So this was interesting:
I posted my initial critique of Peter Boghossian’s book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, on my site two days ago, and very quickly learned a few things:
- Atheists are organized, and can assemble a flash mob online faster than a Baptist pastor’s wife can launch a prayer chain. Within 12 hours I had more than 30 critiques of my critique posted on my very own site, all from atheists who had read Boghossian’s book and were ready to defend it. You gotta admit, that’s pretty impressive!
- Some of them were quite thoughtful and very nice. Clearly guys it’d be fun to share a beer with and chat. (If you’re the beer drinking kind of Christian.)
- We have very different definitions of the word “faith,” and it is clear that most atheists believe current dictionary definitions of the word “faith” are flat-out wrong. Somebody changed it, and forgot to tell Webster. To try to summarize it ever so briefly, the folks I interacted with believe “faith” is the correct word to use when you’re trusting something that you have no business trusting, because it isn’t based in hard science. Faeries and such.
One atheist responder made the point that if we mean “trust,” (which is a synonym in the Bible for “faith”), why don’t we just say trust? Faith must mean something different if we only use it when we talk about religious stuff and then switch to “trust” when we’re talking about other things.
Which is a fair point. So, personally, I’m not going to use the word “faith” when I mean “to put trust or confidence in.” I’m going to use “trust” or “confidence.” I’ll use “faith” only as a synonym for “religion,” as in “the Christian faith.” Unless I forget. But I’ll try to remember.
Good. We’ve made progress.
But then I woke up the next morning to find that James Lindsey, a self-published atheist author who had engaged me on the topic, had written a blog post titled “Phil Vischer Let’s the Cat out of the Bag.”
That caught my attention, because I don’t even like cats and I don’t know why I would keep one in a bag. (Historically, I’ve always boxed my cats.) He was referring to a comment I made on my site late last night explaining that faith wasn’t how we know the doctrines of Christianity. We know them because of revelation. Faith is putting confidence in the doctrine, not our means of “knowing” the doctrine, or even knowing the doctrine to be true. James apparently felt this was an admission that faith was a flawed epistemology, when in fact it was just a restatement of what I’ve been saying all along – that faith isn’t an epistemology at all. That Boghossian’s premise is wrong.
So I responded, which of course led to James responding, but then the conversation was joined by a new friend named Jeremy Pierce who came from God-knows-where but is clearly quite bright and had a fascinating conversation with James about faith and epistemology and such.
The conversation was so interesting that I’m linking to it here. You really ought to read it. (Especially the part where Jeremy Pierce jumps in.)
“Jeremy Pierce who came from God-knows-where” Hey, I know where Jeremy, my fellow philosopher, comes from – and I’m no God!
I agree that Boghissian’s definitions of faith, and in particular, the “Pretending to know things one doesn’t know” are wrong. Faith, and/or what is counted as “faith,” may often have that *characteristic*, but that doesn’t make it the basis of a reasonable *definition*.
That’s pretty obviously the work of someone trying to define something bad into his opponent’s position (as are B’s other definitions). I am reminded of Archie Bunker’s definition of faith, except in that case the defining-something-bad-into-it was being done, in a bungling way, by a supposed defender (though, ultimately, the writer of the show, as opposed to the character, was likely not a friend of faith): “Faith is something that you believe that nobody in his right mind would believe.” It wouldn’t be hard to make a strong case against faith if *that* were how it was defined!
But I have some feel for why Boghossian’s definition would strike a chord with many. Faith often does have that feature. Or at least something like it: I’m not sure “pretending” is quite the right word for most cases. But there is a lot of pressure in many places, including many churches, to act as if one knows the main claims of one’s religion, with the result that many end up acting as if they know these things, when the truth is … well, very complicated, I think. But when these folks “leave the faith,” as we say, it is often with a deep sense that there was something non-genuine about the confidence they had projected: the attitude they projected was more the result of social pressure, the desire for the claims to be true, etc., rather than of an honest attempt to discern the truth. And this judgment of their past selves then comes with a suspicion that others who still project confidence in their religion’s claims are likewise non-genuine. “Pretending to know” is a phrase that will resonate with many, and maybe it’s alright, though I think it’s all a complicated mess, and “pretending” may not be the most accurate way to describe it. Anyway, in light of this, I very much appreciate your urging that we “admit what we don’t know.”
I should perhaps add that I share the suspicion that many, on both sides of the “Does God exist?” debate, project themselves as knowing what they don’t. I explain this suspicion a bit here:
I’d love to interact with you some about the “faith” definition. I’ll write about that next time, but here’s my first reaction (sorry for the repost from the other article’s comments):
Hey Phil, I tried posting in reply some of the people on he link you provided but sadly I do not have any accounts with the profile options. I see they are very well versed in this topic. However I do find it a little disturbing to see them advocating the disuse of a long trusted word. Science is all about knowledge and understanding, is it not? The word faith has been in the English language for centuries and is still in use today. I can understand the desire for people to give good answers for what they believe. However, removing a word for the dictionary or the common tongue is not the way to do that. All that does is produce more ignorance, which I hope is not what they intend. I understand that many words in the English language have already gone out of use. Many now only exist in dusty dictionaries.
