Friday, October 5, 2007

Does the Atheist Need to Respond to Faith?

In order to secure reasonable justification for atheism, does the non-believer need to answer the faith defense for theism? Your typical atheist feels compelled to say something (negative) about believing in God on the basis of faith, but do they need to? The answer is no. The faith account of belief in God presents no challenge to non-belief.

When one has faith that something is true, they believe it despite inadequate or contrary evidence. No one would say that they have faith that their basketball team was going to win the playoffs if by all measures the team is vastly superior to all of their rivals. People invoke faith when the chips are down, when life looks grim, when they can’t conceive of why God would allow someone innocent to suffer, or when it doesn’t look like there’s adequate justification in terms of evidence. If we had ample, compelling evidence, then there’d be no need and no room for faith.

Reason is prescriptive. When there is compelling evidence in front of someone and they understand it, and it is clear that it implies a certain conclusion, then they ought to believe that conclusion. Suppose that Smith is a defendant in a trial where the prosecutors have shown video of Smith holding up the liquor store, they found the gun registered in Smith’s name with his fingerprints on it, multiple witnesses all testified that Smith did it, the store owner identified him as the robber, other witnesses heard Smith promising to rob the store the day before, and Smith’s alibi has been shown to be false. The jurors, if they are reasonable people, should convict him on the basis of the evidence. If they don’t, they’re being irrational or unreasonable, and they’re failing to fulfill their epistemic (and moral) duties. So when the right conditions have been met, the evidence prescribes belief (there can be lots of mitigating circumstances that we will ignore for the moment). When someone doesn’t believe under those conditions, then they are epistemically culpable or at fault. By not believing, they make an epistemic mistake that they should rectify.

But faith is not prescriptive. When someone chooses to believe in God despite the fact that the evidence underdetermines or even contradicts the conclusion, on what grounds could they maintain that others who haven’t done the same have somehow failed in their epistemic duties, or are rationally culpable? In what way could the non-faithful possibly being doing something wrong by not also having faith? A believer by faith simply has no grounds from which they can argue that others who don’t have faith ought to. They can’t criticize the non-faithful for doing something contrary to reason or ignoring the evidence by not believing. In not believing by faith, the non-faithful are seeking to accept only that which is supported by the evidence. What is the faithful believer going to say: “You’re not listening to reason! You need to accept the obvious implication of the evidence! All of the evidence indicates that you should believe on faith!!”

In order to secure justification for believing that there is no God one would need to seriously consider the best arguments that have been made for the conclusion that there is a God. Those arguments are at least prima facie grounds against the reasonableness of non-belief. Believing there is no God is premature until one has good reasons to think those arguments are unacceptable. But the fact that many people have opted to believe even though they acknowledge that they don’t have reasonable grounds for doing so presents no challenge whatsoever to the person who concludes that the reasonable conclusion is to disbelieve. If their belief is acquired by faith, then they can make no claim against the rationality of atheism. They have made it clear that reasons and evidence are irrelevant to them—they’re going to believe what they want and to hell with being rational. Rejecting the relevance of having justifications for beliefs leaves them with no leverage and no possible complaint against the atheist.

Many atheists feel compelled to respond when a believer says, “Well, I have faith that God exists.” The atheist will offer a variety of criticisms of believing by faith. But it should now be clear that justifying atheism doesn’t require discounting faith. Furthermore, trying to rebut faith is typically futile. The faithful have already implicitly (or explicitly) acknowledged that what the evidence or arguments indicate is irrelevant to them. By invoking faith, they have already embarrassed and made a mockery of themselves more than any thoughtful reasoned rebuttal could accomplish.


Anonymous said...

Dean (192)
Now, Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain in what you cannot see (NIV).
This is how the believers hold onto their belief in the existence of God. This gives them permission to disregard the arguments against their belief, and security that they are doing the right thing in believing.

I can well imagine how many things we can create to have ‘faith in’ that would bring about a needed response—perhaps this was the motivation behind those that created the numerous gods we read about in class. I think that ‘faith’ can be a very dangerous circumstance for humanity, in that we have this group that justify themselves on faith, so does that mean that all their actions are justified—“I believe/have faith’—that God told me to do this or that, therefore my actions are justified (no matter the circumstance, consequences or results).

Carlo said...

