The Engine Of Uncertainty

The Internal Combustion Engine; chances are you have one.  If you do not have one your life is nonetheless reliant on one.  This device powers all auto and truck transportation in its various designs.  We all eat because of this device today.  It is dependent on a multitude of scientific theories from a plethora of disciplines.  Humanity has applied knowledge from what we have observed in the universe to create this life changing device we all depend upon.

The Internal Combustion Engine does not require “faith”.  You have no need of “faith” to know this motor is a real thing.  You can own one, start one, drive it down the street and prove its reality to yourself with ease.  I do not have faith my car will start in the morning, I trust it will start because I maintain my car.  My knowledge of my own motor maintains this type of “faith”, which. by definition, is actually trust.  This definition of “faith” has a basis in knowledge.  It is reasonable to have “faith” my car will start if I maintain it well and I would be unpleasantly surprised to find it did not start.

faith;  noun 1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something.

Religion, by comparison, trumpets “faith” as the highest form of  good using not reason and knowledge as a basis of trust, but rather the second definition of “faith”.

faith  noun

2.  strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

This is a rather critical difference.  Philosophers are often obsessive about definitions, because unless you are precise in the terms your using the conversations become muddled and confused.  In Philosophy you are discussing the most weighty of topics and so definitions are of paramount importance.  If you use the word “to” as “to”, “too”, and “two”, but always spell it in the same fashion you will not communicate efficiently with others.

You will muddy the waters.

If you talk about “faith 1″ and “faith 2” as if they mean the same thing, and use the terms interchangeably,  not only do you run the risk of mis-communicating to others but you run the risk of deluding yourself.  For instance, if a person says “I have faith in God”;   this means definition 2, by definition. However for a believer this often feels like definition 1, and in communication these two are conflated.

Thus “faith” can mean both a reasonable trust
OR
Trust in a religious narrative’s veracity which lacks proof

This can, and does, cause  great discord in people.  It is the failure of many believing people to apply the rigors of philosophy to their own “faith 2” that causes this confusion, which has even led to bloodshed.  This issue needs to be addressed to avoid further harm.

All religions teach a narrative, often one that comes from a book or the words of the founder as recorded by others.  All believers have been convinced of the narrative which they believe, in which they have “faith 2″ (belief in the veracity of the narrative),  and which they thereafter trust,  by proxy of that belief, causing it to feel like earned trust (“faith 1”) when it is not.  None of these religions can simply present their “faith 2” as we can the Internal Combustion Engine.  None can prove their case in such a way, they all rely upon the narrative and it’s explanatory power without proof.

Religious faith  (“faith 2”) is the acceptance of this narrative as truth, by a person, without evidence.  The acceptance of the narrative as true creates “faith 1(trust) in the narrative and its description of the underlying essence of reality.  This “faith 1” or trust in the narrative is not based on reason or evidence of fact, but on the “faith 2” of the believer.  Convinced of the narrative a believer then accepts the narratives depictions of the world and the nature of reality by “faith 2”;  but see this “faith 2” as knowledge, which it is not.  It is “faith 2″, although it feels like knowledge to the believer.

The problem with all this then becomes the insistence of correctness.

In this way many believers insist on their narrative being the correct narrative.  If a believer is convinced their narrative is true then any information which conflicts with the narrative they have chosen to believe raises the ghost of uncertainty.   Thus, despite a complete confidence in science and its principles as far as the Internal Combustion Engine goes some believers will have serious issues with other science theories despite ample evidence and other devices based upon those principles.  If the science model conflicts with their narrative, and they believe the narrative true, then both cannot be right.  They feel they have knowledge to prove this but do not.  The models simple existence threatens their misunderstanding of their “faith 2″ as knowledge and this faux threat seems to them to be  threatening  their very understanding of the nature of reality itself.

Since the theory points out issues with the narrative they have chosen to believe, both cannot be true.  Since they see their own “faith 2(belief in the narrative) as “faith 1” (reasonable trust that the narrative is true) it is then very easy to adopt a stance of assumed knowledge which feels to the believer like actual knowledge, but is not.  It cannot be shared like the Internal Combustion Engine can, all that can be done is to reiterate the narrative which convinced the believer.

In this way many believers insist on their faiths.  Since they have conflated the terms involved, what feels like knowledge, but is actually “faith 2” is then told to others as knowledge.  This compounds the issue and is sadly very common in religious teaching of children.  A lot of children are not taught the tale of Noah and the Ark as a moral tale, but as a factual tale, one for which there is no evidence.

For some believers this situation is intolerable, they cannot live with any uncertainty and so devote their entire lives to prove the narrative which they already believe.  People have spent their entire lives searching for the Ark of the Covenant, for Noah’s Ark,  for evidence in archaeology, for ever older surviving texts, and created endless permutations  of philosophical and theological rationales to support their chosen narratives.  While all this effort might help win converts to the narrative, it falls short of proving the narrative in the same way we can all prove the Internal Combustion Engine.  It always ends with uncertainty and faith.

True religious faith, spiritual faith, is belief in spite of uncertainty; not the conquest of uncertainty by knowledge of facts, that is the realm of science.  Reliance on faith is to shove aside your uncertainty and embrace trust of the narrative.  Since uncertainty is uncomfortable, unstable, and uncertain by nature and since people detest feeling uncomfortable, unstable and uncertain;  religion became a balm to soothe frayed nerves.  It still serves this purpose.

Let me illustrate.  If you were to go right now to a random chatroom on religion you would quickly be able to find a thread with devout believers arguing for creationism.  To do this you have to discount at least as many functional scientific theories as you find in our cars.  Entire schools of knowledge must be discounted; Geology, Biology, Medicine, Cosmology and so on, as all in error.

