a higher power — surely the main issue the website hopes to address — may be seen as a bit different than other sorts of faith, especially when this faith is used to justify other actions – whether it be Jihad or charity. But the same idea still applies: that in order to make decisions on complex issues within a complex system, we must take some of our “evidence” on faith due, to the practical impossibility of independently knowing or verifying every fact.

Long story short, the world is complicated, and sometimes an absolute truth may not be knowable. Life is also not lived completely rationally, but largely through intuition. We must have faith in certain ideas, theories, and presumptions — some of which are not able to be proven, but are based in knowledge and experiences — to be able to function at all.