Episode 044: What is Faith?

Epistemology Philosophy Philosophy of Religion podcast religion Theology / Biblical Studies

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This episode asks the question: “What is Faith”? Is it, as some maintain, just believing things for no good reason? When Christian thinkers over the years have spoken of having faith, what have they been talking about? Listen and find out!

At the end of this episode I ask listeners if they have any suggestions for scholars that I might interview in future episodes. Be sure to speak up if you have any ideas!

 

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{ 54 comments… add one }
  • Nathan October 31, 2011, 2:39 am

    Robert Petersen 🙂

  • Eric October 31, 2011, 4:43 am

    I’ve been looking forward to this, Glenn. Can’t wait to listen to it!

  • Eric October 31, 2011, 6:21 am

    I’d love to hear an interview with your dissertation advisor, Edward Feser, on Aquinas’s arguments for the existence of God and on the concept of god in classical theism.

  • Cal October 31, 2011, 9:25 am

    Good Podcast!

    I’d be curious to see a debate on the subject of ‘Open Theism’ with someone like Greg Boyd (he has written books on it, given talks and other such things), one of the main proponents. It’s a nebulous idea, with all sorts of nuances that set those under the umbrella worlds apart.I don’t think it is what Scripture teaches but I think it’d be neat to have a nice back and forth on it.

    Also, being a prog/speed/symphonic metal guy myself, what was the band you ended the podcast with? Sounded like an epic intro (or outro).

  • matt October 31, 2011, 3:18 pm

    You were advised by Edward Feser? I think he teaches right down the road from where I live, and I do think he would be a cool guy to interview as well.

    Good podcast, too. I have been surprised by encounters with people who use Kierkegaard to justify this strange definition of faith that you talk about here. His work is so full of jargon that to think that when he says “leap of faith” he is using it in some popular way is a strange thing to think. To be fair, though “teleological suspension of the ethical” never quite caught on. Beside the fact that Kierkegaard has his own very specific way of speaking, I’ve always thought that his use of the Isaac sacrifice story was a pretty big clue as to what he meant. Abraham wasn’t wondering whether or not God existed, since God had issued a pretty explicit command to him. So, the rational problem had not to do with proving God’s existence, but in trusting God against even one’s intuitions against what looks otherwise like the wrong thing to do. You put it all much better in the podcast, though.

    I wanted to throw in a little love for Pascal. I always hear his famous ‘wager’ mentioned in passing, as it was in your podcast, or woefully misunderstood by upset skeptics. I always want to hear it expounded on a bit better, though, rather than just the ol’ “if you have to place a bet go for the option where you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.” I think his wager has a lot more substance to it, in the context of the rest of the Pensees, at least more substance than Swinburne’s prison analogy has.

  • Grant Dexter October 31, 2011, 3:38 pm

    Good podcast! Something good to share!

  • Glenn October 31, 2011, 5:53 pm

    Ed Feser was my international thesis examiner (I had one internal to my university, one elsewhere in New Zealand, and one international). And yes, he would be a good person to interview on Aquinas’ five ways. 🙂

  • Dave November 1, 2011, 6:15 am

    I’m not sure if these two fit your definition of “scholar” (they’ve written a lot), but I’d love to hear an interview of either James B Jordan (http://www.biblicalhorizons.com/) , or Mike Bull (http://www.bullartistry.com.au/wp/). Both are orthodox preterists. Not sure what topic specifically you’d discuss – maybe interpretive maximalism.

  • T'sinadree November 1, 2011, 7:46 am

    Glenn,

    An interview with Stephen H. Webb would be something I would like to hear. Besides being a very nice guy, he’s written on a number of diverse topics. One area in which he specializes (and has helped pioneer) is the place of animals in Christian theology, a very important topic which has been much neglected.

  • Paulo Juarez November 1, 2011, 2:39 pm

    +1 on Edward Feser!

