Defining “Faith”

Probably one of the most abused and misunderstood words in the English language is the word “faith”.

It is a rather interesting word because it is noun to describe loyalty, allegiance, or even a set of beliefs. Faith can be justified or unjustified. It’s one of those words that is like trying to hold onto a greasy wrench with a numb hand because it has a wide breadth of application. But Aron Ra, over at his blog, has a post titled “Defining Faith” (so much for original titles).

Aron spends the first portion of his post presenting a variety of definitions for faith from a variety of atheists of various qualifications, throwing out their educational credentials as if they are qualified to determine what the definition of a word means. It’s as though he wants his readers to believe (read as have faith) in the validity of those definitions. Aron dives into the heart of his argument about a third of the way in, writing,

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.

The “definition” that he’s referring to is one that comes from Dan Barker in his book Losing Faith in Faith that reads, “Faith is the acceptance of the truth of a statement in spite of insufficient evidence. . .” Of course Dan’s definition can be completely refuted by looking at the individual contexts for how a word is used in context, but this is about Aron and his argument.

To that end we cannot speak to what the Quran says, but we can speak to that which the Bible says, and what it means by “faith” in the context of Hebrews 11:1, something that I’ve discussed here so you might want to check it for context before proceeding.

Aron continues, based upon his misunderstanding of the text,

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.

I’m sure that in that gobbledegook and mishmash about logical fallacies there’s a meaningful argument, but the only circular reasoning that is going on is his, present in assuming that how his atheistic compatriots have defined “faith” is either accurate or relevant to the biblical idea.

Now, what about Aron’s claim that, “[…]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”? Isn’t he expecting us to believe everything that he says but hasn’t given us anything but an appeal to non-authorities? Sounds like he’s getting ready to set up a straw man.

Aron gives us an analogy,

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.

First of all, he’s not using “faith” in the same sense as it is being used biblically. Indeed, biblical faith is rooted in the one that is Truth, therefore everything that he says is true, and has made all facts as a testimony to himself (Romans 1:18-20).  Now, to examine his analogy, unless you have reason not to believe your brother, that is he’s a known liar, if he tells you something that is not outside of the realm of experience then you might have a reason to not believe what he tells you.

Aron continues,

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.

Well since the brother’s testimony is evidence it can only be overturned by contrary evidence. That’s simply basic reasoning, which requires faith, faith that your reasoning is valid. The question is, what can you appeal to for the validity of your reasoning? Again, there’s so many hidden assumptions in the question that are not parsed to render a reasonable judgment. Didn’t he say something about being “dishonest”?

With faith, you could have evidence, but you don’t need it.

With evidence, you don’t need faith, and wouldn’t want it.

That’s simply dishonest since evidence has a correlating effect on faith, the greater the evidence, the more persistent the faith becomes. For example, let’s say that the brother in Aron’s example was known for his profound honesty, that he was very careful in presenting his case, and had exemplary character, so that you could be extremely confident in his testimony, so it would take a considerable amount of evidence to refute it. However, if the brother was known to be a liar and had a despicable character, it would take an incredible amount of evidence to convince you because you had no confidence in his testimony. Evidence correlates directly to faith in this instance.

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.

Dictionaries reflect the most common usage of words, like “faith” such as,

IMG_0141

Funny, nothing there about being “irrational”. Even the given example of “belief in something for which there is no proof,” where the mother has faith that her son will return. Unless the son was dead, she has every reason and right to maintain that faith, because of her relationship to her son. The believer recognizes that apart from God, everything is 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.

Now, that’s a cute anecdotal evidence, and it’s one that he wants his readers to accept on faith. The question is, what is truth? Most likely he would say, what is true is what can be proven. The next question would be, does he believe that? If the answer is yes, he would have to prove it to be true. If no, then he has no reason to believe it. Funny how logic works. As a believer, since any fact that is a fact is only a fact because God has made it to be a fact, the facts bear witness to the truth. While I have to admit that there are some Christians out there who may sound like that, the context is key to unpacking the statement. What does he mean by “facts” and what does he mean by “truth”? Unless he can provide a coherent and meaningful justification for the use of those terms, he’s just making noise.

