This last weekend, I participated in the Gateway to Reason conference in St Louis, Missouri. One of the speakers there was John Loftus. He’s an author of religious philosophy with a bachelor’s degree from Great Lakes Christian College, a Master of Divinity degree from Lincoln Christian University, and a Masters of Theology degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Now to me, all of that is equivalent to having advanced degrees in Aesop’s fables. But at least we know that he should have a pretty good idea what faith is according to the Christian tradition. In his presentation at that conference, he defined faith thusly:
Apart from the overt acknowledgement that faith is irrational, this is essentially the same definition given by EVERY former theologian, and I know several. Some of them are with the Clergy Project, where professional ministers, priests, and pastors realize they just can’t pretend anymore.
“Faith is the acceptance of the truth of a statement in spite of insufficient
evidence. . . . Faith is a cop-out. If the only way you can accept an assertion
is by faith, then you are conceding that it can’t be taken on its own merits.”
—Dan Barker; Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist
This definition is also commonly implied in the hymns, sermons, and even scriptures of all three of the most popular religions. The Qur’an (for example) says “those who are mindful of God, …believe in the unseen.” The Bible describes faith as things hoped for but not seen, looking at things that are not seen, and not seeing what is seen. All according to the circular argument of the question begging fallacy in addition to confirmation bias and so on; where we are expected to see what is not there, and we are blessed if we believe impossible absurdities for no good reason. Because you have to believe everything you’re told, or else risk a fate worse than death if you just can’t convince yourself of what you know can’t be true.
To illustrate another aspect of faith, if you think your brother is telling you the truth, then regardless whether his testimony would be considered evidence by others evaluating all sides collectively, we’re still talking about why you accept his particular claim individually: especially when pitted against evidence or other testimony to the contrary. You might believe him solely on his authority as your brother. In which case, you don’t need any evidence to back him up. You might even go so far as to deny evidence against him—which of course would be dishonest. Do you accept what he says without question or reservation, simply because he says so? Or do you first need to see facts that show whether what he says is true? This is the difference between faith and reason.
With faith, you could have evidence, but you don’t need it.
With evidence, you don’t need faith, and wouldn’t want it.
This is why dictionaries also reflect the common usage that faith is a firm belief or complete trust that is not dependent on evidence, but may be accepted on the assumption of authority instead.That definition is also admitted by many current believers too, sometimes including even the part about it being irrational. Several times believers have confessed to me that they don’t care what the facts are because they don’t really want to know what the truth is. “Why can’t I believe what I want to believe?” Many have said they’ll take the authority of scripture as the only sources of truth in this world, and that everything else in the whole of reality is a lie. One guy even admitted to me that he’d rather take a bullet in the ear than listen to reason and give up his faith. Many other admissions by religious people make clear that their belief matters more to them than does truth, and this is explicitly expressed by the 2nd century apologist Tertullian:
We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquiring after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief.
And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And he was buried and rose again; the fact is certain because it is impossible.
After Jesus Christ we have no need of speculation, after the Gospel no need of research. When we come to believe, we have no desire to believe anything else; for we begin by believing that there is nothing else which we have to believe.
Religious faith must be a helluva drug.
I often hear the faithful making these admissions, but they usually won’t unless they’re only talking to each other. Whenever I catch them making that confession, I point it out—like I did when Pastor David C Pack did that in one of the videos aimed at his own subscribers. I did it again with Pastor John Christy. I found one of his sermons, which I showed in one of my presentations. In it he confessed that he (and by extension his entire congregation) were delusional by definition. Because he’s gonna believe whatever he wants to believe regardless what the facts are, because [he admitted] he doesn’t care whether it’s really true or not. Of course I have many other examples like that too.
“Faith means not wanting to know what is true.” —Friedrich Nietzsche.
“Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” —Mark Twain
Many sectarian organizations publish a “statement of faith” (as if this were something to be proud of) wherein they admit that their beliefs are required, not indicated. They assert unsupported speculation as absolute truth, stating facts that are not facts, which is already dishonest. But then they also use apologetics to systematically make up excuses to rationalize or reject any and all arguments or evidence there could ever be against their desired/required belief, admitting only that they’ll never admit when they’re wrong. This makes faith the most dishonest position it is possible to have.
“Faith does not ignore the facts,
it ignores the power of the facts”
—televangelist, Benny Hinn
That’s why I’m an apistevist, one who will not believe anything on faith. We either believe certain claims because of our past experience, knowledge of probabilities, trust in credentialed expertise, objectively verifiable facts and so on, or we believe on faith instead, just ‘cuz some perceived authority said so. But any belief that requires faith should be rejected for that reason. The only thing in the universe that desires or requires your faith is a bad salesman.
I often see equivocation used as a defense of such indefensible beliefs, confusing the religious context with the colloquial context of having faith *in* someone. The reason why I might believe what my wife says is not the same reason that I believe she exists. Religious faith is not a synonym of trust. There’s a prefix and suffix required. Faith is a [complete] trust [that is not based on evidence].
Now realize that a rational person is typically defined as having reason and being open to reason, meaning that they should only believe what they have good reason to believe, rather than believing anything on faith. They also have to be reasonable, being able to be reasoned with. But since apologists typically refuse to admit when they’re proven wrong, or that they even could be wrong, because “God has revealed it to me in such a way that I know it for certain” (for example) then this is the second point where faith is irrational by definition.
