ECAUSE of limits to ascertainment relying on science alone, in regard to ultimate matters faith is prerequisite to hope— at least for now. Yet conviction worthy of trust is best sought through perception and analysis— in other words, reason.
Even to the extent that faith denotes belief without proof, not only is there room for scientific guidance, but such logicality offers the greatest likelihood of selecting for investiture a system that— despite the bounds of our afferent and ratiocinative capabilities— may be as close as humanly possible to a perhaps unknowable reality.
While single-minded devotion to the naturalistic outlook could be seen as an abdication of our freedom to accept as true the products of our striving by other means toward the highest pinnacle, and—
Knowledge presently attainable through an all-encompassing application of experimentation and analysis is limited enough that chances of error with regard to the difficult questions are far from ruled out (whew!)—
A look at alternatives shows that any other known approach will much more likely lead to delusion (though being deluded can sometimes be fun).
Faith by Lot
True blind faith, the totally random selection of belief unsullied by input of any kind, is an almost-sure loser. For example if we were to decide solely on whim to believe in a supreme being (or anything else: souls, an afterlife, Elvis, etc.) we might think we had at least a fifty-fifty chance of being right.
Yet questions of this sort are rarely true-or-false. Nor are they multiple-choice, without applying that designation to a decision having a nearly infinite number of options.
Even were we to consider a supreme being indefinable, in order for it to have any relevance at all we are required to have attitudes in either the front or the back of our minds when we hear, talk, read, write, or even just think about it (paradox of theology).
While the sundry attributes and shades of meaning we could attach are virtually infinite, depending on how finely we chose to differentiate categories, we might end up with a specific number of concepts that we will call x, x being anything from a handful to a godzillion or more.
Since choosing to believe in a wrong kind of supreme being can be as erroneous as either believing in one that doesn’t exist or not believing in one that does, we have to pick the correct idea out of x possibilities, giving us just a one-in-x chance of being right by undirected choice.
To the extent that effort is made to escape this difficulty by avoiding the attachment of any specificity of meaning to the expression “supreme being” (by asserting say, that it is indefinable) so is the import of the question, and thereby the answer, lessened.
Further (and further and further), if we select any option other than that a supreme being does not exist, our chances of being right are exponentially reduced by the odds of non-existence, or Occam’s Smart Razor [as opposed to Occam’s (ordinary) Razor]:
In a finite universe, where a conceived entity’s existent status is unknown, a non-existent likelihood must be applied to that entity in direct proportion to the amount of its detail, i.e. (iiiiyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!)—
Since any two combinable elements in a closed system can be assembled to produce a structure, any three to produce a more complex structure, and so forth (Tinkertoys) the permutations of even somewhat intricate conceptions would vastly overwhelm the system’s physical capabilities—
(Applying even to universes in which all elements are identical— distances between and configurations of elements in each assembly could vary.)
This concept is easy to overlook because it is superficially counterintuitive:
Few of the things in our everyday thoughts don’t exist somewhere, nor do we often sit around trying to think of all possible constructs (four-tailed squirrels with blue umbrella-shaped trunks, four-tailed squirrels with purple umbrella-shaped trunks, etc.). We’re not conscious of the smallness of the ratio of the real as opposed to the imaginable.
While the entirety of our reality may not be a closed system, due to the fact that from our vantage point (See Ruby Falls) it is— or so at least the universe seems, to the extent we can observe or deduce— it is for all practical purposes.
Again, lessening (immaculating, not emasculating) the amount of detail in our conception of a supreme being in order to increase the odds results only in a proportionate reduction in meaningfulness of the statement, “There exists a supreme being.”
Faith by Desire
It’s possible to believe in something simply because we want to, whether or not we acknowledge that as our basis.
Since the only required connection with reality is the yearning in our heads, this type of faith is subject to the same difficulties as faith by lot; neither is much help if you have Q without U when going for a Triple Word Score.
Faith by Revelation
We can feel we’ve had something revealed to us directly from a divine source:
An answer to a prayer, some wondrous or mystical event— even a direct verbal communication from what we felt was God or some other form of higher consciousness (whether or not it went ahead and beamed us up).
The problem is there’s no consistency between what is revealed to one and what is revealed to another, over and beyond what can be explained by coincidence, speculation, or commonality of knowledge— no truly advanced or otherwise unknowable fact is ever attained, other than what would be expected by human forecast or the occasional lucky guess.
However if we subscribe (1 yr. $19.95, 2 yrs. $34.95) to the notion that there’s an energy, natural or cryptonatural, within and comprising a part of each one of us, then something that arises via our own consciousness could be regarded as inspired, if it meets with whatever criteria we establish—
Not even that it must necessarily evidence the cryptonatural: it could be anything in alignment with what we might come to acknowledge as divine will or highest purpose.
The safest way though for us to define these parameters is via natural philosophy and science, even if it takes some of the fun out of fortune cookies.
Faith by Reason
The most reliable belief is sought by way of probing and comprehending the universe with which we are familiar. (And sometimes not so familiar— ask your cosmologist. That is if you have one. Otherwise your cosmetologist will do.) This may range from the most esoteric astrophysical theory to everyday life experience.
We’d be best advised to take sense and logic, no matter how tentative, as far as they will take us, only reverting to outright but cautious speculation (okay I said it, the S word) when necessary for hope and meaning.
Humanity’s history of religious belief has been the story of the uneven but cumulative ascendancy of reason over superstition.
If this overall trend continues, no dogma will be accepted that is not naturalistically attained, or at least naturalistically speculated. Finally you’ll be able to step on a crack without breaking your mother’s back.
Faith by Authority
Often we find other people, past and present, trustworthy enough that we are willing to hear their experiences and observations, especially if we feel our own is lacking in some way.
Most of what we believe is acquired as we’re socialized— through scripture and other media, and via testimonies and peer influence of parents, teachers, friends, and others within our circle.
Yet much of this has been attained by means other than reason:
Religious institutions, even assuming highest intentions (despite adherence to sometimes-outmoded belief and tradition, as well as a drift toward authoritarianism expected by Michels’ Law of Oligarchy) are too-often under pressure to place the satisfying of needs over the ascertainment and dissemination of discomforting albeit honest conclusions—
Lest the faithful drift away, contributions drop, the electricity gets disconnected for non-payment, and the milk spoils.