Why false equivalence arguments mean religion sucks even more

Lately, probably due to science coming across new information about the operation of the universe that (surprise!) has nothing to do with god (like every other scientific discovery), the Christian commenters on this site have taken very strongly to false equivalence arguments.  They usually look something like this…

Whether you’re trusting the bible or the opinions of scientists, you’re basing your beliefs on faith in something.

Like the “atheism is also a religion” tack, it’s a means of trying to pull the atheist down to the theist’s level.  What the theists don’t realize is that even if I grant their premise, the false equivalence argument only shows that religion really sucks.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s say I grant the premise that all beliefs require faith of some kind.  For instance, the claim that I own a car is a pretty rock-solid claim.  I can take pictures of myself with the car.  I can show it to other people who will then agree on all the cars qualities, confirming that we all experienced something consistent with the car.  There are oodles of ways I could confirm my car’s existence such that only an abject idiot would reject the claim that I own a car.

But still, I’m placing “faith” in the reliability of my senses as well as the senses of others.  If I’m granting the really stupid premise of the “every belief requires faith” argument, I have “faith” that I’m not a head in a jar in some laboratory being fed the experience of owning a car and that all the other people aren’t just figments of my imagination.  In the scenario painted by the theist, faith is where uncertainty lies.  You follow the evidence as far as you can, and then use faith for what’s left.

But we would be more sure if we could, which means for our beliefs to be more reliable we would want to use less faith.  If we could know for sure that our experiences were 100% legitimate, we totally would.  This should tell you that we’re doing our best to purge our reliance on faith every single day, and that we use it only where we don’t have good evidence.  A world of greater knowledge is a world where we have less need for faith.  And, if we ever got to a point where we knew everything, it could only be because we had zero reliance on faith.

That’s why we build a huge particle collider to search for theoretical particles – when we can, we want to use evidence instead of faith.  In 1900, belief in the Higgs would have required oceans of faith.  In 1970 it would have require less faith, thanks to theoretical models compliant with known physics.  In 1990 it would have required still less, since those models had improved.  Now, belief in the Higgs requires only a droplet of faith – the kind you need in order to believe I own a car, because we’ve spent the last century adding more and more evidence.  In the “every belief requires faith” scenario, faith is merely a placeholder until we can know with greater certainty, and evidence always takes infinitely greater precedence over faith when it is available.

And, when evidence is unavailable, we realize it is better to withhold judgment until it is, rather than relying on unchecked faith.  Think of all the particles you could believe in with no evidence.  How about one that turns things into chocolate?  Were evidence to arise for such a particle, it would then be wise to give its existence increasing amounts of belief.  But believing purely on faith makes you a damn fool.

But religion is funny.  In terms of faith, it runs in the opposite direction of knowledge.  While the greatest human minds are continually shedding off layers of faith in exchange for evidence on matters like the nature of the planets/stars, medicine, production of plentiful food, etc., religions like Christianity are extolling the virtue of faith – but not the kind of faith used by everybody else (the placeholder for when evidence is unavailable). To the religious, faith is given greater reliability than the evidence (otherwise believers would immediately cite their evidence in arguments, never faith).

While it takes a drop of faith (the kind used in confirming the the existence of my car) to conclude that people don’t rise from the dead, it conversely takes oceans of faith, as well as a willingness to value faith over the evidence, to believe people have risen from the dead.  Ditto for the claim that someone walked on water.  Not only does it take immense amounts of a quality that any smart person is trying to use less of to believe such a thing is possible, it takes someone eager to collect and hoard humanity’s intellectual refuse as a prize when all the evidence points to the contrary.  This foolish, anti-intellectual behavior is the very behavior encouraged by religion.

Even in false equivalence arguments, faith is necessarily a matter of intellectual weakness used only when we have no other option (and only then if evidence exists to temper it).  False equivalence arguments are used to try and put all beliefs on an even playing field by insisting they all require faith, as if they all require the same amount of faith and as if that makes it ok to value faith over evidence.  It doesn’t.  In fact, the very notion paints faith-based religions as the havens of eager lunacy that they are.

Even in this false equivalence scenario, beliefs that rely less on faith are more reliable.  This should tell you all you need to know about beliefs that must elevate faith as a virtue in order to be believed.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • gadfly

    In a strict sense, both those who subscribe to naturalism and those who are theists require a level of faith, which you have more or less agreed is true.

    One thing you might not have considered, however, is that those who subscribe to science are indeed putting a great deal of faith in authority.

    While you have good reason to find theories that science has put forward to explain natural phenomena believable (and even more so because science has a built-in self-correcting mechanism), it is likely that you personally have not tested and verified these hypotheses. To do so would be utterly silly (and basically impossible), which is why putting faith in authorities makes sense pragmatically.

    You weren’t at the particle collider were you?

    You are putting an exceptionally large amount of faith in scientists when you are a strict naturalist/scientist. This is similar to the large amount of faith Christians and other religious individuals place on their religious texts and religious leaders.

