I hear different definitions of faith from different places. Atheists criticize faith, Christians support faith, but other Christians reject blind faith. Finally, some Christians, see blind faith as the only sort of real faith.
This article is my attempt to define faith in a way which is both Biblical and also rational.
tldr: Faith is the set of things we expect, and the reasons we expect them, although they have not yet been directly observed.
- Is impossible by definition under classical rational actor models.
- Is allowed under rational irrationality.
- Is often empirically confused with misinformation, bias, or accidental behavior.
The only way we can validly accuse someone of irrationality, I think, is in the case of rational irrationality. This could only be the case if someone does not truly believe Christianity, because in that case deviation from Christianity would not be costly. For any true believer in Christianity, there is a supreme cost (eternal life) for deviation. So I don’t think real Christians are rationally irrational, but I am happy to agree that trivial Christians or non-Christians are rationally irrational.
Ironically, rational irrationality seems to indicate that agnostics and atheists are the most irrational of all. They have very little cost for such indulgence.
Lastly, as an economist, I should expect rationality to entail realistic optimization and empirical consistency. Given my worldview, I expect Christianity and economic efficiency or empirical optimization to be eventually consistent, or convergent in the long run.
Now that we have established Christians as rational, we can proceed to define faith in a rational way. For internal consistency, this is to define faith in a Christian way.
The traditional Christian way to define faith is through the use of Hebrews 11:1. Christians also believe in General Revelation (1 and 2), or the Book of Nature, so our faith should be mutually consistent with the Bible and empirical reality. Finally, logical consistency is demanded throughout scripture, so valid reasoning must be a component of Christian faith.
In short, the world around us is the mighty volume wherein God hath declared himself. Human languages and characters are different in different nations. And those of one nation are not understood by the rest. But the book of nature is written in an universal character, which every man may read in his own language. It Consists not of words, but things which picture out the Divine perfections. The firmament every where expanded, with all its stary host, declares the immensity and magnificence, the power and wisdom of its Creator. Thunder, lightning, storms, earthquakes and volcanos, shew the terror of his wrath. Seasonable rains, sunshine and harvest, denote his bounty and goodness, and demonstrate how he opens his hand, and fills all living things with plenteousness. The constantly succeeding generations of plants and animals, imply the eternity of their first cause. Life subsisting in millions of different forms, shews the vast diffusion of this animating power, and death the infinite disproportion between him and every living thing.
And here’s a quote from Galileo on the Book of Nature:
We conclude that God is known first through Nature, and then again, more particularly, by doctrine; by Nature in His works, and by doctrine in His revealed word.
Here are some translations of Hebrews 11:1.
- NIV: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
- NLT: Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
- KJV: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
- NASB: Now faith is the [a] assurance of things [b] hoped for, the [c] conviction of things not seen.
Usually I like the NIV, but here I’m a fan of the NASB, which has useful footnotes about the original language. I think one translation which is both accurate and more compatible with the usual language of science today is as follows: “Faith is the substance of things expected and the evidence of things not yet seen.”
What follows is perhaps an even better scientist-friendly translation, though more distant from tradition. This is the rendition I propose to adopt, and I would request some more theologically trained individuals declare this as a valid or invalid understanding of verse: “Faith is the set of things we expect, and the reasons we expect them, although they have not yet been directly observed.”
A scientific understanding of faith might be that faith refers both to a rational theory and the application thereof, and Christian faith is a specific case of such theory.