The Nature of Faith

I know I’ve already done a few pieces on the issue of faith, but it’s come up a few times recently at the ECG and at Student Alpha, and I want to address a couple of specific claims.

Firstly, at Alpha they were saying that we use faith for everything. Sitting on a chair, for example, you don’t know if it’s going to support your weight but you put your faith in it. I later said in the discussion that it’s a totally different kind of faith. From experience you know that most chairs do support your weight because that’s what they’re designed to do. So even though it’s not 100% certain that it won’t collapse, you can be fairly sure. Someone gave the other example that you put faith in all kinds of experts who say things about which we have little to no idea, such as your doctor’s medical advice, but again this isn’t blind faith. Scientists and even just academics in general go through a lot in the way of peer review to get their work published, as I’m sure Tim over at the Friendly Humanist will testify. The faith that you put in these kinds of everyday things is also not unfounded, it is again based on experience. You can’t really say the same about religious faith. So just because we sometimes use the same word to describe it, doesn’t make it the same thing.

It was said at the ECG that you must put faith in any account of the origin of the universe and that God is one of those accounts. Particular attention was drawn to people believing in the multiverse theory in spite of the lack of evidence, and that this is no different to faith in God. I have a couple of points to make about this.

1. Belief in the multiverse theory is not totally unfounded, it is to a small degree based on experience. We live in one universe, why could there not be other ones like it? Similarly there’s no reason to suggest the Universe could have existed forever, why does it have to be a beginning?

2. As I’ve said about a gazillion times, I have no problem with the deist idea of God as the first cause, or the idea of Spinaza’s God; it’s just as valid as any other origins theory. But this is totally different to the personal Christian God that the people at the ECG were talking about. It is not a case of accepting all or nothing.

There’s also the issue that I don’t put faith in things that are really important. I wouldn’t advocate the use of faith in something so important as whether to worship God every day of my life or not, or what to believe on certain contentious moral issues that have an effect on everyone. That I leave to reason, as I think we all should.


19 Responses to The Nature of Faith

  1. Jason Piteo says:

    I must contend with one idea you brought up in this post. You closed by saying that you don’t put faith in things that are really important, and I think that’s a big mistake. Let me explain.

    Regarding relying on faith to judge moral issues, I feel it’s is highly important. Our moral standards that we live by are largely based on Judeo-Christian principles. If it weren’t for faith, why live by these standards? If there’s a God, then obviously living a virtuous life is an important step towards an afterlife. If, however, one thinks that God doesn’t exist, then why live by any moral standards? What would be your purpose in life except to self-indulge, even at the cost of others? With no consequence to our behavior, except for those forced upon us by lawmakers, then why follow moral standards?

    I think there’s an even more important thing to have faith in, though. In order to really connect with people, you must have faith in them. This is especially true of husbands, wives, and closest friends. While common sense tells us that our friends and spouses will let us down regularly (nobody’s perfect, right?), we still must have faith in them in order to really share with them in a way that’s meaningful. Without faith, our relationships would crumble to the ground.

    I may have missed your point a bit, but I wanted to emphasize the importance of faith, both in God and in other things. While I agree that those faiths need to be different faiths, I think they’re both highly important.

  2. grammarking says:

    I don’t know where to reply to this, I’ll do it here, then… I dunno, we’ll think of something.

    I think you fall into the linguistic trap of associating the two types of ‘faith’ when they are quite different. There’s also the cultural trap which makes faith sound like something good, it’s really not. You may argue that our moral standards are based on religious principles, I retort that religious principles are based on our moral standards. People and morals were around before religion was, and things like the Trolley Problems (wiki them) show that morality is largely universal even in the depths of the Amazon (indeed it’s easy to see how it’s a product of evolution), so religion cannot claim a monopoly over morality.

    On a similar vein it is ludicrous to assume that anyone who doesn’t believe in God has no reason to be a good person. Are you saying that the only reason you’re not raping and pillaging, killing people etc is because God is watching over your shoulder? That’s scary. Similarly it’s a very Nietzsche/Sartre-esque (ie depressing) idea to assume that atheists have no purpose in life. Sure, our reasons may not be heavenly or spiritual but it doesn’t make them any less valid. We are good people for the betterment of society, and to a certain extent so people are good to us in return. It may not be as good a motivation as religious motivations (you don’t see as many secular charities, for example), but we’re not going to be bad people just because there’s no God. I live to leave a positive impact on the world, whether that’s through my offspring, or some kind of positive influence I’ve had on someone in my life. Simple, isn’t it?

