Reason vs. Faith

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Reason vs. Faith

Post by Demosthenes on Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:12 pm

Which do you use more in your daily life? To answer life’s biggest questions? Are they of equal importance or should one outweigh the other? Is there overlap between these two areas?

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Re: Reason vs. Faith

Post by tricksterist on Tue Jan 13, 2015 9:56 pm

Somewhere between reason and faith is estimation. Reason is based on observation, and faith is based on belief. Because our minds are bound by our biology, we must use both reason and faith to interpret the world. At every moment—every time we make an unconscious decision or take a conscious action—we absorb observations and supplement them with beliefs. Perception is distortion.

We are trapped in our subjectivity. By the very nature of our extrospection from one location in space, we cannot know (and here, I can find no suitable word that does not reference a human’s modes of perception: see? feel? experience?) the state of all of the particles of the universe. We can only use our senses to gather information, and even then, we notice but some of that information, and then again, we forget most of what we noticed.

We cannot know the universe as it is now, much less as it was, and even less as it will be. Yet, we can try. The first step in our explorations is to admit that we are biased, and the next step is to devise a plan to approximate objectivity as closely as humanly possible. We must get outside of ourselves. To do this, we use systems (e.g., scientific method, trial & error) and technology (e.g., computer processors, pen & paper).

Wherever reason fails, faith prevails. And reason does fail. Reason is tiring. We cannot sense and note and store every bit of information we encounter. So, we combine observations with beliefs; we estimate.

Will I wake up tomorrow? Reason names a number that represents the probability that I’ll die in my sleep. But, faith says I will open my eyes to the sunrise melting the night.

And if I died in my sleep, what would be after? Reason is silent.

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An argument for faith... from an atheist

Post by Locke on Tue Jan 27, 2015 6:05 pm

As an atheist I used to believe that I could live my life entirely based on reason instead of faith. But now I wonder if, in fact, everything we do in life must involve faith. And I think the best way to consider this is through the lens of probability.

First lets entertain the possibility of X occurring or existing from 0-100%. Let's take X as winning the lottery. Let's say that statistically with 1 million tickets out there, you have a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of X occurring. Or let's take X as the existence of extraterrestrial life. Most people would agree that the probability of X is somewhere between 0-5%. Now let's take X as a coin toss. Now the probability of, say heads, is theoretically 50-50. And finally, let's take X as me waking up tomorrow morning. I sure hope that the probability of that is really close to 100%.

All of these examples represent decisions or beliefs we encounter everyday. And so everyday, we are presented mental choices associated with probabilities. Could we construct a spectrum of such probabilities for any given belief or decision, and then create categorical definitions of faith and reason? I think we can, but in order to do so we need to clearly distinguish the objective probability of something happening (assuming we have the science or empirical data to measure it) and the subjective thoughts of the person making the decision. So let's consider the following:

X = 0%. If something has a 0% chance of happening and you make a decision based on it happening, then I would like to define that as having blind faith. In other words, whether or not you are aware of the statistics, you subjectively believe it can happen, you have faith that it can happen, and therefore you are blind to the fact that it will not happen. Of course, this 0% is exactly where the debate about God rests. But a simpler example is the man who tries to fly off a cliff. Everything we know about science can give certainty that the probability of the man gaining the powers of flight is 0%. If he jumps off with that intention anyway, he has blind faith.

0% < X <= 50%. I would like to define this region of probability greater than 0% and less than or equal to 50% as faith-based decision-making. In other words, the odds are not in your favor. So you bet on a specific roll of the dice, or you believe in extra-terrestrial life, or you pay for the risky surgery. Even a 50-50 shot is a shot of faith, because you certainly can't say the odds are one way or the other. And so in all these decisions I believe faith is required.

50% < X < 100%. Therefore, the upper half range of decisions are now likely to occur, and I think we can say they are decisions based on reason. In other words, they are rational, logical decisions to make. The odds are in your favor. You have the knowledge to pass the test. You will get to that meeting on time if you take that bus. You will wake up tomorrow. But this is where I take pause; what if these decisions are also a form of faith? Because even if the probability of something happening is greater than 50%, does that rule out the chance that it won't happen? What if you have a lapse of memory and fail that test? What if that bus gets stuck behind a protest on the freeway? What if you get a stroke in the middle of the night and die? In fact, every decision with a high probability of success still requires faith that the low probabilities of failure will not occur. So I really struggle with defining this category, since in fact almost all of our daily decisions fall into this category. If in fact these decisions can be called faith-based decisions, then it pretty much means that all of our lives are based on faith. Except for...

X = 100%. This is certainty. But how many things in our lives can we really be 100% objectively certain of? I suppose I can be certain of all the things in the 0% category not happening. But in a way it's much easier to be certain of impossibility than possibility.

I guess in conclusion I believe myself to be a calculating, reasoning, and often certain person, but at the end of the day when I look back on my choices and look forward for the day ahead, I am living a life completely dependent on faith in my real and continuing existence.

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Re: Reason vs. Faith

Post by fluff on Tue Jan 27, 2015 10:25 pm

There are no certainties in life. Nothing is guaranteed to happen or not happen. Let’s think about this chemically: life doesn’t exist at equilibrium. Our bodies are not at equilibrium. Everything is in constant motion, forever changing and adapting. Life is propelled by a series of chemical reactions, lots of the time messy, that make life possible. Keeping all that in mind, it’s downright silly to think that in all this mess we call life we can be 100% or 0% certain about anything. Anything can happen because life is utterly unpredictable.

