Each Week on Saturday, I’ll be asking a “Question of the Week.” I’d love your input and discussion! Ask a good question in the comments and it may show up as the next week’s question! I may answer the questions in the comments myself.
The Definition of Faith
In light of the recent debate between Tim McGrew and Peter Boghossian on “Is Faith a False Epistemology?” I wanted to ask this question:
How do you define faith?
Bonus: Why do you define it that way?
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Faith means making a leap from the lion’s head, like Indy Jones in his third movie.
Indy said, “Impossible! Nobody can jump this. It’s a leap of faith.” And yet he took that fateful step. He didn’t rationally believe he’d survive, but he was desperate to save his father’s life, so he ignored his rational doubts and simply obeyed the instructions from those ancient documents.
Most Christians are not trained apologists, so they haven’t even heard of Tim McGrew’s parachute example or that kind of thing. Most Christians follow the popular notion so beautifully demonstrated in this popular Hollywood movie.
That’s the beauty of faith – the whole irrationality of it. Christian apologists are going off on the wrong track by trying to twist faith around and make it rational.
“he ignored his rational doubts and simply obeyed the instructions from those ancient documents.”
– I will have to watch the movie again. The book he was using… as unbelievable as each claim in the book was… were they, in fact, the truth, or not?
I suspect Jones Jr. had many good reasons to believe that this particular claim was also quite astonishing, and somehow also true, just like all the rest of the book. I’m not quite sure it was an irrational act to take that leap. And in hindsight, put the damned dirt on the ( somehow ) illusion of an invisible bridge.
I think James Randi could have figured out the trick… and explained to Indiana how it was entirely reasonable to take the leap. Maybe James would have thrown the dirt on the space BEFORE Jones took that fateful step.
The thing is, Indiana took a chance and won. That’s the point of the movie. Indiana Jones always wins. In the end. If he would NOT have won, he would have died. And I think his father would have to. I don’t know, I have to watch the movie again. As I said.
So, I don’t think Indiana Jones didn’t have pretty good evidence that what the book said was true. In my estimation, right off the top of my head, I think Indiana Jones had a pretty good idea that his “luck” was astonishingly good, that his hunches were astounding, and that he could just go with those. After all, they never let him down in the big things.
And he also did get the girl after all.
Remember, this is a universe where Indiana Jones always wins.
And the book was a marvelous book.. that was probably right and true in all other cases. Why not rationally conclude that the book would be also right and true about this step?
I don’t think this clip is a good representation of how theists use faith. They don’t live in a world where all their wishes come true. They don’t know if the Bible has given them true knowledge at every step.
They just have FAITH that the bible is true and right on all things. That never really convinces people who aren’t in the business of confirming that particular bias.
Well I completely disagree with John Moore’s conclusion above when he concludes: “That’s the beauty of faith – the whole irrationality of it”. It may well be plausible to celebrate the transcendence of God, that God goes beyond the limits of our rationality, but to actually celebrate irrationality is ridiculous. (In the case of Christianity, it affirms that our mind and rationality are from God and good, and that they should be used to know and love God)
In the video shown above, Indy’s “leap of faith” was not irrational. He may well have had conflicting evidence (it didn’t _look_ possible), but he still had good _reason_ to take his step. He had a book, which he had reason to trust, that told him is was possible, if it was not for that _reason_ he would not have taken the step. If he didn’t have such a book, or if he fell to his death then it would hardly be held up as an example of faith, but rather one of stupidity!
Faith is best understood as a kind of trust. It is possible for someone to put trust in something (or someone) either rationally or irrationally. That could apply to jumping with a parachute, sitting in a chair, or trusting God with your life, etc. and in each case it could be either a rational choice or not.
In the specific instance of _faith_ in God, this has to be understood as more than just _belief_ in God – it has to involve some action or element of trust. In some ways I think that faith in God must presuppose belief in God.
Here is perhaps a better example of faith:
With regards to the rationality of belief in God, it may be that there are ways of being rational that extend beyond the narrow constraints of evidentialism. For example, as articulated by Alvin Plantinga in his book Warranted Christian Belief: here he appeals to what Calvin called the ‘sensus divinitatis’, that faculty which allows us to have knowledge of God in a basic way, not dependent on some argument for God.
