Peter Boghossian’s Thought Challenge

Faith is not the same as hope, trust, or confidence. Faith is a kind of knowledge claim predicated on a particular brand of epistemology: faith-based epistemology. Peter Boghossian has offered a challenge for anyone who thinks faith is synonymous with hope:

In my May 6, 2012 public lecture for the Humanists of Greater Portland, I further underscored the difference between faith and hope by issuing the following thought challenge:

Give me a sentence where one must use the word ‘faith,’ and cannot replace that with ‘hope’, yet at the same time isn’t an example of pretending to know something one doesn’t know.

To date, nobody has answered the thought challenge. I don’t think it can be answered because faith and hope are not synonyms.

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31 Comments

Filed under Atheism, Philosophy, Theology

31 responses to “Peter Boghossian’s Thought Challenge

  1. Jack Saunsea

    Perhaps I am using an older, uncommon definition of the word “faith,” but in my viewpoint of this word “faith” is what it means to let go, or, not to be attached to that which is impermanent (everything). Which is quite different than the word “belief” which is commonly viewed as a synonym of faith. Belief, I would say is more in keeping with being a “kind of knowledge predicated on a particular…”

    But of course, as words progress and the meanings are transformed by use faith and belief have become difficult for me to distinguish, as they are commonly used today.

  2. Hi Jack, thanks for the comment.

    To get a sense of how Boghossian is using the term “faith”, take the following claim: “I have faith that Jesus walked on water.”

    I do not know how to translate that sentence using your definition of faith e.g. “I [let go] that Jesus walked on water” or “I [am not attached] to Jesus walking on water.”

    When religious believers use faith as an epistemology, they tend to make knowledge claims. To say you have faith that Jesus walked on water is not the same as saying you merely wish or hope Jesus walked on water. Rather, I take it the claim is that they *know* by faith that Jesus walked on water.

    • most negative critiques of this question (and generally of Dr. Boghossian’s campaign to spread reason & rationality by challenging religious pseudo-knowledge) are predicated upon semantic tangents.

      someone who asserts that some red sea was actually parted or that some burning shrub actually spoke out loud is claiming to know something that they could not possibly; it’s irrelevant if they say this ‘knowledge’ comes from an old book or a church elder or their ‘heart’ because the source of the delusion isn’t really the point. he doesn’t battle religion, but rather attacks bad ways of knowing. wordplay is just superficial.

      if you make a knowledge claim, it’s reasonable for somebody to ask you how you know it. socratic whittling will get you past distractions like what an ‘is’ is, down to the core of the issue at hand. by pointing out the potential nebulousness of concepts like faith and wishing, this ‘thought challenge’ is a simple tool for extracting & discarding a frivolous aspect of the religious apologist smokescreen.

  3. Faith is not the same as hope, trust, or confidence. Faith is a kind of knowledge claim predicated on a particular brand of epistemology: faith-based epistemology.

    Looks like the challenge has been met. Courtesy of Mike Gene:

    “I will accept, on faith, that Richard Dawkins was molested as a young boy.”

    It’s not a case of hope, since I certainly don’t hope Dawkins was molested.

    It’s not a knowledge claim, since I’m not claiming knowledge that Dawkins was molested.

    • If it’s not a knowledge claim then why would anyone “accept” that claim about Dawkins? Acceptance is a mental state and presumably people accept things on the basis of gathering knowledge. So how exactly is that claim not “pretending to know something one doesn’t know.”? It sounds like “accepting something one has no rational or evidential basis for accepting.”

      So it does sound like an implicit knowledge claim, otherwise it’s inexplicable why someone would “accept” that fact. People don’t just accept things on a whim. They tend to do so for a reason.

      In any case, that example does not restore the concept of faith as an acceptable epistemological concept, which only reinforces Boghossian’s point.

      • If it’s not a knowledge claim then why would anyone “accept” that claim about Dawkins? Acceptance is a mental state and presumably people accept things on the basis of gathering knowledge.

        Except when they accept things on faith, as is being done in this example. There’s no contradiction involved with accepting Dawkins’ claim, yet not claiming knowledge that the claim is true.

        So it does sound like an implicit knowledge claim, otherwise it’s inexplicable why someone would “accept” that fact. People don’t just accept things on a whim. They tend to do so for a reason.

