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Do Atheists Have Faith?

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Filed under Atheism

leap-of-faith

“It takes more faith to disbelieve in God than to believe,” according to some Christian writers.

That’s a rather dramatic and cheeky claim.

I’m sure that, for some individuals, who feel powerfully convinced of the existence of God, that claim is true: For them it would be harder to disbelieve than to believe.

But that’s not the way it is for everyone.

The people who make the claim are on solid ground, though, in supposing that atheism involves a leap of faith.

For a very large number of atheists, atheism itself is a position of faith.

Here’s why . . .

 

Eliminating the Obvious

There are different kinds of faith, and atheists obviously do not possess some of them:

  • It’s obvious that atheists do not have Christian faith. If they did, they’d be Christians.
  • It’s also apparent that they do not have the theological virtue of faith, by which we believe in God and believe all that he has revealed to us because he is truth itself.

But there are other forms of faith. Unfortunately, the definitions proposed for them are often inadequate.

 

Belief Against the Evidence?

For example, sometimes people suggest that faith is believing in spite of proof, or at least the stronger balance of evidence, to the contrary.

This is not the way the term is used most of the time, and certainly not by most people who profess to have faith.

The idea of faith-as-belief-against-evidence is more often a straw man that will derail the discussion rather than a helpful contribution to it.

In any event, I will not be proposing that atheists have this kind of faith.

 

Belief Without Evidence?

Somewhat less problematic is the idea that faith is belief without evidence.

However, people of faith do not tend to regard themselves as having no evidence for their faith beliefs.

They tend at least to think that evidence for their beliefs is available, whether or not they have personally studied that evidence in detail.

Framing the issue of faith as being belief without evidence is thus not what people of faith understand themselves to be doing, and so this, too, tends to be more of a straw man and an impediment to discussion.

 

Belief Without Certain Proof?

I think that the concept of faith can be understood, in many cases, as involving belief without a certain kind or amount of evidence—the kind or amount that would give us certain proof.

This understanding of faith seems to be reflected where St. Paul writes that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

He seems to acknowledge that the Christian life involves a commitment to certain spiritual realities—without the complete and certain proof that we would have if these realities were immediately obvious to our senses.

The commitment of faith is not divorced from evidence. One might have, and St. Paul thought that he did have, very good evidence for his beliefs.

But he acknowledges that it is not the same kind of evidence as if we could see the spiritual realities as easily as we see the physical world around us.

It is this type of faith that I think atheists also share.

 

Everyday Faith

Christian authors sometimes point out that atheists display faith every day and that faith is a fundamental part of the human condition.

In everyday life, nobody has complete proof that:

  • his food isn’t poisoned
  • he won’t die in a car crash on the way to work
  • his friends aren’t engaged in a conspiracy to harm him
  • the accuracy of his own memory

Indeed, nobody has complete proof of even more fundamental things, like:

  • the law of gravity won’t suddenly stop working
  • the sun won’t explode today
  • the existence of the external world
  • the existence of other minds
  • the axioms of logic

But this doesn’t stop people from acting on and believing precisely these things.

In doing so, they are exercising a form of faith, and atheists do that, too.

 

“Faith” Is Not a Dirty Word

It’s fair and worthwhile to make this point, because faith is a fundamental part of the human condition.

“Faith” is not a dirty word.

We all have faith, and it would be a mistake to pretend that we don’t.

It’s just a question of what we put our faith in and how good the choices we make in doing that are.

 

Atheist Faith

The question of how to make good faith choices is obviously of great importance, but we won’t be going into it here. That’s a subject for another time.

What I’d like to do is advance the discussion beyond the claim that atheists display the same form of everyday faith that everyone does.

Atheists undoubtedly do that, but they also—at least normally—display faith at the core of their religious lives, with the very beliefs that make one an atheist.

To see this, let’s look at a parallel . . .

 

The Existence of God

In the Catholic view, it is possible to prove the existence of God in a way that allows us to have certainty regarding his existence (CCC 31).

When that’s done, the existence of God is not held as an article of faith but as something that has been proven.

It thus doesn’t fall under the definition of faith that we’re working with here (i.e., faith as belief without certain proof).

But that doesn’t mean that everyone is in a position to have this kind of proof.

Even a great theologian or philosopher, who in the past may have worked out the existence of God with what he regards as mathematical certainty, may not have the details of the proof at his fingertips—only the memory that he has so worked it out in the past.

He may be in the same position as a mathematician who remembers working out an elaborate, mathematical proof, but who does not presently have the whole of the proof in his mind.

Whether a person has never had certain proof of God’s existence or whether he doesn’t have it at the moment, that doesn’t prevent him from accepting the existence of God.

It just means that, when he does so, he is acting on faith (in the sense that we’re working with).

Thus, for example, if you ask a typical Christian, who has not studied philosophy or apologetics, “Do you believe that God exists?” He’ll say yes.

But if you ask him, “Do you have proof that God exists—conclusive proof?” he may well say, “No, but I still believe he exists.”

In this case, the Christian is holding his belief in God as a matter of faith rather than a matter of conclusive proof.

This is all summed up, in similar language, by St. Thomas Aquinas:

The existence of God and other like truths about God, which can be known by natural reason, are not articles of faith, but are preambles to the articles. . . .

Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent a man, who cannot grasp a proof, accepting, as a matter of faith, something which in itself is capable of being scientifically known and demonstrated [ST I:2:2 ad 1].

Now here’s the twist . . .

 

Atheists Do the Same Thing

Some atheists may claim that they have conclusive proof that God does not exist.

If so then, per Aquinas, they are not holding this belief as a matter of faith. They are, to borrow St. Paul’s phrase, not walking by faith with respect to the existence of God but by what they regard as sight.

But even an atheist who has worked out such a proof to his satisfaction may find himself in the same position as the theologian, philosopher, or mathematician we discussed before.

He may not have the details of his proof before his mind, only the memory of having done one.

Most atheists do not claim to have a conclusive disproof of God’s existence.

Indeed, it is common today for atheists to say, “I can’t prove that there is no God—but I think it highly unlikely that he exists, or at least I haven’t seen convincing proof of his existence, so I don’t believe in him.”

Whether they think it highly unlikely that God exists, or whether they just have not been presented with proof they consider sufficient, they are doing the same thing: adopting a belief without certain proof.

In other words, they are exercising faith.

They are in the same position as the ordinary Christian who holds the existence of God despite his acknowledgement that he does not have conclusive proof of this.

And atheists exercising faith in this way are doing so regarding the central belief of atheism—the non-existence of God.

 

Other Beliefs

Standard western atheism does not just involve a rejection of the existence of God.

It also, at least typically, involves a rejection of the idea of an afterlife and the belief that the material universe is all that exists.

On these additional beliefs, atheists also exercise faith in the sense we are discussing.

Although the defining issue of God’s existence gets most of the attention, many atheists would be prepared to acknowledge that they also do not have certain proof that human consciousness in no way survives death.

And many would be prepared to acknowledge that they do not have certain proof that the material universe is all that exists.

If an atheist did claim to have certain proof on these matters then he would not be holding them as matters of faith, but to the extent that certain proof is not available to an atheist, he is exercising faith regarding them.

It thus seems that atheists do, indeed, have faith—not just in the everyday matters that everyone does, but specifically in regard to the three beliefs that tend to characterize standard western atheism.

They may think that they have good, if not conclusive, evidence for their views, just as Christians do, but there is still an exercise of faith here.

It’s not a question of whether faith is being exercised but what the content of that faith is.

This raises the question of how to make good choices in determining faith commitments, but as we said, that’s a subject for another time.

 

What Now?

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In the meantime, what do you think?

Jimmy Akin

Written by

Jimmy Akin is a Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers, a member on the Catholic Answers Speakers Bureau, a weekly guest on the global radio program, Catholic Answers LIVE, and a contributing editor for Catholic Answers Magazine. He's the author of numerous publications, including the books The Fathers Know Best (Catholic Answers, 2010); The Salvation Controversy (Catholic Answers, 2001); and Mass Confusion: The Do's & Don'ts of Catholic Worship (Catholic Answers, 1999). Many of Jimmy's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Follow Jimmy's writing at JimmyAkin.com.

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  • primenumbers

    "But this doesn’t stop people from acting on and believing precisely these things. In doing so, they are exercising a form of faith, and atheists do that, too." - trusting that extremely high probability events will occur does not fit any rational definition of the word "faith".

    When we talk of faith with respect to events, we use faith when the event is something we desire yet has dubious probability of occurring. It seems only by setting up this absurd definition of faith (referring to high probability events we have extreme confidence in), does Akin attempt to pin faith on atheists, especially the article picture "leap of faith" and chosen quote "“It takes more faith to disbelieve in God than to believe,” according to some Christian writers." all refer to "faith" in a sense that does not imply Akin's high probability version of faith.

    "We all have faith, and it would be a mistake to pretend that we don’t." - but as now through Akin's definition faith includes both absurdly low probability events, and things that have a low probability of being true with events that are about as near to certain as we can get, "faith" no longer means anything.

    "When that’s done, the existence of God is not held as an article of faith but as something that has been proven." - no, you now have faith in those arguments, and as each and every one has been shown to be flawed by everyone from top working philosophers to you-tubers, to bloggers, to commenters, it's obvious these dubious arguments only convince those with a pre-supposed belief in God. Religious faith is still at work here.

    "Whether they think it highly unlikely that God exists, or whether they just have not been presented with proof they consider sufficient, they are doing the same thing: adopting a belief without certain proof.

    In other words, they are exercising faith." - Akin confuses atheism (a lack of belief in God) with the positive claim that there is no God for the sake of his argument here. He should know that atheists have a lack of belief in God, and that such a lack is reasonable based on lack of good evidence to believe. No faith needed, just an absence of faith.

    Akin should not be telling atheists what they think and believe. He should be listening to atheists to find out what they think. The article is basically an equivocation and re-definition on faith not a serious article on the issue.

    • epeeist

      Akin should not be telling atheists what they think and believe. He
      should be listening to atheists to find out what they think. The article
      is basically an equivocation and re-definition on faith not a serious
      article on the issue.

      Equivocation on "faith" seems to be the modus operandi of not only Akin but a number of people posting comments.

      And as you say, much of his comments about what atheists do or do not think are simply projections on his part. As a result not only does the article indulge in equivocation, but it is largely a series of straw men.

      • epeeist

        And re-reading it, one could also consider it as a giant tu quoque.

        One could ask, why this inability to see the position of other people except through the myopia of "belief" and "faith"?

        • And one could ask, why this inability to see one's *own* position as a form of "belief" or "faith"?
          I would add, not as a form of "religion" (I don't think atheism is religion), but rather seeing in the human experience a commonality in which we all make acts of faith of various kinds, which means that making an act of faith in God, for example, is not some exceptional act of human recklessness, but is an act whose form is common in human experience.

          • Rationalist1

            So how would faith in God differ from faith in astrology or faith in your car's brakes working.

          • Off the top of my head, I'd consider whether "past performance" might well help us trust "future results."
            With car brakes, this is pretty clear.
            With astrology--not nearly as clear--fundamental lack of use of reason involved, in my view. Lack of evidence regarding methodology and bases for claims made.
            With God--not very clear at all, *unless* one understands why and how to look at the past for signs of God's "performance," Then you've got a shot.

          • primenumbers

            "look at the past for signs of God's "performance," " - sounds rather like the Texas sharp-shooter fallacy.

          • Well, why else would we have "faith" in our car brakes? Past performance.
            Eventually car brakes fail. But if they worked yesterday, chances are they'll work today....

          • primenumbers

            When the degree of belief in something is in ratio with the amount of evidence, we call it rational (ratio-nal).

            Let's think of two bridges - a modern highway bridge that many cars and trucks drive over every minute, and next to it, the old wooden bridge that looks like it came off the set of the movie the "The Sorcerer". Nobody has driven over this bridge in years and it looks ready to fall apart. Even the animals don't go near it or cross it. You see a large bird land on part of it which gives way and falls into the river below.

            In normal language we'd say it takes faith to drive over the old bridge. That is because the amount of evidence that it's safe is not in ratio with our confidence that it is safe.

            Nobody (but Akin) would use faith to describe driving over the new bridge because the evidence we have it is safe is in proportion to our confidence in its safety.

            So faith is what fills in the epistemic gap between the evidence and belief, making up the missing part of that ratio. When the belief and evidence are in ratio there is no need for faith, but when there is a gap, we need faith to bridge it.

          • But from an objective view of what is "real," the rickety bridge is either still sound enough to drive over, or it is not, regardless of how we interpret the evidence and address the "ratio". That reality is not determined by our interpretation of the evidence *nor* by the size of whatever "epistemic gap" exists. One either crosses or falls, depending on the *bridge*, not the "belief."

          • primenumbers

            Of course once you cross the bridge you either reach the other side or not. At that point you have incontrovertible evidence one way or another and we're certainly no longer talking about faith! But that is exactly why we're not talking about the situation where the bridge has been crossed, but the situation directly before the crossing begins, where we either have faith or not, and what it is in the two situations that determines if we ascribe "faith" to the forthcoming crossing or not.

          • Yes, but if the evidence threshold and the "size" of the ratio (gap) varies from one person to the next, we reach the obvious conclusion that neither the evidence nor the gap infallibly dictates what is "true" regarding the bridge--it remains necessary for each person to interpret the evidence sufficiently for one's self and act accordingly.
            This, indeed, seems to be what Akin gets to in the post above--we are *all* necessarily acting on "faith" regarding multiple major aspects of daily life, atheists and theists alike....

          • Jonathan West

            And yet some people will make inaccurate assessments as to the strength of the bridge, will inadvisedly try to cross it and will fall into the ravine. Do we say that their assessment was wrong, or merely different?

          • And likewise, some might refuse crossing an otherwise structurally sound bridge.
            In the end, what *other* people tell us (or don't tell us) merely becomes part of the overall "evidence" level upon which we *alone*, ourselves, must choose to act. This is what it means to have free will...

          • Sage McCarey

            Then "the devil did it."

          • primenumbers

            Faith is not held by the bridge but by the person. Their personal epistemic threshold will dictate what evidence they see (in general) as necessary, but doesn't alter that generally speaking faith is only applicable when the evidence is out of ratio with the confidence.

          • Yes--"out of ratio" so to speak *for that person*. It's an entirely subjective interpretation regarding what level of evidence will yield what level of confidence. It goes to Akin's point--we *all* are responsible for acting on this kind of "faith."

          • primenumbers

            It doesn't matter that it's subjective or not - pick any % for your epistemic threshold in the range 0% < T < 100%.

            For any evidence E = T we do meet the threshold, ok? This threshold is indeed personal, but that doesn't matter.

            Now "faith" is the situation where we have belief when E = T, or when we don't have belief and E < T. See how our personal threshold T matters not, just what side of T the evidence hits on.

            The only situation that confuses this one is when a believing Christian say has T(Christianity) < T(Islam) - in other words their epistemic threshold T is no longer fixed, but a function of what the subject matter is. We can call this special pleading or hypocrisy depending on how it manifests. Of course, this takes us back to the cognitive bias version of faith where:

            T(X) < T(Y) where X is a pre-supposed religious belief and Y is not.

          • Jonathan West

            The thing is that scientists have found a way of getting a justified agreement on what they believe to be true. We don't have competing Anglican and Catholic science with conflicting ideas about the properties of the proton. We don't have Methodist and Baptist science with different ideas about the nature of the chemical bond. We don't
            have Hindu and Buddhist science with different ideas about aerodynamics and we don't have Sunni and Shia science with conflicting ideas about evolution.

            We just have science, and where for a time conflicting
            theories exist, they are ultimately resolved by recourse to observation and experiment to compare the theories' predictions with reality, as happened for instance in the debate between the geocentric and heliocentric models of the solar system, between the Steady State and Big Bang models of cosmology, and between the Darwinian and Lysenkoist approaches to evolution.

            And by virtue of working, scientific answers have gained great prestige, to the extent that many religious apologists attempt to appropriate the language of science in order to give more plausibility to their own non-scientific ideas, for instance the Catholic doctrine of Theistic Evolution.

            Yet religions don't seem to have managed to find a common yardstick by which their own competing ideas can be judged, which is why we still have the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and Baptist churches (and many others besides) along with a plethora of other religions, who seem at best to amicably agree to disagree, and at worst go to war with each other to forcibly convert their opponents to The One True Faith.

            So I think it not unreasonable to consider the system of thought that has (from prior experience) shown itself to be better at finding answers that work, and to see what it has that the others don't, and to treat that unique characteristic as being of importance.

          • Jonathan West

            But you also know that car brakes wear out and that it is wise to take the car into the garage periodically to get them checked.

            So you only have faith in your brakes to the extent justified by the evidence of the last inspection.

            It would be faith in your car's brakes if you trust them knowing that the car is several thousand miles overdue its next scheduled inspection and that nobody has checked the brakes for a long time.

            That is faith, but is it a virtue? Or is it stupidity?

          • Rationalist1

            Hundred of millions of people read their horoscopes everyday. Almost every daily paper publishes horoscopes, way more than have a even weekly religion column. All the great civilizations of antiquity practiced astrology, including the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Indians. In Europe the origin of the liberal arts education in university was in astrology. Each of the seven areas of study was ascribed to one of the planets. There is myriad evidence for astrology. It's older than Catholicism, has been practiced in all cultures by very learned scholars yet for some reason both of us discount it.

            I can understand why I do, why do you?

          • Jonathan West

            And you have managed to discount it without knowing the finer points of all the different (and mutually conflicting) astrological systems that exist or have existed in different cultures at different times.

          • Rationalist1

            Alas I've been hoisted with my own petard and fallen victim to the Coutier's reply. http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/24/the-courtiers-reply/

          • Eriktb

            Please elaborate on the "why and how" of looking for god's past performance. Also, the "how" of how to determine whether or not god had anything to do with it.

          • Loreen Lee

            We have no 'ultimate' explanation for the 'existence' of anything. But I don't want to raise that 'nothing' question again. (My argument that God could be no-thing did not get much support.) The Buddhists still though, could be thought of as an 'atheist' 'religion'. And they certainly 'believe' in 'faith'. They also have a 'wish-fulfillment tree' - yes a tree like the tree of life, etc. but this one related to wishes, or hopes.
            Astrology certainly was a form of religion at one point I believe. The Roman gods, for instance, as Zeus, Jupiter/ Venus, etc. etc. It is a vast paradigm. I follow astrology, and get a 'kick' out of the popular psychology of the good practitioners, and I like to see where the planets are on a Ptolemaic model of the universe. It's fun to see them all line up differently every day. So it's a Kantian 'schemata', and such structures can be very valuable as a diagram for the modeling of other factors, like one's feelings, even. So Astrology, like all religions have a structure. Indeed, I would submit that it is 'structure' that is central to all religions.

            It's like math, which I believe is fundamentally a 'structure'. Besides the basis of math in logic put forward by Whitehead and Russell, it was also suggested that the basis of math could be intuition, or 'form', as in Plato's forms? I would go with this, in the sense of form as structure, - it's universality. Kant also said that there were two forms, mathematics, and dynamic form, which he didn't qualify but I would suspect that language 'structures' fit into this, it's 'structure', it's syntax over its semantics.
            Thus depending on the emphasis within this dynamic construct of language, definitions, and uses change, even that of 'faith'. But it is perhaps faith, that is the word for that propensity in ourselves which attempts to see' fully' the 'structure'......(Just speculating on faith,trust,belief!!!! here.)

          • Rationalist1

            "the basis of math in logic put forward by Whitehead and Russell" And Godel undermined it in 1930 with his completeness theorem (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6del%27s_completeness_theorem )

          • Loreen Lee

            I think it's called the 'incompleteness theorem', but I could be wrong. We had a discussion on this already, back when? It's the self-referential paradox. A 'theory' cannot be complete without containing contradiction, or some factors fitting in which have not been proven, or some factors which have not been given 'complete determination'. Logic does not produce a comprehensive/coherent basis or explanation of mathematics. That's why I think Kant got it right. Mathematics is a language. An equation is not a tautology because the 2 is not an identity with the l + l as in 'a bachelor is an unmarried man'. The definitions within a dynamic formal syntax can change. Marriage can have very many definitions- humptys. But l and l and their unity (a synthesis as in synthetic a priori) in 2 remain the same, whether it's apples, oranges or pears. Languages are structures is my argument. Faith is a structure built on metaphysical dynamic as distinct from mathematical structures!!!! That's my 'thesis'!!!!! Science is founded on quantative structures. Religion is founded on qualitative and reciprocal relations, and modal relationships, of which faith is the paradigm of reason substituting for the understanding comprehended in the relationship of empirical evidence to quantitative measurement. Faith is a metaphysical 'construct'....a dynamic form rather than a mathematical one.!!!????

        • Loreen Lee

          Cause people apply their 'definitions' of belief at one moment to their 'definition' of faith - yes equivocation. Faith is 'not' belief. Belief is not 'trust'. Trust is not proof of God's existence. In fact, some contradict others. If you have faith, I would hold that you're not even looking for proof for instance. The proof is an 'apologetics'.....You're right. Lots and lots of Humpty's everywhere.

      • primenumbers

        And not forgetting the re-definition of faith to mean it's opposite - earned trust and confidence.

        Let's think of two bridges - a modern highway bridge that many cars and trucks drive over every minute, and next to it, the old wooden bridge that looks like it came off the set of the movie the "The Sorcerer". Nobody has driven over this bridge in years and it looks ready to fall apart. Even the animals don't go near it or cross it. You see a large bird land on part of it which gives way and falls into the river below.

        In normal language we'd say it takes faith to drive over the old bridge. Nobody (but Akin) would use faith to describe driving over the new bridge. Yet Akin wants faith to mean both, yet the confidence levels of success in the case of each bridge is entirely opposite - almost certain of success with the new bridge and almost certain doom for the old bridge.

        • Michael Murray

          And not forgetting the re-definition of faith to mean it's opposite - earned trust and confidence.

          Well you don't get to be a Senior Apologist without demonstrating extra talent in obfuscation and a more than average ignorance of what atheists think.

    • Vicq_Ruiz

      Akin should not be telling atheists what they think and believe.

      Follow that rule, and we'll only see a new article here once a month or so.

  • If you want to define faith to include relying on the future resembling the past (e.g., the sun will rise tomorrow, your car will continue to run on gasoline and not water, and the book you are currently reading will be in the same language every time you put it down and pick it up again), then with extraordinarily rare exceptions, all human beings "have faith." So, in their own way, do cats and dogs and elephants, to name just a few animals. Why religious people would want to make something out of that I don't know. As I have said before, I suspect it is defensiveness on their part, since they seem to be saying, "Don't criticize us for having faith. You have it, too." I don't see why such an argument should be taken seriously.

    • I assume Akin is not responsible for the photo, but in any case, I would say it does not require a "leap" of to have what Akin describes as "everyday faith." As I said above, even animals have it. When a cat leaps up onto the table, it assumes (in it's own way) that it will actually land on the tabletop, not keep flying upward, go through the ceiling and the roof, and continue into outer space.

    • primenumbers

      It's akin to when "religious" gets defined in such a way (by Christians) to include atheism and ends up making everyone on this planet "religious". To do so serves no practical purpose (other than to annoy atheists perhaps) because if everyone can be described as "religious" what point is the use of the word any more? Similarly here, Akin wants everyone to have "faith", so faith becomes a useless word under his meanings.

      • Jonathan West

        This is done to reassure the religious (of any religion or denomination) more than anything else. If Atheism is defined as a competing faith, then they are dealing with familiar concepts, and they can treat atheists as people who have strayed from the One True Faith (i.e. the religious person's own religion, whatever that might be), and who may eventually be persuaded to return to it.

        But to treat atheism as a conclusion based on evidence rather than as a leap of faith is profoundly disturbing to the religious. It suggests that matters of religion can and should be judged by the same sort of reasoning processes that are applied to ordinary factual propositions about the world around them, when they have gone to such great lengths to wall off their faith as demanding a different kind of reasoning. It also undermines their confident belief that atheists will return to religion in due course and that in atheism they are dealing with a familiar phenomenon.

        in essence, many religious people believe (or would very much like to believe) that there are hordes of atheist scientists who have chosen Darwin as their God, Dawkins as his prophet, On The Origin of Species as their scripture, and have chosen to go out and wage religious warfare on all other faiths. The idea that atheists of a scientific persuasion don't think like that is really beyond the comprehension of some religious people.

        And that is part of the reason why many conversations between atheists and believers and up being a dialogue of the deaf.

        • ****But to treat atheism as a conclusion based on evidence rather than as a leap of faith is profoundly disturbing to the religious.****
          And to treat religion as a conclusion based on evidence rather than as a leap of faith is profoundly disturbing to the atheist.

          • And to treat religion as a conclusion based on evidence rather than as a leap of faith is profoundly disturbing to the atheist.

            This is such a cliché that I hesitate to repeat it, but it is also an "inconvenient truth." The inescapable conclusion is that the vast majority of religious beliefs are necessarily false, since the world's major religions contradict each other. So while I wouldn't deny that many religious believers come to conclusions based on evidence, most of their conclusions are necessarily wrong. That doesn't mean that atheists are right, or any particular religion is wrong. But it means not all believers can be right, and given the fact that there are so many different religions (and divisions within those religions), the majority of religious believers simply can't be right in what they believe.

          • primenumbers

            David, what you're highlighting is that the methods of determining correct religious beliefs are un-reliable, and that is why we have the chaos of religious belief on this planet.

          • Explanation for false belief alongside true does not have to result in their being *no* true belief to contend with. Instead, one merely needs to understand that Truth has an enemy, and the enemy is quite excellent at helping foment both partial truths and lies. Chances are, if there wasn't a battle for truth going on, the landscape would look much clearer...

          • Rationalist1

            No, but your belief system is just one of thousands that currently exist, not counting those that previously existed and will exist in the future.

          • You don't even need an enemy. You just need incompetence. Seems theologians, as well as scientists and all humans in general, have their fair share. They get some conclusions right and some wrong.

            How can I tell which theologians are right?

          • primenumbers

            At least in science we have methods to deal with known cognitive biases, whereas in theology, the conclusions drawn actually seem to thrive on the use of such cognitive biases. No wonder not only is theology unreliable, but as you point out we have no method of actually determining correct theological results.

          • That's my question. Do theologians have something similar? If not, how do they know who is right?

            I don't know what @disqus_jl2DEZXddy:disqus will say. I'm very curious!

          • You have a good point. The Catholic interpretation of the evidence involves acknowledging a truth that comports with your observation: Sin makes us "stupid", the saying goes.
            That is, human nature is wounded by original sin, with "concupiscence" being part of that wound. Concupiscence is the disordering of our appetites and the darkening of our intellects.
            So, in addition to an active enemy apart from ourselves, we also have to deal with the "enemy" within--the "incompetence" of the human intellect to properly see and observe evidence, all due to concupiscence...

          • I think that's a very good answer to the first part of my question. What you say is a more metaphysically laden version of Feynman's principle: "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool."

            But what about my second question? How do I find out which theologians are right and which are wrong? What system is there for doing this?

          • Assuming one accepts belief in God and one is sincerely looking to "theo-logians" who study God for guidance to Him, one must examine the "history of God" so to speak: once we establish through reason and nature (a la deism) that one God must exist, then we need to ask whether the one God wants to reveal Himself to us (deists mostly say no, right?) and, if so, how?

          • Senses and reason will only get you so much, and I'm not convinced they'll get you to God at all. They definitely won't get you much about what God is like.

            If there's revelation, how do you know that it is revelation, and how can you test whether your understanding of it is right? Predictions, senses, reason don't seem sufficient, because those things will get you to God maybe, and not any further.

            What is it besides senses and reason? It seems the Muslims have the best answer of all the ones I've seen. They say God wrote the Koran. If you come to believe that, then you can test any theological statement against the Koran much like people test theories against nature. Their problem is interpretation. It's not precise enough to really do a test.

            But at least they have an outline.

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,
            Theologians don't study god to find guidance to him. The study stories about god, They make up postulates that themselves have no evidence and then endlessly presume from there.

          • Thanks, but no, they don't.

          • Max Driffill

            What do they do then? It really does look like the endless elaborations of Bigfoot biology sans quality evidence of the dread creature, or endlessly debating about the Emperor's clothes when he is really just one hell of a naked guy.

          • primenumbers

            It's not that truth has an enemy but that the methods used to determine religious truths are unreliable or even just plain missing.

          • epeeist

            The inescapable conclusion is that the vast majority of religious beliefs are necessarily false, since the world's major religions contradict each other.

            But as I keep pointing out, religions are contraries, not contradictories. In other words, only one of them might be true, but all of them could be false.

          • primenumbers

            I'm not sure why you think that would be disturbing for an atheist? I mean, we know there's evidence for every religion on this planet. We have to Gospels for Christianity, the recorded words of Muhammed for Islam, the eye-witness testimony for the gold plates for Mormonism etc. etc. It's not that we think there's no evidence!

            Now when I weigh up the evidence for your religious beliefs or for other I find it lacking enough weight to get me over an epistemic threshold of belief, and I realize that if I lowered my threshold I'd also have the issue where many religions would now be believable.

            What I see is religious faith as a cognitive bias that causes more weight to be placed on confirming evidence than it can bear, and less weight given to disconfirming evidence than can be reasonably be placed upon it. This faith bias is only applied in the case of the religious belief that is already held by the faith user, and hence instead of them having an artificially low epistemic threshold, they just bias the balance of the weight of evidence in favour of their pre-existing belief. Although this is a solution of sorts to my epistemic threshold issue, it basically amounts to a case of special pleading.

        • Rationalist1

          I think you're right. Atheism seems to be the ultimate affront to religious people. We don't need God, faith, prayer or any of the central tenets of their belief system, yet we live happy, productive, good lives.