    So a false equivalence may not necessarily be fair from an epistemological perspective. However, it is fair to say that they are greatly different in many respects (levels of justification/probabilities/etc).

    • Thorne

      I think you are confusing ‘faith’ and ‘trust’. Believers put a lot of trust in those who preach about faith. They also have a lot of faith in what they’ve been led to believe. I, too, put a lot of trust in those who teach science, but that trust has been earned.

      I see, every day, examples of scientific thought which have been proven to work. Even the fact that I can read and respond to this posting is an example of science revealing the truth. On the other hand, I have never seen any indication that what those who preach faith actually exists. I have never seen lightning diverted by the power of prayer. I have seen it diverted by lightning rods. I have never seen a raging river controlled by holding a staff over it. I have seen them controlled by dams.

      Science and scientists, by continuously showing that what they say really works, have earned a certain amount of trust. The same cannot be said for preachers.

      And one comparison can illustrate this very well, I think. Not too long ago, the people at CERN released information that implied that their might be faster than light neutrinos. Instead of praising their finding to the rooftops and declaring a new age of physics, they basically said, “Look here, we know this can’t be right, or everything we know about physics is wrong. Please help us find where we went wrong?”

      Contrast this with the man in India who showed that what the Catholic Church was proclaiming a miracle was really nothing more than a leaky pipe. He is now in hiding from the police for his “heresy and blasphemy!”

      Which of these two organizations would YOU trust to tell the truth?

      • Brad

        And you beat me to it. #6 took me too long to write.

      • gadfly

        Ah semantics. I was speaking from an epistemogical/philosophsical perspective. Trust and faith can be used interchangeably. Both science and religion have high degrees of faith associated with them.

        I wasn’t making a statement about which is more justified. Of course science has more justification in terms of explaining the natural world for many of the reasons you outlined above.

        I was simply pointing out that regardless of your method of gaining knowledge, a high degree of faith is involved.

        • brianpansky

          “I was simply pointing out that regardless of your method of gaining knowledge, a high degree of faith is involved.”

          no, you were simple *asserting* that. You are using the word “high”, but I fail to see how high the faith can possibly be. I don’t see how it takes much faith to think that the scientists are actually using math, physics etc instead of inventing nonsense. To me this sounds like I have to have a lot of faith in order to either
          -refrain from believing in a vast conspiracy of scientists.
          -remain agnostic about whether they are doing science or conspiring.

          But enough at my feeble attempts to interpret you. Please explain more clearly what this “high amount” of faith actually is. That might help clear it up.

          Your example “you were not there to see it” doesn’t help me, because I was not there to see this mornings sunrise, yet I doubt you would assign a “high amount” of faith to that event. So it seems you are talking about something other than “being there” and so now you should specify what it is, and should not have mentioned the “being there” “problem” at all.

          • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

            You are using the word “high”, but I fail to see how high the faith can possibly be.

            *ahem* I’m sure gadfly would be happy to show you.

        • IslandBrewer

          Trust and faith can be used interchangeably.


          No! No they can’t. You do, but you shouldn’t, they mean different things.

          Faith is belief in something for no reason.

          Trust is the belief you put into something or someone because they have, in the past, demonstrated that they are worthy of that trust (by being correct or reliable), or based on other evidence to support that trust (reviews from, again, trustworthy reviewers, etc.).

          Trust implies that there’s some sort of evidence in favor of placing your belief in that thing.

          Both science and religion have high degrees of faith associated with them.

          Jesus H. Tapdancing Shitfuck Christ! No! Gah! Science has no faith associated with it.

          Religion has faith.

          Science has internal combustion engines, airplanes, computers, GPS tracking systems, solar power cells, vaccines, the eradication of smallpox, the doubling of the average human lifespan, antibiotics, volcanic monitoring that saves lives, organ transplants, blood transfusions, optical character recognition that can read my handwriting, crop rotation, pluots, the Hubble telescope, the discovery of extra-solar planets, and now the Higgs boson (maybe).

          Science doesn’t have faith.

        • http://banned.bentzine.net/ Banned Atheist

          Trust and faith are not synonyms. Faith is a system of beliefs. Now we need to define “belief” — not the common definition, but a precise definition. Belief that my car won’t explode when I start it is not the same as believing there is a god or gods. Its intellectually dishonest to conflate the two.

          It’s not playing semantics. If you want to work at CERN, learn physics. One might actually get the chance. However, if you want to know God, nothing one can learn will ever help, because it requires blind belief. It’s uninformed. In other words, ignorant belief.

          Since epistemology is the study of knowledge, such ignorant beliefs aren’t even on the menu.

        • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

          I was speaking from an epistemogical/philosophsical perspective.

          Well, there’s your problem right there.

        • jamessweet

          Trust and faith can be used interchangeably.

          Not. At. All. Well, in one sense of the word “faith”, but there is another more important sense, and it’s a fallacy to equivocate between the two. I’ve written about the subject here. Daniel Fincke of Camels and Hammers has an entire section title “Disambiguating Faith”.

          Here’s a quote from my post:

          But while pragmatism may lead us to exhibit an undue preference for scientific orthodoxy, this is nothing compared to the immutability of religious faith. This is complete apples and oranges.

