Is faith a reliable path to knowledge?

Discussion in 'Comparative Religion' started by James R, Jul 23, 2015.

  1. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Most believers in God, when asked, will say that their belief is based in part on certain types of evidence that they trust, and in part on faith. The weight given to evidence and faith varies from person to person, but with a little pushing the honest believer will usually admit that God's existence cannot be established on the basis of evidence alone, and that faith is always involved.

    I would like to explore in this thread the question of whether faith is a good way to arrive at reliable knowledge about the nature of the world and the things in it. In particular, I would like to discuss whether it is reasonable to believe in God because one has faith that God exists.

    Let me start by getting one potential point of contention out of the way. People say things like "I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow", or "I have faith that my mother loves me". This is not the kind of faith I want to discuss here, and it is important that we have that clear at the start. Our "faith" that the sun will rise tomorrow is based on past experience - that the sun has risen every day of our lives without fail, and there's no reason to suppose it won't continue to do so in the near future. And your "faith" that your mother loves you (if you have it) is based on your lived experience, too. Probably your mother cared for you as a child. You probably keep in touch regularly. Your mother does things for you without always expecting you to do things in return. And so on and so forth.

    So, this "faith" that the sun will rise tomorrow is actually evidence-based, and so is the "faith" that your mother loves you. This is different from the kind of the religious faith I want to discuss here.

    Religious faith might be defined, approximately, as "belief even in the absence of good evidence". The term "leap of faith" is commonly used in this context. Perhaps as a believer you went to church, read the bible (or other religious text), and concluded that there's some evidence that God exists. But the evidence alone doesn't quite get you across the line. So, you make a final "leap of faith" - a choice to believe in God regardless of the lack of definite proof that God exists. This is the kind of faith that I'm talking about.

    My question is this: is this religious kind of faith - belief even in the absence of evidence - a good way to go about obtaining reliable knowledge about the world and what is in it?

    To start the ball rolling, I would like to ask the believers in God who are here the following questions:

    1. Do you admit that your belief in God is based, at least in part, on faith?
    2. What percentage of your belief in God would you put down to evidence, and how much to faith? Is there anything else I've overlooked that leads to your knowledge of God's existence?
    3. Apart from your belief in God, is there any other area of your life where you rely on faith to make decisions or choices, or to believe in something? Please give an example or two if your answer is "yes". And keep in mind my definition of faith - belief even in the absence of evidence.

    I look forward to your responses.
    Dennis Tate likes this.
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  3. AlexG Like nailing Jello to a tree Valued Senior Member

    I see a dichotomy between knowledge Of god and knowledge from god. The former is an individual matter of belief , while the latter is non-existent.
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  5. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    I would say that the question of knowledge is different from the question of belief.

    Knowledge is often defined as justified, true belief. To say we know that God exists, for example, we need (a) to believe that God exists, (b) to have some justification for holding that belief and we also require that (c) God must exist in fact.

    Under this prescription, no atheist can know that God exists, because element (a) is not present for the atheist. On the other hand, if God doesn't actually exist, then nobody can know that God exists, really, because element (c) is not present. One cannot know something that isn't true, though you might believe that you know.

    But this is a side-track from the main point of this thread, which is primarily about element (b). Believers say that they can justify their belief in God in a variety of ways. I'm interested in one particular way: faith.
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  7. Spellbound Banned Valued Senior Member

    Faith/ belief is important to reason and how we perceive the external.
  8. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    I'd say that faith/belief is a major stumbling-block to both reason and perception. Faith/belief leads to preconception and sidelining of reason.
    Write4U likes this.
  9. origin Heading towards oblivion Valued Senior Member

    Faith is hope overcoming reason.
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  10. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    Faith based on evidence is certainly logically science based faith, and is a part of science. The example given in the OP of the Sun rising everyday is one.
    Religious folk see the awesome, outstanding complexity of the Universe and life as something beyond normal scientific explanation and simply invoke a magical deity to explain it all. The drawback of course is that logical people can than ask the same question about this magical deity and who created him/her/it.
    The question or suggestion can be asked, is why can religious people simply do away with one step, [the deity] and accept the Universe for what it is and the potential of eventually knowing and understanding.
    While science as yet are unable to explain the why and how of the BB and the emergence of life, they openly are researching and seeking an answer to that.
    I have nothing against any religious person: I wake up next to one everyday of my life.

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    Some believers are the most desirable and best people on Earth: Some believers are the most undesirable detestable people on Earth.
    Some Atheists are the lowest form of scum one can imagine: Some Atheists are the most desirable people on Earth, helping others when they can at all times.

