Thursday, April 23, 2015

Faith: What is it?

I made this little video to explain my thoughts on the concept of “belief without evidence”. This video is not an attack on religion, per se, but rather a critical outlook on the the very concept of faith.  To a degree, this video serves as a coup de grace to by blog post on R.R. Reno’s assault on critical thinking where he espouses using pious faith as a substitution for critical thinking.
Below is the video.  If you rather just read the transcript, it is below the video, but without the pictures.
What is faith?
The word “faith” is used in many instances as a synonym.  The most common is the use of faith to mean religion:  “He was of the Baha’i faith.”  Another is that of trust, as in you trust someone or something:  “He had faith in his wife’s fidelity.” or   “She had faith the rappelling rope would hold her weight.”  Faith can be used to mean confidence:  “She had faith her students would do well on the test.” It can also mean hope:  “The students had faith that they would do well on the test.”
But then why not just use those words?   In all of these cases the word faith creates ambiguity.  But faith has another, more specific meaning:  Acceptance of an idea as true, without any evidence.
This alone can be folly.
At times you must act before you can consider all possibilities, before you can learn the facts.  Fortunately, however, these situations are rare. Unfortunately, they usually involve hungry tigers or gunfire.
Where faith becomes sinister, is when it is paired up with either of these two concepts:
  1. When faith is coupled with strict obedience.
  2. That faith is a sacred concept.
The application of faith to a leader leads to atrocities.  Be it faith and obedience to the Pope (The Inquisition); To the Pastor (Salem Witch Trials); To the Imam (September 11th); To the secular leader (Stalin).
When the concept of faith is held sacred it cannot be challenged.  There are many bad ideas in human history. Sacred faith in these ideas means they cannot be questioned. This is problematic for two reasons. One is that it prohibits discovery into the world around us. If we kept sacred faith that disease is caused by evil spirits, or wrathful deities, we would not have vaccines, medicine, or surgery. We would all still die at an early age, toiling our lives away at the behest of an authoritarian overlord.
The other problem is that it puts ideas above people.  The faithful are quick to point out the human rights abuses of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.  But they ignore the fact that faith played a role in such atrocities as 9/11, the Inquisition, even the holocaust.  But faith, at least one’s own, is sacred.  Believe, but do not question.
To have faith is to believe first.  The problem with this is that people often hold fast to beliefs.  This is because belief is an emotional attachment to an idea.  We are emotionally programmed to keep our beliefs.  Unfortunately, this inhibits learning.
Faith often leads to tailoring evidence of phenomenon to conform to that belief.  In other words, the conclusion is drawn, then evidence is forced to fit the conclusion.
Reason is the reverse of this.  To reason is to follow the evidence to the conclusion the evidence shows you.  Even if that means changing your world view.  Philosophy, Science, and the Social Studies all rely on this.  Ironically enough, it was a theist, a Christian to be exact, that gave modern reason it’s greatest tool. That man was RenĂ© Descartes. That tool is doubt.

Before Descartes, new knowledge was forced to fit within the confines of tradition. This is the thinking that hampered progress in Europe during the Dark Ages. Medieval scholars used their faith as a hammer to pound the square pegs of new knowledge into the round holes of their traditions. Descartes’ big idea is that the beginning of knowledge must be doubt. Doubt first, and then seek evidence. This skeptical approach is the foundation of modern science. It places the burden of proof on those who make a positive claim.

But what is a positive claim?

A positive claim is an explanation for something, rather than nothing.

Example:  A car is a certain primary color.  
Is it red, yellow or blue?  
It is a fact that it must be one of the three. But which color to believe the car to be is another matter. The default position is to believe that the car is none of the colors. This is the default, skeptical position used in modern reason.  To believe the car to be yellow without having seen it is faith. To suspend belief until you see the car is using reason. This is how we got out of the dark ages and to the moon; To follow reason is enlightenment.
To hold to a belief when the evidence shows it is not true is delusion.  The sacredness of faith demands obedience of belief in the face of contrary evidence. Thus faith leads to delusions.
Faith is a hold over from the ancient world.  Taking a leader’s word as truth was the glue that held society together. Today, that is not the case.  Today, leaders are held accountable for their lies, and discarded from office when they break the public trust.
That is, unless you put your faith in them.
The world has advanced beyond petty dictators in the desert, in the jungle, on the plain.  We have walked on the Moon.  Reason got us there, not faith.  Leave faith, but preserve your confidence.  Discard faith, hold on to trust.  Lose your faith, but keep your hope.
Take up the charge of reason.  Follow the evidence.  Think Critically in all of your endeavors.  Humanity is on the march to great things once the baggage of faith is left behind.
Do not be left behind.

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