There has been some discussion in our comments, instigated by believers, over whether belief and faith are the same thing. I contend they are not. A belief is any idea or concept held by an individual. Faith is a method by which some people hold a belief. For the Christian, faith is the method by which he comes to hold his beliefs. And this is where some confusion then arises.
Because the Christian holds a belief on the basis of faith he often calls his belief “my faith.” Because he comes to his beliefs by the method of faith, and then calls those beliefs faith, he also concludes, wrongly, that all beliefs must be matters of faith. He has, in essence, defined reason out of existence.
Beliefs can also be obtained on the basis of evidence as well. I believe that the night will end and day will begin because I have thousands of such experiences. [And sure enough it was night when I wrote this essay and is now day when I proof-read it. My belief was again verified as I suspect is most likely to happen over the next 24 hours one again, as well.]
This process of day/night is something I can define and everyone knows what I mean. It is verifiable by others and repeatable. It is not something that I alone experience or claim to experience. We can film it, record it, describe it in great detail. There is reams of evidence to support it. That conclusion is not a faith even though it is a belief.
Let us consider some examples of non-theists beliefs regarding that can be faith based or reason based.
We have all meet people who are crooks and people who are honest. On the occasion of a first meeting with someone I may invite them into my home. Is this an act of faith? It would appear to be on the surface. After all I know nothing about this individual and yet I invite them into my home. In reality it is a reason based action. Based on past experience I know most people aren’t going to steal from me but I also know that quite a few will. I am taking a risk based on the cumulative evidence of previous incidents.
If the guest departs and my wallet departs with him what trust I exhibited in him is gone. I have evidence that showed that I was wrong about this guest. I now assume the person is a crook and I have changed my position. Many a mother, however, has held faith regarding her criminally-inclined progeny in spite of overwhelming, conclusive evidence to the contrary. That is not playing the odds that is faith. The mother may well have known her son or daughter to have done horrendous things on a repeated basis and yet, once again, denies the possibility that they committed the latest atrocity. That is truly faith in action.
Many things we do are based on beliefs which most clearly are not faith. The theist loves to intentionally confuse the two as a means of trying to justify his faith conclusions. To do this he defines reason out of existence. Any belief to him is a faith. Yet reason and faith are very different means to come to a conclusion or a belief. By redefining all beliefs as deriving from faith they attempt to win the debate by pretending there is nothing to debate. In essence they define the opposition out of existence.
Most examples they give as evidence are beliefs derived through reason and logic. You do not believe a chair will hold you based on faith. It is derived from experiences that provide you with actual evidence that chairs do tend to support the weight of the people sitting upon them. The chair does not hold you up because you have faith in it and you do not sit down because you have faith. Long before you yourself voluntarily sit in a chair you have accumulated evidence that they work. As an infant you see people sitting in chairs even if you are incapable of doing so voluntarily yourself. Your first chair experience is likely to be a highchair with a tray to eat from where you are placed by others whether you want it or not. You accumulate evidence possible from the day you are born. You may be lying with you mother in the hospital bed with visitors sitting in nearby chairs.
Recently I had the unfortunate experience of one of those occasions where the chair actually failed. It was a Sunday afternoon and my host, where I am a guest, had two friends over for dinner in the garden. Four lawn chairs made of bamboo were around the table. The two guests were seated in the their chairs. The host and I were in the kitchen. I brought something out to put on the table and then sat on the chair which, in the wet weather had weakened substantially. It, and I, went crashing to the ground. The chair did not hold. It wasn’t that I had lost any faith in it. It just was rotten.
I got up and brought out a sturdy dinning room chair to use instead. The host came out and was surprised, she hadn’t realized the chairs had rotted. So she sat down carefully in her chair and went crashing to the ground anyway. To say the least the two guests were terrified to move in their chairs.
My belief is that chairs will hold me up. But in reality it has always been a qualified belief. I assume it will hold me up because most of the time it will. I don’t assume it will do so 100% of the time but it is close enough to 100% that I give it no thought when I sit down. If I lived in a world where the chairs crashed to the ground far more frequently I might not draw the same conclusion. I might push on a chair several times, testing it before using it. My belief regarding chairs is evidence based not faith based. With sufficient evidence to the contrary I change my beliefs and my behavior.