    Science is continually pushing back the need for any explanatory deity to make sense of what is around us.
    Religious folk prefer rightly or wrongly, to accept that science will never be able to obtain total truth [and they maybe correct] and substitute a non scientific entity to do that explaining. But again logically one needs to then explain that entity/deity.
    Science prefers to do away with that extra step [a non scientific one anyway] and keep looking for answers based on evidence, and the scientific method.

    I believe [I have evidence based faith in other words] that based on that continuing evidence, that a time will be reached when religion is "out of date" and science will be able to explain enough of the Universe to satisfy most logical thinking people.
  11. timojin Valued Senior Member

    Hope is something you want , feith is the force which will propel you to obtain what you want, reason is subjective
  12. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    It is interesting that both of you have mentioned hope.

    When somebody says "I have faith that God is real", do you think they mean something other than "I hope that God is real"?


    Is faith something that forces you to act in certain ways in your everyday life? It would be good if you could answer the questions I put in the opening post.

    I am also interested in your claim that reason is subjective. Suppose I claim that 2+2=5. Would it be fair to say that such a statement is wrong for everybody (i.e. objectively wrong), or do you think it's just wrong for most people but it could be right for me (subjective)?
  13. origin Heading towards oblivion Valued Senior Member

    That is exactly what I mean. I do not think that a person of faith would agree with me however.
  14. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    So, general question to believers: is faith different from hope? If so, what is the difference?
  15. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Even as an atheist, I hope God exists, especially a God that has our interests at heart, that provides an "afterlife" etc. Even a God simply defined as "Original Cause" would be something to hope for if one wants/needs answers to such questions.

    But I have no evidence for those things. Hence I am agnostic on the matter, and do not have belief in the existence of those things. I am an atheist.

    So if all a believer means is "I hope..." then what is it that distinguishes them from agnostic atheists such as me?
  16. origin Heading towards oblivion Valued Senior Member

    The level of hope I suppose. A theist has faith (or hope) that his prayers are more than him talking to himself.
  17. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    We have faith that our spouses will come home tonight instead of going off with somebody better. We have reason to have faith - i.e. they've come home every night this week.

    We hope our faith is not misplaced.
  18. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Faith is an idea that's found in many religions. They needn't be theistic.

    Buddhism has a concept of faith ('sraddha') which means 'trust' or 'confidence'. It's very important for beginners in Buddhism, since beginners have to have enough confidence in the path to initially begin practicing it. But sraddha isn't a prescription for credulity. Nor is it a path to salvation in its own right, except in the sense that it motivates young Buddhists to practice, which is thought to provide its own experiential verification.

    Islam has highly developed ideas about faith. Unfortunately, I'm unfamiliar with them. (I suspect that ISIS and Muslim suicide bombers provide examples of Islamic faith turned pathological.)

    The rest of my remarks will address Christian and (more tangentially) Jewish ideas of faith.

    I think that it's probably a mistake to think of faith as a way of acquiring new information, as if it was something analogous to a new sense in addition to sight or hearing, or another peculiar mode of inference. I realize that many street (and internet) Christians seem to think of faith that way, but I don't think that it's really Biblical and I don't think that's how trained theologians typically think of faith.

    In what Christians call the Old Testament, the Hebrew word translated as 'faith', 'emuna', means 'constancy', 'steadfastness' and 'loyalty'. We still see that usage in the English word 'faithful', as in 'faithful companion'. When the OT calls for 'faith in the lord', it's calling for confidence and trust, and especially for loyalty, not for belief in theological propositions.

    The earliest Christians (including those who wrote the New Testament) were Jews, and even if they no longer spoke Hebrew, they were raised in a culture in which Hebrew ways of thinking were like the air they breathed.

    But in the fourth century BCE Alexander the Great conquered the entire eastern Mediterranean and established Greek rule as far east as Afghanistan and the Punjab. By the time of Christ, Greek settlements were established throughout Asia minor and what is now Syria and Palestine, including the great city of Alexandria in Egypt, one of the cultural capitals of the ancient world. The Romans stepped into this 'Hellenistic' world and established their rule over it, but the eastern Mediterranean remained predominantly Greek speaking and its culture Greek to a greater or lesser degree depending on local conditions. (That division between the Latin-speaking west and the Greek speaking east was one of the great facts of the Roman empire.)

