Faith, Hope, and Doubt

Louis Pojman


1.       Summary

          a.       Belief is not necessary for religious faith (because faith–which is necessary for being religous–does not require belief)

          b.       One may not be able to believe in God because evidence is not sufficient, but one may still live in hope, committed to a theistic worldview

          c.       Does it make sense to live and act in a way based on a proposition that you don’t believe to be true?


2.       Faith as hope

          a.       Belief in God’s existence is not necessary for faith

          b.       Doubt is not incompatible with religious faith

                    i.        One can doubt God’s existence (in the sense not believe it) and still have faith as hope (e.g., want to believe with all your heart)

                    ii.       Paul Tillich: Faith includes doubt as a necessary component

                              (1)     Tillich: “Faith is reason in ecstacy”

          c.       Hope, even without belief, is enough for faith

                    i.        Hope does not always require probability, though we must believe that what we hope for is at least possible


3.       Belief, acceptance and faith

          a.       Belief:

                    i.        “An involuntary assenting of the mind to a proposition (a statement), a feeling of conviction about p, a non-volitional event

          b.       Acceptance: “Deciding to include p in set of propositions you are willing to act on–a volitional act”

                    i.        Unlike belief, we have control over acceptances

                    ii.       Difference belief and acceptance: Might believe X but not accept it and might accept x but not believe it

          c.       Faith: commitment to something (e.g., person, hypotheses, religion, or worldview)

                    i.        A deep kind of acceptance

                    ii.       A volitional act

                    iii.      Trusting, obeying the object of faith and doing what has the best chance of bringing its goals about


4.       Pojman rejects volitionalism (idea that you can acquire a belief by willing to have it)

          a.       Choosing is not the natural way we acquire beliefs

          b.       Perhaps choosing to have a belief is possible

          c.       But it is psychologically odd and perhaps conceptually incoherent


          d.       Fully aware, conscious choice of a belief independent of evidence (where evidence does not count in favor of it)

                    i.        Pojman rejects this


          e.       Everyday examples seem to count in favor of volitionalism

                    i.        Evidence against a student’s honesty is great but professor decides to trust him

                    ii.       Theist who believes in God in spite of insufficient evidence

                    iii.      We find that our past beliefs have been acquired in ways that could not have taken the evidence seriously into consideration


5.       Beliefs-are-not-chosen argument against volitionalism

          a.       Our beliefs come involuntarily as response to states of the world

          b.       Believing is more like seeing than looking, blushing than smiling

                    i.        Belief like perception: Seeing the tree, hearing the noise

          c.       Like anger, envy, fearing, suspecting, and doubting, believing is involuntary and passive

          d.       When one believes, the world forces itself upon you


6.       Logic-of-belief-argument against volitionalism

                    i.        ?????

          b.       Incoherent, illogical, contradictory to say:

                    i.        “I believe there is a million dollars in my bank, not because of the evidence, in fact the evidence pretty much rules it out, but because I want it to be true.”

          c.       Mere wishing that something is true never makes it so


7.       Because beliefs are not actions, we can’t be judged for our beliefs

          a.       Because ought implies can

          b.       You ought not to believe X, but this is not something you can choose to do

          c.       Can be judged by acting on your beliefs, by how well you investigate the evidence or paid attention to the reasons or arguments

          d.       But don’t we judge people for their beliefs all the time and isn’t this typically appropriate?

          e.       Pojman gives the example of believing that another race/sex is inferior as not something we can morally judge


8.       **Beliefs can be obtained indirectly by willing to have them

          a.       Point drainpipe at neighbors example

9.       Such manipulation of the mind is prima facie immoral

          a.       Strong case against such indirect volitionalism

          b.       But this duty is defeasible: It can be overridden by other stronger moral obligations


10.     Two types of arguments for why we should believe based only on the evidence

11.     (1) Willing to believe is a kind of cheating or lying to oneself and diminishes our autonomy

          a.       The best way to get at truth is to have justified beliefs

          b.       We are freer and more autonomous the more true beliefs we have

          c.       So when we lie to ourselves we reduce our freedom/autonomy

          d.       Lying to oneself is like lying to a dying person about her chances of survival


12.     (2) Willing to believe has bad consequences for ourselves and society

          a.       Successful actions depend on true beliefs

          b.       Willing yourself to believe that you can do well in a course even though you don’t do readings or attend class

          c.       Doctors who cheat through medical school, government officials who convince themselves of the veracity of the evidence because they want it to be true cause great harm


13.     Ethics of belief: We have amoral duty to not get our beliefs by willing but to seek the truth impartially and passionately

          a.       **Thus: We ought not obtain our religious beliefs by willing to have them; instead we should follow the best evidence we can get.

