Prologue: Please read the footnotes, they are an integral part of the article. 

It wouldn’t be an understatement if I were to say that faith is perhaps the most abused human attribute. A cousin of trust1, faith is often used by men controlled by greed for their own benefit. But what exactly is faith? Why do we possess the quality of having faith when it leaves us so vulnerable? Does it have a place in a largely scientific and progressive society that we have created?

Faith is the daughter of belief (Okay I admit, I suck at metaphors) and belief in turn is a choice that we make when presented with a proposition. For example, when presented with the argument that the earth revolves around the sun, I may choose to believe it or not. This is a case of a phenomenon that is supported by irrefutable evidence; I may be compelled to believe it, but I still have that choice. I can believe in the said phenomenon, or I can refuse to acknowledge the evidence and act like a pompous ass. As Stephen Fry once said, “He who does not care for evidence is an ignorant fool who has a brain the size of a peanut when magnified 100 times under a powerful microscope.” Alright, that was totally made up, but it is a scarily accurate description of such a person.

So, what about cases where there isn’t enough evidence or no evidence at all? In such a case, if we choose to believe, then we have what is called “faith”. “Faith in what?” you may ask and that’s a good question. Faith has been hijacked by advocates of religion and God. This has led to a very religious interpretation of this word. As a result, when we hear “faith”, our mind automatically thinks of God and other supernatural phenomena2 that are purported by religious scripture to be true. This is the result of being exposed to years of “Have faith in Yahweh” or “Believe in the Virgin birth of Jesus” or “Don’t lose hope, have faith in the miraculous verses of the Glorious Qur’an and read it 3 times a day.” Due to years of conditioning, a lot of us have in fact developed an unshakeable faith in the existence of God and religion and never question it. This makes it simply too convenient for false God men like Sathya Sai Baba3 to take advantage of innocent folk looking for a panacea to their suffering. People have no problem in accepting miracles and ideas for which there is no indisputable evidence. However, when they are told that the use of a condom prevents AIDS4, they will question it and refuse to use it just because they feel that an omniscient figment of their imagination will be offended if they boink5 their wives wearing latex.

An acquaintance that I made on Facebook states, “Faith = believing in something despite there being no evidence. Believing in anything without evidence = a really bad idea.”  The definition is spot on. The conclusion though not always true, is quite accurate as faith in the wrong entity has often led to dubious results. There is no better example of this than that of faith healers. Contrary to what they call themselves, they have never been able to heal anyone, despite millions having faith in them. Often this has resulted in people clinging on to their faith, only to suffer for want of proper medical care6. Also dangerous is our faith in alternate medicine, which is simply a marketing term for gimmicks that have either been proved not to work or have never been proved to work7. There have been innumerable cases where people put their faith in charlatans disguised as entrepreneurs, and invested huge amounts only to find out that they had been duped. Incidences of misplaced faith are too many to list here. However, having faith isn’t always a bad idea.

Let’s look at a modern and progressive interpretation of faith. During a television interview, once Morgan Freeman was called a “Man of God” by the interviewer. To this, he replied that he wasn’t one, rather, he was a man of faith. Later, he went on to clarify that this wasn’t the faith in seriously flawed imaginary beings, but faith in science8. Isn’t this indeed a well placed and well deserved faith? Faith in the way we understand the world, faith in something that is ever changing; always being improved in some way or the other. This is a world view that encourages the pursuit of excellence and believes in the tremendous potential of man. Yet, it is humble enough to accept that we humans are a mere speck in the fabric of the universe and despite our amazing ability to interpret things, we are liable to make mistakes. When such mistakes are found out, it has been the people associated with science that have stood up and told the world about it and corrected our wrong understanding of the phenomena around us.

Some say that there is no place for faith in science, that science seeks evidence. Of course it does! However, science and faith aren’t incompatible. In fact, whenever a theory is put forth, it is first accepted to a great extent, on faith. But soon, the scientific method9 kicks in and everyone starts testing the theory by means of experiments; not with the agenda of disproving it, but to find corroborative evidence. In this process, many theories have perished like the Luminiferous aether theory, made popular by Christiaan Huygens and the plum pudding atomic model put forth by J. J Thomson; only to be replaced by better theories that revolutionized the way we look at the world. However, there have been remarkable cases like Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, which have been proved thanks to the scientific method and the healthy skepticism of the people of science10. Herein, lies the triumph of humanity.

What if I am not a scientist? What reason would I have to follow such an approach? I’d say – plenty! There are many superstitions and urban legends that perpetrate around the world, causing nothing but grief to the ones who believe in them and also their victims. Horrifying examples include human sacrifices, untouchability, black magic, cannibalism, body piercing etc. A little less horrifying but equally dangerous are faith in Karmic healing, astrology, homeopathy, acupuncture, chi energy, tarot cards and various other instances of untested and unproved alternate medicine11. The only way we can prevent our friends, family and even ourselves from falling prey to such nefarious schemes, is by keeping a rational mind and a skeptical attitude with faith in nothing else but honest science.

That, I can say with immense faith and pride, is the way forward.

Thanks for reading. I would like to thank my friend Sigmoid Curve12 (alias) for helping me frame a definition for faith and everyone else including my anonymous friend from facebook and Trish Delaney for helping me understand various points of view on faith.

– Written by Guest Writer, Aamil Syed Naeem, as a lead-up to this blog’s 3rd Blogoversary.

Footnotes/References:

  1. Okay I was just testing you here. Promise the next one will be an actual footnote. Keep coming back!
  2. A nice Google search will yield various such phenomena. But, I make the job easy for you; visit http://www.blindloop.com/index.php/2010/03/5-weird-religious-phenomenon/  or  http://paranormal.about.com/
  3. Read http://saibabaexposed.blogspot.com/ and http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/ to know more about the kinky ascetic.
  4. Condoms are in! – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byTYP36KPFo
  5. boink : A word that your parent’s use to describe sex to you, even when you are an adult.
    -Oh my lord, Jennifer! You’re… you’re not BOINKING him, are you?
    -Yes mom, he’s my husband.

    courtesy: urbandictionary.com
  6. What’s the harm? – http://whatstheharm.net/faithhealing.html
    A little boring but eye opening – http://skepdic.com/faithhealing.html
    Shocking! – http://goo.gl/skUOy
  7. Definition courtesy: Tim Minchin. My whole essay can be summed up by his poem – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhGuXCuDb1U but then he is awesome!
  8. I am a bit too blunt here, but Morgan was much more politically correct – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WaEJVj4Zfk
  9. A hilarious comparison – http://goo.gl/3X6XN
  10. Google the other theories I have mentioned. For the test of Einstein’s theory visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tests_of_general_relativity
  11. Richard Dawkins – The enemies of reason. Must watch!
    Part 1 – http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7218293233140975017
    Part 2 – http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4720837385783230047
  12. Sigmoid Curve, for the curious: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmoid_curve