You know the story of the boy who cried, "Wolf!" while watching the villagers' sheep. He decided to have some fun and yelled out the warning when there was no wolf to get them all running out to the field. Of course, they were upset with him when they discovered it was a false alarm. We do not know how many times it took until the villagers stopped responding. Some might have stopped after the third time, others after the fourth, and maybe some lasted until the ninth. Whatever the case may be, when a wolf really came, the boy realized to his dismay that he had established a pattern and caused the villagers to believe all his yells were false alarms. The villagers had not predetermined to believe. They did not beg the shepherd, “Increase our faith.” They just believed, because that is the natural, reasonable response to a predictable pattern, especially when very predictable.
How do patterns and exceptions affect our beliefs?
The soil of predictability (positive or negative) naturally gives rise to trust (positive or negative). We go to bed every night so firmly believing that the morning will come that we don't even think about. We don't just believe—we know. We know it so deep down, so ingrained, that we don't even consider ourselves believers. We take the morning sunrise for granted. We don't preach it. We don't make dogmas about it. It is so predictable that we shape our lives around it—past, present, and future—naturally, without argumentation, doubt, or hesitation. The evidence is so consistent and overwhelming that only a fool would disbelieve.
But not all patterns are so invariable. Take the weather, for instance. When we think of Florida we think of warm sunshine and some afternoon rains. Once in a while it gets hurricanes in late summer. The state has a weather pattern within a range. The price of boarding up the house every ten years is worth the pleasant weather the rest of the time. However, if Florida sometimes froze 3 months in a year and got buried under five feet of snow, faith would be shaken and many residents would move away. Predictability builds faith, while major or persistent exceptions destroy faith.
This same principle holds with people. We don't expect perfection from others, but neither do we expect major exceptions. My wife might accidentally drop a dish on the floor once in a great while, but if the police knocked on my door charging that my wife went on a rampage with an ax in the neighbor's house, I would say they have the wrong door. It would be out of character for my wife. It would be far outside the predictable range of her known behavior for me to readily accept.
Why do we trust patterns?
Predictability naturally leads to belief. It is almost unavoidable. Our brains seem hard-wired to trust. This takes place on both a conscious and unconscious level. We can always choose to believe or disbelieve, but always the mind is building a framework, a belief system, into which we incorporate our conclusions. This is how we make sense of our world.
Even a disbelief and skepticism is a belief. For example, after so many times of being lied to by a friend, I gradually disbelieve in our friendship. That is because I gradually come to believe that the person is a liar out to take advantage of me. I always disbelieve something because I think I have a bigger, more predictable pattern to substantiate a different belief.
Our beliefs change because our perception of patterns in reality change, and information is what changes our perceptions. If we are at all reflective, we are constantly evaluating the predictability of the patterns that give rise to our beliefs. As we see the reliability factor change we change our beliefs accordingly. When we think we have seen enough to conclude a range of expectations than we form a belief. Until that time we hold it in abeyance. Which, of course, is also a belief based on our belief that we lack deciding information.
This brings us full circle to the fact that predictability gives rise to faith, and even unpredictability gives rise to faith, but in a negative sense. When I have too many conflicting observations to trust that you are a trustworthy person, I therefore believe that you are potentially untrustworthy and therefore keep my distance. Furthermore, because I have encountered so many untrustworthy people in my life, I begin assuming every stranger I meet is untrustworthy.
What patterns does eternity need?
In its raw, generic form, predictability breeds faith, but taken a step further, predictable goodness grows trust in its warmest, most confiding, most connecting form. We do not want merely an eternity of various beliefs collected about various things. We want an eternity where human relationships are open and intimate and reliable. We want an eternity where physical interactions are safe and invigorating. Therefore, we need an eternity of unexceptionally good predictable patterns.
One contrary exception will cause us to form a contrary belief. "Eternity is great, but…" That one single contradictory belief, based on one single exception to the pattern, gives rise to doubt and automatically excludes perfect trust. There is always a reservation, a question, a nagging doubt. That belief becomes part of our framework which in turn interprets new information and sooner or later, we will interpret something negatively. That negative belief, like all beliefs, will express itself in action. One negative action will influence others to believe and act negatively, then perfect good collapses into a sinkhole of evil.
We are so accustomed to contrary patterns, and adapting to survive in the face of contrary patterns, that we cannot wrap our minds around a perfectly good set of patterns. That just seems so impossible. Yet, impossible or not, perfectly good predictable patterns are absolutely essential if eternity is to avoid distrust, separation, suffering, and ultimately, death.
Can we have faith without a pattern?
There is such a thing as blind faith or dogmatic faith. We do this when we throw caution to the wind and get into a stranger's car in spite of signs telling us we shouldn't. We exercise dogmatic faith when we do something just because this is the way it has always been done, or "this is what the expert told me to do." There is always an authority ready to tell us what to believe, but how do we know if the so-called expert is really trustworthy? We often blindly assume that what our church or culture or leadership is telling us is what we should do, but how do we know that our they are correct in the greater scheme of things?
At some point a pattern is so large that it seems unreasonable not to believe, but at the other end of the spectrum, a pattern can be so small or contradictory that it is unreasonable to trust. At what point is there too little evidence to make the leap of faith? The answer will vary case by case, but when there is too little evidence we begin experiencing the pains and consequences of gullibility.
In your words:
When you were a child, how much of your faith was based authority vs patterns? What is the ratio now? Give an example of a pattern building your trust and of an exception breaking your trust. Why is faith often thought to be in opposition to science?