January 10, 2011

Faith part 1: Reason to Believe


In the second dispensation, humanity was given time to amass an abundance of knowledge in order to determine if knowledge alone would lead them to choose God.

The dispensation failed because while men had knowledge of God, they did not believe in God.  They lacked faith.  Faith is the mechanism through which we believe.

You don’t know what you don’t know

Faith is a necessary part of our cognitive experience to varying degrees because no one knows everything (not even lawyers, despite the impression they give).  Since none of us have all the knowledge in existence, we are consistently faced with situations where we have to make definitive decisions based on knowledge that we may not completely have or fully understand.  These decisions are based on some measure of faith.

Faith seems to be the willingness to rely on something that we do not have full knowledge of.

Faith is obviously a major tenet of any belief system.  Whether it’s a belief in a God we cannot see, or the belief that no such God exists – unless one can claim complete knowledge, both beliefs require faith.

Yet despite the fact that it takes just as much (if not more) faith to believe God doesn’t exist as it does to believe in Him, atheists generally speak of the concept of faith pejoratively. They often contend that their worldview is superior because they claim it is not based on faith.

Atlas sat

Of course that claim is untrue because even those individuals who profess to abhor the concept of faith in any form contradict their stance in their everyday life. An interesting example of this is in an old video I recently watched of an interview with famous writer and philosopher Ayn Rand, author of the book Atlas Shrugged (which happens to be my favorite novel).

A major tenet of Ms. Rand’s philosophy is that individuals should choose their values and actions based on logic and reason.  She held contempt for anything that she considered irrational.  Because she also held that faith was antithetical to reason, Ms. Rand vigorously opposed religion.

While I agree with her about religion, her ideas about faith are an example of throwing the baby out with the bath water.  All faith is not created equal.  Nor is faith necessarily antithetical to logic and reason (this blog would be ill named if it were).

In spite of herself, Ms. Rand gave a succinct example of this during the interview I saw.  When she was introduced, her first action after she walked onto the stage was completely faith-based – she sat down in a chair next to the interviewer.  She did not examine the structural soundness of the chair before she sat in it.  She had no empirical evidence that it would adequately support her.  Yet she sat in it with no hesitation.

It could (and should) be argued that it was reasonable for her to expect that the chair would be sound, based on knowledge and experience.  Ms. Rand had knowledge that the purpose of a chair is to support a seated person, and she knew that it would be in the best interests of the interviewer to provide her with a functioning chair. She also, no doubt, had extensive experience with chairs during her life; the vast majority of which probably served their purpose adequately.  Thus, while sitting in the chair was an act of faith on her part, it was “reasonable faith” based on knowledge and experience.

All faith is not created equal

Like other cognitive processes, faith can be rational, or irrational based on the soundness and reliability of the information or object that is the focus of the cognitive process.

Thus the reasonability of one’s objective faith is based on the knowledge and experience one has with the object of one’s faith.  Ms. Rand’s faith in the chair is a good example of rational faith

An example of irrational faith would be watching a banal romantic comedy movie and believing that the plot and storyline will be even incrementally different than the plot and storyline of every other banal romantic comedy.  There is simply no evidence in existence upon which to base this belief.

However no mater the reasonableness or irrationality of the object, the act of having faith in it is still a choice.  Moreover, having faith is a risk.  No matter how much information or evidence you have, when you choose to have faith in something you are relying on the unknown to some degree.

One would think that the architect of the universe would be a reasonable object of faith, yet the people in the second dispensation did not have faith in Him.  Why?

Choosing to have faith in God is uncomfortable

Relying on someone else when you lack all the information about a situation requires humility.  The people of the second dispensation relied only on the knowledge they had, so they chose not believe in anything they did not know.  Although they had an abundance of information about God, they did not have complete knowledge of Him.

They were comparative in their knowledge.  If they were willing to be contrastive, they would have focused on what they didn’t know, as opposed to relying solely on the knowledge they had.  This mindset resulted in the people of the second dispensation becoming irredeemable corrupt.   So it seems that attempting to live without faith and relying solely on your own knowledge will not only prevent you from choosing God, it will actually lead you further away from Him in the long-term.

We understand now that faith can be reasonable or irrational.  So does faith in God qualify as reasonable faith?  How does the Bible define faith?  Does God ask us to believe in Him blindly or based on evidence?  And perhaps most importantly, why is our faith so important to God?  We’ll look at these questions next time.

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