        ‘Tend’ isn’t strong enough here. Planes tend not to crash. But they damn well do at times.

        Also – are you making a knowledge claim? That people don’t accept things on faith without believing they have knowledge, particularly certain knowledge, of the claim in question? And if so, how do you justify it?

        In any case, that example does not restore the concept of faith as an acceptable epistemological concept, which only reinforces Boghossian’s point.

        ‘Faith as an epistemological concept’ as the way Boghossian presents it is being questioned – and the example does shut Boghossian’s claim on that front down. He asked for an example of faith that cannot be exchanged with ‘hope’ yet at the same time is not a knowledge claim. He said, to date, no one has answered his challenge.

        Challenge answered.

  4. >Except when they accept things on faith, as is being done in this example.

    If the point is that people “accept” things for irrational reasons, fine. Boghossian will agree to that. People “accept” that aliens abducted them but that does not make it true. Thus, we need to distinguish between “blind acceptance” or “faith-based acceptance” and “evidence based acceptance”. Accordingly, we can translate your counter-example to “I blindly accept, on faith, that Dawkins was molested”, in which case it isn’t a counter-example at all because blind acceptance and faith are synonymous.

    >Planes tend not to crash. But they damn well do at times.

    Fine. People tend to blindly accept things, and they rarely tend to evidentially accept things. But again, this reinforces Boghossian’s more general point about the legitimacy of faith as a epistemological doctrine.

    >Also – are you making a knowledge claim? That people don’t accept things on faith without believing they have knowledge, particularly certain knowledge, of the claim in question? And if so, how do you justify it?

    Based on my distinction, I agree that people blindly accept things without believing they have knowledge but I also think that people blindly accept things while deluding themselves they possess knowledge. But this does not refute Boghossian’s point. Either faith-based claims are knowledge claims or they are not. If they are not knowledge claims, fine. But if they are knowledge claims they are either blindly accepted knowledge claims or knowledge claims that are not blindly accepted. And if they are not blindly accepted, they are accepted on the basis of some evidence or rational argument.

    • If the point is that people “accept” things for irrational reasons, fine.

      What’s irrational about simply accepting a claim on faith, especially when it’s acknowledged that this acceptance is not knowledge?

      People “accept” that aliens abducted them but that does not make it true.

      Who said it does? And are you saying that people ‘accept’ aliens abduct them, but don’t claim knowledge? Boghossian hammers away repeatedly about the association of faith with knowledge, as if people claim to come to acquire knowledge by faith. The reply I gave (well, courtesy of Mike Gene) doesn’t fit that case, and I don’t think faith as historically used by Christians doesn’t work that way either.

      Accordingly, we can translate your counter-example to “I blindly accept, on faith, that Dawkins was molested”, in which case it isn’t a counter-example at all because blind acceptance and faith are synonymous.

      Sure it’s a counter example, based on Boghossian’s own terms: it sure isn’t hope, yet it’s also not a claim of knowledge. It’s just acceptance of a claim. It’s not even blind acceptance in a relevant sense, since I’m entirely aware of what I’m accepting it and what my knowledge is related to it.

      Fine. People tend to blindly accept things, and they rarely tend to evidentially accept things. But again, this reinforces Boghossian’s more general point about the legitimacy of faith as a epistemological doctrine.

      Not really, and again, ‘Boghossian’s point about the legitimacy of faith as an epistemological doctrine’ is A) another issue, B) is itself flawed and outright contested by actual Christians I run into, and C) hardly can be said to be related anyway, since epistemology concerns itself with knowledge and knowledge isn’t being claimed in the Dawkins counter-example.

      Based on my distinction, I agree that people blindly accept things without believing they have knowledge but I also think that people blindly accept things while deluding themselves they possess knowledge. But this does not refute Boghossian’s point.

      Sure it does, or at the very least it refutes Boghossian’s claim. He laid down the standards of his own question, the terms on which to answer it. He said he has yet to encounter a reply to it (another thing taken on faith, by the way.) Well, here’s the reply.

      Faith is not synonymous with hope, nor is it an example of pretending to know what one doesn’t know. I don’t think you’ve really contested this, or can contest it. It looks like, on this particular example, you can stick a fork in him.

