Many people use faith to support their religious beliefs, and encourage me to have faith and believe in God. But what seems to be taken for granted is the belief that faith is a good thing. How helpful is this concept really?
The strongest argument for faith points to how common it is in our daily lives. For example you have faith that the chair you’re sitting on won’t break, that your partner loves you back, and that your phone will turn on when you press the right button. How could something so useful and prevalent in our daily lives not be helpful?
But of course, you don’t actually trust these things using faith alone. There is lots of evidence for chairs working, and mobile phones turning on. Meanwhile love without evidence, as Tim Minchin said, is just stalking. The faith that you have for these things is based on mountains of evidence and testing, so it is not totally unfounded.
It is therefore beneficial to define blind faith as simply belief without evidence, and faith as belief based on some evidence. The reason why I use the word ‘some’ is that if there was enough evidence, faith would not be necessary. It’s easy to see how blind faith wouldn’t be helpful as the stalker continues to think he’s in a romantic relationship, but what about faith based on some evidence? Surely faith that the chair will hold your weight is beneficial in daily life?
I think it’s helpful to imagine a scale between 0% and 100% which represents the confidence that you have in a claim. 100% is equal to 100% confidence. The way that you progress up this scale of higher and higher percentage confidence is with evidence. So the fact that a chair has never once broken while I’ve been sitting in it would push me to the 99.999% area, while the remaining 0.001% would be faith. So in this situation very little faith is required, but still, it may have saved you from nervously thinking “will this be the time?” when you sit down. So if you want to argue that faith is useful as a time saving heuristic, I would agree with you in some circumstances.
But when specifically searching for truth, I want to know the answer to “will this chair hold my weight this time” rather than save time with a heuristic. I am unconvinced that fath can lead to the correct conclusion 100% of the time, as chairs do break sometimes, so 100% faith in this area is not always going to lead to the correct answer. This is my main problem with faith. Not that it cannot lead to truth, but that it is not a reliable way to truth.
This is evident when you consider the amount of conclusions that you can use faith to support: “I have faith that all animals will turn into dogs”, “I have faith that the world will end tomorrow”, “I have faith that everyone is a robot and I’m the only real human” – it seems to me that you can use faith to justify belief in almost anything. It’s clear that faith cannot be used to reach truth consistently, as things cannot be true and false at the same time, and you can use faith to both justify belief and non-belief.
An interesting question I’ve been pondering is ‘Is there enough evidence to reach your conclusions without the use of faith? ‘
If the answer is ‘yes’, then that’s great, but it does make faith unnecessary as you would still believe the conclusion regardless of whether or not you have faith.
If the answer is ‘no’, then of course there is another problem: there isn’t enough evidence to reach your conclusion. Why bridge the gap between evidence and 100% confidence with faith alone since faith is not reliable?
I don’t think it can be fair to label some faith as helpful and some faith as unhelpful while we are in a position of lacking evidence. Since the conclusion doesn’t have enough evidence to support it, you cannot know if your faith was correct until more information is known. This would make correct use of faith impossible to identify until faith is no longer necessary. So saying something like “my use of faith is correct and this person’s use of faith is not” is just not helpful to me.
While faith can sometimes lead to correct conclusions, a broken clock can also lead you to obtaining the correct time twice a day. If it’s not always correct, and we cannot identify the times when it is correct and the times when it isn’t until we know more information, I really don’t see it as any better than a broken clock.
So in my search for truth, I’m unwilling to use faith for these reasons, and will keep it in its place as a time saving heuristic to stop me being terrified whenever I want to sit down in my chair. However I also want to put these ideas to scrutiny so that if I have made a mistake, people can tell me, and I can find truth better. If you disagree with this, I’d love to talk to you about why.