          • epeeist

            We don't need God, faith, prayer or any of the central tenets of their belief system, yet we live happy, productive, good lives.

            Yep, one of the other things is that whether we were brought up in a faith or have never had one we don't resort to nihilism or "moral anarchy" as one poster on the site insists.

            One has to ask, if believers didn't think they had someone perpetually watching over them whether they would they indulge in what my wife's conditions of service call "gross moral turpitude"?

          • The Gyges question! It's still one of the most powerful moral questions out there. Is there really justice? If so, you should do what is right regardless of whether someone can see you.

          • If there is no one "watching over them" (i.e., God whose will determines what's right and wrong), then who gets to decide when someone commits "gross moral turpitude"? You? Me? The psychotic? The "community"?

          • epeeist

            If there is no one "watching over them" (i.e., God whose will determines what's right and wrong), then who gets to decide when someone commits "gross moral turpitude"? You? Me? The psychotic? The "community"?

            But if it is god that decides what is wrong then this is as arbitrary as any other individual deciding what is right or wrong. Your "community" is closer, we are social animals and inter-subjective agreements are a vital part of the proper working of our societies.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            After reading the articles and posts here which tell me that I am an atheist only because I enjoy roistering about in a state of moral anarchy, I confess to wondering if I'm missing out on a lot of the fun that all you other atheists get to have.

            I do admit, though, that I regularly check out more books from the library than I have time to read. The upshot is that I wind up having to pay late fines several times a year. I wonder if God is able to help me overcome this......

          • Isn't belief in God the "ultimate affront" to atheists?
            You don't "need" to continue existing? Why do you continue to exist? Theists understand it to be God's job to keep things existing--what do atheists say?
            Who gets to decide how one defines "happy" and "good"?
            Pretty big questions...

          • Rationalist1

            "Theists understand it to be God's job to keep things existing" How can you understand something that you have absolutely not one iota of evidence for. Where as there's a lot of evidence that it's the four forces of nature (strong, weak, electric and gravity) that keeps things existing.

            Who gets to define happy and good? I'll tell you it's not the exclusive purview of the believers, we all get to define it.

          • Majority determines morality? How?
            Who/what keeps the "four forces of nature" existing?

          • Jonathan West

            Are you prepared to acknowledge ignorance and to accept the scientific answer of "we don't know, but we hope to find out some day"?

            Or is that uncertainty so intolerable to you that you must hide your ignorance even from yourself and call it God?

          • Ignorance? When given the choice to believe that *nothing* is the cause for four forces of nature existing or *something* is, I choose "something." Don't scientists choose "something" *all* the time when conducting experiments seeking the "cause" of some effect?

          • Rationalist1

            They seek causes but they don't presume causes. And they let their conclusion fit their data and not fit their data to get the conclusion they want.

          • I would hope so. Do you think scientists recognize that, by seeking "causes," they have two possible outcomes: 1) cause and effect form an infinite regression or 2) there will and must ultimately be one "un-caused cause"?

          • Jonathan West

            Not at all. Quantum theory gives scientists ample reason to think that there may be multiple uncaused causes, and that the universe is not deterministic in the way you are thinking.

            This possibility is one frequently ignored by theologians.

          • Contrarily, quantum *theory* gives me ample reason to think quantum *theorists* need a better interpretation of the evidence.... :-) What is the latest un-caused cause celebre theorized? Do you have a link or article to point me to that describes something discovered to be "uncaused"?
            Isn't that something like proving a *negative*, btw???

          • Rationalist1

            Hey. Quantium mechanics can predict values with a precision that is one part in a trillion. When theologians can predict anything with a better success rate than chance, maybe we can talk.

            As for uncaused events, check out radioactive decay, virtual particle creation or indeed the entire basis of quantum mechanics is probabilistic, no determinism, just probabilities.

          • No, radioactive decay is not "uncaused."
            I return to what I think is an important question: Do you think it's really in the realm of science to "prove" that something is "uncaused"?
            How can science go about doing this?

          • Rationalist1

            It's amazing. You state that radioactivity is not uncaused (without proof or evidence) and then ask me to prove that something is uncaused. Of course there is evidence for it (that's how science works) but before I present it can you just see that incongruity of what you just said.,

          • I don't think my comments incongruous. My statement on radioactive decay has to do with the fact that it is an "effect" resulting from an unstable nucleus, correct?
            But my "important" question is a result of really wanting to understand how science can "prove" an "uncaused"?

          • Rationalist1

            Radioactive decay is uncaused. It occurs totally at random for a particular isotope. What causes one atom to decay 10 seconds from now and one to decay in 10 years is pure chance. There are no hidden variables that affect it.

            Now how do you know that the decay of a radioactive isotope at a particular place and time is caused? A Nobel prize awaits you if you can explain it.

          • What's the difference between a stable nucleus and an unstable nucleus?
            Do stable nuclei decay?
            What does "uncaused" really mean here? How does science *prove*, I ask again, that someething is "uncaused"?

          • Jonathan West

            That you even ask the question on those terms demonstrates your ignorance of what science is or does. Science doesn't prove things, since any scientific theory, no matter how thoroughly its predictions have been confirmed, can in principle be overturned by a single contrary observation.

          • But that's entirely my point: if the "predictions" previously confirmed can be overturned by a single contrary observation, then it only takes one future discovery to eliminate the idea that radioactive decay is somehow "uncaused". "We don't know what causes it" is different from the assertion that "it is uncaused."

          • Jonathan West

            In that case, your assertion that they have two possible outcomes: 1) cause and effect form an infinite
            regression or 2) there will and must ultimately be one "un-caused
            cause"
            is similarly unjustified, and we are back to "I don't know".

            Why don't you like "I don't know"?

          • epeeist

            But that's entirely my point: if the "predictions" previously confirmed can be overturned by a single contrary observation, then it only takes one future discovery to eliminate the idea that radioactive decay is somehow "uncaused".

            You will note that Jonathan said "in principle".

            But in this case you are dealing with something that strongly seems to be part of reality. Particles are not at a specific place, one can only speak of them being "here" with one probability and "there" with another probability.

            Here is a simple analogy I tried with another poster. Imagine one of the tall spaghetti jars with a marble inside. It is obvious that to get the marble to the outside one has to give it some energy to get up and over the side of the jar.

            Reduce the whole thing to the quantum scale and it is completely different. There is a certain probability that the quantum marble is in the quantum jar and another probability that it is outside. Speaking of a "cause" to get it from the inside to the outside is meaningless.

          • Rationalist1

            Do stable nuclei decay? No, but then are bachelors married. Unstable nuclei decay at a totally random rate.

          • The *rate* of decay being random does not equate to "uncaused cause" for the decay itself. So, what causes the *effect* of decay (not the rate, but the effect)? The unstable arrangement of the nucleus is at least one "cause" for the effect.

          • Rationalist1

            Sure it does. An uncaused event is something that occurs without a cause. You can't just say because something exists, that is the cause. It would be like a thief arguing that I robbed the bank because I exist.

          • epeeist

            The *rate* of decay being random does not equate to "uncaused cause"

            This is just an example of quantum tunnelling. The rate of decay essentially the transmission probability, which is dependent on the height of the potential barrier and the particle energy. The greater the probability density function |Ψ(x)|^2 the greater the transmission probability.

            The unstable arrangement of the nucleus is at least one "cause" for the effect.

            No, the unstable arrangement of the nucleus is a disposition.

          • Rationalist1

            epeeist - Exactly. Radioactive decay is just the more obvious manifestation of that aspect of QM. Another is the semiconductor property of the integrated circuit transistors on the computers we are all typing on.

          • Rationalist, just a heads up (since the topic seems to be of interest), but Trent Horn will be writing an article here very soon on the "quantum theory" objection to the first premise of the kalam argument ("everything that begins to exist has a cause.") So stay tuned!

          • Rationalist1

            Thanks Brandon. I hope he can prove that everything that begins to exist has a cause. That would be interesting.

          • primenumbers

            And no doubt involve an in-depth exhaustive search of the entire universe!

          • He doesn't necessarily have to prove it definitively for one to accept the conclusion. To assent to the argument's conclusion ("the universe had a [immaterial, eternal] cause") you only need to be more confident in each of the premises than in their opposites. In other words, you only need to show that "everything that begins to exist has a cause" is more likely to be true than not.

            So if Trent shows that the "quantum objection" is not a legitimate example of a causeless beginning, then you would be forced to either 1) provide another proposed refutation of that premise or 2) accept the premise as stated. I look forward to your choice after we post Trent's article.

          • Rationalist1

            I'll await the article. But "everything that begins to exist has a cause" is more likely to be true than not." may seem obvious to a lay person but not to someone with a background in modern science. It's similar to why Paley's argument from design makes sense until you study biology's theory of evolution.

          • Jonathan West

            To assent to the argument's conclusion ("the universe had a [immaterial, eternal] cause") you only need to be more confident in each of the premises than in their opposites. In other words, you only need to show that "everything that begins to exist has a cause" is more likely to be true than not.

            That is an awfully low standard of confidence. That you believe the chances are better than fifty-fifty would never make it into any scientific paper. A clinical trial of a drug would not be regarded as conclusive unless it could be demonstrated that there was less than a 5% chance that the observed effect was down to random variations, and the physicists looking for the Higgs boson didn't announce their results until there was less than a one-in-3.5 million chance that their results were down to chance.

            Do you really think that it is acceptable to base such wide-ranging conclusions on such an acknowledgedly low level of confidence? I think it would be better be be more honest and simply admit that you lack sufficient evidence to be able to say one way or the other.

            Why is it that so many religious people seem unable to allow the words "I don't know" to pass their lips?

          • primenumbers

            The problem being for the theistic arguer is that if you're looking at probabilities of the truth of the statement "everything that begins to exist has a cause", no matter how high it is, the probability that "everything that exists began to exist" is actually higher, because the un-caused nature of quantum events (even if disputed) reduces the probability that the first statement is true, but does nothing to reduce the probability that the second statement is false. If we are more certain that the second statement is true than the first, we can serious doubt that the result of any cosmological argument is valid for demonstrating the existence of God.

          • Susan

            you only need to be more confident in each of the premises than in their opposites. In other words, you only need to show that "everything that begins to exist has a cause" is more likely to be true than not.

            Not if you're using "everything that begins to exist has a cause" as a premise in a deductive argument.

            You have to show that everything that begins to exist necessarily has a cause.

            As far as I know. Have I missed something?

          • epeeist

            You have to show that everything that begins to exist necessarily has a cause.

            Yes, the argument is implicitly modal, I can't do the symbols here but it should read:

            necessary: (x) Cx

            where "x" is things that begin to exist and Cx is the statement "things that begin to exist require a cause"

          • Susan

            necessary: (x) Cx

            where "x" is things that begin to exist and Cx is the statement "things that begin to exist require a cause"

            Thanks again, epeeist.

            I find it strange that this been pointed out in countless ways on this site and specifically to Brandon more than once, and he's still trying to pass this off:

            In other words, you only need to show that "everything that begins to exist has a cause" is more likely to be true than not.

            And tries to get away with this:

            if Trent shows that the "quantum objection" is not a legitimate example of a causeless beginning, then you would be forced to either 1) provide another proposed refutation of that premise or 2) accept the premise as stated.

            Where did he come up with that? This is basic stuff, isn't it?

          • epeeist

            He doesn't necessarily have to prove it definitively for one to accept the conclusion.

            Oh yes he does, otherwise he can't have the universal quantification. And if he can't have the universal quantification then the whole argument falls in a heap.

          • Susan

            if he can't have the universal quantification then the whole argument falls in a heap

            Thank you epeeist. That answers my question.

          • Jonathan West

            I hope he will do a much better job of eliminating the alternatives than the sorry effort by Peter Kreeft in attempting to rule out naturalistic origins for conscience.

            By the way, you never did go back to that thread and answer the objections addressed to you there.

          • epeeist

            What is the latest un-caused cause celebre theorized? Do you have a link
            or article to point me to that describes something discovered to be
            "uncaused"?

            Can I suggest that you go and read articles on things like the Casimir effect, the Lamb shift, radioactive decay or any other instance of quantum tunnelling or of virtual particles..

          • Rationalist1

            Theologians are seemingly still puzzled by Zeno's paradox. Science had no problem with infinite regress or uncaused effects, only theologians do.

          • Why no problem with infinite regress?

          • Rationalist1

            Because science, since Newton and Leibnitz has learned how to handle infinities.

          • Jonathan West

            Because depending on the type of infinite series, it might or might not have a finite sum. The series referred to in Zeno's paradox in fact does have a finite sum, but it took the invention of calculus in the 17th century (by Newton and/or Leibniz, depending on your position in that controversy) to prove this.

          • Rationalist1

            And Quantum electrodynamics has an infinite regress of interactions that it can handle quite accurately predicting values to 1 part in a trillion.

          • primenumbers

            If you're open to the idea of un-caused causes (which you must be to exempt your God from a causal chain) in principle, there's obviously nothing illogical at all about un-caused causes is there? If you have, in principle no objection to an un-caused cause, why do you object so in the case of un-caused causes observed at a quantum level?

          • Hubristic-humility

            Quantum mechanics has never proven something has an un-caused cause. It has only shown we do not *yet* know or understand the cause if cause exists. This I have faith one day either science will find the cause or not find the cause but lack of known cause does not equate to un-caused or *no* cause. It requires faith to say that because a cause can't be found that there is an un-cause. Now i will say there is something illogical about an uncaused cause happening that is anything but super-natural.

          • primenumbers

            "Now i will say there is something illogical about an uncaused cause happening that is anything but super-natural." - so you special plead for the super-natural and object in the natural world.

            Maybe you'd point out the method by which we can determine cause and hence we can experiment to see if these quantum effects are caused or uncaused?

          • Hubristic-humility

            I don't ignore the natural world thats the point. i think the burden is on you to determine how something can be uncaused in the natural world.

          • primenumbers

            I'm not the one making the positive claim so I have no burden of proof. Can you answer the question on we'd experimentally determine cause or lack of?

          • Rationalist1

            Do you have to prove that astrology is bogus? No it's up to astrologers who make the claim to prove their case. Modern science has determined that quantum events occur probabilistically and have 80 years of evidence to back it up without anyone being able to refute their non probabilistic basis. No it may not be true, but we would have to revise all of quantum mechanics just to agree with a 14 century theologian.

          • Rationalist1

            Hubristic-humility - Prior to Newton, it was thought that the planets were pushed in their orbits by angels. To be fair, despite the success of physics in predicting the orbits of the planets, science has still not proven that the angels are not there.

          • Hubristic-humility

            umm..so. All you prove is that humans are fallible and or have imaginations and or are working off the best known scientific argument they have at the time. I know this. it was scientifically, and extrapolated religiously, believed that there were multiple races of humans or sub humans if you will but we find that we are all one race and newish research is indicating that primarily those, but not exclusive to, of Eurocentric origins have Neanderthal DNA.

          • Rationalist1

            Humans are certainly fallible. It just religions that never admits to having made any error of doctrine, not science.

          • Hubristic-humility

            Well and there we get to the crux of the problem. I believe that Devine revelation trumps metaphysics trumps scientific theory. I expect one to be an absolute truth and the others to make mistakes and have to correct it. If I believe Jesus Christ walked this earth, believe he fulfilled numerous prophesies, believe he was a good honest moral teacher, believe he was uber rational, believe eye witness accounts of him and his miracles, believe that the apostles were not brain washed crazed lunatics, believe he resurrected from the dead, then i believe what he said was true and the 2000yrs of theology to support those beliefs. just because some mortal comes up with a scientific, psychological, historical theory that attempts to provide confusion of these truths does not make them un-true.

          • Jonathan West

            Please read carefully again what I wrote. I am not saying that nothing is the cause for four forces of nature existing, I am saying that we don't know the cause.

            It seems that ignorance is intolerable to you.

          • Okay, well, I'm trying to keep my apples and oranges straight here. Some atheists are saying uncaused causes are fine.
            But if you and I agree that *something* must cause the existence of such forces, then we have a shot at further refinement--e.g., what "kind" of "something" could cause this?

          • Jonathan West

            But if you and I agree that *something* must cause the existence of such forces, then we have a shot at further refinement--e.g., what "kind" of "something" could cause this?

            Nope, because you're still not reading me carefully. Which bit of "don't know" did you not understand?

            We don't know what (if any) cause those forces have. You can do as much evidence-free speculation as you like and kid yourself that you have some knowledge, but I'm not going to join you. Don't know, means don't know, nothing more. We are going to have to leave it to the scientists to find out more.

            By the way, a famous Catholic scientist, the cosmologist Georges Lemaitre, went to great trouble to get Pope Pius XII to stop talking about the Big Bang theory as proof of God's existence, lest further scientific developments show that the Big Bang theory was wrong.

          • Rationalist1

            "Who/what keeps the "four forces of nature" existing?" There's no evidence that anyone does.

          • epeeist

            Who/what keeps the "four forces of nature" existing?

            This is just begging the question, why should the be a who or a what?

          • Sample1

            Why do you continue to exist?

            There's a science based answer for that: antagonistic pleiotropy, discovered by a gentleman I had the good fortune to briefly know (I say that to rule out those who think I am misunderstanding him).

            Mike

    • "then with extraordinarily rare exceptions, all human beings "have faith." So, in their own way, do cats and dogs and elephants, to name just a few animals. Why religious people would want to make something out of that I don't know. "

      Yes! We agree and that's the point: all people have faith. Therefore it makes no sense for (some) atheists to use the term pejoratively, as many have on this very website. This is the point of Jimmy's article and I'm happy to see you arrive at the same conclusion.

      • primenumbers

        "all people have faith. " - we have faith the sun won't blow up tomorrow because we have no evidence that the sun won't blow up tomorrow? Is that it?

      • This is the point of Jimmy's article and I'm happy to see you arrive at the same conclusion.

        Please note that I put "have faith" in quotation marks. As I said, if you want to define faith the way Akin does, then all human beings (except some mentally impaired ones) as well as many animals "have faith." But this is the same kind of "faith" that is shared by everyone. It is not that atheists believe the future will resemble the past and people of religious faith believe something else. Both groups believe the future will resemble the past.

        According to the Catechism,

        Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. "Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and 'makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.'"

        This is simply not the equivalent, in any way, of "faith" that the future will resemble the past, which is "hard wired" into our brains and the brains of higher animals (if not all life).

        So while I respect religious faith, I certainly understand why atheists make a very sharp distinction between "faith" that the future will resemble the past and religious faith.

        Akin seems to talk about faith as if it were a positive thing regardless of the content of the faith. Someone who believes in astrology could say to Catholics, "Well, we both have faith, so don't scoff at me." The preacher (Harold Camping) who predicted the end of the world a couple of years ago could have said, "It is my faith that the Bible tells me the world will end. You folks who believe in the existence of other minds can't prove that. So you have no right to criticize my faith."

        • Rationalist1

          I don't see why Christians would want to denigrate their God's supernatural gift to the level of the banal. Is it to make cheap debating points or are they actually discrediting their faith?

    • Sid_Collins

      Bingo!

      If this is true:

      [Athiests] are in the same position as the ordinary Christian who holds the existence of God despite his acknowledgement that he does not have conclusive proof of this.

      then so is this:

      Disbelievers in ghosts are in the same position as the person who holds the existence of ghosts despite his acknowledgement that he does not have conclusive proof of this.

      and this:

      Disbelievers in shape-shifting reptilian people who control our world are in the same position as the person who holds their existence despite his acknowledgement that he does not have conclusive proof of this.

      In other words, it is faith that causes one to reject any theory about the world based on belief in non-material entities. Is it useful to attempt to obfuscate differences between beliefs based on shared observation and experience versus those that elude detection by the senses and tested instrumentation? I don't see the value.

      • Jonathan West

        You do realise of course that belief in the Invisible Pink Unicorn is based both on faith and reason. We assert as a matter of faith that it is pink, and we can tell by means of reason that it is invisible, by virtue of the fact that we cannot see it.

  • Michael Murray

    He may be in the same position as a mathematician who remembers working out an elaborate, mathematical proof, but who does not presently have the whole of the proof in his mind.

    Well that would be why we write them down and send them to journals to be peer-reviewed and published.

    More of the usual rubbish. But I got further in before stopping. I must be toughening up.

    • This seems to be more the case with analytic philosophy. The God arguments there seem to be precise, and would be accepted as valid, although there will always be arguments about whether the premises are sound. Most serious philosophers who work on the existence of God seem more to be playing in a sandbox of possible premises. They want to see how much they can change the premises before they don't conclude that God (or the Necessary Being, or whatever) exists. I don't think that their project is useful to religion at all, but for some philosophers it is very interesting.

  • I found this interesting:

    In the Catholic view, it is possible to prove the existence of God in a way that allows us to have certainty regarding his existence (CCC 31).

    I give Akin credit for saying, "in the Catholic view." But of course in the "real world," something can either be proven or not. I don't need to say, "In my view, it can be proven that you can always (in principle) find a higher prime number than the one you have." My view has nothing to do with it. If something can be proven, it can be proven.

    • Michael Murray

      But it appears they are not proofs as we know them. Well certainly not proofs as we mathematicians understand them.

      31 Created in God's image and called to know and love him, the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him. These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of "converging and convincing arguments", which allow us to attain certainty about the truth. These "ways" of approaching God from creation have a twofold point of departure: the physical world, and the human person.

      It seems like "faith" "proof" is a word of many uses.

      • epeeist

        Well certainly not proofs as we mathematicians understand them.

        Not even proof as whisky drinkers understand it.

        I came across a pithy aphorism the other day, from someone called John Yeats:

        No amount of abstract reasoning would have led us to discover the properties and uses of iron

        One has to ask whether "converging and convincing arguments" allow one to define anything into existence, never mind its properties.

  • Jonathan West

    Yesterday, on the One Reason Why People Hate Religion thread, I made the following comment:

    Here we have a perfect example of something I've been commenting on. Brandon has put up a definition of Faith (one of several I have seen), BenS has raised various objections, and Brandon has not been seen here since.

    I bet we will have another article on faith come along soon, which will repeat the original assertions as if BenS's comments had never been made.

    And so it came to pass.

    • Thanks for another good example of "faith" per Jimmy Akin's post above: Without any form whatever of "certain proof" that Brandon's absence from Strange Notions this weekend has to do with BenS's "various objections," you seem to believe his absence does. But a simple glance at Brandon's own web site makes clear he's been gone all weekend at conference....an act of "faith" on your part, in something not only unproven but provably false?
      But let's look at Akin's post--do you have objections to it? What might they be?

      • Michael Murray

        But let's look at Akin's post--do you have objections to it? What might they be?

        Straw manning of atheists ? Misuse and abuse of the words faith and proof ? It's all been covered in the other posts. People have pointed out before that this kind of apologist stuff might be convincing to wavering Catholics but it does nothing for dialogue with atheists.

        • Would you mind citing the text--for example, where is the word "faith" misused, and how? What is "faith" *supposed* to mean, and what does Akin say it means?

          • Michael Murray

            Do you really think faith in a being for which there is no serious evidence is the same as faith that the sun will come up tomorrow ? These are two quite different things. One has evidence the other doesn't. Pick whichever you prefer but don't try and pretend one is the other.

            David has made the point better than I can

            https://strangenotions.com/do-atheists-have-faith/#comment-979987738

          • Well, of course, Michael--if you use tautology to make the claim, you can make belief in God sound ridiculous. See what you did in your comment? How do we know these two kinds of "faith" are different? Because the one without "serious evidence" doesn't have evidence....
            That's not, of course, what Akin says. So can you cite a passage from the post, please, which we might discuss?

        • epeeist

          People have pointed out before that this kind of apologist stuff might be convincing to wavering Catholics but it does nothing for dialogue with atheists.

          In other words it isn't reasoned argument, it is rhetoric, and since there seems to be a fondness for Aristotle here, something he defines as the art of persuasion.

        • primenumbers

          "but it does nothing for dialogue with atheists" - and not only does it not further the dialogue, but it sets things back as it just entrenches our opinions that our positions are straw-manned and that theistic arguments rely upon equivocation and word-play.

      • Jonathan West

        I have the gift of Prophecy.

        • Rationalist1

          Do you have to claim that gift on your tax returns as an unrealized prophet? :->

          • ZenDruid

            ...Estimated prophet? ;-)>

        • Suggest you return the unused portion for a full refund... :-)

    • Ben

      Yeah, I feel like now that I've actually engaged with Brandon and written a long and detailed response to one of his comments, I'm almost guaranteed not to hear from him again in this post.

      The way this site works is this: the poster (97% of the time a Catholic) makes a provocative claim which depends on a very vague and fuzzy definition of a term, or special pleading ("atheism is a form of religion", "Catholicism is the best kind of science", "Catholic priests' track record of child rape is great evidence we can trust them"). Then about 20 atheists can't resist scratching the itch and reply. Then Brandon shows up and thanks them for engaging (he probably gets funding from his secret Vatican masters based on the number of pageviews or comments) and posts whatever cached thoughts - http://lesswrong.com/lw/k5/cached_thoughts/ - he has on the topic. Once the discussion gets beyond the stage where it's possible to rattled off a canned argument or claim Aquinas thought of it first, enough time has elapsed that Brandon's next queued up post has appeared and he can move on.

      It's totally clear, if you think about it, that this site has nothing to do with actually changing anybody's mind.

      The only winning move is not to play.

      • Jonathan West

        Quite frankly, the behaviour is insulting. It is also disingenuous in that Brandon is making a big play of his claim that he is reaching out to and engaging with atheists, but in fact he's not making any attempt to engage with atheists' quite reasonable objections to the points made in the articles.

        Also the articles, at least the recent ones I have read since i arrived here, have been of abysmally low quality, as full of logical holes as a colander. If he imagines that they are going to be in the least bit persuasive to atheists who have thought through and disposed of these issues many times over, then he is insulting our intelligence.

        If it weren't for the fact that on the previous thread both Vickie and English Catholic have promised to have a more substantial discussion with me, I would be gone by now.

        Rather being conned into treating this site as a honeypot, perhaps we should set up our own outreach programme, and fan out across as many apologetics websites as we can cover and leave comments on all of them? I wonder how many we could hit with rational comments in the course of a week or two?

        • Heh, for amusement's sake, make the conspiracy theorist's assumption that the problems with what has actually happened were the real, secret motivations behind things. So the "real" goal of this site would be to draw atheists away from other sites on the internet, making the rest of the internet safe for believers. ;)

  • Rationalist1

    "Some atheists may claim that they have conclusive proof that God does not exist." Very few do. I can think of only one public atheist who says as much (Victor Stenger). Most, like Richard Dawkins, live their lives as if God did not exist and would say God does not exist but if pressed would say they like astrology, homeopathy and ESP, they can not prove those beliefs are not valid, only that they are extremely unlikely.

    Unlike Christians who seem to believe their many proofs of God's existence (20 on this site), atheists amlost exclusively don't claim proofs of God's non-existence.

    • primenumbers

      The issue of conclusive proof of the non-existence of God is that "God" is ill-defined. We all accept that contradictory things don't exist, and hence proof-by-contradiction is valid for disproving any sufficiently well defined God. That theists don't accept these contradictions as such is evidenced by their rationalizations, usually that their God is "subtle" and "nuanced" and our definition is hence "naive". That does not mean that our proof-by-contradiction is false however, but that the theist is rejecting the definition used outright or claiming their definition is different while not actually being specific on what that definition actually is in a way that they can be held to it for the next contradiction that is used against them.

      So for any sufficiently well defined God we can indeed potentially demonstrate a conclusive proof against existence, but for ill-defined Gods we can only really be agnostic (ignostic??) (but as you point out live as a practical atheist for all intents and purposes with respect to that God).

      • "The issue of conclusive proof of the non-existence of God is that "God" is ill-defined."

        Perhaps by atheists but not by most serious Christians. If you'd like a definition of God, you might consider reading Questions 3-13 from St. Thomas' Summa:

        http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1.htm

        • primenumbers

          Exactly as I said - ill defined. (and another punt to Aquinas - I should be keeping tally).

          Seriously though Brandon, if you think that what you've presented is not an example of ill-defined, I'd hate to see what you think is something that is ill-defined.

        • Ben

          That definition isn't compatible with the Christian God as described in the Bible. For example, Aquinas says God is immutable, yet throughout the Bible God acquires new knowledge, makes decisions, incarnates himself as a human, etc etc.

        • There is no definition given, just a bunch of claims. I pulled the claims out of those sections in order.

          God is:

          * not a body
          * immaterial
          * identical to his essence
          * identical to his existence
          * not in a genus
          * without accidents
          * compositionally simple
          * not part of anything else
          * perfect
          * possessing of all perfections
          * like other things
          * good
          * the supreme good
          * good essentially
          * not the same goodness that other things have
          * infinite
          * the only essentially infinite thing
          * in all things
          * everywhere
          * everywhere by essence, presence, and power
          * the only thing that is everywhere
          * altogether immutable
          * the only immutable thing
          * eternal
          * the only eternal thing
          * one
          * supremely one
          * seeable by minds
          * not seeable by brains
          * incomprehensible
          * known by natural reason

          All this is vague far past the point of being utterly useless. Some parts, given the progress of science, are now contradictory in their straightforward meanings and would have to be given fanciful re-interpretations. And of course, given the limitations helpfully provided by the final claim ("known by natural reason"), we can say with full confidence that nothing exists that matches this set of claims.

    • The fact that many atheists keep seeking, coupled with Buchak's and Akin's similar definitions of faith listed above, seem to strongly suggest that the atheists here do not have faith. If they did, they'd stop actively looking.

  • Jimmy, this is a great article!

    It resonates with what Lara Buchak is working on in Berkeley. Her definition of faith I think makes the most sense.

