John Loftus has advocated the End of Philosophy of Religion as a discipline. In his post defending this proposal, Loftus repeatedly talks about “faith”. The word “faith” occurs 23 times in the post, and it occurs in 7 out of the 13 paragraphs that constitute the post. Some paragraphs have multiple references to “faith”:
- the word “faith” occurs six times in paragraph 4
- the word “faith” occurs six times in paragraph 8
- the word “faith” occurs four times in paragraph 9
- the word “faith” occurs three times in paragraph 3
- the word “faith” occurs two times in paragraph 7
- the word “faith” occurs one time in paragraph 11
- the word “faith” occurs one time in paragraph 12
It is clear that the concept of “faith” plays a key role in this argument for the End of PoR.
Loftus is advocating the End of Philosophy of Religion (PoR), but more specifically he is advocating various changes in how PoR is taught in public colleges and universities. Loftus believes that if his proposed changes are implemented this will lead to the actual extinction of PoR as a discipline.
I’m going to sum up Loftus’ views in a rough and somewhat crude way, as a first-cut at the logic of his argument. This will need to be clarified and expanded upon later to make it more accurate and complete:
1. FAITH is a bad thing.
2. All professors at public colleges and universities ought to teach all their courses in a way that:
(a) does not promote FAITH, and (b) actively discourages FAITH.
3. Professors of philosophy at public colleges and universities ought to teach their philosophy of religion courses in a way that:
(a) does not promote FAITH, and (b) actively discourages FAITH.
Loftus believes that if professors of philosophy teach their PoR courses in the way that he prescribes, a way that is aimed at actively discouraging FAITH, this will bring about the extinction of philosophy of religion. I’m not sure how his new way of teaching PoR is supposed to do this, but I have not yet read his posts that go into those particular details.
I recently wrote a post in which I criticized William Lane Craig (WLC) for using the words ‘faith’ and ‘reason’ without defining these terms:
The first thing to note about any interpretation of the above quoted passage, is that WLC does not provide a definition of either ‘faith’ or ‘reason’. At least, I have not been able to locate such definitions in the Chapter that the above passage came from (“Faith and Reason: How do I know Christianity is True?”). Because WLC does not define these key terms, he cannot express his own views clearly and unambiguously.
The same criticism applies to Loftus’ post.
In fairness, WLC’s statements were in a published book, not in a blog post, and the Chapter in which those statements by WLC appeared was titled “Faith and Reason: How do I know Christianity is True?”, so WLC’s failure to define these key terms is a bit more egregious than Loftus’s failure to define “faith”.
However, it is clear that “faith” is a central concept in the argument for the End of PoR, so Loftus’s argument is vague and unclear as it stands, until the meaning of the word “faith” is clarified.
Clarity is a gateway standard of critical thinking. Without clarity, we cannot do much in the way of evaluation. No intelligent critical thinker will either agree or disagree with Loftus on this subject until the word “faith” has been defined or clarified in some way.
In order to do justice to Loftus’ argument, I will need to read other posts where he discusses “faith” to see if I can figure out what he means by this word.
But for right now, since Loftus did not provide any definition or clarification of the word “faith” in his post, I’m going to simply turn to my dictionary, and do some preliminary thinking and analysis with respect to each of the various meanings of the word as specified in the dictionary (The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition).
I will consider two questions relative to each of the different dictionary definitions of “faith””
1. Is FAITH (in the sense defined) a bad thing?
2. Is this a plausible interpretation of what Loftus means by FAITH in the post about the End of PoR?
My dictionary gives seven different definitions of the word “faith”:
Definition 1: A confident belief in the truth, value, trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
Is FAITH (Def.1) a bad thing? No. It is a good thing, or can be a good thing, to have a confident belief in the truth of an idea. It is a good thing, or can be a good thing, to have a confident belief in the trustworthiness of a person. It is a good thing, or can be a good thing, to have a confident belief in the value of a thing.
Of course, FAITH (Def.1) can sometimes be a bad thing. If you confidently believe in the truth of an idea that is actually false, then that is a bad thing. If you confidently believe that a certain person is trustworthy when that person is in fact a very dishonest, selfish, and unreliable person, then that is a bad thing. It all depends upon whether the object of your confident belief has the character that you believe it to have, and whether you have good reason to believe it has that character.
Is FAITH(Def.1) a plausible interpretation of how Loftus is using the word “faith”? I don’t think so. It is fairly obvious that FAITH(Def.1) is NOT intrinsically or necessarily a bad thing. It all depends upon the actual character of the object of the confident belief (and on the rationality or justification of that confident belief). Because it is obvious that FAITH(Def.1) is NOT intrinsically or necessarily a bad thing, it would be unfair to interpret Loftus as using the word “faith” in this sense, because it would make his basic premise (1) obviously false. If at all possible, we need to find an interpretation of “faith” that makes his basic premise (1) true, or at least makes his premise (1) initially plausible.
Definition 2: Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
Is FAITH(Def.2) a bad thing? It certainly seems to be a bad thing, at least from the point of view of philosophy and critical thinking. In philosophy and in critical thinking, we learn to demand reasons, arguments, and evidence in support of claims and theories. If there is no good reason or argument or no evidence given to support a claim, then the claim should be rejected or at least set aside and we should hold back our assent until some reason or evidence can be given in support of the claim or theory.
