The Incompatibility of Faith and Reason

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” – Hebrews 11:1.  Let’s examine this, because it sounds so reassuring, comforting and sensible when it is read, but things are not always as they appear.  There are many believers who have the notion that science operates on principles of faith, and many Atheists make the mistake of agreeing with this.  Even though the intentions of our unbelieving brothers and sisters might be honorable, scientific principles and the scientific method has very little to do with faith.  We don’t “have faith” that the sun will come up, nor do we have faith that when we get out of bed gravity will keep us planted on terra firma.    The faithful may be sure of what they hope for, but in reality, when what they hope for does not materialize, the only other options they have are that either god does not exist, or he has another plan.  Almost exclusively, the faithful opt for the latter.  It’s a copout, when you think about it.  Imagine how that would work in, say, the mortgage industry.  Does Big Bank Mortgage Company look at an account that is in default and accept it as the debtor just “having another plan”?  No, of course not. 

Carl Christian gets cancer. Farrah Faithful needs a job.  Billy Believer’s house is in a flood zone and a hurricane is on the way.  After much fervent prayer Carl dies an untimely death, Farrah remains unemployed and Billy’s house succumbs to the elements.  This happens every single day in a wide variety of situations in life.  The assurances of things hoped for are dashed.  Faith is a ruse, a scam, a flim-flam of magnanimous proportions.  Assurance and hope are mutually exclusive from one another.  Hope stands alone.  Assurance requires knowledge.  When the requests of our three imaginary human beings are not granted, the result is not the assurance that god has heard, but knows better and has a plan that has been “worked out” for the “good of those who believe”.  

Carl Christian will tell himself that god is saying, “No, I will not cure your cancer because I have another plan for you.  I won’t tell you what it is, but it will involve intense pain and the suffering that you will endure from the chemo is part of it, but if you just trust me, it will build your character and serve as a witness of my glory”.

Farrah Faithful will tell herself that god is saying, “No, I will not open a door for you to a new job.  I have another plan for you.  I won’t tell you what it is, but it will involve a financial meltdown.  You may very well end up losing your house, your car and the total destruction of your credit rating with bill collectors harassing you all along your journey into insolvency.  You may even end up homeless, living on the street and eating out of trash cans, but if you trust me, it will build your character and serve as a witness to my glory”

Billy Believer will tell himself that god is saying, “No, I won’t save your house from being completely destroyed by the storm I am sending.  I won’t tell you why, but it will involve the loss of everything you have saved for since you were old enough to go out and get a job and all the mementos you’ve collected over the years that the insurance company’s check cannot replace.  But if you trust me, it will build your character and serve as witness to my glory”

Then they will crack open their bibles and search for character building Scripture that can justify the ignored supplications.  If Carl Christian ends up not dying, but losing a leg, he will credit god for not allowing the cancer to spread further.  If Farrah gets a job, but ends up losing her home and having to move into a rented apartment, she will credit god for not allowing her to have to live on the street.  If Billy Believer’s house is only flooded on the first floor, he will credit god for saving whatever is on the second floor or in the attic.

Of course, if the doctors cure Carl’s cancer, then god answered the prayer in the positive.  If his body’s own natural healing ability kills the cancer, then the result is given a promotion from a standard answered prayer to miracle status.  If Farrah lands a great job, then god has answered the prayer in the positive.  If her job includes a huge sign-on bonus that will cover her past due bills and bring every account she has current, then the result is also given a promotion to miracle status.  If the flood waters never reach as far as Billy’s house, then the prayer is answered in the positive.  If the houses surrounding Billy’s place are all flooded and his is not, well, you get the picture.

 This is how faith works and why it has little or nothing to do with assurance, but is little more than delusional justification for the mental gymnastics it takes to give credit to god, no matter what happens.  Most of the world is living in abject poverty or under the thumbs of horrific dictators, or both, but god has a plan.  Don’t understand it?  Doesn’t make any sense?  Flies in the face of reason?  Violates human rights?   Involves all the horrors of war? No worries, god has everything under control.  Just ask him to help you out and don’t forget to have faith that no matter what god allows to happen, good, bad or indifferent, that father knows best and he’s got the whole world in his hands.

There is some truth to the bible, though.  It says in Luke 18:17, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”   Well, everyone knows a child does not question their parents, or adults in general.  They will believe what they are told, will walk willingly wherever they are led and even subject themselves to horrific abuse without question.  Sometimes it is out of fear, but mostly because children have evolved to have an innate trust in adults, and religion takes full advantage of this trust by instilling the ridiculous notion that there exists a god in heaven and whatever happens to you is his will, and if you reject him, it only gets worse from there.  Religionists are guilty of a unforgivalbe abrogation in their responsibility to their progeny when they trade the truth of reality to the lies of their incongruent ideologies.