    Faith has four parts:

    (1) trusting that an uncertain statement is true in part because you trust the source of the statement
    (2) having no strong evidence that the statement is false
    (3) facing substantial consequences if the statement is false
    (4) not seeking out evidence for the truth or falsity of this statement into the foreseeable future.

    Buchak's example is faith in a spouse. You have faith that your spouse is not cheating on you, because you trust your spouse, there's no strong evidence that your spouse is cheating on you, and if you are wrong there are terrible consequences (end of the relationship, STD's, relationship with children, etc.). But you don't actively look for evidence for your spouse's faithfulness. You don't, for example, hire a private investigator to shadow your spouse. If you did, that would mean that you no longer have faith that your spouse is not cheating on you.

    Faith in God can be similarly qualified.

    • Michael Murray

      Faith in God can be similarly qualified.

      Perhaps. The difference for me though is that I am reasonably confident of the existence of my spouse.

      • I think that's one important difference. I can't speak for Lara (although her presentation on faith and God is online, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPWZFzfsqxU ). I wouldn't site God as the source for faith that God exists, for the most part. I'd need to cite a different source. Church, the Bible maybe (as a testimony), my family or friends, other people who I tend to trust.

        Even still, faith can be well-placed or ill-placed.

    • Jonathan West

      Faith has four parts:

      (1) trusting that an uncertain statement is true in part because you trust the source of the statement
      (2) having no strong evidence that the statement is false
      (3) facing substantial consequences if the statement is false
      (4) not seeking out evidence for the truth or falsity of this statement into the foreseeable future.

      Taken together, these sound like a wilful decision to maintain yourself in a state of ignorance.

      The first is a deliberate acceptance of the argument from authority, which is an informalm fallacy unless you can satisfy yourself that the source really is an authority (and who in the world is an authority on God, not merely in authority about God?)

      It seems to me that if item #3 is true, then the last thing you want to do is trust to luck as to whether the statement is false.

      And Item 4 is just plain deliberate lack of curiosity.

      Taken together, they are a call to ignorance.

      • There is no reason necessarily to think that faith is good, from this formulation. I think most people have faith, but maybe all that means is that most people wilfully maintain ignorance about certain things in their lives.

        I have faith in my wife, for example. I'm not actively seeking out evidence as to whether she's cheating. Maybe you think that's a lack of curiosity or wilful ignorance on my part. You are of course entitled to conduct your relationships as you see fit.

        • Jonathan West

          But you aren't depending on a "source" for information about your wife, you see her regularly, and whether you do so deliberately or not, I would jolly well hope that you notice her sufficiently to pick up changes in her behaviour that may indicate that she is unhappy. I don't think that your belief that she is happy should be subject to the neglect implicit in item 4 of your list.

          • A source of information is just that. Person, book, etc. I may know this person very well. Also, (4) is not about ignoring new evidence (and are not about happiness, but in reference to a particular statement: my wife is not cheating on me). The implications you draw do not seem fair. They don't even seem connected to the definition.

      • epeeist

        Taken together, they are a call to ignorance.

        Actually your (2) having no strong evidence that the statement is false is an argument from ignorance.

    • Faith in God can be similarly qualified.

      Only if your spouse is also invisible and has no indication of physical presence.

      • Max Driffill

        I call this, The Spouse in my Garage.

      • I think this is a strong definition, but I agree that faith in God would require some elaboration. I'm potentially abandoning Buchak's construction, because I don't know exactly how she'd answer (her talk on this is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPWZFzfsqxU ).

        The example below should also illustrate that faith in something is not always about justified true belief (this isn't necessarily knowledge, but it can be).

        For reference:
        (1) trusting that an uncertain statement is true in part because you trust the source of the statement
        (2) having no strong evidence that the statement is false
        (3) facing substantial consequences if the statement is false
        (4) not seeking out evidence for the truth or falsity of this statement into the foreseeable future.

        Two instantiated examples:
        (1) Jimmy believes that Santa exists, in large part because his mommy told him, and he trusts his mommy.
        (2) Jimmy has no strong reason to suspect that Santa doesn't exist. He's 4 years old, and the more complex questions involving Santa haven't occured to him yet. He hasn't been exposed to a classroom with that one kid who tells the whole class that Santa is a lie.
        (3) Jimmy behaved himself and performed good deeds, even though no one was there to see him, because he wanted to be on Santa's nice list. If Santa doesn't exist, then those good deeds accomplished nothing Santa-wise.
        (4) Jimmy has no real interest in testing whether Santa exists at this time and into the future as he forsees it. Mom told him Santa's real and that's good enough for him.

        (1) Afred believes that God exists, mostly because of the cosmological argument and because of deep religious experiences, but also because he accepts the authority of the Bible and his Church.
        (2) Alfred has considered the problem of evil and divine hiddenness, and found Plantinga's answer to the first and Craig's answer to the second convincing.
        (3) Alfred has spent hours in prayer, fearing that his soul will burn in hell or at least for a good while in purgatory if God does not purify him. He's given a great deal to the poor and has educated his children in the Christian faith. If God does not exist, all this effort is not only wasted (at least in terms of the future of his soul) but possibly has been harmful to both himself and his family.
        (4) Alfred may engage in debates with friends, but his purpose is their conversion. He's not actively seeking out evidence that God does not exist out of a real concern that he may be wrong.

        There are two examples. Does that make more sense?

        • Jonathan West

          Your first example is of a 4-year-old child. Do you really want to model your thought-processes on that?

          Your second example demonstrates many fallacies which show how unsound Alfred's reasoning (and therefore his conclusion) is. It's worth going through this point by point.

          1) Afred believes that God exists, mostly because of the cosmological argument and because of deep religious experiences, but also because he accepts the authority of the Bible and his Church.

          So many fallacies wrapped up in one short sentence! Let's start at the end and work backwards.

          He's accepting the the Argument from Authority, which is a fallacy unless he can satisfy himself that the authority he relies on really is knowledgeable on the subject. Since nobody has actually met God, I suggest that nobody can justifiably claim that authority, not even the Pope.

          Then there is the fallacy of the Argument from Personal Experience. Alfred might have had deep and profound experiences. He might even label them religious. But to have a profound experience is not the same as being able to justifiably interpret the experience as having a divine origin. In doing so, he is relying on the Argument from Authority as to the cause of his experience. Such religious experiences are described in the literature of all religions (both Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic), and are universally interpreted as providing evidence for the truth of that religion. There is no more reason to believe the claims of one religion over those of any other.

          The Cosmological argument is flawed, most simply in that it is shifting the burden of proof. The answer to the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is currently "I don't know". It s a non sequitur then to say "and therefore God did it", which is what the cosmological argument comes down to, though this is disguised by it being dressed up in lost of long words. (It's amazing how many people find themselves persuaded of the truth of the most outrageous load of male bovine excrement when it is expressed using long words!)

          (2) Alfred has considered the problem of evil and divine hiddenness, and found Plantinga's answer to the first and Craig's answer to the second convincing.

          Then he has failed to understand the basic principle of the null hypothesis, which is that if you can see nothing, then nothing is probably what is there.

          (3) Alfred has spent hours in prayer, fearing that his soul will burn in hell or at least for a good while in purgatory if God does not purify him. He's given a great deal to the poor and has educated his children in the Christian faith. If God does not exist, all this effort is not only wasted (at least in terms of the future of his soul) but possibly has been harmful to both himself and his family.

          Whether God exists is not in any way dependent on the amount of time Alfred has spent in prayer or the amount of money he has given to charity. It is also not dependent on whether Alfred believes in God or has taught his children to believe in God. To believe otherwise is to commit the fallacy of the Argument from Numbers (more believers equals more truth).

          (4) Alfred may engage in debates with friends, but his purpose is their conversion. He's not actively seeking out evidence that God does not exist out of a real concern that he may be wrong.

          In that case he is deliberately attempting to avoid expanding his knowledge.

          Let me give you another example. Joe has complete faith that he can safely control his car even when he has been to the pub and drunk several pints and a few shots.

          He is aware that driving while drunk is not legal, but he does it anyway because he genuinely and honestly believes that he can safely control his car, and therefore that he is doing nothing wrong in driving home after an evening at the pub.

          He has avoided seeking out information about the effects of drinking and driving, because to do so would seriously affect the way in which he can enjoy is evenings don the pub with his friends.

          He talks about drinking and driving, but only with his pub friends of are of the same opinion that he is, and who reinforce his view that there is nothing wrong with it.

          On his way home one evening, a mother is on a zebra crossing pushing a buggy containing her baby daughter. He fails to see them in time and and knocks them over, killing the mother and paralyzing the daughter for life.

          He had no intention of doing any harm at all. he specifically had no intention of killing or injuring anybody on the way home. He had no knowledge that his action in drinking before driving would affect his ability to control the car safely, because he had avoided seeking out information that would have provided him with such knowledge.

          Was his faith in his driving ability a good thing or a bad thing?

          To generalise, is maintaining your ignorance when you could inform yourself a good thing or a bad thing?

          • Before we continue further, I'm interested here in defending both the utility of Buchak's definition of faith and its similarity to Akin's definition, and that it is possible for a person have faith rationally, using Buchak's definition.

            For that reason, I don't find much reason to respond to your criticism of Alfred's position, since your criticism is to the rationality of Alfred and not the definition of faith here presented.

            I'll move on to your example about Joe. I don't think it's an example of faith, as defined above. Joe's belief that he can control his car does not seem to be based on any person he trusts (failing part one of the definition). He has not dealt with the strong arguments against driving drunk, namely that it is bad to break the law (failing part two of the definition). His belief, if false, can have terrible consequences (meeting part three of the definition). He is actively avoiding new evidence about driving drunk (which is not required by part four of the definition, but is consistent with part four; all that's required is that he's not actively looking for evidence).

            I think you could easily fix your example to make it an example about faith.

            In general, I think that accepting a false statement, whether by faith or not is a bad thing, although there are several exceptions.

            In many cases, not actively seeking out new information is a good thing.

          • Jonathan West

            I think you could easily fix your example to make it an example about faith.

            i don't think it needs any modification at all to meet the Buchak definition of faith as you have stated it.

            Joe is his own source with regard to item 1. After all, he believes he knows himself very well. Item 2 is met in that he has no evidence that his action is harmful, even though he knows that it is illegal. For him to infer that the illegality of the action necessarily means that it is harmful would require him to accept that all illegal activities are harmful. This is manifestly false, there are many activities that are illegal but which do no harm, for instance parking for a few minutes on a yellow line on a street that for the moment has no traffic.

            So I suggest that Joe's action meets fully the Buchak definition of faith.

            In general, I think that accepting a false statement, whether by faith or not, is a bad thing, although there are several exceptions.

            But how are you to discover whether the statement is false, except by seeking out additional information? This is the one thing you Joe not do if he has faith in his driving ability according to the Buchak definition.

            The key point of faith as Buchak has defined and you have described is that it involves an active decision to avoid gaining further information on the subject.

            Since effective moral action requires the best practicable knowledge of the probable outcomes of the different choices you make, it is impossible act in a morally effective way if you deliberately avoid acquiring knowledge as to those consequences.

            I would therefore argue that faith according to the Buchak definition is an actively immoral stance, in that it restrains you from seeking knowledge as to the consequences of your actions.

            Moreover, it is an immoral stance irrespective of the topic about which you exercise faith. A person cannot say that faith on subject A is not OK while faith on subject B is OK because there are no adverse consequences from acting ignorantly in the context of subject B. It is the person's very ignorance of subject B which makes him or her unqualified to make that determination.

          • Some of this was my own fault, trying to explain a philospoher's position, as a non-philosopher. Lara seemed to suggest (in the talk, also) that the source has to be external, or at least that you need to believe that the source is external.

            You said that Joe knows driving drunk is against the law. Until he resolves this somehow, he doesn't satisfy (2).

            Let me show you what modifications you could make and how easy this is.

            (1) Jeff tells Joe that he drives well drunk and Joe trusts Jeff.

            (2) Joe knows driving drunk is highly risky for his friends and is against the law, but he also knows he has a higher tolerance for alcohol, and has convinced himself that it is not as risky for himself. He also is an anarchist, and has what he believes are strong reasons for generally ignoring the law.

            (3) and (4) are fine.

            There you go.

            But how are you to discover whether the statement is false, except by seeking out additional information?

            I don't understand the point of this question.

            If you have reason to suspect that a statement is false, you would investigate that statement further. In such a case, you wouldn't accept this statement on faith.

            The key point of faith as Buchak has defined and you have described is that it involves an active decision to avoid gaining further information on the subject.

            That's wrong. There need be no avoidance of further information. It's just that you are not actively seeking out further information.

          • Jonathan West

            Let me show you what modifications you could make and how easy this is

            Consider the example suitably modified. i don't think it affects my point much.

            If you have reason to suspect that a statement is false, you would investigate that statement further.

            Doesn't work like that. If you are in a state of ignorance on the subject, you don't know that you should have reason to suspect the statement to be false. And therefore you do not investigate it.

            The only way to avoid this is always to be on the lookout for new information on any subject. Naturally, since there are only 24 hours in a day and most people like to sleep occasionally, one must prioritise towards subjects relating to situations you are likely to be in. For instance, I am utterly ignorant of how to pilot a Boeing 747. But the chances of me ever being required to do so are so remote that this is a subject I am content to remain ignorant of.

            But I do drive, and so I have a moral duty to ensure that my driving is competent, and that includes a duty to know about the consequences of drink driving and to act accordingly.

            There was a time when I did not have any knowledge of the danger of driving while using a mobile phone.

            But I regard it as part of my moral duty to be as safe as possible when driving, and therefore I keep myself open to new information about all aspects of road safety. So when information started to become available on driving while using a mobile phone, I sought it out, even though until then I had had no reason to think that driving while using a mobile was unsafe. Had I (like Joe) had faith in my driving ability, I would not have sought out that information and may have run over somebody as a result.

            There need be no avoidance of further information. It's just that you are not actively seeking out further information.

            That doesn't get you off the hook. Inactivity is a choice just as much as activity is.

          • Doesn't work like that. If you are in a state of ignorance on the
            subject, you don't know that you should have reason to suspect the
            statement to be false. And therefore you do not investigate it.

            It would be irrational to place faith in something or someone about which you are ignorant.

          • Jonathan West

            It would be irrational to place faith in something or someone about which you are ignorant.

            It would be irrational if you were aware of the extent of your ignorance.

            But it is one of the characteristics of ignorance that you are unaware of how ignorant you really are. This isn't hypothetical, there have been numerous studies into the relationship between the degree of competence a person believes himself to have on a subject and his actual competence. The studies have repeatedly shown that the ignorant and incompetent have an unrealistically high opinion of their abilities,in other words that they are unaware of the extent of their ignorance.

            Therefore, if you act according to the Buchak principles of faith, you aren't in a position to discover whether you are acting irrationally or not.

            The only solution is to abandon the Buchak principles of faith and always actively seek out new information even when you believe yourself to have an adequate knowledge.

            Now, if this is a valid conclusion with regard to road safety, is there any reason not to regard it as an equally valid conclusion regarding God? In other words, is Alfred wrong to believe in God and not to seek out more information on the subject?

          • I'll go back to my "rational faith" example. I have faith that my wife is not cheating on me. I'm not actively trying to discover if she is. If new information comes to light, I'll consider it, but currently, I have faith that my wife is not cheating on me.

            It is true that I do not have 100% knowledge of what my wife is doing or who she is. I never will. But my faith is rational because I know quite a bit about her, and all I know about her suggests to me that she is a trustworthy and honorable individual who would not betray me. My belief is justified. I cannot know with 100% confidence that it is true, but I believe it.

            An aside, that I'm not interested in pursuing further: It would be immoral of me to actively seek out information about whether my wife is cheating on me (having an investigator follow her, getting into her facebook account, contacting old friends, etc.) Not only immoral, but dangerous!

            Is it possible that I am actually very ignorant about my wife, and she's actually a secret agent, alien etc.? Of course. Is this very likely? No. Is my faith that she won't cheat on me rational? I think it is.

            The only solution is to abandon the Buchak principles of faith and always actively seek out new information even when you believe yourself to have an adequate knowledge.

            This statement causes me to worry that maybe we are talking past each other. Buchak's "principles" are not "codes of conduct" or a "life philosophy" or "moral imperatives" or anything like that. They simply provide a description of a particular epistemic state. I think that this state can be rational. So far, you have done very little even to address the definition itself, treating it instead as some sort of list of preferred behavior or way of life.

          • Jonathan West

            I would suggest that in the example of you and your wife, you are not acting according to the Buchak definition of faith anyway. You are continually in receipt of new information about your wife, and and actively seeking it in order to maintain your marriage in a happy state.

            While you might not be acting specifically with a view to ferreting out possible infidelity, you are continually interested in her happiness, and it is entirely morally appropriate for you to do this. One of the effects of being concerned for her happiness in this way is to reduce the chance of infidelity in the first place.

            By being alert to signs of unhappiness that might if left untended lead to infidelity, you are in fact continually seeking out new information about your wife, and not leaving it as a matter of faith that she is happy with you.

            I suggest that if you were to take her for granted in the way described by Buchak, then her happiness with you would not last very long and infidelity would then become a real possibility.

            That is why the search for knowledge cannot be compartmentalised, you have to be continually aware of the possibility of ignorance of any matter concerning the world around you, and to be prepared to reach out and grab any information that may be available.

            If you act according to the Buchak definition of faith, then you stop doing that. That is why I regard it as immoral.

            A continued openness to new information doesn't stop you from acting according to the best knowledge you have now. We rarely reach certain conclusions but we nonetheless have to take decisions. And in doing so, people normally go with their best guess according to their understanding of the evidence currently available to them, rather than their second best guess that ignores that evidence.

            To do this is not faith according to the Buchak definition.

          • Interesting objection! I think it can be answered, though.

            Objection: You are continually in receipt of new information about your wife, and and actively seeking it in order to maintain your marriage in a happy state.

            While you might not be acting specifically with a view to ferreting out possible infidelity, you are continually interested in her happiness, and it is entirely morally appropriate for you to do this.

            It is true that I will constantly be looking for new information about my wife (and Christians are mandated to constantly learn more about God, from the Bible, etc.). But this is contrasted with my presentation of Buchak's definition above. Specifically:

            (4) not seeking out evidence for the truth or falsity of this statement into the foreseeable future.

            I will not be seeking out evidence for the truth or falsity specifically of the statement "my wife is not cheating on me", or in your words, I will not be:

            acting specifically with a view to ferreting out possible infidelity

            It seems as though I have faith, according to Buchak's definition.

          • Jonathan West

            Indirectly you are acting to seek out evidence of infidelity, because you are continuously and actively seeking out evidence of a common precursor to infidelity, specifically her unhappiness with you and the relationship, and acting in accordance with that evidence to maintain her happiness.

            You can place an arbitrary distinction between "directly" and "indirectly" if you like, but I would argue that my interpretation is the more complete one and is better at providing you with a wise form of guidance for your actions.

          • I suppose we could modify the original definition to add the word "directly" or "explicitly". I'll have to compare with Buchak's formalism to see if that's accurate. I don't think it's arbitrary, because it's trying to get at what people tend to call faith (like my faithfulness to my wife, or someone's faith in God).

            After all, it could be argued, and specific examples provided, that encouraging a Christian to read the entirety of the Bible is indirectly encouraging them to seek out evidence against their faith. This reading of the definition would mean that Christians who set out to read the whole Bible don't have faith.

            Thank you for your criticism. I think it will help me better express Buchak's definition in a generally understandable way.

          • Jonathan West

            I would advise against interpreting the definition with that kind of arbitrary distinction. Being arbitrary, it leaves you entirely free to draw the line between what you think is direct and indirect, and therefore becomes so vague as to be useless.

            My key point is that you don't actually have any way by yourself of assessing the quality of your knowledge o any subject. You can only do so by comparing your knowledge with that of others, by being open to new information from others or from your own new experiences that may be at variance with your current beliefs.

            This is an activity that cannot be compartmentalised by subject. Buchak's definition seeks to compartmentalise by subject and so create oases of ignorance on subjects about which a person is no longer seeking knowledge. As a result, the person has ceased to keep himself aware of changing circumstances that may render his previous understanding obsolete and therefore increase his ignorance to dangerous levels.

            The only way to avoid this is not to act according to the Buchak faith definition on any subject at all. And that includes religious topics.

          • I don't think it is useless or arbitrary. There is, at least as far as I can tell, a clear way to draw that distinction. And that's motive (why am I seeking information about such-and-such?).

            Is the motivation for me looking at the bank account because I think my wife is hiding expenses? Or is it because I'm trying to find out if we have enough to pay for a vacation?

            Is Jimmy hiding out in the living room to surprise Santa? Or is he hiding out in order to find out if Santa exists?

            Is Alfred reading apologetics books because he wants to provide better reasons for his friend to believe in God? Or is he reading them to find out if he should believe in God?

            I fail to see why this is difficult or arbitrary. I'd imagine there would be borderline cases, but there always are with things like this.

          • Jonathan West

            Is Alfred reading apologetics books because he wants to provide better reasons for his friend to believe in God? Or is he reading them to find out if he should believe in God?

            Why should that difference in motive matter?

          • Because it gets at the epistemic state of faith. The goal is to match a more-or-less specific definition to the intuitive use of the word, to describe a peculiar kind of belief.

            Faith seems to involve not actively seeking out evidence that you are wrong. If you were doing that, I think it would be clear that you don't have faith.

          • Jonathan West

            Faith seems to involve not actively seeking out evidence that you are wrong. If you were doing that, I think it would be clear that you don't have faith.

            But that is my precise point! You do need to actively seek out evidence that you are wrong, because unless you are open to evidence you are wrong you can never learn anything new.

            Moreover you need to actively seek out evidence that you are wrong in order to compensate for what is known as "confirmation bias".

            My fundamental objection to faith is that it acts to reinforce confirmation bias and therefore to promote the kind of ignorance that prevents you from acting in a morally effective way. It should not be regarded as a virtue under any circumstances.

          • I'm glad then that you think this definition of faith is a useful one (it captures the intuitive meaning of the word).

            I agree with you that faith can be irrational. Maybe most faith is irrational. But do you think that it is possible to have faith rationally? Namely, is it at all possible to:

            (1) trust that an uncertain statement is true in part because you trust the source of the statement
            (2) have no strong evidence that the statement is false
            (3) face substantial consequences if the statement is false
            (4) not seek out evidence for the truth or falsity of this statement into the foreseeable future, with the motive of establishing its truth or falsity

            and to do so rationally?

          • Jonathan West

            No, I do not, for reasons previously stated, which is that if you do not seek out evidence for the truth or falsity of the statement, you are placing yourself into a position of ignorance from which you cannot act rationally.

          • You mentioned this a while earlier, since my time is limited and so's my intelligence, I can only look into whether various statements are true or not.

            Staying with the example of my wife, one of the many reasons I don't hire private investigators or check her facebook messages or interrogate her friends for information about her fidelity is because it's not worth my time. I have good reason to trust her, and better things to do.

            This meets Buchak's definition of faith above. Is this irrational?

          • Jonathan West

            No it does not.

            As I mentioned before, you are in fact keeping track of your wife in far more effective ways by being concerned for her happiness, which in turn helps to prevent infidelity problems from arising in the first place.

            Moreover, you are placing sensible limits on the manner in which you gather information about your wife because being over-intrusive is likely to disturb her happiness and thereby give rise to precisely the problem you are seeking to prevent.

            This is not a matter of faith, it is a matter of prudence as to the most appropriate ways of gathering information concerning an important aspect of the world around you.

            Moreover, as I described before, there are only 24 hours in a day and as a practical matter it is necessary to prioritise the subjects which you actively make an effort to learn about. If you make a rational decision concerning the extent of your knowledge of your wife and that you have adequate means of ensuring you are aware of what need to be done for her happiness, and that you are already in a position where you are continually informing yourself on that subject, then it is a rational decision (being a best guess based on the evidence available to you) that you direct your spare time towards efforts at updating your knowledge about some other aspect of your life.

            If course, should the subject ever arise between you and your wife, then it will be a massive compliment to her to express yourself in terms of your faith and trust in her. But in fact your actions are based on a valid belief based on the best continuously updated evidence available, and are not in fact "faith" as described in the Buchak definition.

          • Let's go through this modified list:

            (1) trust that an uncertain statement is true in part because you trust the source of the statement
            (1) I trust that the statement "my wife is not cheating on me" is true in part because I trust my wife.
            (2) have no strong evidence that the statement is false
            (2) There's no real evidence that she's cheating on me.
            (3) face substantial consequences if the statement is false
            (3) STD's, loss of relationship, etc.
            (4) not seek out evidence for the truth or falsity of this statement into the foreseeable future, with the motive of establishing its truth or falsity
            (4) I don't, in your own words, "[act] specifically with a view to ferreting out possible infidelity"

            I'll point out about (4), as it is now worded (and even with the original wording) that not looking into my wife's infidelity as a matter of prudence or a matter of time still qualifies as not seeking out evidence into the foreseeable future. (4) doesn't imply anything about intent. Maybe it's just not on my schedule.

            It seems that you have a few options:

            (A) you can specifically show me which of these four I'm not properly meeting.

            (B) you can object to the definition, that it's not a good definition for faith.

            (C) you can argue that my faith in my wife is irrational. Even asserting it would be sufficient for me.

            (D) you can say something else.

            I'm interested in how you will respond.

          • Jonathan West

            We started with your original definition, or rather your description of Buchak's definition, which I thought was reasonable description of at least one aspect of faith.

            I pointed out that acting according to this definition of faith was immoral, giving the example of Joe the drunk driver and his deliberate state of ignorance concerning the effect of drink driving.

            What you have been doing since then is to progressively refine the definition (using the context of your wife's hypothetical infidelities or lack thereof) until you get to the point where in practice you are maintaining up-to-date knowledge of your wife, while that process falls just about outside the definition so you can claim you aren't keeping up-to-date specifically with any possibile infidelities, and by such means claim that you are showing faith in her, and that this is not immoral.

            I won't say that you are actually lying, but the definition you have ended up is deliberately misleading, because it has been framed not as a realistic description of faith, but specifically for the purpose of claiming that you can overturn my justified statement that to act by faith according to the original description was immoral.

            I'm not fooled by that trick. Were you trying to fool me, or were you in fact fooling yourself as to what you were up to?

            Is it so very important for you to regard faith as moral that you are prepared to twist ordinary definitions to such an extent?

          • I think that you failed to understand the reason for the first post, in spite of multiple attempts to explain. I never was interested in discussing the morality of faith, so I never really did. Given that I'm not a moral realist, why should I care what you think is moral?

            I was interested in discussing the rationality of faith. This involved two parts:

            (1) Coming up with a definition of faith that describes an epistemic state and fits the way the word "faith" is typically used.

            This involves including two beliefs, "I believe that God exists" and "I believe that my wife is not cheating on me" both as statements of faith. If the definition fails to regard either of these as statements of faith, I consider the definition to have failed.

            (2) Finding out if it is possible for faith to be rational.

            After these two, I hoped to turn to the question of justified vs. unjustified faith, and whether faith in God can ever be justified (I'm not sure it can be for everyone).

            You could have objected to either of these two points. You sort of objected to (1), and my best response was to revise the definition, so that it fit better with the way "faith" is actually used (and esp. by Buchak, since her more formal definition is the one I'm translating here). That's what I did. You got me to modify the definition. Thanks.

            You never really objected to (2). You said that faith cannot be rational, but the argument never went very far.

            Thanks for the conversation. In spite of your inability to understand the purpose of my original comment, your criticism has helped refine this definition. I would say that the conversation went well, if I ignore the insulting last post.

          • Jonathan West

            The same objections apply to rationality, and I would have thought you perfectly capable of working this out for yourself.

            Somebody acting according to the original definition is not acting rationally because they are maintaining a state of ignorance.

            You are have refined the definition to the point where you are in fact keeping your knowledge up to date so that you can act rationally, but defining the knowledge you obtain as being out of the scope of your definition so that you can claim that you are acting rationally by faith, where as in fact you are acting rationally by virtue of the knowledge excluded from the definition.

            This involves including two beliefs, "I believe that God exists" and "I believe that my wife is not cheating on me" both as statements of faith. If the definition fails to regard either of these as statements of faith, I consider the definition to have failed.

            You can define anything to be a statement of faith, and in doing so, you would be committing the fallacy of equivocation which is the defining characteristic of the original article.

            The key point is whether a belief and the degree of confidence with which you hold it, is justified by the available evidence. Your example of your wife is a belief justified by evidence, where the evidence is continually updated through your continuing relationship with her. You were refining the definition so that, even though you were obtaining frequent updates to your knowledge of your wife, you were excluding that knowledge from your definition in order to say that faith in your wife's lack of infidelities is the same thing as your faith in God, and that both are as rational as each other.

            I think you're kidding yourself.

          • Jonathan West

            (1) Coming up with a definition of faith that describes an epistemic state and fits the way the word "faith" is typically used.

            This involves including two beliefs, "I believe that God exists" and "I believe that my wife is not cheating on me" both as statements of faith. If the definition fails to regard either of these as statements of faith, I consider the definition to have failed.

            You can define faith in such a way as to encompass both of those cases.

            Whether it is useful to do so is another question entirely. The reason is that you are using the same word to describe two quite different situations. Your belief in God is held without a valid epistemic warrant, or at least not one which you can demonstrate to the satisfaction of others.

            However your belief that your wife is not cheating on your is epistemically valid, (although not certain), because it is informed by lots of evidence that you have about your wife, evidence that is being continuously updated, whether or not you are specifically looking out for indications of infidelity.

            (2) Finding out if it is possible for faith to be rational.

