Sunday, November 9, 2014

The F-Word

There's a dirty work that begins with the letter F in the atheist community. It's often met with horror and disgust at its mere utterance and often as a result leads to a nasty argument. If you've guessed that it's faith, you've guessed right.

I generally define faith as the belief in things that you do not have good evidence for. The American philosopher Peter Boghossian defined it as "pretending to know things you don't know" in his book A Manual for Creating Atheists. Many theists want to define faith as belief in things you have good reason to think are true. The many ways to define "faith" are similar to the many ways to define "religion."

What is the role of faith in a religion that says the purpose of life is to "know" god? I've been curious to know from theists what they think the relationship between faith and god should be.

I ask this because there are so many theists trying hard to argue that there is indisputable evidence that god exists. If there are slam dunk arguments that "prove" god exists, doesn't that dissolve the need for faith in god? Conversely, I often hear theists saying that god doesn't want to give us proof that he exists, because then we wouldn't need any faith, we would just "know" it. So on the one hand there are some theists who are saying god gives us indisputable proof that he exists, and on the other there are some theists saying that god deliberately make his existence ambiguous and hidden so that faith is required in order to believe in him. And many of these theists claim to believe in the same god from in the same religion.

Looking at this from an agnostic perspective, why would a god create a universe in a way that makes it seem like he doesn't exist, and then want us to believe that he does exist? Why would a god respect a person's willingness to believe implausible things on bad evidence as the most important factor in their lives? It's hard for me to wrap my mind around a being that would want this as its goal, especially when it used a 14 billion year process to achieve it. It seems like a cruel game, especially when the penalty for failing might be ever lasting torture (according to some theists).

There are other views that seem a bit more humane. Some theists think that faith plays a supportive role in what the purpose for life is. They maintain that the purpose of life is to grow towards collective maximal goodness, and that god is there to help guide us in reaching this goal. Some theists even maintain that faith in the existence of god is unnecessary in the purpose of life. But that would seem to make theism pointless.

It seems that in traditional Christianity, the faith of a person is ultimately more important than their deeds. In traditional Islam, one has little chance of getting into heaven without faith in god and the correct prophet. And while deeds are important in Islam, on nearly every page of the Koran, the reader is reminded how important belief is, and how wicked unbelievers are.

So it seems that from the perspective of an outsider of religion, the faithful don't seem to have a decent answer to the proper role of faith.

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