Faith Is, Faith Is Not

Faith Is

Why not disagree with Dr. Richard Dawkins on my first post? Well, there is the fear that his intelligence and charisma rolls are higher than mine, but I try not to back down in the face of fear. I’ve long purposed to create this blog, and it just so happens that I am able at a time when Dawkins interviews on one of my favorite shows, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It’ll have to do.

“I don’t think faith is positive, because faith means ‘belief without evidence’, and you shouldn’t believe anything without evidence.”

Follow this link and you can hear Dawkins’ statement in its full context at 2:21. It gets a healthy round of applause because people recognize an element of truth in it. What resonates most with me–and I imagine I’m not in a minority on this–is the understanding that a statement is not true purely because someone states it.

There are few sentiments that have sparked greater fervor in me than this. Questions need to be asked, with each answer spawning new curiosity until you reach a point where you feel examination has been exhausted, only to find it rekindled by an outside perspective on the same journey. And I suppose that is why I take issue with this quote. It attempts to contain a concept so robust as “faith” in a small, windowless, room where further inspection is discouraged.

Faith often means something quite different to each of us. In my own hunt, I’ve found that real faith is often hyper-practical, yet at the same time it has an element that pushes us to keep searching–an element that stokes an appetite for wonder in each of us. As Stewart seems to bring out in his questioning, believing before finding supporting evidence is the very attribute of humanity that makes science not only possible, but successful. I would carry that a step further. I propose that if we traced each of mankind’s greatest achievements, we would find that they owe their lives to faith sans evidence.

But faith in what? I don’t pretend that civilization advances solely through those who hold to my particular brand of faith (or a flavor so similar as to be blindly indistinguishable). But I do propose that faith is in constant use all around us. And while we don’t recognize it, I believe that each one of us places a certain amount of faith (albeit very often small and unknown) in something greater than us and wholly indescribable.

And I admit that an indescribable greater-than-me can, at times, resemble a paradox or illusion–especially when viewed only on the surface or at distorted angles. Yet I have found that it is the nature of that which is greater to be indescribable except in part or through limited metaphors.

And so I learn, time and again, that a lack of evidence does not discourage my faith. Rather, it is the fuel by which my faith increases and my hunt is renewed.

Faith Is Not

Contrary to a belief that runs popular in certain circles, faith is not an absence of thought. In fact, it surprises many to find out just how complex the thoughts placed into faith are. It ultimately comes down to a trust placed in some intelligent being. Sometimes this being is supernatural, and other times it’s human. Either way, each one of us regularly places faith in one or many such beings on a daily basis whether we realize it or not.

Take for example, the distance from Earth to the Sun. I don’t know it off the top of my head, but I do recall learning it at some point in the past. Of course, I know that my knowledge of this information has never involved personal experimentation. No, I’ve read it in books, heard it cited as premise for larger arguments, etc. And at some point along the way I found that someone in the past did the calculation personally, and they had an idea of what they were doing. So I trust, and I do so without any significant consequence.

So, if I need to use it as an example, I run a quick Google search. I have faith that Google will give me the result I need, ultimately because I trust that their programmers know what they’re doing when it comes to code and search algorithms. I also know that previous searches have yielded the results I’ve sought, and others also tell me that they have found the same to be true. So I run my search, and I trust that Google’s result of 92,960,000 miles is correct–at least correct enough to be used as an example in a post about faith. I trust that they have looked up the information to simplify my life and so I need not look further.

Out of interest, scrolling down reveals an article that gets more precise, though they cite a separate article which was likely written by an individual who has never done the calculation personally either. I can keep following this chain back in order to verify the source, but I take the gamble (however slight) that these sources are knowledgeable. So I have faith that someone along the way had the personal experience, and I carry on with my life without any significant consequence.

But when it comes to God, we treat the matter with an entirely different set of acceptable parameters. If an individual says that they have experienced God in some fashion, why do so many disbelieve? How many must experience God before those who have not are willing to believe that there is a good chance others may have knowledge of a truth that is entirely foreign to them? And why not apply the same skepticism to stellar distances? Or what about geography? How do I know there’s a mysterious island named England in some place called Europe? If all were required to personally verify each detail, learning would grind to a halt. But that is easily identified as borderline insanity–completely mistrusting everything others tell you until you’ve seen it personally. So instead our united culture accepts certain aspects as acceptable for a basis of greater learning, and rejects others.

Unfortunately for our society, faith in God often falls in the latter. It’s claimed to lack sufficient repeatable evidence. Sure, many have experienced God, but so-and-so hasn’t so they don’t believe. And yet, if I were asked to follow plans laid out to build a satellite, launch it into space, and use that to measure the distance from Earth to the Sun, and I failed to do so adequately, would it really be sound for me to conclude that no one else has ever succeeded?

But in saying this, I’m not saying all should believe in a particular god because others have experienced it. What I’m advocating is abolishing the prejudices of our past and accepting that the experiences of another are what validate their personal exploration and the personal exploration of those who come after. I’m promoting tolerance of those who experience things beyond what we are able to understand. I’m saying that there is solid ground for a journey toward discovering God personally, and failure to see that is promoting lack of thought. It’s promoting ignoring faith in favor of a narrow and limited view.

4 thoughts on “Faith Is, Faith Is Not”

  1. Ricardo says:

    Good post Peter. To add a bit to this, the Kalam Cosmolological Argument states: “Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause.” To believe that something can pop into existence without a cause is more of a stretch than believing in magic. And if something can come into existence without a cause, why don’t we see this happening all the time? Because whatever begins to exist has a cause. Check out the whole 4 min. argument here:

    1. Peter J Story says:

      Thanks for adding to the discussion. Yeah, I like Dr. Craig’s work. He knows his topics very well. It’s true that this begs an answer that reaches beyond what we currently call natural. It seems that at some point you would have to accept the supernatural or redefine the natural.

  2. Susanne says:

    I’ve always appreciated an opportunity to have an honest and open discussion on the topic of religion and faith. It’s detrimental to spirituality in general that this can turn into a hot button issue, because I believe that respectful disagreement can enrich faith. The pattern I’ve noticed is that faith is sometimes associated with absolutes, as in there is only one way to experience God and to experience faith or spirituality, and dissent or difference is perceived as a threat.

    I believe that in order to deepen your faith, you have to question it, and make sure actions reflect values. Like all core beliefs, faith has to be subject to rigorous reinforcement or it becomes weak. I try to check myself every now and again to make sure I don’t fall into a pattern of mindless acceptance and remain open.

    I just tried to shove a bunch of ideas I’ve be hoarding into two paragraphs, so I hope that makes sense.

    1. Peter J Story says:

      Well said, and thanks for saying it. I feel that the descent into what I’ll call “rigid faith” is a matter of human nature–power and fear, to put it succinctly. The desire for power coupled with the fear of the unknown and fear of losing that power to something new and mysterious causes humans to clamp down on what we’ve had and known. At that point, any idea, no matter how wonderful it may have been or may continue to be, begins to carry toxins along with the good. Over time, if new light is not allowed, then the toxins grow until the purveyors of such ideas decay.

      Like you, I can’t whittle this all down to a single comment. But I did write about this a little here, and have a draft awaiting completion that touches on this a bit more.

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