  • Jared November 2, 2011, 6:16 am

    Excellent episode, Glenn! One of the best you’ve done! I will share this on Facebook. I wish more people would take this issue on instead of letting people like Dawkins and his gang get away with abusing the word “Faith” as they do. I know of one moderately well-known apologist on the Internet who understands this and emphasizes the fact that the word “faith” in the NT is the Greek word pistis which he says carries the meaning of “trust” or “loyalty.” Other than that guy and this podcast, I haven’t heard anyone else take this issue on directly, but this really needs to be heard! This podcast echos ideas that have been rolling around in my mind for some time. It is good to hear someone with way more philosophical sophistication than I have articulate this so well and in such a direct way. Thank you, so much!

  • Roy November 2, 2011, 8:40 am

    Just a few thoughts …

    Glenn – I’m not sure I completely understood your purpose in doing interviews. (I really like the work you put out at the moment and just a little afraid I’m going to miss out on more of your brilliant work) – ie, I’d hate SHTMLF become another Apologetics315. (I’m a fan of Apologetics315 too, but we don’t need two).

    On interviews … perhaps debates would be more fun?

    To some specific suggestions:
    – Gary Habermas:
    a) GH uses near death experiences to support an after-life and a soul. I would love to see how you would engage with GH around these issues.
    b) You blogged on the shroud of Turin a while back arguing that the Biblical description included two clothes, rather than the one. Might be an interesting discussion point.

    – I’m currently studying the resurrection of Jesus at the moment and it seems most presentations are about an hour long (yours was very good btw). I would love to hear a panel of Habermas, Licona, Craig, and Wright which basically went all day. They would have ample ground to cover considering at least the first three have doctorates in the Ressurection. Could be a sellable product too.

    – You promised, in earlier episodes, you’d have Dee Dee Warren on the show.

    Anyhoo, just some ideas.

    Roy

  • Jared November 2, 2011, 10:53 am

    Glenn, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that high profile scholars wouldn’t have any interest. Jason Rennie at The Sci Phi Show managed to get interviews with William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, Peter Van Inwagen and other leading lights, as well as scientists such as Charles Townes (the inventor of the laser beam!), as well as opposition representatives like PZ Meyers. And Jason’s not even a PhD (at least as far as I’m aware).

    If you’re up for a debate as Roy suggests, how about JP Moreland on Dualism vs. Physicalism? Or if not a debate, then someone on your side like Nancey Murphy?

    Roy, I don’t want to speak for Glenn, but I don’t fear this becoming Apologetics315 all over again. There are some important differences between that site and SHTMLF:

    – Apologetics315 primarily posts links to content created by others. That’s perfectly fine, and I’m grateful for the service this provides, so there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m a fan of A315, too. But its a different animal: Glenn produces most of his own original material.

    – Brian Auten’s interviews seem to focus on the interviewee’s ministry and career, what do they contribute to the field, what’s important to them, etc. Again not to speak for Glenn, but I’m guessing it would be more like Jason Rennie’s “Outcast” episodes, where he homes in on a particular topic and then interviews an expert in the field about that topic. Is that what you had in mind, Glenn?

    I think its a great idea!

  • Erik November 2, 2011, 1:05 pm

    Great episode, Glenn, from start to finish.

    Regarding the bit about future interview guests, I’d check and see if Craig Keener or Tim McGrew would be interested in talking about the N.T. and miracles. Keener has a massive volume coming out on the subject, and Dr. McGrew wrote on the argument from miracles in the Blackwell Companion. I’m not sure about professor Keener, but I have the feeling Dr. McGrew would definitely be up for an interview so long as his schedule allows him to.

  • Jared November 2, 2011, 3:34 pm

    The melody of the “outro” to me sounds remarkably similar to a song called “Today” by John Hartford. Not exact, but very similar; kind of a “hint” of it.

  • Glenn November 2, 2011, 6:32 pm

    The outro melody is a song called “Of my hands I give to you O Lord,” which I arranged for cello.

