The Curmudgeon’s Statement of Non-Faith

You’ve probably seen the Statement of Faith that must be signed by everyone who works for Answers in Genesis (AIG), the creationist ministry of Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo). Right near the start it says:

The 66 books of the Bible are the written Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs. It is the supreme authority in everything it teaches.

That sort of thing is typical of certain religious organizations, and it demonstrates the difference between Faith-Based and Evidence-Based Thinking.

We don’t have a statement of faith around here. We don’t need one. Why? Let’s consider what faith is. In Hebrews 11:1 (King James version, of course) we’re told: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” That’s the unique thing about faith — it doesn’t require any evidence. Nor does it require logical proof. Well, things that the faithful believe logically follow from their system’s premises — so their beliefs are logically “valid,” but to say that they’re true is circular reasoning, not proof.

We don’t do that. We do, however, have premises (or axioms). One is logic, because if anyone doesn’t accept logic, then he does accept it, because there’s no reason other than logic to reject contradictions. But that doesn’t mean logic is self-proving via circular reasoning. Rather, the laws of logic are an essential axiom for doing any useful thinking.

There are a few other essential premises for fact-based thinking. One is the existence of reality external to ourselves. If you doubt it, then walk outside in a hurricane, protected only by your faith. Reality doesn’t care what you think. Another essential premise is that our senses give us information about the external world. We can be confident of this because if we couldn’t rely on our senses, we’d be dead.

To be sure, appearances can sometimes be misleading. A desert mirage is a good example. So is the illusion that the heavens revolve around the Earth. But there are ways — using sensory evidence — to dismiss such erroneous appearances. One can proceed toward the mirage and verify that there isn’t any water there. Such experiences teach us about the behavior of light as it travels through the atmosphere or through water. As for geocentricism, we can use unambiguous astronomical observations to determine the actual state of the solar system.

Of course, religions also have axioms (or premises), such as the existence of their gods. The rest of their beliefs logically follow. But their premise isn’t essential for anything other than sustaining the teachings of their sect. Other sects have totally different foundational premises. That’s why all sects are in conflict — their premises are unrelated to reality. They’re arbitrary, not essential. If someone claims — without verifiable evidence — something exists or that something happened, he may be correct; but he needs to provide at least some evidence before his claim can be taken seriously. His faith is insufficient — except for him and for those who think as he does.

We’ve seen creationists who actually say that their faith is essential for logic — see Jason Lisle: The Logic of Faith. But that’s clearly absurd, because Aristotle, who was the first to systematically codify the laws of logic, was unaware of their faith.

There are loads of other axioms out there — in geometry, mathematics, and in other fields. The topic is far too large to deal with here. But the ultimate test of an axiom’s “truth” is that it leads to information that is verifiable without reference to the axiom. Merely providing answers that make believers feel good is, in our humble opinion, insufficient.

Your Curmudgeon is obviously struggling to construct a “Statement of Non-Faith.” The foregoing is the best we can do at the moment. We look forward to your suggestions.

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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17 responses to “The Curmudgeon’s Statement of Non-Faith

  1. “The 66 books of the Bible are the written Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs. It is the supreme authority in everything it teaches.”

    But don’t the Jews teach the same about their religious writings as do the Muslims about theirs? So how does one distinguish between any of the three, or more perhaps (e.g., the book of the Flying Spaghetti Monster)? Isn’t it just a matter of what Ham, et. al. want to believe, there being no fact-based evidence behind any of them (save for the FSM)?

  2. You are too generous to the creationists, when you suggest that their reasoning is circular. The Bible does not say that the Bible is the only source, and inerrant and literally true. The Bible does not say anything about species (or “kinds”) being created unchangeable and unrelated.

    It isn’t circular reasoning, but rather something like Mobius strip reasoning (if you follow them around the path, you end up upside down).