But if I believed, as a matter of faith, that the chair would hold me up then experiences with failed chairs, no matter how numerous, would have no impact whatsoever on my belief. I would continue to sit down and continue to crash to the ground on a fairly regular basis. I might invent reasons as to why the chair failed. I might say that it was my own fault and that my faith was weak. I might say my faith was being tested much the way Job was being tested. I might conclude that I crash to the ground repeatedly because it a way to see if I will hold my faith in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. This is critical. A faith based belief is one that an individual holds even if the evidence is to the contrary.
Advocates of “faith healing” are a prime example. You are supposed to claim the healing from God even when the evidence shows you are still ill. I’ve been to enough of the major faith healing crusades to tell you that this quite common. Even if the pain is still present, or the tests show the virus is still in the system and ravaging it, the truly faith based individual will tell himself that it is a delusion and that he is healed. You get this in the charismatic Christians and a similar, but different, form in the Christian Scientists (who my theology professors enjoyed saying were neither Christians nor scientists.)
A person who has faith the Bible is infallible and inerrant will believe this regardless of any evidence. The Bible says that god is a spirit and that no man has ever seen god. It also says that Moses saw god -- yet Moses was a man. If Moses saw god then a man saw god and the claim that no man has ever seen god can’t be true. Christians who are not into the infallible idea of the Bible just find it one of those parts that are wrong. Fundamentalists simply can’t accept that idea since their faith tells them the Bible is infallible. They will go to great lengths to try to explain it away, or just ignore it, so that the book is infallible.
Some I’ve met had no answer but still insisted it was infallible and not a contradiction. Two missionary types who stopped into my business intent on converting someone had no reply. I showed them the verses in question and asked them about this. The reply was: “It’s not a contradiction.” I couldn’t see why it wasn’t a contradiction and asked them to explain to me why this was not contradictory. “Because it isn’t” It was like one of those small children who answers every question with “Because.”
In reality they clearly had no idea. They couldn’t be honest enough to say: “We don’t know, let us research it.” Instead they simply stubbornly insisted that it was not a contradiction “because” it couldn’t be a contradiction. It couldn’t be a contradiction because it’s in the Bible which has no contradictions. And round and round the circle they go. They had a belief but it was not based on evidence and reason. It was based on faith. As such reason can’t challenge it.
One reason that I find real debate with believers useless is that you are on two different planes. You come in speaking about evidence but they don’t need evidence. As the New Testament puts it, faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” One theologian, an evangelical, says that while faith is illustrated in the Bible this is the only place it is defined.
It is a belief held on the basis of hope where having no evidence is seen to be evidence. St. Augustine put it this way: “I believe, because it is absurd. I believe, because it is impossible.” Church father Tertullian, in De Carne Christi wrote: “And the Son of God died; it is whole credible because it is ridiculous. And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible.”
Now there are people in this world to whom I would trust my very life. This is not because I have faith in them but because I have an evidence-based belief. Over and over they have proven themselves to be good and decent people who have stood by me in the sunshine and the storms.
There are other people which circumstances and less evidence require I put trust in them. For instance a physician may not not have proven himself to me. But I assume that because he is a physician he has training in his field and is likely to do less harm to me than the problem I want addressed. Were doctors to fail as frequently as government I might not exhibit the same amount of trust.
This brings us to another important difference between faith and reason, one already alluded to. Beliefs that are reason based are continually open to change. They can be modified or abandoned depending on the nature of the new evidence. Science is a reason based system of beliefs. That is why it is constantly modified or adjusted as new evidence is found.
The faith-driven think that proves that science is false. You see this among the silly creationists who argue that evolution is clearly false because it keeps being adjusted. All reason based beliefs are subject to such evidence driven adjustments. Faith statements are not. If Darwinian evolution were a faith, as some religionists contend, then the Darwinist would not adjust his beliefs according to new evidence but would stubbornly cling to the old beliefs much the way the fundamentalists do to their religion.