  • PDS November 2, 2011, 8:27 pm

    Jerry L Walls has some interesting philosophical ideas about the after life, that is, heaven, hell, and a Wesleyan version of purgatory. He has also co-authored a book with David Baggett about Morality and God.

  • Roy November 3, 2011, 12:19 am

    I second Eric on Dr McGrew

    And as Jared mentioned Alvin Plantinga I think that’s quite fitting too. I would love to hear a mix of his testimony, his contributions and with some tough curly questions thrown in to see his brilliant mind at work.

  • John November 3, 2011, 3:24 am

    I hate to be the first to dissent here but it seems to me that the problem is not really solved.

    You started out by establishing that there was only one usage of the word faith and that faith was always based on evidence. You then went on to discuss the evidence and included a definition that im sure your antagonist would not have agreed with.

    Doesn’t this just move the semantic problem along from faith to evidence?

    Isn’t objective repeatable evidence in a different category to subjective experience?

    I would then split the faith definition problem as follows:

    A Faith based on evidence standard 1
    B Faith based on evidence standard 2

    To me this seems like the same problem. If I was looking for alternative words for these I would use trust for A and hope for B. Besides, being sure of what we hope for doesn’t mean it isn’t hope.

    Either way, surely you can see why some would want to avoid the word faith altogether as it undeniably more commonly used in a religious context these days.

    If you were not to use faith at all, what would you use for both of these? Trust?

    You also seem to accuse those who don’t have Faith (B – in God) of not listening to the evidence.
    I’m one who has been listening but I don’t see it…. you can’t change the standard for the evidence then complain that others won’t agree – it might be enough for you but you must be honest with yourself about the standard like the girl on contact.
    When there is proper evidence, no-one will have a choice. Every eye will see, every ear will hear, as it is said. Until then, we only see his face dimly and as you said, surely a good God will reward honesty. Well, I honestly don’t see him and my faith has all but gone.

  • Cal November 3, 2011, 8:07 am

    John:

    Glen does address that by noticing that indeed the Apostle Paul makes a clear distinction between Faith and Hope (being apart of the 3 clear ‘virtues’ of the Spirit). Hope is faith in things unseen, and if they were seen it would no longer be hope.

    For me in particular, echoing the words of John Stott, if it wasn’t for Jesus I don’t think I’d believe in any sort of god. Before I was reborn, I sure did believe in some sort of god of my own imagination, an embodiment of values and virtues, but I was frankly an idiot half-baked on philosophical ideas I half knew. The more I delved and tried to prove Christ wrong, the more I realized myself bankrupt.

    So as a Christian (in the biblical sense of the word), I can only have Faith(Trust) in a Person and Jesus, God Incarnate (or so He claims), is a historical figure open to all. I am not a Jew and I do not belong to Ancient Israel where the WORD of the LORD would speak through the Prophets and through many people. I now see the Truth, the Complete Revelation of God through Jesus Christ, that this god really is GOD. So it is not a different set of standards unless you automatically delegate any possibility of a meta-realm, any sort of spiritual existence to the evidence standard 2, which I think to do so off hand is quite absurd.

  • Cal November 3, 2011, 8:10 am

    Quick comment:

    Why not just abandon Faith to the word Trust if it has so much baggage? Because Faith is a much stronger word than trust. I may trust my friends with possession, I may trust my dog to come back, I may trust my car to start; but as Peter was standing on the water, starting to sink, it is Faith in Jesus, that He will keep you safe no matter the storms or the winds battering you.

  • Roy November 3, 2011, 8:26 am

    I’ll also +1 Nancy Murphy … Would love to understand the ants analogy of non reductive physicalism.

