ReDefining Faith

In my previous post, I listed just a few of the many authoritative/definitive secular and sectarian sources explaining that faith is “a firm belief that is not based on evidence”. That’s what the consensus of dictionaries, sermons, hymns of pastors past and present, every single former theological scholar to have since discarded faith and all the supposedly sacred scriptures of any religion say that faith is.faithpic

This raised the ire of a few wanna-believers desperate to pretend that their position is reasonable. It’s one of two ploys I typically see. As I explained in a few other talks, Religion Reverses Everything, and that’s what happened here. Believers either try the logical fallacy of False Equivalence by trying to rationalize how their position is just as rational as mine, or they try to project their own faults onto me, by accusing me of having faith too, so that I seem as irrational as they are. I’ve just come from a thread full of Christians doing both of these at once.

On the one hand, they think that anything we believe for any reason at all counts as faith. This despite all explanation or confirmation. I could cite any number of objective sources, and all would be immediately rejected, because religious apologetics means never admitting when you’re wrong.

On the other hand, they argued that they have evidence for their faith.

This is easy enough to test. If they assert that faith is simply trust in the evidence, then they’ll be able to explain what the evidence was that led them to believe as they do. However if I and everyone else is right, and faith is a belief that is assumed and maintained regardless of evidence, (as we all know it is) then they believe as they do for reasons that do not qualify as evidence.

Sometimes believers tell me they believe because they want to, or they have to cling to the hope that they’ll see their dead child again in Heaven. I get that there’s a sincere emotional need there, but that isn’t evidence. Often they convert to religion out of emotional dependence, sometimes as a reaction to abuse or perhaps trading a chemical addiction for a psychological one. Most often though, they were born into their religion and that never changed. They believe what they were told to believe–by someone who believes what they was told to believe. And on it goes, with every generation accepting the authority of the previous one, until you get to the first people who actually made these stories up–one incremental element at a time.

They were told they HAD to believe, that you’re a good person if you believe; that belief grants some sort of power somehow. They were told that bad people didn’t believe, and that’s why they were bad. So you’ll go to Heaven if you believe what you’re told, and you’ll go to Hell if you don’t. It’s entirely cultural conditioning, inculcation mixed with lots of logical fallacies, because religion obviously doesn’t want to teach critical thinking. Unrestricted analysis will put them out of business.

So any time I meet a believer who pretends that “reasonable faith” is not an oxymoron, I ask them what evidence convinced them of this or that aspect of their religion. It should take different evidence to indicate each specific tenet, but I find that believers simply swallow the whole thing at once “as a package deal” –as William Dembski put it.

Now if the claim that faith is a trust in the evidence is bullshit, (as we already know it is) then the believer won’t be able to list any actual evidence that led to that conclusion. If they already know it’s bullshit and just don’t want to admit that, they’ll find some excuse not to answer the questions at all.

Only one of these guys attempted an answer. Apart from a few debunked frauds and circular reasoning, his “evidence” was no more than the god-of-the-gaps, a version of the argument from ignorance, an informal logical fallacy that anything [you think] science hasn’t yet explained must be magic. Then if you compile other erroneous assumptions atop that baseless assumption, then one might assume that whatever is “unexplained” is evidence of God.

I’m paraphrasing here, but he essentially thought, “science can’t explain the evolution of consciousness”, which it can and does actually, though he didn’t know that. So he assumed “therefore there must be a disembodied mind who made magic wishes to conjure the universe out of nothing as part of an incantation spell”. I’m not straw-manning his position. While he would never phrase it that way, that is what he believes, and why he believes it!

I tried to explain the value and necessity of methodological naturalism, but it fell on deaf ears. One response was that I was being unfair by never allowing supernatural ‘explanations, even though those never actually explain anything, and only prevent us from discovering the real answers.

Otherwise these people’s defense was to use arguments as evidence–on the excuse that some philosophical reference somewhere allowed that. I’m not surprised. When I debated a Muslim creationist over whether evolution is a fact, I brought the scientific definition, but my opponent found some obscure philosophical mirror-reversal definition such that a fact could never be verified. Of course it didn’t matter to him that everyone else in the world defines a fact as objectively verifiable data.

Everyone except the religious of course: not these guys. One of them said that facts cannot be objective, negating everything that makes a fact a fact. Another one said that evidence doesn’t have to be factual, verifiable, or indicative–because [he says] facts and evidence are subjective! This negation of everything evidence is allows them to use contrived arguments instead and call it evidence–even though such arguments can’t be tested and half the philosophers say it’s either not compelling or it’s entirely garbage. So it still couldn’t count as evidence anyway.