          Or, let me try and be pithy:

          If damning evidence emerged tomorrow that ATLAS and CMS had somehow colluded to falsify their data in order to fake the presence of a Higgs Boson, how many scientists do you think would try to reframe July 4th’s press conference as a “metaphor”? If you are answer is “FUCKING ZERO”, then you’ve just demonstrated the difference between faith in science vs. faith in religion.

        • Cera

          Well then please allow me to speak from an epistemological/philosophical perspective as well.

          Faith and trust cannot be used interchangeably. Even a little bit. Attempting to use them in such a manner is epistemological/philosophical laziness and you should feel bad.

        • N. Nescio

          I noticed how when you attempted to argue that faith and trust are interchangeable, you entirely leave out the part where faith also requires one to continue holding a belief in spite of evidence to the contrary.

          If you pray to a specific god and nothing happens and you continue to believe in a deity that actively responds to prayer, that’s faith.

          If you pray to a specific god, nothing happens, and you cease to believe in a deity that actively responds to prayer, that’s losing your faith.

          If a book that makes specific claims about how the world works is found to be inconsistent with demonstrable reality and you continue to believe that everything in it is true, that’s faith.

          If you catch your spouse in flagrante delicto and continue to believe they would never do such a thing, that’s faith.

          If you tend to accept the consensus of groups of people who actively work to disprove one another’s claims about how the world works and continually revise or replace incorrect conclusions with correct ones, that’s trust.

          The two are clearly not interchangeable concepts, and clearly you would have to know this to even make the argument. So why do you feel compelled to be dishonest in order to do so?

  • http://beerijuana.wordpress.com/ beerijuana

    Faith? Belief?

    …which ones?

    A good primer on how to spot this particular equivocation:


  • Randomfactor

    I have faith that the scientific method is the best way humans have designed to determine what is false.

    And I will continue to believe so until I am shown evidence that my faith in that method is misplaced.

    • Mark

      I think that is a very correct view of science. I would tweak it to say “The scientific method is the best way humans have yet designed to share conclusions about what is false.”

    • http://faehnri.ch/ faehnrich

      I’d argue not the same kind of faith theists use because science has been shown to work (says the guy writing on a computer using laws of physics.)

      Religions have not been shown to work, or in some cases has been shown to be wrong.

      So not faith, but confidence.

      • http://banned.bentzine.net/ Banned Atheist


    • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

      Now, I’m gonna sound like the godbots for a little bit here… please do not think I am making the false equivalence! Wait for the payoff.

      But in any case, I’m wondering what evidence would convince you that the scientific method — or, more generally, the use of empirical evidence combined with inductive reasoning in order to draw conclusions — was flawed? Would it be because it consistently failed to work? Well, that’s only a valid reason to reject that epistemology if you already buy into that epistemology.

      I do think — and I know others disagree with me — that there is a kernel of what might rightly be called “faith” underpinning the scientific worldview. Namely, it is faith that inductive reasoning is valid. I have frankly seen no solutions to the problem of induction that I find convincing (and I go one step further than Hume, in that I don’t accept deductive reasoning a priori anyway; it’s validity must be justified empirically, so you need inductive reasoning to even get off the ground, epistemically speaking). So there is a circular argument here: We only believe that inductive reasoning is valid based on inductive reasoning. (Of course, I cannot even prove that that is a circular argument until I have accepted deductive reasoning, so it requires faith to even assert that inductive reasoning requires faith! Oy vey…)

      All that said… While I don’t believe inductive reasoning can be externally justified, I do believe it is valid. And, here’s the key point: SO DO PROPONENTS OF FAITH. Nobody, but nobody, rejects inductive reasoning. The most hardcore nihilist will say she does, but of course if she is even having a conversation and has even an inkling someone might be listening, she is implicitly accepting it.

      And then there’s always the joke: One day, humans encounter an alien species that rejects inductive reasoning. Seeing the misery and suffering it has wrought on their civilization, the human ambassador asks them why they are so intransigent on this issue. The alien translator replies: “Well, it never worked for us before, so…”

      • eric

        James, while its probably impossible at this point in history to show that empiricism doesn’t work at all, it would be trivially easy to show that some other method worked better – if any actually did. Just out-produce science. Take revelation as an example. Want to show it works better? Then have it consistently and repeatedly reveal stuff science doesn’t know. Pray for knowledge of a cure for cancer. Pray for knowledge of an anti-gravity device. Tabletop fusion. A room temperature superconductor. Heck, pray for tomorrow’s lottery number. When you can pray (or dance, or do any other magic ritual), and by doing so discover novel things that then turn out upon investigation to be true and useful, and do it consistently, then you will have discovered a new and valuable methodology for knowledge-production.

        So, I tend to think the problem of induction is at least partially solved by an ‘appeal to the competition.’ I.e., while it might not be deductively sound, it is overwhelmingly better than its competitor methodologies at reaching the social goals we want to achieve. It is also arguably better than not investigating nature at all.

