Wonderism vs. faith

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Wonderism vs. faith

Here's an article on Wonderism vs. faith. Excerpt:

One way of thinking about wonderism is as an acknowledgment and appreciation of the wondering mind to continually probe the limits of knowledge with question after question, seeking to expand knowledge more and more. I desire to know, and not just 'to know', but also 'to know how to know'. One of the best questions to ask of yourself is, "Well, how do I really know that?" This is a kind of self-skepticism that is generally healthy and can often lead to the shocking discovery, "Hmm, well, I honestly don't actually know that." There's nothing wrong with honest ignorance, nothing to be ashamed about. Admitting ignorance without shame is the first step to learning something new.

Things get a little more complicated when trying to learn knowledge from other people. People can lie, or be deceived, or simply be wrong. Usually, there's no obvious indication that what someone is telling you is wrong on the surface. You have to dig a little deeper, which is where the idea of 'knowing how to know' becomes even more important. So, a really good question to ask another person is, "Well, how do you really know that?"

This is a request not just for the other person to communicate 'what they know', but to communicate 'how they know', or 'the method by which they came to know'. It is asking, "Show me how I can know that, too." All of this boils down to communicating a 'way of knowing'. If the 'way of knowing' isn't trustworthy, then why should we accept any claims made based on that 'way of knowing'?

Pretending to know

And here is where wonderism bumps up against the concept of 'faith', which for my purposes I define as "pretending to know what you really don't." More specifically, it is holding a strong belief, or claim to knowledge, based on personal conviction in the absence of a good way of knowing. Of course, those who value faith will certainly disagree with my characterization of it. But I will defend it here.

When someone relies on faith, that is an admission that they don't really have a good way of knowing. They have given up on answering the "How do you know that?" questions. They inevitably answer along the lines of, "Our book says so," or "God told us," or "It's just a mystery," or "It's beyond understanding," or "I just know". Worse, they might answer, "You can't ask that," or "Because we'll hurt you," or "Die unbeliever!"

Sheesh! It's just a question! If they don't know, why don't they just say, "I don't know."? Because they can't. That would be admitting that they don't know, they just believe. And that would give the whole game away. Faith is saying, "I don't know how I know, I just know."

To a wonderist, this translates as, "I don't know, but I believe that I know," or more blatantly as, "I believe that I know the unknown." This is why I say that faith is pretending to know what you really don't.

To a wonderist this is unsatisfying at best and unacceptable at worst. I am not satisfied with giving up at "I don't know." I still want to know. I still wonder. I'm not going to pretend I know what I don't. If I don't know something, I want to admit my ignorance, not hide it. This is how I learn new things, and I love learning.

Faith is unacceptable to a wonderist, because it puts a stop on questioning and learning, on wondering. It does not admit its own ignorance. It is ashamed of ignorance. It is afraid of ignorance. Ultimately, faith is based on fear of the unknown, i.e. terror. In the face of the unknown, faith is afraid and tries to hide the unknown under a blanket of false-knowledge. This surely quenches some of the fear of the unknown, but it is definitely not wonderism. Wonderism faces the unknown, experiences the awe of both terror and wonder, takes a momentary step back, and then chooses wonder: To approach the unknown with curiosity, to learn, and to ultimately acquire some genuine knowledge of what was previously unknown. This, too, quenches the fear, but with real knowledge, not by unquestioned belief masquerading as knowledge.

Faith is fear of the unknown. They wrap up the unknown in a little package of beliefs, point to the beliefs and say, "I know that!" How do they know? They can't answer, because they don't really know. They just believe.

Faith fails

The only answer they can provide is the circular non-answer of "You just gotta have faith!" This is like saying that 'faith' is itself actually a 'way of knowing'. This is a very common argument for faith -- perhaps the main one, and the reason the word is tossed around so much. It is how many religions spread their beliefs.

When the wonderist asks, "How do you know that?" they answer, "By faith!" This is the most common and pernicious form of the exhortation to believe without knowing. It goes along the lines of, "You just gotta have faith!" and "I know it's true because I have faith. Don't you have faith?" and "We're better than those wretched faithless non-believers." and "Those without faith will suffer." and, worse, "We will institute the suffering, justified by our faith."

None of these are answers to "How do you know that?" unless faith really is a way of knowing. Should we just discard it without giving it a chance? There are many arguments against faith as a 'way of knowing'. Many atheists were former believers, and they can attest to the inadequacy of faith in countless different ways, but I'm going to make a wonderist argument against it.

A common defense of faith as a 'way of knowing' is that, "It's just so wonderful!" Faith is seen as a virtue. The implication is that, "If everyone shared my faith, the world would be so much better." Or, in more liberal societies, "If everyone just had faith in something, it doesn't matter what, the world would be so much better." But is this really true? No, of course not.

We can look around, and see that all these people who claim faith is a way of knowing all seem to disagree with what faith 'knows'. Different faiths directly contradict each other. Christians have faith that Muslims will go to hell. Muslims have faith that Christians will go to hell. If faith is really a way of knowing, then how can they all be right? Even people from the 'same' religion have faith in different dogmas and split into literally thousands of sects because of these disagreements. Much intolerance and violence results, even today, throughout the world.

Can faith actually reduce conflict in the world? Is there a way to settle these disagreements using faith? Is there a way to determine true faith from untrue faith? Here's a thought experiment:

Imagine two people, A and B, who have contradictory beliefs, X and Y. A believes X, and B believes Y. X and Y cannot both be true at the same time. Thus, A and B have a disagreement, a difference of opinion.

Now, imagine we could turn up the faith knobs in this situation, giving each person more and more faith. As you increase their faith, you increase each person's conviction that their personal opinion is true. A believes X even more strongly than before, with greater faith and conviction. And B believes Y even more strongly than before, with greater faith and conviction. The two people are further entrenched in the prior beliefs, and agreement is even further apart than at the beginning. The disagreement has increased! That seems odd.

Now take the same two people in the initial experiment, and this time turn up the evidence-based reasoning knob. Increase the degree to which the people seek out more and more evidence, evaluate it by testing the predictions of X and Y, and follow where the evidence leads. As you increase their evidence-based reasoning, the two people will start gathering more and more evidence. If belief Y is true, then the more evidence is gathered, the more it will mount in support of Y, and in contradiction to X. A starts to see the incorrect predictions his X theory makes, and the correct predictions the Y theory makes, based on the evidence. Following the evidence, A switches to the Y theory. Now both people believe Y, and agreement has increased!

Evidence leads to agreement. Faith leads to disagreement.

Faith doesn't lead to knowledge. It is not a 'way of knowing' it's a way of fooling yourself into believing you know what you really don't. Faith is a way of turning a belief that is merely false into a belief that is a strong delusion. And the more faith you use, the more deluded you become. Faith turns fantasy into sacred 'truth', and opinion into dogma. Faith leads to disagreement, conflict, intolerance, violence, and chaos. More and more faith cannot resolve these issues, it can only make them worse.

Contrary to even the mildest of faith-based believers, faith ultimately leads to greater terror, not greater wonder. Faith fails.

Thankfully, nobody needs faith. We can accept our ignorance without shame or fear, we can embrace the unknown with curiosity, and seek to learn and expand our knowledge to greater and greater frontiers. This way leads to greater wonder.

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