  • John November 3, 2011, 8:28 am

    Cal, I don’t doubt your complete revelation or firmness with which you believe, for you this more than enough. But I can’t see through your experience, it’s not transferable or show-able. For me it has to go into evidence standard 2 because it’s subjective.
    It’s your experience of God, not mine. I don’t dismiss the possibility of a meta-realm to the second standard off hand and in-fact I wish there was tier one evidence of God but I haven’t seen it, so for me hope is all I’ve got.
    Peter may have had faith but with Jesus right there walking on water, was it really as great as we think?

  • Cal November 3, 2011, 6:38 pm

    Sorry John if I missed my emphasis. I believe that there is a god because of Jesus, that this god is really God. And one may investigate this very fact. If Jesus was a fraud, if he did not really rise from the dead, etc etc.

    One could analyze the historical evidence for such things and it doesn’t tangle into speculations unless one has already committed to a world-view that reject anykind of miracle, meta-realm off the bat. This isn’t what your doing, its just an option. I came to know the Living Jesus from the pages of Scriptures, the accounts of those He met or those who’ve interacted with the Apostles.

    In short, I’m merely saying one can wrestle with a real tangible evidence and decide to trust that man of nazareth, it is pure speculation.

    Lord bless you man,
    Cal

  • Glenn November 3, 2011, 7:04 pm

    “I hate to be the first to dissent here but it seems to me that the problem is not really solved.”

    John, I wasn’t aware that there was a problem here to be solved (other than the sociological problem of folk like Dawkins using the word “Faith” in a strange way).

    As for whether or not the antagonist agrees with me that personal encounter isn’t evidence, I guess I see no importance in that. They mean evidence that can be reproduced for others, but my point was just that personally experiencing, witnessing, hearing (etc) something is reasonable grounds for forming a belief no matter what a person personally prefers to call it.

    I think you’re right to say to Cal: “It’s your experience of God, not mine.” Quite right. His experience might rationally justify his belief, but it doesn’t justify YOU having faith in God unless you are also justified in trusting (having faith in) Cal. But Cal’s experience, assuming it took place, certainly justifies Cal having faith.

    I definitely did not say anything to imply that the circumstances under which a person can have rational faith are all the same.

    So what is the “problem” you seem to think I was setting out to solve?

  • John November 3, 2011, 11:54 pm

    Glenn, whether you thought there was a problem or not, the podcast is appreciated. The word faith gets a bashing but I haven’t often seen it taken on.

    I’m not questioning anybody’s faith and agree with you that experience is reasonable grounds for forming a belief.
    However, we must admit that other forms of evidence may form a more reasonable or rational basis for belief. Like your contact example, we all have to admit that our experience may be just a hallucination. While we may have had an experience, it may be more rational to conclude that it wasn’t real. I don’t question Cal’s faith or yours but I rightly have to question what he has put his faith in.

    I’ve witnessed on the street, spoken in tongues, prayed for the sick. I’ve been told that I was just brainwashed and have to admit that that is definitely a possible scenario. But it seemed so real at the time, and I was happy to have faith that couldn’t rationally be explained.

    Maybe some people’s faith is more rational than others. Maybe some need more evidence than others to believe in something. I can see why you would be offended that someone would call your faith blind or irrational but surely you can understand why they would.

    Faith, such as that to move mountains, walk on water or heal the sick is believing for things that run at odds with the evidence we see every day, and to those who have not seen Jesus walking toward them on the water it seems rather irrational that you would be getting out of the boat.

  • MaxVel November 4, 2011, 2:24 am

    Nice podcast, Glenn.

    If you’re doing interviews, I’d love to hear Edward Feser.

  • matt November 4, 2011, 7:15 am

    John, I have a couple thoughts concerning your comments here, which I hope you will find useful.

