What is Faith?

faith is a concept which denotes the absence of evidence– the absence of reasons. faith is a substitution for evidence and reasons, replacing them in order to continue justifying a belief or idea which cannot stand on its own merit.

when we examine the definition of faith, we see it can be used as a synonym for ‘confidence’, which is often how i see it being used in these forums. however, this is not the essence of faith-- in philosophy, logic/argumentation and epistemology, we need to be more specific if we are going to BASE our beliefs on “faith” in some X, Y or Z… faith as related to belief, excluding synonyms for confidence, is defined by dictionary.com as: “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence”, "belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact"– in otherwords, faith takes the place of reasons or evidence, allowing us to assert the truthfulness of a belief in the absence of any evidence or reasons for that belief.

the nature of faith then is the affirmation of a belief or claim when we cannot demonstrate evidence or reasons for this affirmation; if we CAN demonstrate evidence and/or reasons, then our belief is NOT based on faith. there is no need for faith, in the strict sense, if we already have a reason or evidence for our beliefs. faith as such, therefore, has no place in logic, philosophy or argumentation; it can only rightly be associated with religious beliefs or assumptions which we hold but do not understand WHY we hold them…

this brings me to the main premise that i argue here, as follows: that EVERYTHING we believe, every X that we affirm in our minds as true, exists for a reason; that the mind “cannot believe an X” unless the mind has reasons for this belief-- now, these reasons may be unconscious or unknown to us, but they nevertheless exist. the mind therefore, to truly believe some proposition, cannot just assert the truth status of a proposition without SOME reason for doing so. this would amount to an uncaused event, which violates the law of causation-- in otherwords, to believe in some X without ANY reasons would be impossible, because it would amount to an uncaused act. even beliefs based on random association or random/malfunctioning brain circuitry are still based on reasons, they are just false reasons.

WE, however, as often irrational individuals, may perhaps make claims to beliefs that have no reasons, but what we are in fact doing is describing the beliefs we already possess, which we have UNKNOWN REASONS for believing: the fact that the reasons for the belief are not known to us, means that we mistakenly interpret that belief as based on “faith”.

faith then is just a sign for our ignorance of reasons why we may believe something. faith is a stop-gap, a mental plug that blocks conscious introspection and awareness of underlying reasons for a belief: the belief in god is a perfect example. most people claim to believe in god based on “faith” (the LACK of reasons or evidence), yet in truth this is impossible. there is always a reason why we hold a belief to be true, even if the reasons are faulty or themselves unjustified. the belief in god is no exception: beliefs in god are caused primarily by a feeling that god is real; this feeling itself is caused by childhood conditioning, where we are exposed to religious ideas at a young age before we can think for ourselves. this sort of INDOCTRINATION sets the stage for our future “faith” in god, since when we are older we do not want to think of ourselves as determined by our past experiences. we do not want to be merely unthinking machines, repeating by conditioned habit what we were told as a child, so we posit FAITH as the “reason” for our beliefs, in order to hide the fact that we have been conditioned to believe in imaginary beings right from the start.

true faith, i.e. the belief in some X without any reason or evidence for X, is so irrational and impossible that i contend it cannot even exist. every single belief, no matter how unjustified or rediculous, has some REASON for existing, even false reasons. as far as the nature of the human mind goes, it cannot be otherwise.

in order to root out illogical beliefs, contradictions and falsehoods from our paradigms and our minds, we need to dispense with the notion of faith altogether-- it is a false notion, an impossibility. rather, we should be looking at our beliefs, NOT from the viewpoint of whether they are based on “reasons or faith”, but whether they are based on GOOD reasons or BAD reasons-- whether they are JUSTIFIED reasons or UNJUSTIFIED reasons. in this way, we can examine our beliefs in things such as ‘god’ honestly, realize that we have been conditioned all our lives to believe in such an entity, and therefore properly reject this conditioning as an unjustified reason for believing in god-- it is only then, AFTER we reject false or unjustified reasons for our beliefs, that we are free to look for BETTER or MORE JUSTIFIED reasons, to see if our belief is still justified or true… as such, ALL mental progress, all progress in correct and non-contradictory thinking, depends necessarily on dispensing with the false notion of faith.

as long as “faith” exists, as long as we embrace the impossible notion that we can hold beliefs for NO REASON AT ALL, true mental progress and deep introspection remain blocked, and all our beliefs become unjustified when they follow from any “faith”-based (i.e. willfully ignorant) premises.

I disagree with your thesis that we should “do away with faith” because I think that a certain sense of faith is integral to the development of knowledge.

To elaborate, very little of what we “know” is fundamentally and incontrovertibly assured and, especially in its incipient stages, often requires a degree of “faith” in order for it to lead to tangible results. I think most obviously of the way in which doctors practice medicine - very often the best physicians are those who are open to a range of possible treatment options, including those outside the established canon, but who are required, for very good reasons, to demonstrate “confidence” in their actions.

