In recent discussion with Jason Kuznicki of Positive Liberty, it seems that when he and I use the word “faith” we don’t mean the same thing. Accordingly the following is attempt to clarify what is meant by that word, so that we can all be more assuredly speaking of the same thing. For faith is not, akin to a child’s belief in Santa or the Easter Bunny.
Wikipedia has two entries of interest to us, first on Faith, the second on Christian Faith. From the first,
Many noted philosophers and theologians have espoused the idea that faith is the basis of all knowledge. One example is St. Augustine of Hippo. Known as one of his key contributions to philosophy, the idea of “faith seeking understanding” was set forth by St. Augustine in his statement “Crede, ut intelligas” (“Believe in order that you may understand”). This statement extends beyond the sphere of religion to encompass the totality of knowledge. In essence, faith must be present in order to know anything. In other words, one must assume, believe, or have faith in the credibility of a person, place, thing, or idea in order to have a basis for knowledge.
A certain number of religious rationalists, as well as non-religious people, criticize implicit faith as being irrational. In this view, belief should be restricted to what is directly supportable by logic or evidence and nothing should be believed unless supported by the Scientific method – being itself, ironically, a system of beliefs grounded in faith in positivism. Others say faith is perfectly compatible with and does not necessarily contradict reason. Sometimes faith can be referred to as ignorance of reality: a strong belief in something with no tangible proof, or in spite of opposing evidence.
From the second, the Roman catholic orthodox belief holds that
Faith is a supernatural act performed by Divine grace. It is “the act of the intellect assenting to a Divine truth owing to the movement of the will, which is itself moved by the grace of God” (St. Thomas, II-II, Q. iv, a. 2). And just as the light of faith is a gift supernaturally bestowed upon the understanding, so also this Divine grace moving the will is, as its name implies, an equally supernatural and an absolutely gratuitous gift. Neither gift is due to previous study, neither of them can be acquired by human efforts, but “Ask and ye shall receive.”
. From an Eastern statement of faith (Michael Pomazansky’s Orthodox Dogmatic Theology)
The first word of our Christian symbol of faith is “I beleive”. All of our Christian confession is based upon faith. God is the first object of Christian belief. Thus, our Christian acknowledgement of the existence of God is founded not upon rational grounds, not on proofs taken from reason or received from the experience of our outward senses, but upon an inward, higher conviction which has a moral foundation.
We believe that which is inaccessible to outward experience, to scientific investigation, to being received by our outward organs of sense. St. Gregory the Theologian distinguishes between religious belief – “I belive in someone, I believe in something” – and a simple personal belief – “I believe someone, I believe something.” He writes: It is not one and the same thing to ‘believe in something’ and ‘to believe something.’ We believe in the Divinity, but we simply believe any ordinary thing.
N.T. Wright holds that faith in Jesus is the mark of convenant like was Torah and circumcision was for the Hebrew people. So for the Christian faith is more complicated relationship with membership, soteriology, and eschatology than just mere belief.
The second comment above, by the Wiki, might be expounded upon a little by some examples. Mr Kuznicki wrote here (edited for formatting)
- that these things are, on some level, impossible for humans to understand and
- we should believe them, in some capacity, anyway.
and holds that Now, (1) is never said by a scientist. “I don’t know” is a valid answer in science; “no one can ever know” is not. And (2) is not appropriate either in the sciences.
Actually that is I think a not uncommon sentiment, but has the disadvantage of actually not being true. In modern quantum chromodynamics, asymptotic freedom of quarks means that will never be seen. No experiment will ever see them no bare quark will ever be seen, they are “unknowable” to modern instrumentation, yet we must believe them for their existence has great explanatory powers. The existence of these unknowable things (quarks) and their properties acts to explain lots of other things then make sense. Likewise, modern cosmology has also set certain questions which are asked commonly by people outside of the scope of scientific inquiry. How can this be done if science is to fulfill the “one can never know” category of questions about our universe and in some sense, the assumption that (whatever boundary conditions we eventually decide were “setup” we thereby must believe them setup as required by unknowable agents). If those questions are out of scope, then “one can never know” is the very question science provides. Additionally, the standard model is currently intellectually somewhat unsatisfactory? Why? Well, because it provides no explanation for a fair amount of “fine tuning” of parameters (inputs) into the theory. In the context of the standard model, “we should believe them in some capacity anyway” currently, because they explain basicaly all our experimental results. Even later, more exotic theories of elementary particles at high energies, such as supersymmetry (and it’s breaking) and superspace (fermionic spatial dimensions) place more ideas and “things” effectively out of reach of direct experiment and human experience. So Mr Kuznicki’s statements don’t reflect the current situation in science today.
The main idea I’m trying to put forth are the following, faith is not absent reason nor a suspension of critical faculties to suspend one in a state of belief in things which on reflection are patently false, i.e., “faith in Santa”. Faith is belief in things not experienced or known (or possibly believed which are not possible to know) but which have explanatory powers in connecting things we do know together coherently. Where one believes in mystery (those things which cannot be humanly knowable) there are reasons, e.g., QCD, for believing those things must remain mystery.