Friday, January 09, 2015

Have Christians redefined faith?


If you say that Christians have redefined the word, then, of course you are assuming that it initially had a different meaning and Christians changed it. 

I think the term does indeed have several meanings. However, if you want to communicate with Christians to try to show them what is wrong with what they believe, then you really can't argue that the fact that they use the word "faith" means that they are being irrational and they know it. 

An example of someone like this would be this quote. 

Faith is clearly NOT a belief in an unknown or unrealized proposition that is SUPPORTED by the evidence, because if that belief was supported by the evidence, it ipso facto does NOT REQUIRE Faith.

http://meaningwithoutgodproject.blogspot.com/2010/10/faith-last-refuge-of-irrational.html

You can argue that theistic beliefs are in fact irrational, but you cannot argue that because Christians use a word that is sometimes used to denote irrationality, they view themselves as irrational. They are not going to agree to this definition. 

Here's C. S. Lewis: I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it. That is not the point at which faith comes in. But supposing a man's reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair; some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. And once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments where a mere mood rises up against it. 


21 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

What if scientists defined the word "evidence" as "objective sense data that leaves no room for faith"?

[Actually many scientists think of evidence this way, but that's besides the point.]

You would dispute that definition of theirs wouldn't you? But what if a scientist also said you must accept his definition before you can talk about any evidence or participate in the scientific enterprise?

You would not be obligated to acquiesce to this definition of theirs would you? The reason is because defining words like these are part of the debate itself.

So atheists, in the same fashion, do not have to acquiesce to you by using any one of the many Christians definitions of "faith" either. Because how we define the word "faith" is part of the debate itself.

I don't think you'll make this comment of mine into a highlighted post of its own, because it more than adequately answers your misguided request that atheists use your definition of "faith."

Stop this willful ignorance at best, or disingenuous skullduggery at worst! Now! ;-)

unkleE said...

"Faith is clearly NOT a belief in an unknown or unrealized proposition that is SUPPORTED by the evidence, because if that belief was supported by the evidence, it ipso facto does NOT REQUIRE Faith."

This comment supposes the situation to be binary - either faith or evidence, never both. But surely evidence can go part way to support a proposition, for example, when scientists give a result with confidence limits or error of estimate.

So if, as I imagine most christians would say, belief in God is probable but not certain, then faith (in one definition of the word) can be seen as also contributing to the belief.

To quote an anonymous Professor: "What do they teach them in their schools?"

William said...

(apologies to jainworld.com: http://www.jainworld.com/literature/story25.htm)

ELEPHANT AND THE BLIND MEN

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today."

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway." All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

















"Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who touched his leg.

"Oh, no! it is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail.

"Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

"It is like a big hand fan" said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

"It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

"It is like a solid pipe," Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, "What is the matter?" They said, "We cannot agree to what the elephant is like." Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said."

"Oh!" almost everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

But there were two men of clan Loftus who disagreed.

THEY SAID QUOTE:
"

So [we noheads], in the same fashion, do not have to acquiesce to you by using any one of the many [outgroup] definitions of "[elephant]" either. Because how we define the word "[elephant]" is part of the debate itself.

"

:) :-)

im-skeptical said...

If only we all had such wisdom. Everyone could see the world through the tinted lens of the one true ideology. The lens that makes everything look like God. Ah, but there are fools among us. They refuse to look through your tinted lens, and so they don't see things the same way you do. Pity.

WMF said...

Because how we define the word "faith" is part of the debate itself.

No it's not John. Language does not work that way. Definitions are conventions of the sort "Let's agree that when we use expression A, we all recognize it as being a shortened way to express expression B". The choice of A for a given B is arbitrary and irrelevant for the truth of any given proposition, seeing how we only deal with logics that allow substitution.

A C*-Algebra is a Banach-Algebra with an isomorphic conjugate-linear involution (depending on prior conventions of what these terms mean). The answer to "Is every C*-Algebra isomorphic to a closed algebra of bounded operators on a Hilbert-space?" is then "Yes". Disputing the meaning of the word C*-Algebra is meaningless, it doesn't affect the actual content of the expression, which is that "Every Banach-Algebra with an isomorphic conjugate-linear involution is isomorphic to a closed algebra of bounded operators on a Hilbert-space".

