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Must something be unprovable to permit faith in it? Is it possible to have faith in something which is certain provable fact? If something is proven beyond any doubt can you still have faith in it? How?

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closed as off-topic by bruised reed, curiousdannii, fredsbend, Flimzy, Matt Gutting Nov 26 '14 at 17:20

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The second definition here: dictionary.reference.com/browse/faith answers your question. The definition of faith is that there is no absolute proof. –  El'endia Starman Sep 5 '11 at 21:58
So if the existence of god were proven, faith in him would not be possible. And equivalently, Since god demands that we believe in him with specifically with faith it is not possible to prove his existence? –  hippietrail Sep 5 '11 at 22:02
[chuckle] In essence, yes! In fact, the question you just asked there would be a better question to put here. –  El'endia Starman Sep 5 '11 at 22:04
@El'endia Starman: I want to take things in steps so that I don't assume too much and get things wrong. –  hippietrail Sep 5 '11 at 22:05
How do you define "faith"? –  rpeg May 30 '14 at 7:05

6 Answers 6

The much used ode to faith in the NT book of Hebrews tells us a little bit about what faith is. Here are the first couple verses:

Hebrews 11:1-3 (ESV)
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

The passage goes on to give many examples, but this bit helps us scope out a definition of faith that is somewhere between the two extremes you suggest in your question. First of all we see that there is assurance. True faith is not blind, it is based on evidence and knowledge. It is a kind of trust. Trust between two parties is established in past encounters but looks forward to the future knowing what to expect from the other party. Secondly it is a conviction. This doesn't have to be without any doubt (in fact many of the people listed as examples in the passage experienced doubt) but it does have to come to a conclusion and really believe/trust.

Faith is built on evidence and knowledge as well as a trust that enables us to be sure the parts we don't fully understand will work out.

Faith and proof are not mutually exclusive -- faith projects evidence of past events into the future.

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This seems to imply that the typically accepted dictionary definition of faith mismatches the Old Testament (at least) definition of faith. Would that be fair to say? –  hippietrail Sep 5 '11 at 22:10
@hippietrail: The OT and NT definitions are not really different, but yes they are very different than the dictionary definition. Some dictionaries have even worse mis-matches! –  Caleb Sep 5 '11 at 22:17
It's perfectly fine of course for dictionaries to describe languages from the perspective of how they are actually used rather than how they might apply to a given religion. It's important to highlight when usage of a word for a key concept has different meanings within your topic scope to its general meaning outside it, especially when they overlap. I don't think the fact of the mismatch can be construed as bad or worse, simply as a mismatch. And everybody should know about it. –  hippietrail Sep 5 '11 at 22:25
Sounds like Caleb and I are thinking along the same lines, I don't recall where I read this term: Faith means you trust the one who said it. Over the last 40 years I've leaned to trust what's written in the Bible. And I'm the kind of guy who enjoys learning the reasons why something is true. –  Mike from Elgin Sep 6 '11 at 1:27
One of the most beautiful definitions of faith i heard is from Andrew Wommack. He defines faith as "The positive response to grace(unmerited favor)" awmi.net/extra/article/living_balance –  Martin.kv Sep 2 '13 at 11:26

Something need not be unprovable for a person to have faith in it. For one thing, something might be provable but a person may not have access to the evidence. For example, if you flip a coin, I may have faith that it came up heads. This is certainly not unprovable -- someone can look at the coin. But if I haven't looked at the coin, then I can certainly have faith that it came up heads.

But even if something is provably true and a person has access to that proof, he could still believe the claim on the basis of faith as an independent source of belief. That is, the faith itself is not based on proof, but there is no reason the two sources of belief could not exist concurrently.

For example, if I have faith that a coin came up heads and then I look at it and see that it came up heads, nothing stops me from continuing to have that faith as well. Thus, if I found some error or defect in the proof, the belief would remain, sustained only by the faith.

When we say faith is "in the absence of evidence", we mean that evidence is not required for faith. But "independent of evidence" would perhaps be a more accurate term.

One can argue there is no need for faith if one has evidence. And it is true there is no need for faith to have the belief if one has evidence. But sometimes having the belief is not the only thing that's important. Sometimes the route is as important as the destination.

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The New Testament people of Jesus' day did not think faith and proof were mutually exclusive. They used reason to lead them to faith or against it:

John 7:27

"However, we know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from"

John 7:31

And many of the people believed in Him, and said, "When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?"

John 7:41-42

Others said, "This is the Christ," but some said, "Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?"

The people were not believing based on blind faith, but were comparing Jesus and His works against what the OT had to say about the Christ. God gave specific prophecies about the Messiah by which they could judge whether they should believe that He was the Christ or not. In other words, they used reason to seek proofs before faith.

Look at their reasoning: "When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?" That's pretty reasonable, since the Messiah will do certain kingdom-oriented miracles when He comes, and the Messiah could not do more or better miracles than were done by the hand of Jesus.

Also, "Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?" Once again, they judged His life by the Scripture, not blind trust (faith is trust; the element of proofs is not part of its definition any more than "believe" is defined by proofs). They did not know that He was indeed born in Bethlehem (southern Israel),]1 for He had been living in Nazareth and Capernaum (northern Israel -- [Matt. 4:13) after His family moved back from Egypt.

