The controversy between evolution and creationism is only one example of the distinction between faith-based and evidence-based thinking. In this modest essay, we’ll attempt to distinguish between the two. Your Curmudgeon knows nothing about psychology (or sociology, or theology) so it’s likely that experts in those fields will find fault with this essay. Nevertheless, we’ll give it a try.
We’re all capable of thinking in either mode, but some people prefer one and regard it as supremely preferable the other. The faith-based way of thinking about the world seems to be the first way humans did things. Thousands of cults have arisen to provide reasons why things are the way they are. But evidence-based thinking was always present to some extent. It had to be or we couldn’t have survived. Poisonous herbs were avoided, useful activities (e.g., agriculture) were adopted, boats had to be watertight, etc. But along with such evidence-based activities, faith-based thinking flourished.
The surprising thing — at least to us — is that when evidence-based thinking successfully explained how certain things happened (lightning, disease, etc.), faith-based reasoning not only persisted, but was preferred by a large portion of the population. Why? Tradition? Tribalism? Laziness? A warm and fuzzy feeling? We don’t know.
Both thinking methods have “filters” to keep out what are believed to be bad ideas. You know how fact-based thinking works. It’s the essence of the scientific method, one of the finest achievements of the Enlightenment.
Those who engage in evidence-based thinking want data — verifiable data — that isn’t merely someone’s subjective experience based on his dreams or revelations received in a trance. Even if the data contradicts what may be a pet theory of ours, we’ll go with it and abandon (or at least revise) the now-superseded theory. Data is paramount, and our personal desires and preferences are irrelevant — see Advice for Creationists.
Faith-based thinking also uses filters to screen out undesired evidence and beliefs. For a good description, see Morton’s demon, described by its discoverer like this:
Morton’s demon was a demon who sat at the gate of my sensory input apparatus and if and when he saw supportive evidence coming in, he opened the gate. But if he saw contradictory data coming in, he closed the gate. In this way, the demon allowed me to believe that I was right and to avoid any nasty contradictory data.
For the typical, walking-around creationist, flat-Earther, UFO probe enthusiast, or other goofball cultist, Morton’s demon may allow him to pursue something that appears to be a normal life. The person affected, despite his delusions, may never know that he has failed to live a truly informed existence. Such people are like those Japanese soldiers that were sometimes found in the jungles of remote Pacific islands, decades after the war ended, unwilling to admit defeat. There’s a Wikipedia article on the phenomenon: Japanese holdout. In the case of creationists, it’s not military zeal or fanatical patriotism that motivates them — it’s an advanced case of Morton’s demon. See also Discovery Institute: The Die-Hards.
But the question arises: Don’t evidence-based thinkers sometimes reject useful ideas that are faith-based? Our answer may be controversial, but we think the proper response is “No.” We don’t reject the ideas that people get from their trances and dreams. But we put them aside and don’t accept them or seriously consider them until they can be objectively verified — see Bring Me An Angel Detector!
Also, there are some unverified ideas that are at least in principle verifiable. But unlike faith-based beliefs, such ideas don’t originate as revelations. Dark Energy is a good example. String theory is another. Those aren’t rejected. Rather, they are considered as potentially useful scientific ideas. Things like that prevent us from breezily summarizing the difference between faith-based and evidence-based thinking as the difference between fantasy and reality.
That’s all we can say at this point, but you probably have your own insights to offer. We look forward to them.
Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.