The Year Of Faith: What Strange Things People Believe

Rational belief based on evidence
What better way to start the Year of Faith than with this headline:

Experts: Global warming means more Antarctic ice

This was atop an article penned Seth Borenstein, who noticed that Antarctic ice was accumulating at an alarming rate, hitting “a record 7.51 million square miles in September.” “How could this be?” Borenstein surely asked himself. “The theory of catastrophic global climate warming tipping point change would appear to preclude such manifestations.”

Borenstein believes in this theory so much that his earnestness goes well beyond plain acceptance: he desires it be true. Therefore, when confronted by icy observations contrary to his belief, he sought out an explanation to counter it. He was successful and uncovered certain named “experts” who assured him that “A warming world can have complex and sometimes surprising consequences”. Like increasing Antarctic ice.

The man has the touching faith of a child, the kind which seems cruel to challenge. Let us hope the poor fellow did not see yesterday’s report, “Once-in-century October snow across [South Australia].

And then there is our Dear Leader and his relations, foreign. Word is out that the embassy in Benghazi was purposely left thinly armed lest Americans appear imperial and boastful. If we had to lose a Marine here, an ambassador there in our efforts to display a humble and welcoming attitude, well, these would be mere “bumps in the road.” The road leading to world peace, of course. We may thus call this the Beauty Queen foreign policy.

Benghazi was part of his larger strategy of anxiously admitting that America is just as exceptional as everybody else, and his hoping that “dialog” and the subtle negotiating technique of giving in to every demand, à la Iran, will appease our enemies. The theory in which Mr Obama takes comfort is that if you are nice, people will treat you nicely. He is currently hoping that it works with China, which is sailing its newly created navy into disputed waters (which America has sworn—with crossed fingers?—to protect).

In France, the words mère and père will be banned “from all official documents.” No, I know you don’t believe me, but this really is a proposed law. The English, refusing to be trumped by their traditional rivals, have proposed, as Kenneth Minogue tells us, “that the terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ should be removed from the 1973 Marriage Act and replaced by ‘parties to the marriage.'”

The theory is that by removing these biased, value-laden words, you remove the ability of people to be biased and to hold the outmoded values expressed by those words. The old terms caused some people to feel badly about themselves, and there is no worse crime than that. State control of language is a doubleplusgood strategy to make us all think well of ourselves.

Regular readers will recognize this definition from the Skeptic’s Dictionary:

Faith is a non-rational belief in some proposition. A non-rational belief is one that is contrary to the sum of the evidence for that belief. A belief is contrary to the sum of the evidence if there is overwhelming evidence against the belief, e.g., that the earth is flat, hollow, or is the center of the universe. A belief is also contrary to the sum of the evidence if the evidence seems equal both for and against the belief, yet one commits to one of the two or more equally supported propositions.

Messrs Borenstein and Obama, and the earnest expurgators in France and England, and indeed ideologues of all stripes, possess this kind of faith, which is a state undifferentiated from desire. When belief leads and trumps observation, the object of faith is false. That which is false cannot be found, hence the unending search and call for “more”—more money, more time, more research, more bodies.

But there is another kind of faith. St Paul tells us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This is true faith, a rational belief in that which cannot be observed. All of us have this faith, and must have it. All thought necessarily begins with truths which cannot be proved.

The main Object of faith is, of course, well known and it is here where true faith has acquired a bad reputation, while the other kind continues from success to success. But faith in God would only be absurd if its Object was provably false. And it is not. The best, in all of history, the atheist has done is to say God might not exist, which is logically equivalent to God might exist. Thus belief in God cannot be properly labeled irrational. But the belief that “belief in God is irrational” is itself irrational, and is so based on evidence. What a nice thought to take into this year.

16 Comments

  1. The first time homosexual marriage came to my attention, I never thought homosexual marriage would be used as another part of the arsenal to achieve gender neutrality or “equality.”

    I’m always a little horrified that certain groups of people are so dogmatically set against any expression of biology through “gender roles.” Sure, there were errors in the past about how women were treated and there will continue to be errors – but ignoring important differences in the genders won’t solve those problems – they’ll just create new ones.

    I’ll post this article on how women are inherently weaker at throwing a ball than men as evidence: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/throw-like-a-girl-with-some-practice-you-can-do-better/2012/09/10/9ffc8bc8-dc09-11e1-9974-5c975ae4810f_story.html

  2. As far as the global warming part goes; I’ve always wondered why “they” called it “global warming.” The phrase was so unspecific as to what it meant that confusion was bound to happen just by poor naming convention.

    Anthropogenic climate change is better as at least people know what you are insinuating, but seems to lack good evidence as presented by your blog. I believe that under the umbrella of anthropogenic climate change that more extreme weather is explainable, even though the premise may be faulty.

