Sunday, May 16, 2010

Faith is a Euphemism for Gambling

Qualia Soup and Theramin Trees said what I've taken to be the core of this idea pretty well in one of their videos.

Faith is equivalent to going to a casino, heading to a roulette table with an infinite number of numbers on the wheel, and betting on one based on a hunch. Probabilities are not considered, since one over an immeasurably large number is quite small. Books, relics, and so forth fill in the role of the "lucky" rabbit's foot.

The compulsive gamblers resent any effort to convince them to cut their losses. They even consider it a virtue to keep riding a losing streak, since they labor under the delusion that the laws of probability will bend to serve them and reward them for their stubbornness. This arrogance is encouraged to prevent change: Saying that you were wrong takes humility and courage. To a man of faith, these traits are signs of weakness. Humility cannot reside in a person who has delusions of perfection. To be humble is to acknowledge imperfection.

Science, on the other hand, is equivalent to getting a job at a stable company and doing hard, honest work in hopes of a paycheck. If the company goes bankrupt, you leave and apply for a job at a place that addresses the problems the previous one didn't.

Science plays for the best odds and knows there are no "sure things" in life: 99.9% odds means that there's a 0.1% chance you could be wrong. The fact that science-minded people know that they could be wrong means that they're willing to change if they find out they were mistaken. Humility is considered a strength because it acknowledges the need for change and improvement.

We all take on risks in this uncertain world. Science acknowledges our imperfections and works hard to minimize the dangers they pose. Science acknowledges that the universe is not limited to our self-serving imagination.

Faith is gambling on the "perfection" of your hunches. Faith is gambling on the arrogant belief that the universe is incapable of being beyond your imagination.