Blind Faith is Not Faith

The college basketball season is reaching March Madness and millions of people will join in the annual ritual of filling out brackets. Some will play for money, others for pride, but the point is the same to win. Everyone has their own method for picking the games, some try to analyze the teams, others choose based on mascots, team colors, or favorites (for example, my wife picks Duke to win the championship every year!).

But before we can all waste countless hours examining the bracket, a committee will enter a room and decide which 65 teams will have the chance to win the coveted National Championship. They will justify their decisions with acronyms like RPI, SOS and DIFF but all the decisions also include the eye test – when I watch this team play do they look like what I think a good basketball team should look like. The hard part, however, is everyone forms their own opinion on what a good basketball team should look like. The question then is, do we use analytics to support what we already know as true or do we use analytics to determine if whether or not what we see is true?

Thus, March Madness led me to think about about how we as humans come to understand anything because it seems that in all forms of acquiring knowledge the eye test has its place.

For example, scientific discovery is based on the scientific method. To oversimplify, it involves three stages: hypothesis, testing, analysis. In this scenario, the hypothesis is the eye test, it is an assumption based on experience about what is true and what is false. The hypothesis is then tested to see if the results support or deny the assumption. Finally, the analysis is when the hypothesis is confirmed or denied based on the results of the testing. The objectivity of science (though I think we can agree science is not always objective) is based on the assumption that the hypothesis must be confirmed by the testing. The hypothesis comes first but the testing is meant to be the controlling factor in making the decision. In other words, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Philosophical inquiry also has a similar method for testing propositional knowledge. Propositional knowledge is knowledge that involves truth. For example, there is performative knowledge (e.g. I know how to cook, I know English) that only assumes our ability to perform something without questioning the truth of the object (e.g. is what I do really cooking? or if there even such as thing as cooking?). Propositional knowledge on the other hand makes a truth claim (e.g. 1+1=2) which requires verification. To verify propositional knowledge the basic formula is:

Someone knows that ‘Concept A’ is true if and only if

  1. Someone believes that Concept A is true
  2. Someone is justified in believing that Concept A is true
  3. Concept A is true

In this method, belief is the eye test or the hypothesis. It comes first, but it requires justification. That is, it must be tested to see if belief matches reality. Only if belief matches reality, if Concept A is true, can it be considered knowledge.* Thus, much like in scientific knowledge, ‘objectivity’ in philosophical inquiry is grounded in the assumption that all knowledge must be proven for it to be true.

Hermeneutics, or more generally the art of interpretation, also has a similar theory for acquiring knowledge. Paul Ricoeur describes the process of interpretation as a dialectic between explanation and understanding, but Heidegger noted that the process actually begins with preunderstanding not explanation. Preunderstanding, the eye test, is an initial guess (sometimes more educated than others) at meaning that allows the process of explaining and understanding to begin. It is the starting point that further examination then uncovers as true or false. Although this particular theory of hermeneutics is not as interested in objectivity as science might be, it still follows a similar method of determining the truth or understanding.

Christianity has a similar understanding of acquiring knowledge captured in the phrase ‘Faith Seeking Understanding’. In this way, Christianity has understood knowledge as the act of faith, the eye test, being confirmed through understanding, the analytics. Faith, what we believe, is examined through the study of scripture, personal and communal experiences of God, and supplementally through the study of science, philosophy, etc. In this sense, faith and thinking critically are not in competition but rather work together as guides toward understanding the infinite God in more faithful ways.

Yet, within certain strands of Christianity to subject faith to any testing is seen as wrong. Hebrews 11:1 is often paraphrased in these arguments to prove that faith is believing in what we can’t see, or in other words faith is blind. But, I’ve written this way too long blog post to argue that blind faith is not real faith. Faith is not based in the yet to be determined, but in the real, faithful actions of God. We believe in our future resurrection because of a past resurrection. We believe God will provide for his people, because of his history of provision. If what we believe cannot be verified by testing then what we believe is surely blind but it is not real.

Therefore, test your faith to see that it is real because God is not afraid of us using the mind he gave us. Boldly ask the Holy Spirit to ‘be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (Rom 12:2).

