Two Kinds of Faith

The word faith is used to denote two rather distinct concepts, tending to create considerable confusion in assessing the reasons people claim for holding their religious beliefs. I have previously addressed the common failure to distinguish between unbelief and disbelief and now I would like to turn my attention to the two kinds of faith.

Theists often claim that they have “faith in God.” This phrase has two interpretations: “I trust that what God says is true” and “I believe that God exists even though his existence is not demonstrated.” The former is a theoretically sound position while the latter is simply unreasonable. A theist can mean one, the other, or both simultaneously, and unfortunately, theists very often confound the two, feeling justified in their unreasonable belief by reference to the alternate, inapplicable meaning.

Faith as trust

Theists trust God to speak truthfully and to fulfill his promises. If an omnimax deity truly exists, then this trust is wholly appropriate. An infinitely perfect being would be infinitely trustworthy and theists would be justified in placing unlimited confidence in his sincerity and abilities. (This is not to say that they would be right to believe and obey him under all imaginable circumstances, but this is because it would require unlimited confidence in their own determination that these messages really were from an omnimax deity, not because an omnimax deity in principle shouldn't be trusted completely.)

Faith as belief without sufficient evidence
Theists usually don't claim proof or overwhelming evidence for their belief that God exists or that a religious institution or a holy book infallibly reveals God's truth. Instead they often cite faith as justification for these beliefs and present this faith as a matter of trust in a perfect being. The problem is that this is circular logic as it assumes the truth of the belief in establishing that very belief itself. One cannot trust an omnimax deity before one has established the existence of such a being. This type of faith is really belief without or even in spite of evidence. In this sense, faith is irrational and absurd because it's a carte blanche to justify absolutely any belief whatsoever.

If someone wants to believe without evidence, let them at least admit that this is irrational and absurd rather than disguising it as matter of rational trust.


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