bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 12

Sire’s First Two Objections
Shortly after the turn of the century, the Christian apologist James Sire revised his understanding of the concept of a “worldview” and wrote a book advocating this revised understanding: Naming the Elephant (hereafter: NTE).  Some of the the key changes that Sire makes to his conception of a “worldview” are defended in Chapter 5 of NTE.  In Chapter 1 of NTE, Sire summarizes the issues covered in Chapter 5 of NTE:
Is a worldview primarily an intellectual system, a way of life, or a story? (NTE, p.22)
One of his key conclusions from Chapter 5 is clearly stated in Chapter 7:
First, a worldview is not fundamentally a set of propositions or a web of beliefs. That is, it is not first and foremost a matter of the intellect.  (NTE, p.123)
In a previous post in this series,  I defended Sire’s earlier concept of a worldview against the objection that it unrealistically requires that a worldview consist of a carefully thought out complete and systematic philosophy of life.   I agree that this would be an unrealistic requirement or definition of “worldview”.   However, neither his previous definition of “worldview”, nor his previous description of the nature of worldviews had this implication, so there is no need to modify his previous definition or account based on this concern.
The second objection raised by Sire against his older conception of a worldview (covered in the previous post), is presented in a subsection of Chapter 5 called “The Right Questions” on pages 94 to 97 of NTE:
What is missing from my seven questions is not content but existential relevance.  (NTE, p.97, emphasis added)
Based on the comparisons Sire makes between his seven worldview questions and similar sets of questions proposed by Dilthey, Orr, Walsh & Middleton, this objection can be re-stated in terms of practical concerns:
Sire’s seven worldview questions lack a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.
If this is a good interpretation of the objection, then I would concede that there is some truth to this objection.  Sire’s intention behind his seven basic worldview questions was to capture the basic and most important issues of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  However, it seems to me that Sire’s seven questions do not do a great job of capturing the basic questions of ethics, so there is room for improvement by adding one or two basic questions of ethics and/or by revising one or two of his questions to make them more clearly questions of ethics or more clearly questions about practical concerns.
Question (6) attempts to get at the heart of ethics but fails to do so:
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
This question is too narrow in two different ways.  First, it is focused on epistemology (“How do we know…”).  Other questions in Sire’s list deal with epistemology, so this one ought to be more about ethics.   Second, this question focuses on morality, but ethics is broader than just morality.  Here is my suggested alternative:
(6A)  How should I live my life?  (What are the main criteria for judging that a life is/was a good life, a well-lived life? What are the main obstacles to acheiving such a life?)
If we revise his question (6) to (6A), and if we understand that there are ethical aspects to questions (3) and (7), then Sire’s set of worldview questions would provide a proper emphasis on practical and ethical concerns.  Thus, the second objection represents only a minor problem that can be corrected with a minor change (or two) to Sire’s questions.
Worldview as a Way of Life?
The third objection that Sire raises against his older conception of worldviews, is that it makes more sense to understand a worldview as being “a way of life” (NTE, p.97) rather than to understand a worldview as being “a system of thought” (NTE, p.98) because of “the practical, lived reality of worldviews…” (NTE, p.100).
The sub-section of Chapter 5 where Sire presents this third objection is called “Worldview as a Way of Life” (NTE, p.98-100).  The first sentence in this sub-section is worth careful examination:
While worldviews have been overwhelmingly detected and expounded using intellectual categories, from the first there has been a recognition that they are inextricably tied to lived experience and behavior.   (NTE, p.98, emphasis added)
Recall a key conclusion of Chapter 5, which Sire states in Chapter 7:
First, a worldview is not fundamentally a set of propositions of a web of beliefs. That is, it is not first and foremost a matter of the intellect.  (NTE, p.123)
So, clearly Sire thinks it was a mistake to understand worldviews primarily in terms of “intellectual categories”, categories such as “beliefs” and “propositions”.  This is a mistake, according to Sire, because worldviews are “tied to lived experience and behavior.”
Sire appears to believe that there is a conflict between understanding worldviews in terms of “intellectual categories” and recognizing that worldviews are “tied to lived experience and behavior.”  Let’s consider a strong version of this view, namely the view that these are mutually exclusive claims:
(MEC) If X is best understood in terms of “intellectual categories” (such as “beliefs” or “propositions”), then X cannot be tied to lived experience and behavior.
It seems fairly obvious that (MEC) is false.  Consider the following belief:
(AIM)  Having an abortion is an instance of murdering an innocent child.
Some people hold this belief.  If someone holds this belief, they are likely to be reluctant to have an abortion, and are unlikely to encourage someone else to have an abortion, and will be reluctant to vote for a political candidate who is strongly pro-choice.
If someone frequently has abortions (and has no regrets about having them) or frequently encourages others to have abortions (and has no regrets about doing this) and has no reluctance about voting for a political candidate who is strongly pro-choice, then we would rightly doubt the claim that this person believed (AIM) to be true.  That is because beliefs have implications for choices and actions, and beliefs have an influence on a person’s choices and actions.
This is especially the case with ethical beliefs, and it is clearly the case with beliefs that people have concerning the most basic questions of ethics:
(6A)  How should I live my life?  (What are the main criteria for judging that a life is/was a good life, a well-lived life? What are the main obstacles to acheiving such a life?)
