Faith, Belief, and Reason

I quite like William Lane Craig’s definition of faith:
Faith is trusting in that which you have reason to believe is true. Once you have come to believe that something is true, using reliable epistemological means, you can then place your faith or trust in those things.”

I had come to believe that atheism was true, and that it was the best explanation of my world and experiences. I trusted that it would continue to be so. However when I had an experience that my atheism could not easily explain I lost my trust in it.

When I was growing up one of my favourite authors was Carl Sagan, a strong advocate of the conflict thesis that faith and reason are mutually exclusive. I viewed religion and spiritually as the way that pre-scientific people explained away natural phenomena that they didn’t understand, excusable for them perhaps but in a modern rational age representing a rejection of rationality and hence unforgivable. Most of the Christians I had met were people with little science knowledge and I greatly enjoyed explaining their ignorance and stupidity to them.

Then I met a Christian in my analytical chemistry class. I couldn’t understand how a person could be studying science and be a Christian. He responded graciously to my interrogations and was able to explain away my usual atheistic gotchas. I decided I needed some new arguments to explain his folly to him so I started reading a bible looking for things to argue with him about. I started at the front because that is the way to read a book obviously. We had debated our way through Genesis and had moved onto Exodus. I was reading through the story of the plagues and getting very angry at this so-called God’s unfairness when something happened, very similar to these:

I find it hard to describe in words how it affected me but the best analogy I can come up with is that well known illustration of two black faces on a white background that is also a white candlestick on a black background. I could see two black faces and I had spent years ridiculing those who claimed to see a candlestick. After that experience I could see that the candlestick had been there all along.

Please understand that I am only trying to answer your curiosity, as I believe I am obliged to do according to 1 Peter 3:15. I am not trying to change you or alter your position. This is not intended to “prove” theism. If you can’t see the candlestick either then I think my telling you it is there will be just as useless as all the people who tried to tell me it was there. Unfortunately, no one can be told what The Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. :wink:


It seems like pretty weak-sauce faith. If I have reason to believe something is true, do I have to say any more?

Cool. I got stuck when they started talking about the temple :slight_smile:

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Thanks. So you had a mystical experience? Was it connected with reading Exodus in any way other than that it happened around that time? Was there a cause for this experience?

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Yes, you do. I don’t see what you’re getting at.

I have reason to believe it, so I believe it. If reason comes along not to believe it, I stop believing it. That’s how belief works. What is the function of “faith” in this equation?


@John_Dalton Good point… Belief is one choice vs. another choice. You may believe that chocolate is better than vanilla, but then change your opinion later.

Faith comes in to play when there are intangibles that affect the opinion (the belief), one way or another. With faith (reliance upon what we consider to be true, but cannot concretely articulate or empirically validate) our certainty about our belief grows stronger. So we become less likely to stop believing because we can see that the intangibles are more reliable over time and through our experiences. IMHO.


The relationship of belief and faith: by looking at it, you believe that the chair will not collapse if you sit in it, and you have faith when you actually start to sit down in it.

You believe that atheism is true (or that it is justifiable to believe that it is valid to be an agnostic), and your faith in it lets you live as if God did not matter. It will collapse under you at the end.

[edited to add parenthetical statement]

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Yes, similar to the expressions “skin in the game” or “put your money where your mouth is”. Another example would be saying that you believe gravity waves exist compared to having the faith to spend $620 million building a gravity wave detector.


Great example!! Great illustration, at least!!

No, I don’t think so. You’re talking about a matter of personal preference here. We were talking about belief backed by valid reasons.

Hmm. Interesting, it means more than the last definition, I will say that. I don’t see though why anything more than valid reasons is needed or desired. “Intangibles” don’t sound like something that is more likely to lead us to correct belief.

I knew it was a mistake to bother trying to communicate with you.


I agree, it was a bad example.

Let me ask you this… If I tell you that Joshua is trustworthy because you are considering sharing a secret with him that’s very important to you, but that you don’t want to be made known publicly, you may have a small amount of confidence in what I say. You may review his posts, here, to see how he has responded and whether or not he has kept his word. Reputation is an intangible that is deduced from a person’s words or actions. So, if you spend a few days working with him, personally, you would have a chance to learn more about him personally, by listening and watching. The sense that you get from your observation of him is what I’m talking about. The sum of his interactions contributes positively or negatively to your view of his reputation.

With God it is similar. We have experiences when we read his word, fellowship with other believers, pray, and generally, see how he orchestrates things in the world around us. They are very much intangibles, but also they have a profound effect on faith.

I understand that you may be dubious, but the effect is profound and is more so over time/experience.


I don’t know, it seems tangible to me.

I’m actually not dubious that you’ve had that experience, but I also don’t see what’s intangible about it. Those just seem like more reasons for coming to a belief. Which is fine. It’s the “faith” part I don’t get, or what if anything separates faith from belief, I guess.


Possibly I using the word incorrectly or at least differently. How about this. Reputation is difficult to quantify. It is based upon a sense. Hard data (number of times someone has let you down) is tangible, but the degree to which these things affect you is, in my opinion, an intangible.

To contrast, no one would say: I’ve had seventeen interactions with this person, twelve were positive, and five negative. As such, he is generally reliable and I can trust him… A reputation is an overall feeling about the sum of one’s interactions with another. To me, this is intangible. Let me know if you see it differently or if this is a bad example.


For me, faith is a part of belief… it is choosing to rely upon the intangibles. There are more tangible aspects that also affect belief. I don’t think that they require faith, though. This is just how I see it.

I don’t know. I would go back to that we were talking about belief based on valid reasons. I don’t think a valid reason definitely has to be quantifiable. Reputation is real and something that we can assess and base decisions on, to a degree. If someone has a good reputation or a bad reputation, we can look further into that and figure out the reasons behind it. I don’t agree that it’s a “feeling”. It’s information received from others.

Sometimes people do base their decisions on “feelings” about people, which seems like a less reliable idea, though some people may claim to have strong intuition about such things. That might be getting away from what can properly be called a valid reason?

I was responding to this question you asked earlier. What is the function of faith in this equation. I think that reputation is a good analogy for an intangible that affects one’s impression, but I respect your right to disagree.

Let me ask you this… If you wanted to pick a restaurant, you might use Yelp. It aggregates opinions into a score. Tangible data that results in a reputation. Based solely upon that data, you may decide where to eat dinner.

If you have twin baby girls, who are two years old, and you want to go out to dinner with your wife. Are you going to use Yelp to find a babysitter?

No, I’m going to find one based on tangible, valid reasons, and certainly not a feeling or such. Or call grandma :slight_smile:

I feel like you guys are in a tough spot on this one really. How do you square the ideas of professing to hold belief backed by reason and preserving a valued concept of “faith”? I don’t see how it can be, but I also respect your right to disagree. It’s only when people try to tell me that I in fact hold beliefs on “faith” that I am troubled (not saying anyone has here, but it does happen from time to time).

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Theists can manage that, because “reason” is poorly defined. They will accept and be persuaded by reasoning that you would reject.

The chair example is still relevant. You analyze it using reason and evidence, including experience, make a rational judgment as to its suitability, and then believe it will hold you. You exercise faith when you trust it to bear your weight and start sitting down on it. There is no disconnect between reasonable belief and faith.

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Reason is not poorly defined, it’s just that we understand more about the validity of various kinds of testimony as evidence. We have already talked about the pervasiveness of testimony in our everyday lives and our dependence upon it.