This is my latest reply to the debate going on here: 

Basically, so that we may be able to take this discussion further towards a much-needed conclusion, this is what I think faith is:


I am going to flesh out what is essentially the dictionary definition so that it is more philosophical and robust. But I am essentially not redefining it too far beyond what is accepted by the majority of the world.


It is also interesting to note that Reformed Epistemologists came up against this very same issue:


Reformed epistemology is to some extent a response to the evidentialist objection to belief in God, which can be formulated as an argument as follows:

1.     It is irrational or unacceptable to accept theistic belief without sufficient or appropriate evidence or reason.

2.     There is not sufficient/appropriate evidence or reason for theistic belief.

3.     Belief in God is irrational.[3]

The conclusion is not that God does not exist but rather that it is irrational to believe that God does exist.


So they had to reform their idea of epistemological methodology. They did this by creating ‘properly basic beliefs’. Plantinga’s definition of faith (say, Plantinga’s Faith) with reference to Calvin is “a firm and certain knowledge” of “the central teachings of the Gospel” (p.224-249) as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit (p.245), and with an epistemological confidence that does beg some questions. He continues, and completely differently to David’s approach, by declaring, “Faith is initially and fundamentally practical; it is a knowledge of the good news and of its application to me, and what I must do to receive the benefits it proclaims. Still, faith itself is a matter of belief rather than action; it is believing something rather than doing something.”  What we have here is a movement away from a generalised understanding of faith towards something which is as a direct result of the Holy Spirit and refers to a belief in the Gospels. This is, indeed, entirely Christocentric. It suffers, in its application as a properly basic belief, from begging the question and special pleading for Christianity as being a properly basic belief over and above any other religion or belief. It also means that Plantinga, and in a similar way David, cannot use their term faith in any other context other than referring to the Christian God. It is unclear, then, exactly how wide their application can stretch. Is it just the belief in God? Or anything to do with the religion? Or anything to do with morality (and thus connected to their belief). Of course, there is a slippery and arbitrary slope to negotiate here in describing and defining how and when one can use such a narrowly contextualised term. (Quotes from Warranted Christian Belief, Alvin Plantinga)


As mentioned in a previous post, David’s definition is different to other Christians’ definitions. This is not my opinion, this is pure fact. As pointed out, he differs from the Papal and doctrinal definition of the Catholic Church, potentially adhered to by over a billion Catholics. I say this because what David ends up doing is producing a subjective definition – his own. The problem here is that, in philosophy, one cannot do this (easily at any rate). For example, if I gave this syllogism:


P1 All people who commit murders are committing morally good acts
P2 I commit murder
C Therefore I am committing a morally good act


You might agree with the validity, but you would accuse me of having a dodgy premise. But what if I turned to you and said “No it’s not, I define murder as rubbing my pet dog Fido’s belly in loving happiness. Therefore, the syllogism is both coherent and valid.”? Well, I can’t do this in philosophy since philosophy is both logical and semantic (unless you throw in another premise to redefine it). You simply can’t go around redefining terms left right and centre, The only way to do this is either to create a new term (for rubbing my dog’s belly – fidoism? (ah, the irony)) or make sure every time you are using that term, you are defining it for your audience so that no one can be confused. Philosophy depends on a consensus agreement of terms, and very careful definition of those terms in advance of any usage of them.


As we have seen, David has used “faith” an awful lot. He eventually referred us to another website and another essay to direct us to the subjective meaning he meant before finally admitting it was out of date anyway as he supplied a later meaning that was entirely different (though he did not admit this upfront, it had to be pointed out). This is really sloppy philosophy.


Another issue with Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology and David's extended act-based definition is that it seems like such the approach is defining what ‘a faith’ is rather than defining what ‘to have faith in something’ is, which, though sounding similar, are very different things.


But enough about Reformed Epistemology – it’s place here is to show that Plantinga et al WERE INDEED worried about the faith vs reason definitional issues and their oppositional ontology.


Faith, to me, is a causal ingredient in justifying an action (where belief is an action). In other words, having faith that the Christian God exists uses the same application of the word as having faith that I will not get hit when crossing the road and that my pen will drop and that unicorns do not exist. The term is universal, as opposed to David’s narrow and Christocentric theological term. One point to make here (and this applies to David and Plantinga) is that their terminology, though different, is elitist. That means that the general public, including almost all Christians, do not understand or know or use this meaning (and thus when they use ‘faith’ they do not use this sense), and a good proportion would be cognitively unable to grasp the concepts in any light. The philosophical nuances constrain the term from being anything like universal and the term can only apply to those who have thought it through to such a degree. In other words, I may love my partner, but I love her using my knowledge of the word. If someone else somewhere else has a high-falluting interpretation of that word, and I do not know how to reason the use of that specially defined term, then it is hard to see how it can apply to me. I may love her in the other way, but I would have to have faith that this is the case since I would not be able to reason it. In this way, such a concept would suffer an infinite regress in not being able to be anchored in anything other than a blind and un-reasoned faith.


So, as I have said many times here, my understanding of faith is that which is necessary to fill the gap left by rational evidence when justifying a belief. What I mean by justifying is warranting, but I do not mean that the belief need be true (in point of fact, we cannot prove anything to be true outside of cogito ergo sum mentality, if Descartes is right).


