bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 7: Two Definitions of “Faith”

The Two Main Definitions of “Faith” in Unapologetic
There are seven short statements in Unapologetic that appear to be definitions of the word “faith”.  The definition given in Chapter 1 (p.37) is an incomplete version of the definition given in Chapter 2.  The definition given in Chapter 2 is clear and worthy of serious consideration:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence.  (Unapologetic, Chapter 2, p. 55)
There is no definition of “faith” given in Chapter 3.  The definition in Chapter 4 is unclear because of metaphorical language (“gives believers permission to…”) and it is problematic because of a difficult-to-discern condition (“to pretend what they believe is true”).  The defintion in Chapter 5 is unclear because of use of a metaphorical expression (“an irrational leap over the probabilities”).  The definition given in Chapter 6 is clear (and it is repeated verbatum in Chapter 8, on page 194):
Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (Unapologetic, Chapter 6, p.152)
The definition in Chapter 7 is similar to the definition in Chapter 2, but is less detailed, and the key element of this definition can be added to the definition given in Chapter 2 to enhance that definition.
Modified Chapter 2 Definition:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence, which in turn results in the believer overestimating the probability of the claim in question.
The two clearest definitions of “faith” given in Unapologetic are the definitions in Chapter 2 and in Chapter 6.
These two definitions can each be summed up in just two words.  The definition in Chapter 2 (and the modified version of it) are clearly definitions of CONFIRMATION BIAS.  So, the Chapter 2 definition can be summarized like this:
FAITH = CONFIRMATION BIAS
Three different categories of trust are referenced by the definition in Chapter 6:

  • unevidenced trust
  • misplaced trust
  • irrational trust

I have argued that “unividenced trust” is insignificant because it is rare, and I have argued that “misplaced trust” is sometimes unavoidable, because the evidence available to a specific person is sometimes misleading, and because some people are skilled at deceiving others, so that even a serious effort to trust others based on objective evaluation of evidence will sometimes fail to uncover an untrustworthy person.
What matters in terms of “misplaced trust” is when such bad trusting is the result of “irrational trust”, when one ignores or downplays significant evidence indicating that a person (or thing) is unworthy of trust.  So, in the end, the key element of the definition in Chapter 6 is just ONE of the three kinds of bad trusting:
FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST
 
At Least One of These Two Definitions is WRONG
Clearly  CONFIRMATION BIAS is something different from IRRATIONAL TRUST.  So, at least one of these two definitions of “faith” must be wrong.  CONFIRMATION BIAS is a type of cognitive bias, but IRRATIONAL TRUST is not a type of cognitive bias.  IRRATIONAL TRUST is an attitude of a person towards another person or thing, but CONFIRMATION BIAS is not an attitude of a person towards another person or thing.  Therefore CONFIRMATION BIAS is something different than IRRATIONAL TRUST.  These two definitions disagree about the genus of faith; they disagree about what kind of thing “faith” is:

  • If  FAITH = CONFIRMATION BIAS, then it is NOT the case that FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST.
  • If FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST, then it is NOT the case that FAITH = CONFIRMATION BIAS.

Since the two clearest definitions of “faith” in Unapologetic disagree about the genus of faith, and because they equate “faith” with two differnt and distinct phenomena,  at least one of these two definitions must be wrong, mistaken, incorrect.  So, the meaning of the most important concept in Unapologetic is unclear, because the two clearest definitions of “faith” provided in Unapologetic disagree with each other.
 
