Friday, January 29, 2010

The Misuse of the word "Faith" Reproduced

The following was found on this forum written by a user by the name of MRiedl: I feel it necessary to reproduce it as a great many people do not understand how definitions and words work and do not understand how to argue concepts.

A lot of times on these forums I have heard the word "Faith" applied in two separate incorrect ways.

As such, I am going to make the attempt to explain exactly why misusing the word eventually boils down to a straw man argument.

For those not familiar with the straw man fallacy, it is, in simplest terms, to misrepresent your opponent's position and argue against that misrepresented position.

It is considered a fallacy because you never actually argue against your opponent's position.


The first and most common method of misusing the word Faith is to use the word without regard for definition. Let's begin by looking at the definition:

faith - Definitions from


1.confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another's ability.

2.belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.

3.belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.

4.belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.

5.a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.

6.the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.: Failure to appear would be breaking faith.

7.the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one's promise, oath, allegiance, etc.: He was the only one who proved his faith during our recent troubles.

8.Christian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved. —Idiom faith, in truth; indeed: In faith, he is a fine lad.
Now, let's break it down into the related groups of definitions:

#'s 1, 4, 6, 7, and 9 all relate to concepts like trust and fidelity.

#2 is a special case.

#'s 3, 5, and 8 are all purely religious terms.


As for the top set of definitions, they rarely apply to these matters. Faith is something of a loaded word, and as such, a lot of people like myself shy away from using it because there is a great deal of potential for misunderstanding.

Admittedly I could say "I have faith in the scientific method."

However, I would typically say something like "I have a great deal of confidence in the scientific method."

It's essentially the same thing as faith definition #1, but it lacks the potential for misinterpretation.

Now, when the word Faith is used in these forums, it is typically used either as a religious term, or as #2. Part of the problem is that this is rarely defined specifically.

I have often heard assertions like: "Evolution is a religion which requires faith." where they could be trying to apply either definition #2 or any of the religion specific definitions to it.

The big problem with these assertions is that they are woefully inaccurate.

For an example, I highly doubt that there is a single Atheist here who thinks of evolution as a religion. Similarly, I have yet to see an evolutionist fail to cite evidence as the reason for their belief in evolution.

As such, faith is not a part of their argument, at least as far as the aforementioned definitions go. If you want to dispute the validity of the evidence that is cited, by all means do so. The argument that someone is using faulty evidence is very different from the assertion that they are going without evidence, and faith only applies to the latter.

In other words, you are not actually arguing against the position of your opponent, and you are building a Straw Man.


The other, thankfully less common misapplication of the word faith is when people make up their own definition.

Honestly, it just doesn't work. The reason should be obvious. The reader hasn't the slightest clue what your personal definition of the word is. How could they?

You could just as effectively type in random letters as a definition, as the result is exactly the same.

Instead, if you have your own special definition for something like this; please, in the interest of effective communication, just describe it in your own words.


To conclude, I would just like to say that intentionally misusing the word faith as such is only really a propaganda tool, and a rather ineffective one at that. There is really very little that can be done about such of course. That just leaves individuals who are misusing the word unknowingly, at whom this essay is directed.

Whenever I see an assertion like "Evolution is a religion that requires faith." I dismiss it as the rhetoric it is. Why? Because it is demonstrably incorrect and has nothing to do with the arguments involved.

Similarly, I would extend an appeal to people in general to endeavor always to address your opponent's actual arguments when you discuss things. Otherwise you aren't really arguing with them at all.

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