Notes on Faith

I don’t have faith. There are things I believe, things I don’t believe, things I don’t know and I have varying levels of confidence for each belief. Everything I believe I have evidence to support. “A wise man apportions his belief to the evidence”, as Christopher Hitchens said in summary of David Hume’s rather excellent essay. Faith, alternatively, is what we call it when a belief is held outside of the confidence intervals given to us by the evidence.

If I believed that tomorrow gravity would just turn off, and acted accordingly by tying everything I own down, you might ask me why I believe that. I would have no evidence that my belief was true; it would be an issue of faith. In fact, I see this all the time in religious discussions from the religious people and they don’t realise they’re doing it. Do you remember the spoof-deities atheists used to shoe-horn into conversations and then claim to believe in: the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, Russel’s Teapot? Often, religious people asked why atheists claimed to believe in these things, and some pseudo-logic about gravity and pirates was occasionally recited, followed by “you’ve got to have faith”.

I don’t mind you having faith. If you accept that it is faith you can probably see why I don’t accept it or care. You can probably also see why it doesn’t belong in the political sphere, if it’s unsubstantiated faith. But if you’re going to tell me that I have faith, I am going to have to ask you what I have faith in; what premise do I accept that is not supported by evidence?


5 thoughts on “Notes on Faith”

  1. How do drips of chemicals and drops of earthly substances have an end-result being thoughts if there weren’t something super-human going on? How do these chemicals material substances with; “I think the sky is beautiful today.” ??
    I was not able to stay away from alcohol no matter how hard I tried. Then, when I accidentally invited Jesus to come into my sphere I got a super-human Holy Spirit that I felt viscerally come down through the top of my head. Now I can easily stay away from alcohol. How did that happen? Before, I couldn’t, now, I can. How did that happen?

    1. The honest answer is that I don’t know. But “I don’t know” isn’t evidence of something else.
      To assume that when a thing is composed of non-rational and non-conscious things that the complete thing must also be non-rational and non-conscious is a philosophical error called the “Fallacy of Composition”.
      Consciousness emerges from electrical patterns in the neurons of the brain. Exactly how that behaves I’m not really sure of. But when you change the neurological context (by accepting a belief or premise) it can change behaviour. A lot of research has been done into the psychological impacts of believing in God, and if you want to see the sorts of impacts it can have look to see if you can watch the second episode of Derren Brown’s “Fear and Faith”.

    2. How do simple electrical impulses result in all the things computers can do? I don’t think you’d claim they have any kind of “soul” or “spirit”. Simple processes can combine to create amazingly complex results, whether electrical or chemical.

      You know who had the power to stop your drinking? You did. You needed to believe that you had help to accomplish it, but in the end it was your own mind that did it. Give yourself some credit where it’s due.

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