Sun | May 28, 2017

Faith: defined and defended

Published:Sunday | March 15, 2015 | 3:00 AMReverend Clinton Chisholm
Worshippers at a service at the Transform Life Church in Kingston.
Clinton Chisholm
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It may be rebutted, but it cannot be refuted that no one can live and no academic discipline can operate without faith, properly defined. This is a truism whether we are dealing with the tragicomedy within the Jamaica Labour Party or its People's National Party counterpart, Jamaica's 2030 vision or the outcome of the Tivoli enquiry.

Faith, like its twin sister, hope, is fragile but is a fundamentum in life; by that I mean it is absolutely foundational to human life. So you ask me, what then is faith in my book?

As I have argued in lecture theatres and urged in sermons, "Faith is belief, based on, but slightly in excess, of evidence". Hope, if you must know, is confident assurance about the 'not yet'.

Those who are familiar with Hebrews 11:1 may be wondering about the nature of my definition. For those who lack familiarity with the Bible, I'll quote that text then explain the difference between it and my approach to faith.

Hebrews 11:1, from the New Revised Standard Version, reads: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." My own translation would read: "Now faith is the grounding force, the undergirder (Greek: hypostasis = 'that which stands under') of what is hoped for, the confidence about what we are not now seeing."

The nuance to faith in this biblical text is essentially spiritual/practical. My definition of faith is essentially practical/philosophical and is applicable to even those who reject the biblical definition out of hand without careful examination of it.

Faith, I maintain, is belief, based on, but slightly in excess, of evidence. No academic discipline and no one can operate without faith! Christian Philosopher J.P. Moreland sees faith as: "...trust in what we have reason to believe is true." (In his book Love Your God with All Your Mind, 1997, p. 25)

As my Jamaican lawyer should know, in law, expecting to win a case in court, despite strong evidence pointing to conviction or loss in a civil suit, demands faith. Legal training, skill in advocacy and a track record of success are good evidential pointers to possible success, but faith is involved in the expectation. Without such faith, one's client would be advised to seek another lawyer.

In mathematics, the only academic discipline within which proof of the certainty kind is possible - and only because of the language-game nature of mathematics - faith is not absent. Take the series 1+1/2+1/4+1/8+1/16 ... .

As the number of terms tends to infinity, the sum tends to two. Put differently, as the sum of the number of terms gets larger and larger, the sum gets closer and closer to two.

The logic of the summation becomes certain and irrefutable only at infinity, which is a concept requiring an element of faith.

From a prestigious scientific discipline, ponder this faith-based and faith-stretching point: "... according to quantum physics, each particle has some probability of being found anywhere in the universe." (Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Great Design, 2010, p.73.)

Thomas in the New Testament refused to accept the report of his colleagues that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to them. Thomas refused to believe until he saw Jesus for himself, and not only that, but checked for bodily marks sustained by Jesus during his crucifixion (see John 20:24-28).

Our instinctive belief in a tomorrow or in any time yet future involves faith, but based on the evidence of uniform experience over time. Well, the universe could cease to exist by whatever means, and our faith in its continued existence would have been frustrated.

Even the person who commits suicide to bring an end to personal problems exercises faith and hope - faith/hope that there is no resurrection with accompanying rewards and punishment!