Sunday, 5 August 2018

The so-called Leap of faith re-explained for atheists

Firstly - the thing about the 'leap of faith' is that everyone in the world, past and present; religious and atheist; has already made this: the difference between individuals is mostly is whether or not they are aware of the fact of having done so, whether they have done so freely or passively.

Most people are unconscious of ever having made the leap of faith, because most people simply absorb their assumptions from others, without recognising that they are assumptions. Most people regard their basic assumptions as simple facts derived from evidence - but basic assumptions, unlike facts, cannot be contradicted by evidence - because the basic assumptions themselves dictate what counts as evidence; what counts as 'a fact'.

(Evidence is not self-evident; facts do not float around the universe - universally accessible, immediately identifiable as fact, and understood identically and perfectly by everybody... Both depend on prior and basic assumptions concerning the nature of reality.)

What is the leap of faith? Well, it refers to the basic assumptions that make a frame for life and living, for understanding, meaning, purpose and everything else.

Why is it a 'leap' and why is 'faith' required? It is a leap because basic assumptions cannot be derived-from anything more solid than themselves - we need to jump over, or past, or through 'the facts' to reach these assumptions. And it is faith because it rests on something that could be called intuition when it is based on inner sureness, and revelation when it is felt to be given by something external and greater. Perhaps the ideal is that the basic assumptions are mutually reinforced by revelation and intuition.

The word 'leap' also suggests the way that this must be an instant and whole mental move - which also means that that which is known by faith must be simple enough to be grasped and comprehended entire.

Often this requires a preliminary period of critical reflection and clarification to sort-out just what-it-is that we are trying to know as true or false. We must ask the right question before we can get a coherent and correct answer. 

What this, in turn, tells us is that a single leap of faith is usually inadequate; especially for a typical mainstream, materialist atheist - who has unconsciously absorbed such a collection of dis-beliefs as to make any single belief incoherent. This is the faith of Modern Man - and typically he cannot tell when, where, how or why he adopted it. 

For example, it is quite normal for modern people to disbelieve in the world as having been created, in a creator or any other kind of God, in the soul, in any kind of persistent existence before or after biological life - to disbelieve that reality has any purpose or meaning, and to assert believe that human relationships have no continued reality beyond the lifespan of their participants. Most would regard all human choices and decisions as either random (hence meaningless) or else merely the determined consequences of previous events (hence meaningless) - hence Modern Man does not believe that he has the free agency even to choose his own basic assumptions!.

In other words, typical Modern Men have, unconsciously and uncritically - and indeed generally while denying that any leap or faith has been involved - begin in a situation of so many negations that, if they were to take their own beliefs seriously and consistently, they would be reduced to a state of paralysed and silent despair at the utter futility of everything.

Silent because there could be no meaning in communication, since other beings don't exist, or if even they do exist then communication cannot be possible, and even if communication were possible it could not (in a random/ determined universe) have any meaning.

An essential first step for a leap of faith into meaning and purpose would seem to be to acknowledge that one's assumptions are indeed the consequence of faith, and not of 'evidence'; and to determine to make this leap for oneself, in consciousness and freedom - rather than unwittingly and passively.


Chiu ChunLing said...

I would not dignify the passive acceptance of unexamined and indeed unconscious assumptions as a "leap" of any kind, certainly not one of faith.

It is mere slouching in blind ignorance.

Faith requires that we know and accept the incredible nature of the assumptions we invoke and have an awareness of the vast difference between the logical consequences of those assumptions and other possible assumptions. To have faith in God, one must realize how profoundly remarkable it is that God should exist. One must also realize that the entire situation of life, the universe, and everything is altered by the existence of God. To have neither of these is not to have faith as such.

Faith also requires the leap, the action of seeing the gap between what we might otherwise believe and do and what faith in God demands of us, and taking action to cross that gap, to move our moral perspective and actions into alignment with faith.

Some atheists do have faith in atheism. They've really thought about what it means to assume that there is no God, and they know it is an assumption, and they see the difference between how one must live if there is a God and what makes sense if there is not. But such don't need to be told that what they have is faith.

Those who need to be told that they are starting from unprovable assumptions rather than "science" or "reason" or "common sense" or whatever have no faith. Nor have they undertaken anything so active as a leap.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

The first thing to assume is your own free will. If your assumption is right, it's right. If it's wrong, you had no choice but to make it anyway.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - That's my point. The people who regar a leap of faith as a species of self-delusion, wishful thinking; in in fact the most deluded and prone to wishfulness. Of course, what they are wishful about may be something that seems very small and petty, to other people (some secret lust, or spite, or conceit) - but that is the human condition.