    I gather from your comment on praying in tongues, etc. that some or much of your Christian experience has taken place in a pentecostal or charismatic environment. It is important to note that these activities (praying for the sick, street evangelism, etc.) even if they do produce miraculous results are not effective for producing the kind of faith that the word ‘faith’ refers to. Jesus says that there are people who have done such things in his name who will be turned away in the end because he “never knew them.” While such things would seem to provide good evidence as to the truth of the gospel, it does not seem that even God thinks that they are the best evidence. Because of this, I am puzzled as to why you think they merit mention, other than a hyperbolic use of them (as a side note, I am often frustrated when a person trots out some typically charismatic behavior as an example of the extremes of belief – as if only somebody who REALLY believed could do that stuff! Such behaviors are sociologically and psychologically interesting, but they don’t seem to indicate the actual presence of a belief any more than they indicate a desire to be accepted or some other social behavior).

    As for the other things that you say, we should only conclude that an experience is not an experience of an actual thing if we have overriding reasons to believe that thing does not, in fact, exist (either at all, or in the particular way in which we experienced it). I am unaware of any compelling reasons to think this about God, to doubt my experience of God, or, for that matter, the experience of anyone I know who has demonstrated themselves to be honest and rational in every other matter.

  • John November 4, 2011, 8:59 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments Matt.

    You’re right in thinking that alot of my christian experience has been in a pentecostal/charismatic environment but not all of it and a tempered one at that. I have seen my fair share of the spectrum of pentecostal extremes and know full well what you’re referring to. I was worried about the laughing revival (for instance) when it came around a while back.

    I know the verses you refer to well and these are oft quoted in the circles I moved in and by myself. I think the reason I refer to these experiences is not because they they provide evidence of the existance of God but evidence of my own faith at the time. Of course I also realise the truth in what you’re saying and how this is not nessessarily proof of belief. Maybe only proof of some sort of desire to fit in. I wouldn’t be surprised, although a little embarrased, if that was largely the reason in my case. But I would hope that under all of that, some of these actions came out of a faith in the promises of God. Faith that God would heal, speak and save. So although there are false examples out there, surely these actions can also be motivated by faith. I never saw anthing supernatural happen however.

    There is a good list of actions undertaken by faith in Hebrews 11, and I would put forward that it is not enough just to have faith but actions like mine or otherwise must follow.

    I’m glad that you have found no compelling reasons to doubt your experience of God. I’m not doubting it either but have to remain open to the possibility that there may be other explainations for this experience than God. The most rational of us can be fooled I’m afraid.

    I personally prefer to take the more cautious route from here in and rephrase your maxim for personal use to: ‘we should only conclude that an experience is an experience of an actual thing if we have overriding reasons to believe that thing, in fact, exists either at all, or in the particular way in which we experienced it.

    Similarly I haven’t found any evidence that would compel me to rekindle my search for God – believe me I’ve searched, you may (although you’d be wrong) think I never had true faith. However, I’m glad we can respect the level of faith we both currently do hold.

  • ChrisW November 5, 2011, 12:03 am

    (not related to this blog post)
    Glenn, the ‘Articles Section’, which you refer to in some of your older blog posts cannot be found. Especially the article on Robert Peterson. Where did it go? (I found an old version here: http://web.archive.org/web/20070601175704/http://www.beretta-online.com/articles/theology/articles_theology.html )

  • Jared November 5, 2011, 2:55 am

    Glenn,

    Another question related to “What is Faith?” is: “What is Belief?”

    An interesting discussion could be had with the following questions:

