According to the A Manual for Creating Atheists, faith is:
- “pretending to know things that you don’t know”
- “belief without evidence”
- The author calls faith “an unreliable epistemology”
- a “virus”
- and calls for a process and agenda that will “ultimately eradicate faith”.
(Bullet points via The Confident Christian)
Two Definitions of Faith
The words we use are important. They can help us see clearly, or they can confuse, cloud, or obscure issues. I’ll now offer my two preferred definitions of faith, and then disambiguate faith from hope.’
1. Belief without evidence.
“My definition of faith is that it’s a leap over the probabilities. It fills in the gap between what is improbable to make something more probable than not without faith. As such, faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities.”
—John W. Loftus, “Victor Reppert Now Says He Doesn’t Have Faith!” (Loftus, 2012)
If one had sufficient evidence to warrant belief in a particular claim, then one wouldn’t believe the claim on the basis of faith. “Faith” is the word one uses when one does not have enough evidence to justify holding a belief, but when one just goes ahead and believes anyway.
Another way to think about “belief without evidence” is to think of an irrational leap over probabilities. For example, assume that an historical Jesus existed and was crucified, and that his corpse was placed in a tomb. Assume also that eyewitness accounts were accurate, and days later the tomb was empty.
One can believe the corpse was missing for any number of reasons. For example, one can believe the body arose from the dead and ascended to heaven, one can believe aliens brought the body back to life, or one can believe an ancient spirit trapped in the tomb merged with the corpse and animated it. Belief in any of these claims would require faith because there’s insufficient evidence to justify any one of these particular options.
Belief in any of these claims would also disregard other, far more likely possibilities—for example, that the corpse was stolen, hidden, or moved.
If one claims knowledge either in the absence of evidence, or when a claim is contradicted by evidence, then this is when the word “faith” is used. “Believing something anyway” is an accurate definition of the term “faith.”
2. Pretending to know things you don’t know.
Not everything that’s a case of pretending to know things you don’t know is a case of faith, but cases of faith are instances of pretending to know something you don’t know.’ For example, someone who knows nothing about baking a cake can pretend to know how to bake a cake, and this is not an instance of faith. But if someone claims to know something on the basis of faith, they are pretending to know something they don’t know. For example, using faith would be like someone giving advice about baking cookies who has never been in a kitchen.
As a Street Epistemologist, whenever you hear the word “faith,” just translate this in your head as, “pretending to know things you don’t know.” While swapping these words may make the sentence clunky, “pretending to know things you don’t know” will make the meaning of the sentence clearer.
To start thinking in these terms, the following table contains commonly heard expressions using the word “faith” in column one, and the same expressions substituted with the words “pretending to know things you don’t know” in column two.
Peter Boghossian, A Manual for Creating Atheists (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2013), 23-26