The logical conclusion for relying on faith, which can best be described as “an unchallenged belief that whatever happens is caused or allowed by god and is ultimately uncontrollable” often results in horrible results that are often avoidable.  A good example are the stories of children dying from diseases that can be easily cured by over the counter medications.  Faith may offer comfort to many who are victims of unfortunate and/or unavoidable circumstances, but it is also often used justify a lack of action against unsavory characters committing acts of violence, such as those who endure an abusive spouse or even become the victims of crimes such as rape.  Faith is often used to comfort parents who have lost a child by believing that god has “called them home” for a variety of reasons such as “they are needed in heaven” for a “special purpose that god has for them”.

This may be sufficient for those who accept doctrines and dogmas of organized religion, but those of us who are skeptical embrace the reality that people get sick and die, but the pursuit of a cure should never stop until it is found.  We know that economies are subject to many influences and sometimes there are just no jobs, but we have a responsibility that should be manifested in the continued development of social welfare programs that can assure nobody should have to live without food, shelter and protection from predatory individuals.  We understand that the landfall of a hurricane is not predicated on whether or not the area is populated.  We are horrified that political despots exist and sometimes rule nations with an iron fist, but injustices should not be ignored and action should be taken when basic human rights are violated.  We realise that if something can be done to solve a problem that the principles of engineering, along with the scientific method, remain the best course of action. We operate on the principle that assurance comes from knowledge and knowledge must always be a constantly changing paradigm.  Faith has no place in the life of the reasonable being.  It retards discovery, arrests insight and offers a false sense of security.

  20 comments for “The Incompatibility of Faith and Reason

  1. July 30, 2010 at 10:28 am

    The faith that science rests on is the belief that the world is ultimately comprehensible and that our minds — which exists because of genetic mutations that made survival a little more certain for those with said mutations — are capable of comprehending the world. It’s well know that our mind plays tricks on us: just look at any visual illusions like Adelson’s “Checker Shadow Illusion” (http://web.mit.edu/persci/people/adelson/checkershadow_illusion.html) or Shepard’s “Turning the Tables” illusion (http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/sze_shepardTables/index.html). If you respond by saying that our mind’s accuracy is confirmed by its agreement with the natural world, you’re only begging the question: what we see of the natural world comes through out senses and is interpreted by our mind, leaving us at the same point. How do we know that we’re interpreting it correctly, that what we think is really is? The belief that it IS constitutes a faith, for it cannot be confirmed by scientific experimentation.

    • Kim Bowman
      July 30, 2010 at 12:15 pm

      Believer’s minds are playing tricks on them when they think they see g#d’s hand in everything. Example: a cristian woman I know told everyone in her church to pray for a certain newborn baby that had gotten pneumonia. The doctor’s put the baby in an incubator, a respirator that controlled the breathing to dry out the lungs, and antibiotics: everything that medicine knew to remedy the condition. So when the baby got better “more rapidly than the doctors expected” of course the cristians all claimed ecstatically that their prayers were working, giving g#d the credit. Um, excuse me I told her, what about the doctors?? I posted a link to a Mayo clinic study of 800 coronary patients that showed that prayer had no effect on recovery. No difference between groups of people prayed for and the control group of no prayer. She would not believe the scientific proof, of course. Then she quotes the definition of science and claims “I am a scientist!” A young lady with absolutely no background in math and science, but claiming that she makes observations of life and that is good enough for her. Well, I said we all do have experiences and observations of life, but that does not put us on the level of Mayo clinic and Harvard researchers. I burst her little bubble and of course she got mad saying I am bashing her beliefs and hurting her feelings. Yes, *sigh* , we all see what we want to see. I did not ask her, well then if you think g#d is healing the baby, why not take her off the machine and medicine, just pray, trust g#d and stop trusting the doctors.
      Another person posted this: How can you have hope without faith? I didn’t even want to get into that one.

    • tastybrain
      July 30, 2010 at 12:39 pm

      The idea that we can have no certain knowledge of anything is hardly cogent epistemology. While high probability of truth is not inerrantly certain it still trumps credulous claims based on unconfirmable, blatantly motivated stories=read “myths”.

      There is no metaphysical requirement for God. There is one for us whether we recognize it or not. How we make sense of things as a species and as individuals should not involve suspending critical thought in favor of rampant credulity.

  2. July 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Aside from the fascinating anecdote, you’re not dealing with my comment. What is the reason for trusting one’s own mind, which is the product of millions of years of evolutionary mutations? This is why I brought up the fact that our mind’s interpretation of the data they receive from the sensory organs is often incorrect. Why trust it?