    – Is “faith” identical with “belief”? (maybe you addressed this–I’m going to give it a listen again, with my attention focused on what you say about this)
    – Does “belief” necessarily have to entail certainty?
    – Does it make any sense for someone to say “I don’t have any beliefs?” I’ve heard “New” Atheists utter this very phrase. But it seems like nonsense to me. If you are saying it, you at least have the belief that you don’t have any beliefs. It only works if you mangle the semantics of the word “belief” as they do with “faith.”
    – Can you voluntarily change your “beliefs,” or are they imposed on you by the facts? I would say the latter: I “believe” I am sitting in a chair right now, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot make myself not believe I’m sitting in this chair. If you told me that in order to save my soul I would need to force myself to stop believing that I’m sitting in this chair, I’m afraid I just couldn’t do it! But some people speak as if you can “choose to believe” something. Is this really possible?
    – Is the issue confused because of different definitions of the word “belief” that are often equivocated? (as with “Faith”)
    – What is the difference between “believing” and “knowing?”
    – What is involved with reserving judgement on an issue and having a kind of “tentative” belief. (scientist Frank Tippler used to go around identifying himself as a “Provisional Atheist” until finally he accepted some form of Christian belief [I’m not sure of what variety]–does this look like some kind of “tentative faith?”)
    – What are we to make of passages in scripture that in English translations use the word “belief,” “believe,” or some form of that word, rather than “faith?”
    – Does Christian faith demand epistemic certainty or certitude about certain propositions (like Jesus’ resurrection, for example), or is it enough to have a kind of “trust” (i.e., “Faith” as per the current podcast) that has room for a smidgen of doubt over the factuality of the propositions. (I know you touched on this in the present podcast, so sorry if this is redundant).

    I realize some of this may be nuts-and-bolts Epistemology 101 (but apparently it is a difficult enough subject to trip up some prominent pundits like Dawkins, et al.). But it seems worthy of discussion.

    I’m going to listen to the current podcast episode again very carefully and think about it in terms of these questions. Maybe I’m just repeating questions you’ve already covered?

    (By the way, since Alvin Plantinga’s specialty is epistemology, maybe this area would be a good one for an interview with him? Or maybe some other epistemology expert?)

  • Glenn November 5, 2011, 1:08 pm

    Chris – http://www.rightreason.org/articles/

    I’ll have a look at fixing links to the older version.

  • Quinton November 7, 2011, 7:53 pm

    -I would love to hear Plantinga pressed a little further on his argument for immaterialsm and also on his religious epistemology.

    -Also Swinburne pressed on his reasons why morality is not a ‘proof’ for God.

    -Id definitely like to hear JP Moreland on dualism and near death experiences pressed by a physicalist.

    Don Carson on his interpretation of eternal torment.

    -I dont suppose you could get the Pope, so perhaps Peter Kreeft or father Robert Barron on faith and reason. Additionally I would be interested in a program that deals with the problems we protestants have with exegesis! After witnessing church fights and splits over tiny details, as well as unreasonable heated arguments over topics like eternal hell vs annihilation, I can fully appreciate the catholic church’s stance of the bible + tradition. After all, even we protestants appeal to tradition (early church fathers) we just dont openly admit it! Im NO catholic but I can see how we are inconsistent.

    -Or even an Aussie, John Dixon on the Jesus of history and how he reconciles it with the Jesus of faith. Here’s what wikki’p’ said, John Dickson is an Australian writer, historian and Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University. He is co-founder and director of the Centre for Public Christianity, a media company that seeks to “promote the public understanding of the Christian faith”. He is an all round interesting guy to interview.

    That is all for now. It sounds like a fun idea to do interviews for your podcasts occasionally to mix things up.

  • Glenn November 7, 2011, 8:01 pm

    Quinton, it’s not that Catholic people are any more or less consistent in exegesis than Protestants, so it’s not “the problems we protestants have with exegesis.” The difference between protestants and Catholics on that point is not over the ability to do exegesis. it’s about permission to do it.

    That’s only somewhat tongue in cheek. The point is that it’s not about exegetical method, it’s a different doctrine of authority.

  • Glenn November 7, 2011, 8:07 pm

    Quinton – and everyone else who has made suggestions – and also those who have commented on the whole idea of doing interviews – thanks. I really appreciate all these thoughts.

  • The Atheist Missionary November 8, 2011, 2:49 pm

    Enjoyed this podcast but will have to listen to it again. Your critique of Dawkins was spot on but I still don’t understand the distinction between religious faith and hope. When I hear you discuss this issue, it’s almost like I hear you saying (between the lines): I know the tenets of Christianity sound crazy but what’s the downside associated with believing?

