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Oct 31, 2011

Faith

In any discussion between atheists and theists, at some point, the subject of faith will arise. Generally, theists depict atheism as being an athenema to faith. This can come in two flavors, either 1) atheists have faith in nothing, and this is bad; or 2) atheists do have faith in other things, which contradicts their atheism. Alternatively, but perhaps less commonly, atheism is depicted as requiring more faith than theism, which is an odd stance, given that religions generally place value on faith, suggesting that atheism, with its higher level of faith, is better than theism. Atheism, of course, is not an athenema to faith, but before we get into that, we should clarify what is meant by faith.

Faith has the following definitions (1):
  1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another's ability.
  2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
  3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
  4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
  5. a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.

Now, obviously atheists don't have faith in the sense of #3 or #5. Also, #1 and #4 are trivial. This leaves us with #2: belief that is not based on proof. Now, sometimes this is rendered as: belief that is not based one evidence. In short, blind faith. This brings me to my first point:


Blind Faith Doesn't Exist

Blind faith is faith without evidence or reason of any kind and, sometimes, faith in light of contrary evidence and reason. It is used both as a derogatory, associating "blind" with "ignorant" as well as in a positive manner as many Christians associate the magnitude of faith as being inversely proportional to the evidence. Thus Blind Faith is the highest, strongest form of faith.

Regardless, it doesn't exist. It doesn't exist because if it did, no one would be able to lose faith. If faith is not based on anything (such as evidence or reason), then there is no foundation which can be altered in which a person could lose it. The existence or lack of faith would either be completely random or at the whim of the person who has it. Yet a loss of faith is in response to some event or discovery. Some new fact a person is exposed to that alters their world view, thus underminding what their faith is based on, causing them to lose it.

The presumption of blind faith arises from the fact that we are not always conscious of the grounds on which our beliefs rest, nor are we always able to articulate those that we are conscious of. Blind faith, then, is an illusion.

So what is faith, then? Faith is what bridges the gap between the evidence we have and a conclusion. And we have faith in a great deal of things. In fact, given certain strict restrictions placed on epistemology, some might say everything we believe is a matter of faith.

But this is not a post about faith in general, but in direct opposition to the notion that atheism is an athenema to faith, I, an atheist, propose that atheists deliberately have faith. Faith in two things specifically.

Faith in Humanity

I believe we should have faith in our fellow man. Specifically with regards to our fate, as a people. Furthermore, I would suggest that only atheists can have such faith. Many religions have an end-of-the-world scenario, which specifically says that we, as a physical, living people on Earth, have our days numbered. Other elements are specifically individual and self-serving, such as the notion of nirvana or going to heaven. I think such doctrines are self-defeating and self-centered. Rather we should have faith in other people and in the fact that we will live as long as "humanly" possible.

That's not to say that we won't suffer some sort of apocalyptic fate. (At least one that is avoidable). But I think we should operate with the faith that we will not suffer such an end. Why? If you've ever watched the TV show House, you may remember that, occasionally, they'll come to an impasse when diagnosing an illness. It could be one of two things, but they don't have time to determine which. What do they do? Treat for the second! Why? Because the first disease is invariablly terminal without any sort of treatment, but the second has a cure. But it may be the first! So? If it's the first nothing we do matters. If it's the second, then we can stop it, but only if we act quickly. So, we treat it as though it is the second, our actions may be in vain, but they are the only actions capable of yielding a positive outcome. Likewise, if we are inevitably doomed, then nothing we do matters, but if we aren't, then we should act as if we aren't, as to help increase the likelihood that such a fate is avoided.

Faith in Truth

This second point could be summarized by the statment: "The Truth will out." That is, whatever the truth is, it will eventually come to light. The arguments between atheism and theism are hundreds and thousands of years old. And yet both stances exist. This situation can make arguing for either side an apparent exercise in futility. Each will believe what they will despite any evidence or reason to the contrary. The status of atheism and theism is carried upon the winds of politics, not philosophy.

However, as rare as they may be, people do convert and they do convert as a result of the arguments they hear. Some people criticize the number of arguments for or against god. All it should take is one. However, different people are convinced by different things. Furthermore, sometimes it takes a long time before we, as a people, are ready to accept a truth, even if it was discovered and supported long ago.

I'm not an atheist because I hate the concept of god or religion, but because I don't believe that any god or religion is right. Whatever the truth is, I want to know it, and I search constantly for it. In line with my faith in humanity's survival, I have faith that humanity is on a quest for truth and, whatever the truth may be, we will discover it, for better or for worse.

2 comments:

Shripathi Kamath said...

"I believe we should have faith in our fellow man. Specifically with regards to our fate, as a people. Furthermore, I would suggest that only atheists can have such faith"

Surely this is a serious claim which I do not know how you start defending. But I cannot find a serious argument against it. And the best alternative I come up with instead is "theists cannot have such faith" because I can almost make a case of deists as an exception to yours.

Democurus said...

Ok, so let's step back a bit. I believe the reasoning I gave is sound irrespective of religious belief. And, admittedly, it does have similarities to a certain wager.

As stated, either our fate is inevitable, or it is evitable. If inevitable, then it doesn't matter what we do, if it is evitable, then we should act toward a good end to increase the chances of bringing it about.

Now let's bring a god into the mix. If this god has absolutely any interest or involvement in the world, there's nothing we can do about it. So to believe in any such god is to preclude our actions having any affect on the ultimate fate of humanity.

So, technically, I suppose that a belief in a completely uninterested, uninvolved god would allow for this, but I'm not sure if even deism goes that far.