Encore: Reality-based faith vs. superstitious faithDecember 1, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
[Originally posted on August 21, 2007]
A commenter writes:
Belief in the existence of God or belief that there is no god requires faith.
Yes, and I’ll take it a step further: belief in reality requires a stronger and better faith than belief in superstition. And those who embrace the truth have a stronger and better faith than Christians do, because Christian faith is mere gullibility, whereas genuine faith is based on real-world truth.
The commenter is writing from a perspective of Universal Agnosticism (see? I told you it would come up):
The term ‘reality’ is relative…
Again, truth is not really known. You cannot prove that God isn’t there. If you could, this conversation wouldn’t be happening because there would be nothing to discuss. Therefore, truth is not defined. I do love truth and BELIEVE or HAVE FAITH that the God that I call on IS TRUTH. You apparently BELIEVE or HAVE FAITH that TRUTH is something else. I’m not disputing the fact that you believe something. But, neither of us will be able to truly claim that we know until we’re both dead.
His viewpoint, of course, is suffering from a serious defect, which is that according to his definitions, the truth about God is not humanly knowable. In order for that to be true, however, it would necessarily have to be equally true that none of the things he believes about God, and none of the things the Bible says about God, are actually based on any knowledge of the truth. By his own definitions, the meaningful content of his faith cannot be anything more than pure, unfounded fantasy. He manages to escape from the inevitable conflict between his faith and the real world, but he does so at the expense of abandoning reality and thus rendering his own believes irrelevant to the truth.
Hence the quick change of subject:
Rather than just participating in pointless tit-for-tat…lets get back to the idea that I originally posted: Belief in the existence of God or belief that there is no god requires faith.
I suppose he would be a bit surprised to find that I agree, and I also agree with the title of the book by Geisler and Turek which is the current subject of XFiles Friday: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST. What’s interesting is that both the commenter and the authors are trying to prove the same point: they are trying to weaken the case for a reality-based view by implying that it is a matter of faith rather than a matter of fact and knowledge. In making this appeal, they reveal the weaknesses of their own concept of faith, and their lack of familiarity with reality-based faith.
Reality-based faith has three elements. First and foremost, reality-based faith is based on a broad experience of reality. Our experiences in the real world give us a solid foundation on which to base our faith. For example, we have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow because we have a broad, solid experience of seeing the sun rise every morning (or for some of us, at least seeing that the sun has managed to make it up above the horizon again while we were sleeping). The “confidence quotient” of our faith is based on having seen and experienced that which we are putting our trust in.
Secondly, reality-based faith is built on embracing the real-world truth. Experiencing reality is not always enough. We must also embrace it, which means that, in the negative sense, we must not try to deny reality, and in the positive sense, we must accept it and understand it as best we can. We want a solid, well-founded faith, and that means that the intellectual content of our faith needs to match the reality that it is based on. Otherwise, our faith will be out of step with reality, and thus ill-founded and unlikely to bring us the benefits that come from having a well-founded faith.
Lastly, reality-based faith must positively affirm that which we believe. This is perhaps the most obvious aspect of faith, but it is not the sole aspect of genuine faith. Genuine faith means you experience the real-world truth, then you embrace the real-world truth, and lastly you affirm the real-world truth. This is a strong, well-founded, and reliable faith.
Superstitious faiths, like Christianity for instance, have a much weaker faith that’s built upside down. In Christianity, someone first affirms a dogma. Then the believer embraces the dogma. Then lastly, the believer tries to get his real-world experience to match the content of his beliefs. It’s a lot of work, and the results are often frustrating and confusing. When the believer is intelligent and intellectually honest, like the commenter, very often the result is that they clearly see the need to make a choice between denying reality and denying Christianity–the conflicts between the two are simply too pervasive and too irreconcilable to embrace them both. And far too often, the believer will choose to deny reality, as the commenter does, rather than give up their superstitious and ill-founded “faith.”