Marc Chagall: Le Grand Cirque (1956)
One of the greatest parts of being a man is the drive to learn, simply for learning’s sake. The manosphere has been an interesting place for me to burn spare time, simply because there are so many talented people in residence who know all sorts of shit I don’t. Here I can talk to attorneys, plumbers, physicians, carpenters, social scientists, diesel mechanics, and engineers. Ya boy Boxer knows nothing about these sorts of things, and he appreciates all of you for expanding his horizons.
Like everyone else, Boxer has his own areas of competence. Arcane arguments in linguistics and philosophy of language are one. Epistemology is another. Aside from its primary focus, as a survival guide for younger guys, this blog functions as a way for me to give back some free knowledge to the community that has been so generous with me.
Down below, Gunner takes issue with Pascal’s work. In doing so, he’s joined some truly great minds (like Descartes). He also makes some problematic generalizations. We should parse one in detail.
Pascal’s wager fails on two counts with respect to Christianity. (1) Works don’t achieve salvation, belief does. Keeping the various rules isn’t sufficient.
For the sake of argument, let’s grant that the New Testament is a series of true propositions. With this as background, Gunner is correct that good works alone is not a sufficient condition for salvation. Gunner is incorrect in arguing that belief as a sufficient condition for salvation. From the New Testament:
One must note that the word ‘belief’ does not appear as a part of the argument. Moreover, Gunner’s exegesis seems to deprecate the importance of works. Works are described here as the outward manifestation of faith.
Now, it might be that Gunner is apostatizing from Christianity, and attempting to re-write the text, and start his own religious movement. I don’t believe this to be the case, but I want to cover the possibility. A charitable reading of his argument suggests a more likely scenario. Gunner is conflating the notion of ‘belief’ with that of ‘faith’. This is not at all uncommon, because ‘faith’ is one of those English words with a tremendous lexical range, and people commonly use it to describe a variety of dissimilar states-of-affairs. Let’s go through a few examples…
- Faith as a feeling of surety or confidence,
- Faith as an adherence to certain precepts,
- Faith as trust in some modal claim, and,
- Faith as a practical commitment to some set of ontological or ethical claims, with no evidence of their material existence.
None of these things rise to the epistemological level of ‘belief’ per se. Moreover, most people who use the word ‘faith’ to describe their own internal psychology will not posit the whole range of definitions.
Example: Suppose Person X describes his own faith as a commitment to follow the rules laid down by St. Paul in the New Testament. He’s probably not going to also posit that he trusts the possibility that those rules exist someplace in the universe. ‘Faith’ in Person X’ parlance, in this context, is ‘faith in’ the utility of an abstract system, rather than ‘faith in’ the existence of God. It’s entirely possible for Person X to have both types of faith, but given that they take different types of subjects, the meaning of the word is different in each claim.
What St. Paul is promoting in James, above, seems to correspond to our second example. If you have faith, in this context, you will follow the positive duties, and those will manifest in a distinctly material fashion. The bible talks about charity, and your faith will entail donations, or works of service, or at least going out of your way to be kind to people. The works are not faith, and neither the works, nor the faith, are beliefs, but the works follow from faith, when we read it in this context.
Belief is qualitatively different from faith, in that if I believe some proposition p, then p features in a network of associated beliefs which form the backdrop of my existence.
Example: I believe that the most expedient route to my car is out my window. This belief is justified by my proficiency in mathematics; but, I don’t need to consciously re-write Pythagoras to justify it. The “straight line” proposition just features in my epistemology. I also believe that I can’t take the most expedient route to my car, because that would entail a) breaking the window, and b), jumping three stories to the pavement. I don’t need a primer on employee rules, nor do I need to dredge up Newton and discuss gravitational acceleration, to come to this belief. The details are less important than my belief. I’ll be able to keep making money and stay out of the hospital if I take a less direct route, and so I do.
There are certain things that, by definition, we can not believe. For example, we can’t claim to believe in a proposition if it has never occurred to us. There are almost certainly new subatomic particles that we haven’t yet investigated. There are probably novel astronomical objects that we haven’t yet discovered. If nobody has ever posited such stuff, then it stands to reason that nobody can ‘believe’ in these things, whether or not they exist.
God, for better and for worse, has some similarities with these examples. It may be plausible to posit that “something created me,” but describing this something becomes very difficult. The best that most people are able to do is to posit a “first cause” or an Anselmian sort of “greatest” being.
So, faith and belief are different words for a reason. They describe different things. St. Paul was careful not to require his adherents to believe in too much. For the most part, Christians are called to have faith, and observers are cautioned to test the faith of the adherents by the material manifestations of the same.
Robert Audi: Faith, Belief and Rationality
Daniel Howard-Snyder: Does Faith Entail Belief?
Gunner Q’s Blog