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.

Um, yeah. You cannot tell anyone what is or is not “real” apart from a meaningful and sovereign authority. To what does Aron appeal in order to call anything “real”? He cannot appeal to his senses without a justification for the claim that anything his senses tell him is true or real. The Christian proceeds from revelation made by God, who is the ultimate reality and author of what is real, to the creation. Aron doesn’t realize that he is making an appeal to authority, but his appeal is one of incoherence.

Aron then engages in a proof texting fallacy, writing,

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.

The first and last part of the quote  are simply different translations of the same statement that comes from Tertullian’s The Prescription Against Heretics, where he writes,

Whence spring those “fables and endless genealogies,” and “unprofitable questions,” and “words which spread like a cancer? ” From all these, when the apostle would restrain us, he expressly names philosophy as that which he would have us be on our guard against. Writing to the Colossians, he says, “See that no one beguile you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, and contrary to the wisdom of the Holy Ghost.” He had been at Athens, and had in his interviews (with its philosophers) become acquainted with that human wisdom which pretends to know the truth, whilst it only corrupts it, and is itself divided into its own manifold heresies, by the variety of its mutually repugnant sects. What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon,” who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.” Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides. (Chapter 7, lines 7-13)

The middle quote comes from Tertullian’s On the Flesh of Christ,

Whatsoever is unworthy of God, is of gain to me. I am safe, if I am not ashamed of my Lord. “Whosoever,” says He, “shall be ashamed of me, of him will I also be ashamed.” Other matters for shame find I none which can prove me to be shameless in a good sense, and foolish in a happy one, by my own contempt of shame. The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must needs be ashamed of it. 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. But how will all this be true in Him, if He was not Himself true— if He really had not in Himself that which might be crucified, might die, might be buried, and might rise again? I mean this flesh suffused with blood, built up with bones, interwoven with nerves, entwined with veins, a flesh which knew how to be born, and how to die, human without doubt, as born of a human being. (Chapter 5)

Dishonesty and misrepresentation seem to be key to Aron’s argumentation. The immediate context of Tertullian’s comments in the former are in relation to matters that result in heresy, that is one trying to rationalize Greek philosophy and the Christian faith. Tertullian’s point is that it will result in taking one over the other or it will create a bastardized form of both. That is, to paraphrase Paul, men no longer have to search any further for that which will make them acceptable to God because of what Christ has done. In the latter, Tertullian is responding to the heretic Marcion who denied that Christ was the incarnate God because he placed Greek philosophical concepts of God over the revelation of Scripture. Once you misrepresent a source that your argument is based upon, you no longer have an argument.

Aron does some more selective quote mining of popular (I guess) pastors and teachers, like Benny Hinn (control your eye roll) as if they are meaningful authorities in regards to what biblical faith is, writing,

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.

He’s clearly believing on faith that out-of-context quotes are meaningful and that he has grounds to “believe certain claims because of past experience” and “”,— something that atheist Bertrand Russell has said involves circular reasoning—, as well as, “trust in credentialed expertise” and “objectively verifiable facts”. All of those things require faith. He cannot, as hard as he tries, get away from a blind faith in either human reasoning—that any of his perceptions are true—or in another’s reasoning, as an authority—which he has to believe are reliable, but cannot prove. Self-refutation is a painful thing. Aron is not an “apistevist”, in fact he’s a blind, dogmatic fideist. russell quote

He goes on,

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].