Believers are not doing this because they do not believe in those sciences, their own actions say otherwise. Believers are doing it because the theory of evolution undermines their chosen narrative.  If a thread is pulled from their narrative they fear the entire narrative will un-weave and they will be left with a profound uncertainty.  The very nature of reality will become unstable in their minds.  It is easier for them to discount a thousand science models they do not know than a single narrative which is a balm to such uncertainty.  This aspect of religious insistence drives religious intolerance and has often retarded the progress of science and human society.

If by faith I believe, I do not have knowledge I can hand you, I do not have an engine I can present to prove my claims.  I have a narrative which you might find compelling and which I believe by faith, not knowledge.  If I then insist I am correct in my belief in the narrative I have heard; then by default I do not believe in another’s narrative,  and my position must be they are incorrect in their “faith 2”. Since in my ‘faith 2” my narrative is true, other narratives which conflict with my own must be false.  This all can lead believers to make knowledge claims with no actual knowledge, only “faith 1” in a narrative (“faith 2”).  “Faith” in your “Faith” with no motor to present the rest of us to prove your knowledge of it.

The primary response to this from believers is that they do have knowledge, but that knowledge is of a personal nature and cannot be shared.  Like knowledge of a sexual encounter, no explanation of it will allow you to experience it as they did.  Many will be quick to point out how many followers have the same types of experiences as evidence of the reality of the narrative itself.  All this shows is that believers have an emotional reaction to the narrative, and accepting it as a fact has an emotional and/or psychological impact on them.  The alleviation of the tension of uncertainty can be very emotive.This emotive response to these narratives transcends religious and cultural persuasions across the globe.  Thus, if one narrative were correct and people had a certain experience;  it does not follow that others following an incorrect narrative would have the same experiences, with differing ideas and Gods.  Entire faiths have grown up to counter this single issue, making all religions reflections of the one truth, and imperfect,  as reflections are.

All forms of “faith 2” are an effective balm for fear of uncertainty, even with no proof.  People are willing to believe many strange and fantastic things as long as the outcome is certain, because life is uncertain.  In this way the mere idea of certainty brings comfort to many, and to hell with the fine details.  The fear of uncertainty is replaced by trust in something greater, and that sense of relief is proof enough for most.  Yet a feeling is not knowledge, you cannot simply share it like the motor.  The equivalent of a motor however, is never produced, because there is none to produce, there are none in the hands of the believers to show anyone.  What a believer has is a concept, an idea; an internal understanding and worldview based upon the belief in the narrative, a narrative which has never been proven.

Faith is a balm for uncertainty, it does not alleviate it.  It soothes the tension of uncertainty by belief in the narrative and its explanatory power.

If you are a believer and your faith gives you comfort, provides you with a sense of purpose, gives you a sense of direction, grounds you, centers you, or in other similar fashion is of great benefit to your life then faith is having a positive impact on your life.  If you are a believer and to you your faith has become knowledge, a certainty so profound that you are quite certain you are right and others are wrong then you have conflated your definitions along the way somewhere.

Faith is the belief in your narrative despite the uncertainty of life.

Our knowledge and understanding of the reality we all find ourselves in is limited.  Like bridge builders crossing a vast expanse to an unseen shore humans have begun construction into the unknown.  Piece by piece we try to assemble the bridge, using models which we discard as we build better, more complete, more accurate models.   We call this progress.  There is no certainty we will ever complete the bridge.  No certainty we will ever see the unseen shore.  No certainty the whole thing won’t collapse.  We simply do our best and persevere.  To the adventurer, the explorer, the entrepreneur, the scientist, it is invigorating.  The perfume of possibilities scent the air.  To others the uncertainty of such a view is terrifying.

Religions offer balms for this in their narratives.  They describe the bridge, how it was built, what is it made of,  who made it and why;  as well as telling you where it began, what it spans and describing the unseen shore.  Often it tells you the best way to cross the bridge itself.  Religions cannot prove their narratives, you must believe their claims by the force of their narrative, and that might ease your fears and give you a sense of peace.  It will never equal knowledge, even if it feels that way to you.  If you are a believer and your faith gives you comfort, take that comfort, but try not to present yourself as holding knowledge.

Present yourself instead, as you are, a person of faith.

If you present yourself as having knowledge, then to prove it you would need to prove your religion, or prove God.  Prove; not by argument or rationale, but in the very same way we can prove our Internal Combustion Engines.  The day a person can present God in the same way we can present our motors, and say “look, there is God” we will have proof of God and perhaps proof of their chosen narrative as well.  On that day we would no longer have multitudes of diverse sects of believers because everyone would know, like we know our motors.  On that day there would be only one religion and there would be no faith at all but knowledge and trust in that knowledge.  Until such time believers have faith (trust or confidence) in a faith ( strong belief in God, based upon their narrative) not knowledge.

We live in uncertainty.  If you have a “faith 2” (trust in your narrative) do not disparage another’s “faith 2” (trust in another narrative) on the assumption your “faith 1” in your “faith 2”  is actual knowledge of the truth of that narrative.  It is not their faith which is wrong or yours which is right,  it is your own insistence which is at issue.  If you feel unsettled when you meet those who believe differently, who’s faith is in another narrative, or who embrace uncertainty and eschew faith altogether, you need take no action. Do not let those unsettled feelings and conflated terms delude you into thinking you have knowledge when you actually have faith.

Fear not,  it is just the revving motor of the Internal Combustion Engine of Uncertainty.

D.N.B

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