Is faith synonymous with self-delusion?

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Meleagar
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Post by Meleagar » July 11th, 2011, 7:04 am

Definitions of faith from dictionary.com:
1. confidence or trust in a person or thing
2. belief that is not based on proof
I doubt either of these are controversial or a form of "self-delusion". I think the more pertinent question is, why do anti-theists continually attempt to deride and belittle those who have religious or spiritual faith by equivocating it with such invective as "delusion"?

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Post by Ed » July 11th, 2011, 9:22 pm

Any irrational-based beliefs (faith) would naturally be distressing to someone that subscribes to a purely rationalistic program. All atheistic systems, it would at least appear to me, are purely rationalistic in basis. Granted, faith-based beliefs are irrational, they are just really bad to the rationalist, or more pointedly here, the atheist. As far as the name calling. Well, people are...

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Post by Meleagar » July 12th, 2011, 10:47 am

Ed wrote:Any irrational-based beliefs (faith) would naturally be distressing to someone that subscribes to a purely rationalistic program. All atheistic systems, it would at least appear to me, are purely rationalistic in basis. Granted, faith-based beliefs are irrational, they are just really bad to the rationalist, or more pointedly here, the atheist. As far as the name calling. Well, people are...
Atheism is a necessarily irrational position for many reasons.

If we are talking about strong atheism, or the claim that there is no god, then one would be in the position of supporting a universally negative claim - which is innately irrational.

If we are talking about weak atheism, or the claim that there is not sufficient evidence to warrant belief in god as opposed to the contrary, then one merely has to weigh the balance of evidence; as far as I know, no evidence has been presented that no god of any sort exists, and a titanic amount of evidence - testimonial, anecdotal, empirical (as first-hand experience), logical (the various arguments for god), and scientific (the fine-tuning evidence) - has been presented for the existence of some kind of god.

When such evidence is challenged, it must be noted that all one is doing is finding alternative explanations and weaknesses in the tidal wave of evidence for god, and one is not presenting any positive evidence for the non-existence of some sort of god.

So, on balance, however well one argues against the evidence for god, no matter how weak one considers it; it is still more evidence than that which supports the contrary view - that no god of any sort exists.

Thus, even weak atheism cannot be supported rationally. The only rational "non-theistic" perspective available is that god might exist, but one doesn't find the evidence compelling - and that position cannot be described as "atheistic"; it is properly described as "agnostic".

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Post by Ed » July 12th, 2011, 12:03 pm

The word 'rationally', is clearly being used in different ways between us. I'm using it to describe a system that strictly employs empirical evidence, deductive&inductive support and calculation, at broad. That is, systems based here, both good and bad. Not that I personally want to address the tenability of an atheistic thesis.

The best I can make out, you, Meleager, are using "rationally" to describe something more similar to 'persuasive' or 'compelling'.

But I don't think this is a revealing way to use the word. Especially if you're calling systems that are designed as famously rationalist projects, as irrational. If you take 'rational' in the first sense that I was initially using, this clearly would not be accurate.

You had said that Universal claims are not tenable. Which, if you mean much in the same way that the Pyrrhonian cautions the Academic, I'd say certainly that's a good consideration. But if indeed this is what you mean, it is difficult to apply this critique to the rationalist. Withholding assent to all propositions does not allow the rationalist to function. Hume encountered this problem with his discussion on Testimony in his Treaties (or Enquiry- I can't remember exactly)*. That said, I think that a 'hard atheist' could very well hold a universal claim iff that claim is understood by that agent as being the most persuasive case. Not to say that the agent is saying that that proposition is in fact, extensively true.

(*)The rationalist cannot afford himself those epistemic concerns branching from the problem of induction. It is those very inductive inferences that allows a rationalist the capacity to be, well, rational. That said, I don't think that a person embarking on a rationalistic enterprise would be very successful if they didn't allow for the uniformity of experience and governing laws.

As far as the evidentiary support for or against the existence of God. I don't really care to address that here. While arguments developed by Saint Augustine and his latter Saint Aquinas provide compelling cases for a God, there are still many problems for the 'AAA' God that we find at the heart of most contemporary, monotheistic systems.

