So I’m going to approach faith first from a non-religious perspective. But I’ll warn you that it is a trick since I’ll eventually come around to the fact that we cannot have faith in God’s absence. See? By then I’ll have pulled you all in.
Faith can be defined as belief in the absence of proof. It is a definition that is lacking, but as good a starting point as any. In today’s world, it seems to me that we place a lot of emphasis on proof and thus look at faith sideways as a poor neighbour. Show me the proof. Skepticism rules the day.
So first, let me say that I love skepticism. Neat stuff. Essential really. But what we call skepticism is often not. Skepticism is the excuse we pull out when confronted with ideas and concepts different than our own. Show me the proof we say then. When we see something presented that we already believe in or want to believe in, we don’t subject it to skepticism at all. Anecdotal evidence, unsupported statistics and impassioned rhetoric is accepted. (Note this post is likely an example of the later and thus by the argument I’m developing should be examined skeptically.)
Instead we should be examining precisely our own beliefs skeptically – subjecting them to ongoing examination and questioning and ensuring that they can be juxtaposed with reality without abandoning common sense. Skepticism should be a primary tool of growth and learning not a tool for rejection and denial.
Faith in this modern era of skepticism and proof appears to be opposed to reason. If proof is lacking then belief must be suspect; distrusted. I’d contend that nothing can be further from the truth. Faith is our primary method of comprehending the world around us.
For instance, one of our basic assumption that what is to come will resemble what has happened. The sun will rise. The seasons will change. Rain will fall. The people who loved and cared for us yesterday will love and care for us tomorrow. Three things there:
- They aren’t assumptions that can ever be proved.
- Belief in them is necessary – otherwise you would be paralyzed from action due to fear.
- Belief in them is not contrary to reason – it is supported by reason.
They aren’t staged examples either (well maybe they are). I specifically chose items which can sometimes be false. What happens then without faith? Faith gives us what we need to identify an anomaly and move on. Reason would indicate that the entire paradigm would need to be reevaluated. Both are appropriate responses and should be applied in proper measure.
Sometimes I also see faith bandied about to explain reactions that are contrary to reason altogether. Generally this is unhelpful and is either the result of someone unwilling to subject their own beliefs to skepticism or a 3rd party desiring to paint faith as self-contradictory.
So assuming my arguments are sufficient proof that faith is both necessary and congruent with reason, what are the next steps? Here are two I like. First to establish faith in the innate goodness of humanity. Second, to make an argument that faith in co-determinate with God.
People seem to provide ongoing examples their own shortcomings. Greed is rampant. Cruelty is too common. Even smaller faults such as thoughtlessness are ubiquitous. Arguing against an innate goodness seems an easier task than to argue for it.
Have you ever heard of cognitive biases? They are flaws in our normal reasoning. One such bias is the availability heuristic. It is our tendency to elevate the probability of unlikely events if those events are more vivid or emotional in our minds. Based on my experience people I meet are kind and thoughtful. But it is easy to focus on those less common occurences that are negative.
Take driving home every day. Same I’m on the road with 100 cars during the trip. Once or twice a week I see someone driving in a manner I’d call dangerous. I tend to focus on those few occasions. And when there is actually a near accident and I have to hit the brakes or move around a problem that seems very common. But in truth there are many many cars out there that cause no problems whatsoever.
I have faith that people are innately good. I have examples of when that is not true. But my normal experience is that people are generally good. I can lack that faith – give in to the availability heuristic and protect myself from other people in all occasions. But that leads to an inability to lead a normal productive life.
Where does faith come from? By definition it cannot come from experience. So it could be a learned behavior or a genetically determined behavior. It makes sense to be genetic from my own arguments since faith is a survival mechanism. And we certainly teach our children to show faith as well (although where would the teaching have originated if not in experience?). It can also be a gift from God and that to me makes the most sense. (This argument will presume a belief in God.)
Faith is a belief in what cannot be proven and what cannot be seen. But it isn’t ephemeral. It isn’t tenuous. Faith can be leaned upon and it can provide support. It can be what sustains us. These imply that it is something more than belief – more than applied imagination – faith must be something that IS. This suggests to me that it is more than an instinct and more than a lesson passed down.
Having eliminated the other possibilities I can think of I’m left with God. I realize the chain of suppositions is long though and I could spend more time on each to better flesh them out. But my intention is not really to provide a proof nor to proselytize.
My intention is to provide a foundation through which I can later discuss morality and ethics. To provide my entry point. I can’t separate those from faith nor religion so I had to start here. Faith is a complex subject and I’ve done it no justice so far. But I think my key points are:
- It is commonplace even in venues considered purely secular.
- It is necessary.
- It is not irrational.
- It comes from God.
Hmm – someday I’m going to end ones of these in a stronger fashion… My conclusions seem to peter out.