Disambiguating Faith: Implicit Faith

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.

Your Thoughts?

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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.

Faith in a Comprehensive Nutshell

 

How Faith Poisons Religion

 

What About The Good Things People Call “Faith”? (Or “Why I Take Such A Strong Semantic Stand Against The Word Faith”)

 

How Religious Beliefs Become Specifically *Faith* Beliefs

 

Faith There’s A God vs. Faith In God

Trustworthiness, Loyalty, And Honesty

Faith As Loyally Trusting Those Insufficiently Proven To Be Trustworthy

Faith As Tradition

Blind Faith: How Faith Traditions Turn Trust Without Warrant Into A Test Of Loyalty

Faith As Tradition’s Advocate And Enforcer, Which Actively Opposes Merely Provisional Forms Of Trust

The Threatening Abomination Of The Faithless

Rational Beliefs, Rational Actions, And When It Is Rational To Act On What You Don’t Think Is True

Faith As Guessing

Are True Gut Feelings And Epiphanies Beliefs Justified By Faith?

Faith Is Neither Brainstorming, Hypothesizing, Nor Simply Reasoning Counter-Intuitively

Faith In The Sub-, Pre-, Or Un-conscious

Can Rationality Overcome Faith?

Faith As A Form Of Rationalization Unique To Religion

Faith As Deliberate Commitment To Rationalization

Heart Over Reason

Faith As Corruption Of Children’s Intellectual Judgment

Faith As Subjectivity Which Claims Objectivity

Faith Is Preconditioned By Doubt, But Precludes Serious Doubting

Soul Searching With Clergy Guy

Faith As Admirable Infinite Commitment For Finite Reasons

Maximal Self-Realization In Self-Obliteration: The Existential Paradox of Heroic Self-Sacrifice

How A Lack Of Belief In God May Differ From Various Kinds Of Beliefs That Gods Do Not Exist

Why Faith Is Unethical (Or “In Defense Of The Ethical Obligation To Always Proportion Belief To Evidence”

Not All Beliefs Held Without Certainty Are Faith Beliefs

Defending My Definition Of Faith As “Belief Or Trust Beyond Rational Warrant”

Implicit Faith

Agnostics Or Apistics?

The Evidence-Impervious Agnostic Theists

Faith Which Exploits Infinitesimal Probabilities As Openings For Strong Affirmations

Why You Cannot Prove Inductive Reasoning Is Faith-Based Reasoning But Instead Only Assert That By Faith

How Just Opposing Faith, In Principle, Means You Actually Don’t Have Faith, In Practice

Naturalism, Materialism, Empiricism, And Wrong, Weak, And Unsupported Beliefs Are All Not Necessarily Faith Positions

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Don

    Very interesting post. I had a dear friend really question me tonight at dinner. As smart as she is (reads 100+ books a year) and as much a proponent of evolution and science as she is, she can’t give up her faith because she wants to see her two sons (both passed) in Heaven. She made a decision many years ago to “believe that Jesus was who he said he was” and that settled her faith issue. To her, the rest is irrelevant.

    She got around to asking me if I thought I would one day see my Mon and Dad who have died. I told her I did not expect to see them or anyone else because they are dead and i will be dead. She later apologized for asking me that.

    She “believes” because she wants to believe and to see her to sons and grandmother in Heaven. I really think she would soon die of a broken heart if she gave up that belief.

  • Daniel Fincke

    A great and extremely familiar example that makes the point that there really are religious people who deliberately choose to believe what they do not think they have warrant for, simply out of hope for something unrealistic. It’s not a caricature of religious belief. It’s an extremely common, and possibly even constitutive, feature.

    Best wishes to your friend, the grief of losing two children must be indescribably awful.


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