This is very much why I believe the word "faith" is pure nonsense. The theist uses this as a trump card - a last resort in light of contradictory evidence to their view. But is such a view valid? I think not. In fact I think it is rather wishful thinking. If I have "faith" in x what I am really saying is 'I know that I don't know about x". For the word 'faith' appears to be too often substituted for the word "belief". Such occurrences I believe really express a possibility that x may be true. An example would be "I have "faith" that Sac state football will have a winning season in the next 3 years. I believe the theist takes advantage of this confused move with their utterance of "faith" - I wish x to be true. This follows from the talk we had in class about theists just might be arguing for gods existence through possibility. For I believe both arguing for the possibility of x and wishing for x are rightfully equivalent.

Also, I ask my fellow atheist to heed to confused uses of the term "faith" and 'belief". If you think x my be true and have some basis then pleas sue the term "belief" By you using the term "faith" you are just allowing the theist to have some justification for their confused use of the term. Unless you really believe that you can argue for the possibly of x and still mean some thing? I done think you can. For if you believe this then your just as guilty as the theists in making nonsensical claims and should reevaluate your belief system - clearly there are oppositional true values on key positions.

So how can the atheist reply to the theist when they resort to such safety? Well, we can try to say we have faith that god does not exist to perhaps rattle their cage. But as a person who has high regard for reason I must abandon such a move. Therefore it is best to walk away from the theist and perhaps take note to the overabundance of squirrel population on campus. This clearly has more bearing to the reasonable person than "faith' talk.

Carlo said...

Since walking away from the theist when they invoke their faith in god may be a little anti-social I have proposed the following utterances in response:

"The Denver broncos are my favorite football team"

"Clowns are scary". Did you write your paper for professor McCormick's class yet?"

"I milked a cow once. "It felt weird"

"Why like cheese on my burgers"

'I like burritos"

All as you can see these utterances are expressing attitudes rather than a propositions.

Anonymous said...

Dean (192)

When George W. Bush considered going to war with Iraq, he prayed about it. He commented that God lead him to go to war. So, Bush’s belief in God and his faith in God leads him to make the decision to go to war. What is wrong with this picture? Based on his faith: is he waiting for God to drop the bomb; supply him with an army of angles (Blackwater?); will God wave his hand and wipeout the enemy? I think you get my point. This is a clear example of how a man’s faith has lead to bad decisions, and more importantly, lead a country down the wrong path. Imagine the conversations he is having with his minister? (Of course the prayer thing was BS!)

Anonymous said...

I find that too many people misuse the word 'faith.' In the religious sense, to have faith is not simply to believe without evidence or in the face of contrary evidence--and I shouldn't say 'simply,' because the point isn't just that faith is more complex than this, but that it's something completely different.

While it's true that faith may not require evidence in the form of an explicit logical argument or a set of discrete propositions whose concurrent truth entail the truth of theism (or whatever proposition is taken to be optimally expressive of the religious person's belief), it's entirely incorrect and beside the point to claim that faith is irrational (as in nonevidentiary) belief necessarily or even generally.

I think the sort of faith one might have in a significant other is a suitable analogy for the nature of religious faith. I have faith in, and am faithful to, my girlfriend, but the fact that I have 'faith' doesn't mean that my trust in her and loyalty to her are without rational justification, does it? Not at all, yet I would be hard pressed to provide rational or propositional support for my faith that demonstrates an explicit progression of reasoning concluding with some statement like "therefore, my girlfriend ought to be trusted" or whatever. In fact, I don't even know what the conclusion of the argument would be, because faith isn't an endorsement of a proposition so much as an expression of a relationship, and relationships aren't reducible to propositions nor derivable from premises.

Faith is a relationship that contains within it some sense of duty--or we might say that faith consists in the fulfillment of the duties one has in virtue of being in a certain relationship. This is why we say that a good husband is 'faithful' to his wife or that a good friend is a 'faithful' friend, both examples of meeting some responsibility one has to another. It is in this sense that faith is a practice, or a way of life (at least with respect to the other in the relationship); and of course a way of life will of necessity be accompanied by a set of beliefs that explain, justify, enrich, and inspire that way.

And so it is with religious belief. A religion, a faith, is practiced just as much as it is believed, and 'faith' is the term used to signify this unification of thought and action. It's a relationship to God, a fidelity, not merely an assent to a claim. It's not the result of an argument any more than your best friend's faithfulness to you is the result of an argument. It's not a belief in the other's existence any more than your friend's faithfulness to you is simply believing that you exist.

