Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is Faith Blind?

Is faith just something we as Christians say whenever we are confronted with reason? Is it true that faith is belief in something unreasonably? I don’t see why it should be. In fact, no major Christian apologist, pastor, or theologian of whom I am aware has taught this. However, it’s peddled around the popular-level discussions of skeptics as though it were fact. In this way, they may dismiss any Christian claims without even examining them (after all, who wants to believe in something without any evidence?).

What is faith then? Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is a trust in God precisely because of the evidence. “But wait,” counters the atheist or skeptic. “Perhaps it is true that some Christians use reason to then believe in Christianity. But most other Christians do not.”

This is only somewhat true, and not in the way skeptics think. For most people, the evidence of God’s working in their daily lives provides good reason to think he exists. The evidence of their changed life helps them to know God exists. The fact is that once they were bound for an eternity without Christ and now all they want to do is to know and serve Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible. These people, though lacking in formal argumentation, may nonetheless be rationally justified in knowing the claims of Christianity to be true as part of their daily experience.

One may protest that this will not convince others. But that is not what is at stake here. What is at stake is whether or not people believe independently of or contrary to evidence. On this account, even believers who don’t know the cosmological argument from a ham sandwich may nonetheless not be engaging in “blind” faith. Rather, their faith in God is grounded in experience, and it is an active trust in God to continue to do what he has said he will do.
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  1. Hey Randy,

    Re: 'One may protest that this will not convince others.'

    No, rather, one may protest that your definition of 'faith' df= 'is a trust in God precisely because of the evidence' makes 'faith' and 'well-founded belief' (roughly) df = 'a belief that is properly based upon the best available relevant evidence'.

    In common discourse, certainly, and in more precise academic parlance, 'faith' is often defined as 'belief in that for which one has insufficient evidence.' In other words, S has 'faith' in p if and only if S believes p and the evidence, E, does not make p more probably true than its negation.

    So, you can define 'faith' in anyway that you like, but be mindful that your definition, at least upon first blush, makes no useful distinctions.

    P.S. I *will* respond to your response to my post on the moral trilemma of the Abrahamic god. I am currently in the time consuming process of applying to PhD. programmes. I will say this, though: If I were to readdress that post, I would rewrite it, and for some of the reasons you highlight. I think a significant problem still exists for the theist- that is, for a theist who is also a divine command theorist- though, so it should be fun to respond.

  2. Ugh! Correction: The first paragraph was posted incomplete. It should read:

    No, rather, one may protest that your definition of 'faith' df= 'is a trust in God precisely because of the evidence' makes 'faith' and 'well-founded belief' (roughly) df = 'a belief that is properly based upon the best available relevant evidence' indistinguishable.


  3. Thanks Aaron! Best of luck to you on the PhD programs! I must say I have no problem with faith being a well-founded belief. Additionally, I've never read any Christian academic who defines faith as belief in spite of the evidence or without any evidence. My major point was that it's a giant strawman, constructed by atheists, for atheists. :)

  4. Randy,

    It is not a straw man at all. See, for instance, the long history of epistemological fideism the view that faith lies outside of reason (or evidence):


    Moreover, just off the top of my head I can think of two contemporary Christian philosophers who espouse fideism: John Bishop and Stephen Evans. (Some interpretations of Plantinga's version of reformed epistemology have it as a form of fideism, though Plantinga rejects this interpretation.)

    That aside, your definition of 'faith' makes no relevant distinction between having 'faith' that the airplane will not crash and believing that the airplane will not crash on good scientific and statistical grounds, which I think is problematic since I think there are distinctions to be made.

    I should add that I agree that people often use 'faith' as a synonym for 'belief' and that this can create unnecessary confusion. I should also add that there are some (e.g. Richard Swinburne) who make roughly the same distinctions that you do. Lastly, I should add that when I was a theist I viewed Christian notions of 'faith' in much the same light as you do now and that there is a good case to be made that 'faith' is a poor translation of the relevant Greek and Hebrew words and rather something like 'trust' or 'confidence' better capture the intention of the author(s).


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