      Now, I don’t think faith based claims are knowledge claims in the way Boghossian draws those particular lines. But I’m not interested in getting into his other arguments right now. I’m focused on one particular claim he made about the contrast of faith and hope and knowledge. He set up a challenge – I say the challenge has been met. He can still be right about one or another thing, but it’s the challenge I’m concerned with here.

      Would you agree his challenge has been met?

      • To emphasize something – Boghossian makes a big deal about ‘faith’ being equivalent to ‘pretending to know what you do not know’. But if that’s not what faith is, a lot of his claims just collapse.

      • >What’s irrational about simply accepting a claim on faith

        If rationality is defined in terms of truth seeking, then it’s irrational to pretend to know things you don’t know because such an activity is not a reliable way to secure the truth. It’s wishful thinking.

        >And are you saying that people ‘accept’ aliens abduct them, but don’t claim knowledge?

        No. I was making the semantic point about the psychological concept of “acceptance”, namely it’s an epistemological concept closely related to “knowledge”. You seem to be denying this and thinking you have met Boghossian’s challenge by using the phrase “I accept, on faith”, The point I having been making over and over is that this is a cheap trick because blind acceptance is synonymous with faith and thus not a counter-example at all.

        >as if people claim to come to acquire knowledge by faith

        Do you deny that if a Christian said “I have faith Jesus rose from the dead” that they are not making an implicit knowledge claim? They are certainly doing more than saying they hope Jesus rose from the dead. It seems clear they are making a knowledge claim.

        >Boghossian’s point about the legitimacy of faith as an epistemological doctrine’ is A) another issue, B) is itself flawed and outright contested by actual Christians I run into, and C) hardly can be said to be related anyway, since epistemology concerns itself with knowledge and knowledge isn’t being claimed in the Dawkins counter-example.

        Actually, the point I’m making is that it’s entirely related because (1) The epistemology of faith-based concepts is the core of the issue and (2) I am directly contesting your claim that knowledge isn’t implicitly claimed in the Dawkins example. You keep saying the Dawkins example ISNT a knowledge claim but I think it is-an implicit one-because of the psychological nature of acceptance.

        >Would you agree his challenge has been met?

        Not, not really. You have not shown to my satisfaction that acceptance as a psychological concept isn’t related to knowledge as a psychological concept.

        At the very least, the sentence is grammatical because no one would ever say it because it violates the psychological connotations surrounding the word “accept” and “faith”. Take the following imaginary dialogue:

        Alice: ““I will accept, on faith, that Richard Dawkins was molested as a young boy.”
        Bob: Why do you accept that? Do you have evidence?
        Alice: Yes, I do have evidence: Dawkins’ own testimony.
        Bob: So you don’t accept it on FAITH then, you accept it on the basis of evidence.If you have evidence, then faith isn’t necessary.
        Alice:I guess so.

  5. The original Mr. X

    “Backed by the full faith and credit of the United States”. Challenge met.

    • Hi Mr. X

      As Boghossian is at pains to point out it in his book, hope in this context is roughly synonymous with trust and the quotation can easily be translated as follows: “Backed by the full [trust] and credit of the United States.”

      Challenge not met.

      • c.f. Boghossian: “The term ‘faith,’ as the faithful use it in religious contexts, needs to be disambiguated from words such as ‘promise,’ ‘confidence,’ ‘trust,’ and, especially ‘hope.’ ‘Promise,’ ‘confidence,’ ‘trust,’ and ‘hope’ are not knowledge claims.”

        Your quote about the US can be translated in terms of promise, confidence, and trust.

      • The original Mr. X

        No, because the challenge didn’t say “Give me a sentence where one must use ‘faith’, and cannot replace that with the words ‘hope’ and/or ‘trust'”. Unless you think he’s just leaning really heavily on the word “must”, and is demanding an instance where there is literally no synonym which could be used instead of “faith”? (But then, it’s virtually always possible to find at least one synonym for any word which isn’t extremely obscure and technical, so this would be both an unreasonable and unilluminating challenge).

        Also, I’d dispute your assertion that “hope in this context is roughly synonymous with trust”.