It is difficult, if not impossible, for a sane adult person to have no beliefs about these questions. If a person has some beliefs about these basic questions of ethics, then those beliefs will influence the choices that person makes and the behavior of that person.
In Sire’s older book The Universe Next Door, he describes the view of morality that is part of the worldview of Christian Theism:
7. Ethics is transcendent and is based on the character of God as good (holy and loving).
This proposition has already been considered as an implication of proposition 1 [i.e. 1. God is infinite and personal (triune), transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good.] .  God is the source of the moral world as well as the physical world.  God is the good and expresses this in the laws and moral principles he has revealed in Scripture.  (TUND, p.35)
Theism…teaches that not only is there a moral universe, but there is an absolute standard by which all moral judgments are measured.  God himself–his character of goodness (holiness and love)–is the standard.  Furthermore, Christians and Jews hold that God has revealed his standard in the various laws and principles expressed in the Bible.  The Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the apostle Paul’s ethical teaching–in these and many other ways God has expressed his character to us.  There is thus a standard of right and wrong, and people who want to know it can know it.  (TUND, p. 36)
If someone holds these various beliefs about right and wrong, then such a person is likely to consult the Bible when they are struggling with a moral issue or question, and such a person is likely to take seriously arguments based on the Bible concerning that and other moral issues.  If some person has no interest or concern about what the Bible teaches about various moral issues, and if that person never takes seriously any arguments about moral issues that are based on the Bible, then it would be perfectly reasonable to doubt the claim that this person holds the above beliefs about right and wrong.
Furthermore, if a person is firmly convinced that the Bible teaches that it is morally wrong to do X, and if that person holds the above BELIEFS about right and wrong, then we would expect that person to be reluctant to do X (or at least to feel bad about doing X), and we would expect that person to be reluctant to encourage others to do X (or at least to feel bad about doing so).
If some person has no reluctance about doing X and never appears to feel bad about doing X, and if that person often encourages others to do X and never appears to feel bad about encouraging others to do X, then it is quite reasonable to doubt the claim that this person firmly BELIEVES that the Bible teaches that it is morally wrong to do X and that this person holds the worldview-related BELIEFS about right and wrong found in Sire’s description of Christian theism.
Beliefs have implications, and a person’s beliefs influence how that person thinks and how that person feels, and how that person acts.  That is why worldview-related beliefs are important and significant, because they influence our thinking, our feelings, the choices we make, and the actions we take.
Richard Swinburne, one of the world’s leading defenders of the Christian faith, argues that there is a logical or conceptual tie between beliefs and actions:
Belief has consequences for action, for it is in part a matter of the way in which one seeks to achieve one’s purposes, the goals or ends one seeks to achieve.
Suppose that I seek to get to London, and I come to a junction in the road.  Then clearly if I believe that it is more probable that the road on my right leads to London than that the road on the left does, I shall take the road on the right.  (Faith and Reason, 2nd edition, p.9)
Clearly, the choices and actions that a person makes or takes are indications of the beliefs held by that person, and Sire appears to acknowledge this point:
…we can assess whether we ourselves (or anyone else) hold a particular worldview by observing how we or others act.  (NTE, p.98)
How we view life affects the life we live; it governs both the unconscious actions we engage in and the actions we ponder before acting.  (NTE, p.99)
In Chapter 6 of NTE, Sire explicitly ties worldview-related assumptions to actions and behavior:
Everyone has a worldview.  Whether we know it or not, we all operate from a set of assumptions about the world that remain to a large measure hidden in the unconscious recesses of our mind. …
I wake up in the morning, not asking myself who I am or where I am.  I am immediately aware of a whole host of perceptions that my mind orders into the recognition that it’s morning:  I’m home, I’m crawling out of bed.  In this immediate awareness I do not consciously ask or answer, What is the really real?  How do I know I am home?  or, How can I tell the difference between right and wrong?  Rather, my unconscious mind is using a network of presumptions about how to interpret for the conscious mind what is going on.  In some way all of the basic worldview questions are being answered by the way I am acting and behaving.  (NTE, p.107-108)
The “assumptions about the world”  and the “network of presumptions” that Sire speaks of here are BELIEFS held by the person in question.  So, in this passage Sire clearly implies that a person’s worldview-related BELIEFS guide their choices and actions.  Therefore, Sire agrees with Swinburne’s view that our beliefs are closely connected to, and influence, our choices and actions.
Therefore, since beliefs are an “intellectual category” and since our beliefs–especially our worldview-related beliefs–clearly impact and influence our choices and actions, it is clear that (MEC) is false.  Worldviews can be understood in terms of “intellectual categories” such as “beliefs” and “assumptions” and “propositions” and “presuppositions”, and this does NOT imply that worldviews are disconnected from “lived experience and behavior”.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 9

Here are some key points from the first section (Relation of Faith to Reason) of Geisler’s article “Faith and Reason” (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 239; hereafter: BECA):

  • The contents of faith “are above reason.” and so must be revealed to humans by God.
  • Faith “involves will (freedom) and reason doesn’t coerce the will”.
  • Some theological truths “have been proved demonstratively” and can be based on reason, such as the existence of God.

