Faith and Doubt at the Cry of Dereliction: a Defense of Doxasticism

Abstract

Doxasticism is the view that propositional faith that p entails belief that p. This view has recently come under fire within analytic philosophy of religion. One common objection is that faith is compatible with doubt in a way that belief is not. One version of this objection, recently employed by Beth Rath (International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 81, 161–169, 2017), is to use a particular story, in this case Jesus Christ’s cry of dereliction, to argue that someone had propositional faith while ceasing to believe. Thus, doxasticism is false. Rath’s approach of analyzing a case from scripture has the advantage of allowing her to provide evidence for the claim that a subject had propositional faith but lost belief. However, I argue that Rath faces a dilemma: on the interpretation of the passage necessary for her argument, either Christ did lose his propositional faith that God was with him, or else he did not lose his belief that God was with him. Either way, she must reject a key premise in her argument.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For a recent defense of the view that faith is a type of belief, see Rettler (2018).

  2. 2.

    In this paper, I will focus exclusively on the Christian tradition.

  3. 3.

    From the Greek ‘pistis’ (noun) often translated ‘faith,’ though sometimes translated ‘belief.’ Rice, McKaughan, and Howard-Snyder define pistology as ‘the interdisciplinary study of the nature, value, and rationality of faith, where faith is thought of as a psychological attitude, state, or trait’ (2016: 2). See Smith (1998a, b) for a history of the use of words often translated as ‘faith.’

  4. 4.

    That faith is compatible with doubt in a way that belief is not is the basis of most non-doxastic theories of faith, including Audi’s (1991, 1993, 2008) non-reductive ‘fiduciary’ account, Pojman (1986) and McKaughan’s (2013) hopeful affirmation account, McKaughan’s (2016, 2017, 2018) action-centered account, Kvanvig’s (2013, 2016) view that faith is that which a faithful people do, Alston (1996, 2007) and McKaughan’s (2013) trusting acceptance account, Howard-Snyder’s (2013) view that faith is a complex of propositional attitudes, and Buchak’s (2012, 2020) risky commitment account.

  5. 5.

    For additional objections, see Pojman 1986, Audi 1991, Alston 1996, and Howard-Snyder 2013. See Mugg (2016) for an introductory outline of objections. For replies, see Mugg (2016), Malcolm and Scott (2017), and Malcolm (2017). See Rettler (2018) also for an argument for doxasticism. See Buchak (2020) for an overview of how doxastic and non-doxastic views of faith relate to the purported rationality of faith.

  6. 6.

    I can have a very strong belief that p while being aware of some reasons to doubt that p. For example, I am aware of the statistics of divorce rates, giving me some reason to think my marriage will fail, but I might still strongly believe my marriage will last. In response, it does not seem right to say that I ‘doubt’ that my marriage will last. This is because, as Moon (2018) points out, ‘doubts’ can be used as a count noun, as in the case concerning my marriage and the plan I am unsure of, or as a mental state. Moon (2018) goes on to argue for an analysis of doubt (as a mental state) according to which to doubt that p is for the subject to believe that they might be wrong about p. What is relevant for my purposes is that there is a sense of ‘doubt’ that is compatible with the subject believing.

  7. 7.

    Malcolm and Scott (2017: 261) make the same distinction, calling each doubt1, doubt2, and doubt3, respectively; I hope my nomenclature is more descriptive. Mugg (2016) makes a similar distinction. I do not take anything I have said here as an analysis of doubt; I am merely disambiguating. See Moon (2018) for an orthogonal taxonomy and analysis of doubt.

  8. 8.

    That faith is compatible with disbelief is agreed by nearly all non-doxasticists. Pojman (1986), Schellenberg (2005), and Whitaker (2019) are the only exceptions I know of.

  9. 9.

    As it happens, some doxasticists (e.g., Calvin and Luther), endorse this condition, but their view is precisely that faith is not compatible with high degrees of doubt, and so the argument from doubt carries no force against them.

  10. 10.

