July 18, 2024

What is faith?

I happened across a video of a couple of Christians reviewing my debate with John Lepp. They said it wasn’t very polished or professional on either side. I agree, but the biggest fault I have with myself is assuming that once I give the clues, my audience should be able to connect the dots and understand the implications that I think are obvious without further explanation. That has consistently proven not to be the case. Experience has shown that no matter how obvious I think that was, I will find out otherwise in the Q&A. In this case, it took multiple people paraphrasing the same question over again for me to figure out that nobody got it. I must learn to be more explicit in my explanations.

Although both of my reviewers were Christian and they agreed that I won that debate, that didn’t have any effect on their position, which makes me wonder what the value of debate might be. If winning the debate doesn’t change the minds of the opposition, then what is the point?

I didn’t listen to their whole review, but I got as far as where they felt compelled to redefine faith -as believers so often do. It is remarkable how theists will misrepresent faith and evidence however they need to in order to avoid the inescapable flaw in their position, while simultaneously trying to project that fault onto me. The faithful will rarely admit that faith is a belief that is not based on evidence -until they want to accuse me of that. Until then, in their upside-down & backwards perspective, faith is a belief that depends on evidence -despite the fact that they can never provide any that leads to their conclusion.

This is where my reviewers had to paraphrase my definition of evidence, leaving out a key word that would have overruled their objection. I said that evidence is a body of facts which are either positively indicative of, or exclusively concordant with, one available conclusion over any other. They omitted the word “available” and argued that maybe we would figure out a better hypothesis later -as if that would have any impact on what I said. They said my definition is an impossible standard, but only because they don’t or won’t understand that I’m only making the distinction of when mere facts become evidence.

A fact is a point of data that is either not in dispute, (such as in hypothetical discussion) or is indisputable in that it is objectively verifiable. As one who has dabbled in various aspects of occult spiritualism and had many paranormal experiences, (which I now understand to be invalid) I can tell you that your memories and your personal convictions are not facts. Nor are they “truth”. The truth is what the facts are, only what we can show to be true. You don’t “know it in your heart” either —for the same reason. Knowledge is demonstrable with measurable accuracy. If you can’t show it, you don’t know it.

If the same fact would still align with two or more different scenarios with no impact on either one, then it is just a fact. It only counts as evidence when that fact either contradicts one of the available scenarios or could only be true in one of those cases. Because then that fact becomes indicative of one of those conclusions, and that’s what it takes to makes it evidence. It has to indicate something. The same fact cannot be true in both scenarios because then it wouldn’t indicate anything and therefore wouldn’t be evidence of either one; it would just be a fact. This is not an impossible standard; this is just simple logic. I have a list of facts which meet this standard for evolution. So it is not an impossible standard —unless you need evidence for God or the Bible. Then you’ll have to lower those standards quite a lot to count anything as evidence.

Historians have a different perspective on this than scientists do. They may cite any number of facts which they think support a particular interpretation, even though each of those facts would still be true in any number of alternative interpretations too. They refer to those clues as evidence, but I won’t. I will only use that word in the way I have described it, because I don’t want to confuse anyone.

Sometimes I say that faith is an assertion of unreasonable conviction which is assumed without reason and defended against all reason. By that I always clarify that evidence is the only reason anyone should believe anything. I cite apologetics as the practice of systematically making up excuses to dismiss any and all counter arguments in order to rationalize how one could still hold an unsupported and thus unwarranted position, and I cite the ‘statement of faith’ posted by so many fundamentalist organizations to demonstrate how faith is assumed independent of evidence and regardless of it.

I frequently hear Christians arguing the logical fallacy of false equivalence, either by accusing me of having faith just like they do or pretending that they have evidence just like I do. But our perspectives couldn’t be any more different. Theirs is not an investigation of anything that might be true; it’s merely an assertion of what they wish was true even though it evidently isn’t.

So then I hear that I have to have faith that an airplane won’t crash before I board it. But no, I can trust in statistical probabilities and past experience, having repeated this experiment dozens of times per year. That qualifies as evidence-based belief, not faith-based. John Lepp tried to imply that any inference implied by evidence is having faith “in” that evidence. No. We either base our beliefs on faith or we base our beliefs on evidence. In the latter case, if you can show me any fact that would only be true if your argument is correct or any fact that contradicts my own, then I will have to consider that fact and upon verification, adjust my position accordingly. I have no choice but to consider what the information indicates.

