Belief is neither necessary nor sufficient for faith

Introduction

Belief can be defined as follows. William Alston said:

1. If S believes that p, then if someone asks S whether p, S will tend to respond affirmatively.

2. If S believes that p, then, if S considers whether it is the case that p, S will tend to feel it to be the case that p.

3. If S believes that p, then, if S takes q to follow from p, S will tend to believe q.

4. If S believes that p, then, if S engages in practical or theoretical reasoning, S will tend to use p as a premise when appropriate.

5. If S believes that p, then, if S learns [suddenly] that not-p, S will tend to be surprised.

6. If S believes that p, then, given S’s goals, aversions, and other beliefs, S will tend to act in ways that would be appropriate if it were the case that 1

A great deal of talk on religious truth statements concerns belief and degrees of belief, however belief is not always voluntary. It is not possible to simply will a belief. What does this mean for the call to exercise faith?

Belief isn’t necessary

Imran Aijaz & Markus Weidler said:

“Belief is not a necessary condition to be in a position to exercise one’s capacity for relationship with God.” 2

Daniel Howard-Snyder said:

you can believe something even though you have no tendency at all to feel disappointment upon learning that it’s not so, but you cannot have faith that something is so without at least some tendency to feel disappointment upon learning that it’s not so. That’s because you can have faith that something is so only if you care that it is so, with positive valence; and you can care that something is so, with positive valence, only if you have some tendency to feel disappointment upon learning that it’s not so. 3

Belief can be replaced by other conditions for faith

Acceptance

From Joshua Mugg commenting on Alston’s position:

(B)elief is not under our direct voluntary control. For example, I cannot will myself to believe something in the way that I can control the turning on and off of a light (1996: 11). Acceptance, on the other hand, “is the adoption, the taking on, of a positive attitude to the proposition” (1996: 8), which is under our voluntary control (1996: 11 and 2007: 132). Acceptance is not simply adopting a ‘working hypothesis.’ When one accepts that God exists they are “taking it to be true” (2007: 133).

Alston and McKaughan claim that one who has trusting acceptance faith is one who performs “a voluntary act of committing oneself to them,…resolve(s) to use them as a basis for one’s thought, attitude, and behavior. (And, of course, it involves being disposed to do so as a result of this voluntary acceptance.)” (Alston 1996: 17). Even if one with trusting acceptance faith does not feel as though, say, God exists.

“The accepter may pray just as faithfully, worship God just as regularly, strive as earnestly to follow the way of life enjoined on us by Christ, look as pervasively on interpersonal relationships, vocation, and social issues through the lens of the Christian faith.” 4

William Alston:

“…my thesis that accepting basic Christian doctrine can undergird a full-blown Christian commitment,”

“To accept [the propositions articulating Christian doctrine] is to perform a voluntary act of committing oneself to them, to resolve to use them as a basis for one’s thought, attitude, and behavior. (And, of course, it involves being disposed to do so as a result of this voluntary acceptance.) Whereas to believe them, even if not with the fullest confidence, is to find oneself with that positive attitude toward them, to feel that, for example, Jesus of Nazareth died to reconcile us to God. That conviction, of whatever degree of strength, spontaneously wells up in one when one considers the matter. … The accepter may pray just as faithfully, worship God just as regularly, strive as earnestly to follow the way of life enjoined on us by Christ, look as pervasively on interpersonal relationships, vocation, and social issues through the lens of the Christian faith.” 5

Daniel Howard-Snyder explains:

As for acceptance, Alston says that, unlike belief, acceptance is, in the first instance, a mental act. One finds oneself with a belief, whereas to accept p is “to adopt” or “take on board” a positive attitude. Moreover, one cannot believe something at will, but one can accept something at will. Belief will involve more confident, unhesitating manifestations of these sorts than acceptance will. But in the main, the story on these components—specifically (1), (3), (4), (5), and (6)—will be same for acceptance. (In (3), substitute “tend to accept” for “tend to believe”.) By far the largest difference is the absence of (2). The complex dispositional state engendered by accepting p will definitely not include a tendency to feel that p if the question of whether p arises. 6

Daniel Howard-Snyder goes on to say:

So, according to Alston, the state of acceptance differs from belief in two ways: its manifestations will tend to be less confident and more hesitating than those of belief and its dispositional profile lacks a tendency to feel that p if the question of whether p arises.

