Tough Questions Answered

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Does Everyone Exercise Faith?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

If you claim to know anything that you haven’t personally experienced or seen with your own eyes, then you exercise faith. Faith, a concept badly misunderstood by so many people, is the primary way that we know most things about the world. If you were to say, “I will stop claiming to know anything by faith,” then you would, in effect, know very little.

Thomistic philosopher Joseph Owens, in his book An Elementary Christian Metaphysics, explains how faith actually works:

If the mechanic who services your car tells you the valves need grinding, you assent to that judgment even though you yourself know nothing about the needs of valves. In this case there is nothing in the object to move you to assent, even to the probable assent of opinion. The assent is all the more caused by your will.

When you agree with the mechanic that your valves need grinding, what is going on? Why would you assent to something that you personally have not observed?

You give the assent, because you have concluded that the mechanic understands valves and wants you to know the truth about the ones in your car and that it is to your own advantage to accept his information. Assenting to a judgment on the word of another is called faith or belief. It requires acquaintance with the reliability of your informant, that is, that he has the requisite knowledge and that he is not intending to deceive you. Both these points are conclusions of your own. In accepting his capacity to give the information reliably, you accept his authority.

Is it crazy to trust the authority of another person?

In human authority there is always the possibility that your informant is mistaken or that he is deceiving you. Faith in human authority, therefore, can never be absolute. There is always the possibility that a judgment accepted solely on human authority may be wrong. In events immediately perceived by the informants, the reliability can be very high. It is on such testimony of witnesses that the gravest issues are decided in the lawcourts.

Again we ask, “Can we live without faith?” No. Living without faith would make life unlivable. We rely on other people’s authority all the time. It is the truly naive and foolish person who claims that everything they know they have experienced themselves or reasoned to themselves. Owens reminds us:

In everyday life, however, much of one’s information comes from authority. The news that you get from the daily telecast and daily paper, your knowledge of countries and cities that you have not visited, your knowledge of history, all that you know from reading of books, constitute a sizable portion of your cognition. Yet it is all accepted on faith. Faith, accordingly, is an important means of widening human cognition.


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Comments

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    I’ve always wanted a Christian apologist to tackle the question, “What is the difference between ‘faith’ and ‘trust’?” but alas have yet to see such an endeavor. (If you know of such an article, I would love a link.)

    We have experience with mechanical parts requiring maintenance. We watch our tires thread grow noticeably smaller. We see moving parts in other devices become thinner. Brake pads wearing out. Pencil leads becoming smaller, etc. Therefore, when a car mechanic tells us another part has become worn and needs replacing—is this trust based upon past experience or is it “faith.”?

    Therefore Joseph Owens analogy regarding car mechanics fails to provide insight to the difference between trust (based upon experience) and what is meant by “faith.”

    To further complicate matters, pistos (which is translated to “faith”) meant faithful as in loyalty. Like being faithful to the commands of a king. Only modern Christianity (in an attempt to avoid works salvation) has attempted to modify to a form of belief rather than action.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    I’ve always wanted a Christian apologist to tackle the question, “What is the difference between ‘faith’ and ‘trust’?” but alas have yet to see such an endeavor. (If you know of such an article, I would love a link.)

    We have experience with mechanical parts requiring maintenance. We watch our tires thread grow noticeably smaller. We see moving parts in other devices become thinner. Brake pads wearing out. Pencil leads becoming smaller, etc. Therefore, when a car mechanic tells us another part has become worn and needs replacing—is this trust based upon past experience or is it “faith.”?

    Therefore Joseph Owens analogy regarding car mechanics fails to provide insight to the difference between trust (based upon experience) and what is meant by “faith.”

    To further complicate matters, pistos (which is translated to “faith”) meant faithful as in loyalty. Like being faithful to the commands of a king. Only modern Christianity (in an attempt to avoid works salvation) has attempted to modify to a form of belief rather than action.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    Faith IS a matter of trust which leads to action. If one trusts God, he will be faithful to Him. If one trusts his automechanic, he will authorize him to repair the car. I have automechanics I know that I do not have faith in and do not take my car there.

    I think the issue is that while there is much where we do have faith, there are various degrees of trust involved. The causality that underlies the reason scientific explanation works cannot be proven, as noted by Hume, but we are highly convinced it does based on experience. We can trust the automechanic’s claim based on our experience with cars and with his reputation. If we are a young person without that experience, we ask dad or a friend who has that experience who we trust. Or, these days we can also do research on the internet and there is a degree of faith required for the information we collect. The more information we collect that is consistent, the higher the likelihood we will decide to trust the mechanic.

    With religion, I will side with skeptics that the trust in the basis for religious belief is on shakier ground than that the car needs repairs. For the skeptic the evidence is not consistent, in their view, with their own experience. I am convinced the grounds (justificaltion & warrant) are trustworthy, but I can understand where another person is not convinced. To ask for an article that distinguishes faith and trust does not make sense, but to distinguish the degrees to which evidences or persons can be trusted on which to place faith which yields action is what would be a useful article.

    So, I think the analogy fails to make the case for the skeptic. Yes, it shows the skeptic there is faith in much of life and it is inaccurate to say one does not accept matters on faith. But, the degree to which trust needs to be established for the skeptic to believe in Christ versus what they need to trust the mechanic are quite far appart. And of course, you don’t need the witness of the Holy Spirit to trust an automechanic.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Walt Tucker,

    So if I understand correctly, you are saying “faith” and “trust” are essentially synonymous (with “faith” a larger degree of “trust”) when referring to being convinced on a claim…right?

