Monday, April 20, 2009

When is faith not necessary?

Secularists would agree that we should all endeavour to minimise the influence of faith in our lives. After all, faith is the belief in things unseen, belief without measurable physical evidence.

When a belief is presented for examination, the bar that needs to be cleared is Falsifiability. As Karl Popper originally put it, “it must be possible for an empirical scientific system to be refuted by experience”.

Falsifiabitlity has been a ridiculously successful test on the validity of any belief/explanation. The success of which is evident from the usefulness of the scientific process, as opposed to the comparatively negligible amount of knowledge gained from metaphysics and religion.

This criterion humbly acknowledges that none of us are in extraordinary communion with the forces of nature. There is no revelation.

But what if we were to apply the scientific process to every part of our lives? Should we force our friends to go through various tests to certify their loyalty? Should we secretly and repeatedly conduct experiments on our partners’ to measure their fidelity? Should we not wake up from our beds in fear that our senses could be deceiving us on the existence of such a bed to wake from?

Even scientists receive their zeal and hunger for knowledge on the faith that the external world behaves un-arbitrarily, and eventually nature is fully understandable using reason and empirical knowledge alone.

Faith permeates our daily life and reason does not illuminate a great swathe of decisions that we make. Faith is necessary in maintaining relationships, keeping hope, taking courage, and simply getting out of bed.

So to what extent is faith acceptable? Is it really just a matter of degrees? Are we ‘enlightened’ rationalists merely on the same spectrum as the fundamentalist flat-Earthers, albeit slightly less laughable?

Surely there is a quantifiable demarcation as to when we should abandon faith. When is it necessary to act on faith alone, and when is it harmful and against our self-interests?

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