@William - Yes, in a way - but in another sense one needs to make more than one assumption at the same time. There isn't really any singe assumption that can stand on its own - nor is there any reason why there should be. We are born into the world with many assumptions, and if we choose to doubt them all wholesale, and if that then causes massive problems - we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Another approach is to examine your own behavior and determine what tacit assumptions lie behind what you do. Then go ahead and make those assumptions explicit and incorporate them in your thinking. The definition of superstition: Acting according to beliefs which you do not admit to yourself that you believe.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I find your approach to faith (committing to assumptions in the full knowledge that they are assumptions) appealing, but I can't help but think something is missing. The fact is that the faithful strongly believe the content of their faith, and many would even say that they know it. Mormons in particular tend to express their faith in such terms (cliches in Mormon circles) as "I know beyond a shadow of a doubt" or "with every fiber of my being."

This element of actual belief seems to be missing from a consciously chosen assumption. When, for example, the members of a jury commit to acting and thinking as if the defendant were innocent until he is proven guilty, that is quite different from having a strong belief that he actually is innocent. Likewise, if someone says "I have no idea whether or not God exists, but I have chosen to assume that he does and act accordingly," can he really be said to have faith in God in any ordinary sense of the word?

Perhaps the assumption is not faith itself, but only a necessary first step before true faith can be achieved. Once the leap has been made, results begin to come in which confirm that the leap was right. This seems to be alluded to in Alma 32, John 7:17, and in the parable of the wise and foolish builders (in which, in a reversal of the more usual metaphor, the house of hearing Christ's teachings is built on the foundation of doing them). But then we seem to be back to the scientific model, where a hypothesis is provisionally assumed so that evidence can be collected to confirm or refute it -- and both the faithful and their critics seem to be agreed that that is not what faith is about.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I'm not just talking about faith here, because the background includes what I believe to be the modern, post-romantic, imperative for faith to be conscious. It is part of what Barfield termed the evolution of consciousness, but he means by 'evolution' a developmental unfolding in response to divine destiny.

One key point for me is that the 'next step' (what Barfield terms Final Participation) is one that can only be and must be taken in consciousness and from agency. So, this excludes childlike, unconscious and simple faith (simpy absorbed, on trust) - not because they are wrong, but because they are what they are, they do what they do; but here and now (and not in other places, and not at all times in history) there needs to be a post-atheistic faith; the faith of people and of a society moving forward (and through) from the state of adolescent nihilism, and paralysing scepticism.

We cannot (as individuals, as society) go back to the simple faith of passively absorbed and unconscious faith; we need to go forward to a faith of the kind I've been attempting to describe here over the past several years. This is a 'higher' form of faith in the sense that it is more divine in its nature, more like that of God.

The tendency is always towards more consciousness. And tha makes pssible freedom/ agency. In a sense this is irreversible.

It may well be a circular movement in terms of returning to many or even most of the childhood unconscious (perhaps even inbuilt and spontaneous) beliefs and faiths - but the return is done in freedom, full consciousness, and by direct knowing rather than by the absortion of perceptions from the environment.

Chiu ChunLing said...

Well, keeping in mind that I have never believed that unconscious, unexamined assumptions absorbed by social osmosis had the necessary characteristics of faith.

I do think that there is a special grace granted to children too young to be expected to articulate their faith, as well as to general humanity on the same grounds. But faith must still be faith, even if inarticulate. It needs the sense of profound gratitude which can only come when you cease to take things for granted. That has never been optional.

The more intellectually gifted might be required to examine and feel gratitude for more of what has been granted to them, as well as having a greater responsibility to grant it in turn to others. Somewhat recursively, that intellectual gift and the responsibility which accompanies it are themselves among what we must be grateful for if we have them.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - Fair points - but it it not the destiny of post-atheistic men to return to that childrens innocent faith - not least because it cannot be done. The quality of faith required is similar, but when we are conscious of the alternative that makes a permanent difference; and is meant to.

Chiu ChunLing said...

Well, not all of us are post-atheistic men in any sense other than having been born after the invention of atheism, which has been true of all men since well before the birth of Christ.

So what you say may be true, but not in a way that I can discern.

As for myself, I return quite often to that vale of inarticulate feeling without the clarity of logically constrained abstract reasoning. Both by necessity and intention, because I believe there is much good in it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - Whether it applies to you, the issue of us being in a society of, and with the assumptions of, post-atheism is what is distinctive about this time and place. I mean, we are some generations post-Christian, atheist materialism is not just a theory for us, but the assumption, built-into all public discourse - increasingly it is a coerced assumption (among native white men, anyway - although in recent years even PC-protected groups, and non-Christians, are being coerced).

Christianity is 'about' the twice-born, the born-again - and that applies at a social level. The once born, the always-Christian, are 'not a problem, salvifically - although they may be very limited in their theosis, and are often very vulnerable to social pressures.