Faith is different. Faith allows one to believe whatever they want to -regardless what the facts are, no matter what the evidence is. Many times I have heard admissions to the effect that “these may be what the facts are, but I prefer to believe something else”. Once I even heard it from minister, John Christy at the podium of his church. He said “I have evidence that A exists, but I prefer to believe B. Although everything points to A, I’m going with B”. He admitted to his own congregation that he doesn’t care what the truth is: he’s gonna believe what he wants to believe. He also admitted that he is delusional by definition, and he said he doesn’t care.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a delusion is a persistent false belief that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary, to falsely claim something even when there is evidence otherwise. What makes these beliefs delusional is that they don’t change when the person is presented with conflicting information—the beliefs remain fixed even when the facts contradict them. This is a perfect description of faith. Some would say this only applies to blind faith. But there is no difference between faith and blind faith; they’re one and the same. Faith is always blind. The leaders and defenders of the faith and all the authorities of any faith are the blind leading the blind, because none of them can show that they actually got anything right, and none of them can distinguish their “sincerely held beliefs” from the illusions of delusion. There’s nothing to show that all of it isn’t just something someone just made up out of nothing. That’s what all religion evidently is.

Some believers really want to pretend that their position is somehow rational, but it is not. It is dishonest to assert as fact that which is not evidently true. Yet that’s what all religions do. It is never wise to accept anything said by another without question, without reservation, or without reason. Yet religion does that too. A fool is one who too readily accepts improbable claims from questionable sources on insufficient evidence. So it is no wonder that the Bible and the Qu’ran both try to turn the tables by saying that a fool is one who does NOT believe immediately and completely; that only believers understand, and that wisdom is somehow foolish. It is also dishonest to state in advance that you will reject any and all evidence to the contrary and never admit when you’re wrong, but that is exactly what so many creationist organizations say in their ‘statement of faith’.

“By definition, no apparent, perceived, or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.”

“verbal inspiration guarantees that these writings, as originally and miraculously given, are infallible and completely authoritative on all matters with which they deal, free from error of any sort, scientific [sic] and historical as well as moral and theological.”
–Institute for Creation Research

“[this school]….stresses the Word of God as the only source of truth in our world.”
–Canyon Creek Christian Academy

“…the autographs of the 66 canonical books of the Bible are objectively inspired, infallible and the inerrant Word of God in all of their parts and in all matters of which they speak (history, theology, science, etc.).”
–Creation Moments

“The Bible is the divinely inspired written Word of God. Because it is inspired throughout, it is completely free from error–scientifically, historically, theologically, and morally. Thus it is the absolute authority in all matters of truth, faith, and conduct. The final guide to the interpretation of the Bible is the Bible itself. God’s world must always agree with God’s Word, because the Creator of the one is the Author of the other. Thus, where physical evidences from the creation may be used to confirm the Bible, these evidences must never be used to correct or interpret the Bible. The written Word must take priority in the event of any apparent conflict.”
–Greater Houston Creation Association

Revealed truth: That which is revealed in Scripture, whether or not man has scientifically proved it. If it is in the Bible, it is already true without requiring additional proof.
…Fallacy: that which contradicts God’s revealed truth, no matter how scientific, how commonly believed, or how apparently workable or logical it may seem
–Bob Jones University, Biology Student Text (3rd ed.- 2 vol.)

This is the definition of an irrational position, because it is literally unreasonable. There would be no need or place for apologetics if faith was a rational position. The above citations each admit that no matter how true the truth really is, no amount of proof will ever change their minds. This makes faith the most dishonest position it is possible to have. An honest person would neither require nor desire faith. In all the universe, the only thing that really exists yet needs your faith is a bad salesman. That’s why I am an apistevist, someone who does not believe anything on faith. Any belief that requires faith should be rejected for that reason. That’s also why I get so irritated when the faithful try to project their faults onto me. I really hate that, but it happens every time. That’s why I’m writing this post.

