When people talk about faith, they are usually referring to religious faith.
Some common religious definitions I hear for faith are:
Book of Mormon:
- “therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen” (Alma 32:21)
- “faith is things which are hoped for and not seen” (Esther 12:6)
- “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (John 20:29)
A quick google search yields this definition for faith: “belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”
Religious faith doesn’t just mysteriously appear. It comes from various sources such as:
- Authority figures
- Holy texts
- Historical evidences
- Personal spiritual experiences (anecdotal evidences)
- Personal desire
- Cultural custom (tradition)
From this, it is important to ask how reliable these various sources are. The definition for reliable being “something that is consistent; able to be trusted”.
I argue that none of these sources are reliable as a foundation for religious faith. Here’s why:
- Authority figures are unreliable because the thing you have faith in is only true because these authority figures say so. This follows the appeal to authority fallacy “because an authority thinks something, it must therefore be true”.
- Holy texts are unreliable for the same reason as #1. A holy book contains the “truth” that backs your faith only because you (or some authority figure) says so. This is the begging the question fallacy, that is “a circular argument in which the conclusion was included in the premise”.
- Historical evidences are unreliable for religious faith because while they may provide evidence for events that actually happened and people that actually existed, they do not provide empirical evidence for supernatural conclusions. Such correlations arise from the false cause fallacy that “a perceived relationship between things means that one is the cause of the other”. An example of this would be there is ample evidence that the Prophet Muhammad was a real person. However, that does not mean that his purported miracles actually happened. Moreover, religious faith frequently uses historical evidence by committing the texas sharpshooter fallacy – “cherry-picking a data cluster to suit your argument, or found a pattern to fit a presumption”.
- Personal spiritual experiences (anecdotal evidences) are unreliable because they are relative truths and cannot be universally applied. They commit the anecdotal fallacy of “using a personal experience or an isolated example instead of a sound argument or compelling evidence”. Moreover, they frequently commit the appeal to emotion fallacy that because a person feels something, their interpretation and designated meaning of that feeling makes the later true.
- Personal desire is unreliable because just because you want something to be true doesn’t make it true.
- Cultural custom is unreliable because not only is it relative to that culture, but falls victim to the bandwagon fallacy – “appeal to popularity or the fact that many people do something as an attempted form of validation”.
(All fallacy definitions taken from https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/)
If you are taught to perceive reality in a certain way (your metaphysical view), then your interactions with the world provide evidence that backs what you were taught and thus your faith in it’s truth. This is unreliable because there are so many different perceptions of reality (many via various religions) which contradict each other. Thus, they can’t all be true. Many of these different perceptions of reality use the same sources (authority, personal experience, holy texts, etc) to arrive at vastly different conclusions. Thus, again, these sources are unreliable.
If the various sources behind religious faith are unreliable, is there a reliable method that can get us closer to truth/reality/fact?
Yes. The scientific method.
The scientific method is reliable because it is a system of falsification and parsimony. You can test a claim under scientific conditions in order to falsify a hypothesis. If the hypothesis holds, then it is growing evidence (a theory) that something is “true”. If a hypothesis doesn’t hold, then it shows that more research is needed. This avoids the God of the Gaps logical fallacy – that is if we don’t know or fully understand something, the response is that more research is needed, rather than saying it must be “God”. Moreover, the principle of parsimony allows for explanations to be honed down to the simplest one.
If almost all of humanity and its knowledge were wiped out, as humans rebuilt civilization new religions would be created that are completely different from the old, but based on the same sources; however, the previous truths discovered via the scientific method would still be the same – and once the scientific method was reestablished these same truths would be rediscovered.
Now back to why faith is NOT a virtue.
Virtue is defined as “a sense of moral excellence”. Morality can be defined as “distinguishing between right and wrong”.
Is it moral to base your perception of reality on unreliable sources?
I argue no. I do not think that is is ok for our society to hold religious faith up as something virtuous. It doesn’t benefit an individual or society. Basing and perpetuating reality on unreliable sources (rather than skepticism and empirical evidence) is irresponsible. It creates a world in which people live in delusions and devote time/effort towards pointless tasks.
Faith should no longer be held up as a virtue in our society. Rather, critical thought and research via the scientific method should be held up as the virtues of society. Only through research via the scientific method can we as a human species hope to come closer to actual truth.