Blind faith or blinding faith?

March 6, 2008 at 11:59 pm 17 comments

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.

- QuestionMonkey

Entry filed under: QuestionMonkey. Tags: , , , .

I might have become an atheist Why I am Not a Liberal Christian

17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mike  |  March 7, 2008 at 3:25 am

    Where does all the things the atheist puts his or her faith fit into? It seems that by labeling faith as “religious” you are limiting the scope of the action. I have met many atheists who are exceptionally dogmatic in their assertions, and yet they have no proof of what they claim. This point is obviously going to draw some heat, as I have mentioned it before, so let me explain myself a little further:

    There is no proof on the level that Atheists expect of Christianity to substantiate the Atheistic belief that the Christian is wrong. And yet the dogmatic belief of the Atheist prevents them from seeing that. That does, in fact, seem blinding.

    I dont mean to be rude in saying it like that, I am merely matching the wording of the article to illustrate the other side of the coin.

  • 2. Thinking Ape  |  March 7, 2008 at 3:46 am

    Mike,
    What is the difference, for yourself, between faith and reason – if any? What is the difference between proof and evidence? how do you define dogmatism?
    As an agnostic, I just want to see where you are going with this, because I’m seeing some serious issues of definition and I would like for us to be on the same page.

  • 3. qmonkey  |  March 7, 2008 at 5:39 am

    If a little boy is flying on a plane for the first time and can’t get to grips with how it all works, his daddy will tell him it’s ok, the plane will fly. The little boy will believe him – this is helpful blind faith. Next time the father might choose to tell him that the wings are lifted off the ground by invisible fairies – this also helps him to accept things. The problem only comes when he’s in school and starts to learn aerodynamics and he puts his hand up and says to the teacher – no, you’re wrong its invisible fairies that make plane fly, in fact I have a personal relationship with them, pray to them every time I fly and they answer my prayers, and in fact love me .

    Or maybe he says… whoa! Isn’t that a wonderful thing, I’m amazed as how awesome the fairies are to make all this happen.

    all im really saying it… how about we forget about the bloomin’ fairies and take the little pieces of knowledge we have and try to work out from that whats going on … rather than trying to work out the jigsaw from the completed image you think you have.

  • 4. Simen  |  March 7, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Mike, is there any way of convincing you that there is, in fact, a “proof on the level that Atheists expect of Christianity to substantiate the Atheistic belief that the Christian is wrong”?

    Because there’s no point in arguing with people who can’t be convinced.

    Apart from that, what you say is simply a baseless assertion. I’m sure you’ve heard all the atheistic explanations for everything that God is supposed to explain, and more.

    I’m kind of tired of hearing about the dogmatic beliefs of atheists. Every time I hear about them, it turns out that neither I nor any atheist I know holds these beliefs. Perhaps you could substantiate your claims.

  • 5. sbsisyphus  |  March 7, 2008 at 10:00 am

    until you put down your bias you are not going to see the elephant in the room

  • 6. Peg  |  March 7, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    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.

    Within the context of this discussion, this Christian says “precisely”. The kind of evidence that helped Newton explain the natural world does not in any way contradict God or faith in God.

    There is a difference between people who believe what they’re taught without question, and those who ask the hard questions and still believe. The former IMO contributes much to the growing number of atheists…

    BTW just this week I came across this quotation written by an atheist: ““Faith and reason are the shoes on your feet. You can travel further with both than you can with just one.” I couldn’t agree more — and say to my fellow Christians it’s time to quit painting all atheists with the same color brush.

  • 7. Mike  |  March 7, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    TA,

    I agree, the terms are ambiguous. Since my main point doesnt rest on their definition, I think I will avoid it for the time being. I apologize if my use of them was distracting from the main thrust of my argument which Simen nicely brought us to:

    “is there any way of convincing you that there is, in fact, a proof on the level that Atheists expect of Christianity to substantiate the Atheistic belief that the Christian is wrong?”

    Probably no more than me convincing you that there is no legitimate reason to deny the account we have been given in the Bible. You believe there is sufficient proof for refuting it; I dont. But we are both holding to those committments, which is what I wanted to point out in relation to QuestionMonkey’s article. The door swings both ways, and it is just as blinding for you as you assert it being for me.

  • 8. Thinking Ape  |  March 7, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Mike,
    Your last comment:

    I agree, the terms are ambiguous. Since my main point doesnt rest on their definition, I think I will avoid it for the time being.

    Your first comment:

    Where does all the things the atheist puts his or her faith fit into?
    I have met many atheists who are exceptionally dogmatic in their assertions…
    There is no proof on the level that Atheists expect of Christianity to substantiate the Atheistic belief…
    And yet the dogmatic belief of the Atheist…
    I am merely matching the wording of the article…

    The terms are only ambiguous if you purposely make them ambiguous to prove a point. And don’t say that wasn’t the point when that was the entire point that you gave at the end of your response. But now that you don’t care to discuss your first post, lets focus on the crux of your argument

    You believe there is sufficient proof for refuting it; I dont.