The Christian may argue, as many have, that they know their faith is justified because their belief has “changed my life” in some meaningful way. I’ve heard the same thing from Muslims about Allah and from Objectivists about Atlas Shrugged. But if I were to point out to the Christian that the lives of others were also changed by beliefs that were not Christian they will dismiss that as worthless as far as evidence goes. The others are wrong even if their beliefs changed their lives.
They are saying that the change in their life caused them to believe: because they believed they changed. And it is readily apparent that myriad and contradictory beliefs, of almost any kind, if held strongly enough, can bring about such changes. This only shows that people can change not that the specific belief is true.
I’ve heard the claim that some people have died for their faith in Jesus and that this is proof the belief is true. Others have died for the religion of communism (and I do think it is inherently religious). There are people who died defending the beliefs of Hitler. Such martyrs don’t prove that Marx or Hitler were correct. Clearly there are plenty of people willing to die for Allah. And by current counts more Muslims will die for their faith than Christians -- does that mean Islam is more true? Obviously not.
Similarly some Christians argue that believers do good things which prove that the faith is true. No one disputes that. So do atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Scientologists, Mormons, etc. Point this out and their conclusion doesn’t change. The evidence they offered was never the actual reason for the faith. In each case, if you strip away the unique nature of the justification for believing, they still believe in spite of the evidence. It is as the Apostle Paul said the substance of things hoped for.
And you can do this over and over again with the evidence that they offer and in the end they are still clinging to their beliefs. The explanation for this behavior is not hard to understand. Faith is inherently not based on evidence. It is not reasonable beliefs logically deduced from facts. It is belief held in spite of facts, or even in the face of facts which disprove it.
There is some question over whether the tomb of Jesus was found or not. Some cultural Christians, with little or no faith, might find it disturbing and rethink their belief. But even if the evidence was overwhelming that Jesus had been buried here and did not raise from the dead, it will have almost no impact on the faith of most fundamentalists. Evidence is not needed, not particularly wanted and, if contrary to the conclusions they hold, strenuously resisted or ignored.
Many theories that are held are based on a preponderance of the evidence and others are based on overwhelming evidence. It would be a rare thing to have absolute certainty. That is another thing the faith driven jump upon. They assume that a belief that is not 100% certain is likely to be false. In fact I tend to think absolutely certain beliefs are the ones most likely to be false. Reality is not as neat as most of us like to believe.
I believe, based on the empirical evidence, that societies based on a market system, with the rule of law and non-obtrusive states are more prosperous with better living conditions for most people. I believe a market order leads to a system of feedback loops where people are better able to solve problems. I do not believe it offers utopia. I don’t not believe it will present a perfect society where no social problems exist and where every person is happy, healthy or wealthy. I also believe that anyone who claims their political or economic system will offer such perfection is preaching a faith not offering a reasonable way for obtaining such things.
It is entirely possible that some good people might get screwed over in a free society. I would hope not. On the other hand I know good people get screwed over all the time in non-free societies. And the less freedom, the higher the percentage of the population who gets screwed. If you were to present a social problem and ask me if I were absolutely certain that freedom would solve it I would have to say no. I might have some confidence it would and could explain why but I don’t have absolute certainty. Even in cases where I know freedom solves that problem time after time there may be other factors involved that means that one in 50 times, or one in 100, that it will not lead to the optimal results. Has it been disproved? No. Just as a medicine that cures most patients, may not work in some cases, isn’t proof that the medicine is faulty. It merely proves that reality is messy and good solutions sometimes fail under some conditions -- like the chairs in the garden. The belief is still justified because the evidence is good that in most cases it is correct.
Religious beliefs are not like this. The faith driven will point to someone who allegedly had cancer and who got slapped on the head by some tonques-talking, white-suited, toupe-wearing evangelist. They will inform us that the person was truly and genuinely healed. And they will ignore the 999 who got equally slapped on the forehead, had their wallets relieved of a financial burden, but who did not get healed. If a medicine worked 1 in 1000 times you would ignore it for something with better odds. And if the healing ability were that low for the medicine, you may well assume that the one actual case that appeared healed, had another reason for it other than the treatment. This is not how faith driven operate. For then faith determines the evidence, the evidence doesn’t determine the faith.
Labels: faith, reason