Both of These Two Definitions are WRONG
 
Faith is Not CONFIRMATION BIAS
I have previously indicated two reasons why FAITH does not mean CONFIRMATION BIAS.
First, the term CONFIRMATION BIAS was invented in the second half of the 20th century, and it is a term of scientific psychology. But the word FAITH has been a part of the English language for over six centuries, so it is unlikely that the word FAITH would just happen to have the same meaning as a recently invented scientific term.
Second, the word FAITH is closely associated with religion and religious belief.  Paradigm cases of FAITH are “faith in God”, “faith in Jesus”, and “faith in the Bible”.  The scientific term CONFIRMATION BIAS has no such association with religion or religious belief. CONFIRMATION BIAS infects the thinking of humans about nearly every subject imaginable:  history, politics, ethics, biology, medicine, finances, economics, government, law, personal relationships, child rearing, problem solving, planning, policy making, elections, decision making, etc.  Furthermore, CONFIRMATION BIAS has widspread and frequent influence on the thinking of non-religious people, just as it also has widespread and frequent influence on the thinking of religious people.
Third, the word FAITH is a word in the English language, and the English language has been significantly influenced by the Christian religion, and the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are a central and important aspect of the Christian religion, and Jesus uses the word “faith” (in English translations of the Gospels) in a way that does NOT correspond to the term CONFIRMATION BIAS:
Matthew 16:5-12 New Revised Standard Version
5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread.
6 Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
7 They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.”
8 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread?
9 Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?
10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?
11 How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!”
12 Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Jesus is scolding his disciples for not having a proper amount of FAITH, for not trusting that God would provide them with enough food to carry out their divine mission.  Jesus points out that they have personally witnessed at least two different miracles on different occassions where God provided them and thousands of other people with plenty of food.  In other words, Jesus is saying that they ought to have greater trust in God being willing and able to provide them with food, based on the powerful evidence of directly observing at least two different miracles where God had provided food for thousands of people.
Clearly,  Jesus is NOT advocating that his disciples believe that God is willing and able to provide them with food in the face of powerful evidence against this assumption; rather Jesus is advocating that he disciples ought to have a firm belief that God is willing and able to provide them with food, given that they have personally experienced at least two miracles where God provided food for them and thousands of other people. Jesus was clearly NOT advocating CONFIRMATION BIAS to his disciples, but was, rather, advocating that they have firm belief or trust in God on the basis of strong evidence for this belief.
Of course,  I don’t believe that any such miracles of feeding actually took place, and I’m not entirely convinced that Jesus is more than just a fictional character in a mostly fictional story told by the authors of the Gospels.  However, such skeptical views about the historicity of the Gospels and about Jesus, are irrelevant to understanding the meaning of the word FAITH as it is used in this particular Gospel story.  Clearly,  the Jesus who is speaking (whether fictional or historical) believes that his disciples have witnessed at least two miracles where God provided food for thousands of people.  Clearly, this Jesus believes that this powerful empirical evidence can be the basis or ground for FAITH or firm trust in God, particularly trust that God is willing and able to provide Jesus and his disciples with enough food to eat.
When Jesus speaks of FAITH in the above passage it is clear that Jesus does NOT mean CONFIRMATION BIAS.
 
Faith is Not IRRATIONAL TRUST
First, the word FAITH is closely associated with religion and religious belief.  Paradigm cases of FAITH are “faith in God”, “faith in Jesus”, and “faith in the Bible”.  The phrase IRRATIONAL TRUST has no such association with religion or religious belief. IRRATIONAL TRUST infects the thinking of humans about people, animals, machines, foods, medicines, etc.  It is not limited to trust in God or trust in Jesus, or trust in spirits or angels.  Furthermore, IRRATIONAL TRUST has widspread and frequent influence on the thinking and behavior of non-religious people, just as it also has widespread and frequent influence on the thinking and behavior of religious people.
Second, the expression “blind faith” would be redundant, if FAITH meant IRRATIONAL TRUST.  “Blind” faith implies belief or trust that ignores relevant evidence, especially evidence that the object of trust is unworthy of trust.  So, the word “blind” implies IRRATIONAL, when it is used as a modifier of the word FAITH. Thus “blind faith” means IRRATIONAL FAITH.  So, if FAITH means IRRATIONAL TRUST, then “blind faith” means IRRATIONAL TRUST that is IRRATIONAL.  But in that case the word “blind” is completely redundant and adds nothing to what was already contained in the concept of FAITH.  This is a good reason to doubt the view that FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST.
Third, although FAITH is closely associated with religion, we can also speak of “faith in science”, and “faith in reason”, and “faith in democracy”.   Although such FAITH could in some cases be IRRATIONAL TRUST, it is generally reasonable and rational to have “faith in science”, “faith in reason”, and “faith in democracy”,  so in these non-religious uses of the word “faith”  it is wrong to assume that FAITH = IRRATIONAL TRUST.
Fourth, the word FAITH is a word in the English language, and the English language has been significantly influenced by the Christian religion, and the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are a central and important aspect of the Christian religion, and Jesus uses the word “faith” (in English translations of the Gospels) in a way that does NOT correspond to the phrase  IRRATIONAL TRUST. (see the discussion of the Gospel passage above).  When Jesus speaks of FAITH in Matthew 16:5-12,  it is clear that Jesus does NOT mean IRRATIONAL TRUST.
 