    True, true, a faulty premise can lead to any logically sound statement, but as far as claiming that climate change must be altered to allow for more extreme weather in general isn’t too much of a stretch. However, I believe there is some shift in the reporting about how some of the evidence of global warming (because it’s usually reported as such) was melting ice caps and dying polar bears.

  3. True, true, a faulty premise can lead to any logically sound statement, but as far as claiming that climate change must be altered to allow for more extreme weather in general isn’t too much of a stretch.

    Sorry, did not state well. I meant to say that allowing for extreme weather doesn’t really require a shift in anthropogenic climate change explanation, but it does show a shift in reporting of that phenomena.

  4. Mr. Briggs,

    What precisely differentiates the alleged faiths of the French/English/Seth Borenstein from that of St. Paul. You claim that “faith in God would only be absurd if its Object was provably false,” which I am taking to be a more general statement about what faith is rational. When criticizing your political opponents for their faith in social change and whatnot, are you also claiming — without apparent justification here — that their faith is demonstrably irrational?

    Thanks,
    Joseph

  5. For the French, would it be assumed that Parent One would most likely be male and Parent Two would most likely be female, or vice versa? Surely the “genders” must be accounted for somehow, to make sure that diversity is somewhat fulfilled, statistically speaking?

  6. Joseph,

    This is a good question. The first three theories make empirically testable claims. When the claims turn out to be false, the theory must also be false.

    Global warming theory (the original) said ice would retreat in the Antarctic. It instead increased. Hence the original theory is false. There is now a new theory which says global warming will cause ice to sometime increase, sometimes retreat.

    Appeasement theory said that giving a belligerent what he wants pacifies him. Iran is one example of many which shows this false. The theory is, of course, modified anew for each new belligerent which arises. “Sure, it failed for Germany, but it will work for Countries B, C, D, …”

    Political correctness theory said that if we remove from the language certain words and phrases people would be freer. That is self contradictory. Its consequences when actually implemented are also well known.

  7. Obama says he was being nice to Romney in the first debate. As Sarah Palin would say, “how’s that workin’ out for ya?” Some people just are maze-dumb.

  8. My theory predicts anything can happen. This is empirically testable. Do something and something else will happen. Do nothing and something (or nothing) will happen. See? Anything (including nothing) can happen.

    I will need more money to more deeply examine the ramifications of my theory.

    So the answer to creeping euphemisms is to employ creepy ones?

    Of course, it fits well with the theory that anything can happen.

  9. Why is the spear hole on the wrong side of Christ’s body in the painting? Another of those anything-can-happen things?

  10. [QUOTE]But there is another kind of faith. St Paul tells us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This is true faith, a rational belief in that which cannot be observed. All of us have this faith, and must have it. All thought necessarily begins with truths which cannot be proved.[/QUOTE]

    It is rational to believe in a theory that is shown to be very good at predicting the outcome of observations.

    Believing in a theory that has no such predictive power can be rational too, in certain circumstances. Like when unbelievers are set on fire.

    When you can freely choose from a large number of equally good (or bad) theories, in particular the unverify-able ones, in the hope you choose the only one that is true, you are as rational as a man buying a lottery ticket in the hope he will win the first price.

    If you choose such a theory based on some convenience, you are as rational as the lottery ticket buying man who buys a ticket for the thrill.

    And if you choose such a theory based on the change you might end at at the top of the clergy and make some serious money/bed the most women/yield lots of power, you are as rational as the man who rakes in all the cash from all those lotteries.

  11. If you choose such a theory based on some convenience, you are as rational as the lottery ticket buying man who buys a ticket for the thrill.

    Yes. I can see the thrill in standing in a long line to interact with a snarly clerk. Just as with beliefs, thrills are a personal thing.

  12. From your linked article:
    “It’s most noticeable in September, when northern ice is at its lowest and southern ice at its highest. For over 30 years, the Arctic in September has been losing an average of 5.7 square miles of sea ice for every square mile gained in Antarctica.”
    What was that about faith?

  13. Apparently, beliefs are to be equated with theories meant to explain physical facts. Who’d a-thunk it?

    To believe in something is to place one’s trust and reliance upon it. For example, supposing one has no particle accelerator in one’s basement, one may place his trust in the veracity of particle scientists. Even though you have never seen a particle accelerator you may put your trust in the evidence of things not seen.

  14. Ye Olde Statistician

    “Apparently, beliefs are to be equated with theories meant to explain physical facts.”

    Not so at all. Belief / Faith are for things that can niether be proven nor disproven. Physical facts do not fall into this category.

    As for the particle physicists, for the most part their work has no direct impact on my life so I neither trust nor distrust them. Their work is at best mildly interesting. If a scientist’s work does have a direct impact on my life I presume that there would be at least some level of test that I could apply to at least weed out the way out there BS claims.

  15. “The theory in which Mr Obama takes comfort is that if you are nice, people will treat you nicely.”

    That may not be a truism, but this is: If you are mean, people will do their best to treat you mean.

    Many in the US forget that as we trample our way through the world.

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