    Would love to hear you discuss:

    1. [With Peter Kreeft] Whether Roman Catholics veneration of Mary and saints is biblically justified.

    2. [With Alvin Plantinga] The concept of original sin.

    3. [With Peter Singer or Derek ParfitD] Whether objective moral values exist.

    4. [With Graham Oppy] Anything.

    5. [With Stephen Maitzen] Whether theism is bad for morality.

    6. [With Stephen Law] The evil-god challenge.

    7. [With Derk Pereboom] Is there such a thing as contra-causal free will?

  • Glenn November 8, 2011, 4:08 pm

    “I know the tenets of Christianity sound crazy but what’s the downside associated with believing?”

    I really don’t know how you’d get that, given that I said a few times that you can have faith for good reasons or bad reasons, and that faith is not at odds with reason. I don’t think it sounds crazy at all.

  • The Atheist Missionary November 9, 2011, 7:20 am

    Listened to it again (more carefully this time!). I retract my between the lines interpretation – I misheard you as agreeing with Swinburne. Clearly, you don’t. My bad.

  • Ian November 9, 2011, 9:30 am

    Glenn – loved the podcast. I’d really like to hear an interview with Dr. Douglas Groothuis on Pascal’s Anthropological Argument for the existence of God or Jesus as a philosopher – he’s written some interesting stuff on both.

  • Quinton November 10, 2011, 12:29 am

    I can see how you say its an issue or permission for Catholics, but also what I was getting at is that as protestants we say ‘sola scriptura’ (gosh I love latin, it saves words, which Ive just made up for now!), yet we use early church father writings etc to clarify the bible and still disagree. Its very frustrating. So doesnt that mean that we in fact are not ‘sola scriptura’ fans?
    Oh, lets not forget the Flannagans, you could interview them also…

  • Jared November 10, 2011, 6:43 am

    For interviews: how about having Mike Licona and Norm Geisler on the show at the same time??

    …haha, just kidding, of course.

  • Dicky P November 11, 2011, 3:13 pm

    You have to interview Richard Dawkins. Might help you get over your love for him.

  • sam g November 16, 2011, 6:49 pm

    hey glenn, good podcast, you’re arguing some very subtle differences in definitions and i think you did well.

    quick question for you to comment on if you want, do you think it is meaningful to ask what your faith is actually IN?

    with the big chief example, if someone tells me that big chief will pick me up when i escape from prison, is my faith in big chief himself, or in the person who tells me that big chief will pick me up? in the christian example, if you tell me that god exists because you’ve experienced him, it will be impossible for me to actually have faith in god, my faith can only ever be in you.

    and is it possible to actually have faith in god even if i do experience him, or will my faith be in the reliability of my experience? in the ‘contact’ movie, jodie fosters faith seems less in the aliens than in the fact that it all seemed so real. the same goes for ufo’s, outer-body experiences, the yeti, and elvis presleys ghost, or even just every day life because i interact with the world around me through my senses, but is my faith in the world or in my senses? i’m not even sure if this is a meaningful question, and am probably just getting hung up on definitions.

  • Glenn November 16, 2011, 7:57 pm

    Sam, that’s a good question. I think, staying with the big chief example, faith is intended to be understood as trust in the big chief. In context Swinburne is trying to distinguish between believing propositions (e.g. “Say, I hear that the Big Chief visits this prison….” etc), and really placing trust in persons (e.g. going to some effort and putting oneself at some sort of risk in the trust that somebody will be there / save you).

    The former is also relevant (e.g. “can I trust the person who told me this?”), but in context he is actually presupposing that you, on balance, have not been persuaded that it’s true that the Big Chief will come.

