In last night’s installment of the “Disambiguating Faith” series, I talked about the difference between, on the one hand, volitionally choosing to believe something that is either not rationally warranted or which is positively refuted by the available evidence, and, on the other hand, simply thinking one has rational warrant for one’s belief and yet nonetheless being wrong about the adequacy of one’s actual justification.
I made the distinction that often religious believers, for example, may simply believe things which are wrong, but which they think they have sufficient reasons for accepting. In these cases, being wrong about criteria for justification is not sufficient to make the belief a “faith belief”.
I argued that a volitional component that willfully refuses to let go of, or even genuinely suspend, a belief that is under supported or undermined is necessary for the belief to be a faith belief. Or there must be a volitional commitment to believe and commit one’s life more strongly than one’s evidence warrants.
Nonetheless, there are circumstances in which I do think we should say that even without an explicit, admitted will that openly embraces belief that goes either beyond or against rational warrant, some people still manifest a faith-based attitude nonetheless.
People do not need an explicit theory of epistemology that belief without sufficient warrant is good in order implicitly to operate according to such a principle. People do not need to explicitly admit that they put loyalty or group conformity and group acceptance over truth in deciding what to believe. They do not need to admit that they choose beliefs in a given matter based on what strikes them as comforting more than based on what is true.
If functionally, their behavior reveals these attitudes then we can ascribe to them an implicit vice of faith by which their will automatically and with no conscious deliberation necessary defers to considerations of tradition, loyalty, conformity, insufficiently questioning trust, and/or pursuit of comfort and hope when coming to beliefs. This kind of habitual form of volitional faith is not deliberate, explicit, or maybe in some cases even at all conscious or even something that the person who has it would confess to if accused of it.
Nonetheless, it is functionally as much a form of faith as any other. Sometimes it may be the real motivation of an apparent rationalist religious person who is outwardly offering reasons for her belief, but for whom, ultimately, there is no real, honest debate happening because of implicit allegiances which have thoroughly prejudiced her.
And even in the cases of many relatively rationalist religious people who are persuaded of their arguments, there may be either an explicit or merely implicit willingness within to maintain those beliefs even if they become dissuaded in the future. In other words, there might be people who are implicitly faithful and who just happen to be convinced of evidence that makes them think faith is not entirely necessary.
But, nonetheless, should the evidence (or their perception of what it indicates) change, they would still not hesitate to remain faithful. Such a structure of allegiances and priorities in the will, whether explicit or implicit, indicates, I think, that despite the fact that they presently think they have rational evidence for their beliefs, such people are not really principally committed to rationalistic principles. Their evidence is just a bonus to them, they would believe in either case, since they do not have a primary loyalty to truth or to an ethics of belief that requires proportioning belief to evidence.
Of course, there can be another brand of implicitly faithful person. This could be someone who implicitly mixes allegiances, hopes, habits of deference to claimed religious authorities, etc. in their processes of belief formation, but who, if made aware that this was what she was doing, would stop doing it. In other words, sometimes implicit faith stems from unstated value priorities and sometimes it stems from unreflective habits inconsistent with one’s actual value priorities.
So, even though faith is most characteristically volitional in nature, this volition can sometimes be only implicitly operative and not embraced consciously. And certain habits can function in such a way as to combine all the other aspects of faith-based thinking without the volition even subconsciously and be a de facto, functional form of faithfulness as a result.
In some cases, if these implicit attitudes and behaviors came to consciousness it would cause a cognitive dissonance with one’s more important value priorities and self-understanding. In those cases someone may abandon implicit faith for a more rationalistic kind (at least to her mind, a more successfully rationalistic one) and in others it may lead her to abandon faith altogether. In yet other cases, there may be no cognitive dissonance but happy, principled embrace of the implicit faith behaviors as explicitly good and worth doing on purpose.
When rationalistic atheists are accused of having faith it is at least wrong in all cases I have seen that the atheist in question is explicitly endorsing choosing to believe what is not rationally warranted or what is counter-indicated by evidence. In other words, atheists seemingly unilaterally reject principled faith and, usually, explicitly endorse an opposite principle that one only ever believe proportionate to one’s evidence for a proposition’s truth.
If these atheists have faith at all, it is only implicit, accidental, unavowed faith which if the atheist was convinced was present would cause her cognitive dissonance and, likely, to abandon that faith belief.
This means that even if atheists are susceptible to the same moral and cognitive habits of faith that religious people are, that at least those atheists do not explicitly endorse such habits as good and praiseworthy (as the religious routinelydo) but instead only do so by accident and would be forced to correct their faith-based believing behavior if they only they could be convinced that they are indeed guilty of it.
For more on faith, read any or all posts in my “Disambiguating Faith” series (listed below) which strike you as interesting or whose titles indicate they might answer your own questions, concerns, or objections having read the post above. It is unnecessary to read all the posts below to understand any given one. They are written to each stand on their own but also contribute to a long sustained argument if read all together.