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Leap of Faith – Committing to Ideas & Taking Actions Without Evidence (REPEAT)

(Due to strong interest, this is a repeat of the January 19 Meetup on this topic.)

Although most of us think first of religion when we hear the word “faith,” in this discussion we’ll take a look at the secular side of faith. For a working definition of faith, here’s the second definition in the Miriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary: “firm or unquestioning belief in something for which there is no proof” and the fifth definition: “something that is believed or adhered to especially with strong conviction, such as the fundamental tenets, views, or beliefs of an individual or group on a particular subject or in a particular field.”

How often do we take a “leap of faith” in committing to an idea or course of action on the basis of intuition? How does it usually turn out? Could better awareness of faith - what we believe in and trust - help us come up with better ideas and make better decisions? Does faith enable us to make quick decisions that are essential to our survival, as evolutionary psychologists suggest it did for our ancestors? Or, in today’s complex world, does faith usually lead us astray? Can faith be based on knowledge and rational process or is it all intuition? How much of secular faith is based on superstition? Can we control faith or does it control us? We can explore faith in science, engineering, economics, finance, politics, the arts, personal relationships and any other area of interest to the participants. Do you have faith in democracy, public education, the dollar, the scientific method, the Internet, your employer, investigative journalism, your computer’s hard drive, or that the other driver will stay on his or her side of the road? Is your faith limited or absolute?

At the beginning of the creative process, faith seems to give us the power to formulate an idea, embark on a journey, or conduct an experiment before we know whether it’s worth pursuing. Getting started is important, but how can we exercise rational supervision to keep us on the right road? Later on in the thinking or doing processes, faith seems keeps us going. But what about confirmation bias? Can we objectively judge the validity of our own ideas and creations? Faith alone may lead to pipe dreams instead of the results we seek. We may admire commitment when it’s based on faith but we are also wary of blind faith and over-commitment. How can we know the difference or find a balance?

The idea for this topic came to me while reading Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling” for the Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society series, “The Art of Living.” The author extolled the virtues of faith so effectively that, even though I disagree with Kierkegaard’s Christian theology and existentialist philosophy, I admired the biblical Abraham, who Kierkegaard presented as the archetype of faith – having the courage to sacrifice his son without reason or understanding – without even questioning. I realized that, like Abraham, we must often trust our faith when there is no other way to know. But unlike Abraham, my faith is in science and rational processes and I continue to question the sources and validity of my faith.

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  • Edward

    Is this meetup group involved in social media?

    February 3, 2014

  • Edward

    It was my such a pleasure meeting so many intellectual and wise people at this meetup. Can't wait to have future discussions and debates with you guys.

    February 3, 2014

  • Charlotte W.

    Had to cancel early in eh week

    February 1, 2014

  • Charlotte W.

    Had to cancel...sent an email early in the week.

    February 1, 2014

  • Jennifer A.

    Hello, unfortunately I am unable to make this very interesting discussion. So sorry but hope to make one meetup soon with this great group.

    February 1, 2014

  • John S. J.

    Re technology playing God (noted below), here is an article published three days ago on artificial intelligence possibly ending the human race: "Google's New A.I. Ethics Board Might Save Humanity From Extinction," http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/29/google-ai_n_4683343.html . More experts are becoming concerned about what used to be just science fiction. I think it could happen sooner than we may expect, possibly within a human lifetime -- meaning that it could kill millions of people now alive, as well as eliminating all future generations.

    Here is a possible escape hatch that I haven't heard suggested. Clearly machines can be far more suitable than humans for colonizing space -- bringing intelligent life to some of the sun's other planets, and eventually to galaxies. They might realize that humans, being so unfit for extraterrestrial survival, would not need to be killed but could be left behind on Earth without being a serious threat.

    February 1, 2014

  • John S. J.

    While searching my email for "faith" just to check the starting time of today's meeting, I also found this: "A Leap of Faith: My Call for Moral Leadership at Davos," http://go.sojo.net/site/MessageViewer?em_id=36821.0&dlv_id=47061

    January 31, 2014

  • Nasir O.

