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Reality-based faith or faith-based reality – that is the question


So I was checking phone messages and heard a vigorous voice – obviously that of a wise, sagacious and enlightened soul – saying, “I am assuming you are the Mr. Clegg who writes the column for the paper, which my wife and I enjoy immensely. You are a voice of reason in an otherwise insane world.”

He went on to say that he had an idea for me to write about sometime.

“Ha!” thought I, “I have a fan! Finally!” (Actually, even two.)

So I risked losing my entire audience by forgetting to call him back for several days. But all was well, as we had a delightful conversation, and he did, in fact, have a good idea.

He wanted me to consider writing about the difference between “faith-based reality” and “reality-based faith.” Nifty phrasing, which I told him I planned on stealing, and he told me to run with it if I could. So I will.

Like I always say, “Even if it’s true, people don’t necessarily believe it, and if they do believe it, it isn’t necessarily true.”

I’m going to just plain forget about nuance here, in considering the difference between the two phrases, and go with my dictionary definition of the word fact: “a thing that is indisputably the case.”

I’ll say that reality-based faith is dependent upon factuality, while the other … well, just about anything goes. And while faith-based reality isn’t always wrong, it tends to play fast and loose with what is “indisputably the case.”

That the sun “rises” – i.e., the planet rotates, certain areas facing the sun accordingly – is reality-based faith. I’ll give you whatever odds you want that this will continue to be the case.

There’s a good philosophical argument against this kind of reasoning – Bertrand Russell pithily summarized it as the chicken who was just dandy every day until the farmer wrung its neck – but, again, I’m not after shades of gray here. For once (much as it goes against my nature), everything’s going to be black and white.

So, in the spirit of determining which is what, I’d like to offer a little true/false quiz regarding certain items that are held to be true by one or the other party, and let you see whether you’re faith-based or reality-based.

The scary thing, of course, is the possible consequences of the answers, which I’ll address at the end.

•Heaven and hell are real, where one literally goes after “dying,” dependent upon right (or wrong) belief, i.e., picking the right god.

•While one might argue over just what a “soul” is, for all intents and purposes, this life is it – all we’ve got, sayonara baby, game over.

•There is a true God, our savior, who cares about us, personally.

•Theism is wrong. There are no personal gods, and as to the rest, who knows? It doesn’t matter one way or the other.

•The earth is around 10,000 years old, humans coexisted with dinosaurs, and evolution is a farce.

•The earth is about 4.5 billion years old. We don’t know the origins of life but we evolved from simpler life forms. Certain details are in dispute but not the theory itself.

It should be no surprise where I stand on each question, but the faith-based reality folks actually outnumber me here in the good old USA. Amazingly, about 44 percent of Americans deny evolution – “a thing that is indisputably the case” – totally.

Can we survive this level of ignorance? As E.O. Wilson said, in a similar vein, “One planet, one experiment.”

Oh my. Roll the dice.

Donald Clegg, a longtime Spokane resident, is an author and professional watercolor artist. Contact him via e-mail at


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