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Faith is such a successful brainwasher in its own favour, especially of children, that it is hard to break its hold. But what, after all, is faith? It is a state of mind that leads people to believe something—it doesn’t matter what—in the total absence of supporting evidence. If there were good supporting evidence then faith would be superfluous, for the evidence would compel us to believe it anyway [my italics]. It is this that makes the often-parroted claim that ‘evolution itself is a matter of faith’ so silly. People believe in evolution not because they arbitrarily want to believe it but because of overwhelming, publicly available evidence.

...I don’t want to argue that the things in which a particular individual has faith are necessarily daft. They may or may not be. The point is that there is no way of deciding whether they are, and no way of preferring one article of faith over another, because evidence is explicitly eschewed. Indeed the fact that true faith doesn’t need evidence is held up as its greatest virtue; this was the point of my quoting the story of Doubting Thomas, the only really admirable member of the twelve apostles.

Faith cannot move mountains (though generations of children are solemnly told the contrary and believe it). But it is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness. It leads people to believe in whatever it is so strongly that in extreme cases they are prepared to kill and to die for it without the need for further justification... Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes them against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr’s death will send them straight to heaven. What a weapon! Religious faith deserves a chapter to itself in the annals of war technology, on an even footing with the longbow, the warhorse, the tank, and the hydrogen bomb.

Richard Dawkins

[The harsh view expressed in the above passage by militant atheist and Darwinian enthusiast, Richard Dawkins, is an example of an attitude towards faith that is often found in Western intellectual culture. Such an attitude is not only counter-productive, but intellectually inadequate. From the italicized sentences it would appear that Dawkins is unaware that the evidence for faith-beliefs, like the evidence for beliefs generally, is usually built on non-deductive inferences involving probability and common sense. This means that evidence for many faith-beliefs is non-coercive rather than non-existent. He also seems to have momentarily forgotten that evidence is what the facts yield only after applying certain principles of interpretation; and that honest, intelligent, well-informed people often differ in their interpretations of the same set of agreed facts. Finally, Dawkins fails to allow a legitimate distinction between rational and irrational faith. Yet, our common sense tells us that without faith it is impossible to live our lives intelligently, and that, far from being intellectually deficient or reprehensible, a leap of faith is sometimes the only reasonable course of action. We can only conclude that Dawkins’s antagonism towards religious faith—especially religious faith which conflicts with his passionate belief in a designer-free interpretation of evolutionary theory—has left him with a conception of faith that is both prejudiced and impoverished.]

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