8 April 2014

Faith is irrational

In my previous posting I discussed any religion's Achilles heel. That is, belief. And I argued that without belief any religion falls into pieces. All religions demand belief. And some demand it so vehemently that any follower must feel fear: the fear that he or she will be punished (by the mullahs, the priests, the devils, the spirits...) if he or she does not confess belief.

Belief in belief has become a "virtue". Religion has succeeded in not only demanding belief but also in elevating the concept of belief into nobility. Even non-religious people are supposed to respect those who believe. Belief in belief has become a de facto concept. And we are not supposed to question it.

I watched (on youtube) a great debate on the question of  "does science refute god" which took place last August, under the auspices of an organization called intelligence-squared. The party supporting the proposition consisted of Lawrence Krauss and Michael Shermer and those against were Dinesh D'Souza and Ian Hutchinson (an MIT engineer). Krauss and Shermer spoke based on logical arguments. The other two appeared reasonable at times but could not escape the fact that they are both supporters of a particular religion (and, of course, this immediately weakens any kind of arguments they may have). I had never heard D'Souza before but he appeared to have nothing novel to say. In particular, I was totally taken aback when he reached the point to defend faith. He said: "faith is rational". I found that amazing. He gave an example. He said that if 95% people in a village believe that there is a guy called Bill (but have never met him) and 5% don't then we must accept their opinion. Same is with god, he implied. Krauss (or Shermer--I can't remember) replied that there is a subtle point: we know that there are Bills in this world. :-) Both D'Souza and Hutchinson claimed that, through religion, they seek (and find) knowledge which is not provided by science. And, by this, they meant questions like "what is the purpose of our existence?" or "why did I make a cup of tea?" and the like. As usual, the fail to see that some questions are non-questions. Why should one even suppose that these questions are answerable. Why should there be a purpose at all? Cry as you like, there might be no purpose in your being here and no purpose in the existence of the universe. This (answers to these questions), they call "knowledge". And they claim they obtain this knowledge through religion. Not just any religion, but through the particular religion they happen to support. D'Souza was asked how come he doesn't see that religion is so much connected to someone's background/location. He replied that he grew up in India where most people are Hindu, Jain, Muslim, and Christianity is a minority. He didn't understand the question: even if he himself chose an uncommon (for his milieu) religion, the fact is that there is a very-very strong correlation between one's religion and one's place of birth. Besides, I checked it on wikipedia and saw that he was raised in a Catholic family (kind of obvious from his surname, a remnant of Portuguese colonialism).

Faith is rational, they said, and this is something I've never heard before from, supposedly, intelligent people. Hutchinson is a prof. at MIT. I don't know what D'Souza's job is. He appears to be someone who doesn't like Obama and is paid to prove that the Republican party will save the world. And then, of course, he must be a Christian. He has to be. He can't be involved in American politics without showing how much of a believer he is.

Belief/faith are not virtues. They are to be avoided. We use them, unavoidably, because we don't have infinite amount of time to check everything, but we are free to question anything. The fear to open one's mind up and ask questions (or dare express doubt) is what leads to faith. The fear of punishment also leads to faith. People in North Korea must believe in the superpowers of their leader. They must have faith. They must appear to be professing this faith publicly (else their heads will be chopped off). Tit for tat when it comes to religious faith. Or any kind of faith for that matter.

Sorry Dinesh, but faith is irrational. It makes sense only in the presence of fear or in presence of monetary incentives (being a political advocator of the Republican Party without publicly proclaiming that you are a good Christian believer will reduce your monthly salary. Guaranteed.)


  1. Well, we’ve already seen that when Takis says “religion”, he means “religion-takis”, so I keep that in mind while I read this.

    As humans, we are irrational the vast majority of our days. That is, we are non-reflective but acting on instincts (subconscious trust) of things we can’t prove. Our days are largely based on faith. And that is a good thing — otherwise, humans would die off.

    I guess we need faith-Takis now. Or you could call it one of these.

    1. Sabio,
      Religious faith is very different from other kinds of belief. First of all, most religions start by asking people to believe in something impossible. Second, religious belief is an increasing function of the amount of evidence against it. In science, when we say "I believe that the universe is expanding" is a statement which, currently, seems to be true based on evidence. Indeed, I am not in that domain and so I have to believe that the people who work in this field are not lying, and I do. However, should the need arise I would examine it myself and if it so happened that new evidence showed that, say, the statement is not true, both I and others would change their belief quickly.

      Religious belief/faith is the apotheosis of irrationality.



What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant