Doesn't everyone take things on faith?

todangst's picture

You hear it from theists all the time: "Maybe I do take my beliefs on faith, but so do you!"

Leaving aside the theist's admission of what he really thinks of faith (not much, apparently!), is it true that everyone must take some beliefs on faith?

Well, here's the problem with that question: It contains a fallacy of equivocation.

A fallacy of equivocation occurs when an argument uses a word in two distinct senses. And the word "faith" has at least two very distinct meanings. One has a theological sense, and the other, a colloquial sense.

And we can best understand these two general meanings by using the terms Contingent and Non Contingent faith.

Trust is experiential - theistic faith is not.

Contingent faith - is trust. It originates as an instinctual connection to our mothers in infancy, and develops as the basic blueprint for how we interpret new situations. It is wholly experiential and open to revision.

So this sort of 'faith' is is based on some experience, an instinct, and then, a memory, an expectation. It is also open to falsification. If events occur that lead me to doubt the 'faith', I will discard my faith. If the stranger I have trusted harms me, then my willingness to trust the stranger (and perhaps other strangers) decreases.

So this is Contingent faith. Now, what is Non Contingent faith?

Non contingent faith is the classic Kierkegaardian 'leap of faith', where a belief is held despite its irrational nature. Some even go as far as to employ quia quid absurdum: I believe because it is absurd. This is theistic faith. Non contingent faith. The faith of theism.

Theistic, or non contingent faith, therefore, is the claim that one does not need any rational justification to hold a belief. It is not an epistemological position, it is a rejection of epistemology itself. Therefore theistic faith cannot stand in as a premise in a logical argument.

Here's the bible itself, to affirm these points on theistic faith:

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Bible: New Testament. Hebrews 11:1.

i.e., it is belief without justification.


Romans 8:24-25: “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (NKJV)

Here Paul makes it clear that one cannot have non contingent faith is one has facts! If one has a reason to believe, he cannot have theistic faith by definition!

This will become important as we continue.

Theistic faith is belief without justification. That's it. And theistic faith must be belief without justification, as there is no way to justify a belief in the supernatural. Both deduction and induction are natural processes - and nothing natural can point to its own antithesis, the supernatural. This is precisely why theologians are diverse as Martin Luther and Soren Kierkegaard agree that a theist must begin with a leap of faith. Humans, as limited, natural beings cannot grasp the supernatural - a 'realm' defined only negatively, without any universe of discourse, ergo without any identity.

The fallacy of equivocation made clear.

Because it is hopelessly forlorn dream to grant any legitimacy to non contingent faith, people must instead seek to rip down reason by equating the foundation of reaon with theistic faith through the use of semantic fallacies.

This attempt to bring down reason to the level of theistic faith is just appalling.

So let's put this nonsense into the trashcan

1) Theistic faith is as Paul defines, above.

2) Colloquial usages of faith - i.e., are matters of generalizing basic trust experiences in infanthood, that in turn are born of instinctual, not 'faith based' processes.

These processes are not equitable with non contingent faith. They are the precise opposite of such a faith. They begin in instinct, which is not even cognitive, and they continue through experience, which, is obviously cognitive.

Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by the senses. Faith is the acceptance of ideas or allegations without sensory evidence or rational demonstration. "Faith in reason" is a contradiction in terms. "Faith" is a concept that possesses meaning only in contradistinction to reason. The concept of "faith" cannot antecede reason, it cannot provide the grounds for the acceptance of reason—it is the revolt against reason. - N Branden

Now it should be a simple matter to expose the fallacy of equivocation that takes place when the theist cries "But you have faith too!" There is a clear difference between experiential matters like trust, and Paul's conceptualization of faith, which is merely hope. Hence the theist is knowingly or unwittingly equivocating his non contingent belief with a colloquial usage of the word 'faith' that really means trust. He's taking advantage of the fact that two different concepts are expressed by using the same word.

