Faith

Susan Blackmore has an interesting op-ed opposing faith in The Guardian.

The common understanding of faith, “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence,” however, is a bit fishy. No doubt that’s often how it’s presented: I’ve had no end of students who conceive of faith as having to do with realities beyond ordinary ways of investigation. Many even think of faith as a kind of faculty of attaining truth on the cheap, and it’s immune to criticism as an extra bonus. But people are not consistent. The same students also have different understandings of faith: as something more akin to trust (which can be warranted), or as a set of beliefs that are not validated by ordinary public means but are validated nonetheless (for example, through paranormal and spiritual experiences). Then there is the related idea that faith is like love. You love and trust your spouse. But even if there may be perfectly good reasons and evidence that can be produced that your spouse is worthy, you don’t need to do that. Moreover, a close investigation of reasons and evidence may even be destructive to the personal relationship in question.

So I guess what I’m saying is that we need to be careful when criticizing “faith” — it’s not a simple concept. It may even be one of Marvin Minsky’s “suitcase” words, into which a lot of quite different concepts get packed. And this feeds into the usual irritating slipperiness of defenses of religion. A believer can always (and even with some legitimacy) say that when someone like Blackmore comes out against “faith,” what she’s attacking is not what they understand and live by.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16064737878824068558 Steve

    Faith is just the belief in an idea, without or contradictory to evidence. Essentially, it’s deciding to believe something, when there’s no reason to believe it. It is, actually, a simple concept, but it’s people who aren’t comfortable with how simple it is who want to convince themselves and others that it’s more complex.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17047791198702983998 bpabbott

    Steve,

    I’ve never seen faith as “the belief in an idea, without or contradictory to evidence”, per se.

    For me a perfect faith is belief in an idea for which there can be no evidence.

    Belief in an idea for which you have no evidence, but for which evidence does exist is just an example of someone looking for an easy answer … a pretense for enlightenment in the presence of ignorance.

    Belief in an idea for which there is contradictory evidence is really nothing more than delusional.

    Pls, be aware that I do not intend to propose one must choose between polarizing positions.

    There is able room in the middle, where some evidence is consistent with an idea and other evidence is inconsistent with the idea.

    There is even more room, if we are honest with what we are certain of (the evidence) and what ideas we decide to accept based upon our knowledge of evidence.

    The kind of faith that is objectionable is the one sown in ignorance and defended self-righteously in-spite falsifying evidence … the sort of ideas that individuals fall in love with because it is appealing to their minds, while being incompatible with the reality.

    My works are partially inconsistent with those of Sue Blackmore.

    “Religious belief is inconsistent with reason and corrosive to the human mind – and I don’t want to live in a world where it is respected.”
    – Sue Blackmore

    However, I suspect that is only because Sue is accepting the common usage of the work “faith” … where I’ve redefined it.

    I’d be curious what she thinks of my position.

    I’m also curious of your thoughts as well as those of others.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03743116454273042629 Sheldon

    Taner,
    Seems to me you a being a little unfair to Blackmore here. First she begins with a disclaimer:

    “I’m not referring to the ordinary kind of faith by which we have faith in another person’s honesty, or that taking an aspirin will reduce our headache.”

    And then she goes on to define, with reference to the dictionary, what she does mean by faith.

    As you said,
    “A believer can always (and even with some legitimacy) say that when someone like Blackmore comes out against “faith,” what she’s attacking is not what they understand and live by.”

    Well, then you go on to press the believer to define what they mean by faith, and criticize that. More than likely it might turn out to be a convoluted explanation that can be reduced down to what Blackmore defined.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13927107231640047082 hartke

    Faith is reliance upon concepts or an idea. Evidences are sometimes seen in the empirical realm and are not specific to demarcation criteria presented in the scientific methodologies of science per se. We believe in math, logic, beauty, future contingencies, propositions; none of which are material in their evidence. They can sometimes be empirically demonstrated, but often times they cannot. If one’s worldview is strict naturalism, then they cannot provide coherent tenets in defining faith in all its fullness.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17275691560275959651 Knaak

    Sort of left out the aspect of faith that is:

    Humility in regards the limits of our understanding of the nature of reality, and thereby deferring to a higher power of understanding as represented by that which is beyond understanding, the metaphor of “God” perhaps..
    or some other metaphor, depending on the context in which the word “faith” was used.

    We as humans have to acknowledge the limits of our understanding at some point. This event horizon is faith.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03743116454273042629 Sheldon

    “We as humans have to acknowledge the limits of our understanding at some point. This event horizon is faith.”

    As usual, when somebody tries to rescue the concept of “faith”, I end up asking: what on earth are you talking about?

    Yes, I acknowledge the limits of my understanding. After that I don’t make up stuff to fill the void. If I did, that would be “faith”.

    The other option is simply to not attempt to fill this “void” with something contrived like “faith”.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06394155516712665665 CyberKitten

    It does appear that Theists can’t simply say “We don’t know” rather than “I have faith that God did that”.

    Not knowing leads to questions which hopfully leads to answers…

    Faith meanwhile leads…. where exactly? Oh yes – having faith is its own reward…..

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00763792476799485687 J. J. Ramsey

    sheldon: “I’m not referring to the ordinary kind of faith by which we have faith in another person’s honesty, or that taking an aspirin will reduce our headache.”

    And then she goes on to define, with reference to the dictionary, what she does mean by faith.

    And she makes very clear that she believes that religious faith is defined as “belief without evidence,” which isn’t quite correct, as Edis himself points out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03743116454273042629 Sheldon

    “And she makes very clear that she believes that religious faith is defined as “belief without evidence,” which isn’t quite correct, as Edis himself points out. “

    JJ,
    And how exactly is it not “quite correct”?


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