Do you think your faith in your significant other rests on the same sort of grounds that you take to justify your acceptance of some political stance? It's not that kind of rationality at all, but by no means does that make it irrational.

And yes, I realize that plenty of religious types ascribe to the common misconception of what faith is. Unfortunate, but I don't find it surprising. The thoughtful religious person should be able to give the inquirer something more sophisticated and enlightening than the sort of response McCormick's post addresses--and I imagine the thoughtful ones are the only ones the atheist would wish to speak with in the first place.

Jon said...

Here is a contrast between faith and trust:
Trust 1 - "Trust is earned" (through evidence and reason)
Trust 2 - Simply "I trust you"

Faith is equivalent to 'Trust 2',
that is the definition and the point of faith.

Therefore faith is not justified, but 'Trust 1' is justified, it is justified by some accumulated evidence or reason to believe.

Some example's to clarify:

- Trust 1 - "I trust you because YOU display evidence of existence (I see you, your not hiding), plus positive emotional behavior, plus what you say is reasonable and I like it"

- Trust 2 - "I trust you without reason or evidence, for I wish to trust you and that is my belief"

- Faith - "I trust you without reason or evidence, for that is my wish for belief"

Matt McCormick said...

There are lots of interesting comments and ideas here.

I take it that on Matt Evpak's account "faith" means something like this:

S has faith in R means that S has entered into a relationship with R where S trusts, commits, and dedicates him or herself to R. Smith trusts his girlfriend, believes in her, expects the best of her, and is optimistic concerning her behavior.

I think this is a perfectly common and familiar way to understand faith and it describes a wide range of the cases where it normally applies. There are several things to note about the fit of this picture of faith with the one I am drawing:

First, notice that when you are in a relationship with someone and you have faith in them--that they won't cheat, or that they will protect your confidences, or that they will stay with you--the occasions for that faith are going to be those cases where you are lacking evidence that the thing you believe is true in some fashion. She's gone out of town on a business trip with a male colleague, or you saw her getting out of a car with someone you don't know and she didn't mention, or you tell her something private and you have faith that she won't blab all over town about it. In all of these cases, there's an evidential gap or counterindication for the thing you believe. You have faith that she is being faithful while she's out of town, but you're not there to see for yourself. You hope that she won't blab your secrets all over town, but there are lots of hours in the day when you aren't with her to know for sure.

So even on this account of faith, my original point holds that to have faith that X is true is to believe X despite a lack of evidence or contrary evidence.

The other point to note is that even on this account of faith, it fails to be prescriptive of belief and impose an epistemic duty to believe. The central question is what response should the non-believer have to the prospect of believing by faith? The fact that a woman I know, Jones, has faith in her husband, Smith, doesn't recommend that attitude to anyone else. If I see Smith cheating on his wife, and I try to tell Jones, it hardly makes sense for her to tell me, "Well, you've got to have faith in him. I do." One person's faith that p is true creates no burden of proof for someone who doesn't believe it. The non-believer doesn't need to make any response to faith because by its very nature faith beliefs are the sort of beliefs that have no intersubjective prescription.

And finally, is faith irrational? Matt Evpak raises another very good point. Is it rational to believe in one's spouse, or to trust a close friend, or to have faith in human nature? You'll notice that in my post I have not claimed that it is. In the sorts of trusting relationships we are discussing, there are cases where faith seems to be more or less foolish. Certainly, we all want to trust and love people around us, and doing that requires a "leap of faith" as William James made so clear. And despite what it might seem, you do have prima facie evidence that your husband is not cheating--he's never done if before, he promised not to, there's a lot of stigma on it, and it would be a serious, hurtful act that decent people would avoid. This is the sort of case where Carlo is pushing to call this a "reasoned belief" and get away from the F word altogether.

But as the evidence mounts that your husband is cheating on you--he gets mysterious phone calls, he goes out for late night meetings, he's gone on long weekends out of town, he's emotionally detached, and your friends tell you they saw him sneaking around--there comes a time when continuing to have faith in him is foolish and irrational. Even the devout believer would have to agree that were there not a God, then all of the philosophical contortions they've been going through to try to preserve some room for faith in God will make them look a bit desperate.


Anonymous said...

A few comments for McCormick:

S has faith in R means that S has entered into a relationship with R where S trusts, commits, and dedicates him or herself to R. Smith trusts his girlfriend, believes in her, expects the best of her, and is optimistic concerning her behavior.

