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"Infer digitum tuum huc et vide manus meas et affer manum tuam et mitte in latus meum;
et noli fieri incredulus sed fidelis!" [Jn 20:27]
(Caravaggio. Doubting Thomas. Source)
Some people ask me how come I believe in Jesus Christ, while at the same time claiming to love Science and contact with reality. These people seem to say that Faith and Reason are incompatible, and that I claim the opposite.
First of all, I don't claim that Faith and Reason are compatible, just like that, with no conditions or restrictions. On the contrary, I claim that 100% (± 1%) of all religions are false. This means that in my opinion, a good starting approximation for people who don't know religions very well is to assume they are all false.
Add to that the fact that I could be mistaken (and therefore that Jesus Christ would not be God, and that He would not have founded the Catholic Church). In that case, of course still in my opinion, all religions would be false, bar none. Admit this is not exactly a "blank check for religion!"
Let's try to drill down into this topic a bit. What is faith? What is a belief? Let's take a simple example. A good husband gets ready to leave his office and come back home, so he calls his wife to know whether he should pick something up at the grocery store on his way back. His wife says: "No thanks, dear, there is a big ham in the fridge, we've got what it takes to whip up a nice supper."
Question: does the husband know there is ham in the fridge? No! He believes it! Traditionally, we distinguish at least three kinds of knowledge:
3.1) Ignorance. (Ignorance isn't really a "kind of knowledge", but it's a good starting point for this explanation.) Ignorance is "Zero Degrees" as far as knowledge is concerned (you could argue that error is "Below Zero!"). People who are in a state of ignorance say things like: "I don't know", or "I can't really tell now, because I don't have any information", etc.
3.2) Opinion. Also known as "probable knowledge". A person with an opinion has reasons to think that things are probably thus, but without being certain. Please note that this person knows that he can be mistaken! You can't "be sure of your opinion", because that's an oxymoron. People who have opinions say things like: "I think the Edmonton Oilers are going to win the Stanley Cup this year, for such and such a reason", or "I'm 75% sure that this is so, because of such a study, or such an argument", etc.
3.3) Science. As you can imagine, this is the ultimate degree of knowledge, the goal we must pursue. When we know an assertion is true, it is because we can prove that such a thing is the way it is, and that it cannot be otherwise. People who have scientific knowledge say things like: "I know that the Pythagorean Theorem is true, since this is the proof", or "Whatever you say verbally, you are nevertheless psychologically unable to doubt that you exist as we speak, and don't force me to put on my Philosopher's Glove to prove it to you!" Be also careful with how words are defined. What we call "Science" these days (like Physics, Chemistry, Biology, etc.) is composed mostly of highly-probable opinions, strictly speaking.
3.4) Belief. Belief, or natural faith (as opposed to supernatural faith), is accepting as true an assertion, but for extrinsic reasons, not because we have evidence. In the example given above, the husband believes there is ham in the fridge. It goes without saying that this is a very imperfect state of our knowledge.
If belief is not based directly on evidence, why consider it to be knowledge? Because a belief is based indirectly on evidence. Belief cannot be granted to any assertion! On the contrary, for an assertion to be believable, some criteria must be respected:
4.1) You must never believe what you can and should know. If you've done a bit of mountain climbing, you know that you have to carefully check that you are properly hooked up. Even if the leader of the climbing team says: "Believe me, your carabiner is well hooked up", you must not believe him. You have to check for yourself. It's the same thing for firearms: if somebody hands you a hunting rifle and says: "Believe me, it's not loaded", your duty is to refuse to believe this person, and to check for yourself if it is really unloaded.
4.2) Believing absurd or irrational things is impossible. There is a huge difference between a belief, and a superstition. If your beloved wife tells you there is ham in the fridge, her assertion is not self-contradictory or absurd. But if your wife tells you she took a shower with dehydrated water, or that she put a square circle in the fridge, you can't believe her, because what is absurd or irrational cannot be true. Of course, many people claim that they believe in absurd or irrational things, but strictly speaking these are not beliefs, but superstitions, pseudo-beliefs, etc.
4.3) The witness must have the evidence. Fundamentally, knowledge is related to evidence, directly or indirectly. Believing an assertion implies that somewhere along the line, somebody had evidence to support that assertion. In our example of the ham, the wife purchased the ham, cooked it and put it in the fridge. She knows there is ham in the fridge, she has the evidence. If the so-called witness cannot have evidence, then we mustn't believe him!
4.4) The witness must be sane. The example I like to give is my late grandmother, who was a holy woman, but who in her old age sometimes gave me food that wasn't edible anymore. Her will was impeccable (she wanted to feed me), but she would forget to look at the Best Before date. So when she would assert: "Here, I made a nice dish for you", I had a tendency to avoid believing this witness, and to sniff carefully before eating.
4.5) The witness must have a good will. Imagine a criminal who tells the judge: "No, your Honor, I didn't kill the victim". This criminal is quite sane, he knows exactly what a murder is, and he understands the judge's question, but his will is not good. If the witness has a bad will, we must not believe him.
4.6) The content of the assertion must be verifiable by the person who believes. Not only must the witness have evidence, but the person who believes the witness must be able to eventually check by himself what the witness is asserting. In our example, the husband could verify that there really is a ham in the fridge, after he gets home.
4.7) There must be a reasonable need to believe. Sometimes, we need information, but we cannot possibly know that information. For example, a baby needs to avoid sticking a fork in an electrical outlet, but a baby cannot possibly understand the technical reason why. So he needs to believe his parents.
To recap, we can say that believing is temporarily accepting as true an assertion that is at least possible, for which we cannot easily have evidence, because we have a reasonable need for this assertion, and that we can rely on the evidence that we do have concerning the sound intelligence and the good will of the witness.
If you make a serious inventory check of all the assertions you consider being true, you will probably be in shock. The vast majority of our knowledge is in the category of beliefs. A molecule of water is composed of one atom of oxygen and two atoms of hydrogen? I believe so, but I don't have the evidence. Cardinal Richelieu (Armand Jean du Plessis) was Minister of France from 1624 to 1642? I believe so, without really knowing. "The general solution of a second order linear non-homogenous differential equation is equal to the sum of the general solution of the corresponding homogenous equation plus any particular solution of the non-homogenous equation." Here, to the great despair of my Math teacher, I will also say that I believe this to be true (even though I should know!) But this teacher is so smart, and so nice, that I have good reasons to believe him!
there are in the life of a
many more truths which are simply believed than truths which are acquired by
way of personal verification.
[Fides et Ratio, No. 31.]
More fundamentally, we must believe the believable assertions because this is a necessary step to build Science. Individually, we are weak, unintelligent, often sick, poor, and our life is very short. Collectively, if we unite our forces, we can make great advances in Science. In a way, if all scientists are virtuous ("Nothing Overmuch!"), then they all become somewhat like the individual neurons of a huge "social brain", and the moral connections between these "neurons" lets the evidence painfully accumulated by a single scientist be leveraged immediately by all, since all witnesses are believable. If on the other hand the scientists are deceitful, greedy, lazy, etc., then the "social brain" becomes sick and can even die.
Yes, but the list is still too short (including the section on Apologetics which shows the reasons to believe in Jesus Christ). This is because of my bad memory, but especially because of my laziness (which has wasted on TV the years which could have been dedicated to Philosophy), and my pride (which has chased away the other philosophers who are a better source of information than me), etc.
But believe me, better late than never! Come on, dear "neuron" friends, let's work together to defeat ignorance and error!
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