            After these two, I hoped to turn to the question of justified vs. unjustified faith, and whether faith in God can ever be justified (I'm not sure it can be for everyone).

            If you include within your definition of "faith" beliefs that are epistemically justified, then it is trivially true that some faith is rational.

            That doesn't get you any further forward though in the question of whether faith in God is rational.

            It seems that by trying to conflate both rational and irrational beliefs under the same label "faith" you are trying to establish the following line of reasoning.

            1. Faith as a label can include both rational and irrational beliefs.

            2. Belief in God is traditionally described as faith.

            3. Therefore belief in God can be rational.

            But this doesn't help you all that much, because to state that belief in God can be rational if certain unstated conditions are met doesn't tell you anything about whether belief in God is rational. In order to find that out, you need to state the unstated conditions, which is to say that belief is rational if and only if it has a valid epistemic warrant.

            And therefore all your effort in carefully defining faith is wasted.

            You further tried to get round this by progressively redefining the knowledge element of your definition so that it excluded knowledge that you definitely have about your wife in order to claim that you were acting rationally even though you weren't actively seeking information on a specific subset of your knowledge.

            But rationality doesn't work like that. You act on the basis of the totality of your knowledge at any moment, and so the exclusion of information that is indirectly relevant is invalid.

            To knowingly maintain a state of ignorance is by definition an irrational act.

            To hold a belief that is unjustified by evidence is by definition an irrational act.

            The fact that you might choose to lump both rational and irrational beliefs together under the label "faith" does not change this in the least.

            The only effect of attempting to do so is to sow confusion. That appears to be your aim, with the underlying purpose of persuading people (perhaps including yourself?) that a belief in God without evidence, carrying the same "faith" label as justified rational beliefs, can therefore also be regarded as rational.

            If you want to believe in God, I'm not going to try and stop you. But if there really isn't the evidence to support it, and you still want to beliefe in God, then at least have the honesty to acknowledge this as Theo Hobson does, when in the article I linked to he said the following "Christianity must step away from claiming to be the religion of rational civilisation and accept its affinity with primitive religious practice."

            Theo Hobson is about the only practicing Christian I know of who acknowledges Christianity (as he understands it) to be irrational, and does not attempt to argue that faith and rationality are compatible or that faith is a rational decision. To the contrary, he claims that this irrationality is central to Christianity and that it would be wrong any attempt to align Christianity with rational humanist thought.

            He is to be commended for his honesty, an honesty shared by very few of his co-religionists.

            I of course don't agree with him, in that I think that rational humanism is far preferable to irrational cultic Christianity, but at least it is entirely clear where he stands.

          • You can define faith in such a way as to encompass both of those cases. Whether it is useful to do so is another question entirely. The reason is that you are using the same word to describe two quite different situations. Your belief in God is held without a valid
            epistemic warrant, or at least not one which you can demonstrate to the satisfaction of others.

            I think that both these cases are instances of faith. The difference to me seems only to be the amount of evidence and the strength of the objections. I don't have a belief in God, myself.

            The question "Can people who believe in God can have epistemic warrant?" is so broad and contentious that I don't think it can be resolved here. My only ambition in this current discussion is to come up with a broad definition of faith that captures its day-to-day use and find out whether faith can ever be rationally held. If so, I'd like to then explore under what conditions faith can or can't be rationally held. I think this is a useful direction to take Jimmy Akin's article.

            My observation about Akin's article is that Akin seems to adopt a definition of faith that is (or should be!) the same as Buchak's, and that Buchak's definition of faith would exclude atheists, or at least the atheists who frequent this forum. Atheists don't generally have faith in atheism (by Buchak's definition). For one thing, they don't tend to be atheists because someone told them, and for another, if they're on this site, they're actively seeking new information about whether God exists with the motive of finding out how probable God's existence is.

            It would be possible for an atheist to have faith, by Buchak's definition. Someone could have had a very inspiring teacher who told him rational people are atheists. And he might for whatever reason not actively search out new information about whether God exists or not. He doesn't have strong reasons to think that God does exist. And there are of course consequences if he's wrong (a thousand different versions of hell). But this sort of atheism doesn't survive, I think. Either it becomes removed from the teacher entirely, or it falls apart. That's my own suspicion. In any case, I think it's very rare.

            In other words, most atheists don't have faith, according to Akin's definition.

            However your belief that your wife is not cheating on your is epistemically valid, (although not certain), because it is informed by lots of evidence that you have about your wife, evidence that is being continuously updated, whether or not you are specifically looking out
            for indications of infidelity.

            I don't think that faith would require an absence of lots of evidence. I think most Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. have a very uninformed faith. But I don't think that's necessarily the case.

            1. Faith as a label can include both rational and irrational beliefs.

            2. Belief in God is traditionally described as faith.

            3. Therefore belief in God can be rational.

            But this doesn't help you all that much...

            I completely agree. This is a very small first step. The next step will be to come up with qualifications for when faith is or is not rational. Maybe any rational belief taken on faith is faith held rationally, but I suspect it's more restricted than that. Then, maybe I can get to figuring out if faith in God is ever rational. I'm not sure what the answer will be.

            Even the very end of this process is not all that grand, because even if faith in God can be rational, it is possible to be rational and wrong, and the big question is whether God exists, and not whether it's rational to think God exists.

            I'm not convinced that Christianity is necessarily irrational.

          • Jonathan West

            I think that both these cases are instances of faith. The difference to me seems only to be the amount of evidence and the strength of the objections.

            In that case, in my view you are defining "faith" to encompass two opposite things, i.e. belief with and without appropriate evidence. The word when so used loses all meaning. Its only purpose is to provide a figleaf for those who hold irrational beliefs by virtue of lumping them into a single category along with rational beliefs.

          • Thanks for your opinion. I think that there are more lines to draw than "with/without evidence". "in line with/not in line with one's desires" is an example, as is "does/does not change the way one lives". There are a lot of possible categories to draw, and I don't think that it is accurate to define faith as "belief without appropriate evidence". It doesn't jibe with the way I understand the word.

          • Jonathan West

            I think that there are more lines to draw than "with/without evidence". "in line with/not in line with one's desires" is an example, as is "does/does not change the way one lives".

            I agree that many people hold beliefs in line with their desires irrespective of evidence. This is commonly called "wishful thinking".

            And I agree that many people hold beliefs so that they do not have to change the way they live, also irrespective of evidence. This is commonly called "confirmation bias".

            But I don't think that you are trying to claim that such beliefs are rational.

            There are a lot of possible categories to draw, and I don't think that it is accurate to define faith as "belief without appropriate evidence". It doesn't jibe with the way I understand the word.

            When you are assessing the rationality of beliefs, I don't think it is justified to make use of the word "faith" at all.

            Its various meanings are used quite deliberately by some religious people to sow confusion. By association with meanings of faith that include rationally justified beliefs, they seek to claim that their religious beliefs are "faith" and therefore (possibly) rational, without having to go to the trouble of actually producing the evidence necessary to demonstrate that the religious beliefs actually are rational.

            I'm not sure whether they are trying to fool the rest of us, or actually to fool themselves. Probably a bit of both.

            I regard the Buchak definition of faith as being one of a long line of such dishonourable efforts.

          • It is easy to see how these different categories could interact, though.

            I can have a belief that is both rational and in line with my desires, that is irrational and in line with my desires, rational and not in line with my desires, or irrational and not in line with my desires.

            Maybe, with a good definition of "faith", I can set up a similar scheme, and find out how big the categories are or what's included in each.

            If you haven't done so already, you should watch Lara Buchak's youtube talk for the God and Cosmology conference, or read some of her papers before judging her efforts as dishonourable. Now, maybe you think that my presentation is what is dishonourable, in which case I wonder what you are hoping to accomplish with your comments?

          • Jonathan West

            For the purpose of this discussion, I'm taking it that you are honestly trying to communicate Buchak's definition and to see what sense can be made of it.

            Also for the purpose of the discussion, I'm taking it that you are sufficiently intelligent and articulate to have conveyed her meaning accurately, and that I'm sufficiently intelligent to have been able to comprehend you correctly.

            On that basis, and on the basis of the definition as you have conveyed it, I think that Buchak's definition is one of a long line of dishonourable efforts at obfuscating the irrational nature of religious belief, as for that matter is the original article at the top of this page. There are plenty of such articles about.

            You might regard my epistemic warrant for that conclusion as being somewhat weak, and you have some justification in asking me not to act in faith according to the Buchak definition, but instead to go and learn more about her by viewing her youtube clips in order to see if I'm wrong.

            But the fact is that I'm not acting in accordance with Buchak faith anyway, because her particular definition of faith and her motives for promulgating it don't matter to me sufficiently for me to spend more time on it. The extent of the epistemic warrant varies in practice with the importance of the subject, and for me this issue ranks very low on the scale. I have more important things I need to spend my time learning.

            If you think it important, then you are welcome to review Buchak's statements in the light of my conclusions and decide for yourself whether I'm right.

          • I do think your epistemic warrant is indeed weak, but that has nothing to do with Buchak's definition of faith, as you well know. Epistemic warrant doesn't really play into Buchak's definition.

            The fact that you won't actively look into this further doesn't make it faith, because you fail to meet criteria (1) and (3). You don't believe what you do in part because someone told you, and there are no substantial consequences for you if you are wrong.

            Presently, I'm confident that you are in fact wrong about both Buchak's motives and the value of this endeavor. Of course, I will continue to research this with some of my free time. Maybe it will turn out that you are right. I don't know for sure.

            I'm thankful for the discussion in any case, and hope you found some value in it as well.

          • Jonathan West

            I didn't expect to persuade you, but if the conversation has prompted you to think more deeply on the subject, then that is enough for me.

            My aim in such discussions is not to tell people what to think, but to help them work out how to think. What conclusions you reach as a result is for you to decide.

          • Thanks for helping refine my understanding of Buchak's definition!

            I will offer an addendum, because I got one of Buchak's conditions wrong:

            Buchak clearly asserts that the evidence gathering should not be for the sole purpose of discovering whether the proposition you have faith in is true.

          • Gentlemen:

            Everything you write is written from the implicit assumption that God does not exist, or that if He does, He has not chosen to reveal to us Truths otherwise inaccessible to unaided human reason.

            There is no evidence that your assumption is true, and overwhelming, irrefutable evidence that it is false.

            Therefore, the Catholic will believe God, in His irrefutably certain Revelation in Christ, and would no more imagine that man's intellect is adequate to the task of seeking out His errors, than that a chimpanzee's intellect is adequate to notice that the CMB, the radio sky, and the galaxy distributions are oriented with respect to our location in the cosmos.

          • Jonathan West

            His irrefutably certain Revelation in Christ

            I refute it. By definition, if you cannot back Revelation with evidence, you cannot claim certain knowledge that it is true.

          • The evidence, as I have said, is irrefutable.

            You have not refuted it.

            You have shown yourself to have faith in ignorance of history.

            History shows us that its working out in the realm of empirical *fact*, presents us with a Catholic Church which has brought into existence a civilization unparalelled in all of human history, in terms of its empirical influence upon the human race.

            You choose to ignore this fact, because it threatens your faith.

          • Jonathan West

            You choose to ignore this fact, because it threatens your faith.

            That's rich, coming from you.

          • t might be rich.

            It is also unrefuted.

    • Sample1

      May I?

      (1): trusting that an uncertain statement is true in part [sic] should be changed to in whole (appeal to authority fallacy and fallacy of composition)

      (2): having no strong evidence [sic] should be changed to having no evidence, full stop. (argument from ignorance fallacy)

      (3): incoherent but probably based on further claims without evidence (begging the question fallacy)

      (4): b-i-n-g-o !

      Regarding the commentary about Adam's rib: have spouses always existed? And how dare you assault my senses by assuming God has already been clearly identified as to who and what the 'tarnation God is.

      Mike

      • Mike,

        I don't understand what your point is.

        Are you claiming that Lara Buchak's definition of faith should be modified in the way you suggest? Your points seem bizarre. Let's move through them one at a time.

        (1) Are you saying that, according to Lara Buchak or Jimmy Akin, having faith that a statement is true requires that there is absolutely no evidence for the truth of the statement? Could you cite either Akin or Buchak in support of this claim?

        (2) I think you misunderstood this part of the definition. This is about not having any strong evidence against the statement of faith. Are you really saying that this should be modified to "not having any evidence against the statement of faith"? In other words, do you think that, if someone believes that Jesus came back from the dead, that belief has nothing to do with faith, because there is some evidence against that belief?

        (3) Some clarification about the third point: there have to be some substantial consequences if the claim is false. Imagine some non-mathematician wants to say that he has faith that Goldbach's conjecture is true. A mathematician friend told him, he doesn't have strong reasons to think that the conjecture is false and he won't seek out any new evidence for or against the conjecture. According to Buchak's definition, and seemingly Akin's definition, this isn't faith, because there's no substantial consequence for this person's life if it turns out Goldbach's conjecture is false. Does that help?

        (4) I'm glad you agree with the fourth point.

        Your final statement about Adam's rib is lost on me. What are you talking about?

        • Sample1

          Hi Paul,

          As to my point, thankfully you asked that question. That's an easy answer. Let's just rehash point (1) for this reply:

          (1) trusting that an uncertain statement is true in part because you trust the source of the statement

          This is an awful, awful presentation of a definition in my opinion. The "in part" really gets under my skin. Buchak gives no explanation that there is any evidence for the "in part" allowance in her definition. It's an undeserved "gimme" for the person of faith. I was just being facetious when I suggested that it should instead be changed to "in whole."

          Does that help explain how I was approaching that post in my previous reply? The only reason for my rebuttal Phil, was to point out that faith, even as defined by Buchak, remains a deficient tool for discovery. I could have been more clear about that.

          Mike

          • Sample1, I agree that if you think my presentation is awful, the failure is almost certainly mine. You should watch the youtube video of her talk and read her papers.

            However, I don't think your concern is all that serious. Maybe I don't understand, and hopefully you can help me see what my mistake is.

            Buchak's goal with this definition is, as far as I understood it, a formal description of an epistemic state that captures the way faith is used in day-to-day conversation.

            The idea is that someone can have faith in something, and that the faith always involves trusting some external source of information. It may not involve only that, but it needs to involve partly that.

            The only reason for my rebuttal Paul, was to point out that faith, even as defined by Buchak, remains a deficient tool for discovery.

            I don't think that the purpose of faith should be discovery. The purpose of my original comment was not to establish faith as a sufficient tool for discovery.

            My point was to give a definition that gets at the way faith is often used in day-to-day speech. It should include "I have faith in God" as well as "I have faith in my wife" or "You should have faith in the goodness of human beings", etc.

            After that, I would want to explore whether faith can ever be rationally held, and if so, how to distinguish between justified and unjustified faith, and whether faith in God could ever be justified.

            I find the definition useful, as it's now been modified. Maybe it requires further modification. I would greatly appreciate your help in this. If you do read Buchak's papers, you could be of great help to me. I'm not a philosopher, and you could correct any fatal mistakes I may have made representing Buchak's thought.

          • Sample1

            Paul, I'm not your man for tearing apart a working thesis but I did see some areas for a rip or two.

            I'm very thankful Jonathan West responded. He brought up points I agree with. One that resonated loudly for me was:

            To hold a belief that is unjustified by evidence is by definition an irrational act

            This is exactly what I was thinking when reading your points. There are already definitions in place: irrationality is one of them. Simply rebranding it as faith is kind of sneaky to me.
            I appreciate you clarifying the objectives. As such, I can see a few of my observations were off point. I don't think I could accomplish what you are trying to do. For one, I don't think faith is concrete enough to be able to define it so accurately that it can represent how it's used in day to day speech. Maybe I'm wrong on that, but I don't think so unless ambiguity is part of your definition!
            And I don't think you can afford to ignore the Catholic theological definitions of faith, not if you are trying to justify faith in God.
            My gut feeling on this is that faith is meaningless as a singular concept and that it only finds observable relevance as it corresponds to religious behavior and culture. Sorry if that isn't worded as well as I'd like it to be. I'm still thinking about this myself.
            Mike

          • I think that starting out by defining faith as "belief unjustified by the evidence" or "irrational act" fails miserably. It doesn't capture what believers claim they mean by the word, and it will remove people from the conversation. I think it's a useless thing to do.

            And I don't think you can afford to ignore the Catholic theological definitions of faith, not if you are trying to justify faith in God.

            Frankly, I've seen numerous comments by atheists on this forum doing just this, ignoring the Catholic definition of faith. I would hazard that you in fact are ignoring the Catholic definition, or at least a Catholic's understanding of the definition, because Catholics do not define faith as "irrational act" or "belief unjustified by the evidence".

            On the other hand, I haven't ignored the Catholic definition. I just haven't gotten far enough in the conversation to invoke it. I think Buchak's definition contains the Catholic definition as a subset.

            My gut feeling on this is that faith is meaningless as a singular concept and that it only finds observable relevance as it corresponds to religious behavior and culture. Sorry if that isn't worded as well as I'd like it to be. I'm still thinking about this myself.

            I do fear that this is the case. Maybe the definition of faith that Buchak ends up with is too arbitrary. There seems to be non-religious faith, though, and it would be good to find out what it has in common with the religious kind. As with any definition, there will be ambiguity at the boundaries.

          • Jonathan West

            Frankly, I've seen numerous comments by atheists on this forum doing just this, ignoring the Catholic definition of faith. I would hazard that you in fact are ignoring the Catholic definition, or at least a Catholic's understanding of the definition, because Catholics do not define faith as "irrational act" or "belief unjustified by the evidence".

            Well, they wouldn't, would they!

          • I don't think that "faith" as defined is synonymous with "irrationality". I also think Buchak's definition does not contradict the Catholic definition of faith. It seems as though the Catholic definition of faith is a subset of Buchak's definition of faith.

          • Jonathan West

            The problem is that word has so many vague and mutually contradictory meanings that it is next to useless as a label for categorising beliefs. You need only look at the original article and at many of the comments to find people deliberately mixing up the various meanings in order to make that claim that faith (and by extension, specifically religious faith) is rational because it shares a category with other beliefs that are acknowledged to be rational.

            Perhaps the clearest examples of this on this thread are the comments of Jim Russell. The examples are clear because his comments are for the most part admirably brief and so his line of reasoning is not hidden under a welter of extraneous words.

          • I find Akin's definition useful and precise, but not as useful or precise as Buchak's, although I think the two are similar.

            It is unsurprising to me that people don't come up with careful definitions for difficult words like faith.

          • Jonathan West

            The thing is, that even if you were to decide that Buchak (for instance) had come up with a definition of "faith" that you like, when you use the word "faith" in normal conversation, nobody will know that it is that specific definition what you are using, unless you go to the trouble of repeating your definition every time you use the word.

            I had a similar discussion a few years ago with somebody who was a Jesuit-trained theologian, but always used the term "God" in a pantheist sense of "the totality of everything in the universe". She caused a huge amount of confusion because she was using it in her special pantheist way, and others were interpreting her as referring to the traditional God of theism.

            So once I twigged what was going on, I gently explained to her the confusion she was causing, that my understanding of her position could best be characterised as "atheism with added poetry", and therefore it would probably be better if she stopped using the word "God" in her own special way, or if she continued, to make sure that she made it exceedingly clear that she wasn't referring to the theist God. She thought about it for a few weeks, and then agreed with me.

            I think that you may sow comparable confusion if you start using the word "faith" when you mean "Buchak faith".

          • The virtue of Buchak's definition is that it matches (I believe) day-to-day use of "faith", so I should be useful regular conversations. My group of friends, at least, seem to think that this sort of definition of faith is accurate. So, whether or not it is "normal conversation", conversation with my friends has been assisted, in some small way, by Buchak's definition.

            In what way do you think I will confuse others outside my circle of friends?

          • ... and therefore it would probably be better if she stopped using the word "God" in her own special way,...

            That is why I always use the word, "deity," or, "deities," so that theists (or even deists) have to trot out the specific attributes, and then try to defend them.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You can read her paper on the rationality on faith here:

            http://philosophy.berkeley.edu/people/files/208

            I think her examination of natural faith, as Paul has summarized it, is a useful bridge to what the Catholic Church means by the theological virtue of faith.

  • Ben

    If God's existence can be proved logically, why are you even going on about faith? Why is it a virtue at all? It's almost as if you don't really believe the bogus "proofs".

    All this argument is doing is labelling a wide variety of epistemological assumptions with the (ambiguous) term "faith".

    All that matters is whose worldview is most consistent with the known facts and can therefore be assigned the higher probability. To believe in a loving, all-powerful God isn't consistent with what we know about the world

    • As was stated in an earlier article, I don't remember where, these aren't proofs but demonstrations. They can argue whether something is likely or not.

      That said, it's sure hard for me to see how an all loving God fits well with the world we're in.

      • Ben

        The Catholic Catechism says "These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of "converging and convincing arguments", which allow us to attain certainty about the truth."

        We can quibble about whether these are "proofs" or "demonstrations" - the important thing is that they are supposed to let us be certain that God exists. If these proofs worked, there would be no need to get into a discussion about who relies more on faith - you could just trot out the proofs and convert me. If there was a genuine logical proof of God, I'd have to accept it.

        Of course, in reality, the proofs are all empty, bogus language games. So the problem for the apologist team is that Catholic doctrine there is demonstrably wrong.

        • I don't think that the goal of these demonstrations should be certainty. Plantinga doesn't make certainty the goal of any of his arguments. I think the best these arguments can hope for is plausibility, validity and specificity. How likely are the premises? Does the conclusion follow from the premises? What sort of God does this argument prove?

          I see two classes of arguments for God's existence. Some are valid and plausible (ontological argument, cosmological argument), but don't demonstrate anything I would call God. The other class of arguments demonstrates a very specific God (moral argument, design argument), sometimes as specific as the Christian God (resurrection argument), but either have implausible premises or are invalid or vague.

          But maybe someday some of these will work. That's why I keep asking questions about them and working with them. I have great hopes that one of them will eventually convince me!

          • Ben

            Why do you hope to be convinced of an argument you don't currently believe?

            If you believe in the ontological argument, then consider this:

            Imagine an argument that logically disproves the existence of any kind of God. Imagine, hypothetically, that it's the *greatest possible* argument against God: it has the clearest, most flawless logical structure of any known argument, it's expressed more eloquently and compellingly than any piece of rhetoric ever, and it's endorsed by the wisest thinkers.

            Now, obviously, if this argument wasn't actually real, then it would be less than the greatest possible argument. So therefore this argument actually exists; hence God is disproved.

          • Jonathan West

            This reminds me of Douglas Gasking's ontological "disproof" of God, which goes like this.

            1. The creation of the world is the most marvelous achievement imaginable.

            2. The merit of an achievement is the product of (a) its intrinsic quality, and (b) the ability of its creator.

            3. The greater the disability (or handicap) of the creator, the more impressive the achievement.

            4. The most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence.

            5. Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the product of an existent creator we can conceive a greater being namely, one who created everything while not existing.

            6. An existing God therefore would not be a being greater than which a greater cannot be conceived because an even more formidable and incredible creator would be a God which did not exist.

            7. Therefore, God does not exist.

            It is amusing, but of course, Gasking no more disproved God than St Anselm ontologically proved God. Both have a logical card up their sleeves, with their claims of equivalence between existence and perfection (Anselm) and lack of handicap (Gasking).

          • Why do you hope to be convinced of an argument you don't currently believe?

            Because I'd like it to be true.

            The form for the ontological argument that I accept is somewhat different (although the version you show points out a similar problem). It's Plantinga's modal argument. I think it works.

            God is a necessary being [by definition]
            God possibly exists. [premise]
            God possibly necessarily exists [premise and definition]
            God exists [S5]

            In other words, if there is any possible world where God, this necessary being, exists, then God exists in all possible worlds, and since this is a possible world, God exists here too.

            Now, you can reject S5 modal logic to get around it, but I don't even see why you'd bother. There are two consequences to this sort of argument.

            (1) It proves that, if there is any possible world where God does not exist (say, a world with only pain and evil and no redeeming goodness or hope), then God doesn't exist in any possible world. So this is potentially a devistating argument against God's existence.

            (2) Even if the premise is sound, and God is possible, why not say God = the universe, and think that the universe is a necessary being? All this argument establishes is that something's necessary. That's interesting to me as a philosopher, but gets me nowhere in terms of religion or theology.

          • epeeist

            Now, you can reject S5 modal logic to get around it, but I don't even see why you'd bother.

            Because S5 is the bargain basement of modal logic. It allows you to go produce monstrosities such as "if there is any possible world where God, this necessary being, exists,
            then God exists in all possible worlds, and since this is a possible world, God exists here too."

            Have a look at other modal systems (T, B or S4) which are much stricter and don't allow you to go from any possible world to any other whenever one drops one modal operator in the scope of another.

          • I suppose I don't find that to be such a monstrosity. To me, it is a very interesting philosophical claim.

          • epeeist

            To me, it is a very interesting philosophical claim.

            I accept it might be an interesting claim, but the real question is whether it is true.

            S5 really is a "get out of jail free" card, it allows you to travel from any possible world to any other world without restriction. Other modal systems only allow you to go from one possible world to other, suitably related worlds.

          • The thing that keeps me with S5 is that it seems to work intuitively, in most cases. There are a few cases, usually involving also Kripke's philosophy of naming, that seem counter-intuitive, but it seems to match well my intuition about what "possible" and "necessary" mean, and how they would work with universal and existential quantifiers.

            I think, for example, that S5 is a fairly natural consequence of accepting the possibility of Wittgenstein's atomic facts. I am not a philosopher, and have only started carefully reading "Naming and Necessity", so maybe I will change my mind.

            It is hard also, there is a point of pride about it. Kripke resolves a problem with Popper's philosophy of science, and does so in a way that makes scientists and what they do more metaphysically important, to the point where scientists can correct philosophers metaphysical errors using new discoveries. It is hard for me to give up that power. :D

    • Ben, thanks for the comments! A few thoughts in reply:

      "If God's existence can be proved logically, why are you even going on about faith? "

      I don't see why this question is releavant to the article. Nowhere is Jimmy claiming that faith is necessary to prove God's existence. But your question seems to suggest that *unless* faith is necessary to believe in God, then it's not a relevant topic for this site. I disagree. What Jimmy is concerned with is a question that interests many atheist and Catholics. Some atheists use "faith" as a pejorative term, but Jimmy's aim was to show 1) the term is essentially neutral and 2) atheists have faith, too. I think he succeeded at both.

      "...the (ambiguous) term "faith"."

      It's not clear to me if you read (or fully absorbed) Jimmy's article because he went to great lengths *not* to be ambiguous about the term and to clearly define it. He explained faith as, "belief without conclusive evidence" which is a pretty clear and succinct definition. I'm not sure how why that would seem ambiguous.

      "All that matters is whose worldview is most consistent with the known facts and can therefore be assigned the higher probability. To believe in a loving, all-powerful God isn't consistent with what we know about the world"

      I agree with the first sentence, so long as you admit that such a determination requires a leap of faith. You have faith that the data is intelligible; that your mind can be trusted; that your probabilities are correct; and that your conclusions follow. The atheist deciding which worldview best follows the data uses faith every bit as much as the Catholic.

      Your last sentence is an assertion I (obviously) on't agree with but worthy of addressing at another time.

      • primenumbers

        "but Jimmy's aim was to show 1) the term is essentially neutral and 2) atheists have faith, too. I think he succeeded at both." - what Jimmy Akin fails to do is either, but as you're demonstrating belief that he has, and that the evidence from the comments below shows that he hasn't (because he essentially re-defines faith to mean no-faith), can we take your statement as a statement of faith or not?

        • Perhaps in a sense. But as far as I can tell, Jimmy has demonstrated his points with certain proof. I've yet to see any response to cause uncertainty in conclusions. Maybe you have one?

          If faith is defined as "belief without certain proof", then would you agree atheists have faith? If not, do you believe they have certain proof about everything they hold (and the reasons for why they hold them)?

          • Rationalist1

            Brandon - You have no proof that astrology is false and neither do I. Is it valid to claim our position on astrology represents as astrological belief?

          • primenumbers

            "If faith is defined as "belief without certain proof", then would you agree atheists have faith? " - that's not the definition of faith I'd use, nor is it one that meets with how the word "faith" is used in practice. Such a definition renders all acts an act of faith, so why do we need to use the word "faith" any more in that case? It basically becomes a redundant word.

            Faith only has meaning when it's used in opposition to evidenced certainty. Jimmy tries to lump everything as faith as nothing is utterly and totally certain, but as noted above this renders the word useless. Only when we describe outcomes we're certain of as not needing faith and outcomes where the evidence is out of ratio with our level of certainty as needing faith does "faith" have meaning once again.

            In other words, if you're pretty certain your statement is true, then you don't use faith to describe that conviction. If you're doubtful that your statement is correct then you could say you have faith that it's correct. At least, you could do that with how I use the word faith.

            However, if you use Jimmy-faith, your statement is always a statement of faith. It doesn't matter if you're confident in it's truth status or think it's utterly dubious, it is always a statement of faith.

          • Ben

            Can you give me an example of "belief WITH certain proof"?

          • Ben

            Perhaps the Devil has clouded your mind and led you astray as to the content of the article. You can't be certain that didn't happen.

      • Ben

        If, as the article acknowledges, the Catholic catechism says that you can come to be certain of God's existence just by proofs " which allow us to attain certainty about the truth", then God's existence isn't a matter of faith. Why would Jimmy want to discuss whether or not atheists have faith when he could just bust out one of these proofs and we could all be converted?

        (Of course, my answer is that the proofs are bogus, but as a non-heretic Catholic it seems like *you* and Jimmy have to accept that at least some of them work).