For this reason, believers will sometimes completely invert their definition of faith to the opposite of itself whenever they’re trying to seem reasonable to unbelievers, such that suddenly faith depends on evidence. Then they’ll say that I got the definition wrong—even though I’ve already shown that an overwhelming consensus of definitive/authoritative and uncontested sources from every relevant field that proves I obviously got this right.
But every time they do that, they betray themselves one of two ways: Sometimes they’ll tell me there is no evidence of evolution and thus my “belief in atheism” requires more faith than their belief in supernatural things. Of course this is a Freudian admission that they already realize that faith is not based on evidence, and they just don’t want to admit that to me.
Otherwise, if they pretend to believe what they do because they were convinced by the evidence, then I’ll inquire as to what evidence supports their belief. I invariably learn that they never had any reason that would qualify as actual evidence: not one verifiable fact that is either positively indicative of that conclusion nor exclusively concordant with it.
Either that or they redefine and thus negate every other relevant word too—such that facts are no longer factual and evidence can’t be evident anymore. Sometimes they’ll invert or pervert both of these at once, effectively turning faith into science and evidence into subjective speculation, as if the make-believers are trying to trade places with rational thinkers.
Either way, this exercise shows that their faith is typically based on a presupposed assumption of authority instead of any evaluation of objectively verifiable data. Regardless whatever bullshit excuse they use to hide this fact, the real reason they believe as they do is almost always unchallenged cultural conditioning. They’ve simply bought the lie they’ve been fed since they were children. They don’t know how to question that, or don’t want to, and typically never believed anything else—even if they pretend they were once atheist.
Atheist: anyone who is unconvinced that an actual deity really exists.
Theists like to change the definition of atheism as necessary too. They’ll minimize the number of admitted unbelievers by saying that atheists are only those who know for certain that no god exists, and that everyone else is merely agnostic—as if that makes any difference. (Gnostism pertains to knowledge rather than belief. Agnosticism says no one can know anything about the nature of the supernatural, but that has nothing to do with one believes there is a god or not. You can be atheist and agnostic. You can also be theist and agnostic. They’re not mutually-exclusive.) But if believers want to pretend to have once been atheists who have since seen the light and turned to God, then they’ll use the etymological definition of lacking-theism, of simply not yet practicing the religion they were almost always born into. They usually know no other way.
The same goes for when they say they used to believe in evolution-ism, yet they still can’t tell you what that even is or show you anything they honestly believed about it.
I’ve actually known three people who could confirm having once been atheist; two were even activists. However when I inquired as to what evidence brought them back to their faith, it turned out there never was any. One simply missed the community of her church. Another said she just didn’t want any flak from the overwhelmingly religious environment she lived in. Another initially claimed to have been convinced by the evidence, but after continued interrogation, she still could not cite any. Instead she finally admitted that she changed her mind only because the guys at the Christian table in her college were hot. Seriously. So even on the rare occasion that an atheist does convert, there still isn’t either logic or evidence compelling that decision, as there would have to be for me.
So if you ever find yourself having this argument with a spiritual devotee who says their faith depends on evidence, and/or that evidence is either subjective impressions or philosophical arguments—rather than what either common language or a court of law would recognize as actual factual evidence, then let them know that we can all see through their smoke screen. Then challenge them with the following questions:
What body of facts convinced you that your previously materialist perspective was wrong, and that there is a supernatural/magical aspect to the universe?
What body of facts convinced you that a bona fide deity not only could exist but actually does exist? How does it exist? How does it do anything? Especially when it comes to helping you get that job, find your keys, or win the big game?
What body of facts convinced you that your particular denomination of one of many different faith-based belief systems was significantly more accurate than all the other seemingly man-made mythologies including the older ones yours is apparently based on?
What did you believe before learning these facts that changed your mind? And why did you believe whatever that was?
What body of facts convinced you that any of humanity’s supposedly sacred fables of any religion even could have any divine authority, such as several such tomes to other gods discordantly claim?
[If you’re talking to a creationist, throw in this one too.] What body of facts convinced you that all the world’s best-educated expert specialists in any field are all wrong, and that the theories of evolution, cosmology, and atomic chemistry are all fundamentally fatally flawed?
My experience has been that these questions unmask the problem with faith-based beliefs so well that it is highly doubtful that any believer trying to promote faith as a rational position would risk exposing their true condition by answering any of these. Because they know that if they do, we will see that their “Faith” [as it is commonly defined according to a consensus of definitive/authoritative religious or secular sources] really is a firm belief or complete trust, which is not based on, or not dependent on “evidence” [as that too is commonly defined, again according to virtually every relevant source for both scientific and common language].
If the above definition was not correct, whether about all religious faith or any particular believer’s allegedly exceptional brand of faith, then they should have no problem answering all the preceding questions. They’d even want to. How could they not? Even if they believed they had metaphysical evidence, they still could answer these and reveal their reasoning. But if they already know that this definition really is correct, and that it is applicable to their particular faith, but they don’t want you to see through their obfuscation, there will be some excuse as to why they won’t, or don’t have to answer any of these. Because faith really is the most dishonest position it is possible to have.