Should We Think Exclusively in Terms of Probabilities or Not?

Christians cannot agree on a definition of faith because faith cannot be consistently defined except that it is an irrational leap over the probabilities. They cannot agree on a definition because they refuse to admit this about faith. It's what they think best describes all other religious faiths except their own. It's what I think of all of them. I'm just more consistent. Faith can be described as a body of doctrine of course, but the word "doctrine" in the religious sense is "a codification of beliefs" best described in a creed. And a "creed" is a statement of faith shared by a religious community. There is no getting around these facts. A creed is a doctrinal statement of faith of a religious community. Faith is what all religious adherents accept and promote. Yet faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities.

Most all modern Christian definitions of faith are not biblically based. Others are irrelevant or superfluous. But regardless of they way they define faith I want a straight-up answer from Christian apologists like Drs. Victor Reppert, Randal Rauser and David Marshall who haunt these halls (it is the Halloween season ya know). Should we think exclusively in terms of probabilities, or not? If so, then why can't you admit faith is irrelevant, unnecessary, superfluous, unreasonable, irrational, and dangerous? If not, then why not? Come on boys, pony up. Put up or shut up!

For our lesson today let's look at what Jesus said about faith, and compare it with what Reppert said about it.

Matthew 17:20 has Jesus saying:
I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
Modernized Christians take this metaphorically so I will too. Presumably what's meant is that with faith prayer can change the overwhelming probabilities. Since moving a mountain is extremely improbable, or even virtually impossible, faith can change the odds. Faith can make the virtually impossible happen. That's how Jesus defined faith (pistis). That's why exercising faith is hard, since it demands of believers to go against the odds. Faith is therefore, at a minimum, a leap over the probabilities, and since that's the case I argue it's an irrational leap over the probabilities. Christians struggle with it so much they don't take risks of faith because they have to go against reason. Faith is therefore unreasonable. A reasonable faith is therefore an oxymoron. Christians don't sell all and give to the poor. They don't even tithe. They don't usually wait on a mountaintop for the return of Jesus. They don't really believe most people are on the "broad road leading to destruction" so they don't drop everything and become evangelists or missionaries. Most Christians don't even get involved in the local church. Most of them are pew sitters, or they attend church on Christmas and Easter Sundays. When they do pray most petitionary prayers are self-fulfilling ones, or they are within the realm of what they expect can happen. And what they think can happen in the world has changed as science progresses. Now they take their children to doctors and use medicine to heal their ills.

Now contrast this with C.S. Lewis's definition of faith, embraced by Reppert:
Faith is that art of holding on to things which your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. Unless you teach your moods where they get off, you can never be either a sound Christian or a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and for, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather or the sate of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.
Is this definition even remotely close to what Jesus was describing? I see no connection at all.

For one thing, C.S.Lewis cannot possibly offer a definition of faith that is authoritative for most all Christians without an argument showing this is what the Biblical writers agreed on and at the same time what theologians have agreed on down through the centuries.

Second, as I look at Lewis's definition of faith I'm having a hard time knowing exactly what it is. Is faith identified with one's memory? Is it instead an act of the will over one's emotions? What faculty of the mind do we have that does this other than an act of the will based on memory? How do we train it? Why is this even described as faith since we're talking about the processes of our brains? We all have such processes in our brains so it's irrelevant to the probabilities. I have every reason to think my short term memory is correct. And I already know moods affect us. So? If this is faith then everyone has it, and as such, is irrelevant to that which is distinctive with believing that mountains can be moved by the use of it, or in a virgin who gave birth to an incarnate God, or in supernatural miracles such as the resurrection of the dead.

I see nothing in this definition of faith that is Biblical nor particularly theological. And as such it has nothing to do with my claim that faith is irrational since it isn't speaking to the same issue that I am.

By my lights faith adds nothing to the probabilities. We should think exclusively in terms of the probabilities.

Flipping a coin will statistically give us heads half the time. What does faith have to do with the odds? Nothing. Does it do any good to say, "have faith that these are the odds"? No.

Even if we live in a Matrix or in an immaterial world we still should think exclusively in terms of the probabilities. After all, if not, then why not just shoot yourself in the head? Perhaps there is no gun in our hand? Perhaps there isn't a bullet? Perhaps the bullet won't fire even if it exists? Perhaps we'll miss if we pull the trigger? Perhaps it won't hurt us even if it hits our head? Perhaps our head will heal instantly even if it hurts us?

There is no way we can get around the odds even if we live in a Matrix or an immaterial world. Therefore there is no reason why anyone should believe anything at all. Faith is irrelevant, unnecessary, superfluous, unreasonable, irrational, and dangerous. With faith (in the sense that it goes beyond the probabilities) anything can be believed.

That's my understanding of faith. That's what I'm talking about. Now to these Christian apologists who haunt these halls, comment on what I'm talking about and condemn it as irrational like I do. Speak to the issue please. Stop quibbling about definitions of faith since you now know what I'm speaking about.

Stephen Law argues that "Anything based on faith, no matter how ludicrous, can be made to be consistent with the available evidence, given a little patience and ingenuity." (Believing Bullshit, p. 75). Because of this it is essential that we think exclusively in terms of probabilities.

Do you agree or not, and if not why not? If you agree then there is no need for faith.

Alas, I argue in vain since, as Stephen Law argues, "Anything based on faith, no matter how ludicrous, can be made to be consistent with the available evidence, given a little patience and ingenuity."

I'll be frank here. If one of them acknowledges we should think exclusively in terms of probabilities I can at least respect him more. In fact, I can only respect people who will acknowledge this. But as soon as they do, faith takes on wings and flies out the door. They would be forced into acknowledging faith is irrelevant, unnecessary, superfluous, unreasonable, irrational, and dangerous.


Matt Lloyd said...

From where I come from faith is quite a simple thing to grasp. Eg..the example of Abraham in Genesis 15 - God had promised Abraham descendants and despite being advanced in years Abraham took God at his word. Basically Abraham believed what God said to him. Faith is simply trusting the promises made by someone. The value of faith is in the value of the one being if the object of our faith is trustworthy then our faith has value. I'm not sure what probability really has to do with is about trust, and what or who we put our trust in. All people have faith in lots of different things all the time. Right now I have faith or trust in my phones battery to last until I finish typing this message which is a reasonable faith because it is fully charged. Likewise my trust/faith in Jesus promise to give me eternal life is reasonable because the evidence points to him being capable of doing this(discussion for another day).