Board index Faith and Knowledge

How do we know what we know, and what is faith all about

The meaning of faith

Postby Hopeful » Wed Feb 07, 2018 3:14 pm

The term "faith" (when invoked as a justification for a belief that X) cannot possibly have anything to do with (1) evidence or (2) argument. Though it may mean other things as well, faith must mean "belief that X not based on argument/evidence."

Though it may mean other things as well, faith must also mean "belief that X not based on argument/evidence."

Somebody said that faith means "trust/confidence."

"Why do you believe that God exists?"

"Trust/confidence."

"Trust/confidence in what/whom? What do you mean by that?"

I mean, surely the person saying "faith" doesn't mean trust/confidence in God, because that's totally circular; God is the very thing whose existence is in question here...

If they mean "trust/confidence" in their pastor then that's synonymous with gullibility, since we know that people lie/err/self-delude all the time, and for many things and particularly a claim of this import/significance/magnitude you should not take someone's say-so.

If they mean "trust/confidence" in some sort of evidence/argument then what does the word "trust/confidence" add? Why not just cut out that word and skip right to the evidence/argument that you find compelling?

Furthermore, why have I never had a Christian say, "I believe that God exists based on faith. As an example of my faith, see evidence X and laboratory-result Y and metaphysical argument Z." That would be a strange usage that I've never seen and I doubt that anyone reading this thread would use the word faith like that. "Why do you believe that light behaves as both a particle and a wave?" "I believe that based on faith. As an example of my faith, see the laboratory-results from the double-slit experiment that investigated this." I defy you to find me a single example of "faith" being used like that.

"Faith" is used as a substitute for (1) evidence and (2) argument, not as a content-free word tacked on to (1) evidence and (2) argument that adds nothing that simply means that you find the (1) evidence and (2) argument persuasive/compelling, which we already know because we already know that you believe the thing in question!

In my experience, one invokes faith as a justification for a belief that X, and an offering of evidence/argument does not follow this invocation of faith. This must mean that "faith" does not have anything to do with (1) evidence or (2) argument; it is being used as a substitute and a replacement for (1) evidence and (2) argument; (1) evidence and (2) argument are not provided.

In fact, often they will invoke "faith" as a justification for a belief that X after they concede that they have no (1) evidence or (2) argument, or after they claim that (1) evidence and (2) argument are not relevant.

To summarize, we know that whatever "faith" means, it cannot possibly have anything to do with (1) evidence and (2) argument (in the context of a justification for a believe that X) because:

that would make the invocation of the term totally useless/content-free/redundant (this is ALWAYS the case; it's a matter of logic)

(1) evidence and (2) argument would be provided at some point (maybe some believers invoke "faith" and then provide (1) evidence and (2) argument; if so, I would appreciate at least one example)

this term is invoked in close proximity to the explicit claim that (1) evidence and (2) argument are either (A) lacking or (B) irrelevant (maybe some believers don't invoke the term in this manner; if so, I would appreciate at least one example)
Hopeful
 

Re: The meaning of faith

Postby jimwalton » Wed Feb 07, 2018 3:22 pm

Faith, according to the Bible, can be defined in various ways:

- Faith is "complete trust or confidence in someone or something." This is the commonplace use of the word apart from any religious significance, such as when a person has faith in a chair to support his weight or has faith in his employee to do a job well.
- Faith is "firm belief in something for which there is no proof." This is the definition unbelievers often use to ridicule believers, insisting that they, unlike religious people, trust only in that which is demonstrable. This is not the biblical definition of faith.
- Faith is "belief in, trust in, and loyalty to God." This is an explicitly religious definition, in many ways similar to the theological definition of faith as involving knowledge, assent, and trust. Faith here is pictured as going beyond belief in certain facts to include commitment to and dependence on God.
- Faith is "a system of religious beliefs." This is what is meant when one speaks of "the Protestant faith" or "the Jewish faith." What is largely in view here is a set of doctrines. The Bible uses the word in this way in passages such as Jude 3.

I use faith, as I believe Hebrews 11.1 does, in the first sense: confidence based on evidence. Here's my explanation:

In the Bible, faith is evidentiary. I define Biblical faith as "making an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make that assumption reasonable." In my opinion, belief is always a choice, and is always based on evidence. When you sit down in a chair, you didn’t think twice about sitting down. You believe that the chair will hold you. Faith? Yes. You've sat in chairs hundreds of times, but you can't be absolutely sure it will hold you this time. Things do break on occasion. But you make an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for you to make that assumption, and you sit down. That's faith, and it was a conscious choice based on a reasonable body of evidence.