Finally, back to your brackets… based on my scientific testing you might as well pick by colors or mascots because I lose to my wife and sons (ages 7, 5, 4) every year.

 

*For simplicity, I am not mentioning the difference between a priori knowledge and a posteriori knowledge as would be included in most philosophical discussions.

17 thoughts on “Blind Faith is Not Faith

  1. Good thoughts — as a student pastor, this is something that I continuously try and get my students to see (especially among the churched students who seem to regurgitate the faith of the parents). Faith of the parents isn’t a bad thing — but regurgitation is.

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    1. A few thoughts on the propositional knowledge in philosophy section:
      1. There are actually many views of propositional knowledge in philosophy.
      2. The main views today require either justification or warrant and those are typically cashed in terms other than verification (e.g. coherence in a very technical sense or proper functioning cognitive faculties aimed at truth).
      3. The three conditions of knowledge don’t necessarily come in temporal order such that belief comes first. In fact, it is probably better to speak of the justification or warrant coming first, especially on proper function views since the belief should be the result of proper functioning faculties.
      4. Most views would not require that the belief be “proven.” And even for views that might require it to be proven typically the view is not that it must be proven to be true but that it must be proven to be known to be true. The former concerns a theory of truth while the latter concerns epistemology.
      5. The definition should probably be put in terms of proposition A rather than concept A.

      I know it isn’t crucial to your central point but the general tenor and sophistication of the blog makes me think you will appreciate the nuances.

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  2. A few thoughts on the propositional knowledge in philosophy section:
    1. There are actually many views of propositional knowledge in philosophy.
    2. The main views today require either justification or warrant and those are typically cashed in terms other than verification (e.g. coherence in a very technical sense or proper functioning cognitive faculties aimed at truth).
    3. The three conditions of knowledge don’t necessarily come in temporal order such that belief comes first. In fact, it is probably better to speak of the justification or warrant coming first, especially on proper function views since the belief should be the result of proper functioning faculties.
    4. Most views would not require that the belief be “proven.” And even for views that might require it to be proven typically the view is not that it must be proven to be true but that it must be proven to be known to be true. The former concerns a theory of truth while the latter concerns epistemology.
    5. The definition should probably be put in terms of proposition A rather than concept A.

    I know it isn’t crucial to your central point but the general tenor and sophistication of the blog makes me think you will appreciate the nuances.

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    1. Keith, thanks for the comments.

      I agree that there are many different views of propositional knowledge, I did not mean to make it sound like this was only one.

      I agree with most of your thoughts, except I will need to think about #3. I think the temporal order is fairly consistent (even if we do not recognize it). Also, if justification comes first then is there any distinction between belief and understanding/knowing. Maybe, there is better language to capture the ideas but I see them as separate things (and see that most philosophy does also).

      Finally, thanks for pointing out my mistake of “Concept A” rather than “Proposition A”…I am writing on Conceptual Metaphors and language obviously slipped over.

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      1. Well, my point about temporal order was more a point about definitions in analytic philosophy. I take it that your definition was essentially following a justified true belief definition (JTB). In such definitions one is attempting to offer interesting necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for what one is defining (e.g. knowledge). So the order in which one lists the conditions does not typically imply anything about temporal ordering.

        I agree that sometimes belief can come before justification, but I don’t believe that happens in all or even most cases (more in a moment). In offering three conditions of knowledge reminiscent to JTB I took you to be offering a definition of knowledge and hence something that applied to all cases.

        I think there is a bit of ambiguity in what you meant about talking about propositional knowledge in philosophy that may have us talking about different things. You could have meant propositional knowledge that belongs to the discipline of philosophy in particular to discover or you could have meant how philosophers define knowledge which is intended to cover any type of knowledge.

        If we are talking about a very limited set of cases of knowledge then you might be right that typically belief precedes justification. But if we are talking about all cases of knowledge I question whether that is the case. Take my belief that there is a computer in front of me right now. Presumably my justification comes from my sense perception of it. It seems that in this case my sensory faculties play a causally and temporally prior role in the formation of my belief. Would you want to say that I form the belief that there is a computer in front of me and then justify it by my senses? And I take this simple sensory case to be paradigmatic of much of our knowledge.