    I get my morality exactly the same place you do. You know when you’re reading the Bible and you know that, for example, stoning adulterers and homosexuals and offering your daughter to be gangraped by a mob in return for the safety of a stranger is wrong, but “Love your neighbour as yourself” is right, so can I, I just skip out the book part. I don’t need a book to tell me what’s right or wrong, I can decide for myself. Sure, I might be wrong, but I’d rather go with my conscience and be wrong than go against my own reasoning, obey a God who may or may not exist and be wrong for that reason. At least if I’m wrong on my own I’ll have a good reason for it. In essence that is what humanism is, using your own reasoning to inform your morality.

    Taking your morality from a fixed source like the Bible is also less effective. I can’t look in the Bible and ask “what did Jesus say about nanotechnology?” because he didn’t know about it! That’s why we get such absurd ‘morality’ like opposing gay marriage and stem cell research on religious grounds. The Bible is outdated.

    Faith in other people… it is different, in that I’ll know one way or the other soon enough whether my faith in other people is well founded or not. To be perfectly honest though, even then I’d consider it a bad thing. It’s not faith to believe someone is not going to let you down if they only do it occasionally. That’s good sense, you know from experience they’ll pull through. But if they let me down the majority of the time, I’m not going to marry them or be a close friend of theirs, why would I? So even in relationships, faith isn’t a good thing.

  3. Jason Piteo says:

    I’m going to leave alone the origin and relevance of morality and instead comment elsewhere. You make fair arguments regarding the universality of moral standards, and while I disagree with you, I can see your point on the importance of faith.

    I’d like to zero in the purpose of life. Clearly, our perspectives on the purpose of life must differ greatly. I do think that your perspective is quite depressing, actually. How does an atheist feel once they’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer? You say you live for the betterment of society, but without a religious perspective, how can you actually define “betterment of society?” There is certainly not a universal view on this matter.

    People have greatly varying ideas on what a better society is. Personally, I don’t find it progressive at all to think that we need to provide “rights” for gay marriage. Homosexuality is unnatural and aberrant. I don’t find it a coincidence that the downfalls of such civilizations as the Roman and Greek empires happened after they began to openly accept perversion. Also, take the issue of abortion. Do we universally agree on it? Of course not. In fact, we seem to be evenly split on this issue in the western world. Does a woman’s right to choose abortion provide for a betterment of society, or it is nothing more than legalized murder with a pathetic excuse?

    This is an example of how “society” can use lies (i.e. abortions are ok) to justify itself. Ultimately, the problem with society deciding on morality is that there is no basis for ethical standards. How do you determine what’s right and wrong? Do you just go with the majority opinion? What if the majority are wrong? What’s the implications of that? In the case of abortion, that means 1.3 million infant murders per year in the USA alone. That kind of mistake is inexcusable.

    I guess I had more to say about morality than I thought. Back to the purpose of life, though. One final point I will make is that humans have this innate need to worship something, and we all do it. Some worship God, others worship idols like sex, drugs, and money, while others worship science, nature, and often themselves. Humans were made to worship. Unfortunately, for many of us that worship is severely misplaced.

  4. grammarking says:

    Jason, I can guarantee that with a response like that you will alienate any atheist (or even just a liberal thinker) coming to Alpha.

    Of course there are different views on what the betterment of society is, only a few things can be called universal (human rights, for example – homosexuals are still human btw), and even those are tenuous, 100 years ago they wouldn’t be agreed upon. So what? Your response implies that without a universal/absolute truth we can’t know or do anything, which is totally defeatist. I can use my life to work towards what I believe is the betterment of society, just as someone else can. I may be wrong, but as I said I’d rather be wrong for a good reason than be wrong because a book told me what to do. I don’t mean to confuse you by saying the betterment of society is some kind of externally applied ‘purpose’ taken on by all atheists. You have your own reason for living, and they’re all equally valid. The betterment of society is one that many people agree upon.

