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If I Ever Lose My Faith In You

I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith. – Book of Mormon, Ether 12:27

Every year since the beginning of time, the extended Cornell family attends Aspen Grove Family Camp up in Provo Canyon. Being morbidly afraid of heights, I spent years avoiding Aspen Grove’s massive ropes course, where you climb up into the trees and walk around on metal wires that are about thirty feet above the ground. You’re attached to belay lines and are perfectly safe, but even though I mentally understood that, that didn’t keep my legs from wobbling like jelly with every step I took when I finally tried the thing. It wasn’t until I actually fell and the belay mechanisms caught me that I got a feel for just how safe I was, and I was able to move forward in a terror-free manner.

That’s the experience that gave me a hands-on practical lesson in faith.

The reason, for instance, that we “receive no witness until after the trial of [our] faith” is not because God is refusing to let us in on His secrets. The truth is that that’s the way faith works. No matter how much one of those nice Aspen Grove staffers were to describe to me the safety features of the helmets and the ropes and the carabiners – I dig the word “carabiner” – it wasn’t until I actually tested the stuff for myself that I was able to develop the faith and confidence to rely on them.

“Faith,” therefore, is not synonymous with “belief,” or passive intellectual assent. Intellectually, I believed I was safe from the first moment. But my negligible faith – my willingness and confidence to act on that belief – didn’t gain strength until after it had been tried.

There has been much conversation about faith in the comments on this blog. Caleb claimed that faith is “belief in something for which there is no evidence.” No_Spam insists that only believers in the supernatural exercise faith, and that atheists are faith-free. With all due respect to these two very bright folks, I submit that neither assertion is true.

The title of this post is taken from a song by Sting where he renounces his faith in everything but the person to whom he’s singing, presumably a friend or a lover. In order to have faith in that friend, Sting has had to have experience with them, and he likely has plentiful evidence that the person is reliable. Most of us only exercise faith in people or institutions where such evidence already exists. We deposit our money in reputable banks because we have faith that our savings will be safe there. We don’t deposit money in JoJo The Monkey Boy’s Savings, Loan, and Bait Shop because the evidence suggests that it might not be there for us when we come back to get it.

Notice that in each instance, no supernatural entity is involved. Every action we take in every aspect of our life is an act of faith. So when atheists proclaim that people of faith are imbeciles and that they, the enlightened atheists, are beyond such primitive notions, pardon me for getting skeptical.

Take, for instance, our pal and presidential candidate Trust Fund Jonny “Am-I-Still-A-Mormon?-That’s-Hard-To-Define” Huntsman. Columnist George Will mocked my eminently mockable former governor for tweeting, “”I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

George Will’s response: “Call you sarcastic. In the 1970s, would you have trusted scientists predicting calamity from global cooling?”

The answer, at least in Jonny’s case, is almost certainly yes. And guess what? Science would have led him astray, and his faith would have been misplaced. How, then, would he be any less wrong than some religious kook praying to a statue of a man with a wolf’s head? Faith in junk science may have a more respectable veneer these days, but it’s just as wrong as the silliest of cult beliefs. Indeed, science’s track record on doomsday predictions has been not just wrong, but ridiculously wrong. Yet Jonny Huntsman, Al Gore, and their like-minded brethren insist that all those who disbelieve this latest attempt at science crying wolf are heretics, blasphemers, “deniers.” They insist we adopt the tenets of their unproven faith at an astronomical societal cost. Why is my faith more ridiculous than theirs is? Furthermore, I’m not trying to enforce Mormonism at the end of a gun. So why should they be able to inflict their faith on me with the full power of the government to enforce orthodoxy?

Faith is not simply a religious principle. If you don’t have faith in God, then you have faith in something else. Militant atheists a la Richard Dawkins have enough faith in Darwinian processes that they insist random chance could have created the majesty of the universe. On that count, I remain a skeptic. I am, however, quite grateful for the chance to bash atheism, global warming, and Jon Huntsman in a single blog post.

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    • If more scientists in the 1970s believed in warming than cooling, they weren’t able to get the message out via the national zeitgeist. Time and Newsweek both ran cover stories about the impending ice age – (to its credit, Newsweek admitted in 2006 that its story had been “so spectacularly wrong”) and no less an authority than Leonard Nimoy devoted an entire episode of “In Search Of…” to the cooling nonsense, quoting all manner of dour-faced, serious scientists warning about how we were all on the verge of freezing to death. I personally remember science classes taught by lousy elementary school teachers warning us that the ice age was coming.

