Faith Proof and Evidence - does a fact terminate a belief

disappointed by the talk I found on the subject by Alister McGrath I hoped to get a better debate going her.
He cites Dawkins belief from the selfish gene in 1976
[Faith] is a state of mind that leads people to believe something – it does not matter what – in the total absence of supporting evidence. If there were good supporting evidence, then faith would be superfluous, for the evidence would compel us to believe it anyway.

What Dawkins is confusing here is to equal faith with delusion, probably a result of early onset religiophobia.

A logical definition of Faith would be :
Faith/Trust is to firmly believe something to be true in the absence of proof.

Logically evidence is that what causes belief. The strength of my a belief can be measured in the level of risk I am prepared to take on the basis of that belief. I can belief something without engaging myself but that does not invoke trust. In trust one does invest oneself, something not possible with knowledge, as the certainty does not allow one to engage in the same way. As such proof is the death of belief and the person who demands evidence in the form of proof for the subject of one’s belief as well as the person who claims to have it proof for what they believe to be true must be intellectually bankrupt. They both would declare themselves idiots, the believer because having proof, thus certainty of what he beliefs for being unable to gain knowledge from this proof, and the skeptic who requires proof to form a belief instead of knowledge from a proof. They both don’t get it :-).

Would be interesting to see if anyone here agrees with me that proof does terminate a belief as it establishes the truth beyond doubt - and if so if there is any formal philosophical argument along those lines.

Thanks in advance


I think agree with you. The intersection of belief, faith, trust, and knowledge and how it intersects with truth is interesting, as they are related but not equivalent, those some try to make them so. In believe my chair will hold me up, and trust it to do so when I sit, but it takes no real faith as my knowledge of its past performance makes faith unnecessary. Once sitting, the truth of its strength is demonstrated.

Faith to me is the belief in things that cannot be proven. If something is proven within the limits of reasonable doubt, then faith that what is proven is in fact false, is delusional.

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You have faith that your chair was not maliciously vandalized with a barely visible cut most of the way through made with a thin blade, so that it would cave when you sat on it. :slightly_smiling_face: On the other hand, you have good evidence by repeated use that it is trustworthy, deserving your faith.

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“Faith” has different meanings. I can’t help believe something is true, have “faith”, if it is proven through facts, or can I? People witnessed first hand Jesus healing people. They were astonished. They didn’t pretend that they hadn’t seen miracles flow from wherever this guy went because many saw him heal.
They argued that his performing miracles on sabbath days proved He wasn’t divine. GOD wouldn’t violate the sabbath.
They experienced the same interactions Jesus was having with all kinds of people regularly and they did not see the facts, the proof, that healing people as He was doing, established He was GOD. You could say they lacked faith despite proof.

May I ask you a question, a sincere one? Why isn’t your faith that the chair won’t collapse, based on past experience, adequate or acceptable to GOD as faith in him?

How is that substantially different from Dawkins’ definition:

“[Faith] is a state of mind that leads people to believe something – it does not matter what – in the total absence of supporting evidence.”

I think we could have two general pools: evidenced based beliefs and faith based beliefs. We rely on epistemology and axioms to establish the reliability of the world around us, so we can’t say for certain if objective reality is reliable. Therefore, I think it is correct, in a very narrow sense, that evidence and beliefs can coexist.

However, it is more difficult to justify faith based beliefs that contradict evidence and supernatural faith based beliefs that just happen to mimic natural processes. For example, once we discovered how lightning is made it is hard to justify Zeus physically hurling lightning bolts in a way that just happens to exactly mimic the proposed natural process.

There’s nothing that says Christian faith has to be believing something without any evidence. There is also the evidence of trustworthy testimony (Phil’s chair has been providing trustworthy testimony :slightly_smiling_face:).

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
Hebrews 11:1-3

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The reliability of different types of evidence is certainly a part of the discussion. I suspect that Dawkins was talking about evidence that is objective, verifiable, and demonstrable. That’s not to say that testimony isn’t evidence, only that it may not be the type of evidence Dawkins was considering.

That is not a Christian definition of faith. Many who may label themselves Christian may think that way, though, but it is not founded.

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I will plead Maggie’s testimony once again. It may not be compelling to a resolute unbeliever, but her evidence is definitely empirical and not subjective.

Or consider the other side - even if you know something to be true - does that actually take you as far as faith would? You’re all here treating certainty as something beyond faith - that in fact possibly renders faith unnecessary. But what if faith is something that takes you further than typical knowledge will? Here is an example of what I’m thinking: (not even hypothetical for many of us I’m sure!) A person is very scared of heights but is being challenged to step out on a platform so that they can … I don’t know … maybe have fun on a zip line (also terrifying to them). Several much heavier people than themselves all get out onto the platform and jump up and down on it to demonstrate how sturdy it is. They also do the zip line themselves, and it all works - no injuries, no falls or fatalities. So now it’s our terrified adventurer’s turn. She has been offered all the rational certainty in the world that none of this stuff will give way and let her fall. And yet … all that knowledge still isn’t enough. It still takes something else besides (trust? faith? conquering her fear?) to actually take the step and do it. If it were true that rational certainties are all that’s needed and suddenly everything else is superfluous, then our adventurer would have no qualms whatsoever about just ignoring her irrational fears. And yet we all know that it just isn’t that easy. Knowledge (even of the well-evidenced sort) by itself is not enough. It may well be necessary - but it isn’t always sufficient. I suggest that perhaps faith is a bit like that too.

A winning lottery ticket would be similar evidence for the belief that God helped someone win the lottery.

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The Christian faith, definitely. It is not merely about rationality – it is also about spiritual eyes and ears, or a softened heart, to use another metaphor.

All of those ‘coincidences’, in order, along with their imputed meanings tying together otherwise disjoint events, is like winning several lotteries on the same day, not to mention Maggie’s initiative compounding it.

Sometimes proof terminates a belief and sometimes it doesn’t. It depends on the person and how much cognitive dissonance he or she can bear. Look at the Book of Mormon–none of its claims can stand up to scrutiny (e.g. the claim that ancient Jews sailed to the Americas and were the ancestors of the native Americans). DNA has disproved that, but people still believe it.


Recently I just saw an old Youtube video (2011) by Kathryn Schulz: (On being wrong).

In it she asks people in the audience what it feels like to be wrong. They gave her the expected sort of answers: embarrassing, humiliating, etc.

Then she responded: You all just answered the wrong question. That’s what it feels like when you discover that you’re wrong. Actually, just being wrong feels pretty good … in fact … it feels exactly like being right!

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Without the probability calculations it is difficult to verify what you are claiming.

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As I’ve said, someone else’s testimony, no matter how remarkable, is not compelling evidence to the resolute unbeliever (which you are, at this point, anyway). Calculating the odds is really irrelevant, because if one testimony is not compelling, forty-seven won’t be either, no matter how astronomically improbable any particular ‘coincidence’, or set or sequence of them, may be.

(One was all it took to be encouraging to Glenn Morton.)

There are compelling testimonies within other religions that I suspect you would not be convinced by.

The odds are absolutely relevant, as is the order of prediction and observation. If I said that I prayed to God to get heads when I flipped a coin and got heads after 4 tosses, would you find that compelling? The order of prediction and observation is vital as well. Extremely improbable events happen every minute of every day, so it isn’t as compelling when an event is given significance after it has already occurred. This is somewhat related to the Sharpshooter fallacy.

I agree, the rules of probability and statistics are valid. But who they happen to is another matter.

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.
Proverbs 16:33

You need to have some skin in the game, and as of now that hasn’t happened to you, and I will not be able to argue you into it.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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