Faith: Turning Your Back on Reason

In an episode of the 1999 series Freaks and Geeks with stars James Franco and Linda Cardellini, the main character (Lindsay) who regrettably becomes high is forced by her father to baby sit the neighbor’s kid  and thence asks her highly religious friend Millie to help her baby sit. Once the child is asleep, Millie gets the chance to sit down and talk with Lindsay and recognize that she’s unhappy because she doesn’t believe in God. The conversation begins [1]:

“I don’t believe in God.”
“I know, that’s why you’re unhappy; that’s why you’re stoned.”
“God doesn’t make sense… it’s not logical.”
“Well it may not be logical, but I have faith.”
“Faith based on what?”

This is truly an interesting dialogue and somewhat implicit expression of what the writers of this scene were trying to express. Particularly, that Millie addresses Lindsay’s claim with a declaration of the epistemic function of her belief in God: “it may not be logical, but I have faith.” Is this simply what we Christians have, even though some things according to Christian doctrines might be internally inconsistent?

Peter Hitchens in his Rage Against God [2] writes that

[t]he difficulties of the anti-theists begin when they try to engage with anyone who does not agree with them, when their reaction is often a frustrated rage that the rest of us are so stupid. But what if that is not the problem? Their refusal to accept that others might be as intelligent as they, yet disagree, leads them into many snares. [3]

However, my focus here is not to address whether or not theists are smarter or can be as smart as atheists, but whether theists on a religious basis are on the same epistemic par as atheists in terms of their supposed prioritizing of “reason” and “logic”. How can we understand faith as an epistemological category along with understanding, doubt, or apodictic certainty?

A Daily Application of Faith

Faith simply understood as (1) “faith in a person” is a wrongfully filtered view as a position of knowledge. To provide some background etymology into this matter, faith stems from Latin word fide, which simply means trust. It is where we get our word fidelity from. This is the more personable or religiously affiliated aspect of faith, whereas the important epistemological aspect that I am interested in is the second understanding of faith: (2) Faith in an idea or proposition.

This simply means that faith by virtue of its cognitive affiliation is relevant to the intelligibility of an idea or proposition relating to some given object of knowledge. In other words, regarding some given belief we have in a proposition (say, that other minds exist), in light of the available evidence we are justified in holding our belief as true even though sufficient direct experience isn’t immediately available to us. This is an interesting understanding in respect to what we mean when we say that we have faith in God. Namely, that in light of the available evidence before us (cf. Romans 1:18-24) we are justified in our belief in God even though we have no direct experience with him (at least from a standpoint of natural theology).

Thus, since faith deals with more varying degrees of probability on given propositions, we have many beliefs which are not exactly apart of our direct and immediate experience yet we consider them almost “axiomatic” or just simply true without question. So for example, the belief that I really exist and that I’m not some brain sitting in a vat being controlled by a mad scientist is one that is what has often been considered by philosophers as a properly basic belief (particularly, that I exist, not so much the brain in a vat variable). For an interesting analysis of what I mean by (1) and (2), see Peter Kreeft’s lecture here on the nature of faith:

To finish with a few interesting comments, consider Peter Hitchens’ recollection of his loss of faith:

Now I was discovering that the secular faiths I held were false. I knew, rather too well, that what one believes – and does not believe – is important. I cannot imagine living without any belief of any kind. I was not capable of existing without a coherent view of the universe. But I was suppressing my loss of faith in a Godless universe, and my loss of faith in humanity’s ability to achieve justice. My life was devoted largely to pleasure and ambition. [4]

A few interesting things to recognize from Hitchens’ statement here. Firstly, why does he say “secular faiths” instead of using the singular sense? and, why is a coherent view of the universe important to him? Faith seems to be more general in the sense that he’s using it. Particularly that his simple dispositions towards people or ideas were changing. Since, as he says, “I was [ … ] almost physically disgusted if any acquaintance turned out to believe in God” (Hitchens, 100). More so, that this general function of faith could even so much be affected by his view of the universe, which takes a more metaphysical scope than simply a physical one.

Thus, most importantly Hitchens demonstrates the intelligibility aspect of faith that was discussed earlier. Namely, that “faith by virtue of its cognitive affiliation is relevant to the intelligibility of an idea or proposition relating to some given object of knowledge.” In conclusion, I would say that it is important to walk away and remember that faith does not shut the door in the face of reason nor does it spit at its door step. But rather is inviting and somewhat prioritizing reason epistemologically in order to vindicate the given proposition in question. In accordance to the Augustinian tradition, “what makes sense in my heart must make sense in my mind.”

__________________

Notes:

  • [1] See Freaks and Geeks, “Chokin and Tokin”; episode 13 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEUA-qCNZGg (starting at 35:00)
  • [2] Peter Hitchens, Rage Against God (Zondervan: 2010)
  • [3] Hitchens, 13
  • [4] Hitchens, 1000
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2 responses to “Faith: Turning Your Back on Reason

  1. Well said; thank you for taking the time to write it.
    Personally, I’m starting to think that clarifying the definition of faith for western culture is, at this time, the most crucial task of the apologist.

  2. Pingback: The Follies of the New Atheists | The Areopagus·

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