    You’ll notice I didn’t mention abortion. That was deliberate, as even looking at it from a humanist perspective it’s dubious whether it’s morally acceptable or not. Homosexuality is a totally different matter. What does it matter to you if other people love people of the same sex or not? You call it unnatural but it’s a bit unclear exactly what you mean by that. Do you mean it’s unnatural not to procreate? That implies that homosexuals have some kind of obligation to a future generation, and it’s just as ‘unnatural’ to be celibate. Better get your beatin’ stick out, Jason, you’ve got some priests to abuse. Even if you can define ‘unnatural’ and prove that homosexuality falls under that category, I fail to see how this makes it immoral. Plastic isn’t natural, but I don’t see religious types throwing tantrums over that. Oh, and I can assure you that the Greek and Roman Empires’ collapse had very little to do with homosexuality. There is no argument (other than dressed up versions of “it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”) showing homosexuality to be immoral.

    So we have an example of religious (or fixed) morality being wrong, and a possible example of society’s morality being wrong. But where the society’s morality is wrong, it’s not because the fixed source says so, it’s because people thinking about it from the outside can give a good reason why. So non-fixed morality wins again.

    Your appeals to the idea of an absolute truth/morality replies on the premises that:
    a) a god exists
    b) your Christian God is the right one, and decided what is right and wrong
    Please prove this before you use it to support an argument.

    I totally reject your assertion that humans are made for worship. There is no evidence that we were even made, never mind made with any purpose in mind. The lack of consistency in your use of the word ‘worship’ is also revealing, and it sounds like it’s come straight out of an ill-thought out sermon. People do not ‘worship’ drugs, sex or money in the same way they worship God, they merely use them to get what they want. Totally different. Similarly most people don’t worship nature (except for some pantheists, of course), they show an appreciation for it, and science is the way through which we explore the natural world. Nothing wrong with that, no worship involved. Just because it’s replaced God doesn’t mean we worship it.

  5. Jason Piteo says:

    Hmm, maybe we’re tackling too many issues at once here. In future responses I’ll try to be more precise about one topic which will also hopefully make my points clearer.

    Shall we start with a discussion about the existence of at least “a god”, and then go from there?

  6. grammarking says:

    For those of you following this debate, it continues on Jason’s blog at:

  7. Julian says:

    Faith in the doctor and faith in God are the same. Hebrews 11v1 says, that faith is evidence. The evidence is in receiving the holy spirit. You will know you have received it because you will speak in toungs. This is were the personal relationship starts, were the person lives in the reality of God. Be quick time is running out.

  8. grammarking says:

    Wow… that’s good evidence. I’m convinced now… :/

    Please when you assert something like “faith in God and faith in the doctor are the same”, back it up with some kind of evidence or explanation.

  9. Julian says:

    I did

    “The evidence is in receiving the holy spirit. You will know you have received it because you will speak in tounges. This is were the personal relationship starts, were the person lives in the reality of God.”

    When one receives the Holy Spirit they will from then on have the ability to speak in tounges, as written in Acts 2 v4, Acts 10 v45-47, Acts 19 v6

    Peter the apostle was with Christ for 3.5 years yet he still denied Him three times. But it was not until he received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 that he became bold and was not concerned of worldly influences, because with the Holy Spirit came personal evidence

    This is the experience of my self and many other people

    Since we are talking about faith here, you can not ridicule the experience or expect to know anything about it if unless you have had experienced it your self.

  10. grammarking says:

    No… that’s supposed evidence that God exists (which I don’t have to ridicule because it’s so ridiculous all on its own), not evidence that faith in God and faith in doctors is the same.

    “Since we are talking about faith here, you can not ridicule the experience or expect to know anything about it if unless you have had experienced it your self.”

    Nice and healthy that. I’m not a Christian so I can’t comment on it. Brilliant.

  11. Julian says:

    It is not supposed evidence when you have experience it.

    The bible says 1Cor v 21″For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” you find it foolish, it dose not surprise me.