        It's true that the term "faith" can be applied to various different things. Obviously to be a methodological naturalist, I need to have "faith" I'm not just a brain in a jar or constantly being tricked by demons, and to go about my daily life I show "faith" that gravity will operate continuously and the sun will rise tomorrow.

        But the problem is that is a Fully General Counterargument. On that basis, you can discount any evidence you like.

        Say I claimed that I'd discovered a four-sided triangle. If you weren't convinced that such a thing was possible, you might ask me to show you an example, or a mathematical proof, or at least that the professional mathematics community accepted that four-sided triangles existed.

        If I replied, "Well, it takes faith to believe that triangles have three sides, because maybe the Illuminati have brainwashed so you can't see my new 4-triangles!", then you wouldn't be convinced. I could apply a similar argument to anything.

        An argument that can bolster any position isn't worth anything.

        Of course, it's not true that atheists uses faith "every bit as much" as a Catholic. You also have "faith" that the sun will rise tomorrow, and gravity will act consistently, and that your mind can be trusted (it can't, because you have an inadequate knowledge of cognitive biases) etc.

        But in addition, you've picked a religion that involves miracles and supernatural beings and a Holy Book that seems to have a lot of conflicts with known reality and the modern ethical values we both share unless you interpret it *very* select-, uh, sophisticatedly.

        Only the Christian position actually holds up Faith as a virtue. I mean, what is the story of Doubting Thomas supposed to signal? Quite sensibly, Thomas takes steps to empirically verify the amazingly improbably thing he has witnessed, and check Jesus's story for consistency. And Jesus says "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."

        That's going beyond the weak form of "faith" that we all share in the day to day uniformity of the physical world.

        Of course, at the same time, some of the posters on this site also reckon that accepting the historical account of Jesus's resurrection is justified by the evidence, so I guess in relying on the evidence they are not doing what Jesus wanted, which apparently was to believe in his powers blindly. It makes me wonder why John bothered writing down that incident with Thomas. If Christians read that he asked to check the wounds and accept that as a true event that happened, they might take that as evidence that Jesus was really crucified and wasn't replaced by an imposter/evil twin. So by providing evidence, "John" is really making all Christians less blessed.

        I don't need to construct elaborate excuses for why God lets natural disasters and diseases cause horrible suffering, even though he's the embodiment of Good. I think those excuses take faith to accept, and most of them boil down to "God is Mysterious" anyway.

  • Fr.Sean

    Excellent Article Jim,
    I think it is important to point out that both atheists and Christians have faith, but it's just in different beliefs. i suppose the only one who could claim that they only live by reason and logic would be one who is agnostic and stays at home never leaving the house.

    • Except that I think Jimmy's definition of faith leads to the conclusion that the atheists here don't generally have any faith, if they are honestly seeking.

      If you believe that a chair will hold you up, you don't test it day after day, but I see in these forums many thoughtful atheists testing claims of God minute by minute, post by post. It seems as though they at least have no faith at all.

      The faithful atheist wouldn't bother with these forums.

      • Fr.Sean

        Hi Paul,
        i think when one makes a claim that they don't believe in God and they subscribe to theories that support that belief, those are articles of faith because they've gone beyond simply science and reason. claiming, "i don't know" because it can't be proven empirically either way would be steering clear of a faith proclamation.

        • Rationalist1

          How is this different from you stating you do not believe in astrology?

        • I don't think our definitions of faith match, then. I think that Jimmy's definition is more nuanced than "subscribing to theories that support a given belief", but maybe I misread the article.

        • ZenDruid

          If 'I don't know' is the only honest answer to many questions, and it steers clear of a faith proclamation, that would mean a faith-based answer which makes any assertion would not be honest.

    • Rationalist1

      Claiming atheists have faith is akin to those articles that claim atheism is a religion because atheists have a world view on God.

      I could equally claim all of us here have faith in astrology. Most have faith it is bogus (I would hope) but there may be a few who have faith that it has truth.

      • Fr.Sean

        Hi Rationalist,
        if faith is defined as believing in things without empirical proof than i think every atheist by definition has faith. i also tend to think when one believes in Dawkins potential sources of things like belief in God, source of life, etc. that these are all articles of faith because they are ideas based on hypothesis that can't be proven and not on empirical data. would you not agree?

        • Rationalist1

          First science does not prove, it accumulates evidence for or against a theory until it is accepted or rejected. I don't have faith the atoms exist, I have evidence that atoms exist, I don't have faith in evolution, I have evidence for evolution and on the contrary I don't have no faith in astrology, I just reject its assertions until reliable evidence is offered that supports its claims. Faith has nothing to do with science.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Rationalist,
            I agree with the first part of your theory but when on makes a claim that can't be proven would you consider this to be faith or fact?

          • Jonathan West

            It depends on the quantity and preponderance of evidence. I can say with great confidence that nobody will ever disprove Archimedes' Principle on why things float. But no matter how great my confidence is in practice that Archimedes' Principle is sound, there remains the possibility in principle that it, just like any other scientific theory, may be overturned by some contrary observation.

            And such things do happen from time to time. Newton's law of gravitation seemed as copper-bottomed as any scientific theory could possibly be, and yet over time anomalies were observed that were not predicted by the theory, such as the precession of the orbit of Mercury. It was one of the initial tests of Einstein's General Relativity that it did accurately predict the precession of Mercury's orbit in a way that Newton's laws could not.

            Mind you, Newton's laws are a sufficiently accurate approximation in most circumstances that we for instance generally don't need to consider relativistic effects when sending space probes to other planets.

            So the answer to your question is an entirely arbitrary one, which depends on nothing more than where you draw the boundary between faith and fact in terms of the degree of confidence that will allow you to declare something to be fact.

            All I ask is that having made that arbitrary decision on where you place the boundary, that you don't place it in some different position solely in respect of questions concerning God. That would be hypocrisy and double-standards.

          • Rationalist1

            As I said Science can't prove anything, only give evidence in varying degrees for or against something. In practice, no one disputes the existence of atoms, the germ theory of disease or that the sun will rise tomorrow, but they are ion no way "proven".

        • Jonathan West

          if faith is defined as believing in things without empirical proof

          There is no such thing as "empirical proof". There are only degrees of confidence that we can have depending on the degree of preponderance of the evidence one way or the other.

          The point made by atheists is that religious faith generally appears to be held to a stronger degree than even the religious would consider to be justified by the quantity and quality of the evidence were it presented on any other subject but God.

          When the religious are questioned about it, in effect it is this difference which is called "faith" by the religious themselves.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Jonathan,
            I agree

        • primenumbers

          "if faith is defined as believing in things without empirical proof than i think every atheist by definition has faith." - not at all. Faith is when the degree of belief exceeds the weight of evidence.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Primenumbers,
            if you define faith as "when the degree of belief exceeds the weight of evidence." than the "God Delusion" is almost entirely a faith book. so it is everything revolving around the multiverse theory?

          • primenumbers

            Atheists lack a belief, rather than hold a positive belief so your statement fails.

            Ask Sean Carroll about multiverse theory and come back when you're done.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Prime numbers,
            i've read a great deal on the multiverse theory and as much as i've read it still just theory, there's no actual legitimate evidence it's true.

          • Rationalist1

            It's only a hypothesis at this stage. It needs evidence to be treated more seriously and as such scientists are wary of it (including myself). By advancing hypotheses like this scientists are able to debate the hypothesis and conduct experiments to either prove or disporve the hypothesis. Witness what occurred last year with the Higg's boson.

          • primenumbers

            But who is claiming it's a fact? It's not like God which is claimed as fact, but it's still just theory, there's no actual legitimate evidence it's true.

          • Susan

            i've read a great deal on the multiverse theory

            Which one?

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse

          • Rationalist1

            The God Delusion only refers to multiverse as a theory so far without evidence suggested by some physicists, doesn't base it upon it,

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Rationalist,
            Most of the book is filled with conclusions that can't be verified. i only used the multiverse theory as one example. but if much of it can't be verified it's delving into the "faith" realm.

          • Rationalist1

            Fr. Sean - Can you name one conclusion that Prof. Dawkins states that can't be verified. He states possibilities on some issues but does not, to the best of my recollection, asset conclusions without evidence.

          • Jonathan West

            the "God Delusion" is almost entirely a faith book. so it is everything revolving around the multiverse theory?

            Have you actually read the God Delusion, or are you basing your understanding of contents on faith in somebody else's review of it?

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Jonathan,
            I've read a good part of it but feel most of it diverts into the subjective realm. His main thesis of his book veers off from what people of faith understand as "God" and thus felt if his main premise is not what Christians or Jews believe as God the rest of the book is based on a faulty premise. Nevertheless, his book is largely subjective.

          • primenumbers

            TGD talks of God as common believers talk of God, not as the God of the subtle and nuanced theologian.

          • Rationalist1

            Prime - It tries to address the God of the people in the pew, not at the theological department. If there is a discrepancy the fault is with the clergy not preaching those facts to the parishioners.

          • primenumbers

            I'm sure that Dawkins realizes the issues with the God of the theological department in that it's not sufficiently well defined. And I'm sure clergy are not describing their theological department God to their parishioners, and quite frankly, I don't think such a God is actually emotionally fulfilling to those parishioners.

          • Rationalist1

            or like the former Archbishops of Canterbury description of God - "silent waiting on the truth, pure sitting and breathing in the presence of the question mark" ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/nov/07/understand-my-religion-faith )

          • primenumbers

            Wonderfully appropriate quote and exactly what I'm getting at. I'm sure even the most gifted preacher would have hard time setting up the "Church of the silent question mark" and getting attendees.

          • ZenDruid

            Betcha I could do it ... I just need a keg and an ounce.

          • Max Driffill

            Indeed Dawkins and other New Atheists have discussed this difference between the beliefs of the academic theologians who may pastor, vs what is preached on Sundays. The heart of the problem is revealed as far back as Darrow and Bryan's exchange about the age of the earth and what was meant by the length of a day.

            And you can see versions of it among the vastly more sophisticated manner in which an well educated Catholic priest might discuss evolution and the way in which the laity react to the idea. Bishop Fulton Sheen who seems to be some one still highly esteemed among the Catholic intelligentsia, seemed to play in this murky water as well. Discussing highly dubious events like the Flood or Adam and Eve not as metaphor but as literal to the masses. I would urge anyone to listen to EWTN radio sometime, to see how often Catholics are actually indistinguishable from fundamentalists, and how the priests who are suppose to have more nuanced views encourage such literalistic readings to their listeners. I have heard Father Larry Richards sing the praises of the Creation Research Institute on his program.

          • primenumbers

            And on the other hand, if Dawkins had attacked the theologically nuanced God, the general population who the book is aimed at would just think Dawkins wasn't talking to them or their beliefs, and theologians would still claim he wasn't attacking their subtle and nuanced God, that Dawkins was naive and of course, their God is so subtle and so nuanced that even the head of a pin gives them plenty of room to move their God's nuances around on.

          • Max Driffill

            Indeed the problem of this rarified theologians god is that not many people believe in such a being.

          • Jonathan West

            I was asking specifically about your claim about how in the book "everything revolving around the multiverse theory".

            Have you read the chapter in which he addresses the multiverse? Would you care to summarise your understanding of it?

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Johathan,
            I've read Max Tegmark's axioms and a few others. i guess if i was to summarize in a general way at perhaps the beginning of the big bang, or perhaps another big bang, other universes were formed that had other physical properties. thus they some of them may have been able to form stars and a few might possibily have been able to form planets. we happen to live in one that was able to form both as well as very large stars and thus have a full periodic table. we don't have any evidence of other universes though since they would have traveled out faster than the speed of light and thus we are not able to see any of the light generated by any of their potential stars.

          • Max Driffill

            I'm calling shenanigans until you can substantiate this charge.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Max,
            I suppose if you can say substantial evidence often leads to obvious conclusions. when i make conclusions that can't be tested, or my conclusions are based on faulty evidence this is no longer in the objective realm but has become subjective. faith in one sense is a subjective realm that cannot be proven in an empirical way. The "God Delusion" is largely subjective and is based on faulty evidence therefore it's largely a faith book.

          • Max Driffill

            Would you care to provide examples of his assertion?

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Max,
            Sorry i didn't get back to you sooner, i've had a busy week. it's been a while since i've read it and i have to confess i haven't read the whole thing but from what i can remember Dawkins claimed something to the effect that more complex organisms or structures seemed to develop further along the evolutionary scale, thus if there was a God he/she would have to be very complex, therefore a since there was nothing complex at the beginning, or at the big bang God could not exist. the fault with this theory is that dawkins does soemwhat prove there's no such thing as a created God that gave life to the universe. But Christians do not believe in a created God, they believe in one that is the existed before time. thus the rest of his book is flawed due to the fact that the main premise is flawed. furthemore since you cannot prove or disprove God in an empirical way you could accuse him of doing the same thing a believer does, claiming that God does not exist without proving it falls into a faith claim. moreover he attempts to show the harmful effects of religion while ignoring the positive effects as well as ignoring the negative effects of atheism such as stalin. his book is largely subjective and can't really be considered a book based on scientific evidence, just subjective opinion and thus it is more of a faith book. those who subscripbe or believe it without thinking through it themselves or questioning it simply have faith in his ideas.

  • ZenDruid

    For me, 'faith' means believing whatever comes out of a storyteller's mouth. Otherwise I don't use the word.

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi Zen,
      What you just said is a faith proclamation.

      • Rationalist1

        Now are definitions of words a matter of faith? DO people have faith in the OED?

        • ZenDruid

          The trick is to apply a different specific definition to fit the occasion. Storytellers are experts in this regard.

          In this case, the storyteller equates 'faith' with choice.

          • Rationalist1

            And trivializes faith, I have no problem with that but it equates faith with what I choose to wear today.,

          • Fr.Sean

            Zen,
            How would your understanding of a general notion of faith differ from the author's?

          • ZenDruid

            The general notion of faith, as applied in this essay and others, is too ambiguous for my liking.

          • Sample1

            How are those incantations coming along for Steve Zara to appear? This article has his name written all over it.

            Mike

          • ZenDruid

            FSM damn it, they aren't working!

            [NB Once this sentiment is uttered, chances are suddenly much better that Steve would randomly appear than if the incantations worked to begin with. O'course, an email has a better chance than either....]

          • Those incantations work best on Facebook.

          • Sample1

            Just checked. He doesn't have a comment ability for non-friends. And as I was searching around his site, I think I accidentally clicked an X that reported one of his posts for flagging.

            I'm not helping anything here!

            Mike

          • I can ask him.

          • Sample1

            If you think it's worth the bother (it's nearing bedtime there). I just know he has a great analogy with faith addicts and alcoholics. If it's not too much to ask, sure. Thanks Quine.

            Mike

          • Okay, done. Facebook indicates his computer is logged on (and so my note is on his screen) but if he is there to notice it, is another question.

          • Sample1

            Thanks Quine. Let's hope the incantation analogy doesn't mean it requires two notifications (like two miracles) for Steve's appearance.

            Mike

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Zen,
            That's fair enough, when you make decisions are they based on 100% certainty or probability?

          • Rationalist1

            Except for mathematical proofs there is nothing I am 100% certain of. Is there anything you are 100% certain of?

          • ZenDruid

            Nobody can be 100% certain of anything involving future occurrences.

        • Fr.Sean

          HI Rationalist,
          I suppose if one observes the intricacy of nature, or how perfect our world is to support life it naturally leads to either being vary fortunate when it comes to mere chance, or perhaps a conclusion that it was designed to be so perfect. when one makes a conclusion that it was just mere chance, or when one concludes that it was definitively designed than they have delved into faith since neither idea can be empirically proven.

          • Rationalist1

            No one, except someone who doesn't understand evolution, would say that life on earth is the product of only mere chance.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Rationalist,
            I'm sure you heard of the possibilities of how life came about in terms of chance.
            1. Pure Mathematical Chance
            2. Pure design Design (fundamentalist or young earth creationists interpretation)

            3. Guided Mathematical chance.
            I know there are different terms for those three possibilities but those are the ones i am most familiar with. In your opinion which one seems most logical?

          • Rationalist1

            Evolution is non random selection of randomly varying replicators, not any of the possibilities you mention.

          • ZenDruid

            4. A temporarily hospitable confluence of stochastic variables in the environment, bound by the laws of physics.

          • primenumbers

            Do you realize Fr. Sean that your 1,2,3 above is a straw man. Surely you know that evolution is not "pure mathematical chance"?

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Primenumbers,
            then is Evolution guided mathematical chance?

          • epeeist

            Hi Primenumbers,
            then is Evolution guided mathematical chance?

            Begging the question there, who says that it is guided?

            At its most simplistic you need three elements

            1. Replication

            2. Variation, now random mutation (mathematical chance) may be part of this but there are other processes. One example you might have heard of is sex ;-) A good way to introduce variation into an offspring's genome

            3. Selection, this is non-random

          • Fr.Sean

            Epeeist,
            I'm sorry you have been banned. if you would like to discuss this further i would like to. just go to my website at 2fish.co then click "contact" then click "ask a priest". i would be happy to answer this question or any others that you may have.

          • primenumbers

            Not guided. You're ignoring natural selection.

          • Max Driffill

            Fr. Sean,

            Before we begin, what do you mean when you say " how life came about?

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Max,
            I apologize for not getting back to you sooner, i was away for the day. i suppose i mean how all life came to exist on our planet.

          • Max Driffill

            Fr Sean,
            Among your options for the origin of life, I suspect that it is the first option. In fact that seems like the only reasonable option as we have no evidence for the other two proposals you offer.

            Given the abundance of opportunity for life to arise in a universe, its looking more and more like most stars have some planetary systems, and given the availability of the raw constituents of life we have every thing we need for life, well the first replicators anyway, to arise.

            Consider that there are on average 1 hundred billion stars in a galaxy and that there are about 1 hundred billion galaxies. This gives us approximately 1 x 10^22 stars in the universe. That is 1 X 10^22 solar systems. That is a 1 followed by 22 zeros. This is a staggeringly large amount of opportunity for life. We know from research into questions of abiogenesis that the chemistry of life (DNA, RNA, phospholipid bilayers etc) form from common atmospheric constituents when exposed to energy. All that has to happen is for replicators (small self-replicating molecules) to form to start selective processes going.

            So plenty of raw chemistry, plenty of energy in the form of stars, heat and electricity from early planet, and solar system formation, and plenty of opportunity. This is a prescription for seeing a rare event. And that is assuming that life is difficult to arise, we don't really know if it is and only further exploration and investigation will uncover this. Should we uncover live or evidence of it elsewhere in our solar system this would have implications on whether or not life can be expected to be ubiquitous, or rare.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Max,
            I'm sure you've read about various aspects of the fine tuning of our universe. the rate of the original expansion of the big bang, the energy needed for neutrons to keep protons together as it cooersponds to the pull of gravity for supernova's to form etc. the mere chances that things would be perfect is something in the neighborhood of 10 to the 500 billionth power. that's just for stars and planets to form (and supernova's which are necessary to fill the periodic table). if in fact we set that aside and just assume we were so lucky i had read something from John Lennox (i can get you the quote if you would like) where he said there is something like one in 30 million chances that another planet similar to our own would form that would support life. (aside from just bacteria and such). i think the weight of evidence that our universe would be as it is and that our planet would be able to support life as it does suggests that we were so lucky that it almost becomes impossible and or perhaps that there was an intelligent powerful being that guided our universe to form life.

          • ZenDruid

            Consider the puddle parable of Douglas Adams, as you invoke the strong anthropic principle.

          • Susan

            Consider the puddle parable of Douglas Adams, as you invoke the strong anthropic principle.

            Hi Zen,

            Just in case Sean is unfamiliar with that parable, here it is:

            “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”

          • ZenDruid

            Hi Susan,
            I also think highly of Adams' two commandments:
            Know where your towel is at all times;
            Don't Panic!

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Susan,
            Good to hear from you. that is an interesting parable and does seem to coincide with the anthropic principle. do you think the author's perspective on the notion of faith is accurate, that is faith in a general sense?

          • Susan

            Hi Sean.

            Good to hear from you.

            Good to hear from you too. It's been weeks. Last time we communicated, I was asking you what you thought about Euthyphro. I must have asked you three or four times. You never did get back to me on that. ;-)

            do you think the author's perspective on the notion of faith is accurate, that is faith in a general sense?

            I'm not sure I can answer that because I don't know what you mean by "faith in a general sense". As has been pointed out, faith keeps shape shifting.

            Maybe you could replace "faith" with clearer, more specific terms and I will do my best to answer.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Susan,
            I apologize, i did respond to your Euthyphro question, it must have been Disqus again, i'll try to go back and find it.

            when i say faith, naturally there are several diffierent connotations that mean something similar. if you asked someone to do something for you, but didn't know if they were going to follow through you would have faith in that person. if, when you chose your job in life, or if your married you would have made a bit of a leap of faith in both areas but you would have evidence based that you would have to take a guess that a certain outcome would occur. since you wouldn't be certain of the outcome you would be making a bit of a faith decision. Then there is one's own personal faith, or belief, like i have faith in Jesus. this too is based on certain historical events as well as events in my own life. finally there is the "deposit of the faith" which is everything the Catholic Church teaches that could be considered "revelation".

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Susan,

            I apologize for not getting back to you sooner, i had a funeral for my grandma this week which as you can imagine was difficult as well as emotional. she's the first person i've been close to that i've lost so it is a new experience for me.

            I went back to try to find those posts on Euthyphro and was able to find them. i just figured i'd cut and past them.

            Hi Susan,
            you did see it, in fact you did respond to it? Okay, if you read the former post the answer revolves around this idea.
            1. Euthypro, and Socrates are debating justice and piety.
            2.they can't seem to understand it or understand specifically what it is.but they have a sense of it and are attempting to pin point it. aka. they have a "concept" justice and a "concept" of piety.3. De Mello and Aquinas in a sense have "concepts" of God. Both of them recognize
            though learning more about their relationships with God that their respective "concepts of God fall far short of what God is truly like.
            4.Both Justice and piety point to a "higher truth". But just as words fail to do justice to what God is truly like, words can help define justice and piety (higher truths) but ultimately fall short of truly being able to grasp them. i.e. Justice and piety are rooted in a higher source and humans can get an understanding of them but will never fully be able to
            grasp them?

            Does that make sense?

            Hi Susan,

            You are right i should try to be more clear. The Euthypro dialogue seemed to revolve around two primary questions. what is justice, and how do humans understand it. and what is piety? in the examples i spoke of earlier; wait i can't find my post. did you get a post on Anthony De Mello and Thomas Aquinas? If you didn't i will try to retype them again from memory but i typed them out this morning and i can't
            find them on this post site. if you didn't get them i'll try to type them out on tuesday evening or Wednesday. sometimes i might have to say dealing with disqus gets a little difficult. it's late and i have to get up at 5:30 but i will try to post them when i get back. Let me know if you did get them so i don't have to retype them? Oye!

          • Sid_Collins

            Whenever I go to the freezer to empty the ice cube trays, I marvel at how the tray with rectangle-shaped molds always holds rectangular ice cubes, while the tray with rounded molds always holds half-spheres. ALWAYS! Explain that without God.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Zen,
            without getting into a whole bunch of different issues the topic i was trying to focus on is that when one looks at evidence, and makes assumptions that can't be proven it's no longer strictly science, and reason, thus most of us do make some faith proclamations almost every day.

          • ZenDruid

            I call that weighing the odds, or conscious cognitive choices based on experience.

            [alliteration are accidental]

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Zen,
            That is what people of faith believe. they believe the bible is based on a real person. the follow what it says in the gospels and that has an effect. repeated cause and effect conclusions confirm the contents as true. i think we probably aren't all that much different in the approach. i'm confident if you let go of your previous assumptions about God and about the bible and read it objectively and reflected upon it you too would come to the same conclusions.

          • ZenDruid

            i'm confident have faith if you let go of your previous assumptions about God and about the bible and read it objectively and reflected upon it you too would come to the same conclusions.

            I have known all along that the bible is a storybook, and the god portrayed therein should only serve as an example of how not to act as a human being.

          • Jonathan West

            I suppose if one observes the intricacy of nature, or how perfect our world is to support life it naturally leads to either being vary fortunate when it comes to mere chance

            If you are in a room containing a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, it is entirely down to chance which molecules will bump into each other and at what speed.

            Nonetheless, I strongly advise that in such a situation, you do not light a match. All those chance collisions will add up to an explosion, one which you probably will not survive.

          • epeeist

            I suppose if one observes the intricacy of nature, or how perfect our world is to support life it naturally leads to either being vary fortunate when it comes to mere chance, or perhaps a conclusion that it was designed to be so perfect.

            But stopping your investigation at our world only is disingenuous. How far up do you have to go before we get to the situation where there is no support for life?

            You need to look at the rest of the universe before you still regard things as perfect for the support of life.

            As to it being "mere chance", there are something over 100 billion galaxies in the visible universe, each containing on the order of 100 billion stars. The recent Kepler program has found quite a number of exoplanets, in some cases multiple planets per star. What do you think is the probability of life starting on one of them?

            And of course once it has started then "mere chance" ceases to be applicable.

          • Jonathan West

            What do you think is the probability of life starting on one of them?

            Rather reminds me of the following philosophical question and answer, which is rather more subtle than appears at first reading.

            Q. Why is the universe here?
            A. Where else would it be?

          • ZenDruid

            As always, with the 'why' questions, there are the ontological answer, the teleological answer, and the causal answer.

            A. Why not?

          • primenumbers

            We observe nature and find our world is barely able to support human life, and can only do so on a small portion of the surface area, and most of the volume of the planet is utterly hostile to our life.

            When we look beyond our planet, we see that the vast majority of our universe to an extremely high proportion is utterly hostile to not just human life, but all life as we know it.

          • Max Driffill

            Fr. Sean,

            I suppose if one observes the intricacy of nature, or how perfect our world is to support life it naturally leads to either being vary fortunate when it comes to mere chance, or perhaps a conclusion that it was designed to be so perfect

            1. Seeing Earth as being very fortunate seems to be to neglect the entirety of natural history. This kind of can only be said by someone who has not really delved terribly deeply into the subject of life on earth. It has been, and continues to be, anything but lucky.

            Consider that >95% of every species that ever was is now extinct. Consider that of the Hominidae the zoological family to which Homo sapiens belongs only four species remain. The common Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes of which there are several sub-species (replete with culture), one extant species of the genus Homo, the Gorilla, Gorilla gorilla (also represented by a few sub-species) and the Orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus also represented by a few sub-species. Four species, that is it. You could make this same point with any extant species. Your definition of luck and mine is quite different I think.

            2. There is nothing in the organization of life to indicate that its design was so perfect. In fact, the design process of life bears the stamp of meandering processes, that lack foresight.

  • Loreen Lee

    Can't faith be compared to being 'optimistic' in contrast to having a skeptical, ironic, cynical, perspective?

    • epeeist

      Can't faith be compared to being 'optimistic' in contrast to having a skeptical, ironic, cynical, perspective?

      It really depends on whether one's name is Humpty-Dumpty or not.

      • Loreen Lee

        What???????? If all the kings horses can't put you back together, I would think that you would need to have some faith!!! (Still don't know if I've got you're meaning!)

        • Susan
          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks Susan. Wrote a reply, and then it got deleted with an error announcement. Don't want to repeat what I said. I just believe that since I am allowed 'my' definition, I am not necessarily the 'humpty' in question. I also spoke about the different definitions of faith when applied to theist/atheist perspectives. But on coming back, I find primenumbers says pretty well what I was intending to say. His comment is, (so far) below this one. In summation: different parameters, different definitions. Would prefer even an 'insane' faith, to the possibility of depression in the event that I were to find all the king's men were against me. I like Kierkegaard's definition of faith as a kind of attitude amid paradox, (after Kant's antimonies of reason show it's limits). His model of course was the father of the faith, Abraham, and what could be judged as an insanity on his part. How many scientists set out on a visionary quest which is deemed to be 'insane', only later to present the world with a new paradigm of observation, acceptable evidence and common sense.

          • epeeist

            How many scientists set out on a visionary quest which is deemed to be 'insane', only later to present the world with a new paradigm of observation, acceptable evidence and common sense.

            Fewer than you think. Most new theories are built on top of old ones but provide explanations that the old one cannot. This is known as inter-theoretic reduction.

            QM and GR were built upon Newtonian physics and Maxwell's equations. The modern synthesis is built upon Darwin's original theory with the addition of genetics and microbiology.

          • ZenDruid

            Fewer than you think.

            Astronomy has had a long, deep, rich, incorrect tradition which was eventually corrected. Giordano Bruno, with his 'many suns and planets' hypothesis, was insane enough to be barbecued, Vatican-style. Turns out, the Kepler mission has vindicated his memory.

            Also, Semmelweis and medical antisepsis, and Wegener and plate tectonics.

            But yeah, most advances have not been very serendipitous.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks for the comment epeeist. How about the theory of black holes? How about the several new geometries that have been put forward? How about other examples of pure rational concepts that can be held without the support of 'material evidence'? How about that what is accepted as relevant evidence can change over time? (I understand that in courts of law, for instance, meetings are held on what evidence is deemed 'admissible') How about Einstein's equation?(And he saw the importance of the imagination). Who ever would have thought that you could 'square' the speed of light. Yet it supports the Higg's Bosom theories, because it suggest that something could travel faster than the speed of light? (Is this conjecture of mine correct?)

            Don't know what GR is. Grand something? Assume it has something to do with evolution? Want to take the supporting perspective of any comments I receive, or those which give me increased understanding. Cause, actually, I'm not looking to 'defeat' you or anyone else in argument? I actually am an atheist-theist. To counter the realist-idealist conflict in this regard, I hold that 'ideas/ideals' are real. Just ask any psychotic! So I agree with everything you say, because I could define knowledge as the understanding that everything is/can be 'true'. Except I'm a little confused about inter-theoretic 'reduction'. I feel I need some in this particular comment section. Please define the term - reduction. Am familiar with reducing 'mind' to 'matter', but would rather have scientists, and commentators see the inter-theoretic-idealist/materialist relationship between their points of view.