      If the cooling scare was able to trickle down into my classroom, it had become the conventional wisdom of the day, which means Jon Huntsman would have believed it.

  1. Good Morning Kwen,

    There’s nothing mystical about science. Perhaps this discussion needs a simple definition of science. Science is a simple tool, a tool in the form of an algorithm.

    The algorithm:

    (1) Observation
    (2) Hypothesis
    (3) Prediction
    (4) Observation
    (5) Modification – GO TO (1)

    Now iterate this loop an infinite number of times. A rough, and often times incorrect hypothesis, can now be honed over time. A crappy hypothesis, presented by a charlatan, can be disproved. Rinse and repeat.

    Consider it a hammer; let’s call it The Hammer of Science! Again, it’s nothing mystical. Its strength, as an algorithm, is that it’s repeatable, so that fraud is eventually ferreted out. Its strength as a tool is its Predictive Power! Most people never grasp this part…The Hammer of Science allows one to Predict the Future! No shit. Take the simplest system, a ball dropped from a height; a quick calculation allows one to predict when the ball will hit the ground…in The Future! That’s Power.

    As the system gets more complex, the problems get harder, and sometimes the solution becomes almost intractable, but there’s no faith involved. Take, for example, your earlier comments about faith being involved when flicking a light switch or turning the ignition key in your car. There’s no faith involved. Record the number of successful flicking of switches and turning of keys and the failure rates – there’s a certain probability of success associated with flicking a switch or turning an ignition key. They’re both simple electro-mechanical systems. Success rates depend on the prowess of the design and implementation. That’s why there are very few Yugos on the road.

    Anyway, The Hammer of Science probably doesn’t interest you. Perhaps you need to do the work yourself…

    I presented two assertions in an earlier reply:
    Assertion 1 — The Angel Gabriel came to Muhammed in a cave on Mt. Jabal. The Angel Gabriel then began to reveal the contents of a book in Heaven, written by God, called the Koran.
    Assertion 2 — Joseph Smith met the Angel Moroni…the Golden Plates…etc. etc.

    Can you explain to me the reasons why you reject the truth claim of Assertion 1?

    • Yes, I can, although I think the reason I’m not enamored with Assertion #1 has nothing to do with the broader issues you raise in your reply. But rather than leave you hanging, I’ll answer your question and then address the rest of what you’ve said here.

      I think it’s probably strong to say I’ve “rejected” Assertion #1 re: Muhammed. I can say, however, that I’ve never had occasion to exercise any faith in it. I have found spiritual satisfaction in Assertion 2 – which, like Assertion 1, is actually a complex series of assertions, which plays into my coming response to your broader point.

      Given how well Assertion 2 has worked out for me, I have not felt the need to test Assertion 1 to any degree. I will say that my faith does not preclude the possibility of truth in other faiths, and I don’t doubt that Muhammed and many of his followers have had experiences with the divine.

      So let us return to science and its supposedly faithless nature.

      Without getting too abstract and philosophical, i.e. “can anyone really ‘know’ anything? What if life is an illusion? blah blah blah,” I think it’s safe to say that faith and knowledge cannot exist in the same place at the same time. The more knowledge you have, the less faith you need to fill in the gaps. Dropping the ball and predicting it will fall requires infinitesimal amounts of faith. There is, for instance, the absurdly remote possibility of a strong horizontal gust knocking down the wall and diverting the ball or a hidden electromagnet lifting the ball to the ceiling or some bizarre anomaly shifting the ball out of its downward trajectory, but it takes next to no faith to presume that such weirdness won’t interfere with a process that has worked ten times out of ten, a hundred times out of a hundred, a million times out of a million.

      However, in the scenario with the ball, I’m assuming that you are dropping a reasonably heavy ball in a closed environment which controls for mitigating factors. If you were dropping, say, a whiffle ball off the top of Crom’s mountain, other variables would come into play, most notably wind speeds and trajectories, along with the weight and porousness of the ball. These would preclude the ball from making a direct journey from your hand in a line perpendicular to the ground below.