There’s an old saying. “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit”. And that’s what this guy tried to do when he showed me what he called a “demonstration” of his evidence for God. I responded saying that I was quite sure he already believed in God as a little boy, long before he ever saw Anselm’s Ontological Argument written in symbolic logic. So that’s obviously not what convinced him.

He refused to say why he came to believe as he does. But it’s OK. We know. He was indoctrinated by faith the way I and the rest of the world define that word.

As I said in my previous post, I need to consider evidence–not in the often muddy way that some philosophers do–but in the same pragmatic way as any common man would, especially if he were going into a court of law where bullshit will not fly. In which case, arguments are not evidence. Nowhere in practical application can an argument be used in place of empirical evidence. But I had to prove that. So I cited a few more sources.


Legal definition:
Trial evidence consists of: The sworn testimony of witnesses, on both direct and cross-examination, regardless of who called the witness; 2. The exhibits which have been received into evidence; and Any facts to which all the lawyers have agreed or stipulated.
–‘lectric Law Library

Business definition:
1. Testimony and presentation of documents, records, objects, and other such items relating to the existence or non-existence of alleged or disputed facts into which a court enquires.
2. Methods and rules that guide and govern the establishment of a fact before a court, collectively called the law of evidence.

Scientific definition:
Sooner or later, the validity of scientific claims is settled by referring to observations of phenomena. Hence, scientists concentrate on getting accurate data. Such evidence is obtained by observations and measurements taken in situations that range from natural settings (such as a forest) to completely contrived ones (such as the laboratory).
–American Association for the Advancement of Science

Philosophical definition:
In the philosophy of science, evidence is taken to be what confirms or refutes scientific theories, and thereby constitutes our grounds for rationally deciding between competing pictures of the world.
…..When we think about examples of evidence from everyday life, we tend to think of evidence, in the first place, as consisting of an object or set of objects. Consider evidence that might be found at a crime scene: a gun, a bloody knife, a set of fingerprints, or hair, fiber or DNA samples. The same might be said of fossil evidence, or evidence in medicine, such as when an X-ray is evidence that a patient has a tumor, or koplic spots as evidence that a patient has measles. Yet we also consider such things as testimony and scientific studies to be evidence, examples difficult to classify as “objects” since they apparently involve linguistic entities. Possibilities proliferate when we turn to philosophical accounts of evidence, where we find more exotic views on what sort of thing evidence can be. In philosophy, evidence has been taken to consist of such things as experiences, propositions, observation-reports, mental states, states of affairs, and even physiological events, such as the stimulation of one’s sensory surfaces.
Can all of these count as evidence? Few would think so, and basic principles of parsimony seem to militate against it. But given all of the possibilities with which philosophy and everyday life present us, how would we go about making a decision? What kind of consideration could determine the sorts of entities that can count as evidence? A natural strategy to pursue would be to consider the role or function evidence plays in both philosophy and everyday life. That is, perhaps considering what evidence does affords the best clue to what evidence is.
–Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

None of this jibes with the idea that faith is “trust in the evidence”, because we all know that’s not what faith is. So the Christians scrambled for excuses to dismiss everything I had just posted any way they could. They complained that I only showed the philosophy of science definition and not the general definition. But I included the general definition immediately beneath the one for science. The fact that I even cited a philosophical source against their assertion really stirred up the bees, because that was the only excuse they had. They were a lot less civil after that.

But I wasn’t done. I also googled “definition of evidence-based” and read at least a dozen or more different sites, all of which required the evidential basis to be objective empirical research. No philosophical arguments allowed. So even if faith was evidence-based like they said, their philosophical word games still wouldn’t qualify. They reacted quite rudely to that.

I had already cited a number of sources distinguishing evidence from arguments, but of course they didn’t care to hear about anything that proves them wrong. Because THAT’s what faith really is! Instead they dismissed every source I could cite out-of-hand and without consideration, still arguing that faith is the opposite of what it is, and that they have evidence for their faith.

Finally I said that you can’t have evidence of religious faith–unless you reverse the definition of fact, such that it is no longer factual–going from objective, inarguable data to SUBjective empty assertions, which you have done.

Then you can reverse the definition of evidence too, such that it is no longer evident, being neither verifiable nor indicative, which you have also done.

That’s how you reverse the definition of faith. You must reverse the definition of both facts and evidence into their opposites, such that evidence becomes “unverifiable, unsupported subjective speculation”. Only then can you pretend that you have evidence, because you really do have unverifiable, unsupported subjective speculation for your religious faith, but you obviously know that you don’t have any actual factual evidence as it is commonly, properly, professionally REALLY defined.

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