        As the saying goes, I don’t have to outrun the bear to survive – I only have to outrun you. Empiricism may not outrun the bear (of philosophical certainty? The analogy may fail at the bear). But it outruns revelation, and every other competing methodology. Thus, it survives.

  • http://sciencenotes.wordpress.com/ Markita Lynda—damn climate change!

    I have faith! I have faith that my front steps will still be there in the morning. Does that make my house a religion?

    • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

      Only if someone’s trying to dishonestly make religion look less singularly unreasonable.

    • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

      Or if, upon awakening to discover your steps aren’t there after all, you insist that the steps were a metaphor all along.

  • Owlmirror

    In 1900, belief in the Higgs would have required oceans of faith.

    Gripe: Since the prediction of the Higgs boson relies on prior theory [i.e., heavy math] based on extensive work in experimental particle physics, which did not even begin to exist in 1900, this example doesn’t make much sense. What would people have been believing in, without the standard model of particle physics?

    [Peter Higgs, says WikiP, was born in 1929]

    • invivoMark

      I think that’s kind of the point.

      • Owlmirror

        No, it can’t be the point. It’s too sloppy. It wouldn’t be possible to articulate a belief in something called a Higgs boson without the entire background of particle physics that it’s based on. Without that body of technical knowledge, the technical specificity embedded in he phrase “Higgs boson” doesn’t make sense.

        If it had said “1964″ (when Higgs first predicted it) instead of “1900″, that would make more sense.

        I think perhaps a better example of something that could have been articulated in 1900 might be the relativity of time and space. Einstein did the formal math showing how it all worked, and other physicists worked out the implications and showed the experiments that demonstrated it, but it would be possible to articulate the basic idea that time and space are relative rather than absolute before Einstein’s work was published.

        • Drakk

          Well, in the same way, I think one might have been able to put forward the belief that “mass arises due to a field which interacts with some particles but not others”*

          *I really don’t get particle physics. I am ashamed at this fact.

          • Daniel Schealler

            If you have the time and the inclination, give Krauss’ Fear of Physics a go.

            He has a really good explanation of what the Higgs field is about.

            Short version goes something like this gratuitously oversimplified version.

            Fermions are particles that cannot overlap one another, like electrons, protons and neutrons. Bosons are particles that can overlap one another, like photons.

            A superconductor is a substance that is cold enough for the electrons within it to form into a lowest-possible-energy-state lattice. Any deviation would be a large increase in energy – so it is disallowed. The electrical resistance is zero.

            Light behaves as if it has mass when it passes through a superconductor.

            So maybe other particles with mass only appear to have mass, for similar reasons as why light appears to have mass when inside a super-conductor.

            Perhaps we exist inside a sort of super-conductor, in that the universe could be permeated by a lattice of overlapping bosons. If so, there are certain properties that, theoretically speaking, such a particle would have to possess in order to function in that kind of field.

            This idea was put forward by a physicist named Higgs. So the lattice of particles is called called the Higgs Field. The particles itself must be a boson, so it is called the Higgs Boson.

            Again: That’s a vast oversimplification. But if my understanding of Krauss’ book is correct (and if the book itself is correct) then it’s a reasonable sketch of what physicists think is going on.

  • Brad

    @1 you’re using the word ‘faith’ as a synonym for ‘trust’ which is fine in casual conversation (e.g. saying somebody is faithful to mean they’re not betraying your trust) but when you use it like that in the arguments you are making it’s pure and utter bullshit false equivalence.

    We don’t have “faith” that JT owns a car, or that the nuclear strong force is a real thing, or that France exists when we’ve never been there. We trust those things based on having some, but not all of the evidence, and part of our trust in these and the vast majority of other cases is based on the concept that if we were so inclined the claims are verifiable. I could go to JT’s house and see his car, or I could get access to his state’s DMV records, or the sale documents at the dealer. I can (pretty sure, but could be wrong) work at a career in physics and experimentally observe the strong interaction. I can fly to France for around $1400 from the US. You can’t do that for any gods.

  • http://scaryreasoner.wordpress.com SteveC

    The old “You use faith too! You’re just as dumb as I am!” gambit always cracks me up. Those using this gambit implicitly admit that they know there’s something wrong with faith — that it doesn’t work and that to be really certain of something, faith needs to be minimized or eliminated. As far as I can tell, to use faith is to deliberately attempt to be more certain of something than the available evidence warrants, and when would doing *that* ever be a good idea? Faith is inherently dishonest in that it involves lying to yourself about how certain you should be, and it is an obviously bad idea to strive to increase one’s use of faith if one cares that one’s beliefs should actually comport well with reality.

    I’m glad I’m starting to see these kinds of direct attacks on the very concept of faith around the internet these days more frequently than say, five years ago. Faith needs to be given the reputation it deserves, and it deserves the same reputation as illiteracy, and people who promote faith should be viewed in a similar manner as people who promoted illiteracy would be viewed.

  • IslandBrewer

    I have faith in scientists.

