Q & R: Faith? Relative Certainty?

Here’s the Q:

I apologize in advance for the length of this message, but I feel a need to explain myself thoroughly. I consider myself to be an agnostic atheist — that is, I don’t believe in God, but I can’t say that with absolute certainty. So by your definition, I have made some sort of leap of faith toward atheism.
I’ve been reading Finding Faith: A Search for What Makes Sense at the insistence of my mother, who raised me in the evangelical Protestantism that I abandoned in college. I like to keep an open mind, and I will say that I have been pleasantly surprised by your book. You are certainly no Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel, and I mean that as the highest possible compliment because, well, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel are [not my cup of tea].
I got to your section on Uncertainty Principles — including a quote from Albert Einstein — and I wanted to ask you about this excerpt on pp. 61-62 in my paperback:

Ironically, an unreflective person person is 100 percent certain of a lot more than a highly reflective one, because a highly reflective person eventually recognizes a number of “uncertainty principles,” including these:
1. That the “laws of logic” — the software that thought runs on — must be accepted on faith, being unprovable (since you have to assume them in order to prove them, which tends to not prove anything!): Thus all thought is ultimately based on a kind of faith!

I don’t think I can take that step with you. Let me give you an example: it has been said that our nearly universal acceptance of 2 + 2 = 4 is an act of faith. But is it really?
Every single character in that equation is a linguistic symbol that we have agreed upon as a culture (as with any language) to represent a very tangible, demonstrable thing. A Mandarin speaker could just as easily write a line with the same meaning that looked completely different. But the principles of that are not faith — they are what you might describe as a “mundane fact,” as almost any primary school teacher will tell you when they teach lessons on counting and basic arithmetic. If I put (what I call) “two” oranges on the table, I can count that there are two. If I then count two more and add (the + sign) them to the existing two, I can count them all, and I will arrive at four..at least if I’m speaking English properly. It takes no faith whatsoever to accept that, only a tacit willingness to agree to speak the same language that everyone else is speaking so that you can communicate with one another. Once we do that (again, as an agreement on language, not as faith), then we can build more complex thoughts on this understanding, demonstrating our logic each step of the way like a proof table in geometry class.
So the great thing about real science is that it’s repeatable and testable and, when it discovers new information that might contradict the old understanding, it is flexible enough to adjust and refine. Science is self-correcting, but faith is not…as we saw in this week’s debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.
Of course, you’re quite right that we all deal in “practical certainty,” but to describe that as faith is misleading. I recently bought a new car, and I’m the type of consumer who researches purchases extensively before making them. I chose my particular make and model of car because it had a strong reputation for reliability based on very large samples of data collected by Consumer Reports, which is a magazine that earns no profits and accepts no advertisements that might bias their findings. It’s not a perfect guide, and it’s not the only one I used, but it seems to be the most trustworthy.
Was that a guarantee that my car would be reliable? No, I made a bet based on probabilities, and it’s certainly possible that I could lose that bet and get a lemon. My feelings toward this manufacturer are not matters of faith, they are matters of statistical confidence — and I certainly don’t see them as infallible. If their quality and reliability scores were to decline in future years, I would decide to switch to another manufacturer for my next car…I have switched brands before.
So relative certainty is not the same thing as faith — it’s an acknowledgement that we are making a “best guess,” and hopefully we are making informed decisions. That’s how I feel about these bigger questions too — like whether God exists and, if so, what God is like. Do I trust the words of ancient people who also wrote about talking serpents and donkeys and people being swallowed by fish and living to tell about it? People whose accounts of our origins are so demonstrably incorrect, as Bill Nye demonstrated this week? People who wrote that God ordered King Saul to slaughter the Amalekite women, children, infants and animals?
The problem with faith in that sense is that it’s subjective — it cannot be disproven. Anyone can say anything on faith…who is to argue that it doesn’t make sense? According to the Bible, we’re supposed to live by faith and NOT by sight, or we’re supposed to have faith like children or sheep. But if my sight tells me something different, should I ignore or discredit that as Ken Ham does?
So, I strive to live a life without faith…where I act only on the best information that I have, where I’m willing to admit that I am only acting on a level of practical certainty, and that I’m willing to adjust to new information…wherever it leads me.
What do you think?

Here’s the R:
Thanks for your question. Actually, Finding Faith is one of my earlier books that I still very much like but that, given the chance, I would make several changes in. I see your point about the difference between disprovable and assertions and unprovable ones. That’s a good distinction and I would need to deal with it if I had the chance to rewrite that section of Finding Faith. (Which I may have the chance to do, and so thanks for the help!)
I was especially intrigued by your statement:

Science is self-correcting, but faith is not…

As Thomas Kuhn pointed out, there are points of resistance to self-correction in the scientific community … and as I would hope my work would point out (along with the work of many others), there are ways of approaching faith that are deeply committed to self-correction. The title of my upcoming book is actually a way of saying that faith must be a self-correcting journey.
In that way, I would hope I could say (almost quoting you):

So, I strive to live a life of good and honest faith…where I act only on the best information that I have, where I’m willing to admit that I am only acting on a level of practical certainty, and that I’m willing to adjust to new information…wherever it leads me.

I’ve found it impossible to reduce my curiosity to the kind of mundane 2 + 2 = 4 information that is self-evident, undoubtable, and virtually certain. That kind of information tends to be the kind that helps us survive and function physically, but doesn’t help so much with the deeper questions of meaning, purpose, and value. You might say that people can’t (over the long run?) live on the bread of disprovable data alone …
Having said that, though, with all the religious claims out there – from those of 6-day creationists to climate deniers to would-be terrorists awaiting virgins in heaven to some of the folks who regularly tell me I’m going to burn in hell for disagreeing with their understanding of God – I am highly sympathetic to your desire to be skeptical and careful. That’s why, in the book, I spent a lot of time trying to distinguish between what I called “bad faith” and “good faith.”