But a universal demand for reasons and evidence appears to be problematic. First, there is the problem of infinite regress. If I demand a reason for every claim, then no claim can ever be rationally justified, because reasons are themselves claims which (on this view) stand in need of support by other reasons. Second, there do appear to be some legitimate starting points for justification of claims. I know that there are five fingers on my right hand. I can see my right hand, and I can quickly count the number of fingers. The simple experiential justification of the claim that I have five fingers on my right hand seems to be at, or very near, the bottom of the epistemic chain of justifications. To the extent that some of our beliefs are ‘properly basic’ or justified without the need of reasons or arguments, then we need to admit that the demand for reasons and arguments does not apply universally to all claims or beliefs.
The exception of ‘properly basic beliefs’ however, is a subtle and tricky notion, so there is at least some initial plausibility to the idea that “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence” is always a bad thing. Because it is not obviously false that FAITH(def.2) is a bad thing, this second definition is a plausible interpretation of what Loftus means by “faith” in his post.
A second way in which FAITH(def.2) might NOT be a bad thing, is if the belief rests on an illogical proof, but the logical error in the proof is difficult to perceive. It is a good thing to rely on an illogical proof when that proof appears to be a correct logical proof to the person who believes the conclusion on the basis of that proof. If someone understands logic and reasoning well, and examines a proof carefully, and concludes that the proof is a correct logical proof, then that person ought to believe the conclusion of the proof (unless there is some other reason or evidence pointing in the opposite direction). Such a person is believing in accordance with his/her epistemic duties, even if he/she has missed a subtle logical error in the proof.
Let’s consider the remaining definitions to see whether any of them is also a plausible interpretation of the word “faith” as used by Loftus in his post on the End of PoR.
Definition 3: loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance…
Is FAITH(def.3) a bad thing? No, it is not. Loyalty to a person is a good thing, or can be a good thing. Friendship is partly a matter of loyalty. A good friend is a loyal friend. Betrayal by a friend can be painful, and often results in the end of the friendship.
Loyalty and allegiance can sometimes be a bad thing. If a person was loyal to Hitler and the Nazi Party, that person may have helped Hitler to succeed in his evil plans. If a person had allegiance to the Communist Party under Stalin, that person may have helped Stalin to succeed in his evil plans. Loyalty can be a good thing or a bad thing, it depends in large part on the person or thing that is the object of one’s loyalty or allegiance. Loyalty to and from a good friend can be a good thing. But loyalty or allegiance to an evil dictator or an evil organization can be a bad thing.
Since it is fairly obvious that loyalty can sometimes be good and sometimes be bad, depending on the object of one’s loyalty, the basic premise of Loftus’ argument would be clearly false if interpreted in terms of FAITH(def.3). Thus, to be fair, we should reject this as an interpretation of what is meant by the word “faith” in his argument for the End of PoR, especially since we have already identified a possible interpretation that gives premise (1) at least some initial plausibility.
Definition 4: Belief and trust in God.
Is FAITH(def.4) a bad thing? If God exists, then belief in God is NOT a bad thing. If God does NOT exist, then belief in God is a bad thing, at least it would be bad in the respect that it would be a false belief.
But it is conceivable that someone could have a good reason to believe that God exists even if God does not in fact exist. Sometimes evidence can be misleading and point us in the wrong direction. If someone believed in God and had a good reason to believe in God, and yet God did not actually exist, then that would be partly a good thing and partly a bad thing. It would be partly a good thing, because that person would be believing something that he or she had good reason to believe, but it would also be a bad thing because that belief would be false (on the scenario under consideration).
Similarly, someone might believe in God on the basis of weak or defective reasons, and yet God might exist. In that case the person’s belief in God would be partly good and partly bad. It would be partly good because they would have a true belief concerning God, but it would be partly bad because they would hold this belief irrationally or on the basis of defective reasoning.
What about trust in God? Again, if God exists, then it seems like a good thing to trust in God (I’m assuming that “God” implies a person who is perfectly morally good). But if there is no God, then it is a bad thing to trust in God. However, if someone had good reason to believe that God existed, yet God did not actually exist, then trust in God would be partly good and partly bad. It would be partly good in that this person would believe in God in accordance with reason, and trust in God would be rational and justified, but this would be partly bad because, the belief in God would be false and there would be no God present to act in a trustworthy manner towards this believer.
Loftus might object that there are no good reasons to believe in God, and that there are plenty of good reasons to believe there is no God, so belief in God is like belief in Santa Claus or fairies or belief in astrology, and this belief is something that we should NOT tolerate in grown adults who are taking college courses.
I disagree with this view, but there is no need to settle this issue now, because ‘belief in God’ does not work as a plausible definition of “faith” in relation to Loftus’ post on the End of PoR.
In the post, Loftus repeatedly speaks of “faith-based claims”. He also speaks of “faith based conclusions” and “faith based answers”. Belief in God’s existence might typically be based on faith, but this is not necessarily the case.
Some people believe in the existence of God on the basis of reasons and arguments. Perhaps the reasons and arguments are defective in some way, but there are a few people who, if you show them that the reasons and arguments they have for the belief in God’s existence are defective, then they will change their minds and stop believing in God. These people may be rare and the exception to the rule, but there are some such people. I would thus say that although most people believe in God as a “faith based conclusion” there are a few who believe in God on the basis of reason, not faith.
Furthermore, even if I am wrong and every single person who has ever believed in God has believed on the basis of faith, there is still clearly a distinction to be made between WHAT they believe (i.e. that God exists) and WHY they believe this. In talking about “faith-based claims” or “faith based conclusions” Loftus implies that faith is a WAY of holding a belief, and thus that faith is WHY some people hold some beliefs, such as WHY some people believe that God exists. But the explanation of WHY someone holds a particular belief is a separate issue from WHAT it is that the person believes. Thus, the belief that God exists cannot be that to which Loftus refers when he speaks of “faith” in his post on the End of PoR. He clearly does NOT mean FAITH(def.4).
To be continued…
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