Seven Things You Need To Know About Faith

by Graham Veale

The “Unbelievable” Radio Show and Podcast is always worth listening to. Anyone who wants to understand the width, length and depth of the gap between popular culture and the Church should listen to the debate  between Professor Timothy McGrew and Dr. Peter Boghossian, author of A Manual for Creating AtheistsBoghossian is both a rising star in the ranks of the New Atheists and a professional philosopher. So it was bewildering, and slightly disturbing, to hear such ill-informed nonsense from a man who should know better.

Professor Tim McGrew, a saint and a scholar of renown,  ably challenged and easily dismantled Boghossian’s case; what stunned me was that Boghossian seemed to be encountering Professor McGrew’s counterarguments for the first time. On the show Boghossian defended two claims, one preposterous and the other slightly disturbing. First, he claimed that faith means “belief without evidence”; second, he compared faith to a mental virus which needs to be contained and eliminated.

Let’s examine Boghossian’s claims:

1)      Does “faith” mean belief without evidence? Perhaps some might mean something like this when they use the term derisively. Some atheists, for example, might believe that there is no convincing evidence for any religion. Therefore, they could consider all “faith” to be irrational and use the word pejoratively. However, this is not the standard meaning of the term and it is certainly not what Christians mean by “faith”.

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2)      Curiously, Boghossian based his definition of faith on how he believes others use the term when he discusses religion with them. This is very odd; he does not appeal to, and does not appear to have consulted theologians, lexicographers, social scientists or philosophers. His belief in the true definition of faith depends on his personal interpretation of how others use the term; his definition is not based on evidence. By his own reasoning, Boghossian’s definition of faith is an act of blind faith and should be abandoned.

As David  pointed out in Atheism’s New Clothes:

“…the New Atheists have simply assumed that faith is belief without evidence. No doubt there is plenty of faith that is of this variety, but they have given little or no attention to what Christian thinkers actually take faith to be and how they relate it to reason. Ironically, their account of faith seems itself to be a belief without evidence to support it or, at least, only a highly selective use of evidence. Hence, their account of faith is an example of irrationality by their own lights.”

3)      As Professor McGrew pointed out, “faith” means “trust”: a personal commitment to a person, institution or set of ideas. “Faith” goes beyond mere belief that some statement is true. We are practically, emotionally (or even existentially) invested in the object of our faith. Discovering that our faith has been placed in the wrong person, cause or project implies that we will suffer some personal cost…

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Seven Things You Need To Know About Faith – Saints and Sceptics