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.


  1. I love trying to figure you out in lay mans terms, you are obviously intelligent and passionate in your beliefs, but who are you trying to reach with your messages, only the other overly intelligent or the average as well...So let me try, Faith, a sure thing verses a might happen....making decisions based on Probability instead of credibility, I agree in the sense that if my child is sick and could receive treatment and be healed and I deny that treatment based on Faith, I am stupid...but what about taking chances based on research, facts, and even though the research is there, there's no surity like sending a rocket into space. Based on what we know it will probably be successful, but there's a chance it won't, is that faith? If not what do you call that?

  2. Yikes. I started to respond to this... and two pages later decided to make it a new post. Look for - "F" word, Round Three - (up soon).