I’ve been part of a debate on faith recently. Yeah, I know, it’s a waste of time, but I figured I’d try to pin down some of the fundamentalists on exactly what faith is and exactly why it was worthwhile with regard to their religious beliefs. There was only one person involved that I figured I had any shot at all having a somewhat meaningful discussion with so I cornered him and asked him to explain why he thought faith was worthwhile and why it differed, for instance, from having faith in Lord Voldemort, since both Voldemort and God only existed in books, so far as the objective evidence goes.
He defined faith for me as:
You seem to think that faith arises from nothing and is a concept of our imagination. Faith is provoked from evidence we find in the Word, history, personal testimonies, and our own experiences with God. Faith is not placed in random, irrelevant, unsupported ideas. Faith is based on the exact opposite, that being purposeful, relevant, supported ideas and truths that we have seen and experienced. I can’t have faith that Lord Voldemort is real, because I have no evidence from history, personal testimonies, historical writings, or my own experiences with Lord Voldemort that would provoke that faith.
Yet that paragraph essentially says nothing. Let’s disassemble it, shall we? “Faith is provoked from evidence we find in the Word…” What Word? Oh sure, I know what he means, but why should that particular book be the one that they take seriously? Why not the Qu’ran? Why not the Vedas? Why not the dictionary? They can offer no rational reason why we should take one more seriously than another, or why we should take any of them seriously. Let’s move on. History? That would be a great place to get actual evidence from if they actually were serious, but they’re not. To a theist, “history” is just another word for their holy book. We all know that there is no objective evidence that supports the supernatural events in any holy book. Therefore, what “history” are they talking about? Clearly not the same evidence that any rational person would mean. Personal testimony? They clearly reject the personal testimony of believers in any other religion, right? They don’t give people who believe in Allah or Vishnu or Odin the same weight as people who believe in God, for instance. In fact, there’s tons of “personal testimony” for people who think they’ve been abducted by aliens. Why don’t Christians across the board believe in alien visitations? And finally, their own experiences with God? They can’t even demonstrate God is real, how can they have experiences with him? I’m not discounting that these people have experiences of some sort, clearly something is happening to these people. Even our alien abductee friends are having some sort of experience. My problem is that they are attributing it to a source without being able to actually demonstrate the experience actually came from that source. If I had a winning lottery ticket, simply because I attributed that ticket to the loving and benevolent hand of a magical unicorn doesn’t mean it’s actually so. Assigning an experience to an emotionally comforting cause without any objective evidence to support the claim is irrational.
Some people may ask themselves why I am very careful, when talking about evidence of any kind, to always specify “objective evidence” and not “empirical evidence”. The two share a lot in common much of the time, although many theists simply reject empirical evidence altogether because their imaginary friends conveniently have nothing to do with the real world. However, I specify objective evidence because, even if the evidence isn’t necessarily physical, it can still be objective. I often have to explain what I mean by that however so I’ll do that here. Objective evidence is that which is openly available to anyone to examine without having to have a belief or faith in it first. It patently excludes subjective personal experiences which are not open for independent verification or examination. This means that the majority of claims made in the above statement will be rejected, simply because they are wholly subjective and, as I pointed out, unjustified. I can examine the Bible and cross-reference it with external historical documents and those areas where the Bible can be corroborated independently, I’ll accept. Those ares where it cannot, I will reject. Interesting how it’s all the supernatural nonsense that cannot be independently validated. I will look at personal testimony, but give it only as much weight as it can be verified by objective evidence. If it is zero, then that’s how much I’ll take it into account. The fact is, I’m not trying to validate your emotionally-laden claims to make you feel good, I’m trying to determine whether what you claim is true actually is.
The problem with so many of these claims is they go entirely unchecked and unchallenged. Theists will claim that their beliefs are factually correct because they have faith in them, yet will look at other belief systems, held by people with equally strong faith and declare them wrong because they disagree with their own faith. A six-year-old ought to be able to see the absurdity of that position but apparently, these people cannot.
Of course, as soon as you go through all of this rigamarole, what happens? The theist declares victory and stops talking to you. That’s exactly what happened, although I’ve since picked things up with another theist and am going through the exact same discussion and having the same results. How long they’ll last before they vanish into the wild blue yonder is anyone’s guess.
Faith is an idiotic concept. Too bad it’s the centerpiece of religious delusion.