Almost all of life works this way because we can never know what lies ahead. Every time you turn a door knob you are expressing faith, because 10,000 times you've turned a door knob, and it opened the door. So you turn the knob and move forward. Does it always work that way? No. Sometimes you turn the knob and the door doesn't open. But you make an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for you to make that assumption, and you walk forward in faith.

We know chairs hold people. That's past experience and learning. We know turning door knobs open doors. We know that when we turn a key a car starts. But every time we turn a car key, we do it because we believe it will start. The evidence is compelling, and it was a conscious choice. We don't know for sure that the car will start, and unfortunately sometimes it doesn't. Then we use our knowledge to try to figure out what to do about it. We dial our phone (as an act of faith, assuming it will work and help us reach another person), and try to get help.

You'll notice in the Bible that evidence precedes faith. There is no "close your eyes and jump off a cliff" and good luck to ya! God appears to Moses in a burning bush before He expects him to believe. He gave signs to take back to Pharaoh and the Israelite people, so they could see the signs before they were expected to believe. So also through the whole OT. In the NT, Jesus started off with turning water into wine, healing some people, casting out demons, and then he taught them about faith. And they couldn't possibly understand the resurrection until there was some evidence to go on. The whole Bible is God revealing himself to us all—and I mean actually, not through some exercise of faith.

My faith in God is a conscious choice because I find the evidence compelling. It's an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for me to make that assumption. When you read the Bible, people came to Jesus to be healed because they had heard about other people who had been healed. They had seen other people whom Jesus had healed. People had heard him teach. Their faith was based on evidence. Jesus kept giving them new information, and they gained new knowledge from it. Based on that knowledge, they acted with more faith. People came to him to make requests. See how it works? My belief in God is based on my knowledge of the credibility of those writings, the logic of the teaching, and the historical evidence behind it all. The resurrection, for instance, has evidences that give it credibility that motivate me to believe in it. My faith in the resurrection is an assumption of truth based on enough evidence that makes it reasonable to hold that assumption. Jesus could have just ascended to heaven, the disciples figured out that he had prophesied it, and went around telling people He rose. But that's not what happened. He walked around and let them touch him, talk to him, eat with him, and THEN he said, "Believe that I have risen from the dead." The same is true for my belief in the existence of God, my belief that the Bible is God's word, and my understanding of how life works.

I would contend that faith is never blind. I would never argue that faith is "belief that X not based on argument/evidence." You and I have talked many times before. Let's talk again.
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Re: The meaning of faith

Postby Hopeful » Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:35 pm

> I define Biblical faith as "making an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make that assumption reasonable."

Assumptions are not based on evidence. That's what makes them assumptions.
Hopeful
 

Re: The meaning of faith

Postby jimwalton » Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:37 pm

Then you unfortunately didn't take time to digest what I wrote. None of us ever know the future. When I turn a doorknob, I assume the door will open. (I can see it's unlocked and I process the evidence that nothing would prevent it from opening.) When I drive to the local mall, I assume it will still be there (I haven't heard or seen evidence to motivate me to believe anything different). We make these assumptions because of evidence, not with a lack of them.
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Re: The meaning of faith

Postby Hopeful » Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:43 pm

> We know that when we turn a key a car starts.

Colloquially, when someone says that they "know that X" they don't actually mean "I believe that X to an epistemological certainty of 100%."
But this particular sentence doesn't even get anywhere close to certainty, so it's very strange that you bring it up as an example.

Last month, my family got back from our New Year's Vacation.

My brother's SUV had been out in the cold overnight.

We had no idea whether it would start.

We were nowhere near 100% regarding our beliefs about whether it would start.

We planned for the eventuality that it would not start.
Hopeful
 

Re: The meaning of faith

Postby jimwalton » Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:49 pm

Now you just seem to be constructing straw men to avoid processing what I've explained.

If you want to dive into epistemology, you know that even things we know we can't really know, nor can we know how we know them. But we also know that we don't have to have certainty to have justifiable knowledge. We all work off of presuppositions and first principles. A lot of things come to bear besides evidence. We may say we follow the evidence where it leads (Baconian science), but the problem is that evidence doesn't really lead (it's not that simple); people's thinking leads.

