Tag Archives: Faith

“Faith”: four uses

Faith_Diagram

My diagram above illustrates four of the common uses of the word “faith“.  Trust and Hope tend to be emotional uses of the word while Loyalty and My View (“my religion”) tend to be uses which reflect identity. The potential overlapping of these uses should be obvious.  The multi-conflicting uses of “faith” often leads to unnecessary confusions when people of conflicting agendas use the word in debate.

The two emotional uses of faith, trust and hope, both have a wide spectrum of feelings/meanings attached to them. The type of trust that people are imagining when they use the word “faith” varies from trust in counter-evidence (this is clearly the type of religious faith that irks atheists) to trust based on high-evidence (this is empirical faith).  Atheists often forget that everyone (themselves included) have trust for things or people for which the have low evidence to base that trust.  Theists, on the other hand can either brag about their blind faith (trust in light of no-evidence or even counter-evidence) or, like many liberal Christians, claim that all their trust-faith is based on sufficient evidence.

The hope use of “faith” likewise has a spectrum of feelings.  One can be hopeful in a worried, fretting and scared way — that is anxious-hope that is fragile.  Or, a person can be optimist by either temperament or training and have an optimistic-hope, expecting the best with an emotional resilience.

I have also wrestled with these nuance of  “Faithin this earlier post where I also try to help people avoid arguing over the word “faith“, but instead to see the emotions and identity issues that are connected to various uses of “Faith”.  “Faith”, like all words, has many uses which cause all sorts of confusion between users — especially if those users are prescriptivists who are committed to convincing others that only their use is the correct use.  Prescriptivists buy into the illusion that words have definitions.  Dialogue is easier when people understand that words carry many meanings/uses and for effective communication those words often need to be re-negotiated.  Language evolves, fluxes and varies highly between users.  There is only “correct” language when those in power enforce it, otherwise, language is naturally fluid.

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Faith Defined

Word arguments are tiresome and usually completely unnecessary. One of the most common word-fights between atheists and religious folks is over the word “faith”. The reason for these debates is that people don’t define terms or just simply do not understand the nature of words.

Words are created by humans to facilitate communication. Words depend on common concepts and associations.  An important part of discussion is to have common definitions. Debate and dialogue happen best when each party agrees on their definitions.

Abstract words tend to evolve many different meanings over time. To avoid unnecessary word-fights, I suggest trying put adjectives in from of such words to clarify which nuance of the word we are using.

Below I have listed many uses of “faith” and put an adjective in front of them to keep the nuances clear. BTW, the Greek New Testament word for faith is  πίστις “pistis”

1. ” trust-faith” or “reasonable-faith”

  • Definitions:
    • to expect a positive outcome based on some degree of investment or evidence.  faithful = to be trustworthy
  • Examples:
    • I have faith that my brother will help me if I am in trouble. (I trust my brother because, after all, and has always helped me in the past and is my brother and family is more reasonable to trust than strangers.)
    • I have faith that you are not lying.  (I trust aren’t lying because I can’t imagine why you would lie — you haven’t lied before.)
    • 1 Corinthians 4:2 “moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.

2. ” hope-faith”

  • Definition:
    • an optimistic emotional expectation with some degree of insecurity. [note: hope hints at insecurity, trust hints at reasonableness but both are similar.]
  • Examples:
    • I have faith that stock market will bounce back so that my retirement funds are preserved. (“I hope the stock market bounces back”)
    • I have faith in my husband’s fidelity.  (“I hope my husband won’t cheat on me”)
    • Hebrew 11:1:  “Now faith is the substance of thing hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

3. “low-evidence-faith” , “no-evidence-faith” , “counter-evidence-faith”

  • Definitions
    • Belief that rests on minimal or no logical proof or evidence. Or beliefs held in spite of counter evidence
  • Examples:
    • I have faith that Jesus will come on March 13th 2021.  (I have low-evidence for that date, but I believe his calculations)
    • John 20:27-29:  Then said He to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger and behold My hands, and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said unto Him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said unto him, “Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.”

4.  “my-dearly-held-beliefs-faith”, “my-religion-faith”

  • Definitions
    • The body of dogma of a religion.
    • A system of religious beliefs. A set of principles, beliefs or religion
  • Examples:
    • My closest friends all share the same faith. (“My closest friends all share the same “religion“.)
    • He lost his faith, but not his morality .  (He lost his “belief in god“, but not his morality”)
    • 1 Corinthians 16:13 “Watch ye; stand fast in the faith; acquit yourselves like me; be strong.
    • 1 Timothy 6:20-21 “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science, falsely so called, which some professing have erred concerning the faith.  Grace be with thee. Amen.