  3. You ask for suggestions. Let me offer a couple of paragraphs from an old essay I wrote explaining how I had come to view the deep and abiding faith of my family’s church with a jaundiced eye and finally rejected it in favor of a deep and abiding skepticism:

    “[Something] the scientists all had in common was their method for increasing the store of human knowledge, a method that depends on the thorough and systematic exercise of doubt. Scientists suggest an answer to a question, which they then treat with deep suspicion. They test it by systematically gathering evidence and holding it up against the proposed answer. If they determine that the facts don’t fit the answer, they change the answer, not the facts.

    “So I came to realize that doubt is nothing to dread. In fact, faith is what’s scary. Faith stifles questions. Faith makes believers cling desperately to the answers they’ve already got, in defiance of evidence screaming that those answers are wrong. Doubt raises questions that spur independent thinkers to seek out interesting new facts that often lead to exciting new answers. Faith closes doors. Doubt opens them.”

  4. And, Tom, if you were able to follow a Klein bottle around its 3-D path, you would end up inside out, Messy, that!

  5. Tom S. said:

    “It isn’t circular reasoning, but rather something like Mobius strip reasoning (if you follow them around the path, you end up upside down).”

    That’s a keeper. Perfectly articulated.

  6. Charles Deetz ;)

    I have faith that the non-faith Curmodgeon will find posts by those who swoon in their faith of their interpretation of bible, aka THE TRUTHtm. Those posts will be recounted here twice a day (or more) without fail. Comments by other faithful of the CS will be smart, irreverent, or downright snarky. It is enough that I can have faith in.

  7. I would add: (and you basically described it in a roundabout way) intuition is not a valid path to actual knowledge unless verified by empirical evidence.

    One of the ways that creationist beliefs persist is that they are one of the intuitive mistakes natural to human children (even raised in a secular household–young children say that animals are “created”).

    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~evansem/Evans-Scopes.pdf

    Given cultural and other reinforcing (I ain’t no Kin to none Munkeys!) creationism easily persists as it “feels right.”

    So, as a statement of non-faith, any belief that is intuitive and “feels right” is necessarily questioned without backing by empirical evidence. And even that should be viewed in light of confirmation bias.

  8. Whenever you talk about faith, you end up looking at that quote from Hebrews: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” What does it mean?

    The writer of Hebrews (nobody knows who that was) was not saying that faith can substitute for evidence. It’s more in the nature of a default. Evidence allows you to believe in things that you can see. Faith is evidence for things you cannot see.

    But where you actually can see, faith does not apply. This is actually an argument for seeking evidence. The writer thinks faith will always be necessary, and praiseworthy where it is required – but in the presence of actual evidence – “things seen” – it must yield. Faith is not the averral of the impossible in the face of contrary evidence. It is the hope for the best out of what might be.

    Not a bad notion at all, and not at all incompatible with the scientific method.

  9. MNb’s statement of non-faith:
    Due to science the world has changed last 200+ years in an unprecedented way. The changes are more radical than in the millennia before. Hence methodological naturalism is the most, if not only reliable method to gain knowledge. Science may not be able to answer all questions,, it’s answers vastly more questions than any other method. Science follows two paths: induction (collecting empirical data and drawing conclusions) and deduction (accepting some axioms and drawing conclusions). If those two path lead to the same conclusions we can be confident that we have gained knowledge. If they don’t (for instance superconductivity at relatively high temperatures) the only sensible position is “we don’t know”.
    Whether someone has faith (ie believes, ie accepts revelation) or not, science is inescapable.

  10. For succinctness in expressing the principle of non-faith, I don’t think one can better the motto of the Royal Society: Nullius in Verba.

    Which does not mean that none of your teachers can be trusted, for one can have reasonable confidence in those teachers who also work to this principle and have subjected their claims to rigorous empirical testing.

    I think the most difficult thing for those who choose to be guided by Faith over Reason is to accept that human knowledge has always been incomplete, may always be incomplete, but can be steadily increased—and with benefits to mankind—even if it may never reach perfection or indeed never cease to be to some degree provisional. For a crude analogy: no one, on present rules, will ever play a completely perfect round of golf (which would be 18 consecutive holes-in-one), but people still enjoy playing it, rejoicing in small incremental improvements in their performance wherever achieved.