These are all things that are perhaps best addressed in a different thread.

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Post by Meleagar » July 12th, 2011, 2:38 pm

Ed wrote:You had said that Universal claims are not tenable.
Actually, I said universally negative claims. The universal claim "frogs exist" is tenable; the universally negative claim "frogs do not exist" is not a tenable claim.
Withholding assent to all propositions does not allow the rationalist to function.
I'm not withholding assent to all propositions. I'm pointing out that there is no rational support for any universally negative claim that doesn't involve a patent logical contradiction. For instance, I can claim "there are no squares with three sides in existence", and rationally support that claim, but "there is no god" is entirely untenable.

The question is about whether or not faith is synonymous with delusion. I don't think the standard, accepted definitions of faith point, in any way, towards delusion. Since it seems that the point (and the point of other posts here) was to equate "faith" with "belief in god", my counter-point here was to show that both strong and weak atheism requires more faith (belief without evidence) than theism.

So, if increased levels of faith (without evidence) points to delusion, the atheists would be (all other things being equal) more deluded than theists, because their position requires more unevidenced faith.

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Post by Ed » July 12th, 2011, 4:05 pm

Axiomatic or Universal propositions speaking to the nature of all of some class in all realities (notated “∀ x”) cannot be evidentiary supported neither in the affirmative nor the negative. On the other hand, extensive propositions (notated “∃ x”) detail that there is in existence, at least one of a certain class that shares such and such characteristic, and can be borne out.

Asking if God exists it traditionally is understood as making an ∀ proposition. The truth-value of which cannot admittedly be assessed. This is the proposition claiming that nowhere, in no reality does a God exist. But it is not necessary that we make an ∀ proposition regarding God’s existence.

We can contrast this against the ∃ proposition you used offered: ‘frogs exist’. There is evidential support to this extensive claim in this reality. But if you were to transmute this into an ∀ proposition, it would not hold. This is because we can imagine at least one world in which frogs do not exist. Therefore, the truth-value of proposition “∀ x: frogs exist” is indeterminable.

But this is not what your example reflected, so we are to assume that you are discussing about existential propositions. Inasmuch, we would hold any proposition to the same existential standard.

Someone can very well say though that God doesn’t exist in this reality. “∃ x: God does not exist”. This claim is completely tenable granted that there is not observable factual evidence that contradicts it. Evidence that the atheist at least would certainly maintain, we do not have.

Returning, faith does not have evidence. Faith is proof-less. A belief that has no proof, for someone that is only assessing things in terms of evidence, will obviously not appreciate said belief.

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Re: Is faith synonymous with self-delusion?

Post by rainchild » July 13th, 2011, 3:10 am

No, faith is not synonymous with self-delusion; it is commitment to beliefs or actions based on insufficient data. It is trust in given claims, rather than the discovery that the given claims are true.

A lot of what passes for faith these days is self-delusion; creationism among Christian and Islamic fundamentalists is but one example. This represents belief
in claims that have been proven false.

However, the existence or non-existence of an invisible transcendental deity is another matter. Although the existence of a deity may be verifiable in principle, it is not verifiable for the foreseeable future, as there isn't even any agreement about what would constitute evidence for or against a deity, notwithstanding Dawkins' historically and theologically ignorant equation between honest Christianity and Christian fundamentalism, the latter being a nineteenth century innovation.

I do not personally have any faith in the Abrahamic God, but I have faith in a great many other things. For example, I have faith that I can hold up my end of my marriage. Since I don't have a working crystal ball, I do not know this to be true. But I choose to believe it, with the hope that this belief may fulfill itself.

As psychotherapist Sheldon Kopp once observed, our important decisions are often made on the basis of insufficient data. I would add that this makes faith an important life-skill.

Let's review your first example: The woman who discovers strange woman's underwear in the master bedroom may have evidence that her husband is cheating on her, but what if her faith in her husband is later vindicated by the revelation that he cross-dresses? Or that the underwear belongs to their teenaged son's girlfriend? The woman's presumption of her husband's innocence only becomes self-delusion if the evidence (e.g. the woman's walking in on her husband in bed with his mistress) is definitive. Otherwise, the woman's assumption is merely loyal.