          • Michael Murray

            Physicists never thought Einstein was insane or even crazy. Everyone knew he was a great physicist even before he invented special relativity or later general relativity (= GR). Black holes weren't regarded as insane either.

          • Loreen Lee

            It is an extended definition of insanity, as that which is beyond the comprehension of the reasonable/rational in thought and may I qualify in expectation. Those knowledgeable would have of course the competence to find theories of relativity and black holes coherent and comprehensible. For many of lesser understanding such theories would be 'incomprehensible', 'beyond reason'. So please understand the analogy in my 'use' of the word. For those lesser mortals who would be unable to envision such possibilities, they would merely have to take such 'insane,incomprehensible' visions on 'faith'. Are we speaking the 'same language' yet?
            EDIT. Actually I just reread what I wrote, and find I never said that these theories were insane. But do you think it is possible that something could travel faster than the speed of light? Or is this just an insane idea of mine?

          • epeeist

            How about the theory of black holes?

            What bits do you mean? The existence of black holes, well evidenced (try this announcement for example). Or the more interesting things, such as where does the information go when objects are sucked into a black hole, or the related question as to whether black holes have a temperature?

            How about Einstein's equation?

            Einstein produced rather more than one equation in his lifetime. If you mean GR (general relativity) then this would seem to hold up as this latest test would indicate.

            Yet it supports the Higg's Bosom theories, because it suggest that something could travel faster than the speed of light? (Is this conjecture of mine correct?)

            The Higgs boson is postulated as part of the standard model, something that again has stood up to repeated testing. Yes, it is possible to travel faster than light (Cerenkov radiation is the standard example). However information cannot travel faster than light.

            So I agree with everything you say, because I could define knowledge as the understanding that everything is/can be 'true'.

            Humpty-Dumptying

            Except I'm a little confused about inter-theoretic 'reduction'.

            It simply means reducing the number of theories required to explain a variety of different sets of phenomena. The first real example is that of Newton who showed that one theory could deal with both the motion of every day objects and of the planets.

          • Loreen Lee

            I'm going to self-indulge for a moment and post an excerpt from my book/novel about insanity. I do this, as an example, (a reflection in another comment section) of how astrological theories can influence religion Analogously, Penny sees black holes in the same analogical way that Christmas is associated with the disappearance and rise of the sun, etc. etc. It would be indeed a challenge to develop a 'religion' on the basis of modern cosmology. Here is an attempt to avoid such a possibility.

            . If she followed his thought she could not see how she could ever become a part of the breathing, human, living world. “In a way, I have a need for some kind of protection.” Whether it was her imagination or not, there remained the feeling, illogical as it was unexplainable, that there was an unbridgeable gulf within the recesses of her mind. She had to read Descartes again. It was likely that she hadn’t understood what he was talking about.

            She had a good metaphor for how she felt. “The physicists speak about black holes.” As she began to reflect on these findings in astronomy, she almost cried out, “What, who can save me.”
            She did not want a black hole within her universe. It did not matter whether or not it was a physical or metaphysical hypothesis.

            Or to be more precise, she did not want to be certain that there was an irreducible black hole within her
            consciousness. Or to be allegorical, she did not want there to be that chasm within her mind, that black hole which threatened to devour, if not all matter, at least the matters that were important to her; her thought, her feelings, and dare she say, her soul.

            Her thoughts seemed to be at a distance from her, like the horizon in the distance, the stars in the skies, the depths of darkness. They held an authority that seemed to
            mask her desperation. “I don’t want there to be any kind of black hole in my universe.” Was she confusing the literal with the metaphorical? “It was the physicists who discovered them, so let them keep them in their universe.”
            She was speaking metaphorically; she did not want events in her life to approach in any way, state, or form what the physicists referred to as the critical mass; but the metaphor was real.

            On Newton: the one theory can deal with a description of yet 'unseen' black holes, just as the concept of black,holes can be a construct within a 'metaphysical/metaphorical' description of mind. Did I get your point. Such descriptions, as I suggested in another comment stream, could be related primarily to structures, (forms as in Platonic metaphysics) and could possible describe the 'faith' basis in either case, and also be the support for both trust and beliefs that depend on such a formal structure. Needless to say, Penny has no more 'faith in black holes than Christians have in 'hell', although there certainly to my mind, is a 'resemblance'....!!!!!

          • Loreen Lee

            On definitions: those Humpties. Faith is often contrasted with Reason. This is a philosophical definition which is far more broad than the use of the term as I have used it in the sense of being optimistic, or having trust, belief, in something taken for granted. I believe that many sound differentiations have been made in these comments regarding this.
            I would simply like to note that Kant uses the term faith (actually 'reason') in contrast to the understanding. The understanding is defined within the context of a priori concepts, which themselves are derived from the traditional logical constructs since Aristotle's work on this subject. There is therefore logical and historic continuity to Kant's approach.
            But as pointed out in a comment regarding the work of Whitehead and Russell to ground a theory of mathematics in logic, it was demonstrated by Godel, that 'even logic breaks down' at a certain level of 'rationality'......Even the post-moderns such as Derrida are showing the construct of language basically to be dependent on 'traces' which make definitive clarification difficult. The identity thesis is perhaps what is at root in the term 'the-ology' (my thesis) in contrast to ana-logy which since Nietzsche, I believe has been found to be basic to language. Language is grounded on metaphor, is the idea, - what does '''phor' mean anyway. So there is identity and difference (the latter being explored by Derrida, etc.) So Kant's reason, to get back to him, is distinct from the understanding, which is grounded in 'logic'. Beyond logic we are possibly faced with contradiction or paradox as the critique of Russell by Godel pointed out. Something to think about I believe, when it comes to all of our humpty's regarding the meaning/definition of what constitutes 'faith', and 'insanity' and the absurd, etc. etc. No wonder Catholics have such a difficult time in understanding the 'mystery' of the trinity, which is the highest concept I have ever met which encompasses the 'idea' or 'reality' of identity in difference, or 'unity' in 'diversity'......The best.....(in faith.....)

        • epeeist

          What????????

          You need to read your Lewis Carroll

          'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

          • Loreen Lee

            Susan's reply isn't on this feed. She sent me a link to an article so I understand, (to some extent) what you are talking about. I'm not a logician, however. So Yes. Faith means (definition) that I can be both optimistic, and crazy- out of my mind/insane. One famous response to belief was: (forget who) I believe because it is absurd!!!!! So then, I have faith, because I have no choice but to choose. This would include my definitions of how I perceive 'the world'.....!!!! Thanks epeeist.

          • epeeist

            One famous response to belief was: (forget who) I believe because it is absurd!!!!!

            Tertullian in Credo quia absurdum. The last line of the stanza is of interest, it states certum est, quia impossibile. Which of course makes it certain that the queen of England is a shape shifting lizard.

          • Loreen Lee

            Your Latin makes me think you were raised a Catholic, or are at lest as old as me and learned Latin in High School! I get the gist of it, despite my forgetfulness. I believe because it is absurd. It is certain, because it is impossible. Yes? I believe that such a philosophy could get the cosmologists in touch with yet UN-discovered realities. Who would have believed back when I was a little girl, the 'fact?' of black holes, and quantum mechanics. We may yet discover: Quia cosmos est totum absurdum impossibile. All the more reason to have 'faith'!!! Do I 'believe' in the big bang? Not really. ( A Catholic priest's 'metaphor'.) Do I believe the universe is as we perceive it? Not really. (Both literally and metaphorically) The 'Book' has always been related to astrological events. Perhaps a developing physics, and its accompanying metaphysics, will in the 'near' future 'create' a religion that is even more absurd than what most people hold Christianity to be. But it's metaphors keep 'creating' fantastic insights for me. Like that 'eternity' already is, and can be experienced by us in our lives if we rid ourselves of our garbage. Today's gospel for instance: I AM the resurrection and the life. The Buddhists too have it that all takes place in what? an instant? in the Buddha/truth mind. Just like Christianity in this respect. But you need to have an appreciation of meta-phor/an-a-logy to get at the 'vision'. What does 'phor' mean anyway?

          • epeeist

            Your Latin makes me think you were raised a Catholic, or are at lest as old as me and learned Latin in High School!

            I was brought up Catholic, but the teaching of Latin goes on (at least in the UK). My daughter took both Latin and Greek at school as well as French and German. Her best friend at Cambridge was a classicist, neither of them are Catholic.

            Do I 'believe' in the big bang? Not really. ( A Catholic priest's 'metaphor'.)

            Hmm, not it wasn't. Lemaître used the term "primeval atom", "big bang" was coined by the British astronomer Fred Hoyle.

          • Loreen Lee

            Well You see I read differently. It is very difficult to escape propagandas for title and causes. Read up on some of the physics. Told my son when he was a teenager to just keep reading the science and it would start making sense. He's a researcher/epidemiologist for cognitive science mental health issues now. So yes, the third reading and I understood a bit better what refractory meant in the context of the cone, etc. But it will take time. My Newtonian 'experiment' was an attempt to relate how religion can borrow from science. I do attempt to be 'scientific' about matters of faith, but also hope that the scientist can see the application of metaphorical language etc. in life issues which extend beyond the paradigms of most scientific models. I do believe that the scientist studying black holes is exercising a 'kind of faith'....and wonder whether the possibility of its relation to 'structure' will be helpful/fruitful. Thanks.

  • Sample1

    What's the next headline going to be on Strange Notions? "Atheists can do nothing moral independent from Yahweh?"

    If it makes believers happy, if it makes Jimmy Akin happy (and comforted) to think that the atheist has faith, well fine. It's always about comfort with believers anyway.

    Mike

    • Rationalist1

      And assurance that non believers rationality is equivalent to theirs.

      • Sample1

        As a definition, faith is not terribly useful because it translates into just about anything. Not only do popes and pastors have faith, but now atheists, lottery winners, and football players have it too.

        I liken faith to a banner. Banners are carried for Monarchs, Popes and Presidents. You see, if everyone is told they have faith, then all humans are subject to a faith leader. Convenient!

        Mike

  • Vickie

    Actually, I see faith as being defined in this way. Faith as a trust or confidence based on proven reliablity. I did not necessarily say evidence nor did I say proof.
    For those on the scientific side this would be explained in this way. I have faith, trust, confidence in the scientific method. It has proven itself reliable to me. So when faced with an obstacle, an uncertainty or something that is currently undetermined, I do not just abandon the scientific method, but continue to adhere to it, trusting in its proven reliablity.
    Faith, defined in this way assists the scientific method as it causes us to remain in it despite an obstacle and is not contrary to it as it is based on proven reliablity.
    If you want to replace the word faith with trust or confidence, that is fine. Whatever you are more comfortable with but the concept would remain the same.

    • Rationalist1

      Very good point. How reliable has your faith proven and how do you evaluate its reliability. Have you attempted to compare your faith's reliability to other faiths? If so. how did they fare?

      • Vickie

        I sort of see it as a relationship. Has this relationship been reliably beneficial and satisfactory to me? How does it compare to other relationships? Can I express this relationship in another way? As I am still a Catholic my answers to those questions would be apparent.

        • Rationalist1

          I have a relationship with my wife, my family, my friends, etc. All those people I can interact with. Many people of many different faiths claim they have relationships with many different Gods in many different ways. How am I do evaluate those claims?

          • Vickie

            As you would evaluate any claim. Accept it or reject it. That's the cool thing about freedom. I am really not here to prove anything to anybody. I just thought that I might present a definition of faith that might not cause some people to jump out of their skins

          • Rationalist1

            I appreciate that. But faith is different from trust. If you have faith in faith don't seek to redefine the word or water it down (a la Jimmy Athins) stand by it.

          • Vickie

            Actually, one of the definitions of trust is to have faith in. This is the faith I was describing. The concept of having faith in something that you personally rely on. You do not have to agree that the subject of that which I rely is worthy of my faith or even believable.

          • Fr.Sean

            Good point Vickie, you've allowed decisions in your life to be based on your faith and that has brought about a positive affect. Just as one applies the scientific method and finds it reliable, so too does your faith. (i guess just summarizing what your trying to say)

          • Vickie

            Good summary. Thank you.

          • epeeist

            If you have faith in faith don't seek to redefine the word

            Hmm, I have always seen that written as "belief in belief".

          • Rationalist1

            Like Daniel C. Dennett. His book Breaking the Spell is why I'm arguing on this side.

          • Max Driffill

            The problem with that enterprise is that you and the author are trying to equate religious faith, with ordinary trust in evidence and corroboration. I think this is a disingenuous activity and one that seeks to legitimize faith in things unseen, with trust and confidence in the observed.

          • epeeist

            The problem with that enterprise is that you and the author are trying to equate religious faith, with ordinary trust in evidence and corroboration. I think this is a disingenuous

            If we are using that kind of word, then I see it as mendacious rather than disingenuous.

          • Max Driffill

            That is fair.

        • Vickie

          Actually, the word sort of is incorrect. I do see it as a relationship

  • The subject of "faith" has come up many times in the threads at this site, and this article adds no new information. I see that the usual arguments have been brought in the comments posted earlier today, so I won't have to make them again, here. Theists really should take some time and search yourselves to see if you have enough faith not to believe in Astrology.

    As I have written before, when accused of having faith (like the little kid on the playground who accuses with, "Same as you!") I reply, "I have reasonable expectations based on prior evidence." As we go through life we are collecting evidence about how things work, which leads us to expect what is about to happen. We can be totally wrong and things can change in a instant (such as a sudden car crash), but our expectations guide us along in any case. The comments placed on this thread, today, show that religious faith is not that kind of guiding expectation. The faithful are being guided by the beauty of words and images and hope of a desired ideal that the rest of us find unsupported by prior evidence.

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi Quine,
      your second paragraph cooeraponds to faith. I have found God one that i can rely upon for certain expectations. when you make decisions according to faith and you see it has a positive effect that strengthens one's faith. Honestly, you begin to discover Jesus is a real person who has an effect upon your life and affects your view of life and what's truly important. Living according to your faith and applying to your life really does have a cause and effect relationship and you begin to see how already present God is.

      • primenumbers

        "when you make decisions according to faith and you see it has a positive effect that strengthens one's faith" - this is the cognitive bias version of faith that causes you to weigh evidence heavier than it can hold, and dismiss or diminish the weight of any disconfirming evidence.

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi Primenumbers,
          You could be right, but your opinion is still from an exterior perspective.

          • primenumbers

            Exterior, but also ex-Christian too.

      • Rationalist1

        I used to believe that about St. Anthony. If you lost something, car keys, watch, glasses, you said a prayer to St. Anthony, the patron saint for lost articles. One remembers all the time the items were found and Catholics always mention how effective he is. But one forgets all the times the items weren't found. Now I just stop and think through when I last remember having the item and it's much more effective.

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi Rationalist,
          I agree, that type of thinking is more paganistic, but i normally don't argue with someone who swears by the st.anthony prayer i just go along with it. i do have to admit though, a few times when i looked for something a great deal some little elderly (usually italian) woman would ask me if i asked st.anthony for help and i usually found it right away, but i would think it was more coincidence. if it was true i'm sure st.anthony wished he could have been the patron saint of something else.

          • Rationalist1

            But it's more than St, Anthony, it's also St. Jude (hopeless causes) and every Catholic Car used to have a Saint Christopher on the dashboard (we did). But then Lourdes and Fatima and the Shroud. Where does one draw the line. They're all devotions and are not required belief to any Catholic but are truly paganistic? When does devotion become superstition? Do you encourage or discourage these practices?

      • Sean, I have heard people say the same things about their faith in Krishna. How are you going to know how much is simply due to placebo effect? Also, how much is due to the human tendency to see causes where there are none? Every time something good happens to my neighbor, he assumes that Jesus did it, and when bad things happen to him, he puts the blame somewhere else.

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi Quine,
          That is a good point and i agree people might be tempted to attribute good things to God and bad things to some other source, kind of like that saying; "heads i win, tails you lose" regardless of the outcome the argument seems to support one's perspective. i suppose this discussion will always fall into the subjective. once you've been there, tried to live by your faith, prayed and asked for guidance and then received it it becomes something you are aware of but isn't something you can give to another. one book i really enjoyed reading was called, "he leadeth me" by walter cizek. while i'll spare you the details of the book i'll just say water had faith, his faith grew but then it was tested quite a bit. eventually it grew to the point that it completely changed the way he viewed life. The awareness that he was being led, sometimes though difficult events gave him confidence and hope and took away any anxiety about life, or the future. but walter would never be able to make someone aware of how they are being led, he could only point that way and they would have to discover (or be illusion-ed by )it themselves.
          If for some reason it turn out that you ever do decide to be really objective, or rather if you ever are open to and receive the gift of faith (or to become illusioned by it) i would love to hear your take of being on both sides of the fence. Perhaps that's a question for a new convert.

          • That reminds me of people who are winning by using a "system" at the roulette tables. You can't talk to them about the objective facts, until they start losing. I have heard plenty of stories from people who did have faith when they felt that prayers were being answered, but that did not last. This is the problem I wrote about in my blog piece about "personal evidence."

      • Sample1

        when you make decisions according to faith and you see it has a positive effect that strengthens one's faith.

        Feel free to provide some concrete examples that can withstand Occam's carbide-tipped saw.

        Mike

  • Rationalist1

    For fun, or for some, not so fun, here's over 600 proofs of God's existence. No faith required, just click on the link ( http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/GodProof.htm )

    • Dcn Harbey Santiago

      Every time I encounter websites like this one, and wander how much effort is placed at collecting, cataloging, formatting and placing them on line, it reminds me of E.A. Poe's "Tell tale heart". I don't know why.

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      DHS

  • Urbane_Gorilla

    “It takes more faith to disbelieve in God than to believe” .... Then by that statement believers must have greater faith in their disbelief of other religions than they do of their own. After all, they have faith that Baal, Isis, Kali ..ad nauseum..don't exist, and only faith in the one God to actually exist. What an exhausting, deformed, twisted and absurd concept.

  • Jimmy says above: "It thus seems that atheists do, indeed, have faith—not just in the everyday matters that everyone does, but specifically in regard to the three beliefs that tend to characterize standard western atheism.
    They may think that they have good, if not conclusive, evidence for their views, just as Christians do, but there is still an exercise of faith here.
    It’s not a question of whether faith is being exercised but what the content of that faith is."
    Who agrees, who disagrees?
    Can we theists and atheists agree that we all act on "faith" in one way or another?

    • Rationalist1

      But do you want to agree with this trivialization of faith to such a pedestrian level. Maybe the solution is to preface faith with a qualifier, i.e. Catholic Faith, religious faith, Christian faith, etc. Otherwise my faith in the weather forecast is equivalent to your faith in God.

      • Well, *yes*, actually--I definitely want to "pedestrian-ize" it so to speak. Because I think it is important to dispel any notion that acting on "faith" is somehow automatically unreasonable, and I think it's important to recognize that we *all* act on faith in some context.
        We can move the atheist/theist dialogue forward at least a little by having both sides acknowledge that it's not the "faith" part itself that is in dispute, but what is disputed is the question *whether* to put "faith" in claims of an existing God, or not.

        • Rationalist1

          So my faith in my favourite sports team is equivalent to your faith in God? Or is my neighbour's faith in astrology equivalent to your faith in God? Or Prince Charles' faith in homeopathy equivalent to your faith in God? Is your faith nothing more than that?

          • I'm not addressing any issue of equivalence in terms of "value". I *am* saying that acting on faith is not in itself *unreasonable*. Do you agree with this?

          • Rationalist1

            But only if you reduce faith to it's lowest common denominator. And faith without evidence is not warranted. Hence why faith in astrology, homeopathy and Elvis being alive is not valid.

          • So you *do* agree that acting on faith is not in itself unreasonable? That people reasonably act on "faith" in varied ways? Or not?
            You've given examples of "unwarranted" acts of faith, lacking evidence. Can you think of "warranted" acts of faith, acts based on credible evidence?

          • Rationalist1

            Not without bowdlerizing the definition of faith. As soon as one has credible evidence, not accepting the proposition is the valid choice.

          • More simply--do you yourself act on the "everyday faith" Jimmy Akin mentions above in the OP? And, do you accept that if an atheist says he cannot "prove God does not exist" but nonetheless thinks it highly unlikely that He exists, he is ultimately making a "faith" statement?

          • Rationalist1

            No. Unless you say that your statement that astrology is not true is a faith statement.

          • I agree. I am ultimately making a similar "faith statement" if I say that astrology is not true. So this means that you accept things per my last comment?

          • BenS

            What use is the word 'faith' in that case? If every statement is a faith statement then the word faith can be dropped. It becomes merely a statement. So, what benefit or clarity does the word 'faith' bring to the table?

          • Rationalist1

            Taker a look at Robish lastest post a the the very top. He clarified it better than I did.

            When everything is faith, nothing is faith. Do you want me to agree that faith is a triviality like thinking the wheels won't suddenly fall off my bike on the way home. If so, then why bother having a word for faith at all because if you didn't have faith you;d be psychotic.

          • I am ultimately making a similar "faith statement" if I say that astrology is not true.

            It seems to me you are edging toward the position that nobody knows anything, and everything is faith. There is no way for you to prove, for example, that you aren't the only self-aware person on earth. Everyone else (including me) could be an automaton. In fact, there is no way to prove that everything you experience isn't some kind of virtual reality, like in The Matrix movies. We are taking the word of the twelve astronauts who walked on the moon that it is not made of green cheese. Perhaps they are lying. Or perhaps the moon landings were faked. So not only are you taking Catholicism on faith, you are taking the existence of the United States on faith, and also taking on faith that Barack Obama is president. There is no way to prove it.

          • BenS

            You've essentially redefined faith to mean 'information'. But without ascertaining the validity of that information, it's not really possible to determine whether acting on it is reasonable or not.

            Acting on information gained through reliable and verifiable means is reasonable.

            Acting on information gained through gut feeling and personal revelation is not.

            You're trying to lump the 'faith' which is information gained through credible means in with the 'faith' which is information gained through incredible means. They are not the same thing at all.

            'Faith' in god is a whole different kettle of loaves and fish from 'faith' in the scientific method.

          • Actually, no I haven't. Faith does not equal "information". Never said it did...hope you have read the OP. See what Jimmy refers to as "everyday faith"--do you see yourself as acting on "everyday faith" as expressed in the OP, or not?

          • BenS

            Actually, yes you have, in the context in which I put it. Did you read the post?

            I read the OP. It's shit. It defines faith to mean... anything. Essentially it takes the word 'faith' and then stretches it to worthlessness. Essentially, making any decision at all based on any evidence - or none! - is faith... and all faith is equal.

            Following this tortured thinking, believing I'm going to get sodomised in my sleep by space ponies is a reasonable position.

            Do you not understand - or even see - the colossal difference between 'I have faith my car will start because it has 99.99% of the times before' and 'I have faith in an invisible, undetectable super magical powerful being which no scientific evidence can ever exist for'?

            It's been pointed out to you enough times that these are not even remotely similar AND explained why. Referring me back to the OP just because it states the same nonsense is simply denial on your part.

            The OP has been rejected, rebutted, rebuffed and repudiated. If you can counter the opposing points, do so, don't just keep repeated the fallacious statements in the OP.

        • I believe you are a Catholic, and if so, you are forgetting that (religious) faith for Catholics is a supernatural gift from God that allows a human to believe supernatural propositions. Those of us who believe the sun will rise tomorrow and that gravity will also be around tomorrow as well do not claim we need supernatural powers to do so.

          • Not forgetting the uniqueness of the theological virtue of faith, but rather making clear that there is nothing intrinsically *unreasonable* about acting on faith--that people act on faith all the time.

          • but rather making clear that there is nothing intrinsically *unreasonable* about acting on faith--that people act on faith all the time.

            There may be nothing intrinsically unreasonable about acting on religious faith, but there is nothing intrinsically commendable about it, either. The people who sold all of their property and gave their money away because they believed Harold Camping had correctly predicted the end of the world were acting on faith. The Ku Klux Klan acted on faith. Protestants killed Catholics and Catholics killed Protestants acting on faith. Christians persecuted and killed Jews acting on faith. Certainly a great many good things are done by people acting on faith, but acting on faith in and of itself is not a good thing. Imagine the faith it takes to be a suicide bomber. One has to admit that no matter how hateful it is, the faith and courage of a suicide bomber are immense.

    • Can we theists and atheists agree that we all act on "faith" in one way or another?

      Only in the most trivial sense, if at all. Religious faith and "faith that the law of gravity will not suddenly stop working" are two utterly different kinds of "faith," if the latter can be faith at all. I am not sure why it is so important to some theists to attempt to define faith in such a way that both theists and atheists can be said to have it. I suspect it's an effort on the part of theists to drag atheists down to their (theists') own level. :-)

      • primenumbers

        "I suspect it's an effort on the part of theists to drag atheists down to their (theists') own level. :-)" - or to just generally obfuscate on the issue.

        Fact is not what we define faith to be, but what methods are actually used to attain knowledge, and are those methods reliable.

    • Sample1

      I don't even think your question has any fundamental meaning considering that faith has all the substance of shadow at best. You can't explain faith, Jim.

      What you really want to say is faith is your culture and how you behave. As I asked Linda, why do you think my social culture is deficient Jim? Last I checked, my personal culture doesn't have any room for acquiescing to a deity's demand to kill my daughter. Yours does. Just think about that.

      Mike

    • Max Driffill

      No.

  • Corylus

    Whether they think it highly unlikely that God exists, or whether
    they just have not been presented with proof they consider sufficient, they are doing the same thing: adopting a belief without certain proof.

    In other words, they are exercising faith.

    They are in the same position as the ordinary Christian who holds the existence of God despite his acknowledgement that he does not have conclusive proof of this.

    I'm afraid this does not strike me as particularly biblical (I'm having a protestant moment: happens from time to time).

    See Phiippians 2 (verse 12)

    Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

    "Fear and trembling" and "now much more in my absence". It the ordinary Christian has the same level of faith as an atheist, then what a milk and water believer they are. Where is the passion and where is the awe?

    Hmpf: and you want to call this a virtue?

  • josh

    "Framing the issue of faith as being belief without evidence is
    thus not what people of faith understand themselves to be doing, and so
    this, too, tends to be more of a straw man and an impediment to
    discussion."

    I find this kind of thinking highly problematic. One of the central arguments that atheists are making here is that religious faith is in fact belief with insufficient evidence or contrary to the evidence. The contention is that 'people of faith' misunderstand what they are doing. This is not a straw man, we know that believers don't define themselves this way, but we are claiming that they are making a mistake. This shouldn't be an impediment to discussion, this issue is the heart of the discussion and shouldn't be swept aside with hopelessly broad definitions like the one presented here, or pointlessly question-begging ones as the official Catholic definitions of 'faith' tend to be.

    • Jonathan West

      The contention is that 'people of faith' misunderstand what they are doing. This is not a straw man, we know that believers don't define themselves this way, but we are claiming that they are making a mistake.

      I think that you are partly right, and partly wrong. I think that quite a few believers do realise that the evidence for God is poor by the standards we apply to evidence of anything else in the world.

      I think they also realise that in continuing to believe in God they are applying a double standard, holding evidence of God to a lower standard than they would apply to anything else, and treating God as their "null hypothesis".

      This is why they talk so energetically about God being "outside time and space" and therefore inaccessible to scientific enquiry, why theology has over the last few hundred years been one long slow retreat towards unfalsifiable definitions of God, how increasingly they say that the Bible should be read metaphorically (where there was no suggestion of this until scientific discoveries started undermining what were previously regarded as incontrovertible Biblical truths.

      But it seems that even sophisticated Christians are often unable to follow the reasoning to its ultimate conclusion. i recall that 2 or 3 years Jane Williams (wife of the former Archbishop of Canterbury and a teacher of theology) did a series of articles on the Guardian website on the book of Genesis.

      It seems to me (and I commented to this effect at the time) that in its own poetic way, the first two chapters of Genesis describe how God made the world. These days, we know that Genesis is not an accurate account of how the world was formed. So in scientific terms, we have to regard that myth as false.

      Since we know that the world wasn't made that way, we know also (at the very least) that God didn't make the world that way.

      And yet, Jane Williams was describing theological conclusions one can draw from the story, conclusions you could draw from the story concerning the characteristics of God. She seemed to be claiming that for theological purposes, i.e. in order to come to an understanding of God, you could treat the story as if it were true even though you know it isn't.

      So I asked her what justification there is for privileging Genesis in this way.

      This was her reply.

      Part of the justification, of course, is that it is a text that has shaped communities since first it was read. Like it or not, that's how it is.
      The reading/worshipping community throughout centuries, across cultures is part of what comes with this text. So as I read it, I'm drawn into a conversation that is much bigger than just me and the text.

      That was about as much answer as I ever got - a combination of the argument from popularity and the argument from antiquity.

  • DonJindra

    "Whether they think it highly unlikely that God exists, or whether they
    just have not been presented with proof they consider sufficient, they
    are doing the same thing: adopting a belief without certain proof."

    When someone makes such a claim he's practicing an insidious form of relativism. None of us has certain proof the sun will rise tomorrow. Nevertheless, we cannot legitimately claim "faith the sun will not rise tomorrow" is equivalent to "faith the sun will rise tomorrow."

  • Sample1

    Why is it important for Catholics to believe that atheism requires faith? As Linda and I discussed briefly here, I think faith is just like atheism in one important way: it requires a relationship to something else for its own "existence".

    In the case of faith, it requires a relationship to behavior and culture. Faith is therefore like a shadow. It disappears in the bright sunshine of those who live lives without it.