Almost. I also think that faith implies some sort of habit or regular course of action. It's not just that I have a certain mindset with respect to my girlfriend; my faith (fidelity, which means simply 'faithfulness') in her means that I behave a certain way, at least as far as it concerns her. If we have a 'relationship of faith'--corny though it may sound--we bear the cognitive relationship to each other you described above and do certain things and avoid doing certain things. This is why an action, like cheating, is taken to deny the faithfulness of the one who cheats.

So even on this account of faith, my original point holds that to have faith that X is true is to believe X despite a lack of evidence or contrary evidence.

You think so? I think I have good reason to trust my girlfriend and believe that she's not cheating on me right now, even though I can't really know for sure (at the moment, at least). Maybe your experience differs, but I find that my tendency to trust people usually corresponds to how well they've demonstrated trustworthiness in the past. More generally, my beliefs about what people would do are based on my personal knowledge of them, sometimes in such a way that I feel completely confident in stating that someone would or wouldn't do something. For instance, I'm entirely sure that my dad isn't willfully attending a metal concert right now, even though I have no specific or explicit evidence for that claim. Still, I don't think this constitutes an 'evidential gap.' My personal knowledge of and experience with my dad is evidence--grounds for believing--that he wouldn't willfully attend a metal concert. So it is with a significant other or anyone known closely, and I think of religious faith the same way: by no means is it without justification, but since it's a sort of relationship and so incorporates trust, there are occasions on which one may believe something on the basis of one's personal knowledge of God rather than any distinct and specific evidence (much less the sort of evidence communicable to others).

The other point to note is that even on this account of faith, it fails to be prescriptive of belief and impose an epistemic duty to believe.

Yes, this is quite true, and I don't think a thoughtful religious person would construct an argument for why you should convert based on the fact that he or she has faith. The faith that exists between me and my girlfriend is in itself no reason for you to take up the same sort of faith in your relationship to her (and in this case, I wouldn't want you to). Then again, there is a sense in which comments about how faithful my friend is might be taken as recommendation of that friend to you. I see that it sounds strange to put it that way--we don't 'recommend' friendships--but what I'm trying to say is that the faithfulness of my friend might provide some amount of inclination for you two to be friends as well. And you're absolutely right: this is in no way prescriptive. My 'recommendation' doesn't mean you have to befriend my friend at all. But for what it's worth, it might be some reason, some motivation to pursue that friendship if you want. Likewise, the theist's (alleged) relationship with God doesn't entail that you must seek the same relationship, although the theist would probably recommend that you do. (If only proselytizing were always on the level of recommendation!)

Carlo said...

Well I think there has definitely been some different takes on the term "faith". I however still seem very confused about its nature. It appears that "faith" either expresses a claim or an attitude. The former entails things to be counted against it and the latter does not. For example, if a person has faith in their god they cannot be saying god exist Because to do this they actually need to be accepting in the possibility of god not existing - either it is true god exist or false.The mere intention of an utterance of a claim, belief etc aims to weigh against what isn't - what doesn't exist or is false. Yet if faith cannot have anything to count against it then it appears to be not saying really anything descriptive and rather expressing a disposition - an altitude or a fondness for x. So here lies my confusion still about the term "faith".

Either faith expresses a disposition or a proposition but neither both.

If you accept evidence against your alleged article of "faith' then you are probably confused about the use of the term. I can't be that when people invoke the word "faith" they are expressing some super confident belief they have because this then could easily have reasons. We do this all the time when we write papers or argue a position. We have a confident belief which we are passionate about. Yet we also are willing to accept it can be wrong. This account of faith can't work.

Also, you can't reject the theist faith in god and have faith that your favorite football team will win the super bowl or that your girlfriend won't cheat on you. Because if you do you either have an inconsistent belief system or you really mean to express a strong belief in x rather than have faith in it( a desire for x).

But nonetheless take your pick and do what you may.

David Corner said...

Just a brief comment here. Matt Evpak says:

A religion, a faith, is practiced just as much as it is believed, and 'faith' is the term used to signify this unification of thought and action. It's a relationship to God, a fidelity, not merely an assent to a claim.

This is nicely put- and very much in the spirit of Wittgenstein. Critics of religious faith like to paint it in fairly simple terms, as if it were nothing more than an unjustified assent to some proposition or another. This fails to recognize the connection beween faith and religious practice. The notion of faith is much more complex than its critics tend to make it.