  6. The original Mr. X

    Gary:

    “c.f. Boghossian: “The term ‘faith,’ as the faithful use it in religious contexts, needs to be disambiguated from words such as ‘promise,’ ‘confidence,’ ‘trust,’ and, especially ‘hope.’ ‘Promise,’ ‘confidence,’ ‘trust,’ and ‘hope’ are not knowledge claims.”

    Your quote about the US can be translated in terms of promise, confidence, and trust.”

    First of all, if Boghossian wanted an instance of faith which couldn’t be replaced with the words hope, promise, confidence, and trust, he should have said that, and not have left it to combox readers to make his challenge workable.

    Secondly, “the term ‘faith’, as the faithful use it in religious contexts” (and, for that matter, as lots of people use it in secular contexts) is actually often synonymous with words such as “trust” and “[have] confidence”. The only reason Boghossian’s trying to set up these clear and unbreachable distinctions between the concepts is to further his own intellectually dishonest propaganda.

    • >First of all, if Boghossian wanted an instance of faith which couldn’t be replaced with the words hope, promise, confidence, and trust, he should have said that, and not have left it to combox readers to make his challenge workable.

      The fault is entirely mine, not Boghossian’s, for I pulled the “challenge” from the middle of a chapter that was more clear about the general purpose of the challenge, which is show that faith claims should be seen as knowledge claims.

      Boghossian points out that, as you mention, many “sophisticated” theologians use faith to be equivalent to trust, confidence, etc. (C.S. Lewis comes to mind) I heard this growing up in church myself. But Boghossian’s point is that no one cares that people have “confidence” that Jesus rose from the people. Either enter into the realm of knowledge-claims, or don’t. But don’t have it both ways. Boghossian’s point is normative, not descriptive. If some theists genuinely take faith to be synonymous with “trust” or “hope” then they are making a mistake from the perspective of apologetics because no atheist is going to be converted because theists have “hope”.

      >Boghossian’s trying to set up these clear and unbreachable distinctions between the concepts is to further his own intellectually dishonest propaganda.

      Hyperbole much?

      This debate is growing tiresome and I feel we are talking past each other. If you want to continue, I suggest emailing Prof. Boghossian himself with your rebuttal to his challenge and seeing what he says: pgb@pdx.edu

      • The original Mr. X

        “Boghossian points out that, as you mention, many “sophisticated” theologians use faith to be equivalent to trust, confidence, etc. (C.S. Lewis comes to mind) I heard this growing up in church myself. But Boghossian’s point is that no one cares that people have “confidence” that Jesus rose from the people. Either enter into the realm of knowledge-claims, or don’t. But don’t have it both ways. Boghossian’s point is normative, not descriptive. If some theists genuinely take faith to be synonymous with “trust” or “hope” then they are making a mistake from the perspective of apologetics because no atheist is going to be converted because theists have “hope”.”

        First of all, if Boghossian does indeed point out that “many ‘sophisticated’ theologians use faith to be equivalent to trust, confidence, etc.”, this refutes his definition of “faith” as “pretending to know what you don’t know”.

        Secondly, words like “confidence” can actually be used in the course of making knowledge claims. “How do you know you’ve got measles?” “My doctor says so, and I trust/have confidence in his medical expertise.” Saying “I have faith that Jesus rose from the dead” is much the same: “The Gospels report it, and I have confidence in their accuracy regarding this matter.”

        Finally, I’ve never met anybody who says “You atheists should be converted because we theists have faith”. People might say “Well, you have to take X on faith, but it’s reasonable to do so based on these considerations” (much as you might reasonably take a doctor’s diagnosis on faith if you have good reason to think that he’s skilled at practising medicine).

        “Hyperbole much?”

        Not really, no. Boghossian is redefining the word “faith” to make it seem less intellectually respectable, and then insisting on applying it to other people’s statements even though he knows perfectly well what they actually mean. It’s just like a young-earth creationist redefining the word “evolution” to mean “at some point in the past a chimpanzee gave birth to a human baby”, and then insisting that we read biology textbooks with that definition in mind.

  7. >First of all, if Boghossian does indeed point out that “many ‘sophisticated’ theologians use faith to be equivalent to trust, confidence, etc.”, this refutes his definition of “faith” as “pretending to know what you don’t know”.