Despite these differences, the profile of the state of acceptance is congruent with faith since, first of all, one instance of faith can be weaker than another because it is less confident and more hesitating—weak faith is faith nonetheless. 7

Assuming

Daniel Howard-Snyder said:

we must not identify assuming with acting as if. One can act as if p while disbelieving p, but one cannot assume p while disbelieving p. For when one assumes p, one has not settled on not-p; but when one disbelieves p, one has settled on not-p, even though one might dissemble and act as if p.

By performing these actions rather than others, they manifest their disposition to take a stand on the truth of their assumptions, albeit a weaker stand than that of acceptance (or belief). 8

Richard Swinburne:

“So, on the Pragmatist view, a man S has faith if he acts on the assumptions that there is a God who has the properties which Christians ascribe to him and has provided for me the means of salvation and the prospect of glory, and that he will do for S what he knows that S needs or wants–so long as S has good purposes. He will thus seek not his own fame, but long-term and deep well-being for himself and others. Seeking these things, he may believe that they are only to be had if there is a God who provides such well-being in this world and in the world to come. Hence he may act on the assumption that there is a God–for unless there is, that which is the most worthwhile cannot be had. He will do the same things as the man with Lutheran faith will do. He will, for example, worship and pray and live a good life partly in hope to find a better life in the world to come. He prays for his brethren, not necessarily because he believes that there is a God who hears his prayers, but because only if there is can the world be set to right. He lives the good life, not necessarily because he believes that God will reward him, but because only if there is a God who will reward him can he find the deep long-term well-being for which he seeks. He worships, not necessarily because he believes that there is a God who deserves worship, but because it is very important to express gratitude for existence if there is a God to whom to be grateful and there is some chance that there is. 9

Hope

Louis Pojman:

“For those who find it impossible to believe directly that God exists and who follow an ethic of belief acquisition, hope may be a sufficient substitute for belief. I can hope that God exists without believing that he does. … First of all, hope involves belief in the possibility of a state of affairs obtaining… Second, hope precludes certainty… Third, hope entails a desire (or a pro-attitude) for the state of affairs in question to obtain or the proposition to be true. Fourth, the desire involved in hoping must be motivational, greater than mere wishing.… hoping involves a willingness to run some risk because of the positive valuation of the object in question. … Fifth, hoping, unlike believing, is typically under our direct control. … Sixth, hoping, like wanting, is evaluative in a way that believing is not. We may have morally unacceptable hopes, but not morally unacceptable beliefs… belief itself cannot be judged moral or immoral.” 10)

Belief is not sufficient for faith

James E. Talmage said:

Neither belief nor its superior, actual knowledge, is efficient to save; for neither of these is faith. If belief be a product of the mind, faith is of the heart; belief is founded on reason, faith largely on intuition 11

Exercising faith

The doubter can still exercise faith, according to Alston:

First, Alston insists that the Christian who lacks belief—the skeptical Christian—“is not necessarily inferior to the believer” when it comes to “commitment to the Christian life, or in the seriousness, faithfulness, or intensity” with which they pursue it. 6 They “may pray just as faithfully, worship God just as regularly, strive just as earnestly to follow the way of life enjoined on us by Christ, 3 [and] look as pervasively on interpersonal relationships, vocation, and social issues through the lens of the Christian faith”.7 As such, they can be “all in” when it comes to Christian practice, although they “will undoubtedly receive less comfort and consolation,” be “less assured of the life of the world to come,” and when they do have experiences that they might be inclined to take as “interactions with God,” they “will not be wholly free of nagging suspicions that it is all in [their] own mind”. 12

It is possible to have a relationship with someone who you have good reason to think probably isn’t there (e.g. God).

Andrew Cullison:

“Suppose Bob recently discovers that he has been (for several years) hallucinating people and from his perspective developing very sophisticated, complex relationships. After Bob spent several months in the hospital, the doctors have determined that he has been cured. they are confident that he will no longer hallucinate. Julie is one of the doctors. Bob is skeptical that Julie is real. He even says on several occasions, ‘I really don’t believe you exist.’ However, Bob thinks to himself, ‘Julie (if real) would be the most amazing person I have ever met, and I am confident that we could have a long-lasting relationship. I could never forgive myself if I didn’t give her exactly the kindness she deserves (if I discovered she were real), so I’ll continue this relationship.’” 13

Or another example:

