Blind faith or blinding faith?
To early humans, the sun rose from its hollow in the ground, passed over their head, before submerging in the other direction into the earth. The wind and rain randomly gathered then passed. Flowers and vegetables magically emerged from the soil every spring bringing with it nurturing life and sustenance. All of this was tempered by the random terror of earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes.
Not only were there unknown unknowns like nuclear physics, but there were lots of known unknowns such as basic anatomy, circulation and respiratory functions. In fact, the ins and outs of animal and human reproduction, the miracle of life itself, was a great mystery.
A few years ago, I read a book by the anthropologist Pascal Boyer entitled ‘Religion Explained.’ I don’t think it would be too much of a hyperbole to say that this was a turning point in my life. My intent on reading the book was to learn more how ‘other’ religions emerged. However, as a result of reading this book, the can of worms which was probably open before I started, spilled out all over the floor.
Boyer riffs on the idea that ‘blind faith’ is a healthy and natural human phenomenon. He argued that it is perfectly acceptable and even desirable that, before Galileo worked out that the earth isn’t the centre of the universe but in fact rotates around the sun, people needed the faith that the sun would rise every day (some did a morning dance just in case). They possessed no knowledge to rationally determine how or why it would. They had to make some assumptions just to get on with the business of living. In other words, it was completely helpful and normal to see it as a mystically defined ‘black box’ or even personify it as the workings of a deity.
I believe the point he was making is that this blind faith was ok and in fact helpful. When the Greeks gave names to these black boxes (Aphrodite, Apollo, Thor, and Zeus), the issues only arose after a few generations when the people started to take these gods literally, develop dogmas and then when a bright mind inquired how the stars fit in the sky – people called them a heretic for daring to deny the authority of Apollo.
Likewise Adam and Eve was a perfectly helpful algebraic black box until it caused people to limit their investigations into the origins of man. The ‘universe instigator’ god is helpfully algebraic until it colours our investigations into universal origins.
Perhaps the unhelpful kind of faith is that which allows for acceptance of supernatural claims based on less than convincing evidence rather than the kind that helped Newton explain the natural world. It is the kind of faith which a makes a suicide bomber believe that he communicates intimately with a loving Allah or for a Christian who lives his life in the light the resurrection and virgin birth of Jesus, not because he is necessarily convinced by the evidence but because he has faith in the dogma.
I do not see this kind of faith as a virtue. In fact, in my opinion, it’s not blind faith, it’s a blinding faith.