    • tastybrain
      July 30, 2010 at 12:45 pm

      Incorrect how? Totally deluded or merely misguided? Maybe just slightly inaccurate but better than any previous interpretations?

      Sensory data while capable of being inaccurate when influenced by a number of different variables still remains a much more reliable source of useful information than just believing in something wholeheartedly and finding a way to interpret everything contradictory to it as “lost” or “led-astray”.

    • Professor
      July 30, 2010 at 2:33 pm

      You’re simply playing head games by deceitfully equating teasers that are meant to confuse the eyes with natural phenomena, which are not. If I perform an experiment in which I drop a ball from the same height repeatedly and record the results with instrumentation and get the same results each time, I can reasonably conclude that the observation is correct and therefore the laws of gravitation and motion derived from the results are also correct. A machine does not have a mind and does not “interpret”. It records what has happened. Science is a methodology for investigating physical phenomena and nothing more. No faith is required. Your argument is typical of the deceit practiced by religionists in order to deceive and mislead the ignorant and gullible.

      If you really believe that you can’t trust your own mind, stick your hand in a fire and try to tell yourself that what you’re seeing and feeling is a trick of your own mind because you can’t trust your perceptions.

      Don’t bother replying. I have neither the time nor the desire to engage in fruitless “discussion” with the willfully ignorant nor the intentionally deceptive.

    • July 31, 2010 at 9:03 am

      Scientists don’t merely rely on their own minds. That’s why they perform dozens of trials on numerous test subjects and withhold any statements of certainty about their conclusions until other scientists confirm or contradict their findings.

      Your implication seems to be that since we cannot entirely rely on our minds to be perfectly accurate in all cases, we are therefore justified to rely on faith in anything – including that for which there is no evidence, and for which no contradictory evidence could ever be offered.

      That we don’t know exactly what’s true doesn’t mean that all options are equally valid, and I’m sure you know this.

  3. July 30, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    “I have neither the time nor the desire to engage in fruitless “discussion” with the willfully ignorant nor the intentionally deceptive.”

    So why did you? (Wonderful example of the ad hominem tactic, by the way.)

    • July 31, 2010 at 9:05 am

      When you make an argument that is based on an assumed idea that you don’t actually believe, you are being willfully deceptive. You don’t actually believe that all viewpoints on reality are equally reasonable, yet your argument that science relies on faith (and that faith in anything is therefore justified) is based on that idea.

      It is not an ad hominem to actually address what someone says and then insult them.

  4. July 30, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    And more importantly, why the bitter anger, the vitriol? Honey and vinegar…

    • July 31, 2010 at 9:08 am

      Did you ever think that what you’re seeing is a response to your behavior and attitude?

      • July 31, 2010 at 1:28 pm

        I’m confused: just what is my behavior and attitude? Have I called anyone “willfully ignorant nor the intentionally deceptive”? Have I attacked anyone’s integrity? Have I suggested anyone is a liar?

        I simply presented a point of view, and I’m attacked and called an idiot, deceptive, etc.

        There is a stereotype in the theistic community of modern atheists being unreasonably antagonistic and constantly suggesting (or even saying) that anyone who disagrees is, in essence, mentally deficient in some way. I used to wonder why that is.

      • July 31, 2010 at 1:53 pm

        You interpret disagreement as anger.
        You intentionally misrepresent what you actually think in a way that seems to be crafted to get a rise out of people.
        Then you complain about people being vitriolic.

        You’re pretty much a concern troll.

      • July 31, 2010 at 2:50 pm

        Wow.

  5. July 30, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    The faith that science rests on is the belief that the world is ultimately comprehensible and that our minds — which exists because of genetic mutations that made survival a little more certain for those with said mutations — are capable of comprehending the world.

    Correct. That is why we test predictions made by our models of reality. When we observed what is expected from these predictions, our confidence in the accuracy of our model increases. If not, we adjust or abondon it.

    So much for “faith” in science.

  6. July 30, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    I didn’t say “faith in science.” You’re reading into it things I didn’t suggest.

    • July 31, 2010 at 9:06 am

      No, you absolutely suggested it.

      How do we know that we’re interpreting it correctly, that what we think is really is? The belief that it IS constitutes a faith, for it cannot be confirmed by scientific experimentation.

      You are suggesting that we must have faith in science.

      • July 31, 2010 at 1:29 pm

        I said a certain assumption cannot be tested by science. How is that saying/suggesting/implying that science requires faith?

      • July 31, 2010 at 1:52 pm

        You said that the belief that reality is the way we think it is constitutes a faith.

        We believe reality is the way we think it is because that’s what science tells us.

        You are saying science is a faith.

  7. Kim Bowman
    July 31, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Enough! Stop feeding the troll. Hairs are getting frizzy on this thread.

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