Friday, July 15, 2016

On the Meaning of Faith

Metacrock (Joe Hinman) recently re-posted an old article on the meaning of faith.  The thrust of this article is that when atheists speak about religious faith, they define it as a straw man.  They define faith in such a way that it doesn't apply to what Christians actually believe.  And by that, Hinman means that we use the dictionary as our source of definition rather than something contrived and approved by theologians as a concept of faith to be used in the indoctrination of Christians.  Of course, the theological concept bears no negative connotation whatsoever.  If it did, it wouldn't be approved by theologians, whose goal is to cast it in the best possible light.  But that says little or nothing about how the term is used in actual discussion, particularly among those of us who aren't apologists for the faith.

Hinman repeats the definition given in Webster's on-line Dicitonary:
a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty
    b (1) : fidelity to one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
    b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
3  : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>
The first thing he notes about it is that it actually includes three definitions, and that atheists supposedly ignore that fact.  Well, no they don't.  Most of us are well aware that the word is used in different ways in different contexts.  Definitions 2 and 3 are particularly relevant to religion, but have very different meanings.  Definition 2 refers to the way people believe, while 3 refers to the body of beliefs and doctrines that constitute a system of belief.  Hinman seems to be confused about this, because he comments that definition 3 is not indicative of all religious faith.  Actually, I think it is.  It merely serves to identify belief systems, such as the Catholic faith, the Muslim faith, etc.  There is nothing controversial about this terminology.  Why Hinman or anyone else would take issue with definition 3 is a mystery to me.

The real controversy involves definition 2, which includes the idea that faith is belief without proof.  I think it would be more appropriate to say belief without evidence rather than proof.  The reason is that very few (if any) of our beliefs, religious or otherwise, are proven.  The real gist of the definition is that faith implies belief that is not epistemically justified.  And this sense of the word is what most of us actually mean when we talk about the way people hold their religious beliefs.  It serves to distinguish epistemically justified (or evidence-based) belief from faith-based belief which may not  be epistemically justified.  It goes without saying that Christians are outraged by the idea that anyone would say their belief is not epistemically justified.  No, they scream.  You can't use that definition.  That's not what faith means.  You are ignorant because you don't use our theologically-approved definition.  In Hinman's words:
There's another reason not to let them use Wesbter's, not at all. That's because it's only indicative of popular use and not theological teaching. Because they don't use a technological dictionary atheists make a straw man argument. They are not dealing with the way the teaching authority of Christian theology uses the term "faith." They are only reflecting the general conception, or misconception of faith, apart from Christian teaching. The whole idea of their argument is that Christian teaching accepts faith as belief with no evidence, when in reality there is no such dictum in any Christian teaching.
Sorry, theists, but we are speaking the English language here, and I make no apologies for using words in accordance with the dictionary definition, especially if I use the word in the same sense to which this definition applies.  You don't get to dictate to me what definition I'm allowed to use.  Your own peculiar definition of the word is nothing more than an apologetical attempt to provide an air of epistemic justification to your faith.  But that's where we disagree.  You think you have justification, and I (and other atheists) contend that you don't. (*)

It's also worth noting that Hinman tries to make a straw man of the dictionary definition.  He refers to it several times in his article as "belief without reason".  But that's not what the definition says, and it's not what atheists generally claim.  Of course Christians have reason to believe.  They've been indoctrinated.  They find comfort and solace in their beliefs.  They think the theistic arguments are convincing.  All of these things are reasons to believe, but they do not necessarily constitute epistemic justification.  By re-defining the dictionary term, Hinman is creating a straw man that makes it seem as if atheists' use of the word is ridiculous.  He can easily shoot down that definition by pointing out that Christians do have reason for their belief.  And I would agree with that.  But that's not the way atheists define the word.  It's not the real issue.

If you consider how Christians use the word faith, you will find that they use the theological definition when it is advantageous to them, especially when disputing the way atheists use it.  But they also speak the same language the rest of us do.  And they very often use the word in the more commonly understood sense (ie, which fits the dictionary definition), and that undercuts their own argument that atheists misuse it.  They use it the very same way.  Need proof?  How many times have you heard a Christian tell you "nothing can ever make me lose my faith"?  Meaning that no evidence will ever sway them.   Or this: "I don't have enough faith to be an atheist"?  This is intended in a pejorative sense that implies belief without evidence - belief that is not epistemically justified.  That's what they think of atheistic belief, and that's exactly the same as what atheists think of their religious belief.  So I must ask them, where's the beef?

(*) For an interesting article that takes issue with Christians' justification for religious belief, see Kyle Williams' book review I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be a Christian.


