Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Getting Faith Right. Part One.

"I'm a Scientist! I don't rely on despair; I rely on knowledge!" - Does this sentence make any sense to you? Why not? It's because despair is a state of being; it's not about epistemology. Who would ever think about despair as a method for knowing? Yet the common "battle cry" of those who consider themselves hard minded is, "I'm a scientist! I don't rely on faith; I rely on knowledge! Faith, like despair, is a state of being. Again- how can a being state be considered a method for knowing?

Being states are complex and large; they involve mood and attitude and memory and experience and methods of knowing- like reason. Being states will condition our knowing, but they are not the methods themselves. Faith as such a complexity, is not specific to religion. And for that matter, is not specific to literature, economics, professional sports or even science. Faith is specific to any being who has an I-self, subject-object, past-future level of consciousness: in other words, faith is specific to human being, who on the basis of evolved biology, neo-cortex's and the like, act from a real capacity to be subjective. Compare this to the Canada goose; how much thought does a Canada goose put into being a Canada goose? How about you? Has your life been characterized by such biological automation? If you didn't believe in science, would you be a scientist? Or do you consider your act of becoming a scientist something as automatic as a Canada goose existing as a Canada goose?

You're comfortable with the concept believe, as in "I believe in the scientific method"; you can think of faith as a noun form of the verb form, believe. "I believe" is synonymous with the structure, "I have faith." "I have faith in the scientific method"; or on a bad day, you might say, "I despair of the scientific method."

Faith is a complex idea and warrants another viewing angle.

It's the time of Boltzmann and Darwin. The Niagara Falls were a summer vacation mecca where tight-rope walkers would stretch wires across chasms, and at 4:oo p.m., would perform their amazing feats of balance for tourists who would congregate along the fall's edges and watch a thrilling show (historically true). Imagine then, an acrobat having wowed the crowds on his wire, came shore side, grabbed a wheel barrow from his pile of props, rolled it up to you and asked, "do you believe that I can roll this across the falls without falling?" You reply "why yes fine sir! I do declare that you are the finest tight rope acrobat in all the world!" He says, "well then- hop in."

The acrobat could have also asked his question to you this way: "do you have the faith that I can roll"...and you would be faced with the same situation of having to decide how much faith you're willing to enter into, for the sake of a wheel barrow ride.

Faith can't make anything true or false, real or unreal. Kierkegaard talked about his leap of faith as a leap from a cliff into the abyss. The abyss is Mystery. And having known all the things around him that he could see, Kierkegaard was convinced that Life existed not in the constructs around him, but in the Abyss- and leaped for it. He saw his wheel barrow in Mystery.

Now- knowing how and where to find a wheel barrow is a different kind of question.


  1. I'm not sure about this, Mike. I think in terms of commitment as well as in terms of faith or belief, but all three are bludgeons when faced with the complexities that we try to negotiate with language. I'm more moved these days by story telling than by the reduction of experience to abstraction. In Physics, supposedly simple equations such as the T-shirtable Maxwell's or Einstein's field equations rest on essential wildernesses of experiment and theory, which Physicists know by anecdote and fable as much as from books and personal experience. I think it's the same with these supposedly simple words, which need all human experience to be known intimately. In the end, however, what we give transcends what we know and what we feel, our belief and our faith.

    Curious that Kierkegaard associates opening himself, as I might put it, with down, unless he seeks loss in the abyss. I won't say up or down, but I might say open, as a faltering step towards a gift.

    Apparently this is what I might use your leaps for, if you will permit me.

  2. Having grown up by Niagara Falls I have heard the "faith" story many, many times. It seems to me that it logically falls apart when you put another issue into the equation. I know how I will panic when I get to a high place. So the simplicity of the story falls apart and again I am left with no understanding of what the logical point is when someone tells me that story.

    Having had a friend who just made the leap to "faith" a little over a year ago I sadly learned yesterday that he took his life. I don't think "faith" is a healthy construct to be suggesting.

  3. Robert,

    Before I address anything about our thinking here...I'm so,so, sorry. I know what it is to seriously want to move on from this life. I wish I could have been there for your friend.

    I don't think we really understand just how difficult it is to embody life as a human being. To be alive in a habitat is easy compared to living within a Cosmos so infinite, yet so bound by an impenetrable horizon.

    I hope you'll feel my companionship of grieving for your friend.