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Faith

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This is an actual photograph (taken by PZ Myers), the quote is from Martin Luther.[1]
Faith is believing what you know ain't so.
Mark Twain
Faith is the purposeful suspension of critical thinking.
Bill Maher
Faith means intense, usually confident, belief that is not based on evidence sufficient to command assent from every reasonable person.
—philosopher Walter Kaufmann[2]

"Faith" has three separate meanings.

In a nonreligious context, to have faith in something is to believe that some idea is true. A person may have faith because of evidence for said idea or regardless of the evidence about said belief. If faith is taken to mean "without proof", many things are taken on faith - because strong, formal proof is really only applicable to mathematics.

In a religious context, to have faith is to believe that a god or a set of gods exist(s) and/or that the doctrines of a religion are correct. Again, person may have faith because of evidence for said idea or regardless of the evidence about said belief.

Sometimes "have a little faith" is essentially saying "don't be so pessimistic", which may or may not be justified depending on the situation. "Faith in oneself", for example, could be defined as having a rational trust in one's abilities, without unjustifiably assuming they are useless. The key point is justification: when we exhort someone to "have faith in yourself", we do it because we believe there is good evidence they can trust, not in spite of there being none.

There are usually considered three "kinds" of faith:

Contents

[edit] Blind faith

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
John 20:29
If your retina ended up in the same state regardless of what light entered it, you would be blind. Some belief systems, in a rather obvious trick to reinforce themselves, say that certain beliefs are only really worthwhile if you believe them unconditionally - no matter what you see, no matter what you think. Your brain is supposed to end up in the same state regardless. Hence the phrase, "blind faith". If what you believe doesn't depend on what you see, you've been blinded as effectively as by poking out your eyeballs.
Eliezer Yudkowsky

"Blind faith" is a pejorative term that describes an assertion with insufficient evidence. Often, there is no difference between "faith" and "blind faith". Because faith is based upon a hope or trust that something is true despite a lack of evidence or proof, the use of "blind" doesn't actually change this definition, but instead tries to bring to the fore all the negative connotations of someone believing regardless of what they can see and experience. Because of this, faith becomes absolute, uncritical and unchanging, and therefore the opposite of open minded. In the end, blind faith means that one is, well, blind.

[edit] Examples

  • Blind faith is jumping from a building when someone tells you it's on fire, but you don't check to see if there's anyone down there to rescue you. Or if there's a window where you are jumping. Or if the building's even on fire to begin with.
  • Blind faith is the sort of thing people who think a smile and a firm handshake qualifies as due diligence promote as a virtue.
  • Blind faith is kissing Karl's ass because two weird guys told you that Hank wanted you to.

[edit] Informed faith

Where there is evidence, no one speaks of 'faith'. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.
Bertrand Russell

Informed faith is accepting the probable truth of statements that are based on information one does not have full access to, in situations where one does have access to a reasonable amount of supporting evidence.

In areas of science, informed faith often means trusting that researchers have built on the same systems of experimentation and exploration that one has explored personally. Additionally, the correct functioning of technological systems that depend on certain explanations can be the lay person's underpinning for informed faith.

[edit] As a virtue

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
—1 Corinthians 13:13[3]
Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes them against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr’s death will send them straight to heaven.
Richard Dawkins
Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22

The word "faith" carries many positive implications of trust and loyalty, but in normal life it's not taken to be an unbeatable virtue. Every (fully mature, mentally healthy) person has a limit to their trust and their loyalty. We warn children against untrustworthy people precisely because they don't know when it's appropriate to trust/have faith and when not to. We don't encourage them to believe that jumping out of trees wearing superman costumes is a good idea. Praising unquestioning faith - or unquestioning loyalty - in anything is objectively dangerous. Even in a traditionalist, hidebound society, normally the only entities who are upheld as deserving unquestioning loyalty are the highest authority figures and prestige institutions, not just ordinary people. And even in those cases it's not in any sense justifiable. The problem is that people who claim that faith is a virtue in itself always want to make exceptions for things that it's not okay to have faith in — a Christian fundy is unlikely to praise devotion to Osama bin Laden, for example.

[edit] Faith as a stopgap

Sometimes, when a religious believer has their beliefs questioned so intensely that they, too, have doubt, they turn to faith. For example, creationists often abuse the fact that most believers have faith:

You know, if you're going to believe simply because of the evidence, then I have to tell you, you're not really a Christian. Our faith has to be stronger than that. Our faith has to be in the God that we KNOW exists. So if someone asks us a question that we cannot answer, we say, "I don't know, but you know, God is greater than that, I trust him, I know that he has the answer. I'll see maybe if I can find the answer sometime, but even if I never find out the answer to that question until my dieing day, nevertheless, I'll trust in the God that I know exists, and whom I love."
—Creation Bytes!: Help, I'm losing my faith![4]

This makes faith into a stopgap measure -- something to plug the holes in your beliefs, until you can find an adequate substitute. While this isn't necessarily problematic in the very short run (sometimes people haven't fully researched an issue, and genuinely will find support for their beliefs), the problem with this line of reasoning is that it doesn't rely on evidence. It essentially says, "I'm going to wait here, without changing my viewpoint, until something that supports my viewpoint comes along". This is almost the definition of confirmation bias!

In particular, this is a problem for creationism, because creationism would require such a drastic turnaround of what science says.

Christian creationists, for example, think the literal reading of Genesis is non-negotiable. There is no way to see it as a qualification of or exception to a particular rule, nor can it be (they say) understood as a feature of the culture of the middle east that serves a purpose that can be served by other means. Their only choice, and the only choice for those in the same situation, is to maintain that current science is wrong. This is not as crazy as it might sound, because as we know, science continues to progress by means of finding out new things, about which we were wrong before. At one time, the luminiferous ether was a part of current physics, and phlogiston was part of current chemistry. Perhaps we can be confident that our understanding of religious doctrine is sound, but that if we hold out for future science, we will be vindicated. Scientific revolutions happen; the current understanding is frequently replaced by something completely new. The trouble with this strategy is that in many cases, it is simply extremely implausible. True, scientific revolutions happen, and correct mistakes in accepted science. But they never completely overturn the current understanding. The mass of evidence that supported the previous view is not overturned, just organized in a new way. To extend the example of Biblical creationism, it is reasonable to hope that evolutionary theory will refine and ramify, but is not reasonable to hope that we will return to a pre-Darwinian understanding. The facts about fossil dating and genetic transmission of characteristics must be a part of any future biology, and so there is no room for either a 6000-year-old earth, or for completely unrelated, independently-created species. We may give up on the big bang, but we will never go back to the crystal spheres with the earth at the center of the universe. So if a religious doctrine seems to require a pre-modern understanding of some part of the universe, it is not a reasonable strategy to wait for new scientific discoveries to vindicate the pre-modern view.
—Mark Owen Webb[5]

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. http://thinkexist.com/quotation/reason_is_the_greatest_enemy_that_faith_has-it/178640.html
  2. Walter Kaufmann Quotes
  3. That's right. The Bible says that love (specifically, charity, in its original meaning) is greater than faith.
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSif-9g5XC4
  5. Webb, Mark Owen. "HIZMET, RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE, AND SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION." Revista Brasileira de Ciências Sociais 31.90 (2016): 9-16.
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