“Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
We see this and similar quotes thrown around quite often, usually in attempts to vilify religious belief. As such, it’s rather laughable; pretending that Christians secretly disbelieve in God is as ridiculous as pretending that atheists secretly know God exists. It’s not an argument or assertion that has any place in rational discourse.
But blind faith does exist; we see it all the time. When confronted with difficult evidence, certain small-minded people like to handwave it by declaring “Well, I have faith!” This sort of idiocy deserves all the ridicule it can get.
Even so, it would be a mistake to assume this blind faith is “belief without evidence”; such a person most certainly thinks they have evidence, they simply aren’t open to accepting any evidence that doesn’t confirm what they already believe. Not only is this a more clear problem, but it’s also more fair. Belief despite insufficient evidence is highly subjective (who’s to say what is sufficient?), but simply refusing to consider contrary evidence is much more easily identifiable.
Blind faith isn’t about a lack of evidence per se; it’s about unfalsifiability. Blind faith says, “No evidence could exist which would be able to convince me to change my mind.” Blind faith is the purvey of conspiracy theorists and KJV-onlyers and birthers and truthers. Blind faith should be mocked at any opportunity.
(Side note: to a Christian, “faith” is trust in a being you already believe in, not a reason to believe in the first place. So people who say “Doesn’t matter; I have faith” are really being disingenuous; their “faith” is just an excuse to be belligerent.)
This does, however, place a responsibility on those of us who recognize the idiocy of blind faith. We have to make sure that our beliefs are thoroughly falsifiable, or we may be harboring blind faith that we haven’t yet questioned.
Fundamental literalists would seem to have a leg up on falsifiability, because any error or falsehood or inaccuracy anywhere in the Bible would ostensibly prove them wholly wrong. Then again, they tend to have a presupposition that any error can be explained away with sufficient time or energy. Try asking them “What error would prove you wrong” and use their answer to determine whether they’re depending on blind faith or not.
So what about other positions? As geneticfractals in this comment thread pointed out:
“…there is an entire spectrum of levels of belief – or disbelief – in God. Depending on where one finds oneself in that spectrum determines the degree to which one might defend God or no-God and whether one can ‘switch sides’. I put that in quotes because the side you take is entirely arbitrary. Someone can belief in parts of God and not others. One can genuinely belief in the love of God and Christ but take an atheist view on the origin of the universe and life.
Lots of different positions, all which face a challenge of falsifiability in different ways.
What of my own Christianity? Is it properly falsifiable? I would say so. My basic position—that a divine, resurrected Jesus is the most probable explanation for the emergence and history of Christianity—can be falsified in any number of ways. Here are a few possible discoveries that could overturn my belief:
- Finding first-century Roman or Greek writings describing a cult of Christians existing earlier than 30 AD.
- Unearthing authenticated letters from Paul or Luke that reveal a massive hoax or advance an ahistorical Jesus.
- Discovering verified Jewish court records stating that “the preacher Jesus of Nazareth” was executed for petty crimes.
- Bones, determined to have belonged to a crucified male in the first century between the ages of 25-35, in a hidden, sealed tomb with an inscription stating they belong to “our rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, son of man” or some other unambiguously Christian sentiment.
I could come up with a few more. There’s definitely no lack of options here.
And that naturally brings me to the other side of things: atheism. Atheism itself—the belief that the existence of any religious deity is highly improbable—is of course quite falsifiable. Violetwisp makes this painfuly clear in this post:
“If a god appeared sparkling in the sky explaining why she’d been hiding from humanity and why no-one appeared to understand the messages she’d tried to send, I’d be shocked, but would really have to rethink my belief system. If Zeus rode into my patio on a thunderbolt, booming how furious he is that everyone is treating him like a myth, I would stand dumbstruck in his godly presence and retract my atheism on the spot.”
But, not unlike fundamentalist literalism, this runs into a problem. Sure, this extreme example would falsify atheism simpliciter….but it wouldn’t necessarily address the specific beliefs of atheism that make up most of day-to-day atheism. For example, it wouldn’t say anything about the universal atheist dogma that Jesus definitely didn’t rise from the dead.
That leads us to a serious question, one I’m really quite curious about. So far, I haven’t gotten anything close to an answer for it. Atheists believe the New Testament’s claim of a resurrected Jesus is false. Is this belief falsifiable? Could any newly discovered evidence convince an atheist that the New Testament’s claim of a resurrected Jesus is true?
I’m interested to see what responses I get.