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Post by Belinda » July 13th, 2011, 3:56 am

But trust in husbands, while it may turn out to be justified by the facts,may also be so misplaced that the marriage is jeopardised by the hypothetical wife's gullible adoration of a fallible man.

Trust in some particular versions of God is better than this, because God by definition is not fallible but is always wise and unendingly kind.Thus, this version of God is not of the world as are husbands, but is a projection of the best that the worshipper can imagine.This best-that-can-be-imagined is worthy of trust since it cannot be jeopardised in any circumstances except the death of the imaginer.
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Post by Scott » July 13th, 2011, 8:04 pm

Belinda, in regards to my examples from the original post, you say that the mother and wife may be optimistic about their relatives based on past experience with them. But like a defense attorney using character witnesses or a prosecutor using prior events (i.e. showing the the accused has a history of committing similar acts), that would be evidence. In which case the wife/mother's optimistic belief would be based on evidence rather than faith. You go on to say that maybe the hold the optimistic belief because they have so much to lose if the relatives are actually untrustworthy, but that would be a wishful thinking fallacy on the part of the wife/mother, and to knowingly base a belief on such a fallacy would be self-delusion; would it not? Perhaps, that's your point since you mention a way that "trust in god" is based on "naive optimism." I take naive optimism to be another way of saying wishful thinking.

***

Emptyspace, you claim that all or at least most of our beliefs are delusional. I would agree only to the existent most of "our beliefs" are based merely on faith as opposed to evidence. If a belief is based on evidence, then I do not see how it can be delusional let alone self-delusional, since delusion is more than simply believing a proposition that happens to be false. In contrast, if a proposition is believed by one despite the evidence indicating the opposite, then one is believing it out of faith. Moreover, we both indeed agree that that is an instance of self-delusion.

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Maelstrom, can you please explain the definitional difference between 'non-blind faith' and 'blind faith' as you mean the terms in post #4?

***

Zettel_, in regard to your example, you say you may believe your friend didn't steal based on your knowledge of his personal integrity, but your knowledge of his personal integrity is evidence, so you would be basing your beliefs on evidence not on faith. Indeed, you wouldn't be delusional but would be making a reasonable guess based on the evidence available to you at time; a belief you would change if you became aware of enough contrary evidence. You go on to say, "if I express faith in X when there's no evidence for it and compelling evidence against it then I may be thought to be self-delusional..." That is my position and answers the question I asked in the OP.
Zettel_ wrote:Also, "to have faith in" is sometimes closely related to "to hope that".
Source please.

***

Algol, you seem to me to be contending that a person can only self-delusional when they believe something that has been proven false. Am I understanding you correctly? If so, then I have to flat out disagree. Consider my examples in the OP, there is neither proof that the faithful mother or proof that the faithful wife are wrong, but are they not self-delusional considering all the evidence that both their respective beliefs are wrong and the utter lack of evidence that either of their respective beliefs is true? Consider a schizophrenic believes she won the lottery, but I secretly slip a winning lottery ticket into her pocket, is she not delusional simply because her non-evidence-based belief happens to be true? Does diagnosing her as delusional really depend on proving she hasn't won the lottery or merely demonstrating that her belief is in grave contrast to all available evidence albeit evidence that is slightly short of proof?

***

TheThinkingMan, I appreciate your comments, but do you have any arguments or evidence to backup your assertions?

***
Zettel_ wrote:In any case, I think this whole discussion is hamstrung by the vagueness of the concept of "having faith".
I thought my OP was clear in distinguishing the two concepts of 'believing something because of the evidence' as opposed to 'believing something in spite of the evidence and defending the belief by calling it faith.' I'm sorry if that wasn't clear enough to provide the context to avoid equivocating the word faith. To clear that up, let me say I am using this definition of faith taken from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: "Faith: Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence." That is the only definition from that dictionary that seems to apply in the epistemological context of this discussion.

***
Spectrum wrote:If she sees the husband naked with the another woman in a room, and insist he is not cheating, it may not be delusional if her intuition and other experiences are strong. It may turned out the husband was kidnap and place there for a blackmail plot.
Two things:

Firstly, if her belief is based on 'other experiences' it may indeed be based on evidence. Again, I would compare this to the use of character witnesses and prior conduct in court trials, e.g. the fact that a person accused of committing a robbery in 2010 is known to have committed a robbery in 2009 and a couple robberies in 2008 could be evidence (albeit very weak evidence on its own) that he is guilty of the accused crime.

Secondly, if we are judging whether a person is reasonable or unreasonable or delusional or not delusional, I don't think it matters what turns out to be true or what we know to be true based on the evidence available to us. Rather it depends on how much their belief makes sense based on the evidence available to them at the time. A nutty unreasonable conspiracy theorist's crazy claim may turn out to be true, but that doesn't mean he is reasonable or that the process that caused him to believe the conspiracy theory was reasonable. A schizophrenic may hallucinate a murder occurring and call the police, if it turns out as a a one-in-a-billion coincidence an almost identical murder occurred at the same time nearby that doesn't mean the schizophrenic isn't schizophrenic or his hallucination wasn't a hallucination.

***

Wanabe, you claim that "not in all cases is faith self-delusion." Can you give me some examples of cases in which one believes something not based on the evidence but based on what they call faith that is not self-delusional?

***

Withoutpeers, you say faith is more synonymous with optimism than delusion. I'll assume you do not intend to create a false dichotomy, i.e. obviously there is a such a thing as optimistic delusion or delusional optimism. This is heavily related to the wishful thinking fallacy. Although, I wouldn't say someone is basing a belief on faith as opposed to evidence when the person accidentally commits a fallacy such as the wishful thinking fallacy. Nor would I call such a person delusional. In contrast, if the person knows they are committing a fallacy or otherwise if the person realizes the evidence is to the contrary of their optimistic belief but still chooses to believe the optimistic thing despite a lack of evidence for it and/or the presence of strong evidence against, then is that not self-delusion and is that self-delusion not what a person is referring to when he or she explains a belief by saying something like, 'I realize there is no evidence for it and that there is evidence to the contrary, but I just have [optimistic] faith'?

***

Foszae, I am interested in your assertion that self-delusion is the externalization of a internal faith in one's own memory. I am particularly interested in the issue of comparing brain firings as you mentioned. Can you please post some sources?

***

Ed,

Do you know of any particular passages by Kierkegaard that address the issue of delusion?

***

Meleagar,

I'm not sure what your comments about theists or "anti-theists" have to do with this discussion. The OP does not deal with religion or religious belief. Even the examples in the OP of faith do not deal with anything religious, but rather with infidelity and job interviews. Your quoting of definitions, that don't seem to me to apply in the context of the OP or almost any particularly epistemological context, hasn't helped me answer the questions asked in the OP such as: "If someone claims to believe something merely out of faith, is that person simply admitting to being in denial? If a person believes a proposition because the person believes the personally known evidence indicates that the proposition is true, then the person does not believe it out of faith but rather because of the evidence. [...] when a person genuinely admits that they do not have enough evidence to support their position, what is that? We may call it faith, but is it not self-delusional?"

Incidentally, I think this definition from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language fits best in a epistemological context: "Faith: Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence."
Meleagar wrote:Since it seems that the point (and the point of other posts here) was to equate "faith" with "belief in god"...
What about the OP made you think that?

