Sitting in traffic today, I saw once again the bumper sticker “Got Faith?” In this age of sound bites, two words like this can catch people’s attention. But when we borrow a catchy commercial slogan, we risk reducing faith to a commodity – like milk. It becomes something we can – and should – acquire, and if we do, other things in life may go better, in the same way that cookies taste better with milk. But is faith a commodity that we can acquire? Or is it something that everyone already has, with the only quesiton being – what is it in which we are placing our faith?
I recently talked to an atheist friend and was reminded how those with a secular worldview respond to words like faith. She told me that in her view, faith and reason are opposites. Faith, she said, means accepting things you can’t understand or explain, and reason, by contrast, is accepting only those things you can understand and explain. With this view of the world, she will never be open to "having faith" in God, because by her definition, to do so would itself be unreasonable. Those who “got faith” may be comforted, but they have nothing of relevance to say to her.
My friend’s definition reminded me of the need to be precise in my use of language. So, I tried to get her to see that faith is not "believing despite the evidence" but is instead the act of trusting in something that you cannot know with complete certainty. Faith, then, contains an action part – trusting – and a standard of proof part, for lack of a better term – the degree of certainty you attach to your conclusion. The opposite of faith is not reason, it is disbelief. In other words, to lack faith in something is to believe that the opposite of it is probably true.
Reason, by contrast, is not an act of trusting; it is act of thinking, a process by which we derive conclusions based on evaluating evidence that we receive through our senses. It can be inductive or deductive; it can be sound or fallacious. But in the end, it is simply a tool that we have access to through the use of our minds, much like the tool of vision, imagination or language acquisition. These things are simply available to any human being with a normally functioning mind. So the opposite of reason is not faith, it is irrationality.
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