Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More "F" word

(This is taken unedited from comments I made elsewhere. Where it lacks context or reiterates earlier postings... that's why.)

Faith is unworthy of reverence. Faith, on any consequential scale, is absolutely deserving of despite. It’s only a state of mind, but then again so are bigotry and hubris.

If the religious and non-religious could stop using the world faith to describe reasonable naturally-supported expectations then there would only be one reason to object to its usage. And the rest of the crap could stand or fall on its own merit. If the twenty or so church marquis I pass on a regular basis are any indication, equivocation is a siren song to christians. They eat that shit up. So if non-believers seem overly reticent about broad usage of the “F” word it is a well founded concern rather than unreasonable anxiety.

One stumbling block we are going to run into is semantics. Subtle (and not so subtle) differences in the definition and proper range of usage will (and seemingly have) lead to disagreements based on misunderstandings. As a proponent of secularism and as an anti-theist I’ve come to expect this from supporters of superstitious and religious orthodoxy. But we are not evaluating “faith” for its poetic value so there is no honest benefit to leaving the door open for further equivocation.

* Faith is a belief or convicted decision made in the absence of adequate objective evidence.

There are occasions when expedient decision making is required. This is usually a matter of urgent need and limited resources (time and information being considered resources). This is not faith, unless you’d like to consider faith to be synonymous with desperation. When inaction and indecision equate to increased risk of suffering even a gamble or poorly informed guess is reasonable. In the cost/benefit analysis of “Known bad” vs. “Unknown alternative” wherein the “known bad” is severe enough, most people will brave the unknown.

There is a degree of uncertainty is every aspect of life. But the natural world, especially the civilized world at peace, is fairly predictable. We develop expectations and they are generally met. Gaping sink holes under the street seldom collapse our driving surfaces under us. But it does happen. Is it reasonable to expect it is going to happen to you at any moment? Is it more reasonable to expect that while this could happen to you it probably never will? We can make a fairly well informed decision in such matters (local geology, history lacking sink holes and undermining, competent geologists and civil engineers) and develop reasonable expectations. We might even call it trust, informed trust. To call this faith belittles the faith of the religious. There is nothing preventing you or anyone from calling this faith, except (I hope) intellectual integrity.

In situations where objective evidence is missing and there is no impending peril it is better to admit ignorance. We may operate under assumptions but if we don’t recognize that that is what we are doing we are likely to reinforce our ignorance. Where the resources exist to make informed decisions, relying on faith is willful ignorance, absolutely. If someone is too lazy to seek and consider objective evidence regarding a matter they clearly consider important… it is mildly tragic. When they think their ideas are important enough to share with others but are still too lazy to seek and consider objective evidence… it is disgusting.

*Faith may also be a belief or convicted decision made contrary to objective evidence, sometimes overwhelming evidence.

This type of faith goes beyond willful ignorance. This is delusional fanaticism. It can even be self-inflicted. Outside of “spiritual” matters and Cubs fans this is recognized as psychological affliction. And here we return squarely to the realm of beliefs based on wishful thinking and fear. This is faith at its purest (as in undiluted) ugliest form. This is the faith that too often rationalizes incivility, inhumanity and atrocity. This is the faith wherein a preconceived belief negates any contrary evidence *a priori*. This faith is a weapon, loaded and looking for a target. Most people will stop short of violence to themselves or others. But few people have difficulty condemning non-conforming culture... evidence and facts be damned.

> “Faith in vows made to others, and by
> others”

Why do these deserve faith? If they are deserving of trust (trust that you give and/or trust that you feel), that is, if they have earned trust, it’s not faith. If they are not deserving of trust neither are they deserving of faith.

> “in talent, ability, skill”

If there were anything to this then no one would ever practice. Faith is meaningless. Reasonable expectation based on previous performance is meaningful.

Positive outlook does not have a statistical influence on recovery rates. It just makes us more sympathetic to the patient. Everyone seems to think it does but studies do not back it up.

Self confidence is more reliable as a manifestation of reasonable expectations than it is as a manifestation of faith. A lack of self confidence may also be described as faith in inability. A lack of self confidence is a self fulfilling prophecy in that it deters effort. Faith or over confidence is also detrimental in that early failures tend to deter further efforts. Reasonable expectations and the knowledge that real challenges generally require tenacity are much more reliable.

All of these examples fail for the same reasons. Placing trust in something or someone that doesn’t deserve it is a gift or a gamble. Placing trust in something or someone that has earned it is evidence-based reasonable expectation.

