No wonder believers and sceptics disagree – they use different definitions

by Barney Zwartz

Faith can be blind but it is found in every area of life and humanity cannot function without it.

Sometimes believers and their critics, each frustrated at their inability to make the other side “see”, feel they are speaking a different language. New Australian research suggests there is some justification for thinking so.

It also provides justification for me to reuse one of history’s great puns. The 18th century Anglican wit Sydney Smith once commented on two fishwives hurling abuse at each other across an alley: “Those two will never agree. They are arguing from different premises.” And so, when it comes to faith, are theists and atheists.

Believers and sceptics tend to accord the word faith quite different definitions. James Garth – a Melbourne aerospace engineer and fellow of the Institute for the Study of Christianity in an Age of Science and Technology (ISCAST) – led a study before a recent Melbourne debate in which American atheist advocate Peter Boghossian and Christian philosopher Richard Shumack discussed “How can we know?”

In his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, Boghossian gives several definitions of faith, led by “belief without evidence” and, more provocatively, “pretending to know things you don’t know”.

Hardly surprisingly, believers do not think of their faith this way, seeing it rather as trust or belief based on evidence and experience that cannot be scientifically demonstrated but which is not therefore unreasonable or irrational…

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No wonder believers and sceptics disagree – they use different definitions