A Skeptical Use Of The Words BELIEF, FAITH And TRUST

A Skeptical Use Of The Words BELIEF, FAITH And TRUST

In atheistic and sceptical discussion the words belief, faith and trust are often used with implicitly different meanings and this leads to misunderstandings.   My solution is to define, how I use these words.  

Faith and belief are to me synonyma, because they both translate to only one German word, Glaube.   If there is at all any difference, belief may be more connected to a specific content, faith may be more a general predisposition to belief in the case of available content.    But the main meaning is the undoubting gullibility.   

Faith (and belief) mean taking a claim or appearance for true without doubt.   As a skeptic, I have never any faith.   There is no truth, that I can be certain of, there is only a probability, that some claim or assumption could be true.   As a way to handle everyday life's requirement of making decisions, estimating probabilities cannot be avoided.  

Long ago, I have eliminated the phrase 'I believe' from my language use.   Instead I am using 'I guess', 'I estimate', 'it seems', 'I assume' and such.  

Trust is very different from faith.   
  • Faith means basing the own proactive behavior upon accepting something without doubts as true.   
  • Trust means exposing oneself to another person's behavior as a consequence of accepting something without doubts as true.  

Many people become atheists by discarding the belief in a deity, but they still are prone to base other decisions upon implicit assumptions and inclinations.   According to christian morals, people are expected to have blind trust in other christians.  Allegedly christians are automatically trustworthily while behaving as commanded by their deity.      
Becoming an atheist implies also the necessary logical next step of replacing blind trust with the estimation of trustworthiness. 
For me as a skeptic, trust means the estimated trustworthiness.   

Trust is a necessity in close human relationships.   Trust is the expectation, that another human being will do no harm.   Nobody can predict another person's behavior with certainty.  Therefore trust is the estimated probability of expecting beneficial treatment.  
Realistically this expectation is based upon the past experience with this person.   It cannot be based upon accepting the person's proclaimed intentions as true.   The longer the person's behavior is beneficial, the higher the estimated probability, that this will continue.  
A high probability of being harmed instead of being treated beneficially is a reason to avoid or end the contact.  
With strangers or persons of only short or superficial acquaintance, there is no previous experience.   There is not yet the possibility to make an accurate estimation.  
In this situation, two mistakes are possible.    One can either wrongly overestimate the trustworthiness and get harmed.   Or one can underestimate the trustworthiness and miss a chance of a beneficial contact.    
The ignorance concerning the trustworthiness makes the interaction with strangers a risky endeavor.   But humans need social contact, risky or not.  
It is a dichotomous decision to either interact with someone or not.   This is based upon the personal threshold of the minimally required estimated trustworthiness.   This threshold is where the probable benefits are expected to be higher than the risk to be harmed.    

In the situation, when a realistic estimation of trustworthiness is not yet possible, tit-for-tat trust is an option.   One starts the interaction based upon an arbitrary estimation of average trustworthiness and behaves accordingly.   The experience of the other's behavior is then the basis of adjusting this as the basis for further decisions.    
Blind trust is the trusting person's individual predisposition as something to decide and to demand to have.  When trust is understood as estimated trustworthiness, it is interactive and adjusted following experience, it can be earned and forfeited.


This is a copy from my ERCP-blog.

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Tags: belief, faith, probability, trust

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Comment by Maruli Marulaki on November 8, 2011 at 11:01am

No need for further discussion.

We can only agree to disagree about how and by whom the meaning of words is defined.  

This is a topic for another blog entry.  

 

Comment by Asa Watcher on November 8, 2011 at 9:09am

I reckon  that the elimination of words from your vocabulary will certainly keep things at the superficial level of personal focus that you seem to desire.  

I guess I should have taken your second sentence at its word:

 

"My solution is to define, how I use these words." 

 

Yea, that fixes it.  No need for further discussion.

I regret wasting my time.

Comment by Maruli Marulaki on November 6, 2011 at 1:05pm

As already said, words serve communication.   I attempt to avoid misunderstanding by avoiding words with ambiguity due to disagreement between people as to the meaning.   My focus of commincation is both, the attempt to be correctly understood, and to avoid to be misunderstood in any specific way.   Therefore the word belief stays out of my use along with faith as far as it concerns any statements about myself.   This way I can avoid to be mistaken as having faith by people, who consider faith and belief as synonyma.  