5.  “a-religion-faith”

  • Definitions
    • a group which holds a common set of beliefs
    • organized religion — a particular religious group
    • Note: #4 & #5 are difficult to distinguish
  • Examples
    • The two faiths were at war with each other. (“Two religions were at war with each other.”)
    • A member of his own faith contradicted him. (“Members of his “religions” contradict him.”)
    • Galatians 1:23:  “but they had heard only that, “He who persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith wich once he destroyed.”

6.  “obedience-faith”, “allegiance-faith”, “commitment-faith”, “loyalty-faith”

  • Definitions:
    • the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement
    • Commitment, Allegiance, Dedication, Loyalty, Fidelity
  • Examples:
    • Keep the faith !  (“Keep the Fidelity !”, “Stay true”)
    • They broke faith with the investors. (They broke their promise with the investors.”)
    • 1 Thessalonians 1:3:  “remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father,”

7The word itself

  • Definition:
    • No definition.  The word itself is just being discussed as a word.
  • Example:
    • When speaking about ‘faith’ …. (“When we talk about the English word “f-a-i-t-h’ “)

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Related Posts:

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Theology 101 — Best out there !

This is an amazingly fantastic piece by QualiaSoup. All religous folks who wish to debate their theology should watch this several times, be sure they understand it, then debate this before getting hung up debating any of their scriptural or theological details. Most folks don’t embrace their faith theologically, then I hope they hold that faith lightly and don’t let it divide themselves from others and just use it just as a personal tool. And for those who have a strong intellectual theology, as long as you only use it only to reinforce good emotional and personal habits and don’t use it to hold back science, then fine. But this video may help you as you move your theology closer to reality.

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Unprovable Faith

The Edge.org is a site dedicated to skeptical, critical thinking among intellects of very different beliefs.  In a 2005 post (later to become a book) they explored the important question of:

What Do You Believe Is True
Even Though You Cannot Prove It ?

To tease your interests, below I list the unprovable beliefs of just a few of these writers.  I will let you guess why I chose the ones I did.  Please do go to the site to read their full explanations of their ‘confessions’ — they are fascinating.  Presently, I am writing a larger post on “Faith” and I will refer back to these examples as evidence for my conclusions.

  • The universe is infinite.
    Alexander Vilenkin, Physicist
  • That time does not exist.
    Carlo Rovelli, Physicist
  • I believe that intelligent life may presently be unique to our Earth.
    Marin Rees, Cosmologist
  • I believe we are not alone.
    Carolyn Porco , Planetary Scientist
  • The continuum hypothesis is false.  I think human-level artificial intelligence will be achieved.
    John McCarthy, computer scientist
  • Capitalism and other market-driven systems are better than their alternatives.
    Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief, Wired
  • We’re living in a draft version of the universe—and there is no final version. The revisions never stop.
    Rudy Rucker, Mathematician, Computer Scientist
  • I believe in science. Unlike mathematical theorems, scientific results can’t be proved.They can only be tested again and again, until only a fool would not believe them.
    Seth Lloyd, Quantum Mechanical Engineer
  • I believe that people are getting better.  In other words, I believe in moral progress.
    W. Daniel Hillis, Physicist, Computer Scientist
  • Progress
    Neil Gershenfeld, Physicist
  • Human Behavior is Unconsciously Controlled
    Robart R. Provine, Psychologist and NeuroScientist.
  • Cockroaches are conscious
    Alun Anderson, Editor-in-Chief, New Scientist
  • Consciousness and its contents are all that exist
    Donald Hoffman, Cognitive Scientist
  • I believe there is an external reality and you are not all figments of my imagination.
    Janna Levin, Physicist
  • I believe nothing to be true (clearly real) if it cannot be proved.
    Maria Spiropulu, Physicist
  • That reality exists and science is the best method for understanding it.
    Michael Schermer, Publisher
  • Quantum Mechanics is not a final theory.
    Lee Smolin, Physicist
  • Most ideas taught in Economics 101 will be proved false eventually.
    Jean Paul Schmetz, Economist
  • That our universe is infinite in size, finite in age, and just one among many.
    John Barrow, Cosmologist
  • There is no God that has existence apart from people’s thoughts of God.
    Scott Atran, Anthropologist
  • There is a God.
    David Myers, Psychologist
  • I believe, first, that all people have the same fundamental concepts, values, concerns, and commitments, despite our diverse languages, religions, social practices, and expressed beliefs.
    Elizabeth Spelke, Psychologist
  • I do not believe that people are capable of rational thought when it comes to making decisions in their own lives.
    Roger Schank,  Psychologist & Computer Scientist
  • Science, like most human activities, is based on a belief, namely the assumption that nature is understandable.
    Piet Hut, Astrophysicist
  • It is possible to live happily and morally without believing in free will.
    Susan Blackmore, Psychologist
  • I believe that animals have feelings and other states of consciousness, but neither I, nor anyone else, has been able to prove it.
    Joseph Ledox, Neuroscientist
  • I believe that human consciousness is a conjuring trick, designed to fool us into thinking we are in the presence of an inexplicable mystery.
    Nicholas Humphrey, Psychologist