      Where will the ball end up? Each new variable decreases your predictive powers. It’s even possible the whiffle ball, given a strong enough wind, could end up at a location higher in altitude then where you dropped it, despite gravity pulling it downward.

      As variables increase, knowledge decreases. As knowledge decreases, faith increases.

      In a ridiculously complex system like the earth’s climate, there is not a human being alive who has a perfect knowledge of all the variables necessary to predict outcomes with certainty. You have as close to 100% certainty as is humanly possible that a ball dropped from your hand will end up on the ground. With what certainty, then, can you predict the average global temperature of the earth in ten year’s time? One hundred year’s time? One thousand year’s time? If your certainty is less than 100% in answer to any of these questions, or to any question at all, then what fills in the gap? Faith.

  2. I do not encourage the use of “faith” as meaningfully applicable in discussions of rational thought. What’s more, because these two words share same meanings with different connotations, if you substitute “credulity” in place of “faith” in instances that faith is used as worthwhile, not only would it be accurate, but it helps to undo years of delusion that faith is virtuous. It puts it in its rightful place – belief without reason to believe; i.e. worthless.
    – Josh, 2010 Oct 1, in a private letter to me

    credulity = tendency to believe readily.

    Let’s see if Josh’s experiment proves enlightening.

    – If I ever lose my TENDENCY TO BELIEVE READILY in you, there’d be nothing left for me to do. (Sting was attempting to sing of sincere love. Can Josh’s “synonimous” words speak to a woman’s heart just as truthfully of one’s sincerety?)

    – It wasn’t until I actually tested the stuff for myself that I was able to develop the TENDENCY TO BELIEVE READILY … to rely on them. (Jim was attempting to describe the inner effect of a personal experience. Would Josh’s “rational synonym” convey the same feeling?)

    – We deposit our money in reputable banks because we have the TENDENCY TO BELIEVE READILY that our savings will be safe there. (What bank adopts this position and survives?)

    Result: Substituting “credulity” in place of “faith” is wretchedly obfuscating.

    Instead, try substituting Stallion’s WILLINGNESS AND CONFIDENCE TO ACT ON [A] BELIEF in the foregoing examples.

    Result: Clarity.

    The Dawkinites want to keep discussions on a strictly rational level. But rational discussions are thwarted by their projected uses – not actual uses – of the word “faith”.

    • James, your discussions with Josh tend to get a little more esoteric than mine do, and I can’t conclusively settle your ongoing debate. I think a more practical discussion would be helpful. I, personally, can’t remember any significant experience in my own life where I’ve believed “without reason to believe.” People only exercise faith in things they have a reason to trust.

      On this subject, I recommend Alma 32, which creates a scientific scenario for an “experiment on the word,” allowing faith to grow into knowledge.

    • OK. How about discussing the PRACTICE of perpetuating false “scientific conclusions”.

      If, for instance, you have an LDS faith belief that scientific evidence demonstrates is inaccurate, do you still choose to believe it anyway, against all known evidence? Or will you let the scientific evidence be the deciding factor and change your faith belief? For example, let’s consider “The Book of Abraham” in The Pearl of Great Price: In the introduction the LDS church has reproduced Joseph Smith’s claim that the book is, “A translation of….The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.” In The Pearl of Great Price Student Manuel, the LDS church has taken the position that Smith’s “knowledge and ability [to translate] came through the power and gift of God, together with his own determination and faith.” Yet, as it so happens, over a century after Smith’s claim, several Egyptologists were separately and single-blindly presented with around one-third to one-half of the original papyri — which included all three images that were made into Facsimiles 1 to 3 — to see what their scholarly, evidence-based translations came up with. All individually came up with the same translation as each other, and none bears any relation to Abraham nor any resemblance to Smith’s translations. [http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4168.] What do you do at that point? Do you still believe Smith’s claims about “The Book of Abraham” based solely on faith? Or do you accept the evidence and alter your faith belief to match reality?
      – Josh, 2011 Oct 1, in a private letter to me

      Carefull, Stallion. Tempting as it is, I am not so interested in a discussion of the validity of Smith’s claims. Rather, I hope to combat bold, public defamations that are supported only with anti-scientific “science”. So, I provide Josh’s viewpoint only as an example of one man perpetuating faulty “claims of science” –

      specifically, intimating imbecilism in those who

      “ … still believe Smith’s claims … [and who reject] the evidence and [do not] alter [their] faith belief to match [the] reality [that Smith’s claims are scientifically, conclusively revealed to be fabricated].”

