HOW NOT TO LOOK LIKE AN IDIOT: Lesson 2: “Faith vs. Facts.”

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 8/24/09

These are trying times for Republicans. Not only did we lose the election, we got pantsed. Control of both houses and the presidency have been lost. We’re involved in two unpopular wars, we‘re bordering on a third, the government is deeply in debt, the international economy is in the crapper, and whether wrong or right, the strong public consensus is that it’s entirely our fault. Whether you’re a die-hard Bush supporter, or a moderate who feels mistakes were made, I think it’s pretty obvious that the party and its members are having a bit of an image problem right now.

To that end, I humbly submit this guide on how we can change our reputation and not be perceived as paranoid racists and raving religious fanatics, at least on a one-to-one basis.

LESSON 2: “Faith versus Facts.”

First of all, let me point out that you’re probably *not* an idiot. If you’re reading our site regularly then you’ve probably conservative and you’ve probably got some interest in Science Fiction and other theoretical stuff as well. That suggests that you’re at least on the upper half of the bell curve, so don’t take umbrage. You’re probably plenty smart. However society runs on customs and unfair generalizations and preconceptions, and a poorly-defined social code. No matter how smart one may be, they still risk *looking* like a dope if they can’t express themselves adequately, or if they stub their toes on one of those invisible customs. We all know people who are freakishly smart, but can’t remember to close their mouth when they chew food, or who go all squirrelly ‘round the edges when it comes to some aspects of social interaction.

Our purpose is to help you avoid that.

Secondly, today we're going to be a bit more overtly religious than we normally are. This will undoubtedly make all of us - including me - a bit uncomfortable, but as I'm a Christian, and as many of our readers are likewise, I feel the need to explain a fairly common falacy amongs my good-hearted well-meaning bretheren (And sisteren) which has an adverse affect on the left, and will make them look down on you - and perhaps Christ by extension. I'm not trying to make anyone feel bad or look stupid, just trying to point out a problem, an explanation, and then present a possible alternative which you can accept or deny as The Spirit moves you.

“Facts” and “Faith” are two not-terribly-related concepts that frequently get used interchangeably by both sides of the political spectrum. Let’s try to iron out the differences shall we?

Going straight to the source, we’re told “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” (Hebrews 11:1) I think we could find a more specific definition than that in the dictionary, but I don’t think we could find a *better* one. Meanwhile, a “Fact” is defined as :
1. Knowledge or information based on real occurrences: an account based on fact; a blur of fact and fancy.
2. a. Something demonstrated to exist or known to have existed: Genetic engineering is now a fact. That Chaucer was a real person is an undisputed fact.
b. A real occurrence; an event: had to prove the facts of the case.
c. Something believed to be true or real: a document laced with mistaken facts.
(Thanks to http://www.thefreedictionary.com/fact)
In short, the fundamental difference is that faith is something you believe without evidence, and facts are something you don’t have to believe in because they’re proven to be true. The operative word here is “Believe.” Faith is based on Belief, and Facts are based on evidence.

There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s the way things should be, really. Some things you believe, and some things you know. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God; I know that China sent their first man in to space in 2003. See the difference there?

I can easily prove that Yang Liwei was the first Chinese citizen in space, I can not prove that Jesus is the Son of God. My inability to prove the latter doesn’t mean it isn’t true, it simply means that it’s a matter of faith, not facts. I can’t prove that my parent’s love for me is real, either, but it is. Some things are simply too intangible to be analytical about, but we accept them as real anyway. There are zillions of examples: We can’t prove that love exists, we can’t prove that our favorite kind of music is somehow better than that guy over there’s favorite kind of music, and we can’t prove that the United States of America is the best damn country in the history of the world, but we accept all of this on faith because we need to believe in something.

And we *do* need to believe in something. Humans are hard-wired to believe things that can’t be proven, and which are sometimes amazingly contrary to observable phenomenon. People from the left will often say that it’s stupid to believe in God, or to believe in Country, or to believe in anything, but in fact a fundamental part of our psychology is based around our need to believe in something beyond what we can see/touch/taste/hear. It has been proven time and time again that people with conventional religious beliefs live marginally longer lives than people without ‘em, and their quality of life is generally somewhat better. It doesn’t particularly matter which religion you practice, so long as you genuinely believe it. It seems to always have been this way - Neanderthals buried their dead with personal artifacts, which implies they, too, had some concept of an afterlife.

Let’s avoid straw-man arguments here: That believers have a somewhat longer, better life on average than nonbelievers does *not* prove that God exists. You get similar quality-of-life results when people live in a caring, nurturing, stable family environment, and you even get similar - though reduced - results if you have a pet. All of these situations stimulate serotonin production in the brain which stimulates mental activity, calms the body, and reduces the negative affects of stress, and these results, in turn, tend to take some of the edge off life and make it a bit better. There’s also some evidence that this kind of intangible belief also makes for a fundamentally healthier psychology as well. It’s also long been evident that people with strong religious beliefs are more likely to survive horrible privations and disasters and awful situations that would make nonbelievers succumb to despair and end it. Why? Because a fundamental tenet of Religious Faith is that even against all evidence to the contrary, things will get better. “I don’t care what you believe,” said Shepherd Book right before he died, “Just believe in something.”

