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712: Faith

It wasn’t too very long ago that we talked about those who report themselves as having no religion, and the worldwide trends that play into that conversation.

One thing we didn’t talk about, however, was faith. Not faith in the religious sense, but faith in the sense of having a very strong belief in, trust in, or confidence in something. Not necessarily a higher power even — just confidence or belief in anything at all.

Philosopher Nein Van Leeuwen, in his paper “Religious Credence is not Factual Belief” presents the idea of credences – a mental state or a moral choice to defer to those we see as authorities. If we see someone as trustworthy, then we tend to take on the beliefs they present to us, even if we don’t fully understand those beliefs.

This is why often times, those with very strong political beliefs may not be able to tell you down to the dollar or the study the reason for those beliefs, or those that join a cult follow along, when all reason would lead us to a different conclusion. As researchers put it in the book “The Engima of Reason” and it was reported in The New Yorker, quote:

Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

And that collaboration itself may be part of the reason we are willing to put faith in something — even when we don’t fully understand it. Quoting from that same New Yorker article:

In “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone” Sloman and Fernbach see this effect, which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth,” just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.

In other words, our very mental and social existence may come down to faith in many ways. Faith isn’t and doesn’t have to be religious – it just has to rely on trust and confidence. As Peter Thompson wrote in the Guardian, quote:

any movement that seeks social change and improvement is a faith-based one. It has to be, otherwise there would be no reason to hope for something better. The more economy and society changes its moral and ethical ground, the more there will be a desire to bind us back in to the old certainties. There is probably no way of effectively mobilising people against […] if they don’t believe in something, no matter how abstract or apparently bizarre it may seem to others.