Christian theists make two claims about faith:Leah then critiqued two answer to this. The first which she described as defining faith as "standing on the shoulders of giants" was as follows:
So here’s my challenge: Define faith in such a way that it fulfills both requirements!
- That atheists define the concept of faith wrong, and
- That atheists have faith just like Christian theists do.
Faith is knowing by testimony rather than by experience. I believe that the Earth orbits the Sun, because the scientists tell me so, and I believe them. I can become an astronomer or an astronaut and find out more concretely, but I can also become a monk and find out the experience of divine revelation more directly.Leah object to this saying:
I think this is defining ‘faith’ too broadly (and it’s certainly underestimating how much we take on authority). When I was an intern in a genetics lab (one of the more empirically-based things you can do), I transfected cell lines I didn’t create with plasmids I didn’t sequence that were meted out pipets that were calibrated by someone I didn’t know. When it came time to analyze my data, I used a machine that I wouldn’t know how to repair and sent the results to a biostatistician whose methods I wasn’t familiar with.
Long story short, we all do a lot of standing on the shoulders of giants. Our modern lives are complex enough that we have to accept on authority the way most of the physical world around us functions, let along the metaphysical aspects. Using this as the heart of faith makes the definition useless to me, if I want to talk about a way of knowing that differentiates atheists and theists.
This framework might be useful if we think the two groups have different criteria for identifying credible authorities, and I’d be interested in your thoughts on that topic in the comments. My hunch is that, when it comes to metaphysics, it’s not that atheists and theists are turning to different authorities, but that atheists mostly aren’t seeking out explicit authorities on these topics at all. Most atheists don’t cleave to particular philosophers the way Christians might be shaped by a certain theologian. So this doesn’t end up being a fight about how we answer questions, but about what we’re trying to find out.The second definition she criticized came from Loftus himself and was as follows:
In my opinion faith is what fills in the gaps of the probabilities. If, say there is a 70 % probability something is the case then to conclude more than that 70% probability is faith, and I reject faith based reasoning like that. To reject that kind of faith is to live and operate based on the probabilities. If there is a 70 % chance of something then that’s all I can conclude and that’s all I can use to base my decisions on. And so I could never give my whole life over to a 70% probability. I could only give 70% of my life over to a 70% probability. This is Lessing’s ditch when applied to the past, as you know. Kierkegaard responded by acknowledging Lessing’s point and therefore decided faith must go beyond what the evidence calls for. And that’s what I must reject.Leah points out this seems to suggest a basic misunderstanding of probability:
Loftus is essentially saying that, when we aren’t certain, we have to hedge our bets, but that can be the wrong way to reason. Let me give an example. I tell you that I have a weighted coin — it is 60% likely to come down heads and 40% likely to come down tails. Plenty of people, given this data, will conclude that they should call out ‘heads!’ 60% of the time and ‘tails!’ 40% of the time. They’ll lose out to the people who call ‘heads!’ every single time you play with enough iterations.Faith is a really, really big topic, but I wanted to suggest a few clarifying thoughts, though not a complete answer to the questions posed.
What that 70% means is that you need less new evidence to change your mind about this action than you would if you were truly 99% confident. But, absent that new evidence, there’s no reason you shouldn’t stay the course. Instead of half-heartedly committing to the choice you’ve made, you should just stay vigilant that you don’t discount new evidence in either direction, because you’ve started thinking of your current confidence level as an important part of your identity, one that it would hurt you to lose.
First off, it seems to me "faith" itself is a fairly broad term. Christians often talk about the need to "have faith", but in a sense that is a shorthand. Faith in what?
