Disambiguating Faith: Faith Which Exploits Infinitesimal Probabilities As Openings For Strong Affirmations

Pete C. argues that because our comprehension is limited, it is hubris for us to rule out faith in things that alleged to go beyond it:

I’m not sure where I fall in the spectrum of agnosticism (if i belong there at all) so I can’t really self identify. But I will offer an explanation I have often pondered but never shared. I suspect it may drive people to irritation but I offer it nonetheless.

You repeatedly talk of evidence and its consideration, which is wholly understandable. However, to insist on evidence and its use in an argument based upon “faith” is to misunderstand what is in my mind an argument that, belive it or not, has a basis in rational thought. To differetiate “faith” from rational conclusions based on evidence I have always thought of it like this: Using logic and evidence to understand the nature of God is like using a screwdriver to cut down a tree. You may get the job done but it’s ultimately not the right tool.

Outrageous! And a cop out on some level, right? But consider what God supposedly is: omnipotent, omniscient, eternal. We understand these as concepts, but in reality, can we really behold what that actually means? Can you imagine being able to do anything, see anything, or exist independently of time? Yet we can observe the phenomenon in another direction. Consider an ant born and living its life in a small plasic contained colony on my desk. If it can comprehend me at all, would I not seem like God to him? I have the ultimate power over his entire universe. I can observe this. What I cannot observe is if I am, in fact, the ant… because I may not have the ability.

I am open to the thought that there are things that exist that are beyond my perception. I KNOW this to be true as sure as I can demonstrate that my dog can hear a dog whistle but I cannot. I am also willing to believe that there are concepts in the universe that are beyond my comprehension. I also know this to be true as i attempt to explain something to a person of considerably less intelligence (or someone of considerably greater intelligence explains something to me) and the lights just don’t turn on. The notion that there may exist a being beyond my perception and comprehension is therefore not difficult at all to swallow. Indeed, I submit that it is hubris to boldly and without reservation assert that something of that nature absolutely cannot exist simply because there is no empirical or irrefutable evidence. By it’s very nature, it defies the notion of evidence altogether.

This, for some (and I suppose for me) forms a basis of faith in SOMETHING. Whether that something actually looks and behaves like the God in the Bible is most certainly up for debate and readily disputable by evidence. But based upon the above logic, which is the only tool that I have, I see it as possible that 1) there is a “god” of some kind that 2) I cannot perceive or possibly fully comprehend.

This does not, however, prove the existence of god. It merely opens the door. Any assertion to the contrary takes my line of reasoning too far. I don’t believe in God because I don’t know what God is. I do, however, have “faith” that there are things that may exist that are greater than I, which may form the nature of God. This openness of thought is how I personally define faith. I do, however, have “faith” that there are things that may exist that are greater than I, which may form the nature of God. This openness of thought is how I personally define faith.

But it is not a faith belief to say “there are things that may exist that are greater than I, which may form the nature of God”. That is a logical statement of possibility. That’s not a faith belief, that’s just a truth. There may be things that go beyond our current conceptual scheme or abilities for detection using our senses, mathematics, logic, and other rational apparatuses. Yes, no one disputes that. And if there is a God, apparently it might have to be one of those things.

That’s not what is in dispute. That “maybe” is not in dispute. What is in dispute is what is appropriate to say about whether that conceivable possibility is an actuality. What is weaselly about arguments like the one just made when they come from the faithful is that they slip from this possibility to affirmation. You cannot go from “there may be something which we do not understand” to “I believe there is something I do not understand and I’m going to call it x and describe it as having these sets of features—omnipotence, omniscience, lovingness, a personality like humans…”

Whatever may be beyond our rational comprehension is highly unlikely to have a mind like ours, given that our minds are pretty clearly the result of various complex neural activities and do not seem to exist without specific sets of organic preconditions. To posit personhood to whatever strange and inconceivable forces go beyond our ability to understand the world is, to borrow your word, a hubris of anthropomorphism that boggles my mind.

Whatever exceeds our grasp is far, far more likely to be wholly unlike what we experience otherwise it would not be so far beyond our grasp, and least of all is it likely to have the very particular and weird experience that is personhood, anymore than it is likely to have anthood or fishhood or any other organic being’s traits.

Everything that science has already astoundingly transfered from the “beyond our comprehension” category to the “within our comprehension” one has dispensed with the need for anthropomorphic agencies.  We no longer need a deliberate designer even to explain complex designs of organisms in nature as the “blind watchmaker” of evolution by natural selection now explains the process.  Why in the world posit that the most incomprehensible fundament of reality that exceed our grasp will actually turn out, after all, to be a personal being like us, like we are primevally inclined to think?  You would dismiss out of hand the idea that gravity had a personality, why not do the same to the notion that the incomprehensible source of being does?

And yet people’s projections onto the ineffable are all wholly shot through with anthropomorphisms. And without any evidence to move from the infinitesimally likely reality that there is a supernatural mind beyond our grasp out there, they assert its existence, they claim to know all about a number of its interventions into history, they claim to know it cares about us morally and spiritually, they claim to know practices for communicating with it, etc., etc.