    Much hinges here on the nature and norms of belief. If belief that p implies (e.g.) that the subject believes that they know that p (see Huemer 2011 and Williamson 2013: 92), then doxasticism with this account of belief would imply that faith entails a claim to knowledge. However, this seems too strong a condition on belief, as it makes sense to talk of a subject believing a proposition even though that subject recognizes they do not know it. For example, one might sensibly say, ‘I believe it will rain tomorrow, given the forecast, but since the forecast could be wrong, I do not know.’ (see Hawthorne et al. 2016 for a further defense of this position.)

  11. 11.

    In fact, I may be making it more difficult to defend faith. The evidential standard for belief is presumably higher than many of the belief-like states that non-doxasticists have suggested can take the place of belief, such as acceptance, trust, or reliance.

  12. 12.

    See also Howard-Snyder’s comments on the cry of dereliction (Howard-Snyder 2016: 11–12).

  13. 13.

    This seems to be Calvin’s interpretation. Speaking of the cry, Calvin writes: ‘For feeling himselfforsaken by God, he did not waver in the least from trust in his goodness. This is proved by that remarkable prayer to God [the cry of dereliction]…For even though he suffered beyond measure, he did not cease to call him his God, by whom he cried out that he had been forsaken’ (Calvin 1960, vol 1, Book II, Chap. xvi, p. 520, emphasis mine).

  14. 14.

    On some strongly dispositionalist or interpretationalist views (such as Ryle’s), not believing that p and believing that not-p are identical. I leave these views to the side, as every philosopher I am engaging with here rejects these outlier positions.

  15. 15.

    A reviewer suggests that another way to understand Jesus’ use of the word ‘forsaken’ (sometimes translated ‘abandoned’) is more metaphorical: he is asking why God is not giving help. This interpretation has the advantage over a literal interpretation because it seems odd for Jesus to cry out to someone who he does not believe is present. However, this interpretation is not helpful for Rath’s purposes. God is not giving help, and Jesus surely believes this. In that case, Jesus believes that God is not giving help, and so he would not have faith that God is giving help.

  16. 16.

    Having the ability to detect x does not guarantee the use of that ability. However, in this case, Jesus’ cry gives us special reason to think that Jesus would have used whatever mechanism he could to detect God’s presence.

  17. 17.

    Cohen (1992) defines belief wholly in being disposed to have a feeling that p when considering that p. Alston (1996) and Howard-Snyder (2013) characterize belief partly in being disposed to feel that p obtains when one considers whether p.

  18. 18.

    Blake McAllister suggested to me that if Jesus has faith that God is with him, then God must actually be with him, since Jesus (according to Rath) is an exemplar of faith and exemplary faith is not in something false.

  19. 19.

    An anonymous reviewer suggests that one might cry out ‘I am utterly alone’ in the midst of a moment of utter agony, and this may be a sincere assertion even though the individual knows they are not actually alone. In this case, ‘the statement might be an emotional response uttered after the tragic death of a child or a horrendous accident that leaves one disfigured and disabled’ (anonymous reviewer). If Jesus is sincerely asserting in this emotional sense, then the evidence for the claim that Jesus lost his belief is undercut, since the assertion expresses his emotions rather than beliefs.

  20. 20.

    Might Rath defend herself using belief-credence dualism and claim that sincerely asserting p only entails credence rather than belief? Likely not. Assuming belief-credence dualism, assertions of belief would tend to be flat-out while assertions of credences would tend to be hedged. Jesus’ assertion seems flat-out rather than hedged. He does not say, for example, ‘Why does it seem likely that you have abandoned me?’ Also, even if Rath could marshal belief-credence dualism to defend her argument on this point, belief-credence dualism has also been used to argue for doxasticism (see Jackson 2019).

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Acknowledgements

Thank you to Blake McAllister, who gave me feedback on this paper, and Andrew Moon, who provided comments on this paper at the 2018 meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers. Thank you also to audience members at that meeting.

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Mugg, J. Faith and Doubt at the Cry of Dereliction: a Defense of Doxasticism. SOPHIA (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11841-020-00814-4

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Keywords

  • Faith
  • Belief
  • Doubt
  • Doxasticism
  • Non-doxasticism