Faith, Hope, and Doubt

Louis Pojman


1.       Summary

          a.       Belief is not necessary for religious faith

          b.       Because faith–which is necessary for being religious–does not require belief

          c.       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

          d.       Question: 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 and not belief

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

          b.       Doubt is compatible with religious faith

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

                    ii.       Paul Tillich (prominent 20th century theologian) thought 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: “An involuntary assenting of the mind to a proposition (p)/ statement; a feeling of conviction about p

                    i.        This is 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 p but not accept it and might accept p but not believe it

                              (1)     E.g., Believe that your mother is dying but not accept it

                              (2)     E.g., Accept and act on the idea that you can beat the competition, but you don’t really believe you can

          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.       Volitionalism = Acquiring a belief by willing to have it


5.       Pojman rejects (direct) volitionalism

          a.       He rejects the idea that you can (typically and directly) acquire a belief by willing to have it

          b.       Choosing is not the natural way we acquire beliefs

          c.       Perhaps choosing to have a belief is possible in some limited ways

                    i.        But it is psychologically odd and perhaps conceptually incoherent

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


6.       Everyday examples seem to count in favor of volitionalism

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

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

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


7.       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


8.       Logic-of-belief-argument against volitionalism

          a.       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.”

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


9.       We should not be judged for our beliefs

          a.       Because beliefs are not actions (voluntary behavior), and we are only responsible for our voluntary behaviors

          b.       Because ought implies can

          c.       Not fair to say “You ought to believe X, and since you don’t I’ll punish you,” because believing X is not something you can choose to do

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

11.     But we do frequently judge people for their beliefs and is it clear that this is always wrong?

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


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

          a.       Point drainpipe at neighbors example and convince yourself you did nothing wrong by reminding yourself about all the mean things he did

13.     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

          c.       Examples?


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

15.     (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


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

          a.       Successful actions depend on true beliefs

          b.       Examples

                    i.        Willing yourself to believe that you can do well in a course even though you don’t do readings or attend class will be bad for you

                    ii.       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


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


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

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


20.     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

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

          f.       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


          g.       Hope can be morally evaluated

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

          h.       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 it’s of enormous significance, can be desperate hopes

21.     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.


22.     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


23.     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 enough 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 benevolence who rules the universe and will redeem the world from evil and despair

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


24.     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

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

26.     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.