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.