  1. theologians don't indoctrinate, preachers do that. theologians are not preachers,you don't know shit about theology, I doubt if you cnaje any theologians. you probably think Pat Robertson is a theologian

    1. My post made no claims about who actually does the indoctrination. As I said, theologians supply the doctrinal material used in the indoctrination of religious victims. It is actually the parents who are most responsible for inculcating religious myths, superstitions, and defensive mechanisms against reason into their children before the victim has the ability to think on his own. This helps to assure that the victim will be firmly entrenched in his religion throughout his lifetime.

  2. THIS is the kind of god in which Joe Hinman wants us to believe in. This is the kind of God that according to Joe apparently can only do good and into whom we should put our 'faith'. This is the kind of God around which Joe demands our meaning of faith should be, nay, must be based.


    1. I listened to a little bit of that. The typical fundy atheist drivel.

      Hell isn't some place where people burn forever in a lake of fire. It is being destroyed and unconscious forever. Little kids wouldn't go to hell because they usually haven't reached the age of accountability.

    2. "I listened to a little bit of that."

      Typical apologist. Short attention span and many triggers that confuse boredom with cognitive dissonance.

      "The typical fundy atheist drivel."

      How would you know?
      You just admitted you couldn't pay attention long enough to sit through it.

      "Hell isn't some place where people burn forever in a lake of fire. It is being destroyed and unconscious forever."

      Thanks for clearing that up for us.

      "Little kids wouldn't go to hell because they usually haven't reached the age of accountability."

      Uh huh.And you know all

    3. Ok, whiner, I listened to the rest of that. And, I am right. It was fundy atheist whining. That's something that you, Skeppy, and Papa John's are good at.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. "...I listened to the rest of that. And, I am right. It was fundy atheist whining."

      And of course you didn't dismiss it before listening to it out of prejudice and you listened with an open mind rather than jerking your little knee in response to your emotionally held received opinions. //

      Yup, goober, Sam Harris' merciless demolition of W L. Craig's "divine command theory" BS is just "fundy atheist whining".

      You'll always be ignorant, son.
      Your mind is made up and you don't want to be confused by facts.

      You're the champion whiner on this board, son.
      Your every post is filled with whines.

  3. Skeppy, the actual word for faith in the Bible is the Greek word Pistis, which is sort-of similar to those above definitions, but goes further (in that the faith comes from the divine, not from man):

    Bible Hub: Pistis

    What language do you think the Bible was originally written in? English?

    Of course Christians have reason to believe. They've been indoctrinated. They find comfort and solace in their beliefs.

    I was looking at the archives of a few blogs you used to frequent, and you were making stupid statements like this all the time. Why do you do that? Did you eat paint chips when you were a kid?

    How many times have you heard a Christian tell you "nothing can ever make me lose my faith"? Meaning that no evidence will ever sway them.

    Here, we see more of the same. I haven't heard any other Christians saying this. I surely don't feel that way. You just assume that they all do. Your atheistic presuppositionalism (assuming that something is the case [i.e. Atheism being true no matter what the evidence]) comes out in spades.

    1. "Skeppy, the actual word for faith in the Bible is the Greek word Pistis, which is sort-of similar to those above definitions, but goes further (in that the faith comes from the divine, not from man):"

      This is where Christian mythology and superstition goes horribly wrong.

      "Greek rhetoric and Christian faith share a connection through pistis. Christian concepts of faith (pistis) were borrowed from Greek rhetorical notions of pistis.[6] Christian pistis deems its persuasion in a positive light as the New Testament concepts of pistis require that a listener be knowledgeable of the subject matter at issue and thus able to fully assent.[6] Whereas, the Greeks took the notion of pistis as persuasive discourse that was elliptical and concentrated on the "affect and effect rather than on the representation of the truth."[7] The evolution of pistis in Christianity as a persuasive rhetorical technique starkly contrasts with its meaning used by the Greeks.[6] See HERE.

      Another example of Christians and their propensity for apologetics appropriating and bastardising the actual Greek word and its meaning. Only in Apologetical circles does the nonsense meaning resonate.

    2. In follow up, Greek rhetoric and Christian faith do indeed share a connection through pistis; both are founded in rhetoric: the art of exploiting figures of speech and other compositional techniques. Such as: there is a good deal of rhetoric in the field of Christian Apologetics: bombast, loftiness, turgidity, grandiloquence, magniloquence, ornateness, portentousness, pomposity, boastfulness, bragging, heroics, hyperbole, extravagant language, purple prose, pompousness, sonorousness; windiness, wordiness, verbosity, prolixity; informal hot air; rare tumidity, fustian, euphuism, orotundity. [All References Dictionary]

    3. Wikipedia? That figures. This is better:

      Tektonics: What is faith

      Also, do yourself a favor and grow up!!!

