Measured Against Reality

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Faith Does Need Proof

I'm currently reading Sam Harris's The End of Faith. He has a lot of good points, but one I'd like to discuss here is that all beliefs require some form of proof, or at least people desire proof for their beliefs. Most people seem to think that, in the words of Douglas Adams, “Proof denies faith.” But I think it’s fairly obvious that “faith demands proof.”

Don’t believe me? Take apologetics. If faith doesn’t need proof, then why have thousands of people throughout history felt the need to defend their faith with evidence? Why is it that when you ask the faithful for proof, they give you an answer? If faith didn’t need proof, then the answer would be “our faith is proof enough”, but that’s very rarely heard.

Then there’s the science-deniers. If faith needs no evidence, and evidence is irrelevant to faith, why spend so much energy attempting to refute scientific claims? Why spend so much time insisting that science and archaeology “prove” the Bible? They shouldn’t need to, because their faith is worth more than all the evidence in the world.

But it isn’t, and people know it. The human mind craves rationality. When we believe something, it has to have some rational basis. And when we get information that goes against our beliefs, we have to rationalize it somehow, whether we utterly dismissing it, or change our beliefs (see this article).

Which means, of course, that beliefs don’t survive unless we ground them in reality, even if that reality is distorted. Which is why we have apologetics, and why Gould’s “nonoverlapping magisteria” is totally wrong; science and religion cannot survive together as long as they both make claims about how the world is.

The simple fact is that a belief, any belief, needs some kind of rational basis; that faith needs proof. Which is why the religious fear science so much. Science is capable of finding the real truths in the universe, religion is a muddle of ignorance, fear, and bigotry that we’d be better off without. It’s only a matter of time before religion is relegated to the history books, and I hope I’ll live to see it.

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  • You want very much for there to be no God, therefore you will spend your life working to prove believers wrong while never once giving faith a chance.

    I am a believer, and I do not require proof. My own experience is proof enough. I know anecdotal evidence is meaningless, and so I will not attempt to sway you with what was sufficient to sway me. Confirmation bias exists. I didn't need a study to show me that, I've noticied it in human nature. Your blind belief in what "expert scientists" tell you is the dogma I've been referring to.

    The human mind is not inherently rational. Any understanding of history shows that to be a false premise. What the human mind truly longs for is reason. The Greek philosophers saw this tendency thousands of years ago and it remains to this day.

    I can't sway you to God and you can't sway you to science. That's fine. You find a need to abolish what I believe, and that is bigotry. I like science and admire those who practice it, having never once had the desire to abolish my critics and their ideas.

    There are no real answers to these questions, and in fact the debate itself is the answer. Again, I must defer to the Greek philosophers, who noticed this long ago and described it much more eloquently than I ever could.


    By Anonymous Nick Coutis, at 10:05 AM, September 19, 2006  

  • Shorter Nick Coutis: I know YOU are, but what am I?

    By Anonymous Proteus454, at 12:24 PM, September 20, 2006  

  • Hi Stuart

    I;m a Sam Harris fan too. I built a website dedicated to his idea:

    do you use a common tag for your posts on atheism? I'd like to have your posts automatically fed into my site.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:18 AM, September 24, 2006  

  • Anonymous, all of my Atheism posts are tagged with the technorati/blogger beta tag "Atheism". If you want to have those automatically fed into your site that's fine by me, if you need my help doing it I'll do the best I can.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 8:35 AM, September 24, 2006  

  • I am a scientist and for a long time I had a very hard time understanding how anyone could believe in a God, over say faries, father Xmas or Ghosts. They are by definition a leap of faith. But then it occured to me that God can EASILY exist within two possible scenarios with all scientific theories remaining in-tact.
    1. God existed as an all pervasive force, and "Made" the Big Bang, time etc. In fact the Pope wrote to Steven Hawking to thank him for "findnig the moment of creation". After the Big bang, God then sat back and watched the results. He left it to us to "figure out" the various bits he had built into his universe (i.e. science)
    2. God created the universe much like the Matrix. As an all powerful creator, he probably exists outside of "time" as we experience it, and can hence start and stop it as He pleases to make changes. Much like a Virtual PC, where the operator can stop it (stop time) make a change, and then restart it, He could do the same. Once a change is made, He could (being all powerful)change our memories and the evidence to reflect this without our ever being aware.

    So you see, both theories can easily co-exist and no-one need be robbed of their faith within either framework. Besides, it is a nice idea to think that you'll go to heaven and there is an all powerful force looking after you, who forgives your sins and will love you unconditionally when no one else will while at the same time providing an excellent reason to turn the other cheek and generally be moral (with the exception of the odd crusade/geehad, which are politically motivated and frankly against the values that all religions I'm aware of preach)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:24 AM, September 26, 2006  

  • First let me say that you have a nice site. I saw it on Digg and I've enjoyed reading your posts. Good stuff you have here.

    If faith doesn’t need proof, then why have thousands of people throughout history felt the need to defend their faith with evidence?

