Atheist: Faith is NOT “Belief Without Evidence”

Finally, an atheist is as irritated as I am over the consistent use of faith to mean, as Dawkins uses it, “belief in the absence of (or in the teeth of) evidence.”  Or, as Mark Twain famously put it, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t true.”

Dr. Simon Kolstoe wrote to the editors of Philosophy Now accusing them of using the pejorative definition of faith forwarded by Dawkins et. al. to make fun of religious believers.  Dr. Kolstoe points out that even the wildest conspiracy theory rests at least on bad evidence.  We may not always agree to where the evidence points, he reasons, but let’s agree at least that there is some.

[Faith] is taking the leap from tentatively believing a theory, to using that theory as a working principle. It is not belief in the absence of logic or evidence; it is a belief based upon ‘good enough’ evidence. Such a definition seems far more useful than the impossible definition of ‘ a belief without evidence’, or the rhetorical use as ‘a belief I do not agree with’.

Read the entire letter

What is biblical faith?  Loyalty and trust based on past performance.

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on July 21, 2011, in Apologetics, Theology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Interesting posts…I see the point in the article and in the video, but I guess it boils down to what you want to define “evidence” as…in the sense: “any indicator, weak or strong, that something happened”, I agree with the video…I guess Christians, and the religious in general, can name their reasons for believing in what they do, but I’d say that those reasons aren’t compelling…as in the case of the empty tomb mentioned in there, and I’ll bring up the resurrection again…it may have happened that the tomb was empty (if most historians think it did — I don’t know, but I heard many seemingly honest Christians claim that — I’d say it probably did), but what one should ask oneself is: would it be enough, along with the other facts, to imply that something defying all that is known about life, death, natural laws took place?…Or could it be possible that something else, also unlikely, but less so (not going against everything as a resurrection does) happened instead? I think the whole idea is comparable to a magic trick…the simplest explanation, the one that fits best, is that the magician has magic powers, in some difficult cases…natural explanations are better, nonetheless, even if they might seem far fetched, clumsy, not fit as nicely as actual magic…they’re better because they don’t go against everything else that has been observed…they’re also usually right…

  2. I mean “if historians think it WAS [empty]”, not “it did”…

  3. Well, héhé…I just decided to look up the empty tomb and check historian’s consensus on it…and this is what I found (Bart Ehrman — supposedly, I don’t know that it’s really him speaking, I didn’t read that book, though I guess I can look that up too, héhé–, the same guy in your video from the other post, making the exact same point I made above)…:

    “Why was the tomb supposedly empty? I say supposedly because, frankly, I don’t know that it was. Our very first reference to Jesus’ tomb being empty is in the Gospel of Mark, written forty years later by someone living in a different country who had heard it was empty. How would he know?…Suppose…that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea…and then a couple of Jesus’ followers, not among the twelve, decided that night to move the body somewhere more appropriate…But a couple of Roman legionnaires are passing by, and catch these followers carrying the shrouded corpse through the streets. They suspect foul play and confront the followers, who pull their swords as the disciples did in Gethsemane. The soldiers, expert in swordplay, kill them on the spot. They now have three bodies, and no idea where the first one came from. Not knowing what to do with them, they commandeer a cart and take the corpses out to Gehenna, outside town, and dump them. Within three or four days the bodies have deteriorated beyond recognition. Jesus’ original tomb is empty, and no one seems to know why.

    Is this scenario likely? Not at all. Am I proposing this is what really happened? Absolutely not. Is it more probable that something like this happened than that a miracle happened and Jesus left the tomb to ascend to heaven? Absolutely! From a purely historical point of view, a highly unlikely event is far more probable than a virtually impossible one…” [See pages 171-179] “…from…:

    • That’s probably Ehrman. It sounds like things I’ve heard him say before. That’s more reasonable than the other one I heard him say, where he proposed something like an “evil twin” theory.

      The minimalist case for the Resurrection is essentially (1) Jesus died, (2) Jesus was buried, (3) his tomb was found empty, and (4) people saw Jesus alive and well, and (5) skeptics (e.g. Paul and James) also saw him and converted.

      Most theories that Ehrman (and others) posit explain (1) – (3) very well.

      There are some problems with their explanations of (4). First, hallucinations are generally one-on-one things. Jesus is shown appearing to all of the remaining apostles (Lk 24:36-49) and to over 500 people at once (1 Cor 15:6). Further, the passages in Luke have him eating and drinking, and disciples touching him to verify his identity. Not exactly possible with a figment of the imagination.

      No one has offered a plausible explanation for (5) that I’m aware of. Hallucinations are of things you want or expect to see. Or of something that you’re afraid of seeing. Religious hallucinations of this type tend to confirm what someone already believes, and in the case of Paul and James this hallucination totally changed their perception of the world.

      I’m not saying that a person cannot have a hallucination that changes their mind or confirms something they didn’t previously hold to be true. I’m just saying that it happens more often that such a hallucination confirms an already held belief. As we’ve seen previously with epistemology, people seldom surrender beliefs even when they are proven false. As depressing as it sounds, humans tend to take disconfirming evidence of a belief as proof positive that a belief is true.

      Now, you can argue that this isn’t enough to warrant a belief in something as improbable as the Resurrection, and that’s fine. But it’s just not true to argue that we believe the Resurrection blindly, for these reasons create a case–whether you personally find it compelling or not, it is still a rational case.

      • I see what you’re saying there…on my most recent comment under your new post (I didn’t see you had answered here when I wrote it), I acknowledge that arguments are provided by the religious, never said there were no arguments: I just say they aren’t compelling…but look: you objection to the idea of the witnesses’ hallucination is a naturalistic one, héhé: people don’t hallucinate in groups (I do hear about mass hysteria, though)…however unlikely a group hallucination is, a resurrection is EVEN MORE unlikely, would go against much more science than a group hallucination…as for the Bible passages you provided, as a nonbeliever you can’t expect me to take the author’s word for it, héhé…especially when I don’t think historians do (for those select passages about Jesus rising from the dead, being touched by his disciples, etc)…and you have another natural objection to the idea of Paul hallucinating, that people only see things they’re afraid of, that they expect to, etc…you probably base that on what a psychologist would tell you, on SCIENCE…but you don’t feel the resurrection in itself is a huger attack on known science…

        I don’t claim (I think Erhman says so himself) that the explanations are satisfying/plausible, just that they are better than an actual resurrection, being MORE plausible…again, it’s like a magic trick; the resurrection might fit better, explain all the aspects, but is less likely, just as it’s less likely that the magician has actual magic powers…

  4. I know, héhé…it looks like I searched a nonbeliever blog on purpose, but I typed in “historians empty tomb” into Google, and that was the second result…checked it out immediately since Ehrman’s name was there, thinking it was more than appropriate…

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