Monday, February 11, 2013

'The Faith Fallacy,' and other fallacies

A few days ago one of my friends notified me of an op-ed publication in her university's (Grand Valley State University's) paper Lanthorn titled "The Faith Fallacy: Why belittling believers makes no sense."  The piece of course attempts to defend faith, particularly religious faith, particularly by showing how everyone else has 'faith' in something else.  If everyone else has 'faith,' then religious people are at least safe in, maybe justified in, their faith.

Gee, haven't heard the old "you do it too!" one before.  It's a very difficult argument to construct well, and has to be premised on actions from non-believers that really do mirror religious faith in one critical aspect: lack of evidence for these beliefs.  In accordance with this argument's tradition of throwing things at the wall until they stick, the action-flavor of the month is getting a college education:
"College, like religion, is an institution. [...] In both cases believers in these institutions take a gamble, hoping their investment makes a return: most students believe they will leave college with a degree/career potential and most religious people believe when they leave this earth they will be rewarded for their faith."
Before addressing this basic premise though, I would be amiss to not mention a following line that struck me as out of place (my emphasis):
"Believing in something, so long as it is not blind faith, should be commended– not chastised."
That's basically the whole point, the crux of one of the most important reasons why non-believers don't believe in a god or in religion.  Right there is a written rejection of the 'critical aspect' of religious faith I mentioned earlier.  I would ask why this statement was put into an article that is trying to refute non-believer arguments against religious faith; it's not clear from the rest of her article, however, that Christine Colleran has an understanding of what non-believers even mean by 'blind faith.'  I think that a useful illustrative tool here would be contrast to something else we might believe in: college.

"Despite evidence proving that great success is attainable without college, we continue to have faith in the power of a degree."
Christine's cited evidence is a handful of (admittedly extremely) successful people: Mark Zuckerberg (who actually did attend college – Harvard no less! – but dropped out because he developed Facebook while in school), Richard Branson of Virginia Atlantic, and computer entrepreneurs Michael Dell and Steve Jobs.

I suppose that this technically is proof that success is possibly attainable without a college education.  I'm not really sure whoever said that you're guaranteed to fail; I would bet money that Christine was told at one point that you'd be more likely to succeed with a college education.  Is there evidence that around 90% of Fortune 500 companies' CEOs have college degrees?  Is there evidence that unemployment rates for college graduates is lower than people without college education; that Master's degree holders have lower unemployment still; that PhD graduates have even lower unemployment?  Why, yes there is.  It's not proof that you'll get a job – these rates are progressively lower, but none of them zero.  It's a belief without total certainty, but a very justified belief to hold.

Since we're contrasting, we might ask the same questions of religious claims: is there evidence that being religious gets you into heaven?  Is there evidence that a particular religion is correct?  Is there evidence that there's even a deity to worship in the first place?  Why, no there is not.

Encompassed in the questions for religion is also a distinction that warrants its own mention: you can make judgments throughout your college career about whether or not it will actually be beneficial to you in the long run.  If you notice that your major's unemployment rate is almost up to 20%, you can factor that into your decision to pursue your education.  Demand for jobs in particular industries is reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and there is research you can do in general to find if jobs are available.

The potential outcomes for religious beliefs, however, are only realized after death.  There is no indication while you are living of whether you'll be successful, whether there's something you should perhaps do differently that will cost you in the end.  Adherence to a belief system that has no evidence and no means of validating itself along the way is definitionally blind faith.

If a belief makes you a better person, then more power to you.  Worthwhile to consider, however, is if you even have reasons for believing in what you do.  It's a good way to get people off your back who think that uncritical belief was, is, and/or will be a detriment to society; think of all of the help it would be in writing op-eds too!


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  2. Anecdotal evidence is never a substitute for rigorous studies. We should really stop using college drop-out entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates as proof that anyone can be just as successful if they try to follow in their footsteps. It's something that also comes up on Slashdot from time to time. Christine has thoroughly discredited herself to me as soon as I saw that claim of hers come up.