Whose definition of faith?

More irony. Shortly after posting the XFiles post where Geisler and Turek claim that faith is belief without evidence, I found a post complaining that the “faith = belief – evidence” idea is a “meme” that atheists are using to unfairly slander Christianity. Now, the day after responding to Lee Siegel’s charge that Dawkins and Harris et al are attacking “the essence of religious belief,” i.e. “I believe because it is absurd,” I find another post (from “Brandon” at the Siris blog) trying to put the blame back on unbelievers for saying that faith is the alternative to evidence. Responding to my post, the writer says.

In fact, it’s easy enough to see that the author has made a fairly elementary mistake in reasoning in attributing the position that faith is belief without evidence. He takes passages like this from Geisler and Turek:

You may be thinking, “The atheist has to muster a lot more faith than the Christian! What possibly could Geisler and Turek mean by that?” We mean that the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa). Faith covers a gap in knowledge.

And concludes from it that they are saying that faith is belief without evidence. But this is logically excluded from what they actually say here; if the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need, it follows that you can have faith with evidence.

You might think, given his quotation from my post, that he had actually read it. You might also think, from reading the above, that I was arguing against the idea that faith and evidence can co-exist. But in at least one case, you’d be wrong, because if you read my post, you’ll find I said the following.

The reason we’re supposed to have faith is because the things we are supposed to believe in are supposedly true. Since truth is consistent with itself… we ought to find that our real-world experience is consistent with what we believe. Evidence-based faith does not need to “cover the gap” between what we believe and what we actually find in the real world, because there won’t be a gap to cover. There may be experiences we haven’t had yet, and we may have evidence-based faith that our future experiences will be consistent with what we’ve seen in the past. For example, we haven’t seen the sun rise tomorrow, but we have plenty of evidence-based faith that it will rise.

And so on. In fact, I have a whole post about evidence-based faith. The superiority of evidence-based faith over mere gullibility (i.e. “belief minus evidence”) is one of my major themes. However, that’s what I say, not what Geisler and Turek are saying. Geisler and Turek are saying, “the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa).” Notice the “and vice versa.” Geisler and Turek are saying “Less evidence = more faith” and “more evidence = less faith.” That’s the whole point of writing a book about atheists allegedly having more faith than Christians–greater faith is supposed to equate to less evidence!

Brandon, however, doesn’t want to see it that way, and uses a flawed analogy to try and make his point:

If someone were to say, “The less money you have, the more you need to budget it in order to keep it,” the natural conclusion is that you can have money and a need for a budget, not that you only need a budget when you have no money. But the two cases are logically analogous: we cannot in general reading statements of inverse ratio as if they were statements of mutual exclusivity.

The flaw in this analogy is that a budget does nothing to cover a gap in your cash flow the way Geisler and Turek claim faith covers gaps in the evidence. All a budget can do is help you decide how to spend the money you do have. The budget applies to the same side of the equation as the money does. A better analogy would be to compare debt to paid bills: Debt corresponds to the gap between the bills you owe and the bills you’ve paid. As the percentages of paid bills goes up, the percentage of unpaid bills goes down, and vice versa. In Geisler and Turek’s scheme of things, faith represents the “bills” of belief that have not been “paid” by evidence, which is why they want to assert that atheists have more. Brandon makes a valiant effort to defend the idea that faith and evidence can co-exist, and that’s certainly a conclusion I support, but that’s not the point that Geisler and Turek are making. Geisler and Turek are saying “faith = belief – evidence.”

It’s clear enough what Geisler and Turek are doing; they are claiming that all reasoning on the basis of evidence in which the evidence does not yield the conclusion with perfect certainty involves faith.

Yes, but why? What function does the faith serve? Does not the term “knowledge” apply to the part for which you do have evidence, and “faith” apply to the part for which the evidence is lacking? Brandon seems to be building a strawman argument about faith requiring an absolute vacuum — that there cannot be any evidence at all. But that’s not what I’m saying nor is it what Geisler and Turek are saying. Knowledge and faith can exist side-by-side, but even when you have both of those categories existing side-by-side, the knowledge category contains the things supported by verifiable evidence, and the faith category contains the other stuff.

And yet some people are so certain of the claim that Christians in general hold that faith is belief without evidence that they will assert it without serious evidence. Certainly such a claim requires good evidence, because if there are lots of Christians who don’t believe that, then the claim is false, regardless of who says it, and arguments based on it are therefore unsound.

Then why do Geisler and Turek claim that “the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa)”? This isn’t a case that Brandon needs to argue with me, it’s an issue he ought to take up with the authors of I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to be an ATHEIST.

At least Brandon saves me the trouble of looking up macht’s definition of what “faith” means. It’s kind of wordy, but this seems to be the core of it.

faith is a trust in your worldview, your “vision of the good,” your philosophy of life, etc

I especially like the “etc.” It doesn’t sound like macht, or Brandon, have a real clear idea of what they think “faith” means, so they just throw out a bunch of vague, swell-sounding fluff. It’s certainly not clear to me that the definition above has any significant conflict with the definition “belief without evidence”. If you could provide evidence that shows your “worldview” is the correct one, wouldn’t that move your worldview out of the realm of faith and into the realm of verified knowledge? If the evidence showed that your “vision of the good” were the correct “vision of the good,” wouldn’t that move it from faith to knowledge? Likewise your philosophy of life? And your “etc.”?

I can’t psychoanalyze Brandon and macht, but they do seem do have a disproportionate dislike for the idea that faith is belief without evidence, and a strong desire to blame atheists for it, and to deny that Christians like Geisler and Turek promote the same definition. Those are some of the symptoms of denial, and considering that God does not show up in the real world even though the Christian Gospel portrays as being eager and able to do so, it’s not too hard to reach a tentative conclusion regarding what they might be in denial of.

2 Responses to “Whose definition of faith?”

  1. The Professor Says:

    Discussion continued here.

  2. Brandon 3: One more turn around the dance floor « Evangelical Realism Says:

    […] below are his). The Professor at “Evangelical Realism” has responded to my response to the response to my response to the response to Macht’s post. It’s a much better response, and worth […]

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