If we take the second point in a straightforward manner, then there appears to be no conflict between faith and reason, at least in terms of the requirement that the assent of faith be a free choice.  If reason doesn’t compel a person to give assent to any theological claim or doctrine (or against any such claim or doctrine), then reason doesn’t preclude a person from freely choosing to give assent to any theological claim or doctrine.
The question I’m not clear how to answer is this:  Can a demonstrative proof compel a person to assent to the conclusion of the proof?  always? sometimes? never?  What is Aquinas’ view on this question?  I’m not sure.
The second section of the article is about Three Uses of Reason:  1. Reason can be used to prove the “preambles of faith”, such as the existence of God.  2. Reason can be used to explain or clarify a theological concept or doctrine.  3. Reason can be used to defend a theological belief by refuting an objection or an argument against that belief. (BECA, p.239).
Although the “preambles of faith” can be “proved demonstratively”(Summa Theologica, 1a.3.2), “such arguments are not available for the second kind of divine truth…” (Gentiles, 1.9, quoted in BECA, p.239).  An example of the second kind of divine truth would be the doctrine of the Trinity.  Aquinas believed that reason alone was insufficient to discover or to prove the doctrine of the Trinity, and that humans can possess this truth only because God has revealed this to us.
The passage quoted from Gentiles 1.9 also includes the following comments about divine revelation:
The sole way to overcome an adversary of divine truth is from the authority of Scripture–an authority divinely confirmed by miracles.  For that which is above the human reason we believe only because God has revealed it.  Nevertheless, there are certainly likely [probable] arguments that should be brought forth in order to make divine truth known.
Apparently when Aquinas speaks of “divine truth” here, he is speaking of the second kind of divine truth (e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity) and not the first kind of divine truth (e.g.  the existence of God), for the first kind of divine truth can be “proved demonstratively” and based on reason alone.
When Aquinas speaks of using “likely [probable] arguments” to support the second kind of divine truth I think he means showing the divine authority of the scriptures (or of Jesus or of the apostles) by making an appeal to the occurence of miracles that allegedly confirm the messages or teachings from those sources.  The authority of the scriptures or revelation is also supported by the belief that God is completely truthful:
…it was necessary for divine truth to be delivered by way of faith, being told to them as it were, by God Himself Who cannot lie…(Summa Theologica, 2a2ae.1, 5.4).
So, Aquinas suggests the basic apologetic argument for the authority of scripture:  Miracles confirm that a book or a messenger are bringing a message that truly comes from God, and God is completely truthful, so we can have complete confidence in the truth and accuracy of books or messengers that have been confirmed by miracles.
Apparently, Aquinas does not see this as a demonstrative proof, but rather as a “likely [probable]” argument. Nevertheless, it is still an argument, a bit of reasoning.  Thus, it seems to me that even the second kind of “divine truth”, such as the doctine of the Trinity, ultimately rests on reason, in that it rests on an argument, a bit of reasoning, about the alleged divine inspiration of the scriptures.  The appeal to confirming miracles requires empirical evidence and the evaluation of that evidence, and the important premise that God is completely truthful, is, presumably, based on a “demonstrative” proof about God being a perfectly good person.
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith – Part 6

I have noticed a problem of unclarity in my own thinking and writing about the Thomist view of faith.  Before I go further in discussing Swinburne’s characterization of the Thomist view of faith, I want to briefly consider the point of unclarity or ambiguity in my previous discussion of this view of faith. I have been sliding too easily over the distinction between possibility and necessity concerning the role of reasons and arguments in the Thomist view of faith.
Aquinas believes that it is POSSIBLE to base one’s belief in the existence of God on reasons and arguments.  Aquinas believes it is POSSIBLE to know that God exists on the basis of arguments for the existence of God.  But that does NOT mean that everyone who believes in God bases this belief on reasons and arguments.  The view of Aquinas is that a few people, who are intellectually sharp and who have received a thorough education in philosophy and metaphysics are able to come to know that God exists on the basis of philosophical and metaphysical reasoning about God.  But many people who are not intellectually sharp or who have not had the benefit of a thorough education in philosophy and metaphysics, believe in God and this belief is not based on philosophical and metaphysical reasoning about God.  Thus, although it is POSSIBLE  to have knowledge of the existence of God based on REASON, belief in the existence of God is often NOT based on REASON.
Aquinas thinks that there are some beliefs about the properties and actions of God that are not knowable, even by intellectually sophisticated philosophers, on the basis of REASON, on the basis of reasons and arguments that are grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts.  For example, Christians believe that God is a Trinity, that God is three persons and yet one being.  Aquinas does not think that belief in the Trinitarian nature of God is something that can be based on REASON; one cannot prove the doctrine of the Trinity on the basis of reasons and arguments grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts.  So, even philosophers must rely upon REVELATION from God, in order to arrive at the belief that God is a Trinity.
I have argued that when a person TRUSTS in God as a source of information and advice, that this trust is based upon beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God, and thus that this TRUST is based upon REASON.  But this inference is problematic, because in some cases beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God are NOT based upon REASON, not based upon reasons and arguments that are grounded in empircal and/or conceptual facts.   Although intellectually sophisticated philosophers can believe in God on the basis of REASON, and thus have beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God that are based on reasons and arguments grounded in emprical and/or conceptual facts, many people believe in God in a way that is NOT based on REASON, in the view of Aquinas.