Could Each of These Definitions be Partially True?
We could make use of the distinction between product and process to combine the two definitions:
FAITH =
IRRATIONAL TRUST that was produced by CONFIRMATION BIAS
Although this is an interesting concept, it is highly problematic as a definition of “faith”, because most, if not all, of the above objections to the two clear definitions of “faith” provided by Loftus apply to this definition.  Furthermore, this definition increases the problem of the significance of “faith” by reducing the scope of phenomena included under the concept of “faith”.
I agree that CONFIRMATION BIAS is a bad thing.   I agree that IRRATIONAL TRUST is a bad thing.  But in each case, it seems to me that to make a crusade that is worth joining, these targets seem a bit too small.  Why not fight against ALL forms of cognitive bias?  Why only focus on CONFIRMATION BIAS?  Why not fight against ALL forms of irrationality?  Why only focus on IRRATIONAL TRUST?  The target of Mr. Loftus’ crusade seems a bit skimpy already, but if we combine the two definitions, then the dragon to be slayed shrinks down to the size of a small dog or large rodent (perhaps a ROUS – Rodent Of Unusual Size). Not only are we to focus narrowly on IRRATIONAL TRUST, but we are to ignore all instances of IRRATIONAL TRUST that are not produced by the specific mechanisms of CONFIRMATION BIAS.
If the scope of the crusade is pared down to a fight against only a modest slice of instances of IRRATIONAL TRUST, then I’m not willing to join this crusade.  It might be realistic to tackle this fairly narrow slice of human IRRATIONALITY, but I think more than this is needed to justify a crusade.  Furthermore, the combined definition, like the two original definitions, has no close relationship to religion or religious belief.  This slice of IRRATIONAL TRUST is one that infects and impacts the thinking and actions of non-religious people and thinking about non-religious issues about as much as it infects and impacts the thinking and actions of religious people and thinking about religious issues.

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 6: Faith as Irrational Trust

Some Key Points from Part 5
Mr. Loftus is on a crusade against FAITH, and his book Unapologetic, is a part of this crusade.  But before any person who is a critical thinker (i.e. someone who “sits at the adult table”) chooses to join this crusade, Loftus needs to clearly specify the purpose of the crusade, and that means that Loftus needs to provide a clear definition or analysis of the meaning of the word “faith”.  In particular, he needs to clearly specify what it is that he means by the word “faith”, so that others can make a rational decision as to whether or not to join Loftus’ crusade against faith.
In Part 5 of this series we examined a definition of “faith” that Loftus gives in Chapter 2 of Unapologetic:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence.  (Unapologetic, p. 55)
I also proposed a modified version of this definition, which borrows a key element from a definition of “faith” that Loftus gave in Chapter 7:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence [for claims that they believe], which in turn results in the believer overestimating the probability of the claim in question.
On either of these definitions, the meaning of the word “faith” is the same as the meaning of the psychological term “confirmation bias”.
If “faith” just means “confirmation bias”, then I and many other atheists and skeptics would be glad to join Loftus’ crusade; however, there are some problems that result if Loftus is  asserting that the word “faith” means the same thing as “confirmation bias”:  (1) this raises doubt about the correctness of this definition because it seems very unlikely that a word that has been part of the English language for more than six centuries would happen to have the very same meaning as a modern term of scientific psychology which was invented in the second half of the 20th century (i.e. “confirmation bias”),  (2) it seems foolish to drag the unclear and controversial word “faith” into the fray, if the enemy to be vanquished is “confirmation bias”, because an attack on “faith” will provoke serious political, social, and psychological resistance (much more than an attack on “confirmation bias”),   (3) “confirmation bias” is a universal human problem that is NOT confined to religious believers; it is a widespread cause of serious intellectual deficiencies for both religious and non-religious people.
Faith As Irrational Trust
Loftus also provides a different definition of “faith” in Chapter 6:
Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (Unapologetic, p.152)
This definition appears to be an important one to Loftus, because he repeats it verbatum in Chapter 8 (Unapologetic, p.194).
Is this a better or less problematic definition of “faith” than the definition from Chapter 2?
This can be viewed as a genus/species definition, where the genus of “faith” is trust, and the species of “faith” is irrational (or unevidenced or misplaced).   Faith is a particular kind of trust, namely trust that is irrational.  Faith, according to this definition, is a sub-category of trust.  All instances of faith are instances of trusting something or someone, but not all instances of trusting something or someone are instances of faith.
Loftus does not provide clarification of the adjectives used in this definition: “irrational” and “unevidenced” and “misplaced”.  He does not indicate whether these three terms represent three different categories of trust, or if two of the words are being used to point to one kind of trust (“irrational” and “unevidenced” being closely-related ideas) and the third word relates to a different kind of trust (thus pointing to two different categories of trust), or if all three words are being used to describe one single category of trust.
Because Loftus provides no details about this definition, we are left to guess at his meaning (this is NOT the way those who sit at the adult table usually present definitions of very important words).  I take it that “irrational trust” and “unevidenced trust” and “misplaced trust” represent three distictly different categories of trust, and I will now attempt to explain how these concepts differ from each other.