    Mike

  • 42Oolon

    I'm sure this has been pointed out in the comments below, but all the author has done here is propose an outlandishly expanded definition of faith so that all beliefs must be faith-based.

    He has included all beliefs that have some evidence, but do not have certain proof, as being faith. Ok, if that is the definition I would have faith, but this definition is too broad. This would mean that all court decisions are faith based, all science is faith based. That seems to be contrary to the common use of the term.

    The problem with this is that it leaves out a distinction between beliefs based on good evidence and logic, and beliefs based on minimal evidence and/or logical fallacy. And it is THIS is the distinction I am interested in. It is also the only thing that matters to me in discussions about atheism. Who cares if you have inconclusive evidence for your claim? You find a size 19 footprint in the mud in the Rockies. This is evidence for Bigfoot. Insufficient evidence, and accepting the claim that a non-human primate lives indigenously in the wild in North America would be laughable.

    I don't know why some apologists are willing to do such violence to language to group atheism in as a faith-belief. If certain proof exists, bring it. Please stop with these silly semantic games.

  • robtish

    My definition of faith: Belief that is stronger than is warranted by the evidence. The gap between the strength of the belief and the strength of the evidence equals faith.

    No definition of faith can be complete if it talks about "belief" without recognizing that not all beliefs are held with the same degree of certainty. The author seems to think that taking action when you are uncertain is a sign of faith, but the uncertainty itself is a sign of being rational, not of having faith.

    This "strength of belief" notion is important because it knocks out all those "everyday faith" items the author listed: .I believe I won't die in a car crash on my way to work, and I do drive to work, but as long as I'm not more certain than the evidence allows, then it's not a matter of having faith. And in fact I do act as if my driving safety or food safety or my memory are not certain. That's why I have insurance, turn down food or milk that smells bad, and write things down (or ask my fiance what he remembers).

    One problem. By my definition of faith, it's hard to distinguish between faith and delusion. Or maybe that's not a problem at all.

    • I don't think what you have said adds up to a refutation of what Jimmy Akin says about "everyday faith." Acting on faith is something we do every day in
      areas in which we lack certitude but do not lack evidence. That's the point.
      It's not really "faith OR evidence". It's a combination of "faith AND evidence."

      When we drive a vehicle, for example, we rely on *more* than "evidence
      alone" to get behind the wheel and travel. We engage in a bunch of
      multiple continuous acts associated both with a lack of certitude and
      accumulating evidence. We act based on both the evidence of our senses as well as a belief that everybody else is out there driving intentionally in a manner that will maximize safety and minimize risk. We have to make multiple *assumptions* from the standpoint of having observed the evidence to best of our ability—but our acts are ultimately assumptions, or based not on certainty but on our belief that we are at minimal risk.
      I assume you act on this "everyday faith".
      As it is, your proposed definition of "faith" seems to place faith almost tautologically against both evidence and reason. And that's not how I see it working in everyday human experience.

      • robtish

        "We have to make multiple *assumptions* from the standpoint of having observed the evidence to best of our ability—but our acts are ultimately assumptions, or based not on certainty but on our belief that we are at minimal risk."

        If your *assumptions* are beliefs (which you recognize as uncertain) based on your observation of evidence, then I don't see any grounds for calling that "faith."

        • Why not?

          • robtish

            Because I see no reason to, and no one has provided me with one. I'm talking about a realistic evidence-based evaluation of probabilities, and I've never in my entire life heard *anyone* use "faith" to mean that.

          • primenumbers

            It's only apologists playing word games who use faith like that @robtish:disqus!

          • Seriously? I thought this was a discussion, not apologetics...

          • primenumbers

            So Jim, why do you think faith is been defined in this manner? I don't see it as useful definition as it just makes faith as a word somewhat redundant.

          • Have you really only heard "faith" described as, basically, something not based on any realistic evidence at all? I think the OP above is really helpful in describing the commonality existing among many forms of "faith response" so to speak.
            For Catholics, there is no doubt that the kind of "faith response" made regarding something *God* reveals to us is of a differently "quality" than the "faith response" of driving a car, but the takeaway is, in my view, that we cannot automatically cast a "faith response" as something contrary to reason and evidence....

          • primenumbers

            Jim, both fast and slow are speeds, but we loose all manner of sense if we refer to all speeds as "fast". That's the problem with how Akin defines faith. All acts become acts of faith, with no distinguishing between things that require a lot of faith to bridge the epistemic gap and those things that have more than enough evidence such that faith is not necessary to achieve a justified (by the evidence) belief.

          • robtish

            "something not based on any realistic evidence at all"

            That's not remotely my definition at all.Not even remotely.. Go back and reread it, please.

            I agree that the alleged "faith" of driving a car is quite different from the faith as something God reveal to us. That's the problem: the article is using word in two different ways, which is why it makes no sense to put them in same category..

      • primenumbers

        "Acting on faith is something we do every day inareas in which we lack certitude but do not lack evidence" - but as we technically lack total certitude on everything, everything becomes faith, which renders the word "faith" a useless discriminator.

        Therefore what Robtish writes above, and what I've been trying to explain to you works better for faith, and actually models how people use the word in practice. Faith is that which bridges the epistemic gap between evidence and belief.

    • Ben

      The concept of "strength of belief" is key. What you are consciously practising is Bayesian reasoning, which is what the human mind practises subconsciously all the time. This is the best text about Bayesianism: http://bayes.wustl.edu/etj/prob/book.pdf

    • primenumbers

      Exactly - faith is that which bridges the epistemic gap between evidence and belief. If you have enough evidence, you don't need faith. If you lack evidence or have too much disconfirming evidence but still want to believe, faith will bridge that gap for you quite happily.

      • And here we see the problem--having "enough evidence"? What is "enough evidence"? People on airplanes have "enough evidence" to board the plane, but aren't they acting on "faith" by putting their very lives in the hands of the pilot?

        • primenumbers

          I gave you an extensive answer to this earlier that you didn't respond to. You're just equivocating trust with faith here. They don't have faith in the pilot in the sense that we're discussing faith here, but trust, and such a pilot has earned that trust through extensive education and testing.

          If by faith you mean trust, use the word trust. If by faith you mean hope, use hope. If by faith you mean believing something when you lack enough evidence to bridge the epistemic gap, then use faith. Lumping all those together as "faith" is getting the discussion nowhere and renders "faith" as a not-very-useful word.

          • The top definition of the word "faith" on many dictionary-type sites mentions "confidence or trust in a person or thing."
            That's exactly the kind of broad definition that I'm suggesting is the common link among the many things noted as acts of faith in the OP and by me in the comboxes. I am at a loss as to why the atheistic view embraces a more restrictive definition than what is commonly accepted...
            Indeed, such a definition doesn't even really touch upon the question of the nature of the evidence (or lack thereof) that supports this confidence or trust.
            Which is why I will maintain that "everyday faith" is a real concept and it's really associated with the fact that we all display "faith"--confidence or trust in a person or thing--in many ways, whether that "faith" is religious or theistic or not...

          • Sample1

            Sorry primenumbers for jumping in on this.

            Which is why I will maintain that "everyday faith" is a real concept and
            it's really associated with the fact that we all display
            "faith"--confidence or trust in a person or thing--in many ways, whether
            that "faith" is religious or theistic or not...

            No rational atheist here is going to deny that "everyday faith" isn't a concept.

            Concepts aren't necessarily reality.

            Mike

          • primenumbers

            Unfortunately that's the problem with the word faith - it has multiple different meanings and to use faith to mean trust is directly at odds with how else faith is used, especially with use in a religious context.

            By lumping all these definitions together, as Akin does, lends to a situation where faith ceases to have meaning.

            That is why we use the word "trust" when we mean trust, and "hope" when we mean hope and save "faith" for when we mean religious faith. To do otherwise, especially on a discussion related to religious issues is to invite confusion.

            So to say atheists have faith==trust and that theists have faith==faith, and then to say both atheists and theists have faith is to abuse the word faith conflating two of it's meanings as if those two meanings mean the same thing. They don't mean the same thing.

        • BenS

          No, because pilots are regulated by various bodies for their competence. If you kill over a certain number of people, your licence doesn't get renewed.

          'Course, I'm aware of one occasion where the pilots of a couple of commercial aeroplanes themselves had a great deal of faith. Didn't turn out so well for all concerned.

        • 42Oolon

          Jim, when people board a plane or cross a street they are taking a risk. This is not an issue of faith. We have expectations of pilots and a multitude of other factors that need to go right for a plane to fly safely. In fact, we don't even trust them that much, which is why we have serious legal regulation and licensing for these and other dangerous activities.

          As for what my standards of proof are with respect to things? I take the civil law standard of a balance of probabilities with respect to deity existence.

    • Vicq_Ruiz

      At the risk of beating an analogy to death:

      I believe I won't die in a car crash on my way to work, and I do drive to work, but as long as I'm not more certain than the evidence allows,
      then it's not a matter of having faith.

      Suppose my drive to work involved encountering lots of different "driving sects".....

      Some who have decided that straddling the centerline is the safest way to drive
      Some who always drive between 51 and 55 mph, never slower or faster
      Some who signal for lane changes by tootling their horns in Morse code

      In that case, it absolutely would require "faith" in my way of driving to believe that it would safely see me through to the job site.

      But because the chances of my encountering such a driver are vanishingly small, no faith is called for.

  • CarlFischer

    It seems like this has been covered so many times, I have a hard time understanding how the author missed it. Mr Akin comes close to recognizing the fundamental difference, I think. Atheists put faith in principles that are supported by evidence.

    • So do theists...which is why there is no fundamental difference...

      • BenS

        So why is faith a virtue?

        • A particular kind of faith is a theological virtue. But just as not every virtue is "faith," not every "faith" is "virtue."

          • BenS

            Right, so just as not every position of faith is reasonable, not every reasonable position is faith.

      • Michael Murray

        The difference is in the quality and quantity of evidence. That is what the discussion should be about.

  • Sample1

    While Stephen Bullivant replied to the last Jimmy Akin article by writing his own and coming to a different conclusion about whether atheism is a religion (it's not), I don't have the same confidence that Bullivant will disagree with Akin this time.

    People of faith need atheists much more than we need them.

    Mike

  • Sage McCarey

    I have no quarrel with your faith. If you have faith in a god and think you have a personal relationship with a god, fine with me. My quarrel with you is when you extrapolate from that faith/belief that you must get everyone to follow your beliefs/rules that you believe were set up by your god. Have all the faith you want but don't try to influence the laws and try to control what we can do with our bodies, in our bedrooms, by the dictates of our own conscience.

    • Michael Murray

      Have all the faith you want but don't try to influence the laws and try to control what we can do with our bodies, in our bedrooms, by the dictates of our own conscience.

      I had a discussion like this some time ago here. The response was "why are you trying to deprive me of my democratic right to try to influence politicians according to my beliefs just as you influence them according to yours". The argument was about abortion of course.

      • Sid_Collins

        ". . . why are you trying to deprive me of my democratic right to try to influence politicians according to my beliefs just as you influence them according to yours."

        But that's not the end of it. If they fail to influence the politicians to pass laws that embody their beliefs, there is endless whining that they are being persecuted for their religion. For example if they fail in trying to get corporations with Catholic or evangelical CEOs exempted from having to provide health insurance that includes contraception, government is interfering with their religious freedom. If we fail to keep that provision, it is just our sense of justice that is violated, and that doesn't count. Religion is always supposed to have special rights.

        • Vicq_Ruiz

          In fairness, there are many religious believers who do not think it's any of the government's business to dictate the terms of a health insurance policy. (full disclosure - this also happens to be my position)

          It's the churches who support such an overreaching law in general, but then demand a carveout for some individual clause that contradicts their dogma, which I have a problem with.

          (USCCB - I'm talking to you here)

          • Jonathan West

            Do you think it is the government's business to insist on mandatory car insurance, with a certain government mandated minimum degree of coverage?

            If so, what is different about health insurance?

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            I think it's reasonable to require than anyone who gets a driver's license have sufficient means to compensate others who may be injured by the driver's failure to operate his vehicle safely. This could be through insurance or posting of a bond.

            Not sure that is an exact analogue for health insurance.

          • Jonathan West

            I'm just establishing whether we have a principle that it is valid for the government ever to dictate the terms of an insurance policy of any variety.

            If we do (and by accepting the car insurance principle, you have indicated that this is so), it is necessary then to move on to what exceptions to that principle might be applicable for different kind of insurance and why they should apply.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Well, probably the wrong forum to have this discussion in, but in a nutshell....

            The requirement to be financially responsible (not necessarily via insurance) for the damage one may cause to others is an appropriate condition of operating a vehicle which can cause such damage if not driven properly.

            One who does not choose to be subject to that requirement has options. He can choose not to have a driver's license, or to have one but to rely on public transportation or family/friends. Or ride a bicycle....

            Now, a law requiring health insurance is a condition of ..... what??? Being alive?? How should I conduct my life if I do not choose to be subject to that requirement??

      • Vicq_Ruiz

        I'm an atheist who is entirely in favor of addressing the abortion issue through the democratic process of legislation.

  • Steve Zara

    Faith: I know what it is like. I can say what faith meant for me when I was a believer. Faith was a struggle. It was squeezing my eyes shut and trying to listen to the darkness to hear a voice – anything – even a whisper, some sign of a response from someone; from something. Faith was constantly trying to tell myself what I should believe. Internal apologetics, excuses for ignoring inconsistencies in scripture, defences against logical impossibilities, apologetics that always ended with me saying sorry to myself for coming up empty.

    I have to admit that I'm a lazy atheist, which is fortunate because atheism doesn't need any effort. There is no struggle to look for reasons to not have belief. There
    aren't any atheist apologetics because when it comes to belief because there are no scriptures to recite, no prayers to say, nothing to work at. Because I'm lazy, when I want to find something out, I ask those who know about that thing. The best way to do this is to find those whose ideas work:

    If I want to know why the Earth orbits the Sun, I ask a physicist. I ask a physicist because physicists come up with miracles that work, everyday miracles that work so often we stop calling them miracles. Time and space twist in Relativity,
    but I don't need to have faith in them because my SatNav works.

    If I want to know how life evolved I ask a biologist. I ask a biologist because a biologist shows us magic that is real. The sparks of mutation fuel the explosion of
    evolution, and the results are millions of species. Evolution happens so often that I don't need to have faith in biology, I just need to wait and watch the species appear, both from the rocks and in the world around us.

    If I want to know about mind I ask a neuroscientist. I ask a neuroscientist because a neuroscientist watches the threads of neurons as they weave the tapestry of mind on a fabric of little grey cells. A neuroscientist shows us the soul in action. I don't need to have faith in neuroscience, I can watch the MRI scan read minds.

    If I want to understand meaning I ask a philosopher. I ask a philosopher because philosophy is fun, and shows how magnificent the human mind can be at exploring its own abilities and limitations. I adore the fluent sarcasm of Hume, the
    dry wit of Russell, the intensity of Kant, the precision of Dennett. I don't need to have faith in philosophy, because philosophy is words and words exist (whatever Derrida says).

    At no time do I ask a theologian. It's just too much effort. I don't want to have to work at faith with all the bother of apologetics and the struggle for meaning, and the hunting down of the correct verses and the historical interpretations. I don't want to have to go back to wishing with all my wishing cells that the communion wafer really was some sort of body of Christ, that prayers did get to heaven, that the Pope would actually start to say reasonable things about sex and love.

    I understand faith. Faith is the scaffolding that helps build hope, hope for things unseen. Hope for life after death, for ultimate justice, for celestial meaning. But,
    faith does tend to falter, and with good reason. Faith is its own antidote for many – that faith is needed is evidence against that which is hoped for. Some people – many, many people – learn to treasure life and don't need the hope for more. We realise we have to make our own justice, our own meaning, because justice and meaning that are real are better than those which are hoped for.

    Perhaps it's just me: faith uses up energy. I'm too lazy to even be the kind of atheist that others often are. I have other uses of that energy: meals to cook, books to write, games to play, people to love.

    • Sample1

      Just how am I supposed to share that on Twitter. :) Spectacular post. Thank you also to Quine, Zen, Michael and the others who helped with the right incantations to get you here, Steve.

      Mike

      PS: No ungulates were sacrificed in preparation for our Facebook pleading. May your pasta be godless and al dente.

    • Rationalist1

      Wow. That first paragraph was so me in my 20's and early 30's. If my current self could have told my former self one thing is would be "It's okay not to believe." When I accepted that, my life became so much simpler and meaningful.

      Reading Steve's response and then reading Mr. Atkin's there is just no comparison. Not even close. If more people who are ambivalent on the question of religion read the two, for me there is no question which position they will feel more sympathetic to and more accepting of intellectually.

      Thank you Steve.

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi Steve,
      I just came across your post so i know i'm a little late for responding to it. Forgive me but i will have to disagree with you, i don't think your lazy. that was a well thoughout and concise post.

      Two things i thought might be helpful (from my perspective). Start with "faith" in a general sense to see it within yourself. when you chose your job in life, you weren't absolutely certain, when you chose your spouse, you weren't absolutely certain, you looked at the evidence and made a decision. That you could say is faith. when you ask someone to do something for you, you could say your putting your "faith" in them. only an agnostic who never really leaves the home would be one who only adhere's to logic and reason, but we all need faith in various people and things in order to deal with life.

      Secondly, remember that when you were praying, God was doing something. something always happens in prayer but at times it takes a while to see what he is doing. i can't tell you how many times i've prayed for direction or even for something good but had to wait. sometimes it was because God was trying to get me to look at something else in my life. When i stopped long enough to listen i could see it. God does answer prayers and so if you persevere in prayer you will see the effect. Perhaps it's not a bad idea to have some doubt. Why not doubt some of the things that can't be proven and are only theories drawn up by various atheists. Perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea to doubt some of Dawkins theories that are as of yet unproven?

      If you can identify with some of the ideas of how you use "faith" in a general sense we can talk about theological faith etc.

  • Michael Murray

    Whenever I read good philosophy I'm astounded by the philosophers ability to take a word or a concept and dissect all the ways we think about and use it. It seems to me that this approach leads to a greater understanding and clarity in our thought. This article seems to want to do the opposite. Nearly everything is apparently faith and we end up with confusion. It's hard not to avoid the conclusion that confusion is the intended endpoint. Why can't we have the other kind of article ? From that I would at least learn the difference between my kind of faith (reasonable expectations based on prior experience) and religious faith. Who knows a dialogue may start instead of an argument?

    • Ben

      But if the articles start to clarify and delimit, we might end up making process towards a conclusion, and that would never do.

      • Michael Murray

        Indeed. Hard not conclude that as long as you are arguing about how many angels dance on a pinhead you aren't having to answer questions about the existence of angels. It's a win.

    • Does this mean you're not going to join the Secret Information Club?

      • BenS

        Personally, I'd rather do something more constructive.

        Like shit in my hand and clap.

        • Michael Murray

          Who told you the Secret Information Club handshake ? Bloody hell we have a traitor in our midst!

          • Ben

            That's not his hand...

      • Michael Murray

        That reminds me of the ads you used to see for Rosicrucians. Learn the ancient wisdom of the Egyptian or something like that.

  • This is just unbelievably trivial. If you take out all of this equivocation with the word "faith" all Akin is saying is that atheists believe things without having absolute certainty of these beliefs.

    So what?

    What I think matters to rational atheists (and theists for that matter) is proportioning their beliefs to the evidence. The more evidence we have, the more confident we should be, regardless of the fact that 100% proof is elusive.

    In saying that "atheists have faith" Akin is making a trivial point, but creating huge potential for misunderstanding. Not a very good contribution to the conversation.

  • Mikegalanx

    This seems to fit under the category of "more of the same".

    -Theist makes statement conflating the ordinary language meaning of a word with the theistic meaning.
    -Atheists point out the discrepancy.
    -Theists claim atheist confusion is due to applying the ordinary language meaning of term, when the theist all along meant the special Catholic/Christian/theological definition- even though that's what the theist's original argument was.

    Stephen Law has a good post on this.

    http://www.skepticink.com/believingbullshit/2013/06/13/moving-the-semantic-goalposts-theological-sleight-of-hand-with-words/

    Maybe we could adopt a system whereby we would know which terminology is meant, and when we are switching back and forth.Quotation marks?

    -I have faith this airplane will stay up in the air, but I have "faith" in God.
    -God doesn't exist ( in the way we use the word about everything else) but He "exists" ( in a unique meaning that doesn't apply to anything else).
    -It isn't true Eve was created from a rib of Adam (it didn't actually happen) but it's "true" (it teaches a moral, like an Aesop's fable).
    - Homosexuality is natural (it happens in nature) but it isn't "natural" (Catholics think it shouldn't).

    Of course, that would eliminate about 90% of the theistic posts and comments.

  • robtish

    My summation of the debate as it currently stands:
    "Faith" has many completely different meanings, and since atheists are okay with some of the meanings, they must therefore be okay with *all* of the meanings.

    To which we respond: Um...what?

    • Rationalist1

      We could use this line of reasoning for all sorts of things.

      • BenS

        'Sexual activity' has many completely different meanings, and since Catholics are okay with some of the meanings, they must therefore be okay with *all* of the meanings.

        Ergo, Catholics are ok with same sex activity.

        Right?

    • Sample1

      The picture for this article couldn't be more apropos. So far the most succinct explanation for what faith is: dangerous.

      Mike

  • Better Off Damned

    One long strawman argument and a shifting of the burden of proof.

    • ZenDruid

      Not only that, he presents onscreen like he was talking to some scrubs in a Sunday school class.

      • Vicq_Ruiz

        I suspect that if Stephen Bullivant were to drain a big old goblet of the Jekyll-Hyde potion, he would find himself transformed into Jimmy Akin.

  • Jonathan West

    This article is one long example of the use of the fallacy of equivocation.

    It is worked out at such length and in such detail, that it is obvious that the author and publisher both realise this, and therefore are attempting deliberately to mislead.

    Atheists (at least those posting here) are mostly very familiar with the common logical and informal fallacies, so the article was never going to fly with that audience.

    That means either that Brandon isn't primarily targeting atheists with this article, but is instead trying to mislead believers, or that he has such faith (and ignorance) concerning his powers of persuasion and that of the authors he uses, that he genuinely believed he could pull the wool over our eyes as well.

    • epeeist

      This article is one long example of the use of the fallacy of equivocation.

      A conclusion I had already drawn, but given the ability of Disqus to hide things something you may have missed.

      The thing that I am beginning to tire of in this type of article is the sophistry. In a decision as to whether to attempt to present the truth or to demonstrate the dogmatic position the latter always wins.

  • primenumbers

    If you're going to say "faith" meaning "trust", use the word "trust" and then we know what you mean. So don't say "I have faith in my wife", but that "I trust my wife".

    If you're going to say "faith" meaning "hope", use the word "hope" and then we know what you mean. So don't say "I have faith my team will win", but that "I hope my team will win".

    If you're going to say "faith" meaning religious faith, use the word "faith" and then we know what you mean, and if you want to be doubly sure, say "religious faith".

    If you're going to equivocate on faith and conflate all those three meanings together, don't. It's not clever.

    • And the definitional difference between the term "faith" and "trust" is....what?

      • primenumbers

        Faith is not necessarily a complete lack of evidence. It's when the evidence is just not enough to believe because it doesn't get you over your epistemic threshold. Faith is what fills in the gap between what evidence you have and what you want to believe.

        • Well, no it's not. Faith, as an *act*--the kind of acts described in the OP, and the kind of act as commonly defined--is in its most generic sense an act of placing confidence or trust *in* something or someone. Period. Regardless of evidence, regardless of gap, regardless of even what you may "want" to believe. It's the act itself.
          Faith is, by definition, a form of trust.
          Atheists appear to want "faith" to always mean something like the sawdust that theists pile in the empty hole that exists between actual evidence and their religion. And it doesn't.
          If I decide to put my "faith" in one of two candidates for political office, after having seen *all* the available evidence on both, with both candidates being stellar in all respects, I'm not choosing one over the other as an act of filling a "gap" in the objective evidence. I may well have other subjective reasons for selecting to put "faith" in one and not the other.
          Come on folks--if we can merely *agree* that "faith" is something we all act on in different ways, *then* we can examine *how* this human behavior is expressed uniquely when it comes to God and religion...

          • primenumbers

            "Atheists appear to want "faith" to always mean something like the sawdust that theists pile in the empty hole that exists between actual evidence and their religion. And it doesn't. " - because that's how we see it being used. You seem to forget that a lot of us were religious - we know how faith is used, we've not forgotten.

          • "Faith" is not something that is "used." It's entirely up to *you* to place trust in God or a particular religion just as you place trust in a gazillion other things or people.
            The important thing to note is that there many amazingly wide "gaps" in the evidence relied on by atheists, too....

          • primenumbers

            We know faith is "used" because we used to use it. We know what religious belief is like because we used to be religious. When you de-convert you'll be saying the same things to Catholics and they'll be telling you that "no, we don't use faith like that, don't be silly" and you'll be saying back to them - "don't forget, I used to be a believing Catholic just like you and I know and remember how I used to think."

          • You do realize that it is generally agreed by those here at Strange Notions--Catholics and atheists alike--that a *huge* percentage of people in the pews who claim to be "Catholic"--just like you--are deeply, deeply misinformed about what the Church really teaches and believes.
            So this line of argument--"I used to be Catholic, so I know what I'm talking about, while you, who are still Catholic, are obviously wrong"--can hardly be taken seriously...

          • primenumbers

            I'm not talking about what the RCC teaches, but about what actually goes in in practise, so what you're saying actually bolsters my argument rather than diminishes it.

          • Hardly--aberrations in practice are just that--aberrations. If you leave the Church in order to reject aberrations rather than the *authentic* truth proclaimed by the Church, then you've rejected the aberrations, not the Church...

          • primenumbers

            They're the norm, not the exception though. You do realize you're missing the whole point of my argument though, that you can't pull the wool over our eyes by telling us that actual believers act the way you tell us when we know different because we used to be actual believers.

          • If you, as an "actual believer", believed in an aberration in practice and *not* the actual teaching of the Church, then how can you claim to have been an "actual believer"?

          • primenumbers

            You're making a "no true scotsman" argument.

          • No I'm not. I'm pointing out that you're making a "genetic fallacy" argument of sorts by claiming your opinion should be trusted because you used to be an "actual Catholic" who used to believe what was "practiced" rather than what was "taught"...
            To which I must say: so what? I'm still an actual Catholic and I believe and accept what the Church actually *teaches*, which I'm trying to articulate as clearly as possible...

          • primenumbers

            But you know not all that the RCC teaches and what the RCC teaches is not coherent so you cannot actually hold that you believe and accept it all other than as a matter of irrational faith.

            I never said I was a Catholic. I was CofE.

          • No, I actually believe and accept all the Catholic Church teaches as a matter of *rational* faith.
            Yes, *Rational* Faith.

          • primenumbers

            So you're saying you have evidenced trust that, for instance the RCC is correct on all they teach?

          • Jonathan West

            In that case, you need to satisfy yourself that all the Catholic Church teaches has a valid epistemic warrant.

            In doing that, you need to demonstrate, avoiding using of such informal fallacies as the Argument from Authority and the Circular Argument, not only that Catholic teaching is valid, but also that the teaching of other churches or religions is invalid, in as far is it conflicts with catholic teaching.

            But if you could actually do that, then I think most atheists would not regard you as having faith at all, instead they would describe you as having an epistemically warranted belief in the teaching of the RCC.

            Moreover if your beliefs were epistemically justified, the justifications would form convincing evidence of the existence of God and they would no longer be atheists!

          • ***But if you could actually do that, then I think most atheists would not regard you as having faith at all, instead they would describe you as having an epistemically warranted belief in the teaching of the RCC.****
            This is where the disconnect is: theists live in the "both/and" of reason and faith. Atheists (the majority here so far) insist on "either/or", no exceptions....

          • Jonathan West

            Is your belief in the teachings of the RCC epistemically warranted or not?

            That is something we can establish by comparing the teachings with the evidence claimed in justification for them.

            To the extent that they go beyond the available evidence, your acceptance of them is irrational.

            In respect of each individual item within Catholic teaching, your acceptance cannot both be rational and irrational at the same time. It may be that there are some elements that are rationally justified and some which are not, in which case your acceptance of some RCC parts of teaching is rational and of other parts it is irrational.

            So yes, it is an either/or situation regarding the matching of the evidence to the teachings.

            In what way do you think there is a both/and situation?

          • And here we would differ over what is "available evidence" and whether it's reasonable to accept such evidence.
            It's "both/and" because it can be demonstrated that Catholic teaching is based upon both faith and reason.

          • Jonathan West

            And here we would differ over what is "available evidence" and whether it's reasonable to accept such evidence.

            Quite true. We would end up having a discussion as to whether it is appropriate to apply the same standards of evidence when considering God as we apply when considering any other factual proposition concerning the world around us. And if you apply different standards for God, we would need to discuss whether those different standards are justified.

            Since I suspect you do apply different standards of evidence to God, that might take up quite a long thread.

            It's "both/and" because it can be demonstrated that Catholic teaching is based upon both faith and reason.

            Again, it depends on your definitions of "faith" and "reason", and since you've neither responded to my suggestions for definitions nor provided any alternative clear definitions of your own, we are still in the land of equivocation, and no further communication of ideas is possible.

            If you won't make it clear what you mean, you can hardly expect anybody to agree with you.

    • Here's how I see it: Atheists seem unable to live with the idea that any of their actions can even in the least way be based on some form of "faith."
      Faith is, among atheists, such a pejorative term that the term *must* be reserved only for those who either believe in God or practice a religion, or both.
      Thus, even things that qualify as "everyday faith" in the OP *must* be called something else--like "trust"--even when such acts meet the basic common and *secular* definition of the term "faith."
      If we call such "trust" acts "faith," why, it can yield an observation that atheists and theists both rely upon similar acts, which undermines the "pejorative-ness" of the term "faith" in the atheist lexicon....