    Walt Tucker: ….but to distinguish the degrees to which evidences or persons can be trusted on which to place faith which yields action is what would be a useful article.

    Yeah, which is why I always ask for methodology. Unfortunately, the response from Christian apologists on methodology tends to be amorphous at best and contradictory at worst.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    Dagood,
    The first part, “essentially synonymous” is correct. Your parenthetical, “with ‘faith’ a larger degree of ‘trust’) is not correct. To say your parenthetical is to put faith into two or more camps. What I’m saying is that the various matters of faith have various degrees of relation to a person’s experience and background knowledge. Some people make a “leap of faith” with a mechanic because they have no experience to draw from. Some have faith in God because the basis for their belief resonates with their understanding of the world and their experiences. You have no or little faith in Christ because your perspective has biased you against it. I have faith in Christ because my experience and analysis of the data draws me to it. In this way, the analogy does work. Why I said the analogy fails for the skeptic is because it seemed to make belief in Christ as trivial as making a decision to get a car fixed and I don’t think that is the case in general.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Walt Tucker,

    Thanks for the clarification. I was attempting to carefully articulate your position, and your previous comment appeared to distinguish between varying degrees.

    So if “trust” is the same as “faith” all this really says is we trust/faith claims we have more knowledge than we trust/faith claims where we have less knowledge.

    Is this really in contention? Could someone point out an article where a person is claiming more knowledge results in less trust/faith?

    Walt Tucker: You have no or little faith in Christ because your perspective has biased you against it.

    If the amount of knowledge is what determines the degree of trust/faith, then “bias” becomes irrelevant—to be consistent, I would think this should read it is my lack of knowledge resulting in my having little or no trust/faith “in Christ.”

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    If you found out the automechanic regularly had people do needless repairs, or that he did not properly conduct the repairs, that knowledge would result in less faith in the mechanic and your lack of faithfulness to him for future business, referals, etc.This seems common sense. Why do you need an article to explain it?

    You may be right that the statement is that lack of knowledge has resulted in little or no faith in Christ. That can be the case. Yet, what I know of you is that the knowledge you have is slanted. I know you would say the same about my knowledge. And no doubt, the amount of knowledge to be known on this subject is not likely exhausted by either one of us. But, most of what is needed for assessment is likely known by both of us. Your experience “biases” your analysis against trust of the evidence. I do think I have had a more open mind to the analsys. I guess the difference is that cynacism seems to come with being a lawyer, and my lack of cynacism come from not negatively prejudging. But I had prejudged at one time, so it may have more to do with the Holy Spirit than anything.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    “Some people make a “leap of faith” with a mechanic because they have no experience to draw from”

    I’d say that’s just taking a risk due to a lack of other options. It’s not that you have faith the mechanic – you might spend a nervous couple of days waiting to see what he does to your car.

    And if you’ve got decent evidence that he’s going to do a good job then that’s not faith either, it’s simple trust.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    Andrew,

    In risk analysis you take the cost of consequences into account along with the probability of failure to choose a best option. With the mechanic you may have alternatives and thus how you act on the risk may be different than matters relating to God. But, you can always choose to not use the mechanic – if you consider your reasons for trusting him are not worth the effort. Is that not the same with God for some people? The point in this blog posting is that when it comes to faith, there really is no difference in the essence of the matter. Faith is trust in action going forward based on evidences of the past. The only reason I can see for anyone to claim it is not the same is to want to claim religious faith is different in order to distance it from everyday life. You are right that your trust in the mechanic is bolstered by decent evidence. Same with God. Yet, not just the evidence, but how one views the evidence. One person may have the same experience with a mechanic as another put yet still have a different degree of trust. What ever trust results will drive the actions that will follow. While faith can be a blind trust/belief when there is nothing on which to base the beliefs, that is not the case with most matters of faith. However wrong a person might be about their belief, it is based on reasons. It is those reasons that need to be examined. Some may have jumped to conclusions, for or against, but faith has its reasons just as anyone has reasons for whether to use a particular mechanic or not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    I was making no comment at all on whether or not you can trust your God. I was merely saying that in the first instance (a mechanic you’ve no experience of) it’s not really faith, it’s a fingers crossed hope because you have no other options; and in the second instance (a mechanic you know all about) it’s not faith either, it’s trust.

  • http://walttuckerministry.shutterfly.com Walt Tucker

    I didn’t think you were. But you are missing the point that if you trust the mechanic and use him, you are exhibiting faith in that mechanic. You are doing more that merely trusting your information about him. If you are crossing your fingers, then that is not faith, it is hoping that chance works in your favor (as if chance has some sort of power). The point is that there is no distinction except in how that trust came to be established and what you do with that trust between faith in the mechanic and faith in God. Somewhere during the modern period (englightenment) faith was put in a category opposed to reason and to empricism by those who think we can know everything by reason or by empricism only. Except for maybe Hume, they didn’t realize all of their knowlege has an element of faith (a trust in the means of obtaining knowledge). It may be that they were trying to seperate knowledge obtained by divine revelation from knowledge obatined by reason and observation. And, it may be valid to say those are three different kinds of knowledge (and some may claim divine knowledge is not knowledge at all, but that is beside the point). But to redefine faith was not valid. The story about the mechanic is to make that point. The person who has the mechanic do the work is doing the same thing a person who has faith in God is doing, but how one came to trust the two may be quite different, or at least is based on different evidences.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Walt Tucker: This seems common sense. Why do you need an article to explain it?

    I agree. I was trying to see if this article and blog entry was tilting at windmills, or actually addressing an actual claim.

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