The old Catholic Encyclopedia in its article on faith describes the Old Testament use of the term to be essentially "trustfulness" or "steadfastness":
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew means essentially steadfastness, cf. Exodus 17:12, where it is used to describe the strengthening of Moses' hands; hence it comes to mean faithfulness, whether of God towards man (Deuteronomy 32:4) or of man towards God (Psalm 118:30). As signifying man's attitude towards God it means trustfulness or fiducia. It would, however, be illogical to conclude that the word cannot, and does not, mean belief or faith in the Old Testament for it is clear that we cannot put trust in a person's promises without previously assenting to or believing in that person's claim to such confidence. Hence even if it could be proved that the Hebrew does not in itself contain the notion of belief, it must necessarily presuppose it.This usage still informs the way that we use the term in reference to interpersonal relationships. I have faith that my wife loves me. She has faith that I am faithful to her. Etc.
Obviously, in this sense one can have faith in any number of things or people, and as it notes, faith in this sense necessarily presupposes belief. I can hardly have faith in my wife's love (as in, trust in its existence and steadfastness) if I don't really believe that I have a wife or don't really believe that she loves me. When Christians talk about "having faith" however, they're pretty specifically talking about "having faith in God" -- that combination of believing in God's existence and of trusting in God to remain steadfast and trustworthy in His love for us.
So one sense in which Christians might say that atheists also "have faith" is that in which atheists perform a similar action (they believe in some thing and that it may be relied upon steadfastly) but in reference to different objects: loved ones, friends, science, progress, etc. Clearly saying one "has faith in" any of these things would carry somewhat different meaning, because these are different kinds of things, but arguably there is some commonality in the type of action which "having faith" in any one of these things might be.
Secondly, I think it's important to be clear on what kind of a thing faith is: faith is an act of the will. St. Thomas Aquinas discusses the issue in typical fashion here in Article 1.
If, on the other hand, "to think" be understood in the second way, then this expresses completely the nature of the act of believing. For among the acts belonging to the intellect, some have a firm assent without any such kind of thinking, as when a man considers the things that he knows by science, or understands, for this consideration is already formed. But some acts of the intellect have unformed thought devoid of a firm assent, whether they incline to neither side, as in one who "doubts"; or incline to one side rather than the other, but on account of some slight motive, as in one who "suspects"; or incline to one side yet with fear of the other, as in one who "opines." But this act "to believe," cleaves firmly to one side, in which respect belief has something in common with science and understanding; yet its knowledge does not attain the perfection of clear sight, wherein it agrees with doubt, suspicion and opinion.If I'm paraphrasing this right: To have faith, or to believe, is not simply to make an passive assessment as to the probability that something is true, it is to decide to believe something to be the case or not be the case (and one presumes to act accordingly.)
Looking at Loftus and Leah's points about probabilities, I'm having a little trouble grasping how exactly you would act on a 70% probability belief. Leah makes one reasonable assumption. It seems to me that another would be that one would simply lower the stakes. If someone comes up to me and says, "This weighted coin has a 60% chance of coming up heads. How much money would you like to bet that it will come up heads?" I might offer a different size bet than if she had said, "This weighted coin has a 90% chance of coming up heads." But either way, I'm placing a degree of faith in the idea that it will come up heads. In this example, refusing to place any faith in it's coming up heads would mean refusing to bet on the toss at all, or betting on its coming up tails.
But this underscores the argument that "everyone has faith in something", in that, faith being an act, just about everyone ends up acting in some way on a given point in which they must make a decision as to what to believe. In many situations, even refusing to act ends up being some kind of an act. As in, for instance, if I had refused to act in any way as if I believed that my future wife loved me, you can probably bet that she wouldn't have married me. Virtually any act (including refusing to act) that I chose to take would have represented a "bet", either slight or strong, that she either did or did not love me. Refusal to take a position on the question was not really an option.
This emphasis on faith as an act (rather than a piece of knowledge or a feeling) is particularly comforting to me. After all, I can't really say that I know God exists and came to suffer and die for our sins in some absolute, sure sort of knowledge. Nor can I say that I always feel the truth of this. But I most certainly can choose to believe it, and act accordingly.