Credulity (credulous): “too ready to believe something is real or true.”
“People will believe anything” I sometimes say, or think. It does seem that a lot of people are credulous and credulity is having a field day. It’s really unbelievable.
So, I turn to more reasonable people, like naturalist John Burroughs. In his 1900 book, The Light of Day, Burroughs offers a good description of faith and credulity. You might agree, with the epidemic of credulity in our day, we need to hear wise words like these again … and again.
“It seems to me that the essence of religious faith is that it is independent of proof … . Faith proper begins where reason ends; where reason avails we have no need of faith; where there is a bridge we do not need to take a leap … . Religious faith has to do with the supernatural; and what can reason or sense do with that which transcends reason and sense?”
Here’s how Burroughs compares faith and credulity.
Faith: “belief without proof in matters where proof is impossible.”
Credulity: “belief without proof in matters where proof is demanded and is within reach.” “Credulity is the basis of superstition.” “Children are very credulous.”
There are so many “miraculous” stories in religious history because “credulity underlying religious fear and hope is the basis of them all.”
Sometimes the difference between faith and credulity is subtle.
“Credulity and superstition have to do mainly with the visible material universe; faith [has to do] with the spiritual, invisible world.”
Burroughs understands that faith has had a powerful influence in our history.
“Reason has been the willing servant of faith. Faith has said to it, ‘Go here, go there; prove this, prove that’; and reason has obeyed … . In our day reason turns upon faith and questions its right to rule and to lead, and the result is an almost ruinous shrinkage of the old theological values.”
As for the writers of the bible, Burroughs asks, “What was the type of mind, credulous or incredulous, realistic or imaginative?”
He asks, “Is faith itself reasonable?” “It all depends upon the assumptions,” such as assuming there is an “anthropomorphic God, an Infinite Person.”
“When you once assume the existence of the supernatural, you adjust your reason to that assumption.”
This is where credulity enters. You believe it, and want to believe it so badly, that you make reasons (“proofs”) for it.
Burroughs says much more, but I’ll leave this summary with these thoughts from the conclusion of “Faith and Credulity” in The Light of Day:
“Religion is a sentiment just as much as poetry.” (Burroughs was more critical of theology than the sentiment of religion).
“[Religion’s] proofs, and its evidences, only impress such minds as are already convinced, as have already taken the leap which faith requires.”
“Religious faith is losing ground in our day because the light which fills the world [Science, Education, etc] is more and more the light of broad noonday, clear, strong, merciless.”
Maybe Burroughs was right, and we have much more credulity today and less faith. I wonder if he was correct?
For more on JB, I’ve written a little introduction to Burroughs’ wisdom in the collection Meditations of John Burroughs