    Faith by definition, subscribes, at least on some level, to things which cannot be empirically proven. But this does not mean that true faith is void of logic and reason -- thus people will rightly appeal to evidence when they discuss their faith.

    In practice, what faith says is that even though we will never be able to empirically prove that God exists, we DO believe that He exists based upon sound evidence, logic, and reason.

    A flaw that must be avoided is one that assumes science to be the only truth. Science seeks to explain the more tangible side of the universe, but there is room also for disciplines such as philosophy and theology that seek to know and explain the more esoteric aspects of this complex cosmos in which we dwell.

    Granted, some folk's theology and philosophy is piss-poor, but some folk's science is too -- so be careful about blindly tossing the baby out with the bath water. It is not about good science apart from sound philosophical & theological reason. Nor is it about good philosophical & theological reason apart from good science. Rather nature demands that we take a broad approach as we search for truth. And we do ourselves injustice when we insist that truth can only be found in that which is empirical.

    By Anonymous Jase, at 8:27 AM, September 26, 2006  

  • Jase, thanks, I'm glad you like my blog. As for the other stuff, I disagree, I do think the universe can be wholly understood through scientific research alone, hence why I call myself a materialist, and why I write about atheism/materialism. You and most other people will disagree, and that's just how it is with some things.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 8:39 AM, September 26, 2006  

  • "You find a need to abolish what I believe, and that is bigotry." How can you say this when it is religion which has plagued us with its 'undoubtable, unshakable truths about the all-knowing, all-powerful, omni-potent, omniscient God and his words in the Bible' for over two thousand years? THAT is dogma. Science has had the [i]unwanted[/i] task to prove these fairy tales and bronze-age myths wrong because religion has spread its indoctrination for too long. When someone stands up and questions a God's existance or any aspect of religion, including faith - we are labeled bigots?

    "There are no real answeres to these questions" Once again, how can you say this when you, and people like you - believers - claim to have all the answers - God and your faith in him/it/her. Where as science says "i don't know" and works through experiments to try to find out how, what and why.

    Just because one does not know enough or cannot explain a certain event or cannot fathom certain things does not license one to label it "God's work" or a "God must be in existance because of this."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:03 AM, September 26, 2006  

  • Hey
    i say u i am a muslim. And there is a scholarship called Bediuzzaman Said Nursi that proved the hereafter, the presence of Allah with science, mind(Islamic Unique God) in his book ok "The collection of Risale-i Nur"
    I wouldn't need to say you this one. But, i undrstnd u r not a believer, u need to read this one.
    u may download this free books by searching google. it's very easy

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:10 AM, September 27, 2006  

  • As a teacher of science and philosophy (this indicates my areas of interest and is not in any way an attempt to establish authority), I am always interested to see what responses students give when you ask, "What makes you think that reproducible data obtained by science-process experiments in any way answers Hawking's question?" - the question that I've tried to quote accurately below:

    "The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?”

    The human mind is inherently rationalising, not inherently rational; and reasonability is a merely human set of criteria (except in some technically defined cases). So I sometimes suspect science is a case of the ultimate in human wish-fulfilment, not religion (which actually isn't as good).

    By Anonymous ~autolycus, at 3:29 AM, September 27, 2006  

  • There we go again with True Believers(tm) living in bizarro world:
    "Your blind belief in what "expert scientists" tell you is the dogma I've been referring to."

    All of us here have studied science at least a little and understand how science works and where scientific knowledge comes from. We understand that what gets told to us is the result of years of squabbles over competing models until one shows itself to be more accurate. To the Believer, this is dogma.

    Whereas for them, they can occasionally have competing guys in pointy hats squabbling over theology, but (unless an emperor tells them to) they never come to a consensus and solve anything, yet still spout off in absolute authority to their subjects. But this is not dogma, no siree.

    By Blogger King Aardvark, at 6:18 AM, September 29, 2006  

  • I don't subscribe to any authority but my own better judgement. I belong to no greater community or church where I get my ideas. I read philosophy, religious works, science, whatever I can get my hands on, and I make up my own mind.

    You atheists constantly accusing very intelligent self-reliant believers of being "sheeple" who just bleat and listen to what people tell them to do is bigotry and hateful.

    Several of Stu's posts on philosophy on this blog have alluded to his desire to eliminate religion forever, destroy all traces of it, and lead man into a secular humanist paradise world. I would not want to see that happen to him, and I enjoy disagreeing and having the great discussion of human history (over the nature of reality, etc.)

    I do not want to impose my worldview on you, I do not want to ban homosexuality or impose prayer in schools.

    I'm just sick of hateful atheists and secular progressives calling the majority of Americans "Christofascists" "Theocrats" or "Christian Fundamentalists" for wanting their country to look the way they want it to.

    So is that dogmatic? I don't really see it that way. It's certainly not the "road to creeping theocracy" you people are always whining about.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic!, at 10:52 PM, October 12, 2006  

  • Nick, I just want to point out that, while I do think that the world would be better off without religion, I don't want to actively eliminate it. I am completely and totally opposed to anything that limits people's freedoms, as long as those freedoms don't hurt anyone else.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 10:56 PM, October 12, 2006  

  • Atheists need to change the word "Christian" to something else they make up like "Christofascists" because their main concern is to attack those who disagree with them. They cannot accept a world in which people hold beliefs other than their own.

