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

Goeff has an interesting reply to my post about how faith poisons religion.  In that post I talked about how religion is a vehicle for many people to get many good things.  Then I put the blame on faith for making it so religion does an inadequate job of providing those goods the best it can and so that sometimes faith-driven religion leads to sabotaging the goods it aims at.

Part of this discussion meant pointing out that many things now associated with religion can be salvaged for good if only they stop being poisoned by faith.  Geoff though wants to know why I don’t make any room for salvaging faith itself also:

I have to admit that I didn’t get through the entire piece. A former Baptist
churchgoer in my youth, I witnessed the pitfalls of faith-based devotion to
antiquated morals first-hand (and I continue to note their prevalence today). The arguments you pose seemed, in part, a reiteration of things I’ve
understood–if not expressly stated–so I found myself longing for some counter argument FOR faith.

I’ve since done away with religion, but I, like you, believe that there are
undeniably positive things about it; faith, in my opinion, being one of them.
To this day, I credit my experience in Christianity for instilling a faithful,
optimistic quality to my life. I glanced through the titles to your series on
‘Disambiguating Faith’ hoping to find a more optimistic view of faith–maybe one that explains how it can be valuable to those without religion, rather than all the ones that seem to demonstrate how damaging it is to religion.

One thing to clarify about my Disambiguating Faith series is that if you read through the titles, you will see that I defend the value of many things people call faith. To repeat, with links to articles distinguishing things confused for faith from faith, a list I gave in the following post: I talk about the proper understanding of the value of “rationally justified confidence, proper trust, proper loyalty, holding probable beliefs which nonetheless have some uncertaintyeducated guessinggut feelings, epiphanies,  brainstorming, hypothesizing, counter-intuitive reasoning, [and] trusting one’s subconsciously formed intuitions“.

I also could add that self-confidence and optimism or a number of other good things that people regularly call faith are great things worth encouraging.

The key issue to me is that none of these things are good when having them involves a will to believe what one perceives to be undersupported or outright undermined by evidence.  This is the distinct thing that faith demarcates that is not covered by the other good words for good things.  I would never suggest anyone should abandon all those other good things.

What I am trying to make clear in post after post is

(1) that when those other good things are mixed up with willfully believing more strongly than the evidence warrants or believing against what the evidence indicates, then those otherwise things are corrupted

(2) just because these other good things are sometimes called faith, we cannot let people equivocate and have us think that therefore willfully believing more strongly than evidence warrants or willfully believing despite refutation are themselves acceptable (either rationally or ethically)

In other words, if the word faith is allowed to ambiguously cover all the good things I listed above (and more) then that hides the morally and rationally crucial distinction.  If the same word is used for the good and for the bad, then people are not adequately instructed about the clearly isolatable vice of faith and so they can confuse instances of the vice faith for just more instances of the virtuous things (wrongly and misleadingly) also referred to as faith.

I want to make clear, the target “faith” is not any of those good things, it is this specific bad thing.  Others want to keep things ambiguous and say, “well if you want optimism, beliefs which are only probable, loyalty, trust, deference to experts, then you have to accept that faith is legitimate and that means accepting that it is good to have beliefs stronger than evidence warrants or beliefs which disregard counter-evidence”.

I want to say “No, I can have all those good things and still reject willful belief that disregards evidence because those good things, properly understood and practiced, are completely separable and distinguishable from that kind of faith-based believing.”  And the most decisive way to send that message that is to clearly as possible specify that faith is a word only for this specific intellectual and moral vice and not a word for the various intellectual and moral virtues which it is misleadingly lumped in with.

All that said, I do think there is at least one exception to my ban on faith (defined as I define it.  You can read about that in this post: “Disambiguating Faith: Faith As Admirable Infinite Commitment For Finite Reasons”.

Your Thoughts?


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

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

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

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Why I Define Faith Philosophically As Inherently Irrational and Immoral
Texas GOP Comes Out Against Critical Thinking and "Challenging Students' Fixed Beliefs"
How Faith Theoretically Makes People Less Likely To Be Trustworthy
How I Deconverted, I Became A Christian Relativist
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.