The results are obvious: believe in God, have a happy nuclear 1950s family, and get a pet. Preferably a dog, because cats are, y’know, kinda’ democratic. Do all these things together, and you’ll statistically have a longer, happier life than anyone who does only one of these things.

Scientifically speaking, none of this answers the question of whether or not God exists, but it *does* more or less prove that religion survives because there is an evolutionary advantage to it!

Wow!

Now you’ll note that I’m not using religious arguments here. The reason is that religious arguments don’t really hold up against scientific inquiry. This isn't to say that religious views are not true, simply that by their very nature they can't be subjected to an imperical scientific observation. Neither can "Love" for that matter, but everyone knows it's real, so we don't need to be concerned with the fact that you can't scientifically prove the zip code of the Garden of Eden, what we need to focus on is the fact that when you present matters of faith as scientific fact, it has a negative reaction on some people. They cause persons of a more analytical mindset to roll their eyes and write you off as an annoyance from that point on. Instead, for reasons that will become apparent, I’m sticking with what we know, not what we believe.

“Belief,” uses a different part of the brain than “Knowledge.” If I spend some time praying or meditating on God, I get that serotonin production. Conversely, if I read “Space Shuttle: The history of the National Space Transportation System: The First 100 Missions,” I do *not* get the serotonin production. (Even so, that’s an amazing book and I strongly recommend it).

This does not mean that science and reason are the enemies of believers, though. Far from it. Once upon a time, there was a flood, and a preacher climbed up on his roof to escape the rising waters. He prayed for his deliverance. People on a raft came by, and called for him to come with them, “No, God will save me,” he said. Some time later, a boat came by, but again he refused to go saying that God would save him. Finally a helicopter came by, but he wouldn’t get in, once again saying that God would deliver him. Then the house collapsed and the preacher drowned. In heaven, he meets God and says “I had faith that You’d save me, but You didn’t! How could You do that to me?” “Oh, come on,”God answered, “I sent you a raft, a boat, and a helicopter. It‘s not My fault if you didn‘t have the sense to take advantage of it.”

“Faith and reason are the shoes on your feet. You’ll go further with both of them together than you ever will with only one alone,” as they say in one episode of Babylon 5.

Now why is this the case? Speaking as a believer, I don’t know. No religion can be proven to be ‘real’ in the same sense that we can easily prove the light bulb to be true. They intersect with what can be proven at times - Israel existed, for instance, in ancient days, and the bible goes on and on about that - but the fundamental spiritual truth of any religion can not be independently verified. God evidently does not want us to *know* He exists, He wants to *believe* it. I don’t claim to know why He gives brownie points for the one and not the other, but there it is. He could go on TV and introduce himself so there’d be no question, but He doesn’t. He prefers us to believe, but not to know, or so it appears.

So: faith and facts are fundamentally different things. And where does this fit in with you not looking like an idiot?

Just this: do not engage in arguments you can’t win. Do not get in massive arguments over whether or not evolution is or isn’t true. Do not fake evidence, like that Seventh Day Adventist guy who chiseled human footprints in to stone near *real* dinosaur tracks, just to prove evolution wasn’t true. Don’t pass on scientific information that you know or suspect to be false, like arguing that Evolution violates the laws of thermodynamics (It doesn’t.). Do not misrepresent things you believe as things you know, since this does a disservice to you and to your beliefs as well. Don’t argue that you can prove Noah’s flood really literally happened, because you can’t. And the more I think on the subject, the more it appears to me that God doesn’t want you to do it, even if you could.

Because then there would be no need for faith, and God values faith for some reason. So, Ironically, by trying to prove the literal truth of the bible, or whatever holy book you happen to venerate, you *may* actually be going against the will of God.

I’m not ignoring the Great Commission: Go ahead and proselytize as much as you want, no one’s saying otherwise, but there are multiple ways of evangelizing that work better or worse depending on the situation. If you’re going to try and convince someone that that your way is best while they have science on their side, maybe focus on the message instead of the stage decorations. The message is, after all, more important than the chronology, right? The goal is to save souls, not badger people in to accepting minutae that's irrelevant to their salvation, right?

So go with the message, preach the love of Christ, reach out to people in need, convert by example when you can, help the downtrodden, take mercy on the weak and infirm, on widdows and orphans, do all that good stuff, and just avoid obsessing on the idea that everyone needs to accept some weird Orwellian-styled "Righthink," which, as you'll recall, was a large part of the failure of the Pharisees.

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