Sunday, January 04, 2009

"Blind" faith vs. faith

Attacking intellectual blindness rather than faith

This cartoon posted by Cameron Reilly in his blog is on the classic theme of faith vs. science.

I appreciate jokes of this sort, although I also think they sort of miss the point. They are funny more because they play on our fear of religious fanatacism and our stereotypes of faith than because they really hit home.

I think it’s more the “blind” in blind faith that we find problematic … rather than the “faith”part. Great things as well as terrible ones are accomplished by monomaniacs with a mission driven by faith. If someone shares your own faith, you find it admirable. If they don't, it is scary, and often for good reason. We use "faith" to good effect in all areas of life. It also aligns us and sometimes kills people massively when leveraged for politics.

Attacking “faith” as such sometimes makes us sound as if we lack hope, optimism, and belief in anything in general, and for many of us who admire science, the rest of those things aren’t true.
Origin of Species is still considered a classic of science writing and theorizing because it drew observations from broad patterns of data in many fields to support its conclusions, fairly considered conflicting evidence, and suggested implications of the ideas and ways to test them. Its role in the cultural shifting of “faith” was a secondary result.

The works of "scientific" creationism are still equally great examples of quite the opposite process, selectively picking data to support its conclusions, selectively quoting authorities, and creating explanations that while they explain a lot in some sense can’t ever be tested.

We all have a tendency to see things in terms of what we already believe. We all make good use of “faith” in at least some form.

The important difference, I think, is that the ideals of inquiry teach us to make mistakes and learn from them, while a tolerance for uncertainty allows us to see our ideas as theories.
When we say that people are going overboard with “blind faith” I think what we intend to mean is that they completely reject the ideals of inquiry, which is what makes it blind. It’s the blind part and not the faith part that makes the cartoon hit home. If “design” or “creation” were really a hypothesis rather than a mythic story, it would at least potentially have a scientific form. To the degree that it has such a form, it has accumulated an enormous amount of disconfirming evidence.

That’s not an attack on faith, it’s an attack on blindness.

If we attack faith as such, it should be for its political and social abuses rather than because we ignore the value of "faith" in some form in daily life.

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