  1. IRRATIONAL TRUST does not imply UNEVIDENCED TRUST (because one can have some evidence that a person P is worthy of trust and yet also have much stronger evidence indicating that the person P is unworthy of trust).
  2. UNEVIDENCED TRUST does not imply IRRATIONAL TRUST (because a newborn infant is about the only person who would have zero evidence to trust a person P, and thus be capable of having unevidenced trust in person P, but such trust in P by a newborn infant would not count as irrational trust).
  3. IRRATIONAL TRUST does not imply MISPLACED TRUST (because the person S who trusts person P might have evidence that strongly indicates that P is unworthy of trust, even though person P is in fact worthy of trust–evidence can sometimes point in the wrong direction).
  4. MISPLACED TRUST does not imply IRRATIONAL TRUST (because person P might in fact be unworthy of trust, so that person S’s trust in person P is misplaced trust, and yet the evidence that person S has could strongly support the view that P is worthy of trust–since evidence can sometimes be misleading).
  5. UNEVIDENCED TRUST does not imply MISPLACED TRUST (because even if a person  S has no evidence indicating that person P is worthy of trust,  S’s placing trust in P might not be misplaced trust, because P might in fact be worthy of trust).
  6. MISPLACED TRUST does not imply UNEVIDENCED TRUST (because person P in fact be unworthy of trust, so that person S’s trust in P is misplaced trust,  and yet S might have some evidence indicating that P is worthy of trust).

I take it that “misplaced trust” is an external or objective phenomenon that is NOT relative to the evidence possessed by some specific individual.  I also take it that “irrational trust” and “unevidenced trust” are internal or subjective phenomena that ARE relative to the evidence possessed by some specific individual.  Different people can be in possession of different bits of evidence, so the rationality or irrationality of person S’s trust for person P depends on the specific bits of evidence that happen to be possessed by S during the time when S trusts P.  The same goes for “unevidenced trust”.
I understand “misplaced trust” to be an external or objective phenomenon that is primarily concerned with whether the object of trust is in fact worthy of trust.  Thus:

Person S has MISPLACED TRUST in person P  if and only if:  

(a) person S trusts person P, and

(b) person P is unworthy of trust. 