      • primenumbers

        No, theists realize faith is irrational and hence try to do an "and you too" to atheists. That's the whole purpose of the article above. It's not to make the word faith more intelligible or to reduce confusion and ambiguity.

        When we use the word trust, we know how trust works. Trust is when you have a degree of belief in something that is in proportion to the strength of evidence. There is nothing irrational about trust because you've not believed to either a greater or lesser extent than the evidence would suggest.

        Faith is different from trust. Faith is that specific instance where the degree of belief is greater than what the trust level the evidence gives us. Remember that trust is always rational when it's in proportion to evidence. When you trust more than what the evidence gives you, we no longer refer to trust, but to faith. This is completely in line with how the words trust and faith are used in practise, and there's sufficient and distinct difference between the concepts as not to render either word redundant.

        • I rest my case.
          1. Faith is "irrational."
          2. Theists are therefore irrational.
          3. Atheists aren't theists.
          4. Therefore atheists aren't irrational.
          5. Therefore atheists can't act on "faith."
          The problem lies in the "strange notion" that faith is "irrational". Faith is *against* reason, you say. And of course it's not.

          • primenumbers

            If you believe something to a greater extent than the evidence would suggest then yes, you are being irrational. If a theist does indeed hold a belief to a stronger extent than the evidence then yes, they're being irrational. We use the word "faith" to describe such a belief.

            Shouldn't you too be wanting theists to decry such faith and to avoid having any such belief as it is irrational?

            I really don't see what your problem is unless you want to continue to believe things to a greater extent than you have strength of evidence?

          • No, the word "faith" firstly describes the act of putting trust or confidence in a person or thing. Imposing the additional quality of it being "irrational" is a claim peculiar to atheists, it seems.

          • primenumbers

            Well if that's what you mean by faith you've declared the word redundant.

            Declaring faith irrational is not an atheist thing. You, I'm sure, think faith in astrology is irrational, do you not?

          • The *act* of putting "faith" in someone or something is not automatically an irrational act. That's what I believe. I am a theist. You said we theists realize "faith is irrational."
            True faith is never contrary to reason.

          • primenumbers

            So faith is redundant then if it's not contrary to reason. You can just use reason.

          • No, it's not redundant. Again, the OP makes *clear* it's not redundant. "Everyday faith" is a *real* expression of a kind of faith.
            Once we establish and agree that faith is not necessarily "irrational," we can discuss why it's not redundant and why it's absolutely necessary when it comes to God.

          • primenumbers

            Faith is necessarily an irrational trust, or else we can use the word trust. I wont allow you to use "faith" in a way that's equivalent to an existing word without giving us something that discriminates it. I know how faith is used by real people, and it means trust beyond evidence.

          • I continue to rest my case, then.
            Faith is not only irrational, but now I'm not *allowed* to use the word "faith" according to its dictionary definition!

          • primenumbers

            There's like 5 different meanings of faith. I'm saying that any meaning of faith that's equivalent to another word like trust or hope should be retired in favour of using the non-ambiguous word. You seem to be all for ambiguity....

          • Do you ever act in a manner that corresponds to at least one of the different definitions of "faith"?
            Ever put trust or confidence in a person or thing? If the answer is yes, then we have a point of *common ground* to build upon. Can you not concede that atheists and theists share this common ground, and that indeed faith is *not* always irrational, and that theists do *not* think faith is irrational?

          • primenumbers

            Yes, we all trust and hope, and if you want to talk about trust and hope do so, and use the words trust and hope so we know you're not being deliberately ambiguous or equivocating.

            if you want to talk about faith, it must mean something different to trust or hope or else I'll direct you back to the paragraph above this one.

            Trust and hope are neither rational or irrational. They can be irrational if the degree of trust or degree of hope is greater than the weight of evidence that supports the trust or hope. At which point we can refer to that trust or hope as faith. I can see why you don't want to use faith in this manner, but it's the only manner that maps to common usage of the word in a way that doesn't make it redundant and hence get you referred back to the 1st paragraph in this post.

          • You are making it clearer and clearer--you want "faith" to *always* mean something irrational...

          • primenumbers

            Sorry if I wasn't been clear enough Jim. Yes, faith is always irrational because if it wasn't, you'd use a word like trust instead....

          • Well, no, I wouldn't of course... :-)

          • primenumbers

            So you're basically just equivocating then?

            So when someone says "I have faith I'm going to win the lottery today", to you that's equivalent to "I have faith the sun will not explode today", and that's also an equivalent use of faith as "I have faith that God is a Trinity".

          • Those all qualify as acts of faith in the generic sense, and at least two of them are, in my view, *rational* acts of faith.

          • primenumbers

            But in each case the word "faith" means something different.

            1) is hope, unless you've been cheating :-)
            2) is trust,
            3) is religious faith.

            Rationality is indeterminate for 1) (you could be cheating or have bought enough tickets to statistically have good confidence in winning), rational for 2) and irrational for 3).

            That is why we use the words hope, trust and faith, not faith, faith and faith because they are significantly different enough in meaning.

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,
            Get over it. If you are going to deny us the ability to reject the term faith, or tell us that we have it and it just like your religious faith, people are going to get testy with you. If you can not see the distinction being made by freethinkers here, and you won't respect it then why should you expect such treatment?

          • I've never said something like "everyday faith" is "just like" religious faith. Far from it. I'm saying the contention is over a term, "faith", that folks other than atheists seem comfortable applying in non-religious ways, and that atheists refuse to use because faith is synonymous with irrationality, in their view.

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,
            People don't generally use the term faith except when they are using it in a way that suggests that they believe something, or that something is going to occur in the face of bad or contrary evidence.

            One reason why we take issue with what the OP is attempting, and you are supporting, is the equivocation that is being attempted. We are annoyed by the Trojan Horse move that is being attempted. Sure we have trust in things and propositions but we base that trust on evidence and our confidence that a proposition is true is proportional to the evidence for it. That is a lot nuance you want to gloss over simply so you can justify faith in a much different sense.

          • The atheist wants to separate the acts of "trust" engaged in by atheists quite "rationally" on a regular basis from acts of "faith" deemed *always* irrational as practiced by theists.
            The OP makes clear that such acts of "trust" are comparable to acts of "faith" in many respects.
            The theist is seeking to explain that what atheists call irrational acts of faith are comparable to the acts of "trust" seen as "rational" by the atheist.

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,

            The OP makes clear that such acts of "trust" are comparable to acts of "faith" in many respects.

            If it really did, then there would be no discussion, or that discussion would proceed from an agreement.

          • Jonathan West

            But in the specific instance of religious faith, you seem unconcerned as to whether the the trust is rational or not.

          • No, I have a great deal of concern about the necessity of faith to be coherent with reason. But this concern is something to be discussed *after* we can come to terms with the fact that faith is *not* automatically irrational. That's the contention--some are saying faith is irrational and we theists "know" this. Which is completely inaccurate. The OP goes at length to explain the common ground atheists and theists share when it comes to a generic sense of "faith" acted upon daily by all of us.
            One would hope we could agree on this--but we can't because the dominant atheist view seems to be faith opposed to reason while *never* being capable of being coherent with reason.

          • Jonathan West

            The thing is we are dealing with dueling definitions here. You are choosing to use the word "faith" to encompass perfectly ordinary beliefs that are adequately justified by evidence as well as religious faith which atheists argue is not adequately justified by evidence.

            So, for the purposes of this subthread, can we accept that we are talking about what I will label "irrational faith", by which I mean beliefs that are held without valid epistemic warrant, in other word that are held with a degree of certainty greater than is justified by the available evidence.

            Once we have a common understanding of the meaning of the term we are using, then we can look at what subjects "irrational faith" most commonly applies to.

          • Do you accept that not *all* "faith" is irrational? That faith and reason are *not* necessarily contradictory or opposed to one another?

          • Jonathan West

            As I said, it depends on your definition of faith. If you choose to define faith to include ordinary beliefs held with valid epistemic warrant, then some faith is rational.

      • Jonathan West

        But faith in its religious sense of belief greater than is justified by the evidence is relatively rare outside religion. It is rarer still for it to be deliberately and consciously held on non-religious subjects, and outside religion it is almost never regarded as a virtue.

        On most subjects, even though perfect information is usually not achievable, people normally go with their best guess according to the evidence, on the basis that it is probably going to be better than a second-best guess that ignores the evidence.

        The person's decision might turn out to be wrong, either because he was less well-informed than he believed himself to be, or because he got unlucky.

        But these sorts of situations do not as a general rule get described as an exercise in faith.

        It is only in religious contexts that it is common for a definite decision to be made to believe something in the knowledge that the evidence is inadequate. And religious authorities recognise this, otherwise they would not have to reinforce religious beliefs with such extreme fear - fear of hell, fear of missing out on eternal life. Has it ever occurred to you that the punishments for religious disobedience are so extreme because nothing less will keep people tied to belief in such implausible propositions?

        In the circumstances, it is easy to see why "faith" is a pejorative term to those who have abandoned religious belief or never had it. The religious recognise this, and their response is articles like the one above, which seek to avoid the criticism by conflating faith with other things.

        This is self-deception more than anything else.

        • ****It is only in religious contexts that it is common for a definite decision to be made to believe something in the knowledge that the evidence is inadequate.*****
          False. This, again, gets to the whole point of disagreement: the nature and source of "evidence." A priori, atheists, determine the evidence "inadequate" for *everybody* because they have subjectively determined it is inadequate for themselves.
          **** And religious authorities recognise this, otherwise they would not have to reinforce religious beliefs with such extreme fear - fear of hell, fear of missing out on eternal life. Has it ever occurred to you that the punishments for religious disobedience are so extreme because nothing less will keep people tied to belief in such implausible propositions?****
          You've got to be kidding. The "authorities" are therefore cast in the role of imbecile: "Yeah, this religion stuff is so irrational and stupid that we need to keep people believing by fear! That's it! No reasonable person can believe it--so be *very* afraid!"
          I continue to rest my case...

          • Jonathan West

            But the evidence for hell is even thinner than the evidence for God. What other explanation can there be for insisting on its reality?

          • Maybe because many theists, including Catholics, actually believe *God* exists, and among the things God has revealed to us is the existence of hell?

          • Jonathan West

            That's fine if the belief in God's existence has a valid epistemic justification. But I suspect that you can't demonstrate that.

      • Max Driffill

        Jim
        The OP, and the attempt of theists generally to equivocate on this word faith is a fairly transparent act of deflection. Atheists don't like the word faith because of its overwhelming supernatural connotations. It is not the fault of freethinkers that the faithful have made the word synonymous with believing propositions on little or bad evidence but that is the situation. What the religious generally refer to as faith is not even remotely a perfect synonym for trust, or evidence based confidence. If that were all it was, then I think we would have less of an issue. But this is not the case and no amount of repeating the claim will make it so.

        What Akin and his ilk are achin' to do is create a situation where they can level the charge, and have it stick, "Oh atheists have faith too, everyone operates on faith." This is a very desperate maneuver, that no fair minded reader is going to be swayed by.

        While it is true that there are meanings of faith that are synonyms with trust, confidence, this is not the same thing as saying that religious faith is like those things, or that definition of faith.

        Religious faith is, by its nature, irrational. As Tertullian put it so aptly, "Credo quia absurdum, I believe it because it is absurd." I would submit faith can not get more irrational than that.

        • Tertullian doesn't speak for the Church on this point (though I doubt he actually meant to).
          "Religious faith is *irrational*" continues to be the misstep of the atheist view. ...which is why no atheist wants to concede that the word "faith" can describe any of their acts in any way...

          • Max Driffill

            Of course he doesn't.

            My point isn't that faith is irrational it is that it a much different than the way in which skeptics operate when accepting or rejecting a proposition. The reasoning isn't equivalent. Can you accept that?

          • As long as we can arrive at the common ground that not all "faith" is irrational, then we can discuss *lots* of ways in which faith in God is very different from other types of "faith".

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,
            I don't like the word faith as a synonym for words like trust and confidence, not because it can't be, in the mind of person using it as such in a genuine way. That is not what is on offer here. What is on offer here is a shell game. The kind of trust I have in the propositions I think are consistent with reality do not require a leap. In fact the very word that forms part o the title of this dreadful piece of equivocation implies the very thing all the atheists on this thread have suggested. This is simply a confusing way in which to proceed.

          • It's no shell game to try to help people understand that faith can be rational.

          • Max Driffill

            Jim
            I'm sorry, I think a word that can be stretched to encompass so many meanings is a useless word that creates confusion and obfuscation where it needn't be.

            On second though, I suppose the word is rather useful for the purposes of the believer. It creates confusion and obfuscation, and allows an unjustified equivocation in when the problems have been pointed out.

            Furthermore faith isn't rational. It requires the stamping out of ambiguity, and uncertainty in unjustified ways that are not warranted by the evidence.

            It is not fault of we atheists that Christians have had to hitch their wagons to this word and the concept it most implies. Stop trying to foist the problems of faith on to us.

          • It's no shell game to try to help people understand that faith can be rational.

            Religious faith, as defined by the Catholic Church, is not, strictly speaking, rational. Faith requires the supernatural intervention of God. Unless one wants to maintain that having "everyday faith" is possible only due to supernatural intervention by God, then it is not really helpful to compare "everyday faith" with religious faith. I personally wouldn't use the word faith for what Akin describes as "everyday faith"

          • Let's be careful with this: Religious faith, as defined by the Catholic Church, is not, strictly speaking, ONLY rational.
            Which is why I'm arguing against the view that *all* religious faith is *irrational*.....

          • Susan

            As long as we can arrive at the common ground that not all "faith" is irrational, then we can discuss *lots* of ways in which faith in God is very different from other types of "faith".

            If some "faith" is rational and some is irrational, then we are talking about two very different ideas here. Why fixate on a single word "faith" that leads away from clarity?

            If "faith in God" is different from other types of faith, articulate those differences.

          • Max Driffill

            Susan,
            To answer your question:
            Because equivocation.

          • Susan

            To answer your question:
            Because equivocation.

            That does seem to be the case. I was just making another of many (seemingly futile) attempts to get Jim to address specifics, rather than bury everything under the word "faith".

          • Jimmy Akin--did that in the OP....
            The problem in discussing it is that we cannot achieve even the simple common ground that establishes that not all faith is irrational.
            Let's say I'm a deist, convinced by reason and nature's evidence that God exists. From this view, a deist just *might* also infer that it is reasonable to conclude that this existing God might want to actually *communicate* with these humans He created. It would be reasonable to look for evidence of such communication (which we would call Divine Revelation). If we examine various claims of such communication, we might find evidence for at least one claim to be more compelling than others. And if we fine *one* claim above others as most compelling, it would be reasonable to believe its content because it originates with the God we've inferred, through reason, to exist.
            Most people would label such acceptance of something God has supposedly revealed to be an act of *faith*. Yet such an act is entirely *reasonable*.
            Much more to the "gift of faith" (faith as theological virtue) side of this, but this I hope helps explain the both/and of reason and faith at work in theism....

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,
            If your hypothetical investigator doesn't first establish through empirical means. this hypothetical then every step after that is a step steeped in irrationality.

            One cannot by reason alone establish this inference. Reason can be used to proceed from some set of first principles but reason alone cannot establish whether or not those first principles are valid. A deist may think it is "reasonable" that this creator might have wanted to communicate with his creation (this is not like many deists by the way) but that doesn't make it reasonable, or rational for her to do so. Her inference may be either rational or irrational.

            Believing that there is a deist god is itself an act of irrationality and requires a leap of faith to get one across the chasm of uncertainty to embark on this investigation in the first place. The temptation would always be to make facts fit hypotheses. Even if one were to proceed with lots of intellectual rigor from first principles it would be still be irrational because the investigation proceeded without first establishing the reality of what was being investigated.

          • Not everyone takes the atheistic view that belief in God is automatically irrational.

          • Jonathan West

            No, it's not automatically irrational, it is irrational unless there is evidence to justify the belief.

            Present sufficient evidence to justify your belief and you will persuade us to stop being atheists!

          • Max Driffill

            That is fine, but that does nothing to establish that atheists and theists approach propositions in the same way. Faith seems to act like the blemish remover in Photoshop, only it works on uncertainty and ambiguity. Atheists just adjust their convictions in relation to the evidence and accept whatever ambiguities exist.

          • Susan

            The problem in discussing it is that we cannot achieve even the simple common ground that establishes that not all faith is irrational.

            Why not just discuss rational and irrational positions? Why the fixation on the word "faith"?
            If you'd like to find common ground, explain your position, what method you used to arrive at that position and see if you can find agreement there.
            If by "faith", you mean any position that can't be held with 100% certainty and by "reason", you mean anything that makes sense to the person who sees things that way, then they don't mean anything because they can mean anything.
            If terms are not working in a discussion, it is useful to replace them with more specific terms.
            You could try that.

      • Atheists can live with the idea that they have some idea of "faith." What many of us can't live with is when people use vague definitions of the word to make it look like they are saying something profound, when they are just saying something trivial and useless.

        Case in point, the above article. As I said elsewhere, all Akin is saying is that atheists and theists both believe things without having 100% absolute certainty. This is a boring and trivial point.

        But saying "both atheists and theists have faith" hides how trite this point is and makes it appear profound when it is not.

  • Well, it's nice to see "faith" defined out of existence. It shows that Christianity is on the retreat.

    I do my best to believe claims with confidence proportional to the balance of the evidence available to me, and to seek out new evidential tests when I lack confidence adequate to the importance of the situation. If you want to call that "faith", I'll note that that's bizarrely unhistorical, and totally contrary to common usage, but still you're welcome to do so.

  • Roger Hane

    The Catechism's claim that "converging and convincing arguments" are as good as actual proof for knowing the existence of God is pretty weak. You're just setting yourself up for self-delusion in your reasoning.

    Saying that someone proved something in the past with mathematical certainty but can't remember the proof is no good. Maybe you'd just like to remember that you proved it. If you really proved it back then, it should be reproducible.

    Jimmy's quotation of Aquinas seems to be saying that acceptance of physical scientific evidence is a matter of faith, because it isn't an abstract mathematical proof. As if physical evidence isn't a kind of proof.

    If you make a claim, then you provide the proof. And if you have no proof? Jimmy seems to be making the claim that atheists are making the old mistake of reasoning that lack of proof is proof of the contrary. No, we're not. He would like to think we are, but we know better than that. We keep an open mind and wait for evidence or infallible logic.

  • Solomon Feivel

    I think that if we use the term "faith" as atheists typically use it (belief in the absence of evidence), then atheists certainly have faith, perhaps more so than a Christian (Christians at least can experience relationship with God directly).

    If you are atheist, you obviously believe that there is no
    god or higher power or whatever you want to call it. If you believe that there
    is some higher intelligence than our own that guided human life into existence,
    then you believe in some sort of god, so you are not an atheist.

    If you are atheist, but claim your belief (or unbelief) is the product of
    reason rather than blind faith, then you must believe that your reason is
    capable of accurately gathering, synthesizing, and analyzing data in light of abstract metaphysical concepts such as "God," "Truth,"
    "Meaning," and so forth.

    But then you are believing that an unintelligent hodgepodge of physical matter
    and energy created intelligent brains that can be trusted to accurately
    understand the universe and its origins. Given the nature of this hypothesis,
    it cannot be verified empirically. So I wonder what evidence you can have that
    this actually did happen, and what kind of evidence can you have that there was
    no involvement by an intelligent higher power.

    And as for the objection that this just pushes the problem further back, it
    doesn't. The best evidence suggests that humans have not always existed, but
    there's no reason to say the same of a higher power. See also:

    http://www.meditations-on-life.com/why-i-am-not-an-atheist-christianity-atheism-faith-reason/

  • Jar

    I'm sorry, this article is missing some very key points.

    Let's talk about it:

    If you say "I have faith that unicorns exist" and I say "I won't believe in them unless there's proof", that is you displaying faith and me displaying lack of faith.

    I think the problem with much of this viewpoint is what exactly "proof" means. A theist might say "look, there is a world around us, that is proof that god exists".

    This is a false correlation. The existence of A doesn't prove B.

    An atheist's idea of proof is a LOT MORE STRICT than a theist's.

    To an atheist, the amount of evidence that a theist would accept as 'proof' is not scientific, and not nearly enough to construct an actual proof.

    Next we come to the usual ridiculous theist arguments:

    "atheists have faith that, "

    An atheist will believe that their food isn't poisoned because of facts. not because of faith. If there was no suspicious circumstances, if there was no CAUSE for the suspicion of poison, an atheist won't think the food is poisoned. It's NEVER taken on faith. It's always taken on observation, fact, and circumstance.

    - same with the car crash, the conspiracy, and the memory.

    If he has no evidence to believe that his memory is failing, why would he? A friend saying something that doesn't match up with his own memory, for instance, is evidence towards that conclusion. it is NOT taken on faith.

    Here's the pseudo-science.

    gravity, sun, external world: all of these things have HUGE amounts of evidence to support that theory. Scientific, reproducable evidence. Peer-reviewed scholarly evidence.

    To re-iterate: these are not taken on faith. They are taken by evidence.

    As for the others: existence of other minds, and axioms of logic: these are not taken by faith at all. They are actually debated upon, and great philosophical discussions ensue. They are questioned constantly, they are certainly not taken on faith at all. They aren't even fully believed!

    None of this is a form of faith. It is all evidence-based.

    As for the christian existence of God part: this is not the correct definition of proof. Proof is repeatable. What this is, is surety. Once you're sure about something, you then need to seek to prove it. Until then, it is not a proof.

    As for the atheist section: if you meet an atheist that says he has conclusive proof that god doesn't exist, he is just as crazy as people who say they have conclusive proof that god DOES exist.

    Neither are scientifically provable in our current world.

    But the conclusion of that paragraph gets warped by faith-based arguments again, saying that if they say "I won't believe in god until there's proof" is a faith. That is NOT faith. That is absence of faith.

    I covered this already, but to believe in something without proof requires faith. If there was proof, you wouldn't need faith, you'd use evidence instead. If you refuse to believe in something until there's proof, that is a lack of faith. "I don't have faith in you" is something we say if past evidence leads you to disbelieve them.

    Example: Imagine if you give a kid a glass, and he breaks it, and then lies about it. You give him a new glass, and he breaks it one more time. He asks for another glass, and says he won't break it. You don't believe him. You have lost faith in him. That's not you having FAITH that he'll keep breaking them, that's you using repeatable evidence to formulate a new opinion of him. That's very different than faith.

    To use an often-used quote: Bald is not a hairstyle. It's an absence of hair. Atheism isn't a faith belief. It's an absence of faith.

  • Doug Shaver

    As the article illustrates, different people mean different things when they use the word "faith." Not even all Christians mean the same thing when they talk about faith. According to some definitions of the word, I have faith in some things. According to other definitions, I have no faith in anything. When an apologist tells me that I ought to have faith in God, the first thing he needs to do is tell me exactly what he means by "faith in God." Only then can we get to the question of why I ought to have that particular faith.

  • AB2345

    Very little difference between the terms "evidence" and "certain proof" IMO. In fact, in the court system a trial is held to determine if evidence is in fact certain proof. I guess another way to put it is the person submitting evidence thinks it is in fact cerain proof.

  • De Ha

    "That’s a rather dramatic and cheeky claim."

    The words your looking for are "hypocritical" and/or "stupid"

    "The people who make the claim are on solid ground, though, in supposing that atheism involves a leap of faith."

    Bullshit

    "For a very large number of atheists, atheism itself is a position of faith."

    BULLSHIT

    "There are different kinds of faith"

    True. There's 2 different definitions of Faith: 1) closed-minded-pig-headed refusal to question things lest God punish you for having a brain, 2) "trust" or whatever. Theists use both definitions depending on whether they're talking about themselves or insulting us. We, on the other hand, are far more consistent. We use the pig-headed definition.

    "The idea of faith-as-belief-against-evidence is more often a straw man that will derail the discussion rather than a helpful contribution to it."

    And yet, here we are, discussing exactly that. By the way, it's hypocritical to complain about strawmen when you INTRUDUCE your article by defending the accusation that Atheists have "Faith".

    "Somewhat less problematic is the idea that faith is belief without evidence."

    Same thing

    "Framing the issue of faith as being belief without evidence is thus not what people of faith understand themselves to be doing, and so this, too, tends to be more of a straw man and an impediment to discussion."

    I don't give a rats ass what Christians think of themselves. Notwhat anyone who willingly says they have "Faith" says about it. You're accusing US of having "Faith". Again, hypocritical to complain about strawmen when accusing us of being as braindead as a theist.

    "I think that the concept of faith can be understood, in many cases, as involving belief without a certain kind or amount of evidence—the kind or amount that would give us certain proof."

    So far, you've described 3 definitions of "Faith" that, to me, still sound braindead. I'm not even clear on the difference between them, nor do I care. Belief for no reason is belief for no reason.

    "It is this type of faith that I think atheists also share."

    BULLSHIT! Belief without evidence is braindead.

    "In everyday life, nobody has complete proof that:
    "his food isn’t poisoned"
    -then you are insane
    "he won’t die in a car crash on the way to work"
    -are you kidding? Have you EVER driven around South Melbourne?
    "his friends aren’t engaged in a conspiracy to harm him"
    - I doubt it, but if I was given evidence to the contrary I would considder it.
    "the accuracy of his own memory"
    -LOL! I KNOW my own memoury isn't that good you fucking idiot!

    Indeed, nobody has complete proof of even more fundamental things, like:
    "the law of gravity won’t suddenly stop working"
    - that's not based on "faith" that's based on logic
    "the sun won’t explode today"
    -actually it will eventually
    "the existence of the external world"
    -you've never heard of solipsism, have you?
    "the existence of other minds"
    -solipsism
    "the axioms of logic"
    -let's not get into Presuppositional apologetics

    "In doing so, they are exercising a form of faith, and atheists do that, too."

    Nope! Some of those things, if I were given evidence to the contrary, I would considder it carefully rather than dismiss it outright. The rest, I KNOW you are dead wrong about.

    "“Faith” Is Not a Dirty Word"

    Yes it is.
    I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montihughes and thee.

    "It’s fair and worthwhile to make this point, because faith is a fundamental part of the human condition."

    Only for stupid people.

    "We all have faith, and it would be a mistake to pretend that we don’t."

    WRONG! All things must be questioned. Never believe anything untill you've thought about it for a while. Otherwise, you are an idiot.

    "What I’d like to do is advance the discussion beyond the claim that atheists display the same form of everyday faith that everyone does."

    No we don't. I KNOW my memoury can fail me, that's what reminders are for. And frankly, that part makes me question how much self-awareness YOU possess.

    "Atheists undoubtedly do that,"

    "Undoubtedly"??!! You mean, that was based not on observation but on ASSUMPTIONS???!! You just ASSUMED we act like you??!! Ok, see. THIS is why we hate "Faith" and prefer Skepticism.

    " but they also—at least normally—display faith at the core of their religious lives,"

    WE'RE ATHEISTS YOU IDIOT!

    "He may not have the details of his proof before his mind, only the memory of having done one."

    Oh for fuck's sake. Seriously? THAT is what you're calling "faith" now? Having in fact worked out something ages ago, and remembering it later, is "Faith" to you??!! Ugh. I suppose you think the fact that Michelangelo took a break after painting the Sistine Chapel makes him "uncreative".

    "Whether they think it highly unlikely that God exists, or whether they just have not been presented with proof they consider sufficient, they are doing the same thing: adopting a belief without certain proof."

    NO! NO! WRONG! Being uncertain or thinking something is only probable or improbable is the OPPOSITE of "Faith"! You can't be a closed-minded pig-headed idiot refusing to question something YOU'RE NOT EVEN COMPLETELY SURE OF! "We must kill the infidels who think O.J. Might have done it for we have the absolute truth that he maybe could have done it! AND WE WILL DIE FOR THAT!"

    "They are in the same position as the ordinary Christian who holds the existence of God despite his acknowledgement that he does not have conclusive proof of this."

    That's not faith either. That's having a bit of a brain.

    "And atheists exercising faith in this way are doing so regarding the central belief of atheism—the non-existence of God."

    Damnit! I thought you knew what Atheism was. You JUST MENTIONED weak Atheists. Ugh.

    "Standard western atheism does not just involve a rejection of the existence of God."

    I see what you're doing there. By throwing in "standard western" You're cutting me off from saying "What about Rae-liens? What about conspiracy theorists? What about Buddhists? Etc. It'd be clever if it wasn't so transparent. It's not *quite* no-true-Scotsman, but not far from it.

    "It also, at least typically, involves a rejection of the idea of an afterlife and the belief that the material universe is all that exists."

    What about Atheists who believe in ghosts? HA!

    "On these additional beliefs, atheists also exercise faith in the sense we are discussing."

    Me, I believe that when you die, you smell bad. This is not a matter of "faith". It can be proven.

    "And many would be prepared to acknowledge that they do not have certain proof that the material universe is all that exists."

    What about other dimensions? A lot of us believe in alternate dimensions you idiot.

    "It thus seems that atheists do, indeed, have faith"

    WRONG! If you are willing to think about what you believe, you do not have "Faith" if not, you don't have a brain.

    "not just in the everyday matters that everyone does, but specifically in regard to the three beliefs that tend to characterize standard western atheism."

    You picked a couple of obscure unimportant and not-completely-agreed-on things and accused us of having "faith" in things we don't necessarily all agree on or even all have thought about much. I'm honestly surprised you didn't talk about Science since Science is something most of us actually do... Ooohhh, it's because Science is based on evidence, isn't it?