I think that the issue of traditional religious language and its place within the naturalistic worldview is currently the single question of utmost urgency for naturalists, religious and otherwise. While there are many other questions of no small importance that need to be worked out—issues of consciousness, determinism, cosmogony and cosmology, morality and value, etc.—the issue of language stands to have an immediate impact on the framing of all discussions about the role of naturalism going forward, which may have a significant effect on its staying power, not to mention its positive value and efficacy in individual human lives (and we haven't even touched upon the myriad issues of ecology). The central term under discussion has, not surprisingly, been “god,” and the question of whether naturalists have any business using such a term to describe something that seems to bear little resemblance to its traditional referent. While this particular discussion is pressing and interesting, there is another traditional religious term that needs to be considered with some dispatch: “faith.” Unless naturalism is taken to refer to a single, specific metaphysical system (and I don't think it is), we must take careful stock of our epistemological language before worrying overmuch about how to label the particular constituents of the metaphysics toward which we find ourselves drawn. In other words, I take naturalism to be a term inclusive of a variety of worldviews that differ greatly in their finer details, but are united by a (roughly) common perspective, a commitment to approach the world in a certain sort of way. Thus faith, as an epistemic concept, is at least as important as the concept of god for the religious naturalist who wishes to be crystal clear in his understanding of which sorts of beliefs and methods of belief formation can be properly called naturalistic, and which must be excluded as supernatural, superstitious, and faulty. It is for this reason that I hope to clarify and explore the concept of faith, primarily to discover whether it can have any place in a naturalistic epistemology, what that place might be, and precisely how it works in that regard.
I will first deal with naturalism, to establish a working definition; debates about exactly what naturalism is are ongoing and I will not seek to settle them here, only to lay down a definition precise enough to establish a broad epistemological model that most naturalists will be amenable to, within which we can locate the concept of faith and evaluate its legitimacy as a tool for naturalists. The next step will be to analyze faith in some depth. I will seek to show that the word “faith” is actually used to refer to several different concepts, their differences being so significant as to warrant more particular language when using faith in any serious epistemological work. We will see that there are several varieties of faith that are obviously unsuitable for any naturalistic epistemology, but perhaps several varieties that are surprisingly workable in the absence of supernaturalism. The main philosopher to whom we will have recourse for this project is Kierkegaard. Although Kierkegaard himself was a sort of supernaturalist, I will show that his unique variety of faith has an applicability broader than even he conceived. Finally, having clarified these points, I will briefly consider what value this concept might contribute to the naturalistic worldview—why it is worth retaining, rather than scrapping in favor of a religiously sterilized conceptual, epistemological system.
We begin, then, with naturalism, not an unequivocal term by any stretch. The first thing one will notice upon setting out to study naturalism and religious naturalism is that these are actually umbrella terms that encompass a wide variety of positions on the nature of nature itself. Jerome A. Stone has done a wonderful job cataloging many of these positions for us and demonstrating that any two given naturalists may have very different beliefs about the ontological status of things like thoughts and numbers, or about the possibility of human freedom versus mechanical determinism, not to mention their differences on any number of other philosophical problems.  Given such a legion of metaphysical stances, it does not make much sense to define naturalism according to any one of them in particular; we would do better to look for some kind of methodology or perspective that logically precedes those positions to unite them. As the term itself suggests, naturalism strives to include everything that is necessary to describe the entirety of the world (the natural), and to exclude everything else. In a word, it strives to exclude everything supernatural. The circularity of this definition is immediately apparent: the natural is everything but the supernatural, which is anything beyond the natural. I think that a better definition can be reached by avoiding metaphysical commitments at the outset. In declaring that naturalism is everything other than the supernatural, or by making a positive assertion such as, “There is nothing beyond the natural,” naturalists assume their metaphysical framework, rather than demonstrating it, which is intellectually irresponsible. In early modern terms, a first philosophy should be in place before a metaphysics is declared, an outline describing how conclusions will be reached. This way, naturalism is prevented from ducking uncomfortable issues that may be introduced by the phenomena that present themselves to its investigations down the line; we should not allow naturalists to dismiss certain explanations from being possible out of hand, when they are entailed by the phenomena under observation. And this view is a closer match with the methods of science, with which most naturalists wish to affiliate themselves ideologically. If science as a whole has taught us anything, it is that we should expect to discover things we had not previously thought possible. So, too, should naturalists expect to discover aspects of reality that would not have fit into previous versions of their worldview, in response to which the worldview should be revised. Thus we find ourselves in search of the epistemology of naturalism.
In trying to avoid supernaturalism, many naturalists start with empiricism, confident that it can only reveal what is actually there to be discovered. Naturalism will not accept any proposition based on premises that are not, at least in theory, empirically verifiable. We immediately face the classical epistemological problems of skepticism, but let us brush them aside here—they are difficult and serious concerns, but it is not our task to resolve them in the present paper. Note that of course we cannot expect to formulate a worldview that never relies upon logical steps that are not strictly empirical. We can only hope that every aspect of our worldview, if it properly counts as naturalism, can be traced backwards via sound inferential argumentation to empirical foundations. To this basic empirical requirement we might add an additional stipulation, that naturalists should commit to agnosticism about anything that cannot yet be empirically confirmed. This means that explanatory entities such as gods or invisible forces can theoretically be posited as hypotheses, but will not be affirmatively believed in or positively said to exist until they can be confirmed by observations that rule out any other possible explanations. This does