    I have faith that, for any scientific claim that one of them puts forth, all the other scientists in that field will do their utmost to tear it to shreds, poke holes, and expose bad logic and bad methodology.

    My faith is occasionally misplaced, but there always seems (based on empirical observation) to be at least one scientist available to tear down badly done science.

    Because of this, I trust scientists and their methodology to do their best to get it right. And when they’re wrong, they eventually have those errors exposed. And they just keep on trying ’till they run out of cake.

    • brianpansky

      I like this. Another equivocation I often see is that science or scientists are an “authority”. But it’s not an appeal to authority.

      If anything, it is an appeal to a method that has been shown to work. I would almost go as far as to say it is an appeal to logic and reason, since the method itself has shown itself to remove errors, and apply logic and reason very thoroughly.

      I think calling it an “authority” is a black box. A dishonest one.

      • IslandBrewer

        If anything, it is an appeal to a method that has been shown to work. I would almost go as far as to say it is an appeal to logic and reason …

        Personally, having been a scientist participating in peer review, I think of it as an appeal to the shadenfreude that researchers feel when they point out their competitors screwing up.

        But I like your interpretation better! It’s much more charitable!

      • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

        Yeah, really. If we’re “putting our faith in authority” then why do we demand peer review?

      • kosk11348

        Appealing to authority isn’t always a fallacy. It’s only when it’s a false authority, like when you listen to a pro ballplayer or famous actor giving medical advice. But listening to actual medical experts give medical advice? Or competent scientists talking about science? That’s perfectly reasonable.

        • Owlmirror

          I prefer to distinguish something that comes from someone speaking as an expert as being from expertise, not authority.

          And, unfortunately, it does happen that even an expert can screw up, especially when they become a kook. The problem is that when an expert relies on their reputation or celebrity, rather than on reason and evidence, they’re making an argument from authority — and yes, it’s a fallacy when they do it.

          Case in point: Peter Duesberg — who definitely had/has expertise as a biologist — advocating AIDS-denialism.

          Even an expert has to convince other experts that the argument being advanced has reason and evidence in support of it. So Duesberg arguing that he is right, based on his prior record of expertise (reputation/celebrity), but not taking into account that he’s failed to provide reason and evidence in support of his arguments sufficient to convince other experts, is an example of a fallacious argument from authority.

        • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

          Strictly speaking, appealing to authority is fallacious in deductive reasoning. The opinion of people who we have reasons to believe are likely to be right about this particular subject (track record, relevant experience and study, credentials which are intended to be “quick check” markers of relevant experience and study) is a legitimate and often strong piece of supporting evidence for inductive arguments, though.

  • leftwingfox

    Isn’t the difference between “Trust” and “Faith” the fact that “trust” is conditional on verification?

    I don’t have to take the work of the LHC scientists on faith: I could, at least in theory, verify all the data their work is built on, and the various assumptions they make based on the research they are using.

  • Kevin

    I just had this exact exchange with a theist of the Catholic stripe.

    He claimed that I had “faith” that the sun would rise in the morning.

    I said no, I had data, scientific observations, and Newton’s First Law of Motion.

    He stuck the flounce.

  • Owlmirror

    I’ve been thinking about Leah Libresco, and noodling on a response essay/argument/rant to her conversion announcement. The current working title is “People who love rationality should not convert to Catholicism, (or any other religion)“. I’ve been thinking how to express where she’s gone wrong by summarizing some basic rules-of-thumb.

    My first attempt was: “Trust methods [as in, the methods of rationality; scientific methods] over people or institutions”, but that didn’t seem quite sufficient. What sort of methods? Why should we trust methods over people? So, after pondering some more, here’s what I came up with:


    1) People make mistakes.

    2) Institutions, as formal hierarchies of people, incorporate the mistakes that people make.

    3) People have come up with rational and scientific methods to correct themselves.

    4) Therefore, [epistemic] trust should be placed in self-correcting methods over any individual person or institution.

    5) Inasmuch as people or institutions use self-correcting methods, they can reasonably receive epistemic trust — with the caveat, of course, that repeated or egregious failures of self-correcting methods should result in the lessening or withdrawal of epistemic trust in the person or institution in which the failure(s) occurred.

    6) “Divine revelation” is a claim or set of claims which are either not open to correction by any methods at all, or for which correction is simply rejected outright.

    7) Religions are institutions which often rely on “divine revelation”, and thus have a foundational policy of rejecting self-correcting methods.

    8) The Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, on the basis of “divine revelation”, claims to be infallible on the matter of faith and morals, or, rephrasing in other terms, they claim that they cannot possibly be wrong about certain fact claims about reality and events that purportedly occurred in reality, and about the way that people should behave.

    9) Inasmuch as the Roman Catholic Church completely rejects self-correcting methods on “faith and morals”, no epistemic trust should be placed in the institution.


    I’ve also been thinking about another rule of thumb.