Now it is surely true, as Matt McCormick says, that religious practice is connected with various beliefs. Mr. Evpak seems to concede as much. Thus for example, theistic religious faith is bound up with something we call 'belief in God.'

But it seems to me that we are generally too quick to suppose that we know what it means to believe in God. And we need to get this right, because the question of what sort of justification we need for this belief- if we need any at all- depends on what sort of belief we take belief in God to represent. If, for example, believing in God is like believing in a theoretical entity like the Higgs Boson, the requirements for a rational belief in God will mirror the requirements for a rational belief in the Higgs. I am not optimistic about the prospects for theism if this is the case.

Here is where the concept of a practice can be particularly helpful. For I think we owe it to the theist to ask what belief in God amounts to in the context of a religious practice. This is to observe the connection between thought and action to which Mr. Evpak points.

Matt McCormick said...

These are all welcome and interesting points that expand on my admittedly simple definition of faith. I really appreciate so many people taking the time to think about and respond to my arguments.

The original question was: to what extent can one person’s faith as a description of their belief in God be a challenge to the reasonableness of another person’s non-belief. My conclusion was that on the account of faith that I am considering (and I still contend that it applies more closely to a wider range of cases than the alternative accounts that have been suggested) Smith’s faith that p presents no challenge to the reasonableness of Jones’ belief that not p. Ordinarily, if I don’t believe something and Smith does believe it, that fact alone is often prima facie counterevidence for me that my belief could be unreasonable. “How come he believes? Am I wrong? I wonder what led him to believe it? Maybe there’s something that I missed.” And so on. But what it looks like is that if Smith’s belief is had by faith, then that possibility of counterevidence goes away.

We can discuss the question of what sort of context of religious practice faith ought to be best understood in, and Wittgenstein, and all that. But I don’t detect any line of argument here that challenges the reasonableness of non-belief. Whatever else it might be, faith just isn’t epistemically prescriptive. And I can't see how any of these points about the additional facets of faith as a practice suggest anything different. Am I missing something?


David Corner said...

Something else comes to mind as I think of Matt Evpak's analogy between faith in the context of theism, and a personal relationship.

Norman Malcolm once compared the blossoming of religious faith to falling in love.

Hardly an epistemic exercise...

David Corner said...


I agree with you that no account of faith that has been given here suggests any epistemic duty to believe in God. I think, as usual, you are right on here. However, there are a couple of comments you make along the way that seem to invite a dispute on the nature of faith, and I confess that I bit on this one because the topic interests me:

The jurors, if they are reasonable people, should convict him on the basis of the evidence. If they don’t, they’re being irrational or unreasonable, and they’re failing to fulfill their epistemic (and moral) duties.

This is true of course, but I wonder if this case is analogous to fideism. And- implicit in the analogy is the suggestion that fideists are failing to fulfill their epistemic duty. Also:

By invoking faith, they have already embarrassed and made a mockery of themselves more than any thoughtful reasoned rebuttal could accomplish.

Both comments seems to invite a discussion on the respectability of faith- and some of the responses here on the nature of faith seem relevant to this issue.

Unknown said...

I feel an important distinction needs to be made here between “faith” and “trust” (or as one has put it “reasonable belief”). Faith is not something we have in someone who we have a personal acquaintance with. Once a personal acquaintance is established, the classification turns from faith to trust. E.g., I trust my friend Jason that he will do “so-and-so”. I have trust in Jason because in the past he has done “such-and-such” to gain my trust.

So for Matt Evpak, it is wrong to equate faith in your girlfriend (a clearly physical, conscious being you’re acquainted with) with religious faith in God (whatever you many want to define him as but a clearly non-physical being with whom it is impossible to have “true” acquaintance with). You don’t have “faith” in your girlfriend, rather “trust”; and as the saying goes, “trust is earned.” Also, when you state that you’d “be hard pressed to provide rational or propositional support” for your faith (now trust) in your significant other is, in my view, plainly false. If you look through your memory banks, I am sure you can come up with events in time that offer evidence in support of trusting her. It is hard for me to believe that you blindly believe, as in the case with religious faith, that your girlfriend is someone to trust. If so, seems like a disaster waiting to happen, that is, if she is devious. ;)

With regards to McCormick’s example: One doesn’t have “faith” that his girlfriend won’t cheat, rather, it is through previous interactions and a personal acquaintance that you “trust” that she won’t cheat. I feel this is a very necessary distinction; and as a result, any parallel’s with faith and what I have asserted (and also Jon) as trust, fail.