    I think that it is ridiculous that the world has one meaning of faith for themselves and then another meaning of faith when it comes to God. Your personal faith is your ability and your potential.

    Faith is not just about believing that you can do something, EG 100m sprint. I can do all the mental and physical preparation I like and try and believe as much as I want, but I am not going to break the world record, I may be able to run it in 14 seconds. This is the potential of my faith in the 100 meter sprint, so in the end there is a limit to my faith do no matter how much I believe, My belief based on the reality of what I can and can not do.

    When I run I am being faithful to my faith in running, is the verb.

    My unknown potential of my faith to run, is the noun, faith is a substance Hebrews 11 v1 (kj)

    Your faith is also your genetics, and you spend your life exploring your faith and finding your strengthens and weaknesses. That’s why they say do not be around negative people because they may give you an deflated understanding of your faith. At the same time you do not need an over inflated perception of your faith.

    Romans 12v3 says “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

    When one receives the Holy Spirit as I said before, that person also receives faith from God .
    So now this person has a new ability and potential. Belief based on the reality of what they can and can not do.

    Your faith and my faith are little pools compared to Gods ocean of faith

    And you know why the world has a different meaning of faith when it comes to God?
    Because they do not know Him, they don’t believe Him. When you read Jason Piteo I do not believe he knows what he talking about’

    People think they have to change the meaning of faith in God because they believe in a concept that does not work. They think faith is trying to believe in a god or something they are not shore about.

    And so we have the crusades, the inquisitions, trouble in Belfast, and the Middle East. The religious world has always and still is, in a complete mess, because they did not receive Gods faith. And now we have the World Council of Churches spreading their vomit of compromise. And I am shore the Pope puts his head on his pillow at night wondering if there really is a god.

    I do not believe in any one true church, but I believe the bible is the only way (of course). And that any one any where can follow Christ.

    To start to follow Christ Acts 2 v37:39
    “37Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
    38Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
    39For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.”

    There is a theme running right through the bible, that if you want anything from God, you have to do something first, that is why it says in V 38 you must repent first. And that is why it is a supposed evidence to you until when you have experience it.
    God knows that mankind would use unconditional proof of Him self as a reality TV freak show, that was shown in he old testament.

    And that is why faith in God has to be the same as faith in the doctor because if it is not the same than God does not exist.

    But words are not going to convince you. You need to get the holy Spirit first and experience it for your self. You just have to put a little bit of faith in my words, and I am not speaking of my self but in Gods faith.

    Please excuse my spelling and grammar oh Grammarking
    Find out more then click on the salvation link
    I hope you have looked up the scriptures I quoted

  12. grammarking says:

    Julian, you can’t just make up your own definition of faith. My personal faith is not my ability or my potential, my faith in something exists outside of its truth. The type of faith depends on the evidence in favour of it. So for your running analogy, your inability to break the world record is nothing to do with faith, it’s an inability. They are separate things. I’m saying that the evidence that doctors generally give good medical advice is better than the evidence that God exists, and therefore it is a different type of faith. Just as faith that the sun will rise tomorrow is a different type of faith.

    I find it ridiculous that you have to believe in God before he’ll reveal himself to you. You’re basically saying that I have to subject myself to bias before I’ll see that God exists, and that if I look at it objectively I’ll never believe. Do you not see that that’s bad?

  13. grammarking says:

    For the record, my nickname grammarking is one that I have used online for a long time. I am a firm descriptivist and I do not correct or question people’s spelling or grammar unless the meaning is unclear.

  14. Julian says:

    I do not know how I should respond your comment in case I have misunderstood you.

    People get confused with belief and faith as they have different meanings but the boarders are blurred

    If I had faith in you, what would I be expecting of you?
    My boss employed because he had faith in me that I could do the work.
    I have faith in my friends that they will be kind to me or else I go be with other friends. In what ever way, I expect an action to take place. And that faith I would have in you would only be to your ability. I would not expected anything more.

    You can believe in Santa Claus, aliens, sea monsters, god, but it does not mean it is true, but it makes us react in particular ways.
    My son told me Santa was true, and I told him “no he was not”, and he rolled his eyes like I was crazy. “Don’t be silly dad”. “What to you mean” I said. “I have seen him, he’s at the supermarket “ he said with great confidence. He took it OK.. Now he beats his chest because he knows what others do not.

