Is “Faith” Worth Believing?

by Mark McGee

Atheist philosopher Peter Boghossian believes that faith is pretending to know things you don’t know (May 6, 2012 public lecture – richarddawkins.net/). As a former atheist, I find that statement both challenging and strange. Let me explain why.

We need to first understand the use of terms for the purpose of enlightened dialog. According to one English dictionary, the word faith means “strong belief or trust in someone or something” (Merriam-Webster). Another English dictionary defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something” (Oxford Dictionaries). From those two well-established and recognized knowledge sources for the English language we understand that faith is strong or complete trust and confidence in a person or a thing.

Those English definitions fit well with the use of the word faith in the New Testament, written in Koine Greek (Common Greek). A primary Greek word for “faith” in the New Testament is pistis. It is the idea of a strong confidence in the truth of someone or something that leads to trust based on that strong confidence. It comes from the root word peitho, which means “to be persuaded.” A person who has “faith” in the New Testament sense has been persuaded to trust by a strong confidence based on truth. Truth is defined in English as “the real facts about something, the things that are true” (Merriam-Webster) and “that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality” (Oxford Dictionaries).  The word truth in Koine Greek is aletheia and means “what is objectively true.”

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Next, let’s look at the word “pretend.” It is defined in English dictionaries as “to act as if something is true when it is not true” (Merriam-Webster) and ”speak and act so as to make it appear that something is the case when in fact it is not” (Oxford Dictionaries).

The word “know” means “to understand (something), to have a clear and complete idea of (something)” (Merriam-Webster) and “be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information” (Oxford Dictionaries). The primary Koine Greek word for “know” is ginosko and means “understand, perceive, have knowledge of.”

So, what is Professor Boghossian saying? That “faith” which is a strong or complete trust or confidence in someone or something is really just “pretending to know,” which is acting as if something is true when it is not true.” Does the professor’s use of the English language seem contradictory? (contradictory – “a proposition so related to another that if either of the two is true the other is false and if either is false the other must be true” Merriam-Webster)

Yes, I believe Dr. Boghossian, who is a teacher of philosophy (philo-sophia – friend, lover of wisdom), either misunderstands the usage of both the English and Koine Greek languages or may be purposely using contradictory terms for the purpose of misleading and misdirecting. I will assume that he lacks the understanding of the terms rather than suppose a purpose of misdirection.

I was an atheist more than four decades ago, so it may be that atheists have changed their view about people of “faith” since then. I thought religious people were ignorant and uninformed about truth, but I didn’t think they were pretending…

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