    But there were older cultures in these areas than the Greek, and some of those cultures never entirely disappeared. The Egyptians were the largest, and the Jews were another. The use of Hebrew gradually died out in Jerusalem, except for liturgical/religious purposes. But it wasn't replaced by Greek, but by Aramaic, a related Semitic language widely spoken in rural Syria at the time. Attempts to establish Greek and Greek culture in Jerusalem and among the Palestinian Jews were violently rebuffed in the Maccabean revolts. Jesus and his immediate disciples probably spoke Aramaic among themselves and likely thought in fairly traditional Jewish ways.

    But while the Palestinian Jews were struggling to remain aloof from Greek culture and from Greek ways of thinking, Jews were moving throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Many of the larger towns had Jewish communities, centered around local synagogues, but still rather aloof and distant from their neighbors because of their peculiar Jewish customs and laws. Some of these Jews even started thinking of the Jewish law as a burden that they wished they were free of. This Jewish diaspora adopted the Greek language and to a lesser extent, Greek ways of thinking. So one would expect to see Hebrew and Greek ways of conceiving of things coming together in the writings of diapora Jews of the time. The New Testament was written in Greek by diaspora Jews.

    Greek thinking is dramatically different from Hebrew thinking, and Greek thinking is kind of implicit in the Greek language, in how words are defined and used. The Greek word that the NT translates as 'faith' is 'pistis'. But where the Hebrew 'emuna' was more or less equivalent to 'loyalty', the Greek 'pistis' was more or less synonymous with 'belief'. That's how Aristotle used it in his Rhetoric, where he defines it as 'subjective conviction', while discussing modes of persuasion and the relationship between proof and conviction.

    So translating 'emuna' by 'pistis' moves things in a new direction and reorients the entire problem of faith.

    The word 'pistis' appears most frequently in the Synoptic gospels in the context of the recipients of Jesus' healing miracles. In that context it seems to mean something like 'confidence' and 'trust'. Perhaps the idea in the gospel context is 'openness'. The suggestion here doesn't seem to be that faith somehow substitutes for evidence. Presumably the miracles provided that. Jesus' message seems to have been something along the lines that the kingdom of God is dawning, and that people need to open themselves to it.

    Paul was a Greek speaking diaspora Jew living in Syria and later traveling around what is now Turkey, establishing his early congregations. His letters to those little groups more or less established Christianity as we have it today. His ambivalence about the Jewish law is obvious. He can't just reject it, because it is central to Jewish tradition and identity. But he thinks that full adherence to the Jewish law is impossible for human beings, who inevitably fall short of what God demands. So Paul preaches his 'faith not works' idea, where salvation comes not from external adherence to the law, but from inner openness to and confidence in God's gift of Christ to humanity.

    Perhaps the most famous Biblical passage touching on faith is Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." This writer seems to be strongly influenced by the Greek understanding of the word 'pistis' as synonymous with 'belief'. But this passage comes in the context of a list of 'heroes of faith', individuals who remained steadfast even in the face of uncertainty and even here it still retains something of the old Hebrew idea of loyalty. Perhaps a good synonym for this one is 'hope' or 'trust'.

    So it seems to me that there are several different perspectives on faith in the Bible, all closely related. But I'm not convinced that any of them are being presented as reliable paths to knowledge in the epistemic sense. It seems to me that faith has more to do with how one responds to the objects of religious belief than it does with explaining how one comes to have those religious beliefs in the first place. The Hebrews didn't tend to think in the Greek philosophical manner and apparently just assumed that Judaism's being an ostensibly 'historical' religion took care of those kind of questions. The events of Jewish history (including Christ's incarnation and resurrection for the early Christians) was their evidence, and the religious issue for them was what should they do in light of that.
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2015
  19. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    I think it's more than that... there's something that turns that hope (if that is the root) of a possible X into something more definite, something where one says it is true (or at least will be accepted as true) rather than just being possible.
  20. timojin Valued Senior Member

    The theist have a positive thinking ( his God ). An atheist have only himself .
    Should an atheist use hope or faith in his ir her life ?
    Is faith and hope Rational ?
  21. origin Heading towards oblivion Valued Senior Member

    You think atheist do not have friends, family or are a member of society?
    If they want to they should.
    Rational faith and hope is rational. I have faith that my family will love me - rational.
    Irrational faith and hope is irrational. I have faith that if I sit down with the leader of ISIS he will listen to reason - irrational.
  22. spidergoat pubic diorama Valued Senior Member

    Wishing things are better in the future isn't rational or irrational. Atheists can be positive about all sorts of things, the fairness of a secular government, the love of all the things in this life that are rare and precious. Theists might as well just kill themselves right now if an afterlife is such a wonderful place.
  23. krash661 [MK6] transitioning scifi to reality Valued Senior Member

    " Is faith a reliable path to knowledge? "
    why not ?

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