      • Well, factually, he’s wrong on the Abraham papyri. “1/3 to 1/2” should be about 11 to 13%, closer to one tenth than one third. Actually, no one’s entirely sure, as what has survived are partial, damaged fragments that don’t fit the description that most eyewitnesses offered of the Abraham documents in Joseph Smith’s possession, which included papyrus with red ink, not black. Don’t know about his unnecessary “single blind” study, as prominent LDS scholars, including Hugh Nibley, have said that what is extant is excerpts from the Book of Breathings, and they’ve made no attempt to hide the fact. They published these conclusions in The Improvement Era in 1968, complete with full-color pictures.

        They have plausible explanations for it that would likely not appease Josh, as he has decided to put his faith in critics who are willing to play fast and loose with the facts in order to discredit the Mormons. (For everyone else, I suggest http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=48&chapid=286 as a good place to start.)

        My point is that facts are facts, truth is truth, and faith is faith. This is the case whether you are dealing with religion, politics, science, or any other field of human endeavor.

        Let’s move it away from religion. If someone were to tell me that you, James, were a serial killer, I wouldn’t believe them. I have had enough experience growing up with you and enough understanding of your character that it would take overwhelming evidence to convince me you were killing people left and right. Does that mean I’m an imbecile, that I have contempt for truth, or that I live in a fantasy world? No. It means that faith provides a necessary anchor against the gossip, conventional wisdom, and fashionable nonsense that masquerades as truth on any given day. If the evidence is ultimately persuasive, then, yes, truth will out. But it would be foolish of me to disregard the lifetime of evidence that I’ve accumulated about your character and allow myself, in the words of the scriptures, to be “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine” by abandoning my faith in you at the first sign of difficulty.

    • Regarding

      … plausible explanations [for the partial, damaged fragments said to be Abraham documents] … would likely not appease Josh.

      and

      … the only plausible explanation [of the origin of the Book of Mormon] is the one offered by Joseph Smith. Where does your brother think it came from?

      Josh has provided me with only this insight:

      I do not casually disregard rational ideas that trouble me at my core. I do not casually disregard rational ideas, period. I don’t know how you come to this conclusion.

      – –

      Regarding

      … it would take overwhelming evidence to convince me you [James] were killing people left and right.

      I thank you for your show of minimal faith in my humanity. That much faith is unhesitatingly reciprocated – I’m sure.

  3. Dear FlaviusBuckmeister,

    Current climate models have no predictive power, making them worthless. As the science progresses, there may come a day when the models can accurately predict the future. Political machinations, coupled with opportunities for money and power, make the current “science” of Climate Science a muddle of propaganda masquerading as fact. It’s a minefield of subterfuge on both sides.

    Again, I don’t think you’re getting the gist of the Hammer of Science! One starts with the simplest model, and then adds complexity.

    For example, the ball dropped from a height H…

    (1) Model 1 – I assume constant acceleration g…
    http://img233.imageshack.us/img233/7449/51084263.gif

    (2) Model 2 – Oh, I forgot that g is not constant when the height H is appreciable to the radius of the Earth…
    http://img64.imageshack.us/img64/7527/95057556.gif

    (3) Model 3 – Dude! You’re treating your coordinate system as an inertial reference frame, the Earth is spinning! Oh, right. Let me fix that…
    http://img842.imageshack.us/img842/9090/54631326.gif

    (N) Model N…

    And, you’ve successfully dodged my question, “Can you explain to me the reasons why you reject the truth claim of Assertion 1?”

    It doesn’t matter. Adieu.

    • I dodged nothing! We seem to be talking past each other. As I said before, I don’t outright reject the truth claim of Assertion 1 so much as I ignore it, as I have not had occasion to examine it closely enough to reach a solid conclusion, faith-based or otherwise.

      I’m cool with the hammer of science. My point is that things often reach a point of complexity where certainty gives way to faith. That is not to say the faith is misplaced or silly – it’s a necessary ingredient to make ends meet when all the data is not available. As soon as all the data is available, faith becomes unnecessary. That’s true whether you’re dealing with God, Crom, or whiffle balls.

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