Come All Ye Reasoners

Wow! I’ve never gotten so much great feedback from one of my blog posts as I did on my post on faith. I am honored and tickled that I have such great friends who spend the time to read what I have to say and take the extra time to respond. I love it. Feel free to reach out any time, people.

On the same day that I posted about faith, I got a blog post about beliefs from Check out the post here:

I’m going to repost bulk of the blog:

1. Unquestioned belief: A life-long perspective regarding the nature of the world and/or the way society should be arranged, learned as a child — often from parents — and treated as an axiomatic intellectual feature throughout adulthood. Our “beliefs” about morality are often of this sort, whether they be secular or religious in nature. (Examples: “X is obviously the best political system.” or “It is self-evident that Y must be the one true religion and all other religions false.”)

2. Reactive belief: A snap judgment quickly made about a complex subject without the benefit of extensive review in situations where you don’t have enough experience for your intuition to be well-honed. For instance, a “first impression” of a new acquaintance’s personality. (Example: “I don’t know what it is, but the moment I met her, I could tell she’s sneaky.”)

3. Affective belief: A form of wishful thinking about a complicated subject that is specifically averse to factual refutation, held for emotional benefits rather than for veracity. Scams and junk science often play on tendencies towards this type of idea, which are likely to crop up around complex subjects where fear is involved. (Example: “If I take this special vitamin C supplement every day, I won’t ever have to worry about cancer!”)

4. Identitarian belief: Ideas held in order to identify one as a member of a group, rather than on their own merits (which may or may not be scant). This type of belief is especially common to crop up during periods of political division, and they often disparage non-members of the group. The beliefs of groups considered antagonistic to your group are often scorned. (Example: “Conservatives are basically all idiots.” or “Liberals are ignorant of how the world really works.”)

5. Predictive belief: An uncertain probabilistic opinion regarding the eventual revelation of a currently-unknown factual matter, generated by considering your intuition. One common example: opinions about who will win a sporting event. (“I believe that the Atlanta Falcons will win the Super Bowl!”)

6.  Experiential belief: Ideas that you’ve come to believe based on large amounts of firsthand experience. For instance, if you’ve been a tax accountant for years, you probably have well-justified beliefs about the right way to handle reimbursed business expenses on your tax forms. (Example: “I’ve seen dozens of cars have this problem before, so I know exactly what’s wrong with this one.”)

7. Analytical belief: A carefully considered position arrived at by evaluating all of the extant perspectives and significant data that are relevant to an issue.  (Example: “Having thoroughly reviewed the evidence and the arguments both for and against, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that cold fusion is a practical impossibility during our lifetimes.”)

A lot of the responses I got about my blog post were one of the following:

  • “You have faith, but you don’t call it that.”
    • I would re-categorize this as belief type #6 “Experiential belief“.
      • I have this belief that the ground will be under my foot, even though I can’t prove it.
      • I believe that Amazon will ship me the goods after I pay, even though I can’t prove it.
    • I have this belief because in the past it’s been true. But it’s not a guarantee. I have been surprised in the past. This one time, I paid for overnight shipping from Amazon, and it didn’t arrive until the day after. Ugh! (They reimbursed me for shipping and gave me a free month of Prime, so I can’t be mad).
    • Luckily, this type of belief is malleable. As I get new information (such as surprisingly late shipments), I can adjust my beliefs accordingly. If I was constantly baffled by the appearance and disappearance of the ground beneath my feet, I would need to reconsider my beliefs entirely (Maybe I’m dreaming? Maybe I’m in space?)
  • “I have faith that our politicians will act in our best interest… at some point”
    • I would re-categorize this as belief type #5 “Predictive belief“.
      • I believe that I will do great things with my life
      • I believe that I will drive a sports car one day
    • I don’t know if these things are true. It remains to be seen. I don’t think you could know except just by waiting.
    • This belief is a little better since it is based on intuition, and intuition is based on experience.
  • “I have faith that the tooth fairy exists”
    • I would re-categorize this as a belief type #1 “Unquestioned belief”
      • I believe fluorinated water is actually bad for us.
      • I believe global warming isn’t caused by humans.
    • I don’t know if these things are true. It’s just things that I’ve always believed. I’m guilty of believing crazy stuff too. I only point it out to show that I’m also on a journey to truth. Ultimately we need to work on our “Epistemic Hygiene”.

Who cares if you call it faith, or belief, or knowledge, or opinion? It matters because you can know things, but you can’t know everything. We need to work together and have specialized knowledge. I need to be able to go to an expert and ask, “What can you tell me about machining steel” and then go to a different expert and ask, “What do you know about machining wood?” If I ask my steel machinist about wood, I won’t necessarily get the truth. I don’t what to know what the steel machinist wishes was true, or what they were taught as kids, or what their first impression was. I want to know what their experience is. If my machinist friend tells me that they have faith, that they can cut steel at 900 inches per second, I’m going to get very worried. If they tell me that they have reason to believe, based on previous experience, that aluminum is easier to cut than steel, then I feel at ease. I stand by my definition, that faith is belief without reason.  If you’re using reason, then I would argue that you now have a belief, not faith.