It is right to acknowledge the limitations of the evidentialist arguments for belief in God, but this does NOT mean that we have to concede that faith in God is irrational, but rather that such strict constraints on rationality are misplaced and unworkable. (Alvin Plantinga makes the case in his book ‘God and other Minds’, that on strict evidentialist requirements the belief that other people have minds is irrational, but we don’t take it as being irrational. So what’s what’s wrong, the evidentialist definition of rationality or our belief in other minds?)
William Lane Craig provides some helpful articulation of the role of apologetics and the rationality of belief in God in his response to the recent book ‘The End of Apologetics’ here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-end-of-apologetics-part-one
“So what’s what’s wrong, the evidentialist definition of rationality or our belief in other minds?)”
– Having good evidence before having belief is a good thing. I don’t think it’s wrong at all. I don’t think it’s wrong to think that other people have minds, either. I interact with people all the time, and they with me.
I do know, however, that people with other minds than my own sometimes make up false dichotomies to prove their point. I think that’s just a mistake. Logical fallacies don’t prove much of anything.
The problem with Plantiga’s approach is that he doesn’t seem to realize why it is some propositions are taken as axiomatic. While it’s true, say that belief in other minds can’t be PROVEN, to disbelieve in this axiom is to be out of any conversation. If you don’t care to be meaningful at all, then by all means, refute what axiom you don’t like, believe the ones you do, and meaningfulness goes out the window for you.
Axioms have to exist for more reasons than to prove your particular bias. Plantinga’s argument is woefully circular, and completely ad hoc. Now, I’ve seen but not studied his response to this kind of objection, the “cabbage patch” objection, that his thinking would have us believe in ANYTHING AT ALL, because it could prove that any belief can be axiomatic. But I wasn’t impressed by his first stab at it.
I think it’s just wrong to start off trying to prove a pet theory, and THEN looking for logical arguments in favor of it. I like the existentialists approach a lot better. Gather a bunch of evidence and THEN make a conclusion, and NOT the other way around.
Going the wrong way around from the conclusion to the evidence is always wrong to me. As an example, I look at the evidence for your god’s existence, and THEN conclude that your god doesn’t exist, due to your poor evidence.
If you had great evidence, I’d be there with you. So you can’t use evidence, and therefore, evidentialism isn’t great. It isn’t working for you. Let’s try another approach, you say. God’s existence is axiomatic, so that’s that, you say.
Not so great, I say.
This story of Blondin the tight-rope walker is another good example, like McGrew’s parachute example, of using reason to overcome a (perhaps unreasonable) fear. The people saw direct evidence before their eyes that Blondin could do it, yet they were afraid. A novice skydiver clearly knows how his parachute will save him, and yet he’s still afraid.
The Indy Jones example is different because Indy didn’t have convincing evidence. He had no rational understanding of how he could cross the chasm. Indy didn’t use reason to overcome his fear, but he used his love for his father. And that’s what’s so great. It’s the love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). It’s the peace of God which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Is Christianity about rational reasoning, or is is more about love?
“This story of Blondin the tight-rope walker is another good example, like McGrew’s parachute example, of using reason to overcome a (perhaps unreasonable) fear. The people saw direct evidence before their eyes that Blondin could do it, yet they were afraid. A novice skydiver clearly knows how his parachute will save him, and yet he’s still afraid.”
– The Blondin story above is not about faith. It’s about fear. People had good enough evidence that Blondin COULD wheel-barrow a human across the chasm, but they also knew that Blondin could also fail to do it. The fear of that possibilty kept them away.
But in the case of God or gods, we don’t have such evidence as with Blondin. All the claims of God’s existence only convince believers. And we all know how humans love to confirm their biases.
Theists see evidence and good reason where non theists don’t. That’s the issue. The quality of the evidence and reasons to HAVE faith, to have trust. Indy had good reasons and good evidence, as well. It was very frightening to do so, but completely justified to walk, even if the evidence or reasons weren’t perfect. His dad’s life tipped the balance. After all, Indy concluded that it was worth his life up in the ( pretty good chance, considering Indie’s track record ) chance that it could save his life.
In the universe where Indiana Jones exists, Indiana Jones’ risk taking always yields good results. Odd universe, for sure. That’s why we call the story a fiction.
In the universe where Blondin lives, Blondin can die making a grand stunt. There’s a reason why most people wouldn’t go into the wheel-barrow.
