Faith In A Comprehensive Nutshell (With Links)

Every now and then it is valuable to recap. In the comments section of another post this morning I was asked for a definition of faith. For a couple of years I wrote a long series of posts called “Disambiguating Faith” in which I meticulously distinguished the vice of faith that makes it problematic in religions from numerous many good things with which it is confusingly equivocated.

In a post last summer, the last I have thus far written in the series, I wrote about how faith poisons religion. In that post, I began talking about the positive things people associate with religion and understandably feel attached to it for. Then I proceeded to sum up, with links, my account of faith as developed throughout the Disambiguating Faith series, in order to lay the groundwork for explaining how faith, in specific, poisons the good things religions offer:

Faith, of the distinctively problematic religious kind which I think we should be criticizing, is deliberately committing to propositions, authorities, traditions, and groups beyond what is rationally warranted.

Faith is deliberately believing a proposition more strongly than evidence warrants (either when you think that the proposition is not strongly supported by evidence or is even undermined by the best evidence). Faith is the willful treatment of one’s most cherished notions as though they were impervious to evidence. Faith is hostility to genuine, open-ended doubting. Faith is an improper way of using the will and emotions in reasoning which allows them to subvert reason rather than properly aid it. And faith involves willfully putting your subjective desires ahead of objectivity and perversely calling this the real route to truth.

Because of these things, faith is unethical, not virtuous. It is a kind of rationalization, not a form of rationality. In fact it is worse than simple rationalization, it is a deliberate commitment to rationalize. Still worse, this form of rationalization is inculcated in children in such a way as to train them from a young age to deliberately embrace and reinforce precisely the cognitive biases that one must learn to overcome in order to be an effective critical thinker. In this way, training in faith itself (regardless of the actual content inculcated) is an active miseducation, which undermines the work of genuine education.

Faith often also entails loyalty to a group or trust in an authoritative source beyond what is merited. Faith is a way that an individual signals a willingness to subordinate him or herself completely to a group by forfeiting even her ability to think for herself.

Faith in the distinctively religious sense should not be allowed to be confused with rationally justified confidence, proper trust, proper loyalty, holding probable beliefs which nonetheless have some uncertainty, educated guessing, gut feelings, epiphanies, brainstorming, hypothesizing, counter-intuitive reasoning, trusting one’s subconsciously formed intuitions, nor having beliefs that are simply based on wrong or weak arguments. We shouldn’t let people equivocate that because many of these things are useful and are also sloppily called faith in our language, that therefore faithin the relevant religious sense which I have been explicating is a good thing.

Having given a quick summation of what faith is, let me turn to address directly how faith ruins religion.

Read More.

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

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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.

  • John Morales

    Faith is deliberately believing a proposition more strongly than evidence warrants (either when you think that the proposition is not strongly supported by evidence or is even undermined by the best evidence).

    For mine, this is the pith of it, and may I say I’ve rarely seen it so well (and so succinctly) expressed!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thanks John!

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

    There’s a bit of an issue here, as you are moving far too quickly from one part of the definition to the others. Take this big paragraph:

    Faith, of the distinctively problematic religious kind which I think we should be criticizing, is deliberately committing to propositions, authorities, traditions, and groups beyond what is rationally warranted.

    Faith is deliberately believing a proposition more strongly than evidence warrants (either when you think that the proposition is not strongly supported by evidence or is even undermined by the best evidence). Faith is the willful treatment of one’s most cherished notions as though they were impervious to evidence. Faith is hostility to genuine, open-ended doubting. Faith is an improper way of using the will and emotions in reasoning which allows them to subvert reason rather than properly aid it. And faith involves willfully putting your subjective desires ahead of objectivity and perversely calling this the real route to truth.

    I agree with the first paragraph, and with the first statement of the second paragraph. I do think faith entails that. Fair enough. But then you get into treating cherished notions as if they were impervious to evidence, and I don’t think that’s necessarily part of anything that can be rightly called faith. I don’t agree that faith is hostility to open-ending doubting. I don’t agree that you have to use will and emotions to subvert than aid it. And I also disagree that it always involves putting subjective desires first or even calling it a real rotue to truth. You seem to have mixed in an awful lot of things specific religions or specific religious people DO as if that was what faith really is, but I don’t see it. I see that most of the time, faith in general and in religious terms is indeed nothing more than recognizing that the evidence you have does not justify the degree of beleif you have but still maintaining that belief anyway. To that end, religious faith and the other “good” types of faith are pretty much identical. But you don’t need to be giving anything to an authority; that’s an act OF faith itself to the religious. You can also simply have a personal faith independent of any organization or authority.

    Speaking as someone who admits to being a theist and who yet denies that he really has faith — whether that’s good or bad is up to you — I think that your objections here really are based on overinterpreting faith and then insisting that all religious faith — and the sort of religious faith that we are really asked to have — must conform to the worst parts of it, the most dogmatic and authoritarian parts. And that, it seems to me, is both not true AND leaves you open to challenges that a lot of the non-religious have that sort of “bad faith” as well.

  • Beth

    I agree with what Verbose Stoic said. In addition, I think you need to delineate whether it is the act of holding a faith belief you are condemning, or the content of the belief.

    When you condemn ‘faith’, it seems to me that you are condemning the act of having faith, i.e. the behavior of belief without sufficient evidence. I don’t think we can distinguish between a religious faith belief versus a non-religious faith belief on the basis of the behavior.

    As V. B. points out, religious faith and the other “good” types of faith are pretty much identical. For example, one of my favorite beliefs that I hold despite more than adequate evidence to the contrary is ‘all men are created equal’. While this is not the same as a religious faith belief, the distinction is based on the content, not the behavior.

    BTW, I recently came across this article on trust which I think may have some relevant points to make about faith as well:
    http://www.latimes.com/health/la-sci-neuroeconomics-paul-zak-20120303,0,7714923.story?track=lat-pick

  • Kevin

    It’s my contention that when theists speak of “faith” they are usually speaking of credulity. That is, accepting as true stories told in a book of myths.

    There are no “things unseen” in theistic faith. It’s entirely based on the writings of primitive men. God appeared to Moses and parted the Red Sea at Moses’ request. Jesus performed miracles to prove he was the Christ.

    What’s “unseen” about those things? (Of course, aside from the fact that they didn’t really happen.)

    Not faith. Credulity.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    Matt Dillahunty argued on last wee’s Atheist Experience that it is impossible to choose to believe something. I take it you disagree?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Insofar as choices are possible, beliefs are sometimes choices, yes.

  • http://www.freemobile-forum.fr/calendar.php?c=1&week=1330819200&do=displayweek&month=3 Anchor3

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