In order to know a thing, we have to know what it is, and we also have to know HOW we know what it is. To know whether things really are as they seem to be, we must have a procedure for distinguishing appearances that are true from appearances that are false. But to know whether our procedure is a good procedure, we have to know whether it really succeeds in distinguishing appearances that are true from appearances that are false. And we cannot know whether it really does succeed unless we already know which appearances are true and which ones are false. And so we are caught in a circle.

You can't verify your procedure without first having knowledge, but you can't get any knowledge without first verifying your procedure. Kant would say the only option is to pick one or the other and run with it (choose a procedure that you assume but cannot prove will yield true knowledge, like positivism does with science; or choose some tenets of knowledge that you assume are true even though you can't verify them, which is called foundationalism and is the process used in nearly all of philosophy). The way to verify (or contest) truth in a Kantian system isn't to verify (or contest) the first principles, but to test for coherence: a system based on faulty assumptions (or an inaccurate procedure) will eventually either contradict reality, or contradict itself.

So there seem to be some first principles (there is such a thing as truth and we can know it) that we have to assume before we can have a rational conversation or even assume that truth and knowledge exist.

We have to have some commonsensical approach to real life and knowledge. We "know" that knowledge requires presuppositions, coherence to reality as a consensus of observation and experience, assumptions, belief, and perception.

Just because you had nowhere near 100% knowledge that your car would start, you were basing that assumption on the evidence at hand: cold temperatures, car having sat for X hours, knowledge that the battery wasn't new, etc. You were still working off of the evidences and making assumptions based on those evidences. At that point, however, you didn't know what to believe. You weren't necessarily acting out of faith, but only hope or wishful thinking at that point.
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Re: The meaning of faith

Postby Hopeful » Thu Feb 08, 2018 3:41 pm

> None of us ever know the future.

Exactly. We have reasonable predictions about what's likely to occur in the future, based on our observations about the world and about what has happened in the past.

It's never certain.

Someone might say, "You take it on faith that the sun will rise tomorrow!" That's a silly statement because

(1) I'm not 100% that the sun/Earth will even exist tomorrow ("rogue black holes" are out there, to my knowledge, and could come screaming through our solar system at any moment and wipe everything out)

(2) the reason that I believe that it's likely (not certain) that the sun will rise tomorrow is based on observations about physics and how things have worked in the past.

It's totally reasonable to think (based on observations about physics and based on observations about what has occurred in the past) that it's likely that the sun will rise tomorrow.

If you were to (1) claim certainty or (2) claim that it's an epistemological presupposition, you would run into epistemological problems.
But nobody sane/rational would ever (A) claim certainty on something like that or (B) claim that it's a presupposition with zero evidence or argument to support it.

> I assume the door will open.

This is colloquial usage. It's perfectly reasonable to believe that it's likely that it will open. In a colloquial context, it's OK to say that you "assume" that the door will open. However, a sane/rational person will not say that they're 100% on that if pressed, and will not say that it's an epistemological presupposition if pressed.

> I haven't heard or seen evidence to motivate me to believe anything different

Just remember how burden of proof works; it's always on the person making a claim.

If you say that Bigfoot exists, I don't accept that claim for the reason that "I haven't heard or seen evidence to motivate me to believe anything different." That would lead you to accept all sorts of evidence-free claims, which would open you up to the possibility of holding false beliefs. The goal should be to believe (1) as many true things and (2) as few false things as possible. Therefore, you don't want to expose yourself to the possibility that belief X, Y, Z that you hold is false.

> We make these assumptions because of evidence, not with a lack of them.

I agree that in a colloquial sense you could say, "I assume that the sun will rise tomorrow because it has done so every day in the past." That's a colloquial usage of "assume." I'm OK with that. Here, "assume" does not actually mean/entail/imply

(1) certainty (that you're 100% on this)

(2) epistemological presupposition (that you presuppose this without any evidence/argument).
Hopeful
 

Re: The meaning of faith

Postby jimwalton » Thu Feb 08, 2018 4:17 pm

> We have reasonable predictions about what's likely to occur in the future, based on our observations about the world and about what has happened in the past.