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Mushroom Faith

ChantrelleThis may be my last post.  For yet again, I am going to take a step of faith in my life.  I just snapped this photo of wild mushrooms a friend picked for me this weekend.  I will cook and eat them tonight after my workout at the gym.  If things take a spin for the worse, I want to go out feeling strong.

My friend is a physician, an avid fly fisherman and has picked wild mushrooms for decades — or so he tells me.  I have worked with him now for about 6 months.  He has met my wife and kids.  He tells me has eaten lots of mushrooms and over the last few months and he has given me mini-discourses on both picking and cultivating mushrooms.  Seems trustworthy to me !

So sure, I have lots of reasons to trust him.  But it is still just trust — it is only faith.  For he might well be exaggerating (or lying) about his mushrooms experience and he could have easily faked some of the knowledge because I, myself, have not read up on mushrooms in order to check him.  And heck, he could have made a mistake.  Further, just because he is a good surgeon doesn’t mean he’s good at mushrooming.   Besides, I have not really seen him make moral decisions — I don’t know how careful he is at protecting others.  But, nonetheless, I am going to trust him — I am going to make a leap of faith.

Of course my faith will be based on some level of evidence, albeit far from perfect evidence.  But really calling it “evidence” is sort of odd — as if the word “evidence” is clearly defined.  For even anecdotal evidence counts for something when it is all you have.  The concept of levels of evidence helps us weighing evidence.  But, as in medicine, for some types of information, low-levels of evidence is the best you can get.

A common pitfall for atheists is “reason-stupor” — some atheists are so enamored with their own reasoning ability to naively feel they don’t act on faith and that faith is the antithesis of reason.  They feel that they only believe things based on evidence and they deny that they hold any knowledge based on faith.  OK, after a beer or two, they may confess some level of trust in sources,  but they naively believe that the sources base their knowledge on evidence.    Tonight I want to clearly demonstrate that even secular evidence-weak leaps of faith can succeed.   I risk my life to the furthering of dialogue between atheists and theists !  Oh, how noble !

Though I have good insurance, my wife is still a little worried because she just watched a movie called “Into the Wild” where a man goes to Alaska to live by himself off the land and dies eating wild plants.  So, please pray for my naturalistic soul!  And btw, in case I don’t make it, the physician’s name is M……………

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Notes:  These are suppose to be “Chanterelle” mushrooms, which are suppose to be in season.  But of course they belong to the a Chanterelle look-alike is the Jack o’Lantern mushroom which is poisonous.

Addendum:  I may not object to “faith” per se, but I do object to misused faith.  Let me illustrate:
Let’s say a believer has faith that Jesus/Mohammed/Krishna/Siddhartha or some other distant religious figure  performed miracles.  Well, if it was true, it is known because someone witnessed the miracle and passed that on to someone else and so on.  Additionally, you may have possible confirmatory observations.  But now the questioning begins:  You have to question how accurate those observations are.  This is anecdotal evidence — which can be useful.  But it is hindered not only by distance in time but by likelihood. Since we don’t really see miracles today, it is hard to imagine in a reasonable way they happened back then. So indeed, though the belief is based on trusting (faith) stories of others, those stories are not sensible, thus problematic. So it is not “faith” I have problems with, but it is having faith in the highly improbable and/or unreasonable information and then treating it sacredly that I have problems.  Treating something sacred means throwing the cloak of sanctity over it so others feel taboo in questioning.

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