    And everyone knows the wonderful tale of how Socrates, when he learned that he had been named by the oracle at Delphi as the Wisest man in Hellas, protested that this could not be so, for he did not truly know anything for certain. And then he realised that, as the only man who acknowledged his own ignorance, he was indeed far, far wiser than all the others who falsely had faith that their own defective knowledge and wrongly held that their system of belief was comprehensive.

    Not one human being in the entire history of our species has ever gleaned more than a small portion of reliable knowledge, far less has anyone ever possessed some all-embracing grand cosmic TRVTH. But one can steadily work to increase ones own portion of knowledge and even, using the tools of science, may even (if fortunate as well as clever) make discovery that increases, even if only in some very small way, the store of human knowledge. And to do so is both worthy and deeply satisfying to our innate hunger to know.

    If at the end of each day you know a little more than when you woke up that morning, that is a good day—even if what you discover is that something you thought to be true yesterday is in fact false.

    ‘Ignorance’ taken alone is not shameful; it’s everyone’s initial state about everything. To not seek, out of indolence, to replace ignorance with knowledge is a common human failing, of course, yet ‘tis but a venial rather than mortal sin. But to barricade oneself behind some blind dogma–to deny the findings of empirical investigation where they are contrary to previously held beliefs—that is a disgusting spectacle and a damnable waste of human potential.

  11. “It is morally wrong to believe anything without good reason.”

    it is easy to prove that faith is not good reason, since faiths contradict each other. As to what counts as good reason, there you have the whole of epistemology to play with.

  12. I just look at the total results of a group to judge their validity. The xtian bigots had 2000+yrs to show us how Awesome and useless their BS was, it produced many horrible things and a few good things (can’t think of any now) all done in the NAME of their gawd. Science has worked just as long but was blasted by the religious & traditional BS of the various types and areas so the science was forced to proceed slowly and carefully so as to not piss off too many. And even in this it progressed usually by people who IGNORED their religious background (Newton) and did very little when people let their religion interfere (the pea & the monk). Even today with all that science has done to make things better, the religious dims still insist that we don’t learn anything new (stem cells) as they know what it does to their incompetent gawd and their more important power base.
    Ken Ham is a con man of the 1st water! But it is not he that makes me fear, it is that stupid horde that follow him! Because if Ken vanished tomorrow, the stupid horde would still remain, and there are a good number of con-men ready to take over.

  13. “I think the most difficult thing …..”
    Mega looks correct here. The Greek philosophers strived for truth, i.e., knowledge they could be absolutely sure of. I suspect this has influenced christianity and especially christian theology. Though westerners should have understood since Euclides it’s only since Hume that the idea of imperfect, provisional knowledge became common. This is why I date the origin of modern science somewhat more than 200 years ago. Even Newton added theology to his planetary model – and famously spent more time on alchemy than on physics.

  14. @L.Long “(can’t think of any now)”
    Early christianity gave the have nots in the Roman Empire a voice. It seems that early christianity was quite egalitarian.
    Of course that changes as soon as Constantine the Not so Great declared that christianity would become the state religion.

  15. Yes MNBO the under dog usually con’s many to get the upper hand in power then kicks the [edited] out of most everyone. This negates any good they may have done. And helping a few as compared to science which generally helps all is no real comparison for the religion. And helping a few while sewing hate for many others is not an equal equation.

  16. Your Curmudgeon is obviously struggling to construct a “Statement of Non-Faith.”

    Perhaps the problem is that you are working from a negative: “Statement of Non-Faith.

    I like “The Curmudgeon’s Statement of Reason”.

  17. Megalonyx:
    “‘Ignorance’ taken alone is not shameful; it’s everyone’s initial state about everything. To not seek, out of indolence, to replace ignorance with knowledge is a common human failing, of course, yet ‘tis but a venial rather than mortal sin. But to barricade oneself behind some blind dogma–to deny the findings of empirical investigation where they are contrary to previously held beliefs—that is a disgusting spectacle and a damnable waste of human potential.”

    A true gem, worthy of five exclamation points!!!!! This paragraph should be framed and mounted in every classroom, including Sunday School classrooms, throughout all of civilization.