What is faith? This entry focuses on the nature of faith, although issues about the justifiability of faith are also implicated.
‘Faith Is a broad term, appearing in locutions that express a range of different concepts. At its most general ‘faith’ means much the same as ‘trust’. This entry is specifically concerned, however, with the notion of religious faith—or, rather (and this qualification is important), the kind of faith exemplified in religious faith. Philosophical accounts are almost exclusively about theistic religious faith—faith in God—and they generally, though not exclusively, deal with faith as understood within the Christian branch of the Abrahamic traditions.
Faith is not just wishful thinking, but it is a deep conviction and belief that God’s words are true, and that He is able to bring about His promises. Our faith is made strong in Jesus Christ.
The Bible speaks of many other faithful people. They were persecuted, yet held fast to their beliefs, and have “obtained a good testimony through faith” (Hebrews 11:39) and pleased God. In fact, “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (verse 6 ).
Models of Faith
While philosophical reflection on faith of the kind exemplified in religious faith might ideally hope to yield an agreed definition in terms of sufficient and necessary conditions that articulate the nature of faith, the present discussion proceeds by identifying key components that recur in different accounts of religious faith.
It also aims to identify a focal range of issues on which different stances are taken by different accounts. There is a plurality of existing philosophical understandings or models of faith of the religious kind.
Faith as knowledge
‘Reformed’ epistemologists have appealed to an externalist epistemology in order to maintain that theistic belief may be justified even though its truth is no more than basically evident to the believer—that is, its truth is not rationally inferable from other, more basic, beliefs, but is found to be immediately evident in the believer’s experience (see Plantinga and Wolterstorff 1983, Alston 1991, Plantinga 2000).
In Plantinga’s version, theistic beliefs count as knowledge because they are produced by the operation of a special cognitive faculty whose functional design fits it for the purpose of generating true beliefs about God.
Religious philosophers, such as Anselm of Canterbury, construct proofs for the existence of God which can only end in a positive conclusion; theological doctrine demands this.
Recent attempts, as in the work of John Caputo, to apply postmodern thought to theology are analyzed, and the postmodern philosopher Jean-François Lyotard’s arguments for adopting a pagan attitude to belief are also looked at in this context. The chapter concludes that religious belief, as in all instances where post-truth is being deployed, is best met with scepticism and doubt.
If faith is not ‘a firm and certain knowledge’ of theistic truths, then a model of faith as having a propositional object may be retained by identifying faith with a certain kind of belief. The relevant kind will be belief with theological content—that God exists, is benevolent towards us, has a plan of salvation, etc.—where this belief is also held with sufficient firmness and conviction.