“Bob is lonely and begins a chat-room relationship with Julie. Bob and Julie are both grieving the loss of a loved one. Julie offers words of encouragement that no one has been able to offer Bob. Bob does the same for Julie. then Bob’s friend Steve provides Bob with an overwhelming amount of evidence that chatrooms have very sophisticated Turing machine programs that can perfectly replicate close, personal conversation with other humans. Bob is nervous. It is highly likely that Julie is a fake. He stops believing that Julie exists. He even tells Julie that he doesn’t believe she exists. However, he holds out strong hope that Julie exists. He says, ‘you may not be real, but there is some very slim possibility that you are—that’s enough for me to think this is worth continuing.’ eventually, they meet. they marry. Someone asks them ‘When did your personal relationship begin?’ Bob says, ‘Back when I didn’t even believe Julie existed.’” 14

Trent Dougherty & Ted Poston (Philosophy profs at Baylor & South Alabama):

“Suppose that Jones—an unfortunate fellow—is locked in solitary confinement in a dark prison cell. Jones hears faint taps coming from the other side of his prison wall. The taps resemble the presence of another person willing to communicate, but it is not certain that there is another person in the other cell. Yet, Jones begins to tap back. Suppose this activity continues over a long period, and Jones can—with some effort—make sense of the taps as another person attempting to communicate with him. Suppose Jones’s credence (his degree of belief, rational confidence, or what have you) on the claim ‘there is another person in the cell beside me’ is .5. He seems to be discerning messages, but he realizes that it could just be in his head since the signs are ambiguous. Yet, given that the two persons are tapping back and forth to each other, it seems that they are in a personal relationship, one which in time could take on great significance (again, this latter part is of great importance). The interaction could be so meaningful and hope-inducing that it keeps Jones from going insane or perhaps even keeps him from dying or killing himself. Suppose also that in fact the tapping is coming from Smith who, many years later, meets up with Jones and they discover what was going on. We submit that this part of their relationship will take on newfound significance in their new relationship, something to look back on and cherish, and a surprisingly good foundation for deepening their relationship now that Jones’s credence has been raised to moral certainty by actually meeting Smith.” 15

Conclusion

It is possible to have faith without belief, and faith is the main call to action in Christianity.

  1.  “Belief, Acceptance, and Religious Faith,” eds. Jeff Jordan and Daniel Howard-Snyder, Faith, Freedom, and Rationality (Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996),[]
  2. [“Some Critical Reflections on the Hiddenness Argument” in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 61:1 (2007)][]
  3. Daniel Howard-Snyder, PROPOSITIONAL FAITH: WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT,  American Philosophical Quarterly Volume 50, Number 4, October 2013[]
  4. Joshua Mugg, Indiana University Kokomo, Special Divine Action and Faith Without Belief, Special Divine Action Project, Oxford University.[]
  5. Alston, William. 1996. “Belief, acceptance, and religious faith.” In Faith, Freedom, and Rationality (pp. 3–27, 241–244). Lanham: Lowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.[]
  6. [“Belief, Acceptance, and Religious Faith,” in eds. Jordan and Howard-Snyder, Faith, Freedom, and Rationality. (Rowman & Littlefield, 1996), 17.][]
  7. Daniel Howard-Snyder Western Washington University, The Skeptical Christian[]
  8. Daniel Howard-Snyder, PROPOSITIONAL FAITH: WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT,  American Philosophical Quarterly Volume 50, Number 4, October 2013[]
  9. Swinburne, [Faith and Reason (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1981), 116-117.][]
  10. Pojman, [Philosophy of Religion (Waveland, 2001, 2009), 145-147.] (See also “Faith without Belief?” Faith and Philosophy, 3(2)(1986): 162; “Faith, Doubt and Hope or Does Faith Entail Belief?” in R. Gale & A. R. Pruss (eds.) The Existence of God(Ashgate, 2003), 544.[]
  11. Talmage, Articles of Faith, 1899[]
  12. Daniel Howard-Snyder Western Washington University, The Skeptical Christian[]
  13.  Cullison,  [“Two Solutions to the Problem of Divine Hiddenness” American Philosophical Quarterly 47:2 (2010): 120.][]
  14.  Cullison,  [“Two Solutions to the Problem of Divine Hiddenness” American Philosophical Quarterly 47:2 (2010): 120.][]
  15. Trent Dougherty & Ted Poston, [“Divine Hiddenness and the Nature of Belief” Religious Studies 43 (Cambridge, 2007): 190-191.][]