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        1. I am much more familiar with continental philosophy in general so some of the ‘misunderstanding’ may be because we have different presuppositions 🙂

          To your last question, I would answer yes and no. You do see/experience the computer first through sensory faculties but upon seeing you must make a guess (educated or not) about what you are seeing. Then through testing your verify what you believe. At that moment, your believe matches reality and it becomes knowledge. For the most part this does not happen consciously, but I am suggesting it happens and ‘most’ of the time in a particular order.

          For example, we are both using computers but I could guess they do not look anything alike. Upon seeing these two different things, we form a belief that what we are seeing is a computer. Then we turn it on, read, type, etc. and because we are able to perform these activities we verify that our belief was correct. Ultimately we arrive at knowledge – Yes, this is a computer.

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          1. Yes, I am sure much of the difference is the analytic/continental divide. But the content of your definition, manner of stating the definition, and mention of verification all made me think of analytic philosophy. Though one of my friends remarked to me that even those who study continental philosophers today do so with the analytic method.

            I think my problem here is that terms like “verify” and “test” sound like discursive and conscious processes. It seems strange to me to describe what happens upstream of consciousness in these terms. I don’t disagree that there is a filling in that occurs and there is a gappy issue with our sensory faculties but it happens upstream of consciousness. And the faith seeking understanding tradition is talking about a more conscious process, often involving very discursive argument. Plus, I don’t believe the gaps are ever filled so I am not sure how strong of an analogy one can make.

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              1. If I understand you right I think you are saying that when I look at my computer I don’t yet know it is there until I start typing on it etc. But that seems to be a peculiar position to take to me–one quite at odds with how we typically use the word knowledge.

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                  1. I am unsure whether you are saying one of the key divides between analytic and continental (A/C) is your view about not knowing the computer is there until I start typing or taking stands and using terms far removed from typical word usage.

                    If it was the latter then I wonder if there isn’t a danger of equivocation to title a post about “blind faith” and then use a technical sense of “knowledge” (and by extension “faith”) that is far removed from the ordinary usage.

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                    1. The first. But either way I am not using terms far removed from typical word usage (a possible exception is when I mistakenly used concept instead of proposition).

                      The main point of the post was the different ‘technical’ senses of gaining knowledge have much in common with the Christian notion of ‘faith seeking understanding’.

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            1. I agree the terms may not be the best representation, I used them in the post to help provide consistency and simplicity. I would probably incorporate other terms as well if I was having a philosophically based conversation.

              I would argue, however, lots of testing and verification, by whatever term, happens upstream of consciousness. But I do agree that the faith seeking understanding tradition is talking about a conscious process (and that is what I was thinking about when writing the post).

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              1. I kind of feel like you have two lines of argument here.
                (1) A lot of processing and filling in occurs upstream of consciousness. So here there is a temporal movement from a gappy image of a computer to, perhaps, a more complete one post top-down processes filling in the gap. But because it all occurs upstream of consciousness it seems that at best one could make a loose analogy to a faith seeking understanding perspective.
                (2) Upon seeing a computer one believes it is there and then one only gains knowledge when one types at the computer. So you have a movement from sight to typing that you are trying to parallel with a faith seeking understanding perspective. But again I wonder if this only works as a loose analogy because it seems to just favor one sense (sight) over another (touch). Plus, I say loose analogy because, as mentioned above, as a strict claim that we don’t know the computer is there upon seeing it that seems peculiar–don’t know how much weight peculiarity carries as an argument though. 🙂 In some ways I sort of feel with this second reading or line of argument that you are maybe trying to grasp at the distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description or knowing X and knowing that X.

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                1. Wow, we have achieved so many replies and boxes within boxes that it won’t even let me respond to your last comment. 🙂

                  Well to say that when I see the computer I only believe it is there and don’t know it yet seems to be using knowledge in a different technical sense. Ordinarily, we would say that I know the computer is there upon seeing it. My wife asks me if we have any apples or do we need to buy some more. I look in the fridge–don’t touch or eat one–and tell her that we have them. I think I just conveyed knowledge and not merely my belief.

                  I don’t know that it comes down purely to the A/C divide though because I take analytic philosophy to be more an approach. Plus, there are analytic views that would deny that we know the computer is there just upon seeing it, but those would be more skeptical views.

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