I freely admit that I have no idea what it is to believe something on faith. Everything I used to believe about God, ghosts, psionics, ectoplasm, extraterrestrial encounters, or cryptozoology -was presented to me as a factual account which was said to have been verified according to whatever pseudoscience documentary I was foolish enough to believe as a child. The problem is that I wasn’t satisfied with simply believing what I was told; I wanted to understand more about it. Of course you don’t have to research these things very deeply before “understanding” them means not being able to believe them anymore. I have never believed anything that wasn’t positively indicated -even if the reasons sometimes turned out to be faulty or fraudulent. I can’t be compelled to believe something if there is nothing to compel me, and I don’t understand pretending to know things that I logically can’t know or understand. That said, it seems to me that beliefs based on faith require a desire to pretend, and to encourage the desired delusion by association with those who are similarly deluded. Another factor is of course to avoid inquiry or analysis. Ultimately it seems that such believers won’t permit any condition wherein they can be proven wrong.
Several years ago, I remember proposing a thought experiment which involved a hypothetical form of eventual technology capable of detecting and confirming the properties of God. Surprisingly the believers in that discussion were outraged at the very idea that anything they believed might ever be objectively verified. They complained that every aspect of God must always lie outside the reach of science, and must always require faith instead. Their reason seemed to be that if anything could be proven about God, then that also meant that what some people believed about him might be disproved. Beliefs based on faith must never be falsifiable. It is as though everyone has a right to believe whatever they want, and that no one should ever be told that anything they believe is wrong. We’re supposed to respect everyone’s beliefs -even when they’re baseless, biased, bigoted pseudoscience nonsense.
A couple years ago, I challenged a church congregation on the point that something could not be ‘truth’ if it was not ‘true’. For them it didn’t matter that tonight’s speaker from Answers-in-Genesis was lying to them for the last couple hours. Regardless whether I could show that his claims of fact were false or not, they were determined to believe him anyway. I couldn’t get these guys to accept that it was ever possible to prove anything if they didn’t want to admit it. Thus one would never have to confess to believing a lie. The example I used was, “are there chairs in this room?” The answer I got was in the form of citations from David Hume, and the rejection of my question as requiring a “totalizing statement”, whatever that is. The dementia rampant in that room gave me the impression that I had wandered into an asylum.
Over the last six or seven months, I have been involved in an online debate with a young-earth creationist talk radio show host. Let’s call him Pastor Bob Enyart of Denver Bible church. This guy has a website dedicated to the claim that science has confirmed the discovery of “undecomposed dinosaur blood and other extant original biological material”, proving that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. He presented to me several peer-reviewed journals examining large well-insulated fossils which included enigmatic microscopic tissues that were found to be ‘soft’ after being demineralized in an acid bath. Some of these articles said they could have actual proteins, but that they might also be no more than their chemical break-down products. One of these articles confirmed the existence of heme, (an iron-based compound) but not actual blood. There was not one article which confirmed the existence of any “original biological material” that was “extant” or that hadn’t been decomposed. I and a panel of reviewers explained this to him several times over the last few months, but he simply will not accept it. He won’t correct any of his claims, and I just don’t understand that. A common definition of sanity is the ability to reason and to be reasoned with, and these people don’t fit that definition. I know how hard it is to explain something to someone who’s salary depends on his not understanding it, but then I also know a few honest pastors involved in the clergy project. So it is still possible to be honest even then.
I can understand not wanting to find out that something I believed was wrong. I don’t like the indignity of admitting that I have been duped. I don’t like the taste of humble pie. I don’t like having to post erratas or recant a position I once defended passionately. But I have done all of these things again and again in my life, because my position is NOT based on faith; I want to be seen as a reasonable and an honest person. That means that accuracy and accountability matter more than whatever I would rather believe. Also I have never grown or improved so much as when I discovered -and discarded- some point of prejudice or ignorance that I never noticed or knew I had before. So it doesn’t matter what I want to believe if it includes errors needing correction. Consequently I would rather suffer the humiliation of being proven wrong than to forever be wrong and never know it.