    You are forgetting an important facet of my response: Boghossian is making a NORMATIVE claim. Do you know what that means? It means that he thinks faith *should* be defined as “pretending to know what you don’t know.” Someone might disagree with Boghossian about how the word *should* be defined, just like people disagree about how to define the word “consciousness” or “free will”. Pointing out that some people disagree with how Boghossian thinks the word should be defined obviously does not refute Boghossian on this point in particular because he is offering a NEW definition of faith that HE prefers.

    Christians obviously won’t like Boghossian’s definition but then the perogative is on them to offer a competing definition. How do YOU think “faith” should be defined? I’m all ears.

    >“How do you know you’ve got measles?” “My doctor says so, and I trust/have confidence in his medical expertise.” Saying “I have faith that Jesus rose from the dead” is much the same: “The Gospels report it, and I have confidence in their accuracy regarding this matter.”

    Presumably you have confidence in the doctor because he has documented evidence hanging on his wall that suggests he has the relevant training. The reliability of the medical profession can be tested by empirical evidence: their clinical efficacy, rates of medical malpractice, etc. All this is documented in the public arena with inter-subjectively confirmable and falsifiable evidence.

    But where is the evidence that the Gospels are accurate reports of what is a prima facie unbelievable phenomena e.g. someone raising from the dead? If there is solid, publically available and intersubjectively confirmable evidence that the Gospels are accurate, then you wouldn’t need faith if by faith we mean “belief without evidence”. Thus, the Gospels are either reliable or they are not. If they are reliable, then we should have publicly available evidence for its reliability. And if we have such evidence, then faith is unnecessary: you just gotta point to the evidence. And if there is no such publicly available evidence, that’s where faith steps in: an irrational leap over the probabilities.

    • The original Mr. X

      “You are forgetting an important facet of my response: Boghossian is making a NORMATIVE claim. Do you know what that means? It means that he thinks faith *should* be defined as “pretending to know what you don’t know.” Someone might disagree with Boghossian about how the word *should* be defined, just like people disagree about how to define the word “consciousness” or “free will”. Pointing out that some people disagree with how Boghossian thinks the word should be defined obviously does not refute Boghossian on this point in particular because he is offering a NEW definition of faith that HE prefers.”

      So Boghossian’s definition is just a personal idiosyncratic one with no connexion to what other people mean by the term? That’s nice to know, but why then should we listen to his views on religious faith? And if he criticises religions for promoting faith as a virtue, but his attacks on the validity of faith require us to accept a different definition of faith to the religious one, doesn’t that mean he’s just using a fairly obvious strawman fallacy?

      “Christians obviously won’t like Boghossian’s definition but then the perogative is on them to offer a competing definition. How do YOU think “faith” should be defined? I’m all ears.”

      Trusting in God, being loyal to Him, and obeying His commandments. That’s just off the top of my head, but I’d wager it’s closer to what 99% of Christians mean by “faith” than Boghossian’s definition.

      “But where is the evidence that the Gospels are accurate reports of what is a prima facie unbelievable phenomena e.g. someone raising from the dead? If there is solid, publically available and intersubjectively confirmable evidence that the Gospels are accurate, then you wouldn’t need faith if by faith we mean “belief without evidence”. Thus, the Gospels are either reliable or they are not. If they are reliable, then we should have publicly available evidence for its reliability. And if we have such evidence, then faith is unnecessary: you just gotta point to the evidence. And if there is no such publicly available evidence, that’s where faith steps in: an irrational leap over the probabilities.”

      Here’s the thing, though: faith is only defined as “belief without evidence” or “an irrational leap over the probabilities” by ideologues seeking to delegitimise opposing viewpoints (plus of course those who don’t know much about the subject and put too much trust — one might almost say, too much faith — in what said ideologues say on the matter). Why should I accept such people’s spin on the matter?

      • > faith is only defined as “belief without evidence” or “an irrational leap over the probabilities” by ideologues seeking to delegitimise opposing viewpoints

        So I guess Alister McGrath, Professor of Theology at King’s College London is a “ideologue” when he talks of faith as: “judgments made in the absence of sufficient evidence” (McGrath, 2004, p. 179″ and “belief lying beyond proof” (p. 180) .