Furthermore, just as it appears to be POSSIBLE but not NECESSARY to believe in God’s existence on the basis of REASON, so it would also appear to be POSSIBLE but not NECESSARY to TRUST in God as a source of information and advice on the basis of REASON, given the Thomist view of ‘faith in God’. So, it seems to me that I have over-estimated the role of REASON in the Thomist view of ‘faith in God’.
On the one hand, the Thomist view does make it POSSIBLE for ‘faith in God’ to be a purely rational thing:
Purely Rational Faith:  An intellectually sophisticated philosopher can believe in the existence of God on the basis of philosophical arguments grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts, and that belief in the existence of God can then provide a rational basis for TRUST in God as a source of information and advice, and given further rationally-based beliefs about God having communicated certain claims (e.g. ‘God is a Trinity’), such a believer can have other additional rationally-justified beliefs about the properties and actions of God (e.g. ‘God is a Trinity’).
However, although the Thomist view allows for such purely rational ‘faith in God’, this view also allows for other ways of having ‘faith in God’ that appear to be much less rational:
Non-Rational Faith:  An intellectually unsophisticated person can believe in the existence of God without basing that belief on reasons or arguments grounded in empirical and/or conceptual facts.  Such a person might also TRUST in God as a source of information and advice on the basis of this belief in the existence of God.  But since his/her belief in the existence of God is not based on REASON, neither is that person’s TRUST in God as a source of information and advice based on REASON.  Any beliefs such a person forms on the basis of beliefs about God communicating certain claims (e.g. ‘God is a Trinity’) must therefore also not be based on REASON.
So, contrary to my previous post, it appears that the Thomist view of faith allows for the POSSIBILITY of purely rational faith, but it does NOT imply that ‘faith in God’ is NECESSARILY purely rational faith, but leaves open the possiblity that ‘faith in God’ is quite often NOT purely rational faith.

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 5

We have been examining the Thomist view of faith, as characterized by Richard Swinburne in Faith and Reason (FAR).
In order to avoid the implication that one must reason in a circle in order to have ‘faith in God’, a supporter of the Thomist view of faith can draw a distinction between beliefs about God that are implied by the statement ‘God exists’ and other beliefs about God that are NOT implied by this claim.  For a Thomist, belief in the existence of God is (or can be) based on reasons or arguments, thus some beliefs about God can be based on reasons and arguments, while other beliefs about God are (for a person who has ‘faith in God’) based on divine revelation.
The use of this distinction to rescue the Thomist view of faith, required that the analysis of ‘faith in God’ be modified slightly, as follows:
Definition 3
Person P has faith in God
IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes that God exists,  AND
(b) P believes that God has various properties (divine attributes),  AND
(c) P believes that God has performed various actions,  AND
(d) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions that are not implied by the concept of God are accepted by P because P believes that God has revealed those beliefs.
Swinburne gives two examples of beliefs about God,  taken from the Nicene Creed, that are supposed to be based on divine revelation:
(MHE) God made Heaven and Earth.
(RTD) God will one day  raise the dead.
Both examples are, however, problematic.
Swinburne’s analysis of the claim ‘God exists’ involves the identification of a person who has several divine attributes.  One of the divine attributes used to identify a person as being ‘God’ is that of being ‘the creator of all things’ (The Existence of God, 2nd ed., p.7).  If one can make a case for the probable existence of God, then that means that one has shown that there probably is a person who is ‘the creator of all things.’   Such a person must obviously also be a person who ‘made Heaven and Earth’.  Therefore, if one can show that God exists on the basis of reasons and arguments, then in doing so one has also shown that (MHE) is true. There would thus be no need for divine revelation as the basis for the belief that (MHE) was true.
Now (RTD) is not so directly and obviously implied by the statement ‘God exists’, but it does have a very close connection to a rational case for the claim ‘God exists’.  Any rational case for the claim that ‘God exists’ must deal with the problem of evil to be successful.  Swinburne’s case for the claim ‘God exists’, for example, involves an extended examination of the problem of evil (see The Existence of God, Chapters 10 & 11).  One aspect of the problem of evil that is particularly challenging for belief in God, is the fact that some people appear to have lives that are very miserable, lives in which the pain, sorrow, and suffering of the person appears to outweigh any pleasure, happiness, and comfort that person has experienced.
Swinburne believes that human suffering could be allowed by a perfectly good and omniscient and omnipotent deity, but that it would be unjust for God to bring about a human life in which the pain, sorrow, and suffering of that life outweighed any good aspects of that life.  The key response to this particular aspect of the problem of evil is that God has the power to grant further life after death to such persons, so that in the long run there is more good than bad in that person’s experience (The Existence of God, p.262).
