Enlightened vs. Unenlightened

Sue Blackmore’s says that blind faith is harmful to rational thinking:

Faith is corrosive to the human mind. If someone genuinely believes that it is right to believe things without reason or evidence then they are open to every kind of dogma, whim, coercion, or dangerous infectious idea that’s around. If someone is convinced that it is acceptable to base their beliefs on what is written in an ancient book, or what some teacher tells them they must believe, then they will have no true freedom of thought; they will be trapped by their faith into inconsistency and untruths because they are unable to throw out false ideas when evidence against them comes along.

The whole point of a university education is to learn to think for yourself, to criticise theories, to compare ideas and to find out the truth by research, exploration and experiment. Whether you are studying French, chemistry, or psychology, you are given tools for thinking independently and ways of evaluating other people’s claims. In this there is no room for faith, and should be no room for faith.

I want to be clear about some things I am not saying. First I am not saying that everything has to be rational. There is much about human life that has little or nothing to do with rationality; there’s love and affection, art and poetry, happiness, beauty and intuition. But none of these things has to be taken on faith. University courses include much that is not rational, not just in arts courses but even in science, where one has hunches or enjoys beautiful ideas, but again there is no room for holding onto religious faith – wherever the ideas come from they must ultimately be thrown out if they are shown to be wrong….

Andrian Kreye has a somewhat different view over at The Edge:

In the early seventies, Scott Atran was already asking why since primeval times humans have worked so hard to overpower their need for rational explanations with their faith. Why, he asked in his book In Gods we Trust, are societies ready to pay such a high price for faith, when it costs them valuable resources like time, energy and materials? What threats to survival could be warded off by means of faith? What function does faith serve to the individual and to the collective? And why have religious communities historically shown better chances for survival? Soon after, Darwinist faith research emerged and placed faith firmly in the realm of consciousness, asserting that it was not the pure product of cultural influence and education. However, they could not identify a function that would make faith an evolutionary advantage. So they concluded that faith must be a byproduct of evolution that originated as the result of some earlier, now-gone function.

Nevertheless, Scott Atran was certain of one thing: religion has always played a role in the history of mankind. This is his biggest critique of Harris, Dennett and Dawkins, with whom he has been in a heated debate over the past year. He argues that he isn’t questioning the motive for their call to free the world from dogmatic belief systems that are barbaric, anachronistic and inhumane. But the Neoatheists are not presenting adequate scientific facts, or conclusions drawn from actual faith research. Belief systems by their nature can be neither strictly true nor false, however meaningless. They can’t be necessary, but they can serve a practical purpose. And often enough, these purposes can outweigh the cost, because faith has the capacity build strong, interconnected communities, which in the world of Darwinian competition can help them outsurvive other communities…continued

Both of these articles are worth a thorough going over by atheists and christians alike.

(sometimes I feel like the schoolyard monitor telling two bullies to apologize and shake hands after a scuffle in the dirt!)

13 thoughts on “Enlightened vs. Unenlightened

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  2. Given that my own beliefs don’t really fit neatly into either theism or atheism, I can totally relate to your “schoolyard monitor” analogy 😉

    I think it’s important to remember that there’s a big difference between “faith” and “blind faith”. Faith involves looking as far and as hard as you can, then trusting in the unseen when you can see no further. Blind faith involves never opening your eyes in the first place.

  3. very true. i think blind faith is pretty silly. but not all of us believe that faith=blind. i believe that there is such a thing as rational faith.

    if you think of hume, he concludes that we are using faith when we believe the sun will come up tomorrow. however, it isnt blind faith. we have seen it come up every morning for as long as we live. so that faith isnt a very big stretch.

    however, in our pomo culture, we often categorize faith as automatically being blind. this i think blindly labeling faith as blind is as blind as those who use blind faith.

    did i use the word blind enough?


  4. Imugi and Peter,

    Considering that most people cannot subtly make the distinction between “faith” and “blind faith” I think we are always beset by the blind faith set. That’s what fundamentalism is and what Blackmore is talking about: unexamined and uncritical faith. Most blind faithers think they are being critical but they are not genuinely open to learning truth. That’s what I think is being discussed. Of course there is also atheism and blind atheism. But that’s another story. 🙂

  5. Ok, you guys are going to have to expound on the faith vs. blind faith difference for me.

    Sure I have faith, (by your definition), that my automobile will get me to work, however I have tested it, re-tested it, over and over again, so this is not a blind faith for sure, and really I don’t see that it is much of a “faith” at all, is it? See, since it is something I have tried, tested and proven to be true and something which others have tried, tested and proven for themselves to be true as well, is it faith to simply accept that which has been proven as true?

    What if I decide not to have “faith” that the sun will come up or that my car will get me to work, does that make it true then, or does it just make me look stupid?

    Really, doesn’t all religion and religious faith, or faith in God, or spirits, or supernatural powers, or magic, fall into the blind faith category? None of it can be tested. It can’t be proven. It is all based upon wishful thinking, arbitrary leaps to conclusions from some anchient authority or nad authority figure or experience, or just hopes and fears and/or indoctrination.

    So, like the automobile example, or the sunrise example, if I am able to see it, feel it, or at least test it by scientific methods and prove that it is real, then is it really faith to simply accept the obvious, or isn’t that just called knowledge? Isn’t maybe knowledge the true faith?

    MOI, I go back to your own statement from awhile back:
    “The ability to accept something on faith and the search for the truth are not the same thing. In fact they are the opposite.” You said it; I just believe it, ha.