So, your “Smith parallel” fails because it is not faith she has, rather trust. Although in this particular example, it was wrong for her to put so much trust in him, he probably deceived her and was putting on a front the whole time… men are such pigs…

Back to Matt Evpak: “I think I have good reason to trust my girlfriend and believe that she's not cheating on me right now, even though I can't really know for sure.” You are seemingly equating trust and faith which is a problem if we wish to maintain clarity. What you’re clearly stating in this section is trust in your girlfriend, not faith. And consequently, you cannot arrive at trust by mere faith, just more faith. In other words, trust and faith are mutually exclusive terms. So when you say that faith is “a sort of relationship and so incorporates trust,” is, again, plainly false. But, I do agree that, in a Christian sense, faith is a relationship or so I am told; but it is hard for me to tell, since I am also told I cannot accurately define or understand faith since I haven’t got “it.” Sucks for me, going to hell along with McCormick.

“Likewise, the theist's (alleged) relationship with God doesn't entail that you must seek the same relationship, although the theist would probably recommend that you do. (If only proselytizing were always on the level of recommendation!)”

According to Kierkegaard, this would be considered a bad Christian. Seeking “the same relationship” seems to entail a kind of herd mentality, this makes Kierkegaard sad. I believe sad is a proper philosophical
classification ;)

David Corner:
“For I think we owe it to the theist to ask what belief in God amounts to in the context of a religious practice.”

I believe there is trouble here, unless you merely ask those who refer to themselves as “theists” and are in academia, or, at the very least, in high authority in religious communities. Because other than those particular folk, I hold that there is no commonality in what belief in God amounts to. A similar belief to this is expressed by Russell: “The word does not have quite such a full-blooded meaning now as it had in the times of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. In those days, if a man said that he was a Christian it was known what he meant. You accepted a whole collection of creeds which were set out with great precision, and every single syllable of those creeds you believed with the whole strength of your convictions.” Of course, replace Russell’s particular (being a christian) with the more universal, and you get the point.

“Am I missing something?”
Yes and No. In the overall scheme of things, I believe you are correct, faith “isn’t epistemically prescriptive.” But that is faith for you. If you try to understand it otherwise you’ll spend a lot of time talking nonsense (that makes Wittgenstein sad; 3.24, 4.003,...). To realize faith is to seek its definition not by philosophical rigor, rather though religious minds, that is, talking with the lay-religious mind, and reading some works by religious authors, in my case, and I focus on Christianity, C.S. Lewis and Kierkegaard (main focus on the problem of “becoming a Christian”) help.

“Norman Malcolm once compared the blossoming of religious faith to falling in love.”
Well since “God is love”( 1 John 4:8) that seems reasonable.

Jon said...

To Andrewberg:Your specific definition of trust is clearly wrong, but I will allow some reason to believe into some definitions of trust, but clearly not all definitions are the same (think of a spectrum from pure white to pure black) Here is some definitions: Unabridged (v 1.1) - Cite This Source - Share This
trust /trʌst/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[truhst] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation,
–noun 1. reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
2. confident expectation of something; hope.
3. confidence in the certainty of future payment for property or goods received; credit: to sell merchandise on trust.
4. a person on whom or thing on which one relies: God is my trust.
5. the condition of one to whom something has been entrusted.
6. the obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed: a position of trust.
7. charge, custody, or care: to leave valuables in someone's trust.
8. something committed or entrusted to one's care for use or safekeeping, as an office, duty, or the like; responsibility; charge.
9. Law. a. a fiduciary relationship in which one person (the trustee) holds the title to property (the trust estate or trust property) for the benefit of another (the beneficiary).
b. the property or funds so held.

10. Commerce. a. an illegal combination of industrial or commercial companies in which the stock of the constituent companies is controlled by a central board of trustees, thus making it possible to manage the companies so as to minimize production costs, control prices, eliminate competition, etc.
b. any large industrial or commercial corporation or combination having a monopolistic or semimonopolistic control over the production of some commodity or service.