So, although resurrection of the dead might not be absolutely necessary to ensure justice to those people whose lives were filled with pain, sorrow, and suffering, some sort of afterlife appears to be required in order to make sure that every human life contains more good than bad in the long run.  The claim ‘God exists’ does not directly imply that there will be life after death, but given the sorts of evils and distribution of evils that actually exist in this world, it would be difficult if not impossible to defend the idea that God is perfectly good, omnipotent, and omniscient apart from the supposition that God will provide a life after death, at least for some people who got the short end of the stick in this life.  Thus, given that the supposition of a life after death is a necessary component of any halfway plausible case for the existence of God, rational belief in the existence of God will involve belief in life after death, and it is only a short step from that belief to (RTD).  So, in arriving at belief in the existence of God on the basis of a rational case for God, one will already have good reason to believe (RTD) or that something similar to (RTD) is the case.
I’m not saying that there are no beliefs about God besides beliefs that are implied by the claim ‘God exists’.  But the fact that both of Swinburne’s examples are problematic, provides some support for my view that the central and most important beliefs about God’s properties and actions are already contained in the concept of ‘God’ and implied by the claim that ‘God exists.’  One example of a belief that goes beyond the claim ‘God exists’ is the belief that God is a Trinity of three persons in one being.  Aquinas did not think that one could prove that God was a Trinity.  This was a belief about God that one must accept on the basis of divine revelation.  I’m inclined to agree with Aquinas that the Trinitarian nature of God cannot be established on the basis of reasons and arguments.  However, Swinburne puts forward a philosophical argument for the Trinity in his book The Christian God (see Chapter 8), so for Swinburne it is possible to base belief in the Trinity on reasons and arguments.
There probably are some beliefs about the properties and actions of God that go beyond the concept of ‘God’ and the belief that ‘God exists’, but it seems to me that most of the central and important beliefs that Christians have about God are contained in the concept of ‘God’ or implied by the claim ‘God exists’ or are implied by essential parts of a rational case for the existence of God.  If that is so, then the Thomist view of ‘faith in God’ delegates most of the central and important beliefs that Christians have about God to REASON, and leaves a secondary and rather less important role for trust in divine revelation, for TRUST in the truth and correctness of what God has (allegedly) communicated to humans.
Furthermore, the TRUST that believers who have this sort of ‘faith in God’ have in the advice and information that they think comes from God is itself based on beliefs about the properties of God, such as that God is omniscient and perfectly good.  Those beliefs about the properties of God, are (from a Thomist viewpoint) based on REASON.  So, the Thomist conception of ‘faith in God’ seems to be very heavily grounded in REASON, since even those theological beliefs that are accepted on the basis of divine revelation, are accepted on the basis of beliefs about the knowledge, character, and motivations of God, which are in turn based on reasons and arguments that are independent of divine revelation.
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 4

We have looked at a simple and widespread understanding of ‘faith in God’:
Definition 1
Person P has faith in God IF AND ONLY IF  P believes that God exists.
One problem with Def. 1 is that the devil himself would have ‘faith in God’ based on this definition, and thus this could hardly be considered  to be a virtue, to be the kind of faith that is commended by the Christian religion.
According to Swinburne (in Faith and Reason, 2nd ed., hereafter: FAR), the Thomist view of faith is similar to Def. 1, but with “one addition and two qualifications” (FAR, p.138).  Swinburne’s characterization of this view of faith has, however, two additions.  Here is my attempt to capture that characterization (with the additions, not the qualifications):
Definition 2
Person P has faith in God
IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes that God exists,  AND
(b) P believes that God has various properties (divine attributes),  AND
(c) P believes that God has performed various actions,  AND
(d) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted on the ground that God has revealed those beliefs.
This definition might get around the counterexample that the devil has ‘faith in God’ if we assume that the devil can directly perceive God in a way that humans cannot (so the devil would not have to rely upon God revealing theological truths).
I suggested an objective and a subjective interpretation of condition (d):
Objective Interpretation
(d#) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted by P as a result of God revealing those beliefs.
On this interpretation the definition fails, because it implies the counterintuitive view that NOBODY has ever had ‘faith in God’ if it turns out that there is no God. If there is no God, then there can be no divine revelation of theological truths, and on the objective interpretation of condition (d) there can be ‘faith in God’ only if God actually reveals some theological truths.
Subjective Interpretation
(d*) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted by P because P believes that God has revealed those beliefs.
The subjective interpretation of (d) allows for there to be people who have ‘faith in God’ even if there is no God, so this interpretation is to be preferred over the objective interpretation.  But, there seems to be a problem of circularity looming here.
If I trust my doctor for medical information and advice, I do so because I have various beliefs about her knowledge, character, and motivations.  Similarly, if someone trusts God for information or advice, this implies that this person has various beliefs about God’s knowledge, God’s character, and God’s motivations.  If someone places great confidence in information or advice that he/she believes came from God, this is presumably based, in part on the belief that God is omniscient (all-knowing), and presumably is based, in part on the belief that God is a perfectly good person who loves all human beings and cares about their well-being.
If one has ‘faith in God’, then beliefs about the properties of God are supposed to be accepted on the basis of trusting in God, specifically trusting in God for information and advice.  But that trust is in turn based on beliefs about the properties of God.  This is reasoning in a circle:
1.  God is omniscient and perfectly good and cares about the well-being of each and every human.
Therefore:
2.  Whatever information or advice God gives to humans must be true or correct.
3. God has communicated the information that God is omniscient, perfectly good, and that God cares about the well-being of each and every human.