***

rainchild
rainchild wrote:Since I don't have a working crystal ball, I do not know[...]
But believing something without knowing it is not necessarily faith. (That is in the epistemological sense of the word faith which I think is adequately defined by The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language as "Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.") There can be a lot of evidence that something is true but not proof; thus one can believe something based on the evidence as opposed to on faith but still without knowing and absolutely proving that thing. Consider OJ Simpson's trial. There was quite a lot of evidence given that he was guilty, but the jury believed it still wasn't enough evidence to amount to proof. Yet many people believe OJ was guilty, not out of faith, but because of the evidence.
rainchild wrote:The woman who discovers strange woman's underwear in the master bedroom may have evidence that her husband is cheating on her, but what if her faith in her husband is later vindicated by the revelation that he cross-dresses?
As I told the others who made the point regarding later vindication, I do not think that that really matters as to whether a person is reasonable or unreasonable or not and whether a belief is delusional, reasonable, unreasonable, etc. Consider this example: You buy a lottery ticket for $1 and then I say I have faith you will probably win even though the available evidence indicates you have about a 1 in a billion chance of winning; you say to me well if you think this lottery ticket is going to probably win millions of dollars then you wouldn't mind paying me $100 for it. Say I do pay you $100. And say you pull this same scam on a thousand other people. Now say out of sheer coincidence the ticket you sold me actually wins. Does that mean I made a smart or reasonable decision? Does that mean I was smarter than the other 1,000 people who fell for the same scam but didn't get unusually lucky and win by coincidence? Does that mean I am less delusional then those other fools because I got lucky after the fact? No of course not. Whether a person's belief or decision is reasonable or not reasonable or delusional or delusional depends on the evidence available to that person at that time, not on evidence or proof we find out after the fact or known to some other observer.
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Post by rainchild » July 13th, 2011, 11:17 pm

It occurs to me that the foreseeable possibility of later vindication or refutation is relevant to whether a belief is self-delusional or not.

In your lottery-scam example, the odds against winning the lottery can be known in advance by anyone who plays it, making faith in the certainty of winning the lottery self-delusional even, as you rightly point out, if the self-deluded party has a winning ticket.

However, the odds against later vindication in the case of the possibly-betrayed wife are not necessarily known in advance. A cross-dressing husband may be a long shot--the teenaged son and his girlfriend trysting in his parents' bed is far less so.

One can't call a belief unsupported by evidence self-delusional if the odds of said belief being true or false are not known at the time that the believer accepts the belief.

The idea that belief in God is self-delusion is even more problematic than the faith of the possibly-betrayed wife. Delusion is belief despite evidence to the contrary. What counts as current evidence against the existence of an omnipresent yet non-material and unobservable being?

It may be methodologically unsound to believe in such a being--Occam wouldn't want us to multiply entities beyond necessity after all. But this is an entirely different criticism than the self-delusion argument.

Finally, while later vindication may be irrelevant to whether a belief is unjustified at a certain time, it is of course relevant to whether a claim is true. Thus, the self-delusion argument is a criticism of theists, not theism.
As I told the others who made the point regarding later vindication, I do not think that that really matters as to whether a person is reasonable or unreasonable or not and whether a belief is delusional, reasonable, unreasonable, etc. Consider this example: You buy a lottery ticket for $1 and then I say I have faith you will probably win even though the available evidence indicates you have about a 1 in a billion chance of winning; you say to me well if you think this lottery ticket is going to probably win millions of dollars then you wouldn't mind paying me $100 for it. Say I do pay you $100. And say you pull this same scam on a thousand other people. Now say out of sheer coincidence the ticket you sold me actually wins. Does that mean I made a smart or reasonable decision? Does that mean I was smarter than the other 1,000 people who fell for the same scam but didn't get unusually lucky and win by coincidence? Does that mean I am less delusional then those other fools because I got lucky after the fact? No of course not. Whether a person's belief or decision is reasonable or not reasonable or delusional or delusional depends on the evidence available to that person at that time, not on evidence or proof we find out after the fact or known to some other observer.
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Post by Belinda » July 14th, 2011, 5:04 am

Scott wrote in the OP
My question is simple. Is faith just another word for self-delusion? Or in another way of saying, if someone claims to believe something merely out of faith, is that person simply admitting to being in denial?
Ed, in the following post, has it right, that faith doesn't claim to be rational,doesn't claim to believe something based on evidence for it. Faith is not trust either because it loves something although it cannot even trust that something to be beneficent, does not know where it resides, and does not even know if any evidences of goodness acting in the world will present themselves. Acting from a faith position is based upon unconditional love for the object of love. One's dear friends and relatives are often objects of love and because they are human they can quite easily betray the love and trust, that is to say, they can and frequently do betray the faith we have in them.

Scott's original examples of objects of faith, the husband and the job-seeker, may also be objects of wishful thinking, because it was always possible that they would not justify the faith that the wife, and the mother, had in them.