Yes, the logical side of me (probably the dominant side of me) wants to believe in reason and hold it above all else but yet the “softer” side of me (for lack of a better term) can’t be completely persuaded. There are things in life that can’t be reasoned away. Bad things might happen, yes, but we can’t live life fearing the inevitability of misfortune and sadness. We have to move on and have faith that nothing too bad will happen and when nothing does, we continue to hold that faith and even transfer it to other aspects of our lives. This might not be a conscious act. We don’t decide one day to have faith in things, we just do. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for reason and logic.

When we make decisions, I am compelled to believe that we never act on blind faith alone, or even reason alone for that matter. If someone decides one day to leap off the tallest building they see believing they’ll end up flying (even though any sane person would agree that that is highly unlikely) some part of them reasons that this is possible. They’re not jumping on blind faith alone. No sane person would commit an action to achieve a desired consequence knowing with absolute certainty that there’s a 0% chance this will happen. Maybe they think that there is some way that they’ll end up flying. Maybe because there’s no absolute proof that magic doesn’t exist in the world, they believe that magic will help them fly because while you may be able to prove that something DOES in fact exist, there’s no way to prove definitively that something DOESN’T exist. On the other hand, nobody operates (or I guess I should say SHOULD operate) on the fact that there is a 100% chance of anything happening either. Life exists on a spectrum; nothing is completely black and white. When making decisions, everyone operates with their own amalgam of the dichotomy that exists between reason and faith, whether it be a 50/50 or uneven blend of the two. Of this I am 99% certain.

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Re: Reason vs. Faith

Post by Demosthenes on Thu Jan 29, 2015 9:53 pm

Reason vs. faith...this is a topic that I have struggled with for the past three years. Before that, I believed faith was a virtue. I believed in God for the first 21 years of my life. Then I took a physical anthropology course and read a few books and watched a few videos and had a few deep-into-the-night conversations with roommates and presto, I got up and marched over to the other camp. This was when I first started having problems with faith.

My thoughts on the topic at the present moment are as follows: as human beings, we're pretty stupid. I agree uncertainty is an inescapable fact of life. However, I do think there is one thing that is certain: the laws of physics. These are mathematically defined relationships between matter that have existed since the conception of our universe and will continue to exist long after there is anything left to comprehend them. I don't think anything can happen that contradicts natural laws. Granted, we obviously have a far from perfect understanding of natural laws, but we can say some things with 100% certainty.

For example, if someone jumps off of the empire state building and lands on their head, they will die. This is a calculable, mathematically defined problem that we understand. If someone thinks that they will be alive after jumping off the empire state building and landing on their head, I would consider that person to be insane, i.e. having an idea that clearly contradicts natural law.

So, can we have certainty beyond natural laws? Possibly not. Personally, even if the certainty of natural laws was the only certainty that could ever be attained by our species, that would be enough for me. But this is clearly not enough for a great portion of humanity. Many people need certainty that they will live forever, that they will see their loved ones again, that there is some ultimate form of justice that will be delivered for all mankind, that there is a perfect being who loves them and protects them from evil, that good ultimately triumphs over evil. I understand the emotional and psychological motivation that, when presented with these ideas as certainties from youth, makes life seem not worth living without them. It is this immense and sometimes unbreakable motivation that creates unshakable faith.

I would like to reiterate that uncertainty is an inescapable fact of life. And where there is uncertainty, you must have faith. Therefore, faith is an inescapable fact of life. We all have faith. We all need faith to function. I don't think the reason vs. faith debate is about faith, I think it's about what human beings choose to put their faith in.

For example, I wouldn't necessarily consider it unreasonable for someone to have faith that an event with a 1% chance of occurring will occur. But the problem is many people on this planet have faith in things with a far smaller probability of occurring, even if the probability is not technically 0%. The philosophical reason the probability is not technically 0% is that you can't prove a negative, or can't prove nonexistence. But as Hermione Granger reminds us, "you could claim that anything's real if the only basis for believing in it is that nobody's proved it doesn't exist!" Thus it turns out that an inability to disprove is no reason for faith.

So back to having faith in things with a far smaller probability of occurring, I googled "probability of life" and scrolled seven links down to a page called "Probability for Life on Earth" on a religious website called "Reasons to Believe". On this page the author lists over 350 lines of different probabilities from "local abundance and distribution of dark matter" to "timing of star formation peak for the galaxy" and calculates that there is a less than one in 10^282 chance of life on Earth. I have absolutely no idea whether or not this is accurate, but let's just say that it is. Now in light of this probability, you would have to be insane to have faith that life exists on Earth without supernatural intervention. Right?

The problem with this conclusion is that we have evidence for life on Earth (check a mirror). But what evidence is there for something supernatural? Just because something that obviously occurred had a probability as low as 1 in 10^282 of occurring, does this qualify as evidence that it actually could not have occurred? This does not make sense to me. If the probability of life on Earth is 1 in 10^282 and we actually have evidence for it, this probability must be greater than the probability of supernatural intervention, for which as far as I know and besides the discounted initial low probability of life, there is no evidence.

This brings me to the question of where God comes from. Did we find God in nature? Or did we find God, whichever one you prefer, in our own heads, along with every other supernatural entity know to us? After much thought and reflection, I must say yes to the latter.

I don't think atheism is the right word to describe my viewpoint, for although correct, it falls short. A better word is naturalism. I believe in nature and the laws that govern it. This is the conclusion that reason has led me to. And while faith is a necessary part of life, we must be careful of that which we put our faith in.

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