May. 23rd, 2007 03:31 pm
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[personal profile] haggholm

Written about a month ago when I got involved in a debate forum, which I subsequently abandoned because it inspired me to write this.

One of the psychological phenomena most puzzling to me is the one called faith. I do not mean in the secular sense in which the word is sometimes employed (I have faith in your ability to do this), but the religious sense, which I define as belief without evidence. It may be that some theist reading this takes offence at that statement, but I have never once seen the word employed in a context where evidence is available. Rather, You must have faith! is a statement frequently used or resorted to when no evidence exists (or when purported evidence is overthrown).

Let me reiterate this, because it's important and easily leads to a debate about semantics—well, semantics (the meaning of words) do matter, so let's nail them down for the purpose of this debate! If you tell me (actual example of what I've been told) You have faith that the building you are in will not collapse, I will assert that it is not the same thing. This is faith based on reason and experience. There are thousands of similar buildings around that do not spontaneously collapse, and there is no reason to believe that this one differs in a crucial way from those. It has stood for a long time and shows no sign of structural damage. Architects have staked their reputations and livelihood on the safety margins, and engineers and construction workers staked their lives in working on it. In other words, there is plenty of evidence that the building won't collapse. You can call this faith if you like; I call it reasonable belief and use the word faith to refer to belief not based on such tangible evidence. Like this definition or not, please keep it in mind as you read on.

So what's this religious faith about, then? It seems to be about believing what you have been told without being given any specific reason to believe that it is true. It may take the form of believing everything you are told by your pastor, rabbi, yogic guru, or imam. It may consist in considering the Bible, the Qur'an, the Veda scrolls, or the Elder Edda inerrant. Strangely, it may sometimes consist in taking one of these scriptures—the Bible, say—and believing some of the things it says based on no other evidence, whilst discarding other bits (generally ones that offend the believer's moral sensibilities). It seems to me that this is based on an a priori assumption that the scripture as a whole is true, and each statement should be held true unless proven false; whereas a rationalist world view (one to which I adhere) demands that we consider every claim suspect unless some evidence can be shown to support it.

Sometimes excuses are offered up to this; the most recent, the lamest, and the most amusing that I have heard to date it this, to paraphrase: The Bible contains scientific accuracies. It's hard to believe that's not a joke, is it not? Pretty much every book in existence makes some mention of things that are scientifically verifiable—the Bible, the Qur'an, the Illuminatus! trilogy, and even, I expect Mein Kampf; this in no way lends credibility to their general contents. I could take any load of nonsense and insert some facts.

But most of the time it seems to come down to…well, to nothing at all, really; just blind faith without any kind of rational, evidentiary, or logical support.

And people use the word faith as though it had positive connotations!

There is another word that describes the same phenomenon, and one which, although its meaning (within the context being discussed) appears closely related to faith, has very different connotations; that word is credulity—though in a very contextual form. I'm sure that many readers (or at least `many' relative to the total size of my readership…) will consider this an offensive statement when applied to religion. Oddly, the same is probably not true with respect to any other topic. Consider a text that is some two thousand years old, and consider a person who, although he has no corroborating evidence for its claims, believes whole-heartedly in it and will allow nothing to change his mind. If it is a text on astronomy, or anatomy, or physics (on an earthly scale), I am sure we will all agree that he is just plain wrong-headed. If it is a text on religion—on the origins of life—on the nature of the universe on a grander scale—why, then, nothing could be more sound than believing; it is not credulity, but faith!

(Since I first wrote this little essay, this comic went up, rather neatly accentuating the above.)

What really puzzles me is that some people go on to describe this as a virtue. Some people would have us believe that it is better to go on blind faith than to use reason and critical thinking. I can see why they should like people to do so—but what benefit can this possibly have for the followers of the creed?—it is all too obvious how it benefits the leaders.


Date: 2012-04-17 02:25 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Let me start by affirming with my brothers and sisters in Christ that the faith we've entered into is not without evidence. Much as biologists observe cellular structures so we have observed nature and from it conclude that these things have been created by God. As we have observed people, places and things we conclude that something greater than ourselves must exist. Who this God is from that point we may differ but the theist never concludes that God exists apart from evidence.... So faith... it is the medium by which we invest our lives in that which is unseen. This is not blind faith, this faith is a step by step (sometimes experimental) process that we take based on the evidence that God presents before us based on the premise that possibly there is a God who exists... Consider... most if not all believers in Jesus were at one time unbelievers, many of us were skeptics in short "God made believers out of us."

The very deduction process that you've come to believe that there is no God is the very process by which we have come to believe in this God that you love to reject.

My life is an interesting one, unlike crazy testimonies that you may have heard, I placed my life/faith/trust in Christ after praying and seeking and seeing God answer through people in with such consistency that I could not avoid the truth that he really exists. Pain was not the ultimate factor in my placing my faith in Him it was the evidence. I prayed/talked to God (who I could not see) and he sent people to tell me about him and people who challenged my current belief system at the time -- your modern day prophets as it were. Upon considering the facts, that yes I was in fact immoral, symptoms include, I was a liar ( I lied plenty of times in my life), I was a thief (I'd stolen before), I was greedy (I longed heavily for other men's wives), etc. In light of these facts based on seeing the evidence of God's law/Bible and how I transgressed - I asked, "God if "this Jesus person" was real I really need Him." In light of the evidence I was a criminal condemned by my very nature which is constantly against God. From that point on I was changed. There was evidence of this new birth that the Bible affirms -- "Wow this Jesus is really real, I exclaimed!" So it is with me.

God continues to show up in my life and not only mine, but others big and small, the intellectual and "dumb" (as you say). Based on evidence we continue to trust/put our faith in Jesus, our evidence mostly now being the bible. It speaks truthfully about this world and the people in it, so I and many others deduce that it can be trusted as God's word. God is answering promises laid out in these scriptures continually. So it is with great probability that I can say trust in the Lord Jesus and receive forgiveness from your sins or stand condemned before him in the great day of judgment when he will deal completely with your sin and lawlessness.


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Petter Häggholm

April 2016

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