    No no no and… no. If I come to you and say “The Lord Buddha, Sakyamuni Gautama, was born in India of a virgin and had all of the divine marks of royalty.” I could then take many texts and ancient scriptures that confirm this. I could take all of the experiences of Buddhists throughout the millennia as examples of its truth. Do you believe me? Probably not. Why? How can you refute it? Why should I expect you to? Wouldn’t you say it is up to me to convince you, not for you to convince me how silly my story is? The default position for all of us is the lack of knowledge – or the potential for knowledge.

  • 9. Mike  |  March 7, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    TA,

    “I am merely matching the wording of the article…”

    If I was matching the wording of the article, it would seem the ambiguity rests on someone other than me, although I am certainly culpable for perpetuating the offense. For that I apologize.

    “Wouldn’t you say it is up to me to convince you, not for you to convince me how silly my story is? The default position for all of us is the lack of knowledge – or the potential for knowledge.”

    The default position is ignorance, on this we agree. But the result of my ignorance is not disbelief when you present me something i am unfamiliar with. I have no reason to doubt your account of Buddhism being truth unless I have an alternate experience or belief that it contradicts with. I have Christianity. You have whatever committments you hold to. Again, my point is that those committments are every bit as blinding for you as you suppose them to be for me.

  • 10. Quester  |  March 7, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Mike,

    Again, my point is that those committments are every bit as blinding for you as you suppose them to be for me.

    How can you assume this?

  • 11. Mike  |  March 7, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Quester,

    “How can you assume this?”

    A very fair question. But understand, I make no mention to the Degree of blindness, only that they are necessarily the Same degree. I leave the decision of the Degree of blindness to QuestionMonkey who wrote the article and made the initial assertion:

    “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.”

  • 12. Anonymous  |  March 7, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Mike said:

    Probably no more than me convincing you that there is no legitimate reason to deny the account we have been given in the Bible. You believe there is sufficient proof for refuting it; I dont.

    No legitimate reason? Would you like me to list the first thousand?

  • 13. Quester  |  March 7, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Mike,

    “But understand, I make no mention to the Degree of blindness, only that they are necessarily the Same degree.”

    Again, I see no basis for this assumption.

  • 14. Ubi Dubium  |  March 7, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Mike

    “I have no reason to doubt your account of Buddhism being truth unless I have an alternate experience or belief that it contradicts with.”

    This is one way our basic approaches differ. You are prepared to believe in religious claims unless you have a good reason not to. A typical Atheist is not going to believe a religious claim until there is overwhelming evidence. (Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.) For most christians doubt is a bad thing. For us, it’s a starting point.

  • 15. Franklin Evans  |  March 7, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    As a point of reference (excellent discussion topic, btw):

    The human ability of abstract reasoning has its basis in a part of the brain that does not complete physical development until about the age of 4. Parents faced with the mind-numbing ability of chidren to ask “why” are dealing with the early use of the ability. That use is skill-based, and capable of lesser or greater development dependent on the effort of each individual.

    I don’t mean to open a can of worms with that; I do mean to suggest that a child’s intellectual journey from Santa Claus and fairies making planes fly to embracing cultural practices and the science of flight is normal.

    In my experience, religious faith is based on some combination of lack of evidence to explain an emotion-based phenomenon, relative stubbornness (my choice of term instead of “dogmatic”), and the personal decision to hold faith above reason.

    I happen to have a religious faith that is odds with nearly any religion one can name. It fits my internal resolution of those three factors. I neither care abuot nor have any desire to change the disagreement of others, whether based in their faith’s contradiction of mine or an atheistic rejection of all matters of faith.

    What I prefer is sitting down with a good brew and discussing it all civilly and with a clear view of human fallibility. The first round’s on me.

  • 16. Franklin Evans  |  March 7, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    The typos and grammatical omissions in my post above are directly proportional to it being the end of a long week and the rain outside making my sinuses cranky. ;-)

  • 17. barryweber  |  March 7, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    Many equate religiosity with faith, or regard religion as the opposite of atheism.

    I am a pastor, in a Christian denomination, and am working to shed all semblances of religiosity and blindly accepted traditions. Even as I do that, my understandings of God are enlarging, almost exponentially!

    It is religion that dulls our senses to the ongoing and continuing Creation. It is our ancient religious metaphors that have chained our imaginations to anchors from the Bronze Age.

    Religion is about answers- answers etched in granite, impervious to change. Spirituality is about questions- questions that lead us into the throneroom of God where there are no walls, no names, and no inhuman doctrines written in the languages of human ego.

    I can, at this point, learn more about the God-who-is from Richard Dawkins and Dan Dennett than I can from those who preach a blind, unquestioning, and ultimately selfish and unsatisfying faith.

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