        Also, I guess the Bible itself is ideological when it says in Hebrews that faith is “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1)

  8. The original Mr. X

    Actually there are plenty of times when it’s rational to accept a claim even when you don’t have enough evidence to personally prove it’s true. E.g., you don’t have enough evidence to prove that Boghossian is right about his challenge never having been answered, so are you irrational for believing that nobody’s ever answered his challenge?

  9. If your McGrath quotes are as badly out of context as your Hebrews 11:1 quote, Gary Williams, then you are contradicting your own espoused value of making decisions based on evidence. I’m sure you’re aware that good science eschews cherry-picking data, right? It’s the same in any discipline.

    • Hi Tom,

      If my Hebrews 11:1 quote is so badly out of text, why don’t you enlighten me about what “true” context is? I’d love to hear your interpretation.

      It seems to be perfectly reasonable to interpret “things not seen” in terms of normal, empirical evidence as evident to our basic senses. Take, for example, the story of Doubting Thomas. Thomas did not believe until he saw with his own eyes the holes in Jesus’ hand. This reliance on ordinary empirical evidence was seen as not virtuous compared to those who had faith Jesus rose without any ordinary, empirical evidence. Thus, it seems perfectly reasonable to interpret New Testament discussions of faith in terms of “leaping” beyond the ordinary evidence available to our senses. Accordingly, it seems reasonable to interpret Hebrews 11:1 as in part referring to this famous story, which justifies the contemporary atheists interpretation of faith as leaping beyond ordinary empirical evidence.

  10. As for “double-standards” on evidence, I am not an epistemological foundationalist and thus not an “evidentialist” in the true and proper sense, in part due to the influence that Alvin Plantinga and Reformed Epistemology had on my thinking, in addition to the pragmatist tradition from Peirce and James.

    The epistemological position that most closely aligns with my current views is Hasok Chang’s “round earth coherentism” or Susan Haack’s “foundherentism”. Neither of these views places the kind of absolutist value on “empirical, publically confirmable” evidence that seems to be associated with pop philosophers like Harris/Dawkins/Coyne, etc., so it would be best to stop associating me with these people if you want to continue a productive conversation on this blog. My views on epistemology and evidence are complex, as they should be, and cannot be summed up in a single sentence, nor assimilated in the current gestalt of “New Atheism” (Oh how I loathe that term!)

    Furthermore, if you were familiar with my recent philosophical work you would know that I am a nihilist about ALL norms, including epistemic norms, meaning that I place no unconditional value on evidence. No one is categorically bound to “follow the evidence” where it leads, because no one is categorically bound to do anything. So, yes, in some weak sense I might have a “double standard” about evidence insofar as I rely on it strongly in some areas in my life but don’t rely on it in other areas of my life. But I have strong pragmatic reasons for doing so grounded in my philosophical pragmatism/foundherentism.

    • The original Mr. X

      “The epistemological position that most closely aligns with my current views is Hasok Chang’s “round earth coherentism” or Susan Haack’s “foundherentism”. Neither of these views places the kind of absolutist value on “empirical, publically confirmable” evidence that seems to be associated with pop philosophers like Harris/Dawkins/Coyne, etc., so it would be best to stop associating me with these people if you want to continue a productive conversation on this blog.”

      Hang on a minute, though. You characterised faith as “belief without evidence”, and later stated that it was belief without empirical evidence. You also said that it was irrational. This would only make sense if believing in something without empirical evidence were an irrational thing to do. But now you’re saying that actually empirical evidence isn’t the be all and end all of rational belief; in which case, why is faith irrational?

  11. Furthermore, if you take Plantinga to be the leading Christian thinker on faith-based epistemology then there is a clear sense in which faith can be “evidence-based” insofar as Christians have “evidence” delivered to them by their properly working Sensus Divinitatus. This is the so-called Aquinas/Calvinist model of faith-based evidence, as I’m sure you are familiar with.

    But clearly there is a strong sense in which appeals to the “evidences” delivered by intact Sensus Divinitatus’ is different from the normal perceptual-reason based evidences that you find in a public court of law. In fact, as an atheist “corrupted by sin” Plantinga claims that my Sensus Divinitatus is somehow broken, and thus I am cut off from the evidential base that supplies Christians with their evidential warrant. So you can’t really blame me for thinking there is no evidence for God’s existence: my god-detector seems to be faulty!

