Thursday, February 27, 2014
Faith vs. trust and morals vs. ethics
I was recently listening to a debate between the YouTube skeptic AronRa and Ray Comfort. At one point in the talk Ray Comfort asked AronRa if had had a wife (which he does) and Ray went off on this tangent about both AronRa having to have faith in his wife AS WELL as not being able to prove that she existed (I think they were separate arguments, but they kind of ran together in Ray's ramblings). If you'd like, you can here the whole thing here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZ9OyxAiehk
It stuck me as odd. In the intervening periods since I saw that I have become more acutely aware of theists making two points which bother me. First, that being an atheist requires faith, and second that atheists can't be moral without god. The part about both of these topics that bothers me is what seems like a (what "seems to me" like a) deliberate misinterpretation of the terms faith and morals. So I want to try and make it clear how I use the terms in contrast with their similar counterpoints (faith/trust and morals/ethics) and hopefully generate some conversation about them. If my reasoning is sound I think I'd also like the skeptical community (if they'd care to) to use the terms as I will outline them here. It can perhaps shut down some of the rhetorical flip flopping that theists do in trying to justify their reasoning. I think it's especially important to clarify these terms when they arise, just like we would want other claims (such as the definition of a god(s)) in order to form, support or deny arguments about them.
In a lot of discussions I see people take for granted how these words are used. Skeptics will often force theists (or people talking any position) to define terms as they are presented. "Define god" or "define better" and the like, but take other words for granted. Sometimes they even use more focused definitions of words (like belief or knowledge or faith) in ways that the dictionaries don't directly specify. But language is defined by useage, not by dictionaries, and I propose the following changes to how words are used:
Definitions from the Miriam Webster Dictionary, online.
Faith - Current definition: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/faith
: strong belief or trust in someone or something
: belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs
: a system of religious beliefs
Suggested definition - much like many skeptics and atheists are using it now, I would specify in the first definition the change to :strong belief in something without clear reasoning or evidence.
I think this definition puts it more inline with the other definitions given and will help to make it more clear as to the difference between faith and trust.
Trust - Current definition: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trust
: belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.
: an arrangement in which someone's property or money is legally held or managed by someone else or by an organization (such as a bank) for usually a set period of time
: an organization that results from the creation of a trust
Suggested definition - changes to the first definition to clarify that belief is placed with someone or something with and/or do to having good reasons or evidence that the position is acceptable.
I think the specification is necessary because I think there can be belief in some supernatural things in personal experience in the current definition, but without being able to rationally verify or show this then it has to fall back to faith as to whether or not it's "real". This allows for specification between what is backed by evidence and what is not. And additional to stop theists form saying that atheists/skeptics have to have faith to not believe.
Moral - current definition - http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/moral
adjective \ˈmȯr-əl, ˈmär-\
: concerning or relating to what is right and wrong in human behavior
: based on what you think is right and good
: considered right and good by most people : agreeing with a standard of right behavior
Suggested definition - Again with the first definition (though the noun and not the adjective), specifying that morals are models for individual behavior. This could mean more of the treating yourself correctly and/or thinking a certain way about things. This definition wouyld put it more in line with what I see as it's typical usage about personal responsibility as taught by religions.
Ethic - current definition - http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethic
: rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad
ethics : an area of study that deals with ideas about what is good and bad behavior : a branch of philosophy dealing with what is morally right or wrong
: a belief that something is very important
Suggested definition - of the more common usage, I think ethics should differ from morals by specifying that ethics are behaviors for groups and not individuals. By this, I mean that it specifies individuals behaviors within a group and not the specific behaviors related solely to an individual.
To be more specific about ethics and morals and their common usages, I would say that a man cheating on his wife could be moral, immoral, unethical and ethical at the same time, depending on factors involved (assuming general stereotypes of this scenario). For himself, if he doesn't have a problem with the behavior, he may not have gone against his own morals. If he does, then, well, he did (even providing his morals are not relative). If his wife was OK with the behavior, then it wasn't necessarily unethical either, and as far as his job as an accountant or a Senator, the behavior was not unethical (per se, unless his wife is a voter in the one case).
So what do you think? Do you see any flaws in my reasoning or have better suggestions? I'm open to ideas.