Gee, thanks for clearing that confusion up between “faith in” and “faith that” (yes, that’s sarcasm), which are distinctions that Christians already make. Remember that straw man I mentioned, here it is. R.C. Sproul, in his booklet What is Faith? ,directly refutes Aron’s assertion that, “Religious faith is not a synonym of trust,” writing in reference to the patriarch Abraham,

Abraham was not a prospector looking for hidden treasure based on a legend about pirate plunder hidden in a cave somewhere. Abraham was looking for a place because God had told him that He was going to show him that place. He trusted God for what he had not yet seen, and by doing that became the father of the faithful. (p.8-9, Emphasis added)

He accuses Christians of failing to make distinctions when he’s the one not making necessary distinctions and perpetuating an outright lie. Abraham, as a descendant of Noah, had every reason to believe what God said—remember that whole flood thing that God saved his ancestor from—and to trust him. The fact is, the biblical context for faith is one based upon evidence, in fact, if one actually follows the argumentation of the author of Hebrews, 11:1 is not a conclusion, it’s the first premise of an argument, an argument whose conclusion is to be grateful and persistent in the face of difficulties, a case made by presenting the evidence of history. In fact, the author notes,

[Without] faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, ESV)

The writer uses both the noun form of “faith” and the verb form in the same sentence, a verb that can rightly be translated as “trust”, distinguishing between “faith in” and “faith that”. Biblical faith, contrary to Aron’s assertion, is complete trust based upon evidence, not a lack of it.

Aron continues,

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.

Everything that a person believes is based upon faith. The question is, what is the object of that faith? Is it fallible human reason, or an infallible God who has made himself known through his creation and in his Son? That question seems relevant to Aron’s next statement,

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.

If the infallible God has made certain things known for certain, then those things, by definition, cannot be proven wrong, else God would be fallible, and would not be God. The only thing “irrational” is Aron’s belief that he can actually know anything for certain apart from revelation.

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.

Except that he didn’t. Every source that he presented is contestable, and have been demonstrated to be misrepresented. A misrepresented authority is no authority. 

This reversed redefinition that faith suddenly demands evidence appears to be a combination of the logical fallacies of projection, tu quoque, strawman, equivocation, and false equivalence that I see frequently repeated by most defenders of the faith.

Someone needs to look in the mirror, because he’s committed every fallacy that he’s accusing believers of committing in his very post, something that I have demonstrated and not merely asserted, from reasoning in a circle, to setting up a straw man, to projection, equivocation, and even some not so subtle ad hominem:

[…]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.

Is he actually arguing that Christians have no basis for objectively verifying their beliefs? As a person who ascribes to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, this is not only insulting, it’s a flat out lie. Verificationism, what he’s essentially appealing to, is self-refuting because it violates its own requirements: has he evaluated any objectively verifiable data that says he should only consider objectively verifiable data? I doubt it, he seems to merely assert it. Also, just because you believe something based upon “cultural conditioning” it doesn’t mean that it’s false. Has he challenged his beliefs, or does he merely accept them as a matter of his culture?

They’ve simply bought the lie they’ve been fed since they were children.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: that statement is completely and utterly refuted by anyone who was not raised in a Christian home and is now a Christian, such as David Wood, J. Warner Wallace, Michael Heiser, the late Nabeel Qureshi, Lee Strobel, and countless others who were raised as non-believers or even in another religion. Of course he gives us another anecdote in an attempt to head this off:

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.

Now, I’ll admit missing the “community of [ones] church”, or a desire to avoid “flak” are not a very good reasons, in fact they’re poor reasons. The problem is that, more than likely those people are not likely Christians as much as hangers-on looking for a place to belong. So, it doesn’t help his assertion that there’s no evidence, it simply means that those people were not converted.

Now, he does ask some questions that I think deserve their own post, and I will interact with them, but this post needs to end.

So, what is the definition of faith?

The best definition of biblical faith is that it is that believing loyalty that is based upon what God has done. In order to have faith, real, saving faith, God must first give it, and then we must live in light of it.

6 comments

  1. With that as your definition of faith, what does it mean to have “faith” in God? I can’t just paste your definition into that place of the word: “believing loyalty that is based upon what God has done in God” isn’t a coherent sentence.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s