The word 'expect' serves me perfectly well for all purpose, where you prefer 'believe'.  

Comment by Asa Watcher on November 6, 2011 at 12:48pm

As for your latest post, yes yes and yes, the advantages of an analytic  vs. a synthetic language is just as you point out:  subtlety and richness . . . 

 

“When people with little education and foreigners take words as synonyma, while others use them with subtle differences, this can lead to a lot of misunderstanding.”

 

Yea, but great poetry.

 

And greater potential to express specificity, but I am stating an opinion about linguistics in which I have neither competence nor deep understanding.  So I’ll shut up.

 

********* 

However, in response to your “Three statements” posting:

Well, first, the “belief” that I was referencing, was the belief in gravity . . . that, instead of rising toward the heavens, the brick will seek the earth, and that my “belief” in gravity is manifested by the reflex to move my toe.  

 

But what you have illustrated here is the richness of language to express and describe the personal experience of a smashed toe.  I do “believe” and “expect” and “am convinced” that the smashing of my toe will hurt me.  None of the three statements contains any ambiguity or contradiction. 

 

The problem we seem to have is that “belief”  the brick will fall and endanger my toe is somehow the same as “faith” that the brick will fall and endanger my toe.

I maintain that moving my toe is an exercise of “belief”, not an exercise of “faith”.

Comment by Maruli Marulaki on November 6, 2011 at 12:32pm

My focus is on communication.   Words are tools for communication.  As long as there are words without ambiguity available for common use, all is well.   Otherwise, when two or any limited number of people want to communicate, they can create and define words for their convenience.   As long as they agree upon a definition, they can communicate successfully, even if nobody else understands them.  

Comment by Maruli Marulaki on November 6, 2011 at 11:33am

We have different words because they have different meanings. 

English has more words than German and French together, because the Romans during their rule over Britain have added Latin words to the Germanic roots of English.    There is a lot of redundancy because of this. 

When two words from romanic and germanic roots have only very subtle differences in the meaning, like 'grateful' and 'thankful', this makes the correct language use difficult and a question of sophistication.   When people with little education and foreigners take words as synonyma, while others use them with subtle differences, this can lead to a lot of misunderstanding.  

Sometimes it seems preferable to have one a bit more fuzzy word like 'dankbar' and only elaborate further, when the subtle difference is important.  

Comment by Maruli Marulaki on November 6, 2011 at 11:05am

When I want to be comprehended without ambiguity, and there is not consent about the exact meaning of words, then I can either postpone talking about the topic, until a consent is reached, or I can define my personal use of words.   I prefer the second option.  

You have defined your meaning of 'belief'.   But what is in your understanding the difference between the three statements?

1.  I believe, that a brick dropped on my toe will hurt me.

2.  I expect, that a brick dropped on my toe will hurt me.

3.  I am convinced, that a brick dropped on my toe will hurt me.

Comment by Asa Watcher on November 6, 2011 at 10:51am

 

 

I hold the opinion (notice that I avoided the word “believe”) that one way we can resolve most disagreements is to simply agree about the meaning of the words we use.  I am not advocating rewriting the dictionaries or changing the nature of daily discourse, but,  for the purpose of discussing a particular subject, like the one you have brought up, we will continue to talk “around each other” unless we can, within this particular discussion, agree upon the meaning of the words we use.

You are to be congratulated for your mastery of English, and your observation is correct: 

 

“Some consider both words as synonymous, others have different implicit definitions.    This is unavoidable on an international forum.  For some like me, English is not a native language.   But as far as I know, there are subtle differences even between the English of the UK, Canada, the USA and Australia.”

 

To me, this just makes the common agreement on the meaning of words on this particular site all the more necessary, and I have, in the past, advocated for a lexicon for A/N discussions, so that when a person who lives in Australia uses a word, a person in Brazil can reference what we have agreed that word means.  Ambiguity is wonderful for artistic expression, but it is an enemy of consensus. 

We here at A/N can’t even agree about the definition of atheism.

     Your concern about what words mean is admirable, but your solution to this problem seems to be to stop using certain words, as you say in this case, “eliminate the word 'glauben' completely from my active language use”.

As a lover of language, I celebrate that there are so many words at my fingertips, and the understanding that we have these various words because they do express subtle, yet different, meanings that add to our ability to express ourselves.

We have different words because they have different meanings.  