In the universe of the theist, apparently, God exists. So, it’s not a huge leap of FAITH or TRUST to also believe that God exists, and to trust in that god, and to pray to that god, and to have faith in that god…
But the atheist does not agree that we live in a universe where God exists. So, to the atheist, it is not reasonable to trust, or have faith in or pray to that god.
But everybody can check Blondin’s remarkable record for safety. We can go and check the instructor’s record on parachute packaging safety. We can’t do that with the god concept.
We are told to “trust” in bad evidence, and to “have faith” in preachers.
The atheist says.. not this time, thanks. Let the old lady go.
Faith is assumption with conviction.
Let’s say you’re only 60% sure of something. But unless you act frequently according to a certainty value of 85% or higher, there may be opportunity costs (like Indy’s father dying of the bullet wound, but many such things, and over the long haul). So you use (1) loss aversion, plus (2) peripheral and associated beliefs and experiences in order to help yourself act like an 85er. What’s the difference? 25%. That’s how much faith you have.
Now, this isn’t to say your 85ness is completely irrational. After all, its bulk is composed of that 60% reasonable certainty. Apparent interaction with God through prayer, seeing his work in our daily lives, resonating with his spiritual teaching and guidance, etc. can, after being duly filtered through self-scrutiny, constitute great reasons to believe.
But that 25% on top is not driven by evidence-based reason; it’s just conviction to action out of the hard fact that our lives our limited, and there may be opportunity costs to relentless skepticism.
So I’d split the difference between Ross and John above (or, perhaps, they’d both mostly agree with this articulation?).
There is one thing of John’s that I’d like to address: “Christian apologists are going off on the wrong track by trying to twist faith around and make it rational.” I think that faith can be rationally held (that is, it can be the correct result of a decision analysis), just that it cannot be based on evidentiary certainty (by definition) EXCEPT in the sense that the 25 can rest atop the 60. From one perspective, the faith is the 25, and thus is not so based. From another perspective, the 25 is atop the 60, and thus is so based. (This confuses the discussion of faith’s definition and/or reasonability.)
I’d like to agree with the following sentiment, however: Many Christian apologists very much seem to desire to circumvent the “25” faith and make “Him who is unseen” a certainty, like throwing mud on the invisible man to make him plain. To do this, they often treat as “transcendent” things that are relatively mundane (like morality and meaning), thus creating new “gaps” requiring the divine concrete mixer. It is my view that most transcendental “God-proofs” are non-cogent, often betray philosophical error and/or ancient stagnation, good only for choir-preaching, and generally bad for the reputation of Christendom.
“Now, this isn’t to say your 85ness is completely irrational. After all, its bulk is composed of that 60% reasonable certainty. Apparent interaction with God through prayer, seeing his work in our daily lives, resonating with his spiritual teaching and guidance, etc. can, after being duly filtered through self-scrutiny, constitute great reasons to believe.”
– Self scrutiny. I don’t know if most people know how to do that bit. Most people fall prey to confirmation bias when they have a concept they need to prove because of a prior conviction.
When I challenge a person of belief in gods… I don’t agree on the methods they have used to rule out confirmation bias and circular thinking. What I usually get is obfuscation, definitions, self-referential arguments, and so on.
All of this goes to the trash bin in a hurry. The usual theist tries to convince me with logic, fails. Then the evidence for his or her beliefs fail to convince me as well, and then the theist will try to convince me by showing how is or her belief is useful in his or her life.
And that fails to demonstrate the truth of their beliefs. Usefulness isn’t evidence, after all. Then some frustrated believers exhort me to follow them away from Hell. Pascal’s wager always gets at the end, for some reason. Maybe because nobody really believes that it’s a good argument anymore. But take a bad bet, and throw it in anyway, what’s the harm?
So, the believer can say.. I believe for this or that reason.
Then, the believer checks to see if this belief is justified. Great. The belief is justified. Hmmmm.. Yeah. ok. Great reason to believe?
Depends on how rigorous this self-scrutiny is, I suppose. I get a lot of assurances that it’s great, but when I ask the believer for this great method of self-scrutiny, I usually don’t agree that’s its all so great.
If it were great, I would be right there with you all.
Faith is confidence. You only have confidence in someone that has reliable and faithful. You only have confidence in something that has multiple lines of evidence, either empirical or circumstantial.At the end of the day that confidence in something must be the best explanation available in terms of probability.
Faith is trust
Thanks for your answer and comment!
Thanks for stopping by and answering the question! I think you’re on target in the definition you give.