    Thus, I distinguish two types of evidence. There is the personal experiences type of evidence that gives Christians’ evidential warrant through special religious experiences of God. I have never had this type of experience, so I am cut-off from that evidence. The other type of evidence is the type of evidence that can be appealed to regardless of whether someone has an intact Sensus Divinitatus. Thus, when atheists define faith as “belief without evidence” they are primarily referring to evidence in the second sense, not the first. Does that make sense?

  12. You characterised faith as “belief without evidence”, and later stated that it was belief without empirical evidence. You also said that it was irrational. This would only make sense if believing in something without empirical evidence were an irrational thing to do. But now you’re saying that actually empirical evidence isn’t the be all and end all of rational belief; in which case, why is faith irrational?

    It depends on what definition of rationality one is using. One might distinguish between subjective rationality and objective rationality based on either subjective reasons or objective reasons. I believe faith can be subjectively rational in roughly the sense that Plantinga outlines i.e. conforming to one’s personal experience. If one has an overwhelming religious or transcendental experience then it can be subjectively rational to believe in God because it conforms with all your personal beliefs/background knowledge.

    However, subjective rationality is relative to individuals and if individuals have unusual sets of background knowledge it can be subjectively rational to believe in some strange things. For example, if a person has what I would call a hallucination of an alien abduction, they can be subjectively rational in believing in aliens because it conforms to their particular experiences and background knowledge. I view subjectively rational faith grounded in religious experience the same way: as hallucinations. But religious people having these hallucinations obviously don’t think they are undergoing a hallucination. In their minds they are forming beliefs rationally based on their experience. This is the sense in which faith can be subjectively rational.

    In contrast, I do not believe these people are being objectively rational. My argument here is based on John Loftus’ Outsider Test of Faith. Since all religious traditions rely on subjective rationality to defend their belief systems, and these belief systems contradict each other, then they all can’t objectively true, and thus they can’t all be objectively rational.

    • The original Mr. X

      So you disagree with Boghossian’s assertion that faith is ipso facto irrational then?

      Also:

      “Since all religious traditions rely on subjective rationality to defend their belief systems,”

      Not really. The Catholic Church, for example, has always maintained that God’s existence can be shown by reason alone, and the other bits come from the Bible, which anybody can read. So there’s one religious tradition which doesn’t rely on subjective rationality.

  13. If you are unfamiliar with Loftus’ Outsider Test it goes like this:

    (1) People who are located in distinct geographical areas around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and justify a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their
    particular up bringing and shared cultural heritage, and most of these faiths are mutually exclusive.
    (2) The best explanation for (1) is that adopting and justifying one’s religious faith is not a matter of independent rational judgment. Rather, to an overwhelming degree, one’s religious faith is causally dependent on brain processes, cultural conditions, and irrational thinking patterns.
    (3) It is highly likely that any given religious faith is false and quite possible that they could all be false. At best there can be only one religious faith that is true. At worst, they could all be false. The sociological facts, along with our brain biology, anthropological (or cultural) data, and psychological studies, lead us to this highly likely conclusion.
    So I propose:
    (4) The only way to rationally test one’s culturally adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider, a nonbeliever, with the same level of reasonable skepticism believers already use when examining the other religious faiths they reject. (2013, p. 15-16)

    Based on the distinction I made earlier it sounds like Loftus is using rationality in the objective sense. Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Muslims are all subjectively rational insofar as it’s not epistemically blameworthy to believe in the religious traditions you are raised in culturally. After all, you can’t blame children for believing in the religion their parents raised them in; they don’t know any better. However, since all these different faith-traditions contradict each other, they can’t all be right and perhaps are all wrong. From a more objective perspective then,an encounter with the global diversity of religion makes it objectively rational to subject one’s religious beliefs to skeptical scrutiny and I believe no religion in its current form can withstand this form of scrutiny (though it’s not impossible). Hence, atheism: the disbelief in all gods and all religions. In sum, the atheists pits the rival faiths against each other and watches them self-destruct as they are both relying on subjective rationality i.e. personal experience.