Therefore:
4. It must be true that God is omniscient, perfectly good, and that God cares about the well-being of each and every human.
So, Definition 2, on the subjective interpretation of (d), appears to require that a person who has ‘faith in God’ must engage in circular reasoning.
Someone who wanted to defend the Thomist view of faith might make use of the distinction between knowing that God exists on the basis of a proof or argument for God, and believing other things about God on the basis of divine revelation.  In trying to prove that God exists, or to show that it is probable that God exists, one must define what one means by the word ‘God’, and this is usually done in terms of a list of divine attributes (e.g. omniscience, omnipotence, perfect goodness, being eternal, etc.).  But not every property and activity of God is included in the definition of ‘God’.   So, whatever properties (divine attributes) are included in the definition of ‘God’ are established on the basis of reasons and evidence. Then, when one has been persuaded that there is such a person as God, one would be rationally justified in placing trust in any information or advice that one believes came from God, and such information apparently from God might include claims about other properties or actions of God that are not contained in the basic concept of God.
In order for this distinction to help rescue the concept of ‘faith in God’, the above definition needs to be modified a bit:
Definition 3
Person P has faith in God
IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes that God exists,  AND
(b) P believes that God has various properties (divine attributes),  AND
(c) P believes that God has performed various actions,  AND
(d) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions that are not implied by the concept of God are accepted by P because P believes that God has revealed those beliefs.
By dividing beliefs about God into two categories (those believed on the basis of arguments or evidence and those believed on the basis of divine revelation), it does appear that one can avoid the circular reasoning that Definition 2 required of people in order to have ‘faith in God’.
However, the reason why some properties and actions are built into the concept of God is, generally, because those properties and actions are the most important and significant ones, from a religious point of view.  Therefore, it appears that beliefs about God accepted on the basis of divine revelation will, in general, be beliefs that are less important and less significant than the beliefs about God that are accepted on the basis of arguments or reasons.  This seems to give reason the primary role in the concept of ‘faith in God’ and to give divine revelation a secondary and less important role in the concept of ‘faith in God’.

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 3

I said that I was not going to walk slowly through the rest of Chapter 4 of Faith and Reason (FAR), by Richard Swinburne.  But there is a lot going on in the next few paragraphs of Chapter 4, and I find myself wanting to make several comments on them.  So, contrary to my previous plans,  I’m going to continue to walk slowly through at least the next few paragraphs.
Before we get to Swinburne’s characterization of the Thomist view of faith,  I have a couple more comments.  Swinburne focuses on the ideas of “belief that” and “trust in a person” as key aspects of different views of faith.  The Thomist view focuses on “belief that”, while the Lutheran view focuses on “trust in a person”.  I would like to point out two fairly obvious logical connections between these ideas, before we see what Swinburne has to say about how they are related to the concept of faith:
1.  One kind of “trust in a person” leads quite naturally to the formation of beliefs.
If I trust a person for advice or information, then when that person gives me advice, or gives me information, I will be inclined to form beliefs in accordance with that advice or information.  If my doctor tells me “The best way to ensure a full recovery from your illness is to do X”, and if I trust my doctor for medical advice, then I will be inclined to form the belief that “The best way to ensure a full recovery from my illness is to do X.”  If my chemistry professor tells me that “Hydrogen has an atomic weight of 1.00794 u, and hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic table.”, and if I trust my professor to know about such things in the field of chemistry, then I will be inclined to form the belief that  “Hydrogen has an atomic weight of 1.00794 u, and hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic table.” (Thanks to Wikipedia for this example).
2. Trust in a person normally (always?) involves beliefs about that person.
If I trust a person to take good care of my daughter while I am on a trip out of town, I do so on the basis of beliefs about the trustworthiness of that person.  I believe that this person cares about the well-being of my daughter.  I believe that this person is capable of taking good care of my daughter.  I believe that this person has a strong commitment to take good care of my daughter while I’m away, and I believe that this person is a responsible person who will do their best to fulfill this commitment.  My trusting this person is grounded in various beliefs that I have about the character and abilities of this person.
According to Swinburne, the Thomist view of faith is closely related to what…
…is by far the most widespread and natural view of the nature of religious faith.  This is the view that, with one addition and two qualifications, to have faith in God is simply to have a belief-that God exists. (FAR, p.138)
So we now have a proposed simple definition of faith:
Definition 1
Person P has faith in God IF AND ONLY IF  P believes that God exists.
One interesting and problematic implication of this definition is that the devil has ‘faith in God’.  According to the Christian scriptures, the devil believes that God exists.  But clearly, the devil does NOT trust in God, and the devil does NOT love God, and the devil has no desire to obey God.  The devil is at war with God, but to be at war with God requires that the devil believe that God exists.  If the devil has ‘faith in God’, then it would seem that ‘faith in God’ is NOT the kind of faith that the Christian religion commends.  Or, at least, the particular sort of ‘faith in God’ that the devil has falls short of the kind of ‘faith in God’ that is commended by Christianity.