Faith, religious or otherwise, should be despised. Using the word “faith” to describe what should be reasonably expected is an indirect, possibly unintentional, endorsement of uninformed epistemology. Willful ignorance should be mocked, not praised. The quality of a belief cannot and should not be measured by conviction of believer. To suggest otherwise is dishonest and irresponsible.

I like fiction too but I don’t see the point in celebrating the excuse a girl used to explain how her full-term baby was born 7 months (I’m guessing) after her marriage… two thousand years ago. Not even if she had a note from Epstein's Mother's deity.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Some thoughts on the "F" word

"We are most superstitious when we are least in control." I believe it was Andy Thomson who said that.

Faith should be despised as a venom inflicting insidious credulity.

The definitions of "god" change as needed by the believer. It is essentially impossible to disprove god because any attempt nearing success prompts the believer to "move the goal." That which defies observation is at a neutral buoyancy between "indisputable" and "incredible." Every person has an array of motives driving their epistemology. Just as we may find some people's behavior confusing, we tend to interpret their thoughts and motives through subjective filters. What we want and what we fear seem to be most influential. Likewise, the existence of a superghost is supported through selection bias, wishful thinking and, of course, fear.

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for." ~inane christian babbling

If you encounter this platitude issue the following correction:

"Wishful thinking is the substance of things hoped for." ~me And then you can debate the subtle differences between the two statements or the complete lack of difference.

"Faith" is an insidious social tool that preys on our desire to belong... our desire to be civil. In all non-religious matters we are told: caveat emptor... "Let the buyer beware." But how often are we made to feel guilty with phrases like, "Don't you trust me?" "What are you afraid of?" For some reason it is uncouth to suggest to someone they haven't earned your trust.

Side note, old joke: How does someone from Los Angeles say "Screw you?" Answer: "Trust me."

We are told to be wary of salesmen, to convict only in the absence of reasonable doubt and "Don't believe everything you read." But with religion the rules are reversed. For "spiritual" matters belief is touted as superior in the absence of evidence. It's not hard to understand why. "Evidence" that supports supernatural claims is at best subjective and suspiciously incomplete.

"What Can Be Asserted Without Evidence Can Be Dismissed Without Evidence" ~Christopher Hitchens

And yet, the believer puts stock in the lack of evidence DISPROVING the existence of whatever supernatural phenomenon they cling to. It doesn't seem to matter that every alternate supernatural claim shares equal footing through the same stale argument. It seems quite possible for anyone to believe anything. The main steering point seems to be self-preservation. In order to believe in flying pizzas or to disbelieve in gravity it is useful to have an alternate explanation and essential to have a reason to do so. If you can overcome those two hurdles you could probably convince people of ancient space warlords, magic underwear or an intangible eternal essence of self.

This is why skepticism is so important. It is not just in legal matters, financial matters, physics and used-car purchases. If there is an omnipotent deity that wants to interact with us it would be a fairly important issue. Why would we go with the least reliable, most abuse-able epistemology? Who is making these claims? Why should we believe them? Why should we believe their claims? Is it trust? Faith? Tradition? Fear? Desire? These are all horrible reasons to accept something as true. These are the weaknesses that grifters and charlatans rely on. You do get the "benefit" of being able to believe in something that is otherwise unbelievable.

It is only by faith that we may be fooled.

Sometimes the word "faith" is misapplied when what is meant is "trust." For instance, "I have faith in my friends." If that faith is based on a track record of reliable behavior then that's not really "faith." If that faith is based on a history of unreliable or consistently detrimental behavior then it should be called "faith." It should also be called "sick."

Most people who try to justify their faith in something supernatural do so by crediting (confirmation bias) welcome events to that supernatural entity. As mentioned before: subjective, incomplete evidence. Unwelcome events? For some reason the entity gets no blame. The distribution of welcome and unwelcome events across cultures and belief systems is suspiciously uniform. If there is a supernatural influence casting benevolence upon the world it doesn't seem to matter if you believe in it.

There is a certain comfort to be gained in a single tidy supernatural explanation for everything you don't understand. And it is a lot less embarrassing than admitting you don't understand the myriad details of how the world works. In light of reality, empiricism, demonstrable facts and technological progress faith has become an embarrassment and a burden. People can, may and shall believe whatever Determinism or their freewill dictates. But as long as people continue to value faith over evidence, regardless of quality, regardless of quantity, people will continue to thank god for the airbag or medical treatment that saved their life. As much as I enjoy irony, the injustice makes me cringe.

When someone says, "You gotta have faith," ask them not to use the "F" word around you because it is perverse.