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An essay donated by Alton C. Thompson

Faith in the Bible's historical events and values:

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“Faith” is a word used primarily, but not exclusively, in conjunction with religion. Here is one definition of the word from Wikipedia:

"Faith is defined as confidence or trust in a being, object, living organism, deity, view, or in the doctrines or teachings of a religion. Faith may also refer to a hope or belief, rational or irrational, in a certain outcome. Faith refers to a belief as it is not based on proof. The word faith is sometimes used as a synonym for hope, for trust, or for belief."

“Faith” is a subcategory of “belief.” Just as one’s beliefs may be untrue -- i.e., unsubstantiated, so far as empirical findings are concerned -- “faith” is also a type of belief that may or may not be “true,” the difference between “belief” and “faith” being that the latter implies a greater degree of psychological investment. Given the greater degree of psychological investment in one’s faith than in one’s beliefs, the latter is more readily changed than the former.

When one learns information that lacks conformance with one’s beliefs, one may initially tend to avoid accepting it, but eventually do so. Whether one does or not will likely depend on one’s commitment to “truth.” One may, for example:

  • Dismiss new information for the simple reason that it lacks conformance with one’s current beliefs, without doing any checking.

  • Accept new information, again for the simple reason -- in this case -- that it conforms with one’s current beliefs, also not bothering to check it for its “truth value.”

  • Postpone acceptance or rejection of the new information until one has “checked it out,” after which one makes one’s decision to accept or reject the new information.

It’s likely that people fall into one of the first two categories, most of the time.

The question that I wish to address here, however, is not how to differentiate faith from belief but, rather, how to decide whether or not one’s faith is justified. In doing so, I realize that a religion is often referred to a “faith,” but here I give the term a narrower meaning:

“Faith” is a belief that something is “true,” but the basis for that claim is rather tenuous.

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I regard it as legitimate to have faith that tomorrow will come. After all, when I had faith yesterday that today would come, I was in possession of no proof that the next day would come, but I knew that there was a very high probability that it would.

Yesterday did become today, as did the day before become yesterday, the day before that, etc. There was, that is, a good basis for my having faith that today would come: It has always come in my lifetime, the lifetime of my parents, etc.; therefore a solid basis existed for my having faith that tomorrow would come.

The word “faith” as used with reference to religion is a different matter, however. One can have “faith” that:

  • Values expounded in the Bible -- such as the injunction to “love the neighbor” -- are “good,” should be accepted, and should be acted upon.

  • Noah was a real person; he actually did live, and in the distant past.

These two examples of “faith” are of a very different character.

  • Values cannot be demonstrated as being either true or false. Rather, they are statements of what one should, and should not, do, and one is requested to accept them. A given request may be accompanied by statements as to why one should accept them, but any rationale provided -- although it may contain some statements that are widely accepted as “true” -- will contain statements (perhaps ones that are implicit) that will not be subject to verification (i.e., their “truthfulness”), so that the request itself cannot be said to have “truth-value.”

Besides, given that the purpose (whether or not intended) in requesting of another that they accept a given behavior as, e.g., “good,” is not merely for them to do so intellectually, but to act on that request -- and neither the intellectual acceptance, nor the action(s) stemming from it, involves truth or falsity.

  • However, the question of whether, as an example, Noah was a real person who died long ago, is a rather different sort of question. It asks whether something is factual, not whether it is good or bad. There is a hierarchy of “factual” matters, of course, from particular facts, to limited generalizations, to universal laws, to theories 1 -- and our degree of confidence in a given “fact” typically decreases the higher up the hierarchy of “truths” that we go.

However, in none of these cases do we ask whether the “fact” in question -- e.g., a particular theory -- is “good.” Rather, we only ask of a given (alleged) “fact” whether or not it should be accepted as true -- perhaps with a certain probability value associated with it to express our degree of confidence in its “truthfulness.”

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As to a Biblical character such as Noah, the question that one should ask is: What evidence exists to make a determination as to whether Noah was, or was not, an historical personage? The answer to that question is that we have no evidence! Just because Noah is a character in a Biblical story is not sufficient evidence for accepting Noah as an actual person who lived at some point in the past. True, we have no clear evidence that he did not exist, but that’s not a good reason for believing that he did! In fact, we know from geological research that numerous floods occurred in the past, leaving behind layers of sedimentary rock layers (some of which later were converted into metamorphic rocks), not just one; and we also know that modern humans go back at least 200,000 years, not the (now) 6,000+ years claimed by Bishop Ussher.

What’s unusual about many “Christians” is that they claim to accept the various stories (with the exception of parables, which they recognize as such) in the Bible as factual, whereas they pay little attention to the values expounded in that book!. Granted that values in the Bible “evolved” -- so that the stoning advocated in the Old Testament was not condoned by Jesus; but so many of them who cling to the stories in the Bible, regarding all as true, give little attention to the (“good”) values expounded in that book. I will not comment on the reasons why many Christians believe this way.

What’s equally odd to me is that:

  • Such people label themselves as “Christians,”

  • others accept that label for them, but

  • the basis for doing so simply does not exist!

I believe that the only meaningful definition of Christian is:

"One who tries to be like Andrew, Peter, etc., in striving to be a disciple of Jesus." 2

In my opinion, if one’s focus is, rather, on accepting -- i.e., having faith that -- certain (alleged) facts in the Bible are “true,” and de-emphasizes he matter of discipleship (of the Jesus of the canonical gospels in particular), one has no basis for labeling oneself as a “Christian”!

Despite that fact, millions do!

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Alton Thompson is using the word "theory" here in its scientific sense. According to Dictionary.com, this use of "theory" refers to:

    "... a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena."

    An example is Darwin's Theory of Evolution, or Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.

    In contrast, the popular, most popular meaning of the term "theory" is:

    "a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation."

    An example is an actor's use of the word "theory" to describe an idea or hypothesis in a detective show that has not been verified.

  2. The definition of "Christian" used in this essay is a close match to that used in this web site, which is:

    "We accept as Christian any individual or group who devoutly, thoughtfully, seriously, and prayerfully regards themselves to be Christian. That is, they honestly believe themselves to be attempting to follow the teachings of Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) as they interpret those teachings to be."

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Originally published: 2015-MAR-18
Last updated 2015-MAR-18
Author: Alton C Thompson
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