Here is the “one addition” that Aquinas makes to the simple definition of ‘faith in God’ above:
…to have faith in God, you have to believe not merely that there is a God, but certain other propositions as well…. More central to faith are the other propositions about what God is like and what acts He has done, and you have to believe these latter propositions on the ground that God has revealed them. (FAR, p.138)
In case you didn’t notice, there are at least TWO additional elements that have been added to the initial simple definition.  First, there is the additional element that there are beliefs beyond just the existence of God that are central to faith, beliefs about “what God is like and what acts He has done”.  Second, these beliefs must be accepted “on the ground that God has revealed them.”:
Definition 2
Person P has faith in God
IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes that God exists,  AND
(b) P believes that God has various properties (divine attributes),  AND
(c) P believes that God has performed various actions,  AND
(d) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted on the ground that God has revealed those beliefs.
This is clearly a bit more complicated than the initial simple definition of ‘faith in God’.  However, even with the additional requirements, it still looks to me like the devil would have ‘faith in God’ on this definition.
The only potential reason for denying that the devil meets these conditions would be doubt about whether the devil’s beliefs about the properties and actions of God are “accepted on the ground that God has revealed those beliefs.”
Aquinas might argue that the devil knows about God’s properties and actions in a way that is more direct than the way that humans know, or become aware of, God’s properties and actions.  The devil, Aquinas might say, doesn’t need God’s help to learn about God’s properties and actions; the devil can directly perceive God in a way that humans cannot.  Humans need God to reveal his properties and actions to them; they cannot simply or directly perceive God, God’s properties, or God’s actions, at least not without God’s assistance.
There might be an ambiguity in condition (d).  It is not immediately clear to me whether (d) could be satisfied if God did NOT exist.  In other words, it is not clear to me whether (d) states a subjective or an objective requirement.   Let me try to formulate (d) in a way that is more clearly objective in nature:
(d#) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted as a result of God revealing those beliefs.
If we understand (d) in this way, as requiring that P’s beliefs about God have a certain kind of CAUSE, namely an act of divine revelation, then (d) could be satisfied ONLY IF God in fact exists and can perform actions that cause events or changes to occur.  But this would have the counter-intuitive implication that no Christian or Jew or Muslim has ever had ‘faith in God’ if it turns out that there is no God.   It seems to me that we skeptics and atheists are inclined to say that many religious believers have ‘faith in God’ even if we are completely convinced that there is no such being as God.  So, I don’t think the definition works on this objective interpretation of condition (d).
Here is a formulation of (d) that is more clearly a subjective one:
(d*) any beliefs that P has about God’s properties or actions are accepted by P because P believes that God has revealed those beliefs.
On this subjective interpretation of (d), it does not matter whether God exists or not.  So long as P believes that God exists and believes that God sometimes reveals truths to humans, then (d) could be satisfied even if it turns out that there is no such being as God (or even if there were a God who chose not to reveal theological truths to humans).
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 2

What does the word “faith” mean?  According to my dictionary (The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College Edition), the word “faith” has several different meanings:
 Definition 1:  A confident belief in the truth, value, trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
Definition 2:  Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
Definition 3:  Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance…
Definition 4:  Belief and trust in God.
Definition 5:  Religious conviction.
Definition 6:  A system of religious beliefs.
Definition 7:  A set of principles or beliefs.
There is nothing wrong with having “confident belief in the truth, value, trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing”, at least not if one has good reason for such confidence.
There is nothing wrong with loyalty to a person or thing, at least not if one has good reason for such loyalty.
There is nothing wrong with belief and trust in God, at least not if one has good reason for belief and trust in God.
 
Belief that “does not rest on logical proof or material evidence”  initially appears to be a bad thing, because such belief appears to be unreasonable, a mere prejudice.  However, in foundationalist epistemology, some beliefs are rationally adopted without being based on evidence.  Beliefs that are rationally accepted without being based on evidence are in the foundations of knowledge; these beliefs provide the basic premises and assumptions for the rest of what we know, which is inferred from those foundational beliefs.  The foundational beliefs which are rationally accepted without being based on other beliefs are known as properly basic beliefs.  If there are some properly basic beliefs, then it is SOMETIMES rational to accept a belief “that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence”.
So, at least in terms of the first four definitions of ‘faith’ above, faith is NOT always and unavoidably bad or irrational; it depends on the particular circumstances.  Sometimes it is reasonable to have “a confident belief”; sometimes it is reasonable to have a “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence”; sometimes it is reasonable to have “loyalty to a person”; sometimes it is reasonable to have “belief and trust in God” (or we can at least IMAGINE circumstances in which this would be reasonable, even if there is lots of evidence in the real world against the existence of God).
I’m now going to take a look at what my favorite Christian philosopher, Richard Swinburne, has to say about faith.  I’m going to walk slowly through the first paragraph of Chapter Four of Faith and Reason (2nd edition, hereafter: FAR).  In future posts I will not be walking slowly through each paragraph, and will try to summarize key points of this Chapter.
