People get confused, but the real problem is when they become mired in confusion.  Happens all the time.

A lot of self described internet atheists or agnostics or whatever have seized upon this idea that “faith” is ignorance.  Which of course has an element of truth in that faith deals with the unknown, and if you don’t know something you’re ignorant of it.

But faith applies to many things outside of a religious context, especially with respect to any future goal you are trying to achieve that you might not.  You play in a sports contest believing you will win, but you also might lose.  You invest in a business thinking it will succeed and maybe it does, but it can also fail and you don’t know which it will be going in.  You bring a lawsuit thinking you will win, but of course you don’t know.  Doing any of these things requires faith.  In fact it would be irrational to do much of anything if you didn’t have “faith” in an outcome that is by definition uncertain going in.

The atheist’s quarrel is not with faith itself, because you practically cannot live as a human being without some faith in something, some belief in spite of uncertainty that makes it possible, indeed even rational to act.  The atheist’s quarrel, rather, is with whatever religious people have faith in.

Namely religion.

But in their zeal to paint religious belief as per se irrational they lapse into irrationality themselves.  Questions of cosmology or what happens, if anything, after we die are, generally speaking, questions without knowable answers.  Perhaps this makes them improper questions.  Some schools of thought teach this, but then they wind up being more irrational than the questions themselves.

And the questions are not really irrational.  They are probably better characterized as non-rational, or perhaps meta-rational.

Either way, they’re a step up from emotionally driven anti-religious hostility that leads people to sweeping and demonstrably wrong generalizations.




Filed under financial crisis

3 responses to “Faith

  1. Nathanael

    Belief in spite of uncertainty is not “faith” in the religious sense, even though it is “faith” in the ordinary sense (religions LOVE to use double meanings for words: see also “love”). And if any religious person is *actually skeptical* about their religion — skeptical enough to reassess it as new information — that’s not a problem.

    The problem is whan they don’t. A lot of “religious” questions *are* objective, empirical questions (is there a powerful entity which created the world and interferes in people’s lives? Is there a life after death?) and the evidence is piling up high in the negative column. (It is simply an error to say that the question of life after death is not empirical; it is absolutely empirical, and the evidence is strongly against.) Others are not empirical (what is “good”?).


    • Nathanael

      ahem. “To reassess it as new information comes in”. Sorry about the missing two words.


    • The question of life after death is not, at this point, empirical, since nothing can be observed about it either way.

      Death is an empirical fact, but it is not well understood. It is mysterious. Living things are also physical things, but they do not conform to the laws of physics: an object in motion tends to stay in motion; an object at rest tends to stay at rest. But living things move or don’t move. They also thrive for a time against all the forces arrayed against them, and then succumb to those same forces. Since this can’t be accounted for in terms of physics we have a different science for living things called biology. But calling it a different thing does not dispose of the problem.

      The question of whether there is a “powerful entity” that “created the world” may be an empirical question, but the answer is not an observable, empirical fact. I suppose it should be, but it isn’t.

      These are good objections, though.

      I don’t think you’re being fair when you accuse religion of employing double meanings. Faith means what it means, religion or not. It may be that some religious people like to fudge it so they can maintain “faith” in spite of evidence, but that’s their error, not the religion’s.


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