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IMO: Definitions

by Mike Weaver

April 2, 2013

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This article marks the first of a new series of editorial pieces. The IMO (In My Opinion) articles will represent my personal thoughts and opinions on items which, hopefully, are of some interest to the Skeptoid community. This articles do not, of course, represent any official thoughts of, Mr Dunning, or any other contributors to the site. All that said, I would like to share some thoughts on definitions.

I find that, often, the crux of any debate or argument can be found in differing definitions. This is so often the core of the disagreement that I make a conscious effort to define my terms and understand the definitions used by the other party before we get into the meat of the issue. I strongly encourage such a tactic in your debates. It continues to surprise me how many disagreements are rooted in differing definitions. I'm going to use the word faith as an example of this.

When discussing faith, or belief, it is vital to be clear on what is meant by faith. I judge that there are two primary definitions in popular use; trust and belief. Possibly the most common usage in modern United States cultures is one of religion or belief. When one is a believer in a religion or religious dogma, one is said to have faith in that religion, dogma, God, etc. In this context, faith connotes belief without proof or evidence. An interesting example of this is when governments or politicians wish to refer to religious or religiously affiliated organizations without bringing "religion" into the narrative. These organizations are now commonly referred to as "faith-based" organizations. Religious people, similarly, are often referred to as "persons of faith". I don't know, but I reckon that this is due to a number of factors. Perhaps there is fear of backlash, ACLU-style responses, separation of church and state issues, and the Establishment Clause. Using faith in this style is a bit lower-key, perhaps less likely to cause a negative response.

The second primary definition of faith that is relevant is one of trust. This may be a bit more archaic, I'm no linguist or historian of my language to properly judge. Consider the following words or usage cases; faithful friend, faithless, keeping the faith. A synonym could be reliable, perhaps. This is the form of faith that I use most often. In this usage and context, faith is more concretely used. I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow. This is a trust case, I trust that the sun will rise, I rely upon it. I have ample evidence that it will rise tomorrow. There is considerable good science to support it, solid theories that have withstood considerable testing, extensive observational evidence, multiple lines of evidence, etc. A faithful friend is one in which you can place your trust, you know that they will support you. Old Faithful, the geyser in Yellowstone Park, is so named because you can trust it to erupt on schedule. A faithless person is one in which no trust can be placed.

I have faith in science, not as a religious person has faith in God, but rather in the same way I have faith in the sunrise. Science, as a process, has shown itself to work time and again. The evidence is ample, the theories are solid and tested, the process is self-correcting.

While it may seem to be a trivial exercise in pedantry to go on in such length about definitions, I am of the firm belief that such exercises are crucial to proper communication and productive discussion. As an exercise for the reader,consider the definitions you use and others may use for these words:

  • Consciousness

  • Belief

  • Science

  • Theory

  • Wrong

  • Right

  • Truth

I thank you for reading and I welcome your comments and feedback.

by Mike Weaver

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