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Faith Is Necessary

June 15, 2011

This is a followup to a previous post, Faith is Irrational, where I show that Faith (the Christian definition of the word) is, well, irrational.  This post attempts to cover the other side of that coin to show why Faith is necessary.  Like the first post, keep in mind that I am not trying to change anyone’s religion.  Also, this post is 100% conjecture on my part and worth exactly what you’ve paid to read it.

Faith is the firm belief in something for which there is no proof.  Or at least, we have not personally been exposed to this proof.  This is completely irrational, yet we do it every day.  When we go to the Doctors office, we have faith in the treatments he gives despite not having first hand knowledge in how it works.  We drive through a green light without knowing that the cross traffic has seen the red light.  We eat food without knowing that it has been safely prepared.  Why is that?

Thousands of years ago, after the dinosaurs died out but before the birth of Casey Kasem, the human race had very little knowledge and even less ways to store that knowledge.  We needed a mnemonic device to help us remember.  That was very likely the first use of songs and stories.  It is much easier to remember things if put into the form of a song, story, or even poetry.  Sure, we had tablets and pottery but these couldn’t store very much and were not very portable.  Even God only got 10 commandments on a pair of tablets, and it probably took 4 or 6 men to carry them in their bling’d out carrying case!  

Even as the written word came into being somewhere around 5,000 BC and continuing until the invention of the printing press around the year 1400 AD, songs and stories were the primary way to distribute information.  Most documents were in the form of letters and records, where a copy of the document was rarely made.  Copies of documents was a time and labor intensive process, since each document had to be copied by hand.  It didn’t help that until about the time of the industrial revolution (18th and 19th century) the majority of people could not read.

You could say that the human race has evolved to rely on song and story for storage and distribution of knowledge.

Today we have books, libraries, and computers to take the place of song and story.  But we also have so much more information to store.  We now have vast storehouses of knowledge for physics, medicine, psychology, aeronautics, etc.  Our “world” used to be a days walk across, but now we are truly a global community.  The amount of information, and information distribution,  has truly exploded.

Long ago the amount of knowledge we could hold in our brain was limited by song and story, but now we have so much knowledge that our brains simply cannot hold it all.  In both cases, faith is what makes us survive.  There are subjects that we simply cannot have the proof for, and so we must take it on faith.  Sometimes, as with the various religions, that faith is more formal than others, but it is faith none the less.

Kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws, is one such example.  It is a set of laws that says, essentially, you can eat that, but not that.  There is no explanation as to why the laws are that way, it just is.  You must take it on faith that the laws are good.  And in that time and place they were good.  People who followed those laws didn’t get sick.  They lived longer.  Their faith was backed up by anecdotal evidence, and so got stronger.

So faith, be it a religious faith or more ordinary faith, has helped us make the right decisions for the entire human history.   Sure, it also caused some monumentally bad decisions, but averaged out over the entire history of the human race we have been better off with faith.

The problem with faith is that there are no self-correcting features in it.  It is possible for a belief system to exist long after its usefulness has been exhausted.  The Kashrut is a good example.  There is no reason for those dietary laws today and in our modern society, except as tradition or as a sign of adherence to an increasingly outdated religion.  (By extension, we need a religion that fobids fast food.  Just sayin’.)

The scientific method, and science in general,  is inherently self-correcting.  While there could be periods in time where false beliefs exist, those beliefs do get removed and replaced over time.  In some cases it could take 50 years, but it does happen with some regularity.  The United States government is also a self-correcting system.  Although it has it’s problems, those problems do get removed and replaced over time.   Of course there are always new bad theories and new bad laws that get introduced, but they too will be removed given enough time.  This cannot be said of “Complementary and Alternative Medicine”, and many other forms of government.

You might think that with the amount of information at our fingertips that faith would be obsolete.  Unfortunately that isn’t true.  For every grain of truth on the internet, there is a sandbox of kitty litter.  To put it another way, the signal to noise ratio of the internet is not very good.  Researching any subject can be difficult given the flood of opposing views and low quality data.  I hope that some day we will get beyond this, but history has shown that to not be the case.

People need to learn critical thinking skills to overcome this.  This is the only way to wade through, and eventually cull, the vast amounts of bad information on the internet.  We should be teaching this in schools.  Not just at Universities, but at Elementary schools.  Learning how to think critically is many times more important than memorizing dates and places.

So even now we must have faith.  I have faith that this news source is reliable.  I have faith that this politician isn’t going to screw me like the previous one did.  I have faith that the school system is going to teach my kids correctly.   I can’t know everything and can’t do everything.  At some point I must rely on others to have my best interests at heart– and that is faith.

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