    The very wise Sastra once ¹ came up with the following insight, while arguing with an advocate of Thomism about teleology:

    You’re missing the critical step: Because matter has no goals or intentions of its own, the logical explanation for the fact that matter seems to behave “as if” it is being driven to an end, is that this apparent teleology is an artifact of the human mind which is doing the interpreting. This is the simplest solution to the disconnnect. The goals and intentions are being read into a situation. What you are seeing at work is not the Mind of God — it’s the mind of man. Your own mind. Both you, and Aquinas, are anthropomorphizing nature, and have mistaken yourselves, for God.

    Or rather, they were mistaking part of their own minds for God. Or, perhaps rather, the operation of part of their own minds.

    And it occurs to me that this can be generalized: That any time someone thinks they have either experienced God, or “deduced” God, they’re confusing something inside their heads for a person outside their heads.

    In the case of Leah, of course, she has confused the feelings of love that she happened to feel while thinking deeply about morality, with a person that wasn’t her having those feelings.

    But it’s all just her own mind, playing tricks on her. She’s made a mistake, and is unwilling — or perhaps, unable — to correct that mistake.

    1: March 30, 2010, to be more precise


    To bring this all back to the original post, the real point of confusion is about “faith” in a person or an institution of persons who refuse to be corrected, and “faith” that is ultimately in a method of self-correction. People can be mistaken; a method that seeks always to correct mistakes cannot itself be a mistake.

  • gadfly

    I think we’re stuck on semantics here.

    When I say faith (which is a synonym of trust) I mean a degree of confidence in and reliance on a person/idea/thing that you cannot necessarily provide evidence for of your own accord.

    This is distinguished from religious faith, which is more specifically believing in something that does not require proof.

    The target of the original quibble:

    Whether you’re trusting the bible or the opinions of scientists, you’re basing your beliefs on faith in something.

    Taken at face value, this statement is not incorrect.

    Science as a discipline is remarkably good at systematically discovering knowledge of natural phenomena. I am certainly not in dispute of that.

    However, this does not change the fact that, because of the vastness of scientific knowledge known and unknown, that each individual cannot come to believe theories such as that of relativity or the concept of atoms or how protein synthesis works, to name a few, without a high level of faith (not religious faith) – faith in scientists, faith in the assumptions made by science, faith in one’s own logic, etc.

    This faith, by the way, can have a high level of justification. I happen to think that individuals (myself included) that subscribe to science are very well justified in placing that faith. You are further justified when you personally observe things in nature that have behaved consistently with scientific theories.

    Take something less trivial as gravity or the sun rising in the morning. Take the first time you had a cavity (even though this is still quite trivial).

    Before the dentist stars drilling away at your teeth, she tells you that she’s going to inject your gums with procaine.

    Why? You ask.

    She tells you it will help you not feel the pain.

    How? You ask.

    She tells you that procaine blocks voltage-gated sodium channels of neurons, which in turn, prevents them from firing action potentials. No neurons firing action potentials, no messages being delivered to your brain that “Wow, something really painful is going on in my mouth. You might want to investigate.”

    Let’s assume at this point you’re satisfied and believe that the drug will do what it is supposed to do. You are quite justified because a)it makes logical sense based on the physiology of neurons b)many people have used it before effectively c)this dentist went to school and studied this and is, in turn, an authority, and d)it is quite unlikely that it won’t work for you.

    Unfortunately, however, you placed a great deal of faith that it will work because you have (likely) not arrived at this knowledge through your own independent observation and testing. You will likely not stop the dentist before she gets to work on your cavity and make sure that what she says is true.

    That’s just one example of how belief in science requires faith.

    Contrast this with religious faith. Most religious doctrine, taken on religious faith, such as views about how the Earth was created, how long humans have existed, walking on water, etc. are NOT justified.

    Science does not require faith, however subscribing to science does require (justified) faith.

    But this is all just semantics, isn’t it?

    • steve oberski

      No, you are stuck on semantics here.

      It would appear that the other participants in this thread have a very good understanding of the difference between faith and trust.

      Be careful, you are teetering on the yawning abyss of solipsism and I for one am inclined to give you a bit of a push.

      • gadfly

        From dictionary.reference.com:

        confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
        belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
        belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
        belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
        a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.

        From Google.com:


        1. Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
        2. Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

        belief – trust – confidence – credence – credit


        noun ˈfāth
        a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1) : fidelity to one’s promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
        a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion


        1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
        2. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. See Synonyms at belief, trust.
        3. Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one’s supporters.
        4. often Faith Christianity The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God’s will.
        5. The body of dogma of a religion: the Muslim faith.
        6. A set of principles or beliefs.

        This IS about semantics. Most of the people on this thread are intending faith to mean the second definition. I probably should have assumed that given the context of the forum. They are not wrong, but they are being imprecise.

        I never said that “trust” did not also apply as well. And if you want to make an absolute distinction between faith and trust, then “happy” and “content” are apparently greatly different as well.

        If we can’t agree on a definition of faith (and the fact that it has shades of meaning), then this is pointless.

        • http://banned.bentzine.net/ Banned Atheist

          Common language and philosophical language are not the same thing. You can’t drag the mundane meaning of a word into a philosophical debate and be taken seriously.

