guenther wrote:It's not "If I have faith in God, show me that I don't have faith in God". Rather it's "If I have faith in God, what evidence is there that this is problematic." Earl Grey made a claim about how it is problematic, and I was asking for evidence on that.
This isn't the dichotomy in question, rather it's "If one has faith in X, one cannot simultaneously critically examine X", which I stated on page 67 of this thread.
If you have lived by an unthinking faith, you could decide to start thinking about it. [...] What happens when a person with faith tries to use that process? You and others seem to just conclude that there is some inherent conflict, but take me inside what that conflict looks like.
We have been trying to illustrate this. The conclusion wasn't just pulled out of a hat, there are a lot of good reasons for understanding that faith and skepticism conflict with each other.
- The foundation of skepticism is the null hypothesis. You start
with the assumption that claim X is not true
until there is sufficient evidence to say otherwise.
- The foundation of faith is belief in the affirmative. You start
with the assumption that claim X is true
These are complete opposites, but apart from conflicting in concept, there are important empirical conflicts as well. Harris' fMri data shows us these are entirely different processes on a neurological level. You cannot believe something is true and be skeptical about it at the same time. (It is also important to note that rejecting a claim perceived to be false and skepticism, or being unsure, activate the same parts of the brain, which are associated with pain and disgust).
It is perfectly possible to initially choose faith but later choose skepticism. However, once the choice to accept something as true has been made, there is evidence that suggests we tend to want to stick to accepting it, instead of being skeptical of the conclusions we've previously established. Psychology defines these tendencies as cognitive bias, and they are very well documented. Also, when something has been marked as true in the brain, a pleasure response associated with learning occurs, and the brain then wants to use this 'true' information for understanding new patterns. Later rejecting something requires abandoning not only the initial belief, but possibly any other framework it has since become a part of, and the pleasure response is replaced with pain/disgust response (however mild). This information goes a long way to explaining why people don't like changing their minds, and why we're amazed when people give up long held beliefs.
One of the factors which determines how willing someone is to question a given claim is the perceived value of that claim. The more important an idea is the less likely someone will be willing to question it (which is neurologically similar to rejecting it, remember). Religious ideas are among the most
important to people. They are not just important, they are sacred. Furthermore, ethnology and psychology show us that the sacralizing that religion does plays a significant role in emotionally charging issues related to those sacred values (source
). We know that strong emotions amplify cognitive bias. That's why our justice systems go to such great lengths to foster impartiality in its agents (law enforcers, juries) and why the medical profession advocates for doctor-patient detachment. This is another set of facts which are in line with the conclusion.
Religion doesn't simply cause these things, it relies on them to reinforce religious truths because the things which are most important to religion are not empirically reachable. If religion didn't rely on faith and reinforcing ritual, religious claims would lack all credibility. Which brings us to:
So when churches set up their articles of faith, they're not expected to justify them in any way? Are you stating this based on your experience with churches? What happens when someone does ask for a justification? Do you think this just doesn't happen?
They don't justify the claims themselves directly, because that's impossible. If you look at the Apostle's or Nicene Creeds, the Shahada, or similar foundational articles of faith, none of the claims is falsifiable (with the exception of "[Jesus] suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried". This is technically falsifiable, but the extremely important theological underpinnings of this event are not). Instead, the truth and value of religious claims are affirmed and reinforced through very effective but ultimately illogical methods (miracle claims, inducement of emotional states through ritual, confirmation bias, etc). Religions have to work with conviction instead of justified true beliefs
because there's no other way to establish the certainty required to influence actions.
Religious ideas translating into actions is the next important consideration. It's where cause and effect enter the equation and gives us something we can actually examine. We can't evaluate the truth or falsity of many religious ideas, but we can examine the consequences which emerge when they affect people's actions.
So we should look at instances where ideas which are rooted in faith claims have been challenged by evidence.
- When Prophecy Fails and Faith Persists
: The various methods of refusal to accept evidence of failed prophecies by their believers are documented. This exemplifies faith claims trumping the use of critical thought.
- Flood geologists and evolution deniers: People who fall in these categories deny these specific aspects of science because their implications conflict with faith claims. Some of them are even trained scientists with degrees, who have proven grounding in critical thought, but throw it out the window in their efforts to 'make science fit' their religious notions. This exemplifies faith claims trumping the use of critical thought.
- Geology and evolution are the big areas for this today, but astronomy was at the center of it once upon a time. What did religious leaders do when evidence contradicted notions of the heavens derived from scripture? Jailed and executed people on the basis of blasphemy/heresy. This exemplifies faith claims trumping the use of critical thought.
- Christian Science
and resistance to medicine on religious grounds: Mortality and preventable disease rates are higher among groups which eschew modern medicine
. Parents practicing Christian Science believe in healing by faith and refuse to take their children to medical doctors. People exempted from vaccination on religious or philosophical grounds disproportionately get sick with vaccine-preventable diseases. Amish societies, ordered according to religious ideas, have significantly higher rates of birth defects and congenital disorders. These all exemplify faith claims taking precedence over evidence which is proven to prevent death and suffering.
These are some of the large pieces of evidence which draw me towards the conclusion that the relationship between faith and skepticism is conflicting, and in important ways. This is to say nothing of situations where faith claims are a factor in the middle of more complex issues, such as in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Problems there cannot be reduced to faith, but unbending dedication to faith ideas is most certainly a big player (see the Atran paper I sourced above).
None of this is to say that a lot of people and communities don't manage to reconcile having a faith life and benefiting from critical thinking. This does happen, but it happens because people find ways to keep the two cognitively separate and avoid dissonance. It's a subtle and largely positive hypocrisy, but the fact remains that when skepticism starts to tread into the territory of highly valued faith claims, people more often than not choose the latter over the former.
I don't know how much clearer I can explain the chain which has led me to the conclusion (without writing a book), but I'm sure I'll be illuminated with some ideas about that soon
"You're human, which is sort of like an ape that builds airplanes and gets depressed over stupid shit."