Equivocating Faith

In a recent issue of the "Monarch Minute," a short publication issued by the King's College Student Government Association, student Ryan Glenn had the following to offer:

A Word From...
Ryan P. Glenn on Faith
Consider all the things we put our faith into; we have faith that our government will properly serve us. We have faith that the laws of science are well established
(and that we won’t float aimlessly into outer space whenever we walk outside). We have faith in each other as we strive for the best in ourselves and in our
world. Many of us have faith in a loving, benevolent God who tenderly cares for us.
In my own experience, faith is a constant struggle. Faith is not simply a blind acceptance of how things are. Instead, faith for me is a life-long journey in trying
to figure out the relationship I have with myself, with others, and with God. I have found that faith is a commitment to seek that which lies beyond my
limited human understanding. Faith is the doorway to true peace and happiness. Enjoy the journey!
I've previously commented on faith in various posts including a conversation I had with my former priest. Theists constantly try to legitimize faith in God by comparing it with "faith" that we employ everyday. People make statements like, "You have faith that George Washington existed! You don't KNOW that George Washington existed because YOU WEREN'T THERE and have to have faith that he existed! I have faith, just like you, that God exists!" This method is extremely fallacious.

Equivocation is an informal logical fallacy in which a person uses a term two times although the term has a different definition in both instances. Unaware readers will see the term used in the first instance (or the second) and assume that the same definition works in both instances. You can see the equivocation quite early in Glenn's passage when he says that we have "faith in the government" and "faith in science"...and then switches to faith in God using the same sort of definition that he proposes.

Faith in God is quite different than the "faith" we place in the government. The government exists in order to protect the people, enact and enforce laws, and is set up with a system of checks and balances so that people are protected. The government grants us certain "unalienable rights." Government officials certainly make bad decisions at times, but one of the main purposes of our government is to protect the people. It seems quite odd to say that we have faith that the government will protect us...and this certainly isn't the same kind of faith that people have when they believe that an omni-god exists. The government certainly exists. Documents such as the constitution guarantee rights. Lawmakers are held accountable when they make bad decisions. People can vote for representatives and "vote out" people they don't like.

It's even more queer to suggest that we have "faith" in the laws of science because they permit no exceptions and are statements about how the world works. Take thermodynamics, for example. The laws of thermodynamics permit no exceptions and have been observed to be true in any possible scenario. Do we need "faith" to believe in the laws of thermodynamics? Ryan notes, "and that we won’t float aimlessly into outer space whenever we walk outside," but this seems silly because there is no rational reason to suppose that universal laws will suddenly be violated, gravity would be suspended, etc. We don't need faith to believe in gravity.

My friend Brian Fields illustrates:
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Ryan notes, "We have faith in each other as we strive for the best in ourselves and in our
world." I'm not quite sure what he means here because this statement is very vague and to be charitable, his space in this publication was very limited. This certainly is not akin to a belief in a supernatural realm, an omni-god who cares for us, created the universe, and sent his son to die for our sins. We work with others constantly and most of us are generally good human beings. We certainly hope that we will succeed in life, but this isn't the same thing as "I have faith that God exists."

Suddenly, Ryan jumps, using the same term, "faith" to say "Many of us have faith in a loving, benevolent God who tenderly cares for us" and explains that "faith is a constant struggle." Do we constantly struggle with the belief that our government will properly serve us? Do we constantly struggle with belief in gravity? I think not. The equivocation is quite obvious. Glenn can't possibly mean the same thing when he talks about "faith in God" and "faith in the laws of science and the government."

He also goes on to note that "Faith is not simply a blind acceptance of how things are. Instead faith for me is a life-long journey in trying to figure out the relationship I have with myself, with others, and with God." The use of instead here doesn't make sense to me because he first states that he has faith in God then states that is is a journey to try and figure out the relationship he has with God. Usually, when the word instead is used, it is meant to show a contrast such as "This is not this, but rather that; My belief isn't the product of tradition, instead it is the product of research and hard thinking."

Theists constantly equivocate faith in this manner and attempt to legitimize faith in God by trying to argue that it is acceptable because we employ faith in other areas of life. Faith in God and "faith in science," as I explained, are totally different. We would never say "I have faith in gravity." We know that gravity exists.

If belief in God were rational, warranted, and based on fact, we would never have faith entering the picture, but rather could simply give an argument and come to a reasoned conclusion. Even for issues that can seem quite unclear, I would never say something like, "I have faith that we don't have free will." If I were to ever say something like this in a philosophy class and then continue to say, "We use faith in all areas of life and or knowledge is limited," I would be rightly ridiculed and laughed at by the students. Faith is no pathway to truth, but rather an excuse that we use when we don't have a reason to believe something. It's certainly not blind (in some cases), but it is totally void of truth content. Faith is no virtue and faith is no happiness.

From a recent episode of The Atheist Experience:

Matt: Sure. And why would you believe anything on faith? Faith isn’t a pathway to truth. Every religion has some sort of faith, people take things on, you know, - if faith is your pathway, you can’t distinguish between Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, any of these others. How is it that you use reason as a path to truth in every endeavour of your life, and then when it comes to the ‘ultimate truth’ - the most important truth - you’re saying that faith is required. And how does that reflect on a God (who supposedly exists and wants you to have this information); what kind of God requires faith instead of evidence?

Caller: Well, I think you probably have faith about a lot of things too.

Matt: Like what? I have reasonable expectations based on evidence. I have trust that has been earned. I will grant trust tentatively. I don’t have faith. Faith is the excuse people give for believing something when they don’t have evidence. If you can come up with something that I believe and don’t have evidence for, guess what I’ll do? I’ll stop believing it! That’s the nature of a rational mind. That is the goal.

My only goal was to be the best Christian I could be, and represent this to people who didn’t believe. And what I found - because I actually cared about whether or not my beliefs were actually true rather than whether they felt good - was that my beliefs weren’t justified. Try as I might and pray as hard as I could. No answer comes. No evidence is forthcoming. And when I talk to people about this, the only answer they ever offer is the one you did, which is ‘Well, you just got to have faith.’ Well sorry, but I don’t. Well I’m not sorry that I don’t, I’m sorry for others that think that I should have because faith is not a virtue. Faith is gullibility. It’s evidence that determines whether or not your perception of reality is reasonable and in conjunction with the world as it is.

Hopefully, Ryan will respond to my post.