    Faith, Hmm… Metaphysical Certitude. I believe There is no deity worthy of my Worship except ALLAH.(Translated means Theee GoD, Architect of reality. Master of the Last Day; The Origin of what is what ever there was and what will ever be). To say I believe this is more of a misnomer. I would say I submit to this reality I would be interested in exploring the meaning of faith as it is in reality and it's relevance in other . In Islam The goal for us is Metaphysical Certitude. It's ideal is the pinnacle of faith. I am an engineer who has taken some time learning about philosophy. My favorite philosophers are the 19th century German Philosophers like Kant, Hegel and Schopenhauer. I want to understand the evolution faith in european history.

    January 31, 2014

  • Duc du c.

    Hello everyone,
    Hope you are all doing well. I am joining in because, after having published "The philosophy of thinking" as a humanist, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to our society in general and this group in particular, to toss in a word on the subject at issue. In my humble opinion, I think that faith is the beacon which guides and misguides us, depending on how much stock we invest in it at various moments. It seems to be at times, the obvious hand which stirs our courage from within to rise above fear. As it can be at moments, its lack of existence which renders so invisible, that same hand reaching out to pull us to safety. Faith can't simply be discovered, we had to have been born with it. As we do not ever have faith, it has us in the secured palm of its hands, when in it we believe. It it that safety net when most relevant, helps us to make that blind leap. As a past altar boy and an adult cantor, I can't separate my faithful trust from my trusting faith.

    January 27, 2014

  • Jennifer A.

    This is a great topic-- I hope to make this one, if not the next or another one soon. I do have a topic proposal that has to do with biomedical ethics and faith. I think you may find it interesting if you'd like to hear.

    January 23, 2014

    • Jennifer A.

      Well, actually I was going in a slightly different direction on the topic though your points sound interesting. I was thinking more along the lines of modern scientific advances and the danger of having too much control from the ability to make these advances that it seems scientists can play God. On its most extreme end, but possible, it would today modern scientific advances

      January 24, 2014

    • Jennifer A.

      Today it would seem modern scientific advances could make for the expression " experiments gone wrong" and a bad sci - fi film. Medical advances have gotten us far with the technology behind it, but what about the ethics of cloning, for example. Or other such abilities well-meaning "to improve the human condition" from disease and death but whose outcomes and ultimate ends can be more detrimental if they hadn't tried to improve upon it in the first place, leaving it in its natural state. Is scientifically or medically always improving things always a good thing? Are there limits to what science can and cannot do for now and for our future given that "we have the technology" ? Where are the lines of ethics drawn? Are they clear-cut-- if not, what is the resolution of ethics that can be suggested or proposed?

      January 24, 2014

  • John S. J.

    I'm looking for examples of errors of secular faith -- where well-meaning, sane, and intelligent people hold a lifelong or years'-long faith, which is clearly wrong or very widely believed to be so. I'm looking at the secular realm, since with religious faith there's usually no way to tell. What can we learn from such cases?

    A well-known example might be Linus Pauling on vitamin C vs. colds. This example suffers because we don't know for sure that he was wrong.

    Another example concerns Ramanujan, a genius mathematician in India, who was largely self-taught, widely recognized as one of the greatest mathematicians ever, but all his life believed a few things that other mathematicians say are simply erroneous. But Ramanujan only lived 32 years, and maybe just didn't have time to correct those beliefs.

    Another kind of failure of faith is various utopian beliefs that didn't work out. But weakening these examples is the legitimate uncertainty: no one knows how history will turn out.

    January 19, 2014

    • Sandy C.

      John, your example of Linus Pauling's faith in vitamin C is good but extreme example of how even scientists can get caught up in irrational commitment to their own ideas. Most scientists would have backed off after peer-reviewed long-term studies contradicted Pauling's position. But we should expect some degree of confirmation bias from even the most objective creative thinkers and scientists. That people have faith in their own ideas may be essential to give them the courage to propose, develop and defend them, but we shouldn't expect them to objectively evaluate their own work.

      1 · January 19, 2014

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