During my podcast with philosopher Peter Boghossian, titled Faith: A Barrier to Rational Thought, published Wednesday, April 18, Boghossian defined faith as belief without evidence, and described it as a way of rationalizing facts or knowledge that one really doesn’t know.
Boghossian, a professor at Portland State University, calls faith a cognitive sickness, and an unreliable method for knowing the truth. Our conversation was an interesting one. The following is a summary of our talk, and some of my thoughts on the subject.
During the initial moments of the discussion, this is what Boghossian had to say about faith:
It’s the foundation for delusional thinking and one of the biggest obstacles to progress in the next century.
People use the flawed method of faith as a way of knowing the world, of discovering the truth. And the truth matters. If you’re not valuing the truth, then you value something that is arbitrary, Boghossian said. I find this an easy claim to support. I could describe many scenarios in which the truth matters: Are my children eating right? Is our criminal justice system fair? Does my wife love me? Is a particular medicine effective? If someone claims that the truth doesn’t matter, they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Once the importance of truth established, we can then ask, as Boghossian asked me during the podcast, if one can live a meaningful and happy life without telling himself things that are not true? My answer was yes, of course we can. We don’t need to fool ourselves and believe in myths to be happy and fulfilled.
Yet faith is ubiquitous. Why? Boghossian listed four common errors enabling people to use faith
- The confusion between subjectivity and objectivity. Confusing one’s own internal experiences for external reality.
- Confusing faith with hope. To say “I hope” something to be true is different than saying “I know it on faith” that something is true.
- Confirmation bias. Excluding evidence to the contrary and only valuing facts that support a conclusion.
- Belief in belief, or the belief that one must have a religious belief our use faith in order to be moral or satisfied with life. Boghossian credits philosopher Dan Dennett with this idea.
According to Boghossian, the best ways to end faith is to be completely honest about what you know and adopt the attitudinal dimension of humility.
I think if you are truly honest and humble, then faith will die of its own accord.
One rebuttal to the eradication of faith describes the process as tantamount to the removal of hope. Many believers, it is said, will be left with a large void in their lives without faith, they will be without joy and meaning. I think this worry is exaggerated, and as I said above, it is possible to live a meaningful life without the delusion of faith. Of course, some people will be offended. But according to Boghossian,
Challenging faith as a method of knowing the world is essential. It is the elephant in the room. It is the one thing that no one will talk about.
There are times to be blunt, and perhaps some will be hurt, upset and saddened, but we also have many other social tools at our disposal: patience, active listening, clear communication. We can choose to ignore innocuous statements, perhaps a faith-claim from grandma is best left unchallenged. We can also challenge others, such as those involving public policy.
We don’t have to accept a faith-based claim. We can disagree. If it breaks a heart, we can console. If it elicits anger, we can mollify. If it confuses, we can clarify. We can do all of this without resorting to myth and superstition.
If we continually remind ourselves that the truth is important, then our thinking about the eradication of faith can become much clearer. It is still a daunting task, but one worth undertaking.