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In the Bible, faith means to be persuaded of something. How one comes by that persuasion is not part of the definition. Same with believing - how one comes to believe is not part of the definition. You can sincerely believe something and be sincerely wrong. You can also use logic, reasoning, and proofs to come to faith, to persuasion, of something. –  Steve May 31 '14 at 12:35

Are faith and proof mutually exclusive?

Vines definition of "faith"

Faith [ 1,,G4102, pistis ] primarily, firm persuasion," a conviction based upon hearing (akin to peitho, "to persuade"), is used in the NT always of "faith in God or Christ, or things spiritual."

If the Greek definition is used, then faith is that in which we trust. Most of what we are persuaded to trust in comes from our experience as "proof". For example, a person may plop himself down in a chair that has held him many times in the past. His faith is demonstrated in that he does not examine it each time he sits in it.

If a person believes in God, he has experienced, received, or is persuaded that God not only exists but is worthy of his trust. One may criticize the person because you feel the person has faith with insufficient "proof", however, it is up to each person to decide how much "proof" is sufficient.

2 Timothy 1:12 For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

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You are buying into atheist ideology if you think that there is no proof or evidence for God's existence

Must something be unprovable to permit faith in it? Is it possible to have faith in something which is certain provable fact?.

No I do not think so. When New Testament scholars decide on the validity of Jesus' resurrection they do so on the basis of historical facts.

What are these facts I can imagine someone ask?

  1. Well the first fact is that Jesus was crucified around around 30 AD. (This is probably the most uncontroversial fact about Jesus.) There are various 1st century historians like Josephus that attest to this and of course all the eye witness accounts in the NT.
  2. Then after a few days his tomb was found empty by some of his woman followers. The account of which we find in Luke 23:55-24:11 .

Now we are left with an event that needs explaining.

How did the tomb become empty?

Many New Testament scholars posit then the idea that his bodily resurrection was the best explanation for this empty tomb. Now not everyone might believe this and it does not prove the resurrection to everyone, but it definitely gives sound and rational basis for a belief in Christ's divinity.

We are very privileged as Christians to have a religion that makes historical claims that are not ambiguous by nature but can be verified on a historical basis.

So in closing. No I do not think faith and proof are mutually exclusive. I think you need proof to have any conviction in the miraculous and I think we have that.

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I don't think that concluding an empty tomb being proof of a resurrection is anywhere near rational, there are so many other possibilities. Another problem is that you relied on the Bible to conclude there was a body in a tomb in the first place which is a problem (circular reasoning?) since the Bible is the thing in question. –  CiscoIPPhone Sep 9 '11 at 17:14
The empty tomb needs explaining and without going into detail about all the theories about that I just skipped to the general consensus. –  Neil Meyer Sep 10 '11 at 8:43
What is "atheist ideology"? Is "buying into" a negative act? Should one "buy into" Christian ideology? –  hippietrail May 31 '14 at 3:16

It depends what you mean by "faith".

When regarding religious matters, the most typical definition of "faith", used by religious and non-religious alike--and I'd argue this is the most useful definition in these cases--is: belief in the absence of evidence (and I mean the post-Enlightenment understanding of evidence: independently confirmed by high quality sources, objective, fits into a successful model of the way nature works, reproducible or repeatedly observed, stands up to testing, etc.)

Under this definition, then, the answers to your questions would be:

Must something be unprovable to permit faith in it?

Either unprovable or as yet unproved.

Is it possible to have faith in something which is certain provable fact?

With this definition, no; then it is no longer an act of holding faith, it is an act of knowing.

If something is proven beyond any doubt can you still have faith in it? How?

No, not with this definition.

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On what basis do you decide that the most useful definition is belief in the absence of evidence? I think you're completely wrong. When people say that they have faith in their spouse for example, they are saying they trust someone on the basis of past experience. I think that is the most common meaning of faith. –  curiousdannii May 31 '14 at 0:56
@curiousdannii Please note my prefatory clause: "When regarding religious matters". I made sure to put that to distinguish it between other uses of the word "faith". Religious faith is generally used to mean believing in something despite having no evidence (in the way I defined it above) for it. A good example is from Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." –  Chelonian May 31 '14 at 6:39
@Chelonian Isn't this why there are problems sorting out faith and reason in the first place? Once the definitions are obtained from legitimate sources, objections are cleared up. If I assumed the popular idea that man evolved from ape, it would be accepted as fact by the public, though now many scientists are saying that we both evolved from a common ancestor. Confusion comes by getting the definitions and terms from an improper source, from popular usage or opinion. See my comment elsewhere for the correct definition of faith. –  Steve May 31 '14 at 13:47
@Steve I feel that when it comes to definitions, in the end, the usage is what matters. If people start using "banana" to refer to a cat, then eventually the definition of "banana" is one of those furry sharp toothed things. I do think if you did a thorough study of the usage of the religious meaning of "faith" in the last 2000 years, it just doesn't match well to the idea of proof in the way I defined it above. Which is fine, because that is part of Christianity, as the quote from Paul I gave shows--Christianity does ask the believer to believe things unseen. –  Chelonian Jun 2 '14 at 17:18

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