Yesterday’s news reports were filled with various homilies delivered during Easter services. One in particular caught my attention; it was given by the Archbishop of the Church of Wales and reported by the BBC. The archbishop opined about faith:
“Without a degree of faith and trust, no one would fall in love, neither would any of us catch a plane or go for an operation or allow our children to walk to school. All these are undertaken in trust and contain an element of risk. Belief in God, faith, is very similar.”
It seems to me that the trust we have when flying in an airplane or undergoing a medical operation is fundamentally different from the “faith” involved with religious belief. Indeed, they are completely different things.
This style of argument reminds me of the postmodern critique of science as a mere “social construction.” If science is a mere social construction (i.e., an imaginary cultural enterprise consisting of symbolic discourse), then why do postmodernists go to the doctor when they get sick? Are those antibiotics they take for bacterial infections mere placebos?
Trusting that an airplane will fly and you will be safely delivered to a destination is not based on blind faith. Similarly, you do not undergo an operation blindly believing that something good might happen. A great deal of empirical research, experimentation, design, and testing goes into airplane flights and medical operations.
Religious faith rests on a completely different set of assumptions than the trust we place in activities which we may not fully understand (because we are not scientists, doctors, or engineers) or which involve some risk. Unlike the archbishop, I fail to see how belief in God is “very similar” to belief that an airplane will fly or that an operation will work.
I am not walking to school today; I am either riding the bus or a motorcycle. I trust that I will arrive safely based on an assessment of probabilities grounded in observable and testable phenomena. The supernatural is, by definition, neither observable nor testable.