    4. Tektonics: What is faith?

      Apologetical pablum. An interpretive re-invention of the word to match the supernatural superstition it attempts to espouse. No amount of faith in the christian myth makes it any the truer. Indeed Muslims reject out of hand the christian perspective and invented their own brand of faith based around the Koran. And Judaism with its Torah and Tanahk never for one instant in the 2,000 years of christians asserting the 'trooth'™ bought into the mythos.

      It is all about which explanatory mechanism best represents the truth about us, the world, the universe. "Religions do not and cannot progress the way that, say, science can progress. When science progresses, it abandons old and false ideas. Once we discovered oxygen and the principles of combustion, we stopped thinking that there was a substance called phlogiston. Once we discovered that the earth is round, we stopped thinking that it is flat. Science and reason are substitutive and eliminative: new ideas replace old ideas. Religion is additive and/or schismatic: news ideas proliferate alongside old ideas. For instance, the development of Protestantism did not put an end to Catholicism, and the development of Christianity did not put an end to Judaism. With science, we get better. With religion, we get more." [Professor David Eller]

      And boy! Tektonics' J P Holding certainly holds up the tradition of apologetics; he shovels it in spades.

    5. And boy! Tektonics' J P Holding certainly holds up the tradition of apologetics; he shovels it in spades.

      No kidding. Pistis was forensic proof to the Greeks. The word 'epistemology' is derived from it. It is how we know things. The Christians have hijacked the word and use it now to convince themselves that their belief in fairy tales and imaginary beings is based on something more than unsubstantiated stories. How do we know all this? Because it is pistis. That means we have proof. So just by using this word, they think they have proof for what they believe. The fact that it's all hogwash doesn't matter to them. We have pistis.

    6. @JoeBtfsplk

      And of course you're a Turkel fanboi too. Of course you are.

      It's actually kind of amusing watching JPH and WLC trying to change the way the word faith has been understood and used for 17 centuries.

      "...Blind faith? Not at all. The list that follows offers examples of people who had been given undeniable proof of God's existence and power. Pistis here is a matter of trust in a God who has demonstrated His ability to be a worthy patron, and the examples are those of clients who, knowing this ability, trust in God's record as a patronal provider.....Blind faith? No -- it is faith grounded in reality." Turkel

      As if that list itself isn't hearsay and as if verification of "... God's record as a patronal provider..." could be made without invoking blind faith on several levels.

      {"A reader summed it up well:

      "If our faith was supposed to be blind and not grounded in evidence, then there is no reason for God to reveal anything."

      That's very nice but you can't know your "god" revealed anything except by having faith.

      "There would be no reason for Jesus to perform miracles for all to see...."

      Again, to accept those stories requires the same faith that followers of Satha Sai Baba and Benny Hinn exhibit. The evidence for your "jesus" is actually worse than the evidence for the divinity of those two fakers since we have living witnesses to their "miracles".

      "....or no reason for Jesus to teach things about the Kingdom of Heaven...."

      You mean 'someone claiming to record the words of your "jesus" taught such things'-and you can only accept them as true by "faith" in the most common and vulgar sense of the word.

      " reason for Jesus to appear to his disciples after he resurrected..."

      Sorry, we only have the claims of a few writers who are anonymous (yea, yea except for Paul who never claimed to have seen an earthly "jesus"). We don't have eye witness testimony of "multitudes". We have one person who said there were "multitudes".
      We can only accept the claim of "multitudes" by the same old blind faith.


      Yes, of course there is more and better irrefutable evidence than this-he just doesn't want to list it right now.

      Funny stuff.
      Even funnier that you linked to it.

  4. What language do you think the Bible was originally written in? English?
    - What difference does it make? Have you ever read Hebrews 11:1? The bible actually gives a definition of faith.

    I was looking at the archives of a few blogs you used to frequent, and you were making stupid statements like this all the time.
    - Well, I do say things that atheists say. I suppose that't what you mean by "stupid"

    I haven't heard any other Christians saying this.
    - I have. It's not the kind of thing you hear so much from internet apologists. You hear it from ordinary bible-thumpers that you meet on the street.

  5. Just to let you know, you three are banned from the CADRE blog and Joe's blogs. You don't contribute anything of value to any discussion. You do the same things that you do (and have done) on every Christian blog: Insult people and make stupid, false comments. You rarely contribute to a discussion in a positive way.

    Before I go, I have another point to make: You call yourselves atheists. I don't think you are. You are God-haters. Maybe you can join up with John Loftus and Chatpilot (at the link below) and whine about Christians and God:

    God Is A Myth

    1. Damn. Cadre was one of the few Christian sites where I was able to have a relatively rational discussion (without Christians blowing their stack when I make an argument that disagrees with theirs). I haven't commented there for the past couple of weeks (and that conversation went fine), and to my knowledge, neither Papalinton nor Merrill have ever commented there. But now JBsptfn apparently has decided on behalf of the others posters there that people who comment here won't be allowed to enter the "fortress of belief". It looks like it's just you guys now, congratulating each other on your posts, but no voice to disagree with anything you say. You are safe within the fortress.

