Still In Quest of the Relevant Definition of Faith
I want to say thanks to Phil in return for his thoughtful response here. I really appreciate it.
I think I have already stipulated that Bishop’s definition of faith is one that fits some persons and some situations accurately. Phil and I agree that the question now is what definition of faith is relevant for current purposes. As far as I’m concerned, the only current purpose of interest is the faith of historic, orthodox Christian theism, so I will stick with that.
Now, whether Bishop’s definition is one that’s widely held by scholars, as Phil says it is (and I could hardly disagree) is again a matter of very little interest. Scholars widely hold that “bridge” means “a means of passing across a river, canyon, street, etc.” (or something very much like that), but if the topic is electronics, it might mean a sort of rectifier (device for de-alternating current), and if the topic is social games it might mean a four-hand card game. Even Bishop himself examines multiple ways of defining faith, and though he describes one as widely held he obviously does not intend it to be taken as canonical.
I think he thinks that some scholars think it essential to faith that it “involves accepting what cannot be established as true through the proper exercise of our naturally endowed human cognitive abilities.” So, I say those scholars are wrong. That’s the point of this discussion.
So I think it might be helpful, having stipulated that Bishop’s definition is right in some contexts, to speak of Faith(WH) for Bishop’s “widely held” description of faith. Let’s grant that Faith(WH) means an unreasoning or unreasonable belief. Then let us propose Faith(C) as Christian faith. Given those terms we can fruitfully explore whether Faith(C) is necessarily a subset or form of Faith(WH).
Now, Phil analyzed two forms of faith: faith as a species of propositional belief (believing that), and faith as trust (believing or trusting in). This, I take it, was in response to my analogy of faith in my to-be-wife, as I expressed it in my first article. I spoke of my trust or faith that she would be a good wife, that this trust was based on knowledge, and that it was nevertheless trust beyond knowledge. I think Phil’s point with distinguishing belief that from belief in was to undermine the force of that analogy. But I am going to stick with it and call on Phil to deal with it as such. I think he has to. Here’s why.
Phil says “faith in the fiducial sense is non-propositional in nature: the relation it involves is something along the lines of interpersonal rather than cognitive propositional.” But this is absurd. Does he suppose that the trust I expressed in my fiancee as a future bride was non-propositional? Does he doubt that I ever thought, “Sara would be a great wife because … “? Does he think my belief in her as a future wife was devoid of belief that she and I would get along well together for years to come?
That was trust. It was relational, to be sure, but it was hardly non-propositional! No, it involved knowledge, and at the same time it involved a stretch forward beyond knowledge. And in spite of what Phil said, the knowledge on which I based that trust exhibited the property of being true or false, and so did the belief or trust that I put in her.
So I think that a large portion of what Phil offered in his last article is simply wrong, and I call on him to set it aside, and take seriously the force of the analogy that he tried to sweep away with it. The relevant distinction is not between faith as belief-that and faith as belief-in, for the two are not so distinct after all. The relevant distinction is between Faith(WH) and Faith(C).
And I propose that Biblical faith, Faith(C), is trust based on knowledge. I hope Phil recognizes that it is reasonable to trust, when trust is based on knowledge, so if my version of Faith(C) is correct, then I think it follows that Faith(C) is or at least can be perfectly in tune with reason.
C.S. Lewis defines Faith(C), by the way, as “the power of continuing to believe what we once honestly thought was true until cogent reasons for changing our minds are brought before us” (Christian Reflections, 42). It’s a different version of a definition, but it too speaks of knowledge, and of what may reasonably be thought to be true.
Phil asks me at the end of his article to defend the knowledge that supports Faith(C). That’s an undertaking that would fill a library. The question at hand is whether Faith(C) is necessarily a form of Faith(WH), and to the end of answering that question I ask Phil this question:
Suppose for the sake of argument there were evidential grounds for believing that there is a God, and that he has revealed himself in the Bible and especially in Jesus Christ. If that were true, would the faith of Christians still be a form of Faith(WH)?
I don’t suppose we’ll agree on the hypothetical contained there, but I’m hopeful that by tackling it together we’ll at least be able to move toward a definition of faith that’s really relevant to Christianity.