The Atheist’s Caricature of Faith

Macht, one of my favorite intellectual Christian philosopher bloggers, has a really nice article which discusses three definitions of faith, and how your view of faith affects how you view the integration of science, religion, and faith.   His second definition of faith is the typical caricature that atheists hold to:

faith #2 – Believing something without any evidence or reason or in spite of evidence or reason. This is what a lot of atheists seem to think that this is what is meant when somebody says they have faith in God.

But Macht includes two other definitions, the third of which are what xians are talking about when they discuss faith:

faith #3Trust or commitment. This is what we mean when we say something like "I have faith#3 the surgeon will perform a successful operation." A person is putting his trust in the surgeon, most likely because the surgeon has done the operation hundreds of times before (i.e., he has good reasons to trust the surgeon will be successful).

Macht discusses the functions of science v. religion

[Science] works very well for what people intend for it to do. People join religions for any number of reasons, maybe they think the religion is true, maybe they are looking for some sort of purpose in their lives, maybe the like the hope a certain religion gives them, whatever. Religion does tend to work well for what people intend for it to do. Religion gives people all these things, just like science gives people computers and cell phones and hybrid cars.

He also quotes another author who compares scientific faith to religious faith, but in doing so, misses the point that there is little difference, because in both cases you are taking someone else’s word for it:

Now, science has become far too big for any one person to go and look at all of the evidence, and all of the methodology of analyzing that evidence, to completely and totally reproduce the chain of reasoning for everything we’ve come to understand in science. In principle, yes, anybody can do that… But, in practice, you can’t.

He makes the conclusion below, which I totally agree with:

Science is based on faith-3, just like religion. Science is based on a faith-3 in a number of of basic beliefs about both nature and man (see section II-B of Del Ratzsch’s paper here, for example). This doesn’t mean scientists don’t have good reasons to believe them, it just means that they have to commit themselves to them in order to do science. If they turned out to be wrong, "science [would have to] to give up." The same can be said of religion. Science and religion are also very often based on faith-3, in that they rely on trust in other people. Scientists trust that the work that has come before them has been tested and confirmed, often without doing it themselves, knowing that – in principle – they could. Religious people very often have faith-3 in pastors, priests, and parents that their interpretations of some religious text are correct and that their doctrines are correct, without checking into it themselves, knowing that – in principle – they could.

This article has 11 comments

  1. The Atheist's Caricature of Faith
    Atheist seems too narrow a term. How about Secular?
    If I want to know the definition of a word I use the dictionary…
    faith Audio pronunciation of "faith" ( P ) Pronunciation Key (fth)
    n.
    1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
    2. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. See Synonyms at belief. See Synonyms at trust.
    3. Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one's supporters.
    4. often Faith Christianity. The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will.
    5. The body of dogma of a religion: the Muslim faith.
    6. A set of principles or beliefs.
    The difference between faith in science and faith in religion is that "reason" can overturn one's belief in, oh lets posit evolution as an example, whereas one can't reason with religious faith. One can't reason with Love either, that's why love is blind and religious faith is blind (faith definition #4)

  2. one can't reason with religious faith.
    Again, you fail to understand the relationship between reason and faith. You see them as antithetical rather than complimentary – a bad choice, in my opinion, and inaccurate. http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/faithrea.hhttp://heritage.villanova.edu/vu/heritage/allthinhttp://www.geocities.com/mnapologetics/art11.htm?…

  3. Again, you fail to understand the relationship between reason and faith.
    Bull

  4. The difference between faith in science and faith in religion is that "reason" can overturn one's belief in, oh lets posit evolution as an example….
    How do you suppose that reason could overturn "evolution"?

  5. For example, if fossils of Homo sapiens were found in the Devonian period, the period of Tiktaalik roseae, I would have to reasonably conclude that evolution is invalid. Reason would overturn evolution. Conversely, it seems no amount of fossil evidence will overturn the creationist view because creationists view the bible's account of creation (genesis) as infallible. One can't reason with someone who believes their view is infallible. This makes the creationist position, unreasonable.
    Seeker, this is why I felt my question was unfair to you, because you are in the position of defending a view that cannot be falsified. Such a view cannot be considered scientific. When I asked you what scientific theory would you replace evolution with, you cannot say creationism.

  6. I visited the 3 links you posted and I could tell you put some thought in finding them for me.
    Thank you for generously apologizing, I am impressed. I too, want to apologize for being a bit reactionary in my posts. I'm working on not being demeaning ;).
    I can't accept the articles because they presuppose a belief in God as the ultimate authority.
    Well, I look at faith more generically than just in God. I think that we can use our reason to idenfity trustworthy sources of faith – so by my more generic definition (trust without having to understand), we all exercise faith in, for example, science.
    When I take a prescription medicine, I trust that it will work and be safe – I have no idea how it works or if it is really safe. But I've used reason and experience to validate the source of information.
    When looking for spiritual sources to trust, again, we can validate some things using reason and experience, and if we find trustworthy sources, we can then trust them without having to test or understand everything right away. That doesn't mean that reason goes out the window – it can certainly continue to evaluate, confirm, and gain in understanding. That's why I love the saying, supposedly attributed to Augustine (though I can't find it anymore):
    Before faith comes, reason is King
    After faith comes, reason is Servant

  7. This man says it better than I ever could (and with such excellent diction too):

  8. Seeker, I thought you may like this, it’s exactly what we have been discussing.
    Faith and Reason

  9. Oh, nice link Sean. Like I said, “One can’t reason with faith.”

  10. When looking for spiritual sources to trust, again, we can validate some things using reason and experience, and if we find trustworthy sources, we can then trust them without having to test or understand everything right away. -Seeker.
    Trust in a medication is based on research and development ,as well as falsifiability through review of its efficacy in trials prior to its approval as a safe medication by the medical science community. One who takes a medication that is recommended by a doctor or pharmacist knows that there are reasons for it being promoted as an effective drug ,as well as safegaurds in place for its safe use. One can always (get a second opinion ) or do research on any concerns one has regarding said medication.
    I wonder ,by what objective means does one establish (trustworthy sources ) in religious matters. One cannot base reason on (feelings) ,what you might call “personal experience”.
    Statistics clearly state the case that people base their religious convictions on what they were taught as axiomatic from an early age. Simply because you love your parents ,doesn`t mean that what they taught you about God and mankinds role in the world is actually true ,even if you may trust them with your life! The proof of that is the hundreds of conflicting religious beliefs that are taught to children as ultimate truth all around the world.