    If you said “I have faith in Santa” I would say “prove it”

    You can believe in any thing but not have faith in any thing.

    Were faith and believing are used as the same word is when you believe in the faith of someone or something.
    The word faith is also used in under standing your faith or in using your faith.

    In the analogy of the race, I was trying to explain that faith has limits. Faith is not boundless but believing can be

    Your comet “the evidence that doctors generally give good medical advice is better than the evidence that God exist.” is good, only if you believe in nature and the universe as proof.

    Your statement about being subject to bias
    You are taking about Gods judgment.
    In the old testament God showed himself many times and they still did not believe. God sent Moses to Israel when they were held captive in Egypt and God sent all the plagues on Egypt so that the Egyptians would release them, then there was the exodus, crossing of the Red sea, Manner that fell from the sky for food, water they drank that came out of the rock, the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of smoke by day that lead them through the wilderness. And when moses was up on mount Sinai getting the ten commandments the Israelites corrupted themselves by making a golden calf to worship.

    After Jesus had feed the 5000 by performing a miracle
    The multitude still followed, and Jesus said
    John 6 v 26Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.

    I guess God knows it will not work that way. It would also sort out who is and who is not sincere

  15. grammarking says:

    Julian, again, you’re making up your definition of faith. Having faith in something says nothing about how true or not it is. Neither does your belief in something. Faith is simply belief that does not rely on evidence, or a belief which goes against or beyond the evidence.

    You say you can believe in anything but you can’t have faith in anything. Really? If anything, since a belief which is not ‘faith’ tends to be founded on evidence, I’d be more inclined to say the opposite.

    So, your boss hired you because he ‘believed’ you could do the work. If, looking over your CV you’d only ever worked as say, a waiter, your boss wouldn’t believe you could manage a financial investment company. If he did believe that, it would be a faith position. Faith is in fact more boundless than the average belief, and it doesn’t matter how much you claim the opposite, that much is undeniable.

    “only if you believe in the Universe and nature as proof” – since that’s all we have, I think that’s a pretty good thing to base your beliefs on.

    “It would also sort out who is and who is not sincere” – ‘gullible’ is the word you’re looking for, I think.

  16. Julian says:

    “Faith is simply belief that does not rely on evidence, or a belief which goes against or beyond the evidence.”

    You must have been taught all this in uni or something.

    You are born with your faith. You experiences your faith every day and grow in understanding and confidence as you use it. You do not need to go to far to find out about faith, because faith is life.

    Faith is who you are

    You do not question faith, because faith is a result of questioning, because when you understand faith you are confident in it.

    The bible says that faith is evidence (Hebrews 11 v1)
    So I am not making it up.
    I rather believe the bible’s philosophy then yours or were ever you got it from.

    But it you do not want the evidence of God (receiving the Holy Ghost with evidence of speaking in tongues) that is up to you.

  17. grammarking says:

    I got my definition from the dictionary. You know, that book with all the words in with the definitions we all use. If I said a cow was a little white fluffy quadroped which gets sheared for wool annually, you’d disagree and probably point at the dictionary.

    “2. Belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.” –

    Fortunately I happen to be familiar with that verse, otherwise your lies might have been perpetuated. Hebrews 11v1 says “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” NIV – that doesn’t say it is evidence, in fact that backs up my position more than it does yours. Being sure of something, in spite of the lack of evidence.

    But, even if it did support yours, I find it alarming that you’d rather believe a book written thousands of years ago in a foreign language and then translated which says the world was created in 6 days, than a contemporary, fairly well educated English speaker who uses these words on a day to day basis. Go ask your pastor what faith is, he’ll probably agree with me. Every Christian I’ve ever met has.

  18. Julian says:

    The Greek

    1650 ΕΛΕΓΧΟΣ,n {el’-eng-khos} proof, conviction. Strongs concordence

  19. grammarking says:

    Proof or conviction. So: a proof of things that are not seen, or a conviction of things that are not seen. I know which one makes sense to me. It’s not proof if it’s not empirical.

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