When it comes to defining faith, Jerry Coyne can’t make up his mind. So far, in one interview, he defined it as follows:
“Belief without evidence sufficient to convince any reasonable person.”
But then in another interview, he defined it differently:
I don’t care if a religious person accepts science and practises their own private faith. The problem is that this acceptance of faith — which means belief without substantial evidence — as a useful means to ascertain truth has invidious social consequences.
Of course, what both definitions have in common is their reliance of subjectivity. The first one depends on finding a “reasonable” person and the second depends on determing whether evidence is “substantial.” Since both are subjective judgment calls, and thus exist in the eye of the beholder, Coyne is left standing in the ironic position of not being able to scientifically detect when faith exists.
He also comes up with yet a third definition…in the same interview:
But I don’t think it is necessary that if you get rid of religion some other superstition or ideology is going to rushin and replace it. I have faith — and I use the term in the sense of ‘confidence in’ — that ultimately people will realize that the Enlightenment project, the project of using rationality to guide your actions, is the way to bring society forward.
So now faith = confidence in? I see. When Coyne expresses faith, he is just expressing confidence. But when someone else expresses faith, they have belief without substantial evidence. One definition for me, another for thee.
Yet one wonders why he even uses the word faith here? He could just as easily said, “I have confidence that ultimately people will realize that the Enlightenment project….” What’s more, what is the source of his confidence? Does he really believe there is substantial evidence that ultimately people will realize that the Enlightenment project is the way to go? I’d say that is a belief without substantial evidence. Which would mean his declared faith does indeed conform to his original definition.
It’s amusing to note Mr. Faith vs. Fact is a Man of Faith.