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.


  1. Faith...the belief in something unknown, unproven. Faith can be "placed" in many directions. Some good, some bad. Faith doesn't mean you replace common sense with stupidity. If I place my faith in untrustworthy people I have increased the probability of a negative outcome. If I place my faith in trustworthy people I increase the probability of a positive outcome. Either way, there's no guarentee. Should I just not place my faith at all, never trust anyone...become a recluse or take that chance, that leap of "faith" and "hope" for the best...

  2. I would hope that in any situation a person would try to make an informed decision. Even if, especially if, that decision results in the recognition and acceptance of risk.