So then the definition changes such that faith becomes nothing more than a synonym of trust, as if I trust evidence and they trust in God, the fallacy of false equivalence again. Of course that’s also an admission that they don’t trust evidence, isn’t it? What “trusting in God” really means is that they trust the ignorant superstitious primitives who wrote the Bible and who were later interpreted as speaking for God. There’s still no admission that there’s no evidence of God, nothing to convince anyone that a god actually exists or that the Bible got anything right. Yet they’re completely convinced of both of these things and will not question that.

To avoid that admission, they throw up a distraction. They cite Hume’s ‘problem of induction’ while I cite Boghossian’s observation that “faith is pretending to know what you don’t know”. I could go further and cite Nietzche: “Faith is what people believe in when they do not want to know the truth.” Or I could cite Twain, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” I could go on and on with myriad citations from many different clergymen and every definitive source proving that faith is a belief that is assumed without evidence and defended against all evidence to the contrary.

If faith and trust are the same thing, then faith has no meaning, and there is no way to distinguish whether anyone has faith. But we know they are not synonyms. There is an important difference that these believers don’t want to admit. Faith is a sort of trust, but it is not just trust. There is  a prefix and suffix required in order for trust to become faith. Faith is a complete [trust] that is not based on evidence.

Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing, that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.”

1. Complete trust or confidence.
2. Strong belief in a religion.
3. A system of religious belief.

“Belief; the assent of the mind to the truth of what is declared by another, resting solely and implicitly on his authority and veracity; reliance on testimony.”
–Accurate and Reliable Dictionary

“A firm belief in something for which there is no proof“.
–Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

“Belief in, devotion to, or trust in somebody or something, especially without logical proof.”

“For quite a lot of people, faith or the lack thereof, is an important part of their identities. E.G. a person will identify him or herself as a Muslim or a skeptic. Many religious rationalists, as well as non-religious people, criticize implicit faith as being irrational. In this view, belief should be restricted to what is directly supportable by logic or evidence.”
–Wikipedia [All emphasis added]

The dictionary often lists two definitions, one colloquial and one religious. If faith is defined as an unsupported conviction, then they have it and I don’t. If faith is defined colloquially as “a secure confidence in the truth, value, or reliability of a given position”, then I have it and they don’t, according to the behaviors I typically see when debating such people—like when they ignore all my questions and won’t acknowledge my answers either. But we are definitely talking about the religious context here, not my estimation of evident statistical probabilities when boarding an airplane. This is why it was so ridiculous when Ray Comfort tried to argue that I have faith in my wife: not in her fidelity, but in whether she exists. He said I could not adequately prove that and can only believe she exists on faith, the fallacy of solipsism.

If I were arguing scientific terms, I would have to cite peer-reviewed studies. Since faith is a religious term, I’ll have to turn to religious authorities, beginning with the most familiar scriptures in western society.

  • John 20:29 “blessed are they who have not seen but yet believe.”
  • Romans 1:20 “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood from the things that are made.”
  • Romans 14:22 “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction”
  • 2 Corinthians 4:18 “We look not at things seen, but at things not seen.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:7 “for we walk by faith, not by sight.”
  • Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

John Lepp actually tried to argue that Hebrews 11:1 meant that faith is a belief based on reason. He did this by imagining that it said “things not YET seen”. Of course it doesn’t say that, and he would still have been wrong even if it did. Scripture lists things hoped for, but not seen, looking at things that are not seen, not seeing what is seen, and the most common logical fallacy of religion, question begging as demonstrated in Romans 1:20, the circular argument routing back to the assumed conclusion.

Note that we are expected to see what is not there. Not only that, but we are blessed if make ourselves see what cannot be seen. Whatever we do, we are told not to be a doubting Thomas. We are to accept the highly dubious claim that he saw evidence, so we shouldn’t ask for it ourselves. Instead we are to believe without question simply because someone said so. This is not a reasonable request, and these are not reasoned responses. Faith is the very opposite of reason, and where faith is encouraged, reason is discouraged. We are expected to believe without reason; in fact, we are blessed if we readily believe the most outrageous illogical, inconsistent, and contradictory claims from even the most credulous and questionable people without any evidence at all. This is according to every definitive source including all the major scriptures and sermons of theologians past and present.

It’s not just for Christians either. Muslim and Hindu scriptures also reveal that faith is a conviction that is not based on evidence. But the wanna-believers won”t always admit that, and very often try to defend their position by pretending they have evidence -even though they can never produce any.