          That explains why nobody’s taking the ‘semantics’ argument seriously.

          I recommend brushing up on your David Hume.

          • gadfly

            C’mon, faith meaning “trust/confidence” is not common usage?

            I mean, maybe not on an atheist’s blog.

            I was trying to offer an alternative way to view the person’s original comment.

            “Whether you’re trusting the bible or the opinions of scientists, you’re basing your beliefs on faith in something.”

            Apparently the idea that “faith” could mean “a strong confidence” was too “mundane” even to be considered.

        • kosk11348

          Ok, to take the semantic route, religion is bad faith. Does that require further explanation?

          • gadfly

            No, I think we catch your drift, haha.

    • brianpansky

      indeed semantics can have some effect:


      I’m thinking that, at the very least, the following phrase:

      “Whether you’re trusting the bible or the opinions of scientists, you’re basing your beliefs on faith in something.”

      is so vague about the “faith in” bit that it is similar to a deepity:


      Please accept my recommendation to avoid these mistakes by actually using separate terminology, instead of using faith for every situation. Failing to do so will inevitably lead to confusion.

      I also take issue with “opinions of scientists”. It is not opinion that Painkillers work, it is something that has been found to be the case.

      And again, all of your “great deal” of trust doesn’t look very great/big at all to me. If I think of how likely the dentists claims are to be accurate, the odds are in favor of accuracy. (This trust/likelihood may be another semantic/equivocation problem.)

      The alternative seems to be that they are outright lying, which simply seems absurd. So I would think the person asking the dentist needs only minimal trust that the dentist is not pulling a prank. From this tiny assumption comes larger consequences (if dentist is not pulling a prank: then they have done this before, they have read how it works, and a painkiller effect is likely to occur).

      This requires no “placing” of any deal of “faith that it will work”. It is the most basic likelihood that someone can think of.

      And I think that going from “seems very likely true” to “I trust it a lot” to “placing faith in it” is:


      mostly because when we say something TAKES a lot of faith, that word TAKES indicates high amount of UNCERTAINTY (the OPPOSITE of “very likely true”). That is how that phrase works. So to me it looks like you are the one who needs to be more careful with your wording so that anyone can tell what you are saying.

      Perhaps you meant that it was more difficult to trust that the explanation (of *how* the drug works) is the correct explanation?

      • brianpansky

        (“takes” or “places” to me both indicate uncertainty when used like: “placing faith in it”, “this takes faith”

        so I would re-word “you placed a great deal of faith that it will work” to “to you it seems highly likely that it will work”

        notice now that the rest of the paragraph “because you have (likely) not arrived at this knowledge through your own independent observation and testing.” does not make sense. The flow of that paragraph relied upon a false equivocation of the word “faith”)

      • gadfly

        I’m thinking that, at the very least, the following phrase:

        “Whether you’re trusting the bible or the opinions of scientists, you’re basing your beliefs on faith in something.”

        is so vague about the “faith in” bit that it is similar to a deepity

        Definitely agree with you.

        If whoever said this originally intended it to mean faith in the same way we think of trust, he or she stated something obvious.
        Alternatively, if the person’s intended meaning of the word “faith”, was that of a religious type of faith, then the person was committing a fallacious semantic argument that you referenced.

        I was merely trying to point out the obvious semantic meaning of faith as a “strong confidence in something” (that many on here seemed to be ignoring in favor of the religious kind of “faith”) would make the person’s statement true.

        And along with that definition of faith meaning (basically) “trust”, anyone who believes in science has faith in (and a great deal of faith in) scientists, the scientific method, empiricism, etc.

        It is absolutely that simple and that trivial. This is exactly the point I was trying to make.

        • brianpansky

          I think this clears up a bit.

        • IslandBrewer

          Intentionally using two different definitions of a word and conflating their meaning just to make a ridiculous statement like that is, at its best, just bad argument.

    • Daniel Schealler

      Fallacy of Equivocation

      A feather is light.
      What is light cannot be dark.
      Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.

      All jackasses have long ears.
      John Doe is a jackass.
      Therefore, John Doe has long ears.

      Margarine is better than nothing.
      Nothing is better than butter.
      Therefore, margarine is better than butter.

      Let us define x as an element in the set of ‘claims or entities’.

      Let us define Faith A (FA) as ‘unjustified trust in a claim or entity’.

      Let us define Faith B (FB) as ‘justified trust in a claim or entity’.

      It seems to me that you are supporting the following argument:

      Theists have FA in God.
      Atheists have FB in x.
      Therefore, atheists are no more justified than theists are.

      But by explicitly defining FA and FB, the equivocation is avoided and the non-sequitur nature of the argument is revealed: The question should instead be about how justified one’s trust is, not about whether or not one has trust to begin with.

      If you really wish to make or support the argument that the belief in God or Gods is as justified as an atheist’s belief in x, then you need to supply us with one of the following:

      1) Evidence and justification for God of the same standard as exists for x.

      2) Show that the evidence or justification for x isn’t adequate AND see if that atheist clings to x or changes their mind to tentatively reject x until such a time as more evidence comes to light.

