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Degree of Faith

Entry 528, on 2007-05-08 at 15:32:23 (Rating 2, Comments)

I've got to stop listening to these podcasts. They are so addictive and usually lead to further comments in this blog. I suppose there's nothing wrong with that but there are probably other things I could be doing. Anyway, the topic of today's rant comes from the Apologia podcast, a podcast which examines the gap between atheism and theism and tries to find common ground (at least, that's the aim).

So the subject is faith. Any discussion of faith encounters the problem of deciding exactly what it is, but let's take the widest definition and say its acceptance or belief in something for which there is no perfect proof. Of course, absolute proof of anything in the real world is impossible because we can always get back to the most basic difficulty of proving that we even exist, etc. Given this it seems that faith exists on a continuum. At one end is belief in something with no supporting evidence at all - the extreme religious view. At the other is the faith that what we observe with our senses has some meaning, that the Universe actually exists, etc.

Atheists and scientists would have to admit that some faith (under this definition) is required to support their views. But does that mean that science is just another religion? No, of course not. We shouldn't be asking whether faith is involved or not, we should ask how much faith is required, and what type of faith is it. Clearly, rationalists really have to take the pragmatic view that their existence isn't just one big illusion. If we don't accept that, its hard to make progress on any further areas of knowledge.

Theists might make the same claim, that their basic beliefs (or faith) is what they require to make progress, but as I said above, its a matter of degree. A theory which has 2 or 3 basic tenets which must be accepted is always a lot better than one which has many more, especially when many of those tenets are arbitrary.

I often hear the argument that atheism requires the most faith because its is the absolute certainty that god doesn't exist. That's really a straw man argument. There may be some atheists who claim they know this for certain, but all the ones I know say they reject the existence of god based on current evidence but would review that belief as further evidence is discovered. Generally new evidence contradicts the existence of god, so few atheists ever change their mind, but there is the possibility of that happening so the claim of the requirement for strong faith is fallacious.

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