What you are doing, is joining the conversation, declaring "I define a C*-Algebra as something that people consider to be isomorphic to a closed algebra of bounded operators on a Hilbert space, despite the fact that they know it's not" and you are not being takes seriously for very good reasons.

John W. Loftus said...

WMF "Language does not work that way."

Yes it does. Take a philosophy of language class. Do an etymological study of words like "nice" and "gay" for starters. Look at how language evolves. Look at the concept of stimulative definitions.

I can define a word any way I want to. If I want to communicate then I must also tell my readers what I mean by the word. Them's the rules. That Christians have been in the majority for thousands of years does not mean anyone who is not a Christian must accept how they define the word "faith" since that is part of the debate, as I said.

The fact is that the way believers define the word "faith" is so incongruent with other definitions nonbelievers cannot make any sense of the precise definition of the word. So we have defined it much better with more consistency according to what we've concluded about the case against religious belief. To the degree people accept the case we make is to that same degree they'll agree with our definitions. It's that simple and should be noncontroversial among intellectuals and educators.

I've supplied three in my book "The Outsider Test for Faith":

…faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities. (OTF, p.207)

Faith is an attitude or feeling whereby believers attribute a higher degree of probability to the evidence than what the evidence calls for. (OTF, p.207)

Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate the confirming evidence and underestimate disconfirming evidence. (OTF, p.207)

WMF said...

The fact is that the way believers define the word "faith" is so incongruent with other definitions nonbelievers cannot make any sense of the precise definition of the word.

Please don't lump unbelievers together John, the vast majority is not that stupid.

im-skeptical said...

The bible defines 'faith' as "the evidence of things unseen". In other words, a substitute for empirical evidence.

The Catholic catechism clearly makes reason subordinate to faith.

Both of these things is consistent with the general understanding of the word that most people have, yet Christians insist that their faith is rational and evidence-based.
So when I hear Christians tell me that I don't understand the true meaning of the word, I have to ask myself whether they do, or whether they are in denial of the irrational aspect of it.

B. Prokop said...

I am waiting for Loftus to start badmouthing Justice and Courage. Why stop at disparaging only one of the Virtues?

Legion of Logic said...

"The bible defines 'faith' as "the evidence of things unseen". In other words, a substitute for empirical evidence."

Read the rest of the chapter. It's clearly faith in things as yet unseen, based upon the promises God made them. They had reason to have faith in God...which is, you know, evidence. It wasn't anything close to the irrational definition atheists make fools of themselves using.

I know you can't view Christianity without filtering it through your extremely biased ideology, but please at least make the attempt.

"So atheists, in the same fashion, do not have to acquiesce to you by using any one of the many Christians definitions of "faith" either. Because how we define the word "faith" is part of the debate itself."

So you're saying it's okay to define the other's beliefs for them and then attack it, even though that's not the definition they use for themselves? Isn't that sort of strawman-y?

im-skeptical said...

"It's clearly faith in things as yet unseen, based upon the promises God made them."

Nothing irrational about that, is there?

"I know you can't view Christianity without filtering it through your extremely biased ideology"

Lack of belief in your ideology is not an ideology.

Legion of Logic said...

"Nothing irrational about that, is there?"

No.

"Lack of belief in your ideology is not an ideology."

You spout off the same irrational nonsense that Dawkins, Harris, etc. spout about religion. Your descriptions of religion only vaguely resemble how Christians describe their own beliefs. Either your entire subsection of atheism just loves attacking strawmen, or you are so blinded by your ideological stance on religion that it doesn't occur to you that you're wrong about religion.

A very distant third possibility is that you're right, but having spent eleven years now reading and debating atheists of your stripe, I become more and more convinced that you guys can be safely dismissed as having no intellectual merit behind your beliefs.

Victor Reppert said...

Faith is an attitude or feeling whereby believers attribute a higher degree of probability to the evidence than what the evidence calls for. (OTF, p.207)

This assumes that there is an objective quantity of probability that the evidence calls for.

I am skeptical of this kind of claim. I don't think there is a non-relative probability that the evidence calls for. There are only probabilities relative to some existing prior probability. Evidence doesn't operate from a "ground zero" starting point, it starts from wherever people happen to be.

I know that Richard Swinburne thinks that you can get to some Archimedean point through his conception of simplicity, and some people think you can get it from frequencies. I don't think these arguments work.

