Is Faith To Be Defined As Trust?

Some Christians claim faith is something like 'trusting, holding to and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true in the face of difficulties', or 'trust or confidence in something or someone.'

This is not correct. From the New Testament down through centuries of church theology and even today, Christians have produced a multiple number of mutually discordant definitions of faith. David Eller says: “the concept of belief in Western civilization and Christianity has evolved, from a kind of “trust” in god(s) to specific propositions about God and Christ to the notion of “grace” based on the personal experience of and commitment to God…The evolutionary trajectory of belief in Christianity is, then…culturally and religiously relative.” (Quoted in Loftus, The Outsider Test for Faith, p. 33)]

Take for instance Norman L. Geisler, arguably one of the biggest names in Christian apologetics, along with cowriter Frank Turek, say in their book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, “The less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa). Faith covers a gap in knowledge.” Their whole argument is that “the atheist has to muster a lot more faith than the Christian.” (pp. 25-26) Implicit is the assumption that faith adds something to the mix, that it takes off where the probabilities end.

More to the point, how do reasonable people come to trust in someone or something? That’s the real question here. We do so based on the evidence. The greater the evidence then the greater we trust in something or someone. It’s that simple. The only way someone can objectively place a reasonable trust in the existence of one’s deity, and that he cares, is with sufficient evidence that he exists and that he cares. There is no other way. There must be sufficient evidence for this trust. Faith has nothing to do with this. Objective probabilities are all that matter.

All Christians basically have are private, subjective religious experiences, and that’s it, experiences that other believers in other deities likewise claim. But private, subjective religious experiences are only evidence of private, subjective religious experiences. So when Christians claim it’s reasonable to believe, they are pretending to know something the objective evidence is against.

I don’t expect believers to agree until they reject faith, but it is crystal clear to the rest of us. Just as the religious faiths of others are considered irrational to Christians, so also is their own faith. Just as Christians think other religious faiths are held despite the cold hard evidence, so also is their own faith. The problem is faith.

Since the English language has the words belief and faith in our dictionaries we instinctively use them when others words would be better. No scientifically minded person should say, “I believe the earth is round” or “I believe our universe began with a big bang,” or “I believe two parallel lines do not intersect.” That is a misuse of the word, a word inherited in the Christian Western world. We know these things to be the case. When someone says, “I believe it will rain tomorrow” or “I believe the sun will rise tomorrow morning,” these are predictions. Predictions are either based on good evidence or they are not. So the proper way to speak would be: “I predict it will rain tomorrow.” When it comes to the sun rising we should say: “I know the sun will rise tomorrow.” The same thing goes for the sentence, “I believe that the accused is innocent of the crime.” One could be intending to say “I hope” or “I trust” or “I desire that he is innocent of the crime.” If the person has solid evidence to back it up then he can say, “I know he’s innocent.” Then we can evaluate the evidence.

David Eller explains, “So, clearly, most of the time when we say that we ‘believe that’ something, we are really engaging in some other activity than belief.” Eller writes that in “situations where the evidence is inadequate and the question is unsettled, it is wise for us to neither believe nor disbelieve but to wait for more information . . . if the evidence warrants a positive conclusion, accept it as true; if the evidence warrants a negative conclusion, reject it as false; if the evidence warrants no conclusion, postpone arriving at a conclusion while pursuing more information. But at no point is belief warranted, necessary or helpful.” He continues, “Belief can never be anything better than premature arrival at a conclusion (figuratively ‘jumping to a conclusion’) and can often be much worse, like accepting an unjustified and more-than-likely false conclusion.” Eller concludes, “There is knowledge and there are other kinds of things—opinions, hypotheses, theories, preferences, predictions, hopes, values, and wishes—but belief quite emphatically and thoroughly has no place in our mental world.” [Quoted on pages 215-216 in Loftus The Outsider Test for Faith]

Now I know Christians will disagree with what I've written here. They still think faith is a virtue. So let’s just put it a different way and see if we can agree. In his book Atheism: The Case Against God, George Smith argued against “faith as an alleged method of acquiring knowledge.” He wrote: “faith as an alleged method of acquiring knowledge is totally invalid—and as a consequence, all propositions of faith, because they lack rational demonstration, must conflict with reason.” (p. 120) What I want to know is if any given Christian agrees with this. If he of she does then there is not much else to discuss. If not, then Christians needs to explain how faith provides any objective knowledge about matters of fact, that is, about the nature of nature and its workings.