It strikes me that this remains perfectly compatible with evidence-based knowledge.

you are correct… but what you are describing is not faith, it is intuition based on a pre-existing set of prior beliefs. an integral part of human nature and reasoning certainly is acting in accordance with intuitive or semi-formed beliefs or “assumptions”, but these in turn are themselves based on pre-existing frameworks of knowledge or ideas.

your example of doctors is sufficient to show this: being open to a range of possibilities in treatment (even those “outside the established canon”) is a sign of a good doctor; however, a doctor will not use a treatment ONLY based on faith itself, i.e. on the lack of ALL EVIDENCE or REASONS. for any treatment prescribed by a physician, there need be at least some minimal expectation of its success, this expectation itself deriving from a prior reason or minimal evidence, even if that “evidence” is just the fact that the treatment exists within the framework of medicine in general, and that the physician has respect for and confidence in the discipline of medicine (because he either has had successful experience with the field of medicine itself, or he believes the popular image of the power and prestige of the medical field in general).

to clarify-- it would be literally impossible for a physician to prescribe a treatment for which there was NO REASON or EVIDENCE that the treatment would work; it would not only be irresponsible and irrational, it would be impossible. to even formulate the treatment initially, there must be some prior-existing concept of why it is a treatment or how it will “treat” the condition. these prior sets of knowledge, even if they be unconscious or implicit, constitute reasons.

this is why i contend that “faith” is a false concept; it cannot ever exist because it assumes the entailment of an uncaused event– we certainly can have BAD or UNJUSTIFIED reasons for our beliefs/actions, but never can we have NO REASONS for them… and this is why we must dispense with the notion altogether, as it “gets in the way” of deeper and more meaningful understandings of our beliefs and actions, since it blocks or hides the true reasons why we think what we think, or why we do what we do.

I suppose faith wouldn’t be necessary if there was no religion. The greater populace of the world however does have religious beliefs, as such faith is the basis of it.

I see your point, but I think you might be reducing faith to a caricature. Is faith not a kind of “intuition”? Certainly it has often been characterised in this way (take the mystical approaches to religion, for example). I also think it unlikely that those who lay a claim to faith in something would hold to your definition of it lacking reason(s) - isn’t this the role of scripture? I think you’re on safer ground with lack of evidence.

Faith in what? Islam, Christianity, Capitolism, Science, Progress? Faith in America, England, Mankind?
Faithfullness is the unconscious apologetics for your belief system, and a rejection of others.
Faithfullness is truth by decree.

yes, point well taken; whenever anyone says their certain belief is “just based on faith” or tells you to “have faith” in their religious belief, its not literally faith they are referring to, but a system of unconscious conditioning and emotional programmed responses, which have been internalized throughout ones lifetime. that is my only point, that faith as a concept, as an idea, is better not even used at all, especially by those of us who aspire to be constantly refining and improving our knowledge.

anyone who falls back on “faith” as a reason for one of their beliefs is just engaging in self-deception; to the extent that they recognized that there are real reasons for their “faith” (and for the manifestation of faith as emotions) then their self-deception is more subtle, but nevertheless still there-- those who claim that they “feel” something to be true, and that this is just their “faith” that it is so, are engaging in self-deception of a deeper nature, by at the same time recognizing the need for reasons to support a belief, yet giving a name to the irrational or unfounded reasons for the belief and thus, in their own mind, legitimizing it: the name they give the sum total of these semi-conscious reasons and feelings is faith, which, obviously, nullifies any attempt or possibility at re-evaluating or examining these beliefs in an honest or new light.

This is a huge problem though. If say, Buddhism, contains a vast literature using the word “faith” (and it does), should we moderns come along and claim the tradition is useless? Or that we have to pick and choose the acceptable parts? “Faith” is not presented in Buddhism in the way you have presented it. Yet there is reason to use the word - it is not a falsely used word. It is not a matter of A or ~A. “Faith” has psychological connotation, and it’s not even simply “trust”. It also implies expanded point of view for instance, as opposed to fixation. It implies accepting some things as just the way they are, and is suggestive of more nuanced ways of approaching life. I knew a guy once who was the type that if a window was stuck he was bound to break it, because he was so fixated on a single approach to things that he wouldn’t just give up and take a step back and look at things with fresh eyes. In a Buddhist context, this is the essential meaning of “faith”, all other meanings being secondary, and informed by the essential meaning.

Why should this entire tradition be deemed guilty by association? What other word would you use besides “faith”? Why are we so incapable of a bit of malleability? Why can’t we accept other contexts and points of view? The word “faith” isn’t a problem, but our narrow-minded fixations surely are.

