Recently in a debate with Scientific Christian over on Nan’s blog he presented a clip that I don’t know was supposed to represent game, set, and match about something, but I’m not sure what yet. It seems that he was claiming that we all use faith and so any form of faith is just as valuable as the next. In the clip, you see Dawkins debating with Dr. John Lennox. Lennox is big into using this argument against people he debates with so let’s investigate this a bit more carefully.
I have argued before that I think faith is an important part of who we are as humans, and an important one at that. I have not changed my view as faith being a fundamental human quality. But so is curiosity and so is reason. If faith alone were the only way determine reality it simply would be insufficient.
First things first, let’s assume that Lennox’s argument is a good one. Even if that were true, and he caught Dawkins, it still isn’t proof of God. It is only proof that faith sometimes works or that we all utilize faith to some degree. It certainly doesn’t always work.
Now Dr. Lennox himself warns against the dangers of blind faith. He would argue that no Christian (and I am sure follower of any religion) would say that they don’t have blind faith in their religion. There is at least some evidence. But if we, just for arguments sake, take blind faith as the extreme at one end (and I would say people who think God is just going to heal their child and they don’t give them medicine is close to that end) and that something like having faith that the sun will come up tomorrow is being at the other extreme, we can easily see that there is a world of difference between those two extremes. So, at the outset, it is intellectually dishonest for anybody to make claims that just because you use faith and I use faith makes what we have faith in as equally valid. As Dawkins points out in the clip and addresses in more detail in the full debate, is that the key is in the evidence.
So why do the two points of view not work out to be equivalent? As I have argued before (here and here) and will not go into detail here, it’s because of what we consider valid evidence. If parents who let their children die on the hopes that prayer would save them were using the same evidence as Dawkins’ uses in having faith that his wife still loves him, then both would have equal predictive capability. And this is an important point that Dawkins tries to make is that even if we are all using faith to some extent the degree to which the work model we have of how any phenomena works must be predictive. Given our model of the solar system, each time the sun does come up it is further reassurance that are model, which would predict the sun would come up (really the sun doesn’t come up of course we rotate on our axis), is in fact verified. So while one could argue that it is a matter of faith that I think the sun would come up tomorrow, the evidence to which I have built that faith, is far different than those who would use faith that God will intervene on their behalf through prayer.
Of course, one might ask, “Why do people think prayer works at all?” If that evidence is so untenable why build any faith on such things? The answer to that questions requires a greater delving into human cognitive biases but largely it is due to our propensity to make Type I errors (false patternicity) and our cognitive bias to remember ‘hits’ and disregard misses. And this speaks to why the scientific method is so important because it requires careful methodology, it requires replication, it requires that we be able to build off of older principles to new ones reliably.
One then often argues, well clearly you have faith in the scientific method. And I do, but this again is because the scientific method works. If were to use the scientific method to uncover some knowledge of the world and at every turn I was not getting reliable results, then this would be cause for me to question the very way I was trying to discover how things work. We’ve seen the scientific method be effective so many times, that we can therefore have faith that it will be reliable again. Once again we see how being predictive plays a role in how faith in the scientific method is different than a faith in a personal God.
Finally for as important as I think faith is to our lives, we also must be willing to change the things we have faith about. If I do have faith that my wife loves me based on a certain set of evidence. Even if I’m convinced that evidence is good, should that evidence change, or it’s pointed out to me that I’m not using reliable markers of one person showing love to me, then there is no reason for me to continue to have faith along that avenue. What we have faith in, is not set in stone. What an unsuccessful species we would be if that were the case.