When I was on Dogma Debate with David Smalley, we interviewed this girl who was once an atheist activist but who now identifies as Christian. I pointed out to her that whenever someone leaves religion, they may be ostracized, criticized and bastardized, but believers don’t want to know the reason why that person no longer believes. But when an infidel adopts religion, it’s not like that. Having a perspective that is based on reason instead of faith means that we wanna know what your reason is. It doesn’t matter what you believe; all that matters is why you believe it. So I asked her several times what her reason was, and she was evasive, even dishonest about it. “Well I just looked at the evidence” she said. So I asked, “What evidence?” She dodged that with another smoke screen. “I just didn’t know all the facts”. So I pressed her again, “What fact did you find that changed your mind?” After what must have been twenty minutes or more of her ducking and dodging the question, I finally got the answer. She met a group of young Christian men in college, and she thought they were hot. That was the closest she ever came to providing any evidence that there is a god or that anything in the Bible is true. In other words, nothing. There was no evidence to change her mind. She was only lying about that. I know a lot of Christians who only pretend to believe because they think they’ll get something out of it.

“There can’t be a practical reason for believing what isn’t true; at least I rule it out as impossible. Either a thing is true or it isn’t. If it is true, you should believe it, and if it isn’t, you shouldn’t. And if you can’t find out whether it’s true or whether it isn’t, you should suspend judgment. It seems to me a fundamental dishonesty and fundamental treachery to intellectual integrity to hold a belief because you think it’s useful, and not because you think it’s true.”
—Bertrand Russell

I’ve heard this claim of atheists being converted by evidence a few times, but it always turns out to be something personal, described as a “revelation”. It seems that it is usually a realization that they have to believe in the scriptures they were raised with and are unable or unwilling to question that. Or it’s a realization that that’s what they already believed all along.

At Ken Ham’s ark encounter, I again heard a Christian claiming to have evidence for his beliefs. I called him out on video, demanding that he state what his evidence was. His answer? The logical fallacies of question begging and arguments from ignorance and incredulity: that he doesn’t understand science, therefore it must be magic. The evidence that changed his mind was that he never changed his mind. He believed in the Bible already. He never needed evidence to convince him, and he isn’t going to change his mind no matter what evidence you show him. That’s what faith is.

What I believe is an obligate condition imposed by my understanding of the facts, and my position will be forced to change as my understanding improves, or if I’m foolish enough to accept the fallacies, frauds, falsehoods and fakery so often presented for religion. I have no choice to reject the facts and believe otherwise. But the faithful sometimes admit that they’re gonna believe what they wanna believe, even if they don’t always admit that they believe what they do simply because they want to. Some have told me they believe what they do because they have to —for emotional illogical reasons that don’t make rational sense. For them, belief is a verb, an act of will, a conscious choice of mind over matter. Where there’s a will, there’s a way: the power of positive thought. It’s literally make-believe —where one thinks they can alter reality through the power of wishful thinking, but only if you can believe “hard enough”.

Sure there are those who believe what they do honestly, because they don’t know any better, because they think that everyone around them believes this way, then it must have some validity to it. But it doesn’t. I know many atheists who used to be sincere believers. But their sincerity (coupled with curiosity) is precisely why they don’t believe anymore. I have even encountered honest creationists. But very early in our discussions, they find they have to make a choice, whether to remain honest or whether to remain creationist: because it is no longer possible to be both. You either have to admit what you got wrong, or you start lying for the cause. I’ve been doing this too long for allow any other option.

Faith is required to believe in God or the scriptures pretending to speak for him precisely because there is no evidence of either one. There are arguments, but arguments are not evidence —especially when all of those arguments are either empty philosophical sophistry or logical fallacies. Just to clarify, the fables in the Bible are not evidence that those fables are true. The same could be said for the Bhagavad-Gita, Aesop’s fables, or any collectible issue of the Amazing Spider-Man.

So if you’re one of those believers who want to say that me and all the dictionaries and scriptures and hymns and theologians have got it all completely backwards, and that faith is really a belief that is based on evidence, fine. Show me what your evidence is. But when you fail to do that, as everyone does and you inevitably will too, at least be honest enough to admit that I got this right. Although I won’t hold my breath ’til you do.

Featured image is a still from the 1975 Who movie, Tommy.

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