11. Archaic. reliability.
–adjective 12. Law. of or pertaining to trusts or a trust.
–verb (used without object) 13. to rely upon or place confidence in someone or something (usually fol. by in or to): to trust in another's honesty; trusting to luck.
14. to have confidence; hope: Things work out if one only trusts.
15. to sell merchandise on credit.
–verb (used with object) 16. to have trust or confidence in; rely or depend on.
17. to believe.
18. to expect confidently; hope (usually fol. by a clause or infinitive as object): trusting the job would soon be finished; trusting to find oil on the land.
19. to commit or consign with trust or confidence.
20. to permit to remain or go somewhere or to do something without fear of consequences: He does not trust his children out of his sight.
21. to invest with a trust; entrust with something.
22. to give credit to (a person) for goods, services, etc., supplied: Will you trust us till payday?
—Verb phrase23. trust to, to rely on; trust: Never trust to luck!
—Idiom24. in trust, in the position of being left in the care or guardianship of another: She left money to her uncle to keep in trust for her children.


[Origin: 1175–1225; (n.) ME < ON traust trust (c. G Trost comfort); (v.) ME trusten < ON treysta, deriv. of traust]

—Related forms
trust·a·ble, adjective
trust·a·bil·i·ty, noun
truster, noun

—Synonyms 1. certainty, belief, faith. Trust, assurance, confidence imply a feeling of security. Trust implies instinctive unquestioning belief in and reliance upon something: to have trust in one's parents. Confidence implies conscious trust because of good reasons, definite evidence, or past experience: to have confidence in the outcome of events. Assurance implies absolute confidence and certainty: to feel an assurance of victory. 8. commitment, commission. 17. credit. 19. entrust. Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

Jon said...

According to the dictionary then, faith and trust are synonymous. Therefore a theory of faith equates to a theory of trust. To say: "I have trust in this scientific theory" is the same as "I have faith in this scientific theory". When someone say that they "gain more and more confidence in a scientific theory when more and more evidence is gathered" you can supplant faith and trust for the word confidence here. Whether faith, trust, or confidence is earned/justified is another matter. Here are some definitions for "faith" and "confidence": Unabridged (v 1.1) -
–noun 1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another's ability.
2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
5. a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
6. the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.: Failure to appear would be breaking faith.
7. the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one's promise, oath, allegiance, etc.: He was the only one who proved his faith during our recent troubles.
8. Christian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved. Unabridged (v 1.1) - Cite This Source - Share This
con·fi·dence /ˈkɒnfɪdəns/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[kon-fi-duhns] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–noun 1. full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing: We have every confidence in their ability to succeed.
2. belief in oneself and one's powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance: His lack of confidence defeated him.
3. certitude; assurance: He described the situation with such confidence that the audience believed him completely.
4. a confidential communication: to exchange confidences.
5. (esp. in European politics) the wish to retain an incumbent government in office, as shown by a vote in a particular issue: a vote of confidence.
6. presumption; impudence: Her disdainful look crushed the confidence of the brash young man.
7. Archaic. something that gives confidence; ground of trust.
—Idiom8. in confidence, as a secret or private matter, not to be divulged or communicated to others; with belief in a person's sense of discretion: I told him in confidence.
—Synonyms 1. faith, reliance, dependence. See trust. 2. Confidence, assurance both imply a faith in oneself. Confidence may imply trust in oneself or arrogant self-conceit. Assurance implies even more sureness of oneself; this may be shown as undisturbed calm or as offensive boastfulness.
—Antonyms 1. mistrust.

Anonymous said...

People who argue from faith remind me of people who decry the woes of government by declaring that the system does not work, but then turn out to be the very same people who never vote. Worse, however, are the people who do vote but have failed in their epistemic duty to investigate the issues and parties involved in implementing and directing the government, yet vote from a platform of ignorance and blind emotion. In this vein, believers who fail to investigate the basis of their belief but cast their votes (literally and figuratively) also fail in their epistemic duty and live their lives from behind a veil of ignorance and blind emotion, and in the same manner are a danger to the body of society they participate in. Faith is reminiscent of betting your neighbor's money on a spin of the roulette wheel when it is tied to decision making that is not entirely within one's own risk to take. Because it is difficult for people - any person - to separate faith in such a sterile manner, we run the risk of even the best informed faithful misrepresenting a sound epistemic choice. This may be something that can never be erased from public (or private) decision making, it may not even be an entirely good thing (emotions do motivate us in ways that even good reasons fail to), perhaps the best we can hope for is an awareness of our tendencies and a higher value placed on epistemic duty. Anyone acting from faith needs to come clean and drop any pretense of having rational reasons, or evidence, so that everyone else can evaluate their actions accurately.