That doesn't mean that we can't move toward objectivity. We can. Evidence, if pursued, can in theory "swamp the priors." I think science works that way. It isn't as if scientists all actually put aside their biases before starting to do science. It is just that, in many cases, priors are swamped, and maybe all the defenders of the opposite position all die off.

oozzielionel said...

Both the skeptic and the believer are looking at the same evidence. Both are interpreting the evidence to reach a conclusion. Both are exercising faith as they apply their presuppositions in the course of their analysis of the evidence. Both may be highly rational in their approach. However their comes a point in the analysis where evidence can be interpreted one way or another. The jump is made by applying the faith-based presuppositions of their worldview.

Victor Reppert said...

The definition of faith should not be part of the debate, because definitions of terms aren't really about winning the debate, they are about communicating ideas. If you insist on using the word "faith" in a way that implies irrationality, then I end up having to say what I did once, that so far as I can tell I don't have faith.

It is useless to use a term in a way that the people you are trying to persuade don't use.

Actually, I don't think the word "faith" should ever be used in by either side in theist-atheist discussion unless it is backed up with a definition, and then you have to see if your debate opponent is willing to use it in the same sense.
Otherwise, you just waste a lot of time talking past one another.

Andrew W said...

What I observe is that Loftus is contrasting "faith" with "evidence", whereas Christian theologians and philosophers usually contrast it with skepticism, or apathy, or distrust.

Faith isn't about evidence; it's a way to respond to conclusions that you draw from evidence.

Yes, "faith" is sometimes crudely used to mean "willing that something is true", but then "evidence" and "proof" are often crudely confused also. That the ignorant sometimes misuse a term isn't a particularly good proof that the knowledgeable are also ignorant.

im-skeptical said...

"Faith isn't about evidence; it's a way to respond to conclusions that you draw from evidence."

Faith means many different things to different people. One of the ways religious people use the word is as a kind of epistemology. Faith is a way of knowing some "truth" about reality, particularly in the absence of other sources of knowledge of a particular thing. Plantinga likes to speak of the sensus divinitatus as the means by which we have certain knowledge of God and his revelations. In other words, it is not a response to the conclusion, it is the basis upon which the conclusion rests.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/faith/

B. Prokop said...

"Faith is a way of knowing some "truth" about reality"

No, no, no, no, and again NO !

Faith is not a way of knowing something - it is a way of acting upon what you do know by other means. Are you going to abandon your convictions if they are inconvenient? Then you have no (or little) faith. Will you choose to act contrary to what you know to be ethical, moral, or just, because doing so might subject you to lost opportunities, discrimination, or even persecution? Then your faith is weak. Do you remain silent in the face of injustice, or do you look the other way when faced by another person's need? Then your faith is worthless.

That is what Faith is all about.

im-skeptical said...

"No, no, no, no, and again NO !"

So now we see why this is such a difficult question. Bob will accept no other definition than the one he insists is the only proper way to employ the word. This despite the teaching of his own church.

Andrew W said...

Given that "faith" is a translation of a 2000 year old Greek word, it might be more useful to consult an Ancient Greek dictionary than something describing modern American usage.

http://biblehub.com/greek/4102.htm

If you don't think "faith" is a good translation for "be persuaded" or "warranty", perhaps you could suggest a better?


I'm also a little confused how "faith" - "belief in spite of evidence" - correlates to "faithful" ( http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/faithful ) which means "reliable", "trustworthy", "dependable".

I'll also note that the historical definition of "faith" is 'mid-13c., "duty of fulfilling one's trust," from Old French feid, foi "faith, belief, trust, confidence, pledge," from Latin fides "trust, faith, confidence, reliance, credence, belief," from root of fidere "to trust," from PIE root *bheidh- (cf. Greek pistis ; see bid )' ( http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/faith ). Given that "pistes" was translated "faith" in the 16th C (at the latest), it might be more profitable to look at definitions from that era rather than C20-21.

Unless im-skeptical is seriously suggesting that the original meaning of the text has changed because one of the words used to translate it has undergone a shift in its range of usage? I know that sounds moronic, but with the quality of argument I've seen so far I can't be sure.

im-skeptical said...

"Unless im-skeptical is seriously suggesting that the original meaning of the text has changed because one of the words used to translate it has undergone a shift in its range of usage?"

I have no idea where you got that from. It doesn't resemble anything I said, and it completely misses the point I make.