To help remove the equivocation, you need to call these two distinct processes by different names. I suggest contingent vs non contingent faith.


1) The claim that 'everyone takes things on faith" equivocates between theistic faith with contingent faith. Once this error is uncovered, the claim fails.

2) The fact that inductive claims are uncertian does not mean that 'faith' is required to shore up induction.... we merely need to hold to inductive claims probabilistically


"Since every one has faith, singling theism out as irrational is unfair"

While it may be true that no person on earth avoids being irrational at some time, we are not arguing whether or not people are irrational, we are arguing whether theism is necessarily irrational. And theism is irrational as it rests upon non contingent faith. Furthermore, theists require that it rely on non contingent faith, seeing as their can be no rational grounds for a supernatural claim. Some theists have no problem conceding this (i.e. the apophatic tradition/Negative Theology), and your fallacy of equivocation does their honesty a disservice.

"Faith is a form of reason!"

No. Logic denies this. The bible denies this. Theologians as famed as Martin Luther deny this. Faith is belief unjustified by any natural process:

"The anabaptists pretend that children, not as yet having reason, ought not to receive baptism. I answer: That reason in no way contributes to faith. Nay, in that children are destitute of reason, they are all the more fit and proper recipients of baptism. For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but - more frequently than not - struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God. If God can communicate the Holy Ghost to grown persons, he can, a fortiori, communicate it to young children. Faith comes of the Word of God, when this is heard; little children hear that Word when they receive baptism, and therewith they receive also faith. - Martin Luther , Table Talk CCCLIII [1569] .

"There is on earth among all dangers no more dangerous thing than a richly endowed and adroit reason...Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and ... know nothing but the word of God." -- -Martin Luther (Works Vol. 12)" The first two sentences are found quoted by Walter Kaufmann, _The Faith of a Heretic_, (Garden city, NY, doubleday, 1963), p. 75

Here Luther tells us that reason cannot take us to 'god', so we must rely on faith:

This is the highest degree of faith - to believe that He is merciful, who saves so few and damns so many (Belief contra logic) ; to believe Him just, who according to His own will, makes us necessarily damnable, that He may seem, as Erasmus says, 'to delight in the torments of the miserable, and to be an object of hatred rather than of love.' If, therefore, I could by any means comprehend how that same God can be merciful and just, who carries the appearance of so much wrath and iniquity, there would be no need of faith. But now, since that cannot be comprehended, there is room for exercising faith, while such things are preached and openly proclaimed: in the same manner as, while God kills, the faith of life is exercised in death. Suffice it to have said thus much upon your PREFACE.

Original quote: 'Hic est fidei summus gradus, credere illum esse clementem qui tam paucos salvat tam multos damnat; credere justum qui sua voluntate nos necessario damnabiles facit; ut videatur, referente Erasmo, delectari cruciatibus miserorum, et odio potius quam amore dignus. Si igitur possem ulla ratione comprehendere quomodo is Deus misericors et justus, qui tantum iram et iniquitatem ostendit, non esset opus fide.' " -- -Martin Luther (Works Vol. 12)"

“Whoever wishes to be a Christian, let him pluck out the eyes of his reason.”
-- -Martin Luther (Works Vol. 12)"

In the paragraph from which this quote is drawn, Luther cites 1 Corinthians 2:9: “Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,’ these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

Here Luther openly states that reason led people to heresy (bold part 1), because god knowledge is secret and hidden and only open through revelation to those who love him (bold parts 2 and 3). The citations prove that the quote listed above them is clearly in context with the rest of the passage. In fact, the quote practically reads as the conclusion to a syllogism.


The full sentence of the “pluck out your eye” quote contains a citation to Matthew 5:29:

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell”

Why cite this? Because there is a similar concept being explicated upon here. In the Matthew citation, it is held that it is better to pluck out your eye if seeing leads you to sin and then hell. The same goes for the eye of reason: better to pluck it out if reasoning leads you to heresy and then hell.

