As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I think it’s also worth mentioning that their are two kinds of trust. Our friend murk seems to think that only believers acknowledge that their beliefs are based on trust, and that skeptics are mistakenly assuming they don’t need to trust. He seems to think that this is because only God is trustworthy, and skeptics don’t want to trust God.
What he’s overlooking is the fact that there are two kinds of trust: there’s reality-based trust, which skeptics have, and then there’s the kind of trust where you believe what someone tells you, even though it isn’t really consistent with what we find in material reality. That latter form of trust has acquired a bad name: gullibility. But why is gullibility a bad thing? Because we’ve learned through experience that gullibility deceives you and makes you more likely to be wrong. Yet among believers, believing what you’re told, despite the evidence, is considered a spiritual virtue. It’s called “faith,” and it’s seen as a sign of closeness to God and as a source of spiritual insights. Small wonder, then, that this kind of “faith” leads to so many different kinds of belief.
The problem with basing your life on because-someone-said-so trust (aka “gullibility”) is that there’s no accountability. Once someone achieves the status of being a “spiritual authority,” they can say whatever they like, and no one can contradict them. “Faith,” in this context, means believing what you’re told without regard for what you see in the real world, which means you can never tell whether or not what they say is true. Whatever happens in the real world gets filtered through a “worldview” that automatically supplies whatever additional excuses or rationalizations you need in order to convince yourself that the spiritual authority is correct despite the facts. Such an approach leads inevitably to a kind of invincible agnosticism, because you can never know what the truth really is, you can only know that you believe whatever you’re told, regardless.
Reality-based trust, by contrast, is accountable. There’s nothing wrong with believing what people tell you provided that what they say can be verified by comparing it with objective reality. The other word for reality-based trust is “skepticism”—checking out what people tell you, and holding on to the things you can verify. A lot of people confuse skepticism with denial, because they tend to encounter it in connection with things that they want to believe despite the facts. Skepticism, however, is not denial. It’s a kind of trust, a validated trust, that takes reality itself as the standard for deciding what should be believed and what should be rejected.
It is the skeptics, therefore, that have the best faith, because they employ a reality-based trust, and reality is the ultimate truth. There’s no virtue in cultivating an ability to believe whatever you’re told no matter how inconsistent it is with the real world. That’s just gullibility. If you want real faith, you need to be a skeptic and base your faith on reality itself.