Even the Idea of scientific progress has been raised to the level of a scientific religion…and the cult of objectivity. Science is dominated by faith and belief expressed in the forms that the world is a wholly knowable system governed by universal laws that man can grasp and rationally direct for his own benifit.
This is a irrational belief based on the evidence of pollution, contamination, global warming, and weapons of mass detruction.
The more arrogant and less tolerable scientists become of other beliefs, notably religious ones, the more society will rebel againt science and embrace religious fundamentalism.

sorry, i dont know anything about the official buddhist texts or “scriptures”, although i take you at your word. “faith” is just a word– i am not taking up arms against a mere word; if you believe i am, then you misunderstand my position. what i am taking up arms against is the content, the use of faith as a magic word, evoked in ones mind or in conversation to justify a stopping point to intellectual honesty and introspection.

your understanding of the meaning of faith clearly differs from its common usage; if you can make use of the word faith without allowing it to tend to prevent your further deep and truthful examination of the nature and source of your beliefs, then of course i am not speaking to you with this thread… words are just symbols for the ideas they represent; what i argue for here is the cessation of the IDEA of faith, of faithfulness as such, in the sense that we invoke it to create an apparent justification for false or unjustifiable beliefs. im not critiquing any particular religion or religious idea, only the concept of faith as ive seen it used often in the lives of others, and here on this website.

I understand. I do think the word “faith” has many connotations. I prefer to think of the unhealthy meaning as specifically “blind faith”. Strangely though I think that “blind faith” isn’t similar in meaning at all to the more basic and fundamental meaning of “faith”. It is more a perversion of it - the meaning in the end is nearly opposite to its unperverted meaning. Take the example I gave above of the man trying to fix the window and breaking it in the process. In that situation, he could use more faith. In what though? In himself? In God? In the correctness of the method he is employing? It is the “in what” that is the real question I think. Faith can be very fundamental, and very basic. It could be faith in the situation for instance - faith that the situation is entirely open, acceptable, and workable.

yes, faith is a misunderstood word, used as sort of a magic password to grant apparent justification or, even worse, a falsely-irreducible nature to a belief. however, as simply a word, i find it hard to formulate accurate or real understandings based on evidence or reason by using the word faith-- it simply evokes a strange response, a “pushing-aside” of reasons, at least to me. while i do understand what you are saying, i still think that even when we try to use “faith” in a way you describe, we set ourselves up for the “lowering of our expectations of proof” as regards our beliefs and their justifications… i think that beliefs which have somewhere in their formulation even an element of “honest faith” must tend to (not always or necessarily, but tend to) need less empirical or rational explanation, or maybe that they tend to need less deep levels of causal explanation; that is just my conception and experience with faith. like i said, if you can use the word without degrading the need for causal explanations of phenomena and beliefs, great. i just dont think that this is how most people utilize the concept.

I’m not sure it’s that uncommon within philosophy or philosophical theology (is that hyperbole?!).

How about, instead of “doing away with” faith, we conduct a “transvaluation” of faithful values? That ought to appeal to the Nietzschean in you… :wink:

haha… :sunglasses: unfortunately, there is no value anywhere in the idea of faith to revaluate…

TTG: Again, I understand. To be clear the way I’m using the word “faith”, it isn’t directly in a relationship to other concepts such as “belief”. Extreme faith in a belief is exactly that perversion I’m talking about. Faith is contrary to fixed belief - which isn’t to say I’m advocating not holding beliefs. So with “empirical or rational explanation” - yes the “faith” I’m talking about is what would help us take those explanations a little bit less seriously. Not in the sense that those explanations are less true, but in a more psychological sense. Beliefs can be held in a variety of ways. Taking them less seriously in a particular sense, doesn’t mean we’re letting go of them as if science and rationality suffer in the process. In fact I would say much of the progress in science for instance is based on this kind of loosening of fixation on pre-existing explanations.

i believe i see what you are saying: that faith is just a state of being open to and aware of possibility, despite whether or not possibilities seem likely or unlikely given our current views and paradigms. in this sense, we are in agreement, although i would prefer to call it “openness” “open-mindedness” or “awareness” rather than “faith”, but it all means the same thing in this context.


Well done there chap!


Unity, once again you grossly misunderstand; but ill leave matty to defend himself on this one.

I agree, and I think those words all form a family of similar notions and conceptions.

Faith is simply trust.
In organized religion it is the trust in scriptures, not in God himself. Faith in this sense is not faith in whether or not God exists, but more widely faith that what a certain book that is certified by religious officials is correct.
One can have faith in God as a concept, this is faith in feelings, the feeling that we are being over watched by some higher being, it is as real as any other instinct and should not instantly be considered wrong just because there is not definitive logical method of testing this feeling. A similar example is the gut feeling, whereby a person makes a decision based on what he feels is right, even though he cannot make a purely logical decision at the time. Often the person is right, sometimes they are wrong, this seems to depend on the person. Of course this does nothing for the case that believes God is real, but I think it should be considered, there may not be logical reason in believing in a feeling, but that does not mean that believing in that feeling is a stupid thing to do.