To deny this is to deny ourselves a great and wonderful tool that can add to the richness of our communication.

I can’t imagine not being able to distinguish between faith and belief; yet, there seems to be  much resistance to making that distinction, or to nail down any definition of any word for the purpose of A/N discussions.

Like you, I have also thought to define myself as “apistic” which I have taken to mean lacking faith altogether, not just faith in the existence of god(s).  But the immediate reaction is something like “Oh, so you don’t believe in anything huh?”

The answer is “Of course, there are endless things I believe in, it is just faith I don’t choose to employ”.

I guess this is my folly.

Comment by Maruli Marulaki on November 5, 2011 at 8:23pm

Different people on AN are using words like 'belief' and 'faith' very differently.   Some consider both words as synonymous, others have different implicit definitions.    This is unavoidable on an international forum.  For some like me, English is not a native language.   But as far as I know, there are subtle differences even between the English of the UK, Canada, the USA and Australia.      

I wrote in the OP: My solution is to define, how I use these words.   While there is no general agreement on the exact meaning of words, the best way to avoid misunderstanding is to clarify at least my own use of words.  I did not intend to make general claims about the meanings.  This is, why I choose to make it a blog entry.

You have probably overlooked the important information, that in German, there is only ONE word for both, 'belief' and 'faith'.   Getting aware of being an atheist, I perceived it as a logical consequence to eliminate the word 'glauben' completely from my active language use.  After having learned statistics, I mentally replaced, what you define as belief, with the conscious estimation of probability.    I expect with 99.99999... probability, that my foot will hurt after dropping the brick.    To expect and to be convinced is probably my mental equivalent of your definition of belief.

This kind of probability thinking is a part of why I define myself not only as an atheist, but also as apistic.  

 

 

 

Comment by Asa Watcher on November 5, 2011 at 7:33pm

"In atheistic and sceptical discussion the words belief, faith and trust are often used with implicitly different meanings and this leads to misunderstandings."

 

With nothing but respect, Maruli, I disagree.

In the normal course of daily conversation, the words belief, and faith are, indeed, interchangeable and easily understandable. 

 

But when we are discussing this special subject which includes the idea of a supreme being, atheism, theism, and the history of world religions, distinguishing the different meanings of these words is necessary to clarify any examination of even what atheism is.

Belief and faith are two profoundly different things.

First, belief:

Here is an illustration: 

Maruli, I am of the notion that both you and I understand, as best we can, the great mechanism of the solar system, how the planets orbit around the sun, how our very earth journeys in its yearly ellipse, and rotates on its tilted axis.  Grasping this basic science, we understand that when we say “sunrise” it is not actually a reflection of reality, but, rather, shorthand . . . a convention, for expressing that the sun only appears to rise, and that actually it is our understanding that it is the earth’s rotation that causes us to hold the “belief” that the sun will “rise” tomorrow morning.  We do not need to engage “faith” which is an entirely different thing.

Another illustration:  

Drop a brick, you will move your toe.  It is not “faith”  but “belief” from past consistent experiences that if you don’t, it will hurt.

And Maruli,

I’ve never been to Germany.  I have no first hand experience of Germany what-so-ever.  But, I have seen pictures, I can find maps, I can communicate with people, like you, who live there,  and my Grandfather, John Bestvater, and my Grandma, Mary Brucks were born auf Deutschland.  I have a “belief” in the existence of your country.  It would be very silly for me to say “I have ‘faith’ in the existence of Germany”. 

     So, in daily conversation, you and I both understand that when someone says “I believe in God”  what they are really saying is “I have faith in the existence of a supreme being.”  God is the object of that faith.

Faith, it might be said, is only engaged when  evidence is lacking.

All religion is based on “faith”, not on “belief”.

We atheists share most of our daily “beliefs” with the rest of the world’s people.  What we don’t share with theists is faith.

And that distinction must be made when defining what atheism is.  Atheism is simply the “lack of faith in a supreme being”.

     Many of our fellow atheists try to hang all sorts of ornamentation on this simple idea.  Agnostics straddle the fence with their non committal: “I don’t know”  which is really, I perceive, simply an admission of not having faith. 

Atheism is a very simple thing when you understand and accept the difference between “belief” and “faith”. 

 

Trust lies somewhere outside the realm of faith and belief, and your assessment of the word seems pretty adequate.  On that, you’ll get no argument from me.


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