Monday, January 08, 2007

Is Faith Practical: Should We Bother to Consider Practical or Intellectual Aspects of Faith or No Faith?

Science studies the way things work, but also takes a step back to consider how science works. Similarly, folks who have taken the time to debate the topics appearing in this blog, commonly ask the question: "Is this a debate we should have at all?" And this question comes from both believers and nonbelievers.

After all, they insist, faith is not about what is practical or provable or reasonable. It is about faith.

So let me start the debate this way. It takes great faith to buy food from supermarkets, restaurants, and street vendors. If we were to try and prove that any given can of corn is not going to kill us, we couldn’t do it. Nor could we prove that that very can of corn will be edible and healthy. Not until after we open it and either fully examine it for contaminants (thus rending it not worth eating), or until we have eaten it and waited a day, will we be certain if our faith was well founded.

However, our faith in food suppliers is founded on evidence which is practical and reasonable. We have history, the USFDA, the reputation of the brand and the retailer, the recommendation of friends and critics, and an expectation of other watchdogs such as newspapers giving us a heads-up about bad food supplies.

After we eat the meal, we increase our confidence in the specific source for future decision making. In fact, our faith in the supplier is increased or decreased based on the experience.

Our faith in our parents, teachers, information providers, science, God, Christianity, etc., are likewise so informed by history, results, critics, etc. Even those who have already made a decision to embrace one kind of theology will inevitably be challenged to reconsider as new information comes into play.

Thus, I believe that this argument is the most fundamental and important one that any human can enter into. The consequences are huge for life on earth and in the hereafter (if there is one.) And I conclude that whatever we have faith in, we have come to that faith in some measure by reason, which reason results from evidence and practical considerations.


Bernardo said...

There is a difference between "faith" and "trust". I think that most of the "faith" in your post really should be substitided by "trust".

"Faith" is in regards to things we have no evidence for, such as the existence and nature of God. "Trust" is for things we have some evidence for, such as the quality of food, the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, the effectiveness of medicine (and computers and cars and lightbulbs and other machines), and the truth of what my teachers and parents (and any other expert) say.

You may not think that the "evidence" for God is very different from the "evidence" for those other things. But it is. The "evidence" for God requires a certain interpretation of things. As for the sun rising, my food not killing me, my medicine and computer and car working, and my parents and teachers and books tending to give me good factual information, pretty much no interpretation is required, to the point where skepticism almost makes no sense. Doesn't that seem like a pretty clear difference? "Faith" is one thing, "trust" is another. Which is not to say that "faith" is bad. But don't mistake it for "trust". It requires making certain assumptions, and using a certain interpretation, not because you have any really clear reason to, but because it seems to make more sense, or because you like it. Right?

Randy Kirk said...

I can see your reasons for making a distinction, but I'm not sure there is a practical difference. God either exists or he doesn't, therefore we can posit certain evidences, tests, arguments for His existence. The food is either palletable or it isn't....thus, we can do the same for food.

We then take our conclusion and make a decision. Then we test that decision based on its effectiveness compared to our expectations.

Norma said...

And then there's my husband, who hates corn, and no matter what the lab shows about the producer, supplier, distributor and cook, he still thinks it is awful.

Anonymous said...

As regards the existance of an intelligent cause behind the universe, I am agnostic. The debate usually ends in a 'who came first' stalemate.

Even if a 'god' was determined to be necessary for 'something to exist rather than nothing', that would not answer who He/She/It was. Therefore, we must define the nature of this 'God' before we can compare "evidences, tests, arguments" to see whether Jesus/Yahweh could logically exist as the 'Only True God'.

As to the practicality of such a debate, I would certainly want to know if an everlasting reward/punishment existed. But that depends more on the doctrine of God than the mere existence of God.

Randy Kirk said...


Well said, but not very satisfying at its root. We are all pretty clear about the existance of gravity, even though we can't see it. We can see its effects, or so we think. What if it isn't gravity at all, but some type of force which we have yet to uncover? Does that mean I should be an agnostic until we can "seeA" gravity?

I do like what you say about knowing the doctrine and the implications. These will definately be covered at this blog.

But for this thread, we are trying to compare and contrast existing evidence with the goal of finally ending the debate over the existance of God. : ) You know, like how the debate is over on global warming!

Anonymous said...

Oh, how I wish there was more evidence of global warming where I live! It's supposed to be -20 degrees tonight!

I will watch for the thread on the case for a Biblical Judeo-Christian God and comment again at that time.

Bernardo said...

"I can see your reasons for making a distinction, but I'm not sure there is a practical difference".

You're right, we just make assumptions, reach conclusions, and then from that point on we pretty much just treat the conclusions as "true" in day-to-day life. If we had to re-derive all of our opinions all the time, and keep judging whether our trust is well-placed, life would be much harder. SOME of that is good to do now and then, but if we did as much as we could all the time, we'd never get anywhere. The world could be a simulation run by an evil demon...

"God either exists or he doesn't, therefore we can posit certain evidences, tests, arguments for His existence".

"Arguments", maybe. "Tests", I don't think so (until someone proposes one I actually find satisfying). "Evidence", no way: What is evidence to you, to me is just a phenomenon that has not been figured out yet, or an interpretation driven by the need to see purpose in the universe, or some far-fetched explanation that sounds simple but explains nothing at all.

Like gravity. You may insist that gravity is just one dimension of a more fundamental thing, but gravity is not EVIDENCE of a more fundamental thing, not unless you want to look at it that way to begin with. As for "seeing" it; The effects of gravity always happen the same way, they are predictable, they even allow us to figure out what our celestial neighborhood was shaped like, billions of years ago, to the point no one could reasonably disagree with this. That is not so of God, who is seen by different people very differently (or not at all), whose behavior cannot be predicted, and to whom nothing can be attributed for sure.

Duck said...

But for this thread, we are trying to compare and contrast existing evidence with the goal of finally ending the debate over the existance of God.

You're assuming a lot even to pose the question. You have to define what "God" means before you can ask it, but you're ruling out the Judeo Christian god for now. Well then, what God are we talking about? There is no generic religion with a generic God, there are Greek gods, there is the Christian God, there are the Hindu gods, etc. What exactly are we trying to prove?

Ben Bateman said...

Is faith practical? It must be, because it has worked. It was people of faith who built the world around us, our laws, system of politics, and morals. There can be no doubt that faith works as an organizing principle of human society.

The real zealots are those who claim that human society can function without faith. They believe in something that has never happened, in something that there are good reasons to believe will never happen. They push mightily against the evidence, all the while proclaiming that they alone are reality based and go where the evidence leads them.

Randy Kirk said...


For the purpose of this thread, and not necessarily another, the issue is about an intelligent interloper who created the universe, and purposefully created life and man. I think we can leave out, for this thread, whether and how He is active in the human condition today.

And I am perfectly happy to entertain other definitions and even have you or others send me suggestions for new threads or an entire post to start a new thread.