What I Think About Faith And Religion

Yesterday, I wrote a post to orient readers to my views on how values can be matters of fact. This afternoon I wrote 6 more such posts, delineating my positions on a number of other key topics which can serve as introductions and reference guides (with links) to my thinking. They are on the topics of the relationships between philosophy, science, and faith, the nature of my atheism and my views on the debates about gods’ existences, my views on how to relate to liberal and moderate religious people, my views on the importance of atheist activism, and my defense of actively trying to persuade people of atheism.  Below is a brief clarification about my opposition to faith and optimism about the possibilities for faithless religion and a list of posts in my “Disambiguating Faith” series which debunks one by one numerous good things which are equivocated with “faith” when apologists try to defend it. They try to get you to agree that mental or social habit x is good and sometimes called “faith”, so therefore all the other things called faith are also analogously good. I painstakingly throughout the series address each of these equivocations as I come across them.

Now, on with the most basic clarifications:

I am anti-faith.

I define faith specifically and narrowly as the willful explicit or implicit willingness to believe propositions that the believer perceives to be either unsupported by scientific, historical and/or philosophical evidence and argumentation or has good reason to suspect are undermined by such evidence and argumentation. I think this is a form of intellectual vice. When one’s faith-based beliefs and faith-based practices are chosen out of deference to an authority who offers no independently verifiable reasons or evidence, this is a deeply irresponsible authoritarianism of thought and practice. Religions, insofar as they cultivate and depend upon such irrationalistic and anti-rationalistic vices are authoritarian institutions which threaten to stagnate or outright regress moral and intellectual progress.

Faith poisons religion but I hold out hope for non-faith-based religiosity.

“Religion” is a word for many interrelated but distinguishable and separable practices. Rituals, myths, symbols, communal identities, narratives about meaning, discussion of ethics, traditions, disciplines for personal cultivation, meditations, festivals, songs, worship, prayer, gods, metaphysical speculation, and faith are just some of the many things it encompasses. Many of these things could be put to good use and in service of truths about ethics, truths about reality, truths about objective attainment of meaning and fulfillment, truths about how to reach rich mental states people call “spiritual”.

But religions are often dragged down by faith—the commitment to believing what is not likely to be true at all. Purified of faith and purified of the deference to authoritarianism which it inculcates and reinforces in people, I hope that rationalists will be able to develop open-ended pluralities of religions through which people can gain the benefits of traditions and rituals and communities built around ethics, meaning, and (rationally understood) “spiritual” practices. I think there are empirical and philosophically robust, truth-based narratives about all these things that can be advanced and there can be rituals through which the young learn not the ossifying and surpassed values of primitive peoples but the values of autonomy, flourishing, the interconnectedness of all people, etc.

For my views on how to constructively approach religion and spirituality beyond faith, see my posts True Religion?,  Towards Atheistic Religions (Or Away From Them, Depending On How YouOn Defending True Spirituality And Taking The Word Back From Spiritually Bankrupt FundamentalismI Am Interviewed About My Personal (Atheistic) Religiosity/Spirituality, and Is It A Waste Of Time For Atheists To Care About Spirituality?

For more on faith, read any post in my “Disambiguating Faith” series.  It is unnecessary to read all its posts to understand any given one.

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

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”)

Your Thoughts?

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.

  • roggg

    Interesting. By your definition though, it is impossible to take on faith a position that is supported by evidence even if one is ignorant of the evidence. Since evolution is supported, any belief in evolution is necessarily not faith based. Doesn’t that make faith a property of the concept being believed rather than the believer?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Great catch, roggg, no, I should have specified that it is a willful decision to believe what you perceive to be unsupported by evidence. I was letting the “willfulness” part of the definition indicate that all by itself, but I should not have. Faith is a property of the way a belief is held, not the content of the belief itself.You could hold an actually true belief by faith if you are confused and think the evidence is against it. And you could hold a false belief without having faith in it if you misperceive the truth and what the evidence is.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      I just altered the definition to correct for this misleading implication I gave. Thanks a bunch!