  • sam g November 17, 2011, 2:26 pm

    hey thanks, that makes sense with the leap TO faith idea as well. if swinburn says ‘reasons’ don’t really have anything to do with faith (a verb?), then dawkins ‘blind’ faith (noun?) is part of a different conversation.

    define ‘christian’ as someone who has/does faith, and one odd thing that follows is it now entirely plausible to talk about christians who doubt god exists (prisoners who doubt big chief will come but try to escape anyway). are you worried you’re now beginning to endorse ritualised religion?

    another unrelated question, near the end you said you felt you’d often given athiests perfectly good reasons to believe in god, but they still choose not to leap. would you agree that the real problem you face is that they don’t want to, and if so any thoughts on why not? on what do people base their choice to leap or not leap to faith, if not ‘reasons’?

    my point is that i think it goes both ways: humans in general give less weight to reasons than they like to think, and we’re all slaves to maslows hierarchy of needs, in this case love/belonging and esteem. many people are christian because of the sense of acceptance they feel amongst the christian community, and respect they can earn in exactly the same way many people are atheist because of the sense of acceptance and respect they can get from the ‘rational’ and ‘skeptical’ community if they attack religion, and knowing they’ll be ridiculed by those whose esteem they value if they convert themselves. just like christians shake their heads and say how sad it is when someone backslides,it provides social pressure to stay in the group. this is connected with why successful religions, when trying to boost membership, generally have a focus on befriending lonely people rather than presenting the facts of their case to people secure in their own communities. experience shows it has a much higher success rate.

    not really much of a point, just commenting that for people on both sides, reasons are often not the point anyway. ‘why people have faith or not?’ and ‘which argument is correct?’ are separate discussions, so blind faith isn’t a useful concept.

  • sam g November 27, 2011, 7:06 pm

    sorry if i got a bit sidetracked with that last post. my main question was, is it now plausible talk about christians who have/do ‘faith’ but don’t actually believe god exists let alone have a relationship with him, and does this make your definition of faith empty and ritualised?

  • Glenn November 27, 2011, 9:04 pm

    Sam, it was Swinburne who proposed that we can have faith in God while not being sure that God exists. Just making sure you didn’t think it was me.

    But I don’t think Swinburne’s position would make faith empty or ritualised. What rituals did you have in mind? And as for being empty, I’m ot sure what you’re getting at. Certainly hope and devotion can play a part in what he describes.

  • sam g November 28, 2011, 5:46 pm

    in the prisoner analogy, what is the christianity equivalent of breaking out of jail even though you don’t believe big chief will actually be there to pick you up? i had imagined it would be asking for salvation, praying, singing in church, reading the bible and so on. whatever it is, if you do it while doubting gods existence, what adjectives could you use to describe it other than empty and ritualised?

    from a christian point of view i would have thought that having a personal relationship with god would have been a crucial part, but this requires personal experience and makes belief in his existence a given.

    i guess the kind of ties in with your other piece on presuppositionals and pascals wager. if you don’t believe in god but accept pascals reasoning, what can you do other than go though the motions of believing? without a personal relationship christianity is just ritual, and if you personally experience gods presence then of course you believe anyway.

  • Casey December 25, 2011, 6:07 am

    Edward Feser seems willing to do a good number of interviews. If you did interview him, however, I would prefer not to hear a united front against atheism, since so much has been said on that. I would prefer to hear the two of you give your reasons for the divergent views you hold about God and Christianity.

  • Matthew January 8, 2012, 11:57 am

    Glenn,
    just enjoyed your podcast. A little question that has bothered me for some time, and perhaps you could comment on it.

    Is it possible to have faith in the absence of reason?

    Surely, even faith based on an impulse, not carefully weighed, or based on complicated motives (e.g., he chose to believe in God because he was interested in a Christian girl)–every form of ‘faith’ is based on reason, even if those reasons are not that admirable. Do you agree? Isn’t it nonsense to speak of any human choice as being void of reason? Surely the distinction should be careful and logical reasoning vs impulsive and irrational reasoning, or more plainly, good reasons vs poor reasons?

  • Master Atheist April 27, 2012, 4:56 pm

    Faith means you admit you’re not sweating the details.

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