Nepal | November 20, 2019

Opinion: The dangers of faith

Observed truths needed

Viraj Rijal

Faith offers no mechanism by which one can objectively investigate claims, and is more akin to a blind guess. This means it is as likely to lead someone to the wrong conclusion as it is to the right one, making it an incredibly unreliable method of discovering what is true

What does one do when they suspect that they are injured, or perhaps have fractured a limb? Going to the hospital and getting an x-ray scan of the limb sounds like a reasonable course of action. What about when they need to know how hot or cold something is? Using a thermometer, perhaps even feeling the temperature with your skin sounds like a good plan.

If it isn’t already clear, the point of these analogies is to illustrate how we as human beings, the most intelligent and capable species on the planet, go about reaching conclusions: we state our suspicion or claim, make observations of the reality through the means that are available to us, and then compare our observations to our initial claim to make sure that they correspond with each other. The process is one that we conduct numerous times on a daily basis in every aspect of our lives, as it is the most reliable method that we humans have conjured to establish what should and should not be believed as true about the reality we all inhabit.
This system of empirical, objective, fact-based analysis, employed by everyone from adolescent school children to physicists, is formally referred to as the scientific method.

However, billions of people all over the world, and especially in the pious republics of South Asia, fail to employ this critically important method of investigation for their core beliefs. Billions of people all over the world, people who are otherwise well informed and rational regarding most actions and decisions in their life, abandon their need for observed evidence and objectivity when it comes to believing in the supernatural and in superstition. Billions of people are convinced, to a level of confidence not even observed in the sciences, that such a supernatural governing entity, or god, in fact exists, without ever encountering anything close to sufficient evidence that would make believing such an extraordinary claim reasonable.

There have been thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of god claims throughout history, most of which are often entirely incompatible with each other. But not a single one of those god claims has met their burden of proof. In other words, the proponents throughout history, and even today, who claim that their specific god truly does exist have failed to procure the empirical evidence necessary to establish their claim as true. With the technology today, humans have more ways of measuring, observing and collecting empirical evidence than ever before. And despite this, not one god from any religion has ever been detected, measured, or even felt.

The standard retort for most theists or those who believe in the existence of a god or gods, when presented with the previous argument is to say that they believe in the existence of their particular god (which is one of many) out of faith. This is not a valid argument in any sense, as to state that one’s belief is derived from faith is to admit that they have no objective justification behind it.

Anybody could hold any position, no matter how outrageous, such as the moon is made of cheese, the Earth is flat, or that slavery is good, and cite faith as their justification for doing so. Faith offers no mechanism by which one can objectively investigate claims, and is more akin to a coin toss, or a blind guess.

This means that faith is as likely to lead someone to the wrong conclusion as it is to the right one, making it an incredibly unreliable method of discovering what is true.
Once again, theists will retort by saying that faith in a god is a benign mentality, one that, in comforting those in need and providing a moral framework for the masses, has resulted in a substantial amount of good in the world. But this would once again be patently incorrect. I am reminded of a notable quote from modern physicist Steven Weinberg, who said, “With or without (religion/ god beliefs) you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things.

But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion”. Though it has never been a reliable pathway to truth, faith in the archaic concept of a god may very well have been a serviceable panacea for all unanswered questions in the past, when humankind was far less developed and knowledgeable about the world.

But in the scientifically and philosophically advanced world of today, faith in god would sound not only irrational, but incredibly dangerous. Besides the fact that “god did it” does nothing to explain the phenomenon observed in our world, those who exercise faith in constructing their core beliefs are more likely to reach the wrong ones. These beliefs will then dictate their thinking and decision-making process, with harmful implications for the larger society.

This is plain to see throughout history and in our world today, where some of the most diabolical acts have been committed by those whose faith towards their god is strongest. Real progress, at a personal and societal level, requires that we form beliefs and take actions based on observed truths rather than the anachronisms of ancient farmers and priests. It requires that we consistently rely on the scientific method of investigation in every aspect of our lives, regardless of how strenuous the process or how distant the results.

A version of this article appears in print on August 30, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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