  6. Oh, and I get a little dyslexic on the keyboard at times, when I get to typing to fast.

    I don’t know what a “nad” authority figure is.
    It could be just a Freudian slip for male authority figure.

  7. Noogatiger,

    I like that coining of terms: “nad.” Makes sense to me.

    Ok, blind faith, as I understand it, means you never investigate the reasons you hold such faith. I KNOW the sun comes up in the morning. To me that takes no faith at all. It’s fact. In fact, it doesn’t “come up” at all. The earth rotates and we perceive it as “coming up.” That’s science. So the analogy is a poor one, in my opinion. Blind faith just assumes it comes up and doesn’t want to know the reason why it does. Kind of like the Catholic church ostracizing Galileo. Or fundamentalists denying evolution. That’s blind faith.

    I personally believe that if you conduct a thorough investigation into facts and science and claims of faith and find that there is no reason to have the faith you hold, yet YOU still choose to have it, then you have faith which isn’t blind, you just have faith (which I agree looks blind to other, but isn’t blind to yourself). Conundrum there.

    Good points as usual Noogatiger. I might have to rethink this blindness factor myself. Excuse me… “sight challenged.”

  8. mystoiniq and noogatiger

    i used the example of the sun coming up because it is a common literary expression (regardless of the actual science of it) to say the sun comes up.

    anyway, hume was a very intellectual and profound atheist. so i think using his example isnt a bad one in the situation. not everyone is a skeptic like hume, but i am.

    regardless of whether yall are or not. the earth could be hit by a meteor and begin to wobble on its axis and one side of the earth might not see the sun in its horizon at the normal time. there are many many possibilities like such. the bottomline is that there is no guarantee that we will see the sun every day. that is faith. believing it will happen. now, it is rational faith, because it has been tested again and again.

    however, just so yall know, scientifically, there is no such thing as proving a theory. a theory is merely corroborated. a theory is something that has been tested many times and found to be true at those instances. however, even with theories there are anomilies that fall outside of the expected outcome. so even with theories there is no guarantee we will see it happen again. but it is a rational faith.


  9. Peter,

    Yes, Hume did say that just because we see something a thousand times, it does not mean we will see it the 1001st time. I realize that much. But if you want to get all relative on us, of course you can’t actually “prove” anything. Therefore, anything goes, right?

  10. mystoiniq

    that was kinda the pt. i am a skeptic. i truly dont believe we can prove anything. i think descartes had it right (if he had left his thoughts with not knowing anything).

    ultimately the question isnt an issue of whether humans use faith. its whether that faith is blind or rational. that was my point. and i think it is important to understand this to recognize that some “religious” faith is completely blind. in fact, i would venture to say much of it is. however, i do believe there are some realms that delve into religion that are rational. at least that is my perspective.


  11. Peter,

    You write: “i do believe there are some realms that delve into religion that are rational. at least that is my perspective.”

    On this we agree. There is faith that is blind, faith that is curious, and faith that has been thoroughly investigated and still faith. I also believe you can be a perfectly rational scientist and have faith in God.

    I guess both sides are epistemologically stuck? 🙂

  12. “you can’t actually “prove” anything.”

    Ok, Ok, Ok, yes everything is relative. It is relative to how we as humans view it, and how WE define it. This is true about the cosmos, our planet, everything.

    However, for the purpose of this discussion lets accept the generally accepted knowledge that “proof” is something which we humans can theorize about, test our theory, verify that our test results match our theory, and that this can be done over and over again and then we put a definition or name to it. Furthermore it can be replicated by others, corroborated by other evidence, etc, etc.

    In ancient times it probably did take a lot of faith to believe that the sun would come back the next day, since some of them thought the son was a God itself. Nowadays we have the knowledge that the sun doesn’t ever even move, that it is a big ball of fire which the earth rotates and that it all happens by natural physical laws. If someone wants to say they have faith then that the natural laws will pretty much always work, at least in our lifetime, then fine, call it faith. It is just a term applied to your belief in the knowledge you have gained about the physical cosmos.

    However religious faith is totally different. There is a theory, if you want to call it that, but there is no way to test the theory. There is no way to verify any results from the theory. There is no corroborating evidence to validate that the theory is based on any facts. So in fact, all religious faith is arbitrary, all of it. No matter how much you have studied it, or had experiences around it, or loosely connected some dots in real life, there is still not now, nor will there ever be, probably, any evidence. So all religious faith is blind.

    I have faith that my wife will stay with me, but I have years of evidence to back up that faith, and yes it is more than just feelings, and there is corroborating evidence.

    I have faith that I will have a job tomorrow, but I also have years of verifiable evidence to back up that faith in and yes it is more than just feelings, and there is corroborating evidence.

    I have faith in the American Republic form of government, but yet again there are years worth of verifiable evidence that it works, and yes it is more than just feelings, and there is corroborating evidence.

    None of this can be said for religion, supernatural powers, magic, or even faith that there is a God. It is totally arbitrary, even if you claim to have had some experience. Nobody can argue that their brand of religion is “the absolute truth”, because it meets none of the criteria for truth, (as we humans define truth, or proof).

    I do not know of any instance where someone can validly claim that their faith in some supernatural power, God, religion, or magical powers is really based on verifiable evidence, facts, or corroborating testimony, no matter how much they say so, because if they had that, they could convince others, just like the examples I give above.

    I could be all wrong however.
    “Never say never and never say always, that it what I always say. “

  13. Noogatiger,
    You aren’t wrong. There is no verifiable evidence that what believers say is true. There is second hand evidence that people believe, such as scriptures, accounts of encounters with God, etc. But there is no direct evidence of God.

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