They do not stop at the logical truth that there is some possibility, however infinitesimally small, that such a thing exists. They leap from an infinitesimally small possibility to bald, unjustified assertions.

My view is that infinitesimally small possibilities can be dismissed as false. I can say something is false without knowing 100% about all that can ever be known if what my mind can grasp indicates that it is only infinitesimally likely that it is true. That’s not hubris, it’s how we have plenty of effective knowledge in life. That’s why I call myself a gnostic atheist. I know just as clearly as we all know that there is no Thor or Zeus or any other palpably silly, anthropomorphic deity from ancient mythology that there is no personal god at all. Not even Yahweh or Allah, or whatever you want to call the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god. He’s just as transparently fictional if you step out of cultural conditioning and prejudices and there is no plausible account of how a personal god would be possible or likely that I know of. So, I know such a thing does not exist.

Now, maybe there is some distinct, unified cause to the universe, some deistic or Spinozistic source of all being or fundamental unity of all being. That’s a difficult metaphysical knot. And it is unclear whether or to what extent it can ever be scientifically or philosophically untied.

But the likelihood that whatever is beyond our minds is remotely personal like we are is so small as to make affirmations of belief on faith that such a being exists and intervenes in human affairs and can be communicated with through prayer, etc. is just enormously anthropomorphic hubris capable of sound dismissal.

We would laugh at anyone who reasoned that because there are some things which exceed human comprehension that it is legitimate to have faith that Thor causes thunder. Yes, I guess with logical alone we cannot rule out the bare conceivability that, all scientific insight to the contrary, it’s actually Thor causing the lightning.

But it is totally irrational to affirm it is true Thor causes lightning and wildly baseless to posit that human books are really the word of Thor or that Thor is listening to your prayers and wants a personal relationship with you.

Just substitute “Yahweh” or “Allah” or “jesus” or “personal God” and you can understand why I am a gnostic atheist who says it is irrational to have faith in God.

Your Thoughts?

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For more on faith, read any or all posts in my “Disambiguating Faith” series (listed below) which strike you as interesting or whose titles indicate they might answer your own questions, concerns, or objections having read the post above.  It is unnecessary to read all the posts below to understand any given one. They are written to each stand on their own but also contribute to a long sustained argument if read all together.

Faith in a Comprehensive Nutshell

 

How Faith Poisons Religion

 

What About The Good Things People Call “Faith”? (Or “Why I Take Such A Strong Semantic Stand Against The Word Faith”)

 

How Religious Beliefs Become Specifically *Faith* Beliefs

 

Faith There’s A God vs. Faith In God

Trustworthiness, Loyalty, And Honesty

Faith As Loyally Trusting Those Insufficiently Proven To Be Trustworthy

Faith As Tradition

Blind Faith: How Faith Traditions Turn Trust Without Warrant Into A Test Of Loyalty

Faith As Tradition’s Advocate And Enforcer, Which Actively Opposes Merely Provisional Forms Of Trust

The Threatening Abomination Of The Faithless

Rational Beliefs, Rational Actions, And When It Is Rational To Act On What You Don’t Think Is True

Faith As Guessing

Are True Gut Feelings And Epiphanies Beliefs Justified By Faith?

Faith Is Neither Brainstorming, Hypothesizing, Nor Simply Reasoning Counter-Intuitively

Faith In The Sub-, Pre-, Or Un-conscious

Can Rationality Overcome Faith?

Faith As A Form Of Rationalization Unique To Religion

Faith As Deliberate Commitment To Rationalization

Heart Over Reason

Faith As Corruption Of Children’s Intellectual Judgment

Faith As Subjectivity Which Claims Objectivity

Faith Is Preconditioned By Doubt, But Precludes Serious Doubting

Soul Searching With Clergy Guy

Faith As Admirable Infinite Commitment For Finite Reasons

Maximal Self-Realization In Self-Obliteration: The Existential Paradox of Heroic Self-Sacrifice

How A Lack Of Belief In God May Differ From Various Kinds Of Beliefs That Gods Do Not Exist

Why Faith Is Unethical (Or “In Defense Of The Ethical Obligation To Always Proportion Belief To Evidence”

Not All Beliefs Held Without Certainty Are Faith Beliefs

Defending My Definition Of Faith As “Belief Or Trust Beyond Rational Warrant”

Implicit Faith

Agnostics Or Apistics?

The Evidence-Impervious Agnostic Theists

Faith Which Exploits Infinitesimal Probabilities As Openings For Strong Affirmations

Why You Cannot Prove Inductive Reasoning Is Faith-Based Reasoning But Instead Only Assert That By Faith

How Just Opposing Faith, In Principle, Means You Actually Don’t Have Faith, In Practice

Naturalism, Materialism, Empiricism, And Wrong, Weak, And Unsupported Beliefs Are All Not Necessarily Faith Positions

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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