Critical thinking appears to be a rather
uncommon skill. Or, at least, one that most people selectively employ.
People generally have many beliefs. Some beliefs are good, some
acceptable and still others are bad. But whether a belief is good or
bad, or virtually inconsequential, is a matter of context and
circumstance. Faith is very often a bad belief. So what makes a good
belief then? And what about logic? It seems there is a common, but
erroneous, notion that faith and logic are somehow opposite. They are
different, for sure. But to better understand about faith and logic a
critical examination of both is necessary.
The definition of “faith” is having a
belief for which there is insufficient or no evidence to support the
proposition form of the belief. There is one body, a single set called
“belief”. A belief is simply defined as a conviction about some issue,
or an acceptance of a proposition, or claim. A belief can be based on
evidence or on no evidence. But, there is a special subset of “belief”,
that subset is called “faith”. Faith is a belief, but a belief is not
necessarily faith. Unlike other beliefs, it is specifically based on
little or no evidence. For analogy's sake, faith is to beliefs as a
truck is to automobiles. Trucks and automobiles are not exactly
synonymous, and neither are faith and belief. Just as a truck is a type
of automobile, likewise faith is a type of belief.
In fact, in the main set “beliefs”,
there are other beliefs that don't necessarily require evidence, or
sound reasoning, but are still not “faith”. Those are “tastes”, unlike
faith, they are generally inconsequential. For example, if I like mint
chocolate chip icecream it may just be my personal preference, but the
claim that it is good has virtually no impact on anything else. This is
what differentiates two types of belief, when both have insufficient
supporting evidence. A “faith” not only is a belief for which one lacks
supporting evidence, but it is also a claim which has some considerable
consequence. To revisit the icecream example, the vast majority of
people do not live their lives on the premise that a particular flavor
is good. With “faith”, however, people do take action, live their
lives, and view the world through the perspective of the “faith”.
People actually base their entire lives on the major premise that, and
act as though, there was some being who sacrificed himself long ago
specifically for the purpose of granting people forgiveness. One does
not have legitimate evidence to support either the claim that mint
chocolate chip icecream is the best flavor, nor the claim that some man
died in order to forgive people in the future. Yet we can clearly see
why the icecream preference is not “faith”, certainly not in same class
as the other belief about some unbelievable story.
Now let's turn our attention to the
concept of “logic”. Logic, which derives from the ancient Greek word
Logos, is not anything like a belief. Logic is a tool. It is a way of
thinking that either induces or deduces from premises an inference, and
from the inferences and premises to a conclusion. Logic is a way of
reasoning, in as much as faith is a type of belief, logic is a type of
reasoning. While one could “reason” in any manner one wishes, we would
rightfully consider illogical reasoning to be flawed.
There are valid forms of logic, usually
most commonly dealt with in a field called “formal logic”. The “formal”
part meaning that the form of the argument is scrutinized. The idea of
the form of the argument can be illustrated as, say, “A is true, B depends on A being
true, therefore B is true”. But, then there is the
commonplace “informal logic”, which does not stress the importance of
the form of the argument so much. We are all a little more familiar
with the informal type. It is in the informal structure in which
fallacies are dealt with. This is the type of logic that is applicable
to everyday life, arguments that ordinary people encounter in
advertisements, in politics, in debate and in ordinary discussions.
With this kind of logic we talk about how conclusions are deduced, or
induced, from valid premises. The issue is more to do with many
fallacies, among which are “non sequiturs” (a conclusion that doesn't
follow from the premises), or “ad hominems” (attacks at the arguer
rather than the argument), or “appeals to emotion” (where the arguer
attempts to convince the audience by arousing their emotion), for
example. Though we still call a fallacious argument “invalid”.
It's certainly true that logic is not
the only way to decide upon something. One doesn't apply logic to
deciding what flavor of icecream one likes most, for example. But, it
is absolutely fair to demand logical reasoning for a belief which
impacts on the way one lives life and deals with the world. It is
impossible for a “faith” to be logically derived since to accept a
claim as true logic dictates the necessity for supporting evidence. The
nature of faith necessarily makes it illogical.
There are good beliefs. Those, are
beliefs for which one both has a good motivation to believe, and also
good reason. We can say that all beliefs have two applicable axes. On
one axis is motivation, that is a scale from wanting a belief to be
true, to wanting a belief to be untrue. In the middle is indifference
to the belief. Many beliefs, which is usually faith, are held because a
person is motivated to believe. Some faith is a belief that some
undesired truth is not true, and some faith is a belief that some
desired concept is true. There can be “good” motivation for a faith.
The most obvious being a belief in an afterlife, particularly an
“eternal paradise” or “heaven”. The motivation being, of course, a
desire to not have death be the end, but to be a transition to
“something better”. But, there are also beliefs for which there is no
desire, or motivation, or want, for the belief to be either true or
false. Also some beliefs are held despite a desire for the beliefs to
untrue. When a belief is held despite a desire that the belief is
untrue, usually it is because the evidence is so convincing that the
intellectually honest person can't make him/her self deny it. Desire
becomes irrelevant in the light of the facts.
The second axis is the evidence. This
evidence axis ranges from evidence against the belief, to evidence for
the belief. In the middle of this axis is no evidence either way.
Considering this axis we may say that someone has “good reason” to
believe something, meaning that there is plenty of valid evidence to
support the belief. In this way, motivation is distinctly separate from
reason, or evidence. This is part of the power that religious faith
has. Because of strong motivation to believe some people are willing to
overlook, and even excuse, the lack of supporting evidence. Sometimes
the attraction of the proposition is so powerful that people willfully
choose to believe despite plenty of evidence against the proposition.
But, this is the nature of faith.
The wise are weary of those who claim
faith to be a virtue. This is the sort of claim made very often by
those who wish to exploit the gullible. The credulous are all too
eager, too ready and willing, to believe what they want to believe. The
conman thrives and encourages all people to accept on faith that which
he/she claims. In fact, faith is not a virtue but a shame. One ought to
be ashamed to have “faith”. It is quite shameful for one to say that
one believes in some claim for which one knows he/she cannot provide
the requisite evidence. It is especially shameful because one admits
that one's worldview, the way one lives his/her life, the way one acts
are based upon unsupported beliefs about very consequential claims.
This deserving shame is due to the
nature of “faith”, as a belief about an important claim, unlike a
preference in musical taste, or liking blue more than orange. We cannot
think of any readily known examples in which a preference in foods has
launched a campaign of terror, causing the murder and torture of
thousands of people. Yet, a brief review of history clearly shows that
faith, beliefs without supporting evidence in very consequential
claims, has, in fact, lead to the murders and suffering of so many
people. Only the credulous have “faith”, indeed faith is foolish. It
was rightful in Star Wars for the villain, as opposed to the hero, to
say “I find your lack
of faith disturbing”.
Copyright © 2011 by Joshua