Anonymous said...

Matthew Gaughen (192) I have faith that i will pass this class.

i think that to discount things simply because the avalible evidence indicates a contradictory outcome compleatly subtracts the human element in all disisions. people tend to have "faith" for things that have no definate outcome. that is, you probably wont hear someone say "i have faith that 2+2=4" that is not the sort of thing that one would have a faithfull attitude towards. to refer to you sports example, to have faith that one's team will win despite long odds is not a fallacy of thought, but rather an opptimistic faith for their team. basically what can be said is "that's why they play the game".

faith, as far as i can tell, is belief in that which we are not sure of. you dont have faith in facts, you have faith in unknows. so atheist need not fight faith, for they believe that they have facts about the question of god.

Rikertron said...


I recently wrote about this idea that's cropping up in your comments here, about the difference between 'faith' and 'blind faith'

My thoughts on faith and Faith

Just throwing my $.02 into the pot :)

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Anonymous said...

"When one has faith that something is true, they believe it despite inadequate or contrary evidence. "

This is exactly why atheists practice faith in their non scientific beliefs. In this regard they are no different than their God fearing brothers.

It's increasingly clear that this list of 100 reason for being an atheist isn't actually about supporting reasons.

Tom said...

The general objection that Matt Evpak raises, I think, is that MM is being uncharitable in his characterization of what faith is. That is, faith is not merely belief without evidence; faith involves a set of practices and actions and also a certain attitude or orientation towards god, and moreover that these are relevant things.

MM's response seems to be this: sure, faith might involve all these aspects, but I am looking at faith only insofar as it is used as a justification for belief in God. While the word faith may mean a variety of things involving practices, such as when someone says "Lord Jesus give me faith," or "You're lacking in faith, Jim...God will show you the way," I think MM is looking at faith in a particular context of use: namely when someone defends his/her belief by saying: "Belief in God is a matter of faith."

Matt Evpak also presents a different objection: having faith in x (such as having faith that my wife isn't cheating on me) does not imply that I am unjustified in believing in x. I may have other reasons for thinking that my wife isn't cheating on me, such as past behaviors, and so on. By analogy, having faith that "God exists" is does not mean I am unjustified in believing God exists.

One reply might be this: It may be true that I may have other reasons for believing in x. But if so, then why not present them? The faith card is used when we're out of reasons to justify our behavior.

Another reply, which I think works better is this: Ok, I grant you that having faith in x does not imply that I am unjustified in believing in x. I may have other reasons believing x. However, I am not justified in believing in x simply in virtue of having faith in x, or standing in a relationship of faith with x.

Perhaps some confusion can be settled by looking at the different ways in which "faith" appears in language, for there seems to be more than one sense. And of course, spell each out.

I also think that in the context of this argument, faith is best understood as "I have faith THAT x, where x is a proposition." This serves to expose a disanalogy: when I say that I have faith THAT my girlfriend isn't cheating on me, I think I will probably be able to provide some reasons for thinking x. However, when we say I have faith THAT God exists, I am not so sure I can provide reasons for thinking x (that God exists), given that I have earlier said that belief is a matter of faith.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks for the input, Tom. It's been a while since this post, but it's still really important.

I think you've got me right on most counts. But I'll still maintain that having faith that X (as you say, where X is a proposition) DOES amount to S is unjustified in believing X. That is, to have faith, as I see it, is to believe something despite insufficient or contrary evidence that otherwise would unjustify the belief. As you say, if S has reasons sufficient to justify P, then there's no need to invoke faith, and S needs to give them. Otherwise there's no need for faith, and no room for it. No one would continue to say that they have faith that the Lakers will win the championships, for instance, after they have won every game leading up to them and the other team has lost all of its best players. That's a situation where the evidence justifies P and it wouldn't make sense to invoke faith.

I appreciate the analogy to the faithful wife or husband, but this is brought up too often with God without any serious analysis. Clearly, people have real, empirical, concrete evidence to support them when they believe that their spouses will not cheat. God's an invisible, intangible, untestable, un-experiencable being from the start. The entire belief is frequently based on faith. That's just not like what I believe about my wife's fidelity. A better analogy would be, I have faith that the invisible elves that I have never seen and have no evidence of existing still love me and protect me, even though I have got cancer.