      I could understand it if I went there and acted the way both of you (JBsptfn and Joe) have acted here. You have engaged in personal attacks and general troll-like behavior (completely disconnected from the topic). At least I try to discuss the topic at hand, and I don't just snipe at people the way you do here. I was a little encouraged to see JBsptfn actually engaging the issue for a change (right in this post), but that didn't last long, did it?

      Now I see that Joe has deleted my last couple of comments from Metacrock, and accused me of flaming. I hope someone had a chance to read them before they were removed, because his accusations of flaming are an outright lie. If either of you have any balls, you can come here, and we can discuss our differences man-to-man. But I have no intention of behaving the childish way you behave. I am not like you.

    2. "Just to let you know, you three are banned from the CADRE blog and Joe's blogs."

      Oh. I am cut to the quick. Here I was about to go to Hinman's blog and mock him some more. ROTFLMAO

      "You don't contribute anything of value to any discussion."

      Aside from links to recent, reputable and respected polls that contradict the bullshit you spew?
      You should contribute a tenth so much, fool.

      "You do the same things that you do (and have done) on every Christian blog: Insult people...."

      Only those that insult me first.
      Think about it.

      "....and make stupid, false comments."

      If only you calling them that made them either.
      Not here in the real world, son.

      "You rarely contribute to a discussion in a positive way."

      I contribute in a positive way every time I post.
      You on the other hand ladle out bare assertions and insults.
      Physician heal thy self.

      "Before I go, I have another point to make...."

      Holy Koresh....isn't this about the 5th time you've promised you were leaving? I'm afraid I've lost count.

      "You call yourselves atheists."

      And do you and Hinman finally understand what that term means?
      Somehow I doubt it.

      "I don't think you are. You are God-haters. "

      I dont' really give a shit about your crazy ideas concerning invisible sky fairies until you start acting on them.
      Your "god" doesn't worry me at all-his fan club scares the crap out of me.

      "Maybe you can join up with John Loftus and Chatpilot (at the link below) and whine about Christians and God: "

      Can I get you some cheese to go with that whine little man?

    3. @JoeBtfsplk

      Did you google "Btfsplk", fool?
      I'm sure it's before your time since you are so green.

      Capp's character hits the mark on you. A sad little jinx who carries his own little cloud of doom and gloom wherever he goes.

  6. You call yourselves atheists. I don't think you are. You are God-haters.

    100 percent true. I pointed this out a few weeks ago, and of course Skeppy denied it, but it's blindingly obvious when you read more than one of their comments.

    They don't disbelieve in God, they hate Him.

    1. I don't suppose you could explain how this is supposed to work? I don't believe in the tooth fairy, and if i argue against someone who does, would that mean I hate the tooth fairy? I don't think so. It's hard for me to muster feelings of hatred against something that doesn't exist. But I just might have something to say about the person who does think it exists. I just might think that person is lacking in logic and reason.

    2. "...They don't disbelieve in God, they hate Him."

      Oh, Planker.

      I hate your "god" about as much as you hate brahma and ame-no-koyane.
      Believe in ten gods or three. I couldn't care less until you start trying to put your superstitions into my country's laws, courts, foreign policy, public ceremonies, my child's public school science class and my wife's vagina.

      Then we have a problem that has nothing to do with whether your invisible sky fairy exists or not.

    3. Ok, can you provide an argument to demonstrate that I-S, Merrill or Papa are god haters rather than atheists? You can make a deductive argument, inductive argument, but an abductive argument is probably best. If you don't think you can defend your assertion then it would be nice if you'd admit it. My guess is that you cannot defend it.

      As a start, an argument from best explanation will need to account for all their clear atheistic behaviors such as asserting that theistic beliefs are incoherent or meaningless. Good luck.

  7. "They don't disbelieve in God, they hate Him."

    Now who's being a drama queen? Truth be known, hating god is akin to hating a fence picket and with about as much energy invested matching the motivation to remove the picket. C'mon plank there is no kudos or benefit gained in acting as if you are as thick-as a-4"-plank. You're not. But boy! The character of this psychotypal response suggests you're grievously afflicted with a god virus, a condition that intellectually compromises a person's capacity for reasoned judgement and assessment.

    As Skep says, how does one hate non-existence?

  8. You know what I hate? Blinkered people wearing God-colored goggles trying to tell me that I'm not seeing things correctly. With these goggles on, they see God everywhere they look. If I don't see him, it must be because I hate him. If I don't agree with their God-colored definition of faith, it's just my stubborn refusal to don the same goggles that they wear. Sorry, but I can see better without them.