Susan Blackmore has an interesting op-ed opposing faith in The Guardian.

The common understanding of faith, “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence,” however, is a bit fishy. No doubt that’s often how it’s presented: I’ve had no end of students who conceive of faith as having to do with realities beyond ordinary ways of investigation. Many even think of faith as a kind of faculty of attaining truth on the cheap, and it’s immune to criticism as an extra bonus. But people are not consistent. The same students also have different understandings of faith: as something more akin to trust (which can be warranted), or as a set of beliefs that are not validated by ordinary public means but are validated nonetheless (for example, through paranormal and spiritual experiences). Then there is the related idea that faith is like love. You love and trust your spouse. But even if there may be perfectly good reasons and evidence that can be produced that your spouse is worthy, you don’t need to do that. Moreover, a close investigation of reasons and evidence may even be destructive to the personal relationship in question.

So I guess what I’m saying is that we need to be careful when criticizing “faith” — it’s not a simple concept. It may even be one of Marvin Minsky’s “suitcase” words, into which a lot of quite different concepts get packed. And this feeds into the usual irritating slipperiness of defenses of religion. A believer can always (and even with some legitimacy) say that when someone like Blackmore comes out against “faith,” what she’s attacking is not what they understand and live by.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University