Is Faith a Suicide of the Mind?

There are plenty of people that view faith as a sort of suicide of the mind.  The explicit preference among these types is for a purely skeptical posture toward the world, where all knowledge is derived scientifically.  Of course, there is a great pitfall among those who depend on science, namely that science is inductive, and moves agonizingly slowly from particular observations to generalizable conclusions.  Science is theoretically an endless process, and all knowledge is conditional on the observations that have been made thus far, in a world where more observations can always be made — and, according to science, endlessly expand our understanding of the world.

All of this scientific observation aims at ultimately inferring causal relationships in nature to understand her true underlying reality.  But a causal inference depends on getting beyond mere observed correlations by controlling for all of the right variables, variables that can go unrecognized and unobserved for a theoretically infinite amount of time.  Consequently, science does not guarantee, or really even promise, final knowledge.  Gaining practical use out of scientific investigations, i.e. aiding the development of technology, is really a fortuitous and psychologically validating side effect of those that at heart are more concerned with discovering nature’s truths than modern conveniences.

So to depend upon science for knowledge is to depend on very little knowledge, one might even argue no (final) knowledge at all.  What instead happens in practice is for people who say they rely on science to really rely on scientific consensus, the commonly held opinions by reputedly trustworthy scientists.  But by bringing in the concept of trust, the scientific skeptic really ceases to be a skeptic at all, and becomes just another type of believer.  A believer in what?  Well, in that person’s subjective view of what the scientific consensus is on any particular issue.

Perhaps the most fundamental reliance skeptics have on the scientific consensus has to do with the existence of a God.  Many scientific skeptics will claim that they do not believe in God because the scientific consensus is that there is no God.  Yet at least one survey shows that this isn’t true at all.  In 2009, the Pew Research Center found that only 41% of scientists believe in neither God nor a higher power.  The other 59% believe either in God (33%), a higher power (18%), or are agnostic/refuse to answer (7%).  (There is among philosophers some survey work showing that the atheism rate is much higher, though the evidence here is quite limited in terms of scientific rigor.)

There is no suicide of the mind, therefore, in having faith in God.  Many scientists are believers of some sort or another, and in any case, the trust in the scientific consensus is very much itself a form of faith.  So, rather than buying into the false choice between faith in science and faith in God, and worrying about a shameful suicide of the mind, this is a matter in which you should decide for yourself.  The catch is it isn’t entirely clear at all how you should make that decision.  What definitive evidence can be gathered and relied upon?  Nobody knows, nor will perhaps ever know, the absolute, objective answer to that question.  The strain this mystery puts on all of us is enough to lead many of us to put our complete trust in some worldly authority.  But then that is the very suicide of the mind so many of us wrongly believe ourselves to have escaped.

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