Along with that, I don’t understand this “scientific” distaste I see in a lot of experts for “bronze age belief and language”. Personally as craftsman myself who works with metal, I think bronze work is amazing and am inspired by how ancient people solved their complex problems with simple solutions and gather various material and had the expert knowhow of its use. Words were made and recorded in order to communicate. I find it harmful for good communication when words lose their meaning or are used in the wrong context. It is especially confusing in the English language considering it is evolving everyday. As for beliefs, people believe things for many reasons and some reasons are better than others. Sometimes what people believe is true in it’s entirety. Other times what is believe has less truth in it. When it comes to ancient beliefs about various deities and finding the truth or falsehood of them, one cannot take them all as lump sum. Really one shouldn’t even take a whole religion and cast doubt simply because of some falsehood. Or at least when a person is looking for historical truth. A good researcher has to keep many things in mind when studying historical claims and one of these is this: anything recorded was recorded for a reason. Sometimes a deity is a way of remembering an ancestor. Other times there’s lies or misinformation involved. Other times there is more.
I applaud you’re attempt to keep this debate on topic to be simply about the definition of the word “faith”. You have done a great job at it and I think you have brought up some very good points. I look forward to any blogpost you make on the nature of the evidence. I myself am working on a something along those lines.
Back to the word itself. I like the word. In English it seems to have many connotations that are a little more than just trust. In the context I usually hear it in it implies resilience.
Besides, what if you were writing a poem and needed a word that meant “trust” but rhymes with “lathe”? It’s nice to have verbal flexibility for artistic purpose. But as for me, I’ll keep my confidence in Someone I do not see now but have faith that I will because I trust the evidence I have seen and heard.
I went to CSU Chico. I want to share the definition of Faith that my human physiology professor gave.
He covered the five senses and then added that Faith is really the humans’ sixth sense (the only spiritual one).
My professor explained that just as each of us has some measure of touch, hearing, seeing, tasting, and response to stimuli, faith is given to each human soul to be able to perceive the spiritual world/the divine.
This is clearly your first time arguing with online atheists. You should know that the beehive is larger than what you have encountered. If you keep poking, you will discover this for yourself.
You should also know that it is definitely worse for your children. Reddit? YouTube? Leaders of tomorrow….
I respect your spirit for life and discussion. I watched the whole podcast, and disagreed here and there, but I thought you approached the topic very respectfully and admirably.
I will admit I was one of those who disagreed about the definition of the word faith.
Faith, like many words, has a few different definitions.
1. Confidence, trust. (I have faith in our government. I have faith that I can pass this test.)
2. Belief in something based on spiritual apprehension rather than evidence. (I believe it on faith. I am a person of faith.)
The first definition only speaks to HOW MUCH we know or think we know something. The second definition is about HOW we know it. This is, indeed an epistemology.
I’m not opposed to anyone using either usage, but I think it’s important for us to not equivocate the two and to be very clear which we’re talking about in every particular usage.
Notice the statement “I have faith in God.” could be understood with either definition of the word faith.
1. I have (confidence/trust) in God.
2. I have (belief based on spiritual apprehension rather than evidence) in God.
Same with “My faith is important to me.”
1. My (confidence/trust) is important to me.
2. My (belief based on spiritual apprehension rather than evidence) is important to me.
Two completely different meanings.
Spiritual apprehension encompasses many things. Revelation, visions, dreams, etc.
I think Boghossian’s point that these types of “ways of knowing” are not reliable as they lean heavily on one person’s interpretation and infallibility.
Nevertheless, I appreciate your willingness to dialogue and approach the subject with respect.
If you saw Edward Norton’s “Hulk”, there’s a moment where the Hulk is fighting against some sonic super-weapon, and as powerful as the Hulk is, he can barely move against it. That’s what it used to be like talking to Christians. They had a kind of proselytizing immaturity that wouldn’t let them “live and let live”. Eventually, around the mid to late 90s, the attitude of witnessing Christians changed drastically. They became more reasonable and easy to talk to…. And confident enough not to barrel on. Now, I’m happy to embrace my Christian siblings.
Despite the science and reason the current new atheists lay out, they are the new sonic super weapon. They just barrel on, their lips keep moving, and their obstinance is just as irritating as the aforementioned Christians. They are the new proselytizing immaturity.
The science community – especially industrial science – have a lot to answer for. They are the cause of many ills because between the information you know and the information you don’t the latter has a larger and more serious effect because it’s not being addressed.
We are all placing our bets. All worldviews (the cosmological conclusions) rely on inference at their heart. So for me, 100% certainty is only present for the delusional.
Wow John, I loved your comment and your metaphor was awesome. Really gave me something to think about today.
First time visitor to your blog Phil. Enjoying it, and might even start on the podcasts.
I don’t think we are that organised, more like a few individuals deciding to do something independently than some sort of flash mob.
(and I don’t really dance that much anyway)