In other words, in order to justify, to warrant believing in X, I need at least some faith, but actually I do not need evidence. However, I would then claim that such a belief would be irrational. For example, if I believed that unicorns existed, or that God was made of cheese, there is no evidence for this and so the belief would be justified purely by faith alone. It would be irrational. However, we always need some faith in order to overcome the true scepticism such as that of Descartes’ Evil Demon. We could be living in the Matrix, and we cannot prove we aren’t. Thus there will always need to be just a little faith in the mix. I essentially call this ‘faith in the Correspondence Theory’. One does not need much, pragmatically, because one never usually even realises this issue or thinks about it when making any decision. This is faith that things we sense, in some way, correspond to on objective reality.


So our beliefs, I like to see, are equivalent to a jar. This jar represents the justification for our belief. It can be filled with rational evidence or faith. Both are forms of reason. But before David gets excited by me saying faith is reason, there is a difference between types of reason for an action, namely justifying reasons and explanatory reasons. This is a problem CS Lewis got into in his Argument from Reason – he conflated causal explanations with reason explanations (See John Beversluis’ excellent CS Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion). So faith is part of the causal explanation (ie reason) as to why a belief comes about, along with the reason (based on rational evidence). Which is why I will refer to this type of reasoning as rational evidence so as to avoid confusion.


Thus rational evidence and faith at not compatible – they have no overlap. Faith takes off where rational evidence ends and vice versa. It is rational evidence which makes something rational.


For example, if I decide to drop a pen, I have mountains of rational evidence which will support my belief that the pen will fall. I only need faith in respect to the Correspondence Theory to get over the Problem of Induction (if you know the POI, wiki it! Or read my essay on it here http://atipplingphilosopher.yo.... So the belief that the pen will drop is a rational one because it is supported by overwhelming rational evidence. The belief that unicorns are real is an irrational one because it is supported overwhelmingly by faith.


This is very similar to the definition of a scientific fact – one supported by overwhelming evidence. The limits to both of these definitions are the subjective quality of what denoted ‘overwhelming’ (evidence or faith).


This makes sense of all common understandings of faith and so is generally understood by the general public, which always helps.


Furthermore, let us refer to the four types of conflict listed ( for faith vs reason:

1.       Faith as underlying rationality: In this view, all human knowledge and reason is seen as dependent on faith: faith in our senses, faith in our reason, faith in our memories, and faith in the accounts of events we receive from others. Accordingly, faith is seen as essential to and inseparable from rationality. According to René Descartes, rationality is built first upon the realization of the absolute truth "I think therefore I am", which requires no faith. All other rationalizations are built outward from this realization, and are subject to falsification at any time with the arrival of new evidence.

2.       Faith as addressing issues beyond the scope of rationality: In this view, faith is seen as covering issues that science and rationality are inherently incapable of addressing, but that are nevertheless entirely real. Accordingly, faith is seen as complementing rationality, by providing answers to questions that would otherwise be unanswerable.

3.       Faith as contradicting rationality: In this view, faith is seen as those views that one holds despite evidence and reason to the contrary. Accordingly, faith is seen as pernicious with respect to rationality, as it interferes with our ability to think, and inversely rationality is seen as the enemy of faith by interfering with our beliefs.

4.       Faith and reason as essential together: This is the papal view that faith without reason leads to superstition, while reason without faith leads to nihilism and relativism.



This definition fits with 1 as explained.
This definition is also coherent with 2, since if we do not have rational evidence or there is a limit to its scope, then we do, indeed, rely on faith.
This definition fits with 3.
This definition fits with 4.


In the case of 4, the second part is a non-sequitur, but is more to do with moral philosophy and the meaning of life (see my essay here http://atipplingphilosopher.yo... on the meaning of life). The issue with 4 is that atheists will often maintain that theists have no evidence whilst theists maintain that they have lots (for a belief in God). This is because the two camps interpret the same evidence in different ways. Which is why I have said that faith can not only fill the gap left by rational evidence but it can also multiply the value of the evidence so that it is misrepresented.


For example, someone who believes strongly in UFO abductions will have their justified belief jar filled substantially by evidence because they interpret the so-called evidence very charitably, thinking it ultimately persuasive. This leaves only a small proportion of faith. Imagine a final 90%/10% split. In reality, the faith in such a belief, through cognitive dissonance, has acted to increase the evidence from 15% to 90%.


Obviously, there is room, as mentioned, to discuss what denoted an irrational belief and what doesn’t. Is a 40%/49%/51%/70% evidenced belief rational?


In my opinion, this definition of faith is not only the broadly accepted definition by the general public, but one accepted by philosophers, especially since it forms the backbone of exactly why there is the faith vs reason debate. All subsequent theological inquiry has dealt with reformulating the definition of faith (hence Reformed Epistemology). Lastly, I would advise reading the faith entry in the Stanford Encylcopedia of Philosophy ( which describes the issues facing the definition of faith, whilst also providing other models of faith that try to get round these issues (as David has done). Here is the nomenclature of some of the other models:


the ‘purely affective’ model: faith as a feeling of existential confidencethe ‘special knowledge’ model: faith as knowledge of specific truths, revealed by Godthe ‘belief’ model: faith as belief that God existsthe ‘trust’ model: faith as belief in (trust in) Godthe ‘doxastic venture’ model: faith as practical commitment beyond the evidence to one's belief that God existsthe ‘sub-doxastic venture’ model: faith as practical commitment without beliefthe ‘hope’ model: faith as hoping—or acting in the hope that—the God who saves exists.


This is redefining faith, as suggested, though at least the definitions are given explicit names for their model so as to define their explicitly different characteristics.