    An atheist will attack you with hatred, ridicule, and many techniques that do not seek to arrive at the truth. Rather, they just want want to get a rise out of you, or at the very least get personal satisfaction by being insulting.

    Now, an atheist will be the first one to justify their actions by giving some type of argument claiming how 'more christians are hateful than atheists', or, they will act as if THEY are the ones being attacked. However, when they get on their soapbox and make their 'argument', they invariably use the method of attacking their opponent personally, rather than challenging their opponent's argument. This is not an argument (a series of related suppositions that lead to a logical conclusion). Rather, it's simply bickering.

    Bottom line is that atheists just cannot stand what the Bible says about them. The Bible comes right out and says that atheists are fools. When you experience an atheist spitting their venom at you, it becomes truly evident that there is something going on there outside of their claims to be children of 'reason'.

    Those of us who have made an HONEST EFFORT to test the promises made in the Bible know that somewhere along the way we find something unexplainable...a supernatural encounter that leads eventually to faith.

    To atheists, this sounds like foolishness. In support of them, it's understandable from their viewpoint. An atheist is not in any way interested in undertaking an honest exploration of spiritual matters. Therefore, rather than making honest inquiries of the universe and their own soul, they begin with a thesis, and they then have to come up with logic (if one could call it that) to support their thesis.

    In contrast, a (future) Christian will ask honest questions, make inquiries, and eventually arrive at the thesis based on exploration of the Bible and their own spirit.

    One imporant point is that God will intercede in the latter case in many little ways until eventually it becomes undeniable to the honest seeker. Yes, it's a supernatural experience and it cannot be transferred to someone with a closed heart by any amount of discussion. Sorry folks, we can't do it for have to make the effort yourself or you will never understand.

    The Atheist's method is similar to that which was utilized by those who denied that the sun was the center of the solar system. The church at the time (corrupted as it was by the touch of men) came up with it's conclusion, and then required early astronomers to create 'facts' that supported their conclusion.

    It's ironic that atheists, by their backward (literally)use of logic, have that in common with the church of that time. Which group would be more uncomfortable with that pairing I wonder?

    Jesus said "Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened..for whoever seeks, finds, and whoever knocks will have the door opened to them..." (not an exact word-for-word translation so please don't get hung up on it).

    The sad fact is that the atheist is just too proud or self-conscious to take the first step. They never undergo an honest search, so they in effect stand in front of the door while never taking that leap of faith to knock.

    I'll take a metaphor from popular media. Christians are like the character Indiana Jones in the last movie (the 'holy grail' one). Indy comes to a deep chasm and realizes he must make a literal 'leap of faith'. He makes the leap and finds that there is someething there he did not see before that ends up sustaining him in safety. This is exactly what happens to the honest seeker, from a spiritual standpoint, while the atheist is stuck on the far side of the ravine by their own refusal to take that first honest step.

    When you understand where an atheist is coming from, it's easy to understand that they think they are the intelligent ones, and we the fools. Since they are unwilling to sacrifice their ego to make honest inquiries into 'foolish' things, their entire argument ends up being devoid of truth from root to stem.

    In answer to "Faith Does Need Proof", I say, you are correct. The one to seek and find the proof is YOU, however. You are going to have to just trust us that that's how it works.

    In closing I'd like to remind people that Jesus said "If the world [atheists] hates you, realize that it hated me first." and also "They hated me without cause." It really shouldn't surprise us tht atheists are constantly hoping for a conflict with us. This is the only way they can achieve their desire to hurt us any way they can.

    Our challenge (and it's definitely a challenge) is to stand in the face of open hostility and keep ourselves from falling down to their level.

    Oh and one quick semi-relateed point: Those 'christians' who utilize the same type of hostility have more in common with the atheists than they do with us.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:48 AM, January 20, 2007  

  • I think the bloke who wrote this article "faith does need proof" is quite stupid. in just a few sentences he contradicts himself and i didnt even finish what garbage he wrote.
    He talks about history yet has no idea of it. he talks from an objective but apathetic and ignorant perspective.
    For example. He clearly implies that throughout history people have defended their faith therefore it needs proof. However what hes forgot is that when what you say has a direct impact over your life or death its unlikely anyone with a brain will not try to defend it. He is not talking about faith. He is not talking about anything identified in the article. He is just talking. parrots and babies do similarly.
    What happens to these people when instinct conflicts with proof and in either case. is it so bad to be wrong

    By Blogger riddickodocus, at 10:58 AM, August 31, 2009  

  • I read something about the Apologetics, its the world's religions have encountered one another, apologetics and apologists from within their respective faiths have emerged. Some of these apologetics respond to or fight back against the arguments of religions and secularism; others are pure defense.!!is it truth?

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  • Faith is something which comes for the interior and feelings don't need proof.

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