Donald B. McCormick, Ph.D
Religion - Science

                              Faith Can Be Used to Justify Anything

Faith can be used to justify anything - and nothing.

To the editor:  (The Highlander, Highlands, NC)

     We live in a world with ongoing conflicts that often become wars, which could potentially lead to the end of us all. It might be helpful to reflect on primal causes. A major problem is that we have developed disparate faiths, but lack the tolerance of respecting the rights of those who have beliefs that differ from our own.

     A scientist and philosopher who has underscored the problem with "blind faith" is Richard Dawkins, the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. In the 30th Anniversary edition of his Book, "The Selfish Gene" (Oxford University Press, 2006), Dawkins contends that "blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry". Further, "Blind faith can justify anything. If a man believes in a different god, or even if he uses a different ritual for worshipping the same god, blind faith can decree that he should die - on the cross, at the stake, skewered on a Crusader's sword, shot in a Beirut street, or blown up in a bar in Belfast. This is true of patriotic and political as well as religious blind faith. Faith is such a successful brainwasher in its own favour, especially a brainwasher of children, that it is hard to break its hold. But what, after all, is faith? It is a state of mind that leads people to believe something - it doesn't matter what - in the total absence of supporting evidence. If there were good supporting evidence then faith would be superfluous, for the evidence would compel us to believe anyway. It is this that makes the often-parroted claim that 'evolution itself is a matter of faith' so silly. People believe in evolution not because they want to believe it but because of overwhelming, publicly available evidence."

     More deleterious than the genesis of such quibbles as "faith can move mountains" (which it cannot) is that it can drive people to really dangerous follies. As Dawkins states, "It leads people to believe in whatever it is so strongly that in extreme cases they are prepared to kill and to die for it without the need for further justification. Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes them against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr's death will send them straight to heaven. What a weapon! Religious faith deserves a chapter to itself in the annals of war technology, on an even footing with the longbow, the warhorse, the tank, and the hydrogen bomb."

     My hope is that through ethical- and evidence-based beliefs we can minimize such blind faiths as have their own ruthless ends. If we are to survive, we must understand this.

                                                                            Donald B. McCormick,
                                                                            F.E. Callaway Professor Emeritus,
                                                                            Chairman of Biochemistry and
                                                                            Exec. Assoc. Dean for Science in the
                                                                            School of Medicine, Emory University,
                                                                            Atlanta, GA