So Luther is doing anything other than giving a rational argument. He's beginning with a special plead fallacy. He arguing that there is 'god knowledge' but that it is secret and hidden and not open to reason. Classic special plead fallacy. He then begs the question that our inability to make any sense of 'God claims' must mean that the problem is reason itself. Classic circular logic. Reason would actually dictate that the problem lies in the "God claim" and not with reason itself. Luther's conclusion that one must pluck out they eye of reason is therefore bankrupt nonsense.

Calvinist's are not in any better position:

"We are not our own; therefore neither our reason nor our will should predominate in our deliberations and actions. We are not our own; therefore, lets us not propose it as our end, to seek what may be expedient for us according to the flesh(mind). We are not our own; therefore, let us, as far as possible, forget ourselves and all things that are ours. On the contrary, we are God's, to him, therefore let us live and die. For, as it is the most devastating pestilence which ruins people if they obey themselves, it is the only haven of salvation not to know or to want anything oneself but to be guided by God who walks before us." (book 3 of the ICR, chapter 7, 1)

"Wouldn't the pragmatic value of my religion be a rational justification?"

Whatever pragmatic rationality you come up with can have no bearing on the validity of the belief in the supernatural. They are side issues dealing with the benefits of holding to the belief.

We know, a priori, that these 'pragmatisms' can have no role in affirming the veracity of the belief, if the belief involves the supernatural. And again, we have the 'god inspired' words of Paul to affirm this.

"Doesn't an infant start from a position of faith?"

"Basic trust" - the stance of infanthood is instinctual, not a 'non contingent faith'. Kick a baby, and she'll cry, not coo. In general, it is more correct to say that we begin through instinct, which is non-cognitive altogether, than in a 'faith' position of any kind.

"Don't people have faith in science?"

If they do, it's only in the contingent sense of the word, and then only after experiencing multiple success stories. People trust science when they see tangible results, they mistrust science when it does things that frighten or endanger lives. This clearly has nothing to do with an unjustified belief.

Note: Robert Todd Carroll of the Skeptics Dictionary makes the same basic points vis a vis the equivocation of non contingent faith for contingent faith in theistic arguments:

His entry is a very good read.

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'

I was debating with a

I was debating with a fellow and I posted some of the above on the debate at FTT.

Here's his response (can be found here:


I already read this from a website. This is the problem with his definition of faith: He writes it assuming that the existence of God is irrational. Why can't theistic faith being experiential? We all observe the world around us, and in doing so I have concluded that God created the world; all creation and true science point back to God.

Also the use of Romans is incorrect. This verse is stating the reason that God doesn't reveal everything to us: he wants us to earnestly seek him and hope (wait patiently) for our adoption as his sons.

todangst's picture

Quote: I already read


I already read this from a website. This is the problem with his definition of faith: He writes it assuming that the existence of God is irrational. Why can't theistic faith being experiential?

I already explain why it cannot be experiential. This would make it empirical and hence natural. Clearly this person has not read what is written above.


Also the use of Romans is incorrect. This verse is stating the reason that God doesn't reveal everything to us: he wants us to earnestly seek him and hope

Then how is my usage of Romans incorrect?! You're affirming my point.... Please also consider backing up your assertions in the future.


"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'

Topher's picture


todangst wrote:


Also the use of Romans is incorrect. This verse is stating the reason that God doesn't reveal everything to us: he wants us to earnestly seek him and hope

Then how is my usage of Romans incorrect?! You're affirming my point.... Please also consider backing up your assertions in the future.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I see things like this. 

Maybe it's a tendency to instantly assume the atheist must wrong, yet when you look at their complaint you find it's not a complaint at all, but rather an affirmation of the atheists point. If only they paid attention to begin with.

(And what’s the bet this person would still insist you're wrong!)

"It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring" -- Carl Sagan