14.     Still, one can hope that god exists w/o believing that He does.


15.     Analysis of hope

          a.       Hope requires possibility

                    i.        To hope one must believe in the possibility of what one hopes for; can’t hope for what one believe impossible (though one can wish it)

                    ii.       Need not expect it (or believe it will happen)

          b.       Hope precludes certainty

          c.       Hope entails desire (a pro-attitude)

          d.       Hope involves a desire that is motivational

                    i.        Hope is more than mere wishing

                    ii.       Can wish to live forever, but if I don’t think it sufficiently possible, it will not motivate me to act

                    iii.      Hope involves a willingness to runs some risk (and to trust?)

          e.       Hoping (unlike believing) is typically under our direct control

                    i.        I can decide to hope that my son’s team will win, but I can’t decide to believe it will win.

                    ii.       It seems to me that frequently one finds oneself hoping w/o making a conscious choice to hope and that stopping hoping for something is not as easy as making a conscious choice not to hope

                              (1)     In short, hope is more non-volitional than Pojman suggests here (more like believing)

                    iii.      May not be able to give up a hope, but normally am able to alter the degree to which I hope for something

                    iv.      Degree of hope has to do with a cost-benefit analysis about payoff involved in obtaining the goal

          f.       Hope is evaluative (it can be morally evaluated)

                    i.        Like wanting, but unlike believing, we can have morally unacceptable hopes

          g.       Hope can be ordinary or deep

                    i.        Cases where one is disposed to risk something significant on the possibility of the proposition being true are deep or profound hopes, where its of enormous significance, desperate hopes

16.     Summary of analysis of hope:

          a.       Hoping, unlike believing, has a strong volitional component, is subject to moral assessment, involves positive desire for what is hoped for, and involves a greater inclination to action than mere wishing.


17.     Religious hope can function in the midst of doubt

          a.       Like putting your trust in a tight-rope walker to carry you across a gorge to save you from attackers

                    i.        A profound hope he can succeed


18.     Pojman’s argument for religious hope

          a.       Tragedy of existence

                    i.        Unless there is a god and life after death the meaning of live is less than glorious

                              (1)     Death and the extinction of all life in a solar system that will one day be extinguished

          b.       Just enough evidence to whet one’s appetite, to inspire hope, and a decision to live according to theism or Christianity, but not enougy evidence to cause belief

          c.       (Faith as) An experimental hypothesis

                    i.        Hoper (person of faith) opts for the better story

                    ii.       Makes the pilgrimage

                    iii.      But keeps his mind open to new evidence that may confirm or disconfirm the decision

          d.       If there is some evidence for something better, something eternal, some benevolent who rules the universe and will redeem the world from evil and despair

                    i.        Isn’t it worth betting on that worldview?


19.     It would be wrong for God to judge (condemn) you for lack of belief (in God)

          a.       Only proper to judge people on those things they can control, we cannot control our beliefs, so we ought not to be judged because of our beliefs or lack of beliefs


20.     We can be judged by how faithful we have been to the light we have


21.     People who truly have faith in God are those who live with moral integrity within their lights

          a.       Some unbelievers will be in heaven and some religious, true believers, who never doubted, will be absent.

          b.       But if one has faith in God one must lead a religious life.....



22.     Plantinga’s idea of belief in God as basic

          a.       Mature theist does not believe in god tentatively/hypothetically/until something better comes along

          b.       Accepts such a belief as basic, as part of the foundation of his belief structure

                    i.        Basic belief: Justified w/o being based on other beliefs

          c.       He commits himself to belief in God