Right. And I was using the term "assumption" to describe that reality. I'm using "assumption" as "making a reasonable prediction." I am also using faith, as the Bible uses it, in that same category. People came to Jesus for healing because he had given evidence that he had the power to heal and he was willing to heal, so they came to him with a reasonable prediction that he might heal them also.

> However, a sane/rational person will not say that they're 100% on that if pressed

Again, right. Agreed. Epistemologically nothing is 100%. But my spiritual faith is characterized by as much reasonable prediction as other things. It falls in the same categories of what other disciplines term as "knowledge."

> Just remember how burden of proof works; it's always on the person making a claim.

Agreed. That is how the burden of proof works, except, as I have learned, from many atheists on this forum who claim that the burden of proof always lies with the Christians, even though the atheists make claims as well. This may or may not pertain to you, it's just a little bit of venting on my part. An atheist may claim, "I know Christianity is untrue." And when I challenge them to support their proposition, they claim they don't have to. "The burden of proof is on you," they say. Sorry. Venting again.

> That would lead you to accept all sorts of evidence-free claims, which would open you up to the possibility of holding false beliefs.

Agreed. Beliefs, to be warranted, must be subject to evidence and substantiation.

> The goal should be to believe (1) as many true things and (2) as few false things as possible. Therefore, you don't want to expose yourself to the possibility that belief X, Y, Z that you hold is false.

Agreed.
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Re: The meaning of faith

Postby 1.62 » Thu Feb 08, 2018 4:54 pm

> My belief in God is based on my knowledge of the credibility of those writings, the logic of the teaching, and the historical evidence behind it all.

First, let’s put a big red circle around your statement, “My belief in God is based on my knowledge of the credibility of those writings, the logic of the teaching, and the historical evidence behind it all.” Your claim of knowledge about the credibility is what OP would label as faith. You are claiming to have high confidence that you possess knowledge that a body of writing, the bible, is accurate and factual. The shortcut to the underlying problem is that you do not have knowledge of facts, you have an opinion and you seem to be confident of that opinion. As a matter of fact when you ask your god if you are correct about your assumptions, guess what, he agrees and you believe you have received his confirmation. If indeed your assumptions about the reliability of your understanding were correct then your beliefs would be able to withstand investigation and would be provable. In other words, if you are correct then it would be the case that your interpretation of the evidence that convinces you will also convince any reasonable person. It would convince anyone who is a body of people who have no ax to grind and would be indisputable, at least until a better explanation further refines it. The credibility of the writings, the Bible, would not be a collection of evidence that only has to meet “your” personal level of confidence but it needs to meet a level of confidence that is impartial to religious doctrine. It must meet a high level of confidence to any honest evaluator. It doesn’t and that’s why it falls into the “faith” definition of believing when there is not good evidence. You see, good evidence is something that most everyone can agree upon.
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Re: The meaning of faith

Postby jimwalton » Thu Feb 08, 2018 4:54 pm

No big red circle needed. When I speak of the historical evidence, I am referring to facts that any reasonable person would also admit. There are thousands of elements of the Bible that have been confirmed by archaeology and historiography, geography and cultural studies. I have knowledge, not just "blind faith" (which is what most detractors mean by "biblical faith"). It's knowledge that is part of a common body known to any reasonable person. These evidences give the writing credibility. On top of the extra-biblical historical substantiation, the Bible is a theological interpretation of historical events, which is not subject to scientific inquiry, but is rather an interpretive framework that is independent of such proofs. These interpretations, however, have been confirmed to me by the common experiences of millions of people. Though some people would contend that experiences cannot be used as evidence, I disagree. When it comes right down to it, all truths are filtered through human experience. Knowing, at root, is relying on clues that we experience to form a coherent pattern, that are shared by others so that we can arrive at a consensus of what we call "truth." The knowledge I have of the truth of the Bible involves epistemic acts sharing the same basic features that our ordinary, workday epistemic acts do. Dr. Esther Meek wrote, "The wall separating faith and reason is a misguided model of knowledge. Skeptics claim that the ideal of certainty forces a wall between rationality and faith. But epistemologists recognize that the wall keeps out just the elements of knowing that undergird all knowing. Breaching the wall doesn't dilute knowledge, but transforms our understanding of it. Resolving the difficulty is not just for the sake of claiming to know God, but also for our hope of having any knowledge at all. Both faith and reason face death by absurdity apart from this reconciliation."
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