  • roggg

    I figured this was the case but you never know. I tend to read these sorts of things with a pedantic eye. Glad to have helped.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      feel free, it’s not pedantic when it’s philosophy! ;)

  • Aspect Sign

    Taking your definition of faith, I quite like what you say here. I find your willingness to not throw out the baby,tub and plumbing with the bathwater refreshing when it comes to the content that falls under the rubric of religion as it is often otherwise among atheists.

    But as to your definition of faith, while recognizing the value of a narrow definition in creating clarity, I can’t help but feel that with such a widely used term you have expunged an awful lot of meaning and usage, and while your definition is useful and certainly relevant, I’m not sure how central and productive it is.

    I suppose I’ve always taken the term faith as both very context sensitive (not unlike dharma) and more centrally speaking to the relationship to and confidence in a belief rather than to its foundation. The problem lying not in faith but in its misapplication and misuse in relation to unsupportable and groundless belief and the creation of closed self referential systems of faith/belief.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Thanks Aspect,

      I think it is important for clarity’s sake to fight over the word, hard as it is. The reason is we need a technical, specific target. If we clearly and loudly and often make clear, “we reject faith in this sense”, then when people refer to the myriad of other things I have painstakingly distinguished from faith in the last two years, we don’t have to say “well, faith is good but just not when you want it for religion” which strikes people as arbitrary.

      And, most importantly, it is an attempt to clarify so that the equivocation thinking does not happen in believers where they think, or attempt to argue to atheists, if trust is good then religious faith is good or if following gut instincts is good then faith is good or if deference to expert authority is good then faith is good, etc. Faith must be roped off explicitly from all those things or the equivocation continues.

  • drlake

    It sounds like you are a fan of what Thomas Jefferson did when he rewrote the bible, removing all the myths and mystical stuff?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Not really. I don’t think the Bible is a better work of literature without the fantastic stuff in it. But I also think with or without the fantastic, it should not be deferred to as a special book among others (except for understanding its influence on Western civilization, of course).

      In other words, when I talk about religion without faith, I don’t want Christianity without faith (though that would be better than Christianity with faith). I want new things based on the best thinking about ethics and meaning and metaphysics, etc.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    I’m not at all sure that I agree with you on this.

    Taking something on faith as an intellectual position, can be a matter of practicing intellectual rigor.

    Most of mathematics is not supported by evidence, but it is of value. Some parts of mathematics were considered to be contrary to the evidence. The complex numbers, giving an important role to the square root of -1, were long considered to be contrary to evidence.

    Many philosophical theories are not actually supported by evidence.

    The problem with religious faith, at least that of the fundamentalist kind, is that it is not merely contrary to the evidence, but that it is taken to be about reality and taken to overrule the evidence.

    I expect that you did not intend to include mathematics and philosophy as involving faith. But in that case, you need to refine your definition of “faith.”

    • drlake

      I’m rather mystified by your post. For reference, here is the definition of faith he is working from:

      “I define faith specifically and narrowly as the willful explicit or implicit willingness to believe propositions that the believer perceives to be either unsupported by scientific, historical and/or philosophical evidence and argumentation or has good reason to suspect are undermined by such evidence and argumentation.”

      Now, how is “most of mathematics” based on propositions we know (or have good reason to believe) to be unsupported on these grounds? Now, my exposure to math is limited to calculus and intermediate statistics, but it seems that up to that point there is very need to take anything on faith. Most mathematical functions are based on axioms. While they cannot be derived deductively, that is not the same as saying there is reason to believe they would be undermined by evidence and argumentation. Given the close relationship between math and symbolic logic, and its reliance on logical (and non-logical) axioms as its basis, Math is rather firmly grounded both empirically (its functions describe reality) and philosophically.

      As for philosophy, I assume you didn’t read his definition of faith very carefully. Since philosophical positions are based on philosophical argument and evidence, they can’t be based on faith according to the definition of faith offered here.

  • http://jerseystoocheap.webs.com/ cheap polo shirt

    Thanks for your whole work on this website. My mom really likes getting into investigations and it is simple to grasp why. We all learn all relating to the dynamic way you convey helpful tricks through the blog and therefore boost participation from some other people on the issue and our child is in fact being taught a great deal. Take advantage of the rest of the year. You have been performing a first class job.