  14. Ken

    Thought Challenge!
    “Give me a sentence where one must use the word “faith,” and cannot replace that with “hope,” yet at the same time isn’t an example of pretending to know something one doesn’t know.
    To date, nobody has answered the thought challenge. I don’t think it can be answered because faith and hope are not synonyms.”
    Dr. Boghossian’s definitions of faith (?)
    1. Belief without evidence
    2. Pretending to know things you don’t know
    The “vague” (according to Dr. Boghossian) Webster’s definitions of faith (noun)
    1. Strong belief or trust in someone or something
    2. Belief in the existence of God : Strong religious feelings or beliefs
    3. A system of religious beliefs
    Webster’s synonyms for faith – devotion, piety, religion
    Webster’s definition of hope (verb) – To want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true
    Hoped or hoping (intransitive verb) – To cherish a desire with anticipation <hopes for a promotion
    (transitive verb) – To desire with expectation of obtainment
    Webster’s definition of noun (noun) – A word that is the name of something (such as a person, animal, place, thing, quality, idea, or action) and is typically used in a sentence as subject or object of a verb or as object of a preposition
    Webster’s definition of verb (noun) – a word (such as jump, think, happen, or exist) that is usually one of the main parts of a sentence and that expresses an action, an occurrence, or a state of being
    Response to so-called “thought challenge”:
    I have faith that the majority of people will not spend significant time nor get distracted by a so-called “thought challenge” that requires the substitution of a noun with a verb and then claims to have discovered something profound. My use of “faith” in this sentence indicates my strong belief, and not a “hope”. While I do acknowledge that when one plays games with logic and grammar like this in the “hope” of being perceived as enlightened it is not hard to confuse most people, because grammar is universally and routinely misused, even by rationale and reasonable people when they are trying to persuade others. However, my faith in the majority of people in this instance is not that they’ll consciously reject this ploy, as that would require an understanding of the underlying grammatical shenanigans, but that I strongly believe in people’s innate ability to identify BS, and so I have faith that most will not spend time on this so-called “thought challenge”, unless of course they already agree with Dr. Boghossian’s underlying universally negative assumptions/conclusions regarding faith and religion, in which case they will ignore or forgive the grammatical gamesmanship, allowing them to read the table developed to reinforce an original position that the audience already agrees on – thereby expressing and reinforcing…you guessed it… faith in Boghossianism:)
    e.g. Give me a sentence where one must use the word “logic,” and cannot replace that with “discern,” yet at the same time isn’t an example of improper use of the English language.
    No need to create a unique definition of “logic” for this example to show the faulty logic and reasoning of the original so-called thought challenge.
    Thought Counter-Challenge – Given that, “The words we use are important.”, and that honest, open, non-manipulative and truth seeking communication is a two way street, should anyone take seriously; guidance from a book, or instructional manual, that uses unique and tailor made definitions for commonly used words to try to frame a discussion to justify pre-determined conclusions?
    Would anyone in the scientific or philosophy communities concerned with reasoning and logic give credence to any guidance that started with this assumption?
    For the purposes of this book you must accept this unique, tailor made definition of logic as – A malleable pseudoscientific process used to justify a way of thinking or understanding of something.
    And disregard this…Webster’s definition of logic
    1. A proper or reasonable way of thinking about or understanding something
    2. A particular way of thinking about something
    3. The science that studies the formal processes used in thinking and reasoning
    Just because “faith” is a word with an incredibly long and often sordid history does not mean redefining or specifically attempting to define it to fit within a predetermined theory or hypothesis will shed any light on some of the greatest challenges of our day. I completely agree that human expressions of faith, religion, and belief in god(s) have been and continue to be core to some of the greatest tragedies throughout human history. I also agree that encouraging and enabling rational, reasonable and objective thinking can and should be used to address all of our greatest challenges. However, the assumption that faith, as applied to the potential belief in god(s) and rational, reasonable, objective thinking are mutually exclusive is not supported by time, history, logic or science. Hoping these constructs are mutually exclusive seems to show a predisposition to a belief without evidence or pretending to know something that you don’t know.
    You can’t say you’re open to the existence of god(s) (to imply objectivity) and then have your primary assumption be that if the existence of god(s) is true then rational, reasonable and objective thinking is false. This “logic” is counter to any claim of being comfortable with the unknown.

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