Tract #47: What Is Faith?

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What Is Faith?

There are two kinds of faith, and atheists may have faith in both senses of the word.

The first kind of faith is simply trust based on past performance. You might have faith that your mother is telling you the truth because in the past your mother has always told you the truth. Similarly, you might trust that gravity will behave in a certain way because it always has.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to this kind of faith as “trust.”

The other kind of faith is belief without (or despite) evidence. Believing that God exists regardless of whether or not His existence can be proven is this type of faith. Believing that your son is innocent of murder even though all evidence points to him may also be faith in this sense.

We’ll refer to this kind of faith as “pure faith.”

How much faith does a moral atheist have? In terms of trust, a moral atheist has as much as is justified. In terms of pure faith, a moral atheist has as little as possible.

Is it possible for an atheist to have no pure faith? Technically yes, but it would be very difficult. In general, an atheist would agree with the following statements, even though they may not be provable:

Other people’s minds exists.

The universe exists.

Our senses, when working properly, are reliable within their limits.

Does having some pure faith mean that an atheist cannot criticize a theist for having faith in a deity? No.

Pure faith is an admission that there are some things the mind cannot investigate, but which must be assumed before any kind of intellectual progress can be made. Deities do not fall into this category. It’s true that deities cannot be thoroughly investigated, but their existence does not need to be assumed for us to be able to move on to other subjects.

A moral atheist also wishes to have pure faith in as few things as possible. Why? Because the more things you believe in without evidence, the more likely it is that you care wrong about some or all of them. And since we are talking about things that can significantly impact our impression of how the world works, it is very important that we accept as few intellectual risks as possible.

Posted on November 5, 2009 at 9:22 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Tract

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Tom_M
    on May 28, 2011 at 6:21 am
    Reply · Permalink

    From what dictionary are you pulling these “two” definitions? The online places BOTH of your current definitions under one (trust 1a).

    Is your second definition more in line with the second major definition (trust 2a)? The ‘hope’ (trust), that although evidence seems contrary to prior behavior (or the parent’s wishes that something is so), seems to fit this treatise better.

    From the cited dictionary: ‘faith’ is ‘complete trust’ ( faith 2b). The need to say ‘pure’ faith is repetitive.

    You’re relying heavily upon Greek philosophies to jump to these assumptions about the state under which you find yourself and interactions you intend to have [e.g. 1 - other people's minds exist, 2 - the universe exists, 3 - (big assumption) our senses work properly, etc.].

    I find error with assuming (for trust) that one can equate the ‘mother not lying’ with ‘gravity’. The intent of the ‘mother’ governs whether or not the statement she makes is True or False. Any inconsistency (contradiction) brings ‘trust’ into question. The consistency of ‘gravity’ (and relationship to size of celestial body) can be demonstrated and verified by others.

    The assumed finiteness of the realm of Truth is in itself flawed, as we have no assurance that it isn’t infinite. Attempting to bite off a piece of an ‘infinite’ problem still leaves the sampler with partial Truth – and therefore is no better off than when first started.

  2. Written by Tom_M
    on May 28, 2011 at 6:23 am
    Reply · Permalink

    The empty reference in the first sentance comes from the link being edited from the post upon submission. The reference was (www.)merriam-webster(.com)

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