God is most often the object of faith under discussion. Since God, unlike husbands and job seekers, does not exist, it is impossible for God to betray anyone's faith in him. It is also impossible for God to be the object of wishful thinking because God does not exist and cannot reasonably be expected to provide evidence of his existence or benevolence.

Those people who trust against all evidence and common sense, in the impossible perfection of good, are often able to raise themselves up to better things by means of this skyhook. Skyhooks, as Dennet rightly explains, don't apply to the material world, but they do apply to human psychology.

In this regard, Jesus Christ , and the Holy Koran, are not evidences of God's existence, but are what some people believe to be the best revelations of something which is forever inscrutable and, in a scientific age, to which faith is the only approach.
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Post by wanabe » July 14th, 2011, 1:38 pm

Scott,
1) When a person is optimistic. If a person believes something without evidence, or with little evidence, that is not delusional. 1a) If a thing is simply being doubted by others, it is not delusional to believe the opposite, or something else.

2) If of course there are mounds of evidence contrary to the belief then is delusional.

It is a far stretch to go from optimism to self delusion; where that line lies exactly depends on the scenario. In delusion the mind has been mislead; in faith the mind is making its own path.
Scott wrote:My question is simple. Is faith just another word for self-delusion?
This would correspond to 2 above.
Or in another way of saying, if someone claims to believe something merely out of faith, is that person simply admitting to being in denial?
This falls in to category 1 above.

Even if to you faith is just self delusion, you cannot say that it is not useful at times. Think of the countless people who have bettered their lives out of faith in one thing or another. Faith allows us to press on against insurmountable odds, and often enough emerge victorious. Better to try and fail then not to try at all.
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Post by Ed » July 14th, 2011, 3:47 pm

Scott,
Kierkegaard does not talk about self-delusion in the way it has been discussed here. Moreover, he would not believe that you are talking about true 'faith' at all, at least in the manner it has been used here. If you're looking for where he delineates the principles features of his view on 'faith', I would read his Fear and Trembling.

Much of his discussion chastises the modern impressions of what faith is. His project is not reconciling faith with rationalistic expectation, but show how faith can be tool for procuring a contented subjective experience in one’s lifetime. But Kierkegaard is an Existentialistic writer, so this project would certainly be analytically presumed of him in some degree.

If you are considering faith as delusion, I’m afraid you have already chosen sides. The faithful, that is, those that embrace what Kierkegaard calls faith, never admit delusion into their considerations. It is simply not useful for what faith purposes to accomplish. The rationalist and the faithful purpose diametrically opposed programs.

The faithful intend to give their subjective experience meaning by become content with it.
The rational intend on understanding in some degree the objective state of their experience.

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Faith versus delusion

Post by Tom Kirkham » August 5th, 2011, 10:40 am

Since we (mankind) tend to be a 'rational' race, we will weigh the evidence before deciding on our belief in something. Evidence can be clear and objective, such as a knife with someone's fingerprints on it. Or, evidence can be subjective and perhaps untrustworthy, such as 'I was told by someone who saw the knife that they knew it was owned by a particular person'.

And, besides evidence, we consider what we DESIRE the outcome or state to be, independent of the evidence.

So, I see 'Faith' as representing our Desire, tempered by rationalizing the evidence. A strong desire with little tangible evidence may lead one to adopt a strong faith in the outcome.

Delusion I see as a desired state that does not have the support of tangible evidence and perhaps even has tangible evidence against the desired state such as similar states that have clearly different outcomes than the one desired. It would be faith in a lie.

In both cases, one needs to reach a clear outcome in order to demonstrate whether or not the belief one has is truthful or a delusion. Sometimes, this cannot be reached in our lifetime. But this does not mean that what we call 'faith' is actually a delusion. A delusion ultimately would be proven to be a lie.

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Post by Link K2B » August 10th, 2011, 6:54 pm

Faith and knowledge are the same thing as belief, there is no different. They are all words for the same operation.

The word knowledge confers accurate belief, faith confers instinctive belief, but the adjectives are unnecessary as they are simply value judgements.

They all carry out the same operation in our heads and that is believing something to be true or false or probable or improbable or black or white. They are conceptual propositions. How they got there and why they remain is largely irrelevant, they all fulfill the same purpose.

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