By Michael J. Rice
aith” is the word we use for the specific action of accepting something as fact without proof.
Most people never consider what that definition of “faith” is, or what acting on it means, because those who are taught to have faith are also taught that you shouldn’t question it.
But questioning, investigating and defining everything perceived is what our species specializes in — reasoning. Questions are the first step in seeking facts, increasing knowledge and improving ourselves. Humanity would be much better off without faith, if only for the fact that forbidding questions about anything circumvents reasoning and, by extension, being reasonable.
So, faith is, by definition, an unreasonable act.
Why do otherwise reasonable, rational adults accept, practice and teach an unreasonable act? Like most animals belonging to the kingdom Animalia, it is in our nature to be credulous. It is more expedient for everyone involved if offspring believe what they are told: Don’t touch that snake, eat that berry or play with that gun. Yes, it saves time, but, unfortunately, it also conditions people to accept unverified assertions as fact.
We need to learn to honestly and comfortably say, “I don’t know,” when that is the truthful answer. To quote Carl Sagan: “Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy.”
There are many things to our nature besides being credulous. Killing, stealing and raping are acts committed by many animal species. However, it is generally unacceptable for the human animal to do these things, which means that just because something is natural does not necessarily make it practical, reasonable or acceptable.
I asked a friend, “If proof were provided that there were no gods, would you accept it?” The answer was no. The same question was asked of a sibling. Not only did my sibling flatly refuse to answer that hypothetical question, but the reply was, “What kind of person would ask a question like that?”
Neither of those reactions qualifies as reasoned. This is what the act of faith does — it allows people to be shamelessly arrogant and often times fanatical in not only their thoughts and words, but, unfortunately, their actions.
Reason is humanity’s greatest asset, its greatest ability. Reason has allowed us to extend our senses beyond our natural limitations and create a wealth of knowledge that allows us to do many unnatural things. We’ve seen more than 13 billion light-years into the past, recorded life on the microscopic level and traveled the land, water and air in unnatural ways at unnatural speeds, all because of our ability to reason.
Is there anything reasonable people cannot accomplish or amicably agree upon? For our species to survive, we need to exploit reason to its fullest. We cannot accomplish that without first recognizing and acknowledging those things that prevent us from becoming completely reasonable.
People must reject the notion that faith cannot be questioned — not questioning what is believed, but questioning the act itself. The fault does not lie in what is believed, the fault lies in the act itself. What greater good can come of anything, religious or otherwise, whose foundation is, and very existence depends on, an unreasonable act?
We cannot define what we cannot sense, and it is our sense, in concert with our ability to reason, that allow us to define what we perceive. For example, if a living human brain were placed in a box unable to hear, touch, see, smell or taste, would it observe anything? No, obviously not, therefore our ability to know anything is dependent on our ability to first sense physical data and then define the data in terms that are consistent with those observations. We cannot know anything which we cannot first observe, which means that anything relying on faith is not knowledge-based.
The use of faith is an admission that what is being espoused cannot be accepted on its own merits. People cannot simultaneously have both faith and knowledge of anything because where knowledge exists, faith is unnecessary. Because it can be proved, no one uses faith to know that “one plus one equals two.” No reasonable person disputes this equation. And if anyone could prove gods existed, faith in those gods would not be needed.
There are many atrocities done in the name of faith that no reasonable person would ever consider, much less do. And there are no good deeds done in the name of faith that could not or would not be accomplished by reasonable people. I can think of no instance or circumstance where choosing to be unreasonable is ever acceptable.
For a civilized society to exist, the act of faith needs to be shunned. Unreasonable acts, faith or otherwise, should never be practiced, taught or condoned. How positive would the repercussions be if, instead of teaching children faith, we taught them to always be reasonable in thought and action?
If we choose to act on and condone unreasonable acts, our species will not survive. With humanity’s ability to potentially exterminate itself, the only way our species will survive is to eschew faith and fully embrace reason.
FFRF Member Michael J. Rice, a former estimator for a mechanical contracting firm, was born, raised and retired in Tucson, Ariz.