Swinburne will focus on the ideas of “belief that” and “trust in a person” in his discussion of faith.  I agree that these are key ideas that need to be considered in trying to clarify the concept of faith.  Let’s take a look at the opening sentences of Chapter 4:
So far in this book I have been concerned with propositional belief…I claimed that it matters greatly that we should have a true belief about whether there is a God, what He is like and what He has done;…However, the virtue which the Christian religion commends is not propositional belief but the virtue called in English ‘faith’. (FAR, p.137)
This opening remark suggests that Swinburne favors the idea of “trust in a person” over the idea of “belief that” as the main ingredient in an analysis of the concept of faith, because he states that “the virtue [of faith] which the Christian religion commends is not propositional belief…”  Swinburne will go on to state that the Thomist view of faith understands faith to be “a matter of having certain beliefs…” (FAR, p.140).  So, this initial comment by Swinburne seems to be in opposition to the Thomist view of faith.
This initial impression is reinforced by Swinburne’s characterization of faith at the beginning of Chapter 4:
What is faith, and what is its relation to belief?  The faith which the Christian religion commends is basically faith in a person or persons, God (or Christ)…
Having “faith in a person” implies the idea of trust.  In terms of ordinary use of the phrase “faith in a person” when we have human persons in mind, we mean something like trusting a person; we don’t mean believing that the person exists.  So, it seems like Swinburne is leaning towards the idea of trust as the key idea for analysis of the concept of faith.  But the rest of the above sentence (plus the next sentence) does not fit well with this interpretation:
What is faith, and what is its relation to belief?  The faith which the Christian religion commends is basically faith in a person or persons, God (or Christ) characterized as possessing certain properties and having done certain actions; and secondarily in some of the deeds which He has done, and the good things which He has provided and promised. (FAR, p.138)
The rest of the sentence seems to go back to the idea of “belief that” which Swinburne will later say is central to the Thomist view of faith.  Who is doing the characterizing of God (or Christ) here?  Presumably it is the person of faith, and characterizing God does not merely mean saying certain things about God’s properties and actions; it means believing that God has certain properties and has done certain actions.  So, now it is not so clear that Swinburne is favoring the idea of “trust in a person” over the idea of “belief that” about God’s properties and actions.  He seems to be trying to use both ideas in this initial analysis of faith.
Although I think it is helpful to focus in on a particular religious tradition, such as Christianity, to help reduce some of the ambiguity of the word ‘faith’, when Swinburne speaks of the “faith which the Christian religion commends” I can’t help but wonder about non-commended faith.  In other words, his comment suggests that there is a set of examples or instances of “faith” and that only a subset of these instances should be considered faith of the kind that is commended by the Christian religion.  So, although it may be helpful to focus attention on the kind of faith commended by the Christian religion, the meaning of the word “faith” appears to have a broader scope and includes other examples or instances in addition to examples that would be commended by the Christian religion.

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 1

Some general observations to consider before attempting to answer the question “What is faith?”:
1. Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.
Or better:  Try to understand what faith is before you try to evaluate the goodness or badness of faith.
2. The word ‘faith’ has multiple definitions in any decent dictionary.
The word ‘faith’ is literally ambiguous.  Some uses or meanings of the word ‘faith’ should be set aside, and one should focus in on one or two meanings that seem particularly significant or relevant to issues that one wants to investigate.
3. One way to reduce some of the ambiguity of the word ‘faith’ would be to focus on the meaning of this word in a particular religious tradition.
For example, one could focus on the concept of faith in Christianity and Christian theology.
4. Even in terms of just one religion, particularly Christianity, there appear to be different and conflicting views about faith.
For example, a key issue between Protestants and Catholics has been whether salvation is achieved by faith alone.  So, one might want to examine alternative concepts of faith within a religious tradition.
Richard Swinburne examines a Thomist view of faith, a Lutheran view of faith, and what he calls a Pragmatist view of faith (Faith and Reason, 2nd ed., Chapter 4).  William Sessions examines seven different conceptions of faith, including a Thomistic conception, a Calvinist conception, a Lutheran conception, and a ‘Contemporary Reconstructive’ conception (which appears to be an attempt to outline a modern liberal view of faith), plus one Hindu conception of faith, and two Buddhist conceptions (The Concept of Faith, Chapter 4).
5.  Another way to try to reduce the ambiguity of the word ‘faith’ is to focus on particular sentences or phrases with the word ‘faith’ that are of significant interest.
6. The understanding of ‘faith’ of the average person in the pew might well be different from the understanding of ‘faith’ by intellectually sophisticated Christian believers.
Christian theologians, Christian philosophers, and Christian apologists might have understandings of ‘faith’ that differ from the views held by less sophisticated Christian believers.
Problems to watch for…
7.  There might be logical inconsistencies between the conception of ‘faith’ explicitly advocated by an intellectually sophisticated believer and other Christian beliefs or doctrines.
8.  There might be logical inconsistencies between the conception of ‘faith’ explicitly advocated by an intellectually sophisticated believer and known facts about the world or human behavior.
9. There might be logical inconsistencies between the conception of ‘faith’ explicitly advocated by an intellectually sophisticated believer and  a plausible and well-supported philosophical theory. 
10. There might be logical inconsistencies between the conception of ‘faith’ explicitly advocated by an intellectually sophisticated believer and the actions, practices, habits, and policies of that believer or other believers.
NOTE:
The collection of essays in Faith, edited by Terence Penelhum (Macmillan Publishing Company, 1989), looks very helpful, as do many of the essays in Contemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology, edited by Douglas Geivett and Brendan Sweetman (Oxford University Press, 1992).