      Note that second part of 2). If you can show me that a belief I hold is unjustified, or that a justification that I thought was valid actually isn’t, then I like to think that I would change my mind in response to this and tentatively reject that belief until such a time as sufficient justification for it is discovered – which could be indefinitely is no discovery is forthcoming.

      If you can’t do either 1) or 2) then chances are good that the atheists against whom you are arguing will be able to show that you are committing a fallacy of false equivalence… And you will continue to be dismissed as such.

  • IslandBrewer

    Sorry, I can’t put this down.

    Using two different meaning of faith, in the same sentence is like the common anti-choice tactic of conflating two different meaning of the word “life”. Human cells (be they zygotes or stray epithelial cells sneezed out in a snot-coated tissue) are “human life” (subtly conflating “metabolizing cells” with “person”). And only an evil monster would callously murder a “human life” now, right?

    Yes, “both those who subscribe to naturalism and those who are theists require a level of ‘faith’”, my big hairy ass. Sorry, I find your argument simply duplicitous.

    • gadfly

      It actually wasn’t my argument originally. I was just defending the argument by saying that it’s not incorrect when taken at face value.

      Given there’s probably a lot more context than what was included in the original post, you are probably right about it being deceitful.

      • kosk11348

        Yeah taking that claim “at face value” necessarily ignores a lot of important subtext, which is dishonesty by omission.

  • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

    …of course, what you’re using when you confirm the existence of your car isn’t even remotely what people actually mean when they say “faith.”

    • IslandBrewer

      Depends on the neighborhood in which you park your car, I suppose.

  • skepticallydenpa

    I noticed a bit of irony to this extent before, when a stranger told me that atheists have more faith than christians(he was a customer and I was on the clock, so I didn’t get to have an argument with him).

    Isn’t that an admittance of the fact that faith is a really shitty way to make decisions about the world? Whenever a theist pulls out the faith card, I have gotten into the habit of asking them if having more faith makes me more likely to be right. For example: scientology. Surly that requires more faith than christianity(I live in the bible belt, they’re more common here).

    I’m not sure I’ve gotten through with this argument yet. The other person generally cocks their head to the side in confusion and tries another argument. I need to work on holding their feet to the fire. Speaking of which, why, JT, have you not posted this video yet?


    It might just be a revamped version of an old speech, but I’m liking the direction it’s taken.

    • Owlmirror

      I noticed a bit of irony to this extent before, when a stranger told me that atheists have more faith than christians

      An idea for a response for the next time this comes up: “So Christians have more faith than polytheists? Believing in Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo, Aphrodite, Ares, Hermes, and the rest of the Greek Pantheon, and the Egyptian Pantheon, and all the other Gods and Goddesses out there — that requires less faith than believing in God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus?”

      I doubt that they’re thinking too deeply about what faith means. They just want to sneer at atheists by trying to flummox them. OK; flummox them back.

      • skepticallydenpa

        I think the important part is pointing out that it sounds as if they don’t believe faith is a reasonable way to make judgements about reality, throw out a few examples of crazy things that they can agree require more faith, and pointing out that faith and credulity are synonymous in practice, nipping the argument in the bud early. Once they’ve exhausted all other arguments, they’ll try to retreat back to their position of faith. In which I’d need to remind hir that ze already agreed it was a faulty position to begin with.

        Of course, my arguments never go so smoothly. I’m just trying to structure my arguments in a way that will break through.

  • Blaze

    I think we need to quit playing around. “Nice” discussions are pointless. Work, school, coffeshop, whatever, I tell Christians they are delusions and to keep their beliefs to themselves.

    One guy got in my face and I called the cops.

    That Christian ended up where they all should!

    • N. Nescio

      It’s tough to figure out exactly where your example Christian went after you called the cops.

      Is there some specific reason why you feel all people who identify as Christian ought to be (presumably) arrested/jailed?

    • skepticallydenpa

      In addition to N. Nescio’s query, you seem to have missed that most of us used to be religious. Most of us had our minds changed because of an argument, book, video, etc… had an impact that planted a seed of doubt. As JT has mentioned time and time again, we do not choose our beliefs. Once the seed is planted there is little they can do about it.

      If you don’t like debates. If you aren’t any good at having them. That is all well and good. But these discussions are far from pointless.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/Erulora Erülóra Maikalambe

    Whether you’re trusting the bible or the opinions of scientists, you’re basing your beliefs on faith in something.

    Whether you’re running the LHC or a fryer, your job required some training. Therefore, I was practically a particle physicist when I was in high school.

  • eric

    Whether you’re trusting the bible or the opinions of scientists, you’re basing your beliefs on faith in something.

    IMO, the simplest response to this non-reasoning is: do not confuse my conclusions with your premises.

    Scientific beliefs are conclusions. They are the result of arguments and evidence. Religious beliefs are premises. They are assertions on which arguments are built.

  • Mark

    Every philosophy starts with a core belief that cannot be proven. In that respect, scientism is no different than any other philosophy. I agree, however, that not all core beliefs are equal.