In the above comparisons of “unevidenced trust” with “irrational trust” and with “misplaced trust” I interpreted “unevidenced trust” to mean that one person trusts person P while having zero evidence in support of the view that P is worthy of trust.  But perhaps that sense of this phrase is too strong, since only a newborn infant would be in a position to have zero evidence about whether to trust a person.  The rest of us almost always have some relevant evidence based on past experiences with trusting other people, and in most cases we have some relevant evidence about the appearance and demeanor of the person in question, which is relevant to making such judgements (even if not very significant), or we have some relevant evidence based on past experiences with some category of people to which this particular person belongs.  So “unevidenced trust” might not mean trust that is based on ZERO evidence relevant to whether the person in question is worthy of trust, but might instead mean something like having ZERO evidence based directly on the past actions and behavior of that specific person.
If “unevidenced trust” just means trusting a person without having any evidence based directly on the past actions and behavior of that specific person, then one could have rational trust in a person P, even if that trust was “unevidenced trust”, since one might have other information that supports the view that person P is worthy of trust.  Thus, “unevidenced trust” on this weaker interpretation still does not imply “irrational trust”.
Shoud We Join this Crusade against “faith”?
Should we be willing to join a crusade against trust in something or someone when that trust is either “irrational trust” or “unevidenced trust” or “misplaced trust”?
Misplaced trust is clearly a bad thing, but it is unavoidable to an extent, because even when one makes a serious effort to trust people only when the available evidence indicates that a person is worthy of trust, we are still going to make some mistakes and end up trusting some people who are in fact unworthy of trust.  This is because evidence can sometimes be misleading, and because it can often be difficult to determine that a person is unworthy of trust, especially if that person is good at deceiving others.  It would be good to try to reduce the amount of “misplaced trust” in the world, but we are going to have to live with a significant amount of “misplaced trust” even if we get nearly everyone to be more rational about what and whom they trust.
Should we be willing to join a crusade against “unevidenced trust”?  In the strong sense of “unevidenced trust” where this means trusting a person P when one has ZERO evidence in support of the view that person P is worthy of trust, then I would not join such a crusade, because “unevidenced trust” is extremely rare, and probably only occurs in newborn infants.  We have no way to persaude newborn infants to alter their behavior, since they have not yet mastered basic language skills, so there would be no point to such a crusade.
Furthermore, if we understand “unevidenced trust” in a weaker sense where this means trusting a person P when one has ZERO evidence based directly on the past actions and behavior of that specific person, then I would not be inteterested in joining a crusade against “unevidenced trust”, because we can have other sorts of evidence for making rational decisions about whether to trust a person.  So, in this weaker sense of “unevidenced trust” such trust is often not such a bad thing.
If there is anything called out by the definition of “faith” in Chapter 6  that is worthy of fighting against, it is “irrational trust”.  Irrationality is something that critical thinkers oppose, and something that we who sit at the adult table are very concerned about.  Human beings are the “rational animal” in the sense that we are THINKING animals, but our thinking is very often biased, illogical, unclear, confused, ignorant, and unreasonable.  We humans are perhaps better named the “irrational animal”, as evidenced by the recent election of an ignorant, racist, bigoted, idiotic demagogue as president of the United States of America.  Perhaps “irrational trust” in something or someone, is an evil that is worthy of a crusade.
But “irrationality” is more than a problem concerning who we decide to trust.  Irrationality affects and infects all of our thinking, all of our believing, and all of our decisions.  So, why not make the crusade against irrationality in general?  Why focus on only irrational trusting?  Furthermore, if we are going to focus in on just one area of irrationality for a crusade, why not irrationality in elections? or irrationality in decision making?  I’m not yet convinced that irrational trusting should be at the top of our list of priorities.
Suppose, however, that I am mistaken, and that irrational trust ought to be at or near the top of our list of evils to fight and overcome.  Some of the same objections that I had about a crusade against confirmation bias apply here.  If irrational trust is the dragon that we wish to slay, then why bring the unclear and controversial word “faith” into the fray?  This will provoke a serious amount of political, social, and psycological resistance, so it seems foolish to make “faith” the target of a crusade, when it is actually “irrational trust” that we want to reduce or eliminate.
Irrational trust of things and persons is a universal human problem.  This is not something that is isolated just to Christian believers, nor to religious persons.  If every religious person in the world were to vanish into thin air tonight at midnight, in the morning the world would still be populated by people who frequently engage in irrational trust of things and persons.  Atheists, agnostics, skeptics, marxists, secular humanists, communists, and every sort of “none-of-the-above” non-religious person engages in irrational trust in things and persons.  Irrational trust is a universal human problem, not just a problem for religious people.
Finally,  I myself view Christian trust in Jesus, and Christian trust in God, as irrational trust, as trust that is not reasonable and rationally justifiable (Loftus and I agree on this point).  But I think that one important way of helping people to see that their trust in someone is irrational, is to challenge them to defend the reasonableness of this trust with reasons and arguments, and then to point out problems in, and objections to, the reasons and arguments that they provide in response to this challenge (including problems with lack of factual evidence, or with questionable factual claims and assumptions).
When we challenge Christian believers to rationally justify their trust in Jesus or trust in God, and when we criticize reasons and arguments they provide in support of trusting in Jesus or trusting in God, we are DOING philosophy of religion.  So, if we are going to join a crusade against “irrational trusting”, then an important part of that crusade would require that we engage in some philosophy of religion.