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Austin Cline

What is Faith?

By January 20, 2008

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In debates between theists and atheists, there tends to be a lot discussion about the nature and value of "faith." Although not explicitly emphasized in every religion to the same degree that it is in Christianity, faith tends to be much more important in religion than in any other ideology, philosophy, or worldview. This is significant because the means by which people are expected to accept faith is contrary to how reasonable beliefs should be formed?

Susan Blackmore writes about the basic articles of faith in the Catholic Church:

Conceivably some of these things could be true (at least the ones that make enough sense to be testable) but the point of the "Catholic faith" is that you believe them, not because they are rational or reasonable, not because historical evidence supports them, not because modern scientific evidence supports them, but because they are "revealed truth". That is, you have to believe them because other people tell you that God told someone else they were true, and you must go on believing them even if they turn out not to be true by any normal standards of evidence.

The Catholic church doesn't allow its members to pick and choose which bits they believe; as a convert, you must sign up and believe it all, or not be admitted.

Source: Guardian [emphasis added]

Believing simply because other people require you to believe as a matter of moral obligation, and expecting that one believes a "whole package," without exception, is the wrong way to go about things. It may be an effective means for ensuring loyalty, obedience, and perpetual membership, but it's not a good way for ensuring that one's beliefs are reasonable, rational, and more likely true than not.

We can and should contrast this with science. Scientists and science students are taught what science has discovered, but everything they are taught can, in principle, be verified if one is able and willing to put in the effort to do so. In fact, a lot of practical science education entails students reproducing experiments to verify common assumptions and long-held results. Every successful test reinforces the accuracy of the original conclusion as well as the validity of the process itself.

Is it any wonder that science has consistently produced more improvements for human life in just the past couple of centuries that modern science has existed than any religion has over the course of millennia? It's not that no religion has ever produced any results of any practical good, but there is just no comparison with how much good has been produced by the scientific method and working scientists. If we are to judge a system by its fruits, religion loses.

Comments
January 20, 2008 at 1:49 pm
(1) Jim says:

What is faith?

Faith is belief without evidence.

Faith is a liability.

January 20, 2008 at 1:51 pm
(2) Ron says:

What is Faith?
Faith is that which enables people to believe stuff they KNOW is not true!

January 21, 2008 at 9:07 am
(3) Pujjuut says:

Blind obedience.

Mass misdirection.

The bigger the lie, the more people believe.

January 21, 2008 at 8:59 pm
(4) Gotweirdness says:

Or if you tell a lie often enough, people are bound to believe it.

January 23, 2008 at 9:48 am
(5) tracieh says:

I can’t recount how many times I’ve dialogued for days (or weeks) with theists about all the “evidence” and “reasons” to support their belief (and, more importantly to them, why *I* should believe), only to have them finally come out and say that I/they have to have faith.

What it comes down to is actually standards of evidence. Since absolutely certainly is never/rarely achieved, most of us believe things based on levels of support compared to the reasonability of the claims being made. For claims that are highly reasonable (that align very much with what we experience and observe), we require far less evidence. For claims that are highly unreasonable (that contradict our experience and observations), we require far more evidence. This is sensible, as I’m less likely to believe your claims if they contradict my understanding of the material world and how it operates. This holds true for all people in all cases. No matter who you are, if you have a normally functioning brain, I can come up with an assertion that is outlandish enough that you will reject it outright and call me a liar or mistaken, simply because it conflicts so much with what you already “know” via experience and observation of the world around you.

In the case of the apologist, what I have found is that god is willing to provide sufficient support for *some* of us, but not for others of us.

So, when the theist says, “God has put the evidence here–I’m sorry if it’s not enough for *you*, but it’s absolutely enough for me,” what he’s actually saying is that god doesn’t require faith from *him*–but requires faith from *me* for some reason.

God has given *him* “plenty” of evidence–so much in fact that often the apologist will call it “overwhelming” or “undeniable.” So, no faith is required of such apologists–because god seems more than happy to meet *his* standards of evidence and discount *his* need for faith.

But I’m left with god, for some odd reason, not being willing to meet *my* standards of evidence, and requiring I believe on faith.

That hardly seems fair.

If god is willing to meet (and even sometimes exceed) one person’s need for evidence upon which to base belief, what is the logic of denying it from someone else? It would seem that he’d either deny us all sufficient evidence and require everyone to have faith, or provide us each with sufficient evidence to support belief. Why meet one person’s standards of evidence and consider another person to be arrogant for requesting another standard of evidence? Why is one person’s need for evidence any more or less reprehensible than another’s?

That’s the part I don’t get.

January 25, 2008 at 2:50 pm
(6) Todd says:

To believe is to “act as if something were true”. This definition does not ask for the article of faith to be true, but does require actions/choices to be in line. If you say you believe abortion is murder (wrongful killing), then the evidence would be not having an abortion. In other words, belief is revealed through actions, not by words. i don’t care what you say you believe, you can say anything you want for any number of reasons. So, faith/belief… is actions/choices.

January 25, 2008 at 3:04 pm
(7) Myqel says:

So if the Bible were introduced in a court of law to defend God, it would have to be thrown out of court because it is hearsay evidence … ?

January 25, 2008 at 5:12 pm
(8) Paul Buchman says:

“…a profound difference between folk religion and organized religion: those who practice folk religion don’t think of themselves as practicing a religion at all. Their ‘religious’ practices are a seamless part of their practical lives…And one way to tell that they really believe in the deities to which they make their sacrifices is that they aren’t forever talking about how much they believe in their deities–any more than you and I go around assuring each other that we believe in germs and atoms. Where there is no ambient doubt to speak of, there is no need to speak of faith.”

- Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, pp.160-161

January 25, 2008 at 5:23 pm
(9) John Hanks says:

Faith is lifting yourself up by your bootstraps. It is believing that the cards are marked in your favor. It is a boogie man in the dark. It is American values, free enterprise, military victory, and family values all rolled up into one

January 25, 2008 at 5:47 pm
(10) Marilyn LaCourt says:

Faith is a word theists use to bully atheists and scientists.

They claim, for example, that it takes just as much faith to believe in evolution as it does to believe in creationism/intelligent design.

People of faith in the Bush administration conveniently do an end run around the establishment clause when they dub religious programs “faith based initiatives.

Marilyn LaCourt

January 27, 2008 at 8:04 am
(11) jimmiejazz says:

“The alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit
destroying the mind.”

John Galt in “Atlas Shrugged”

January 27, 2008 at 1:55 pm
(12) Joan says:

If I could just run into one christian who admits the basis of their “faith” is an unsubstantiated fairy tale but they choose to believe it anyway, instead of trying to turn the tables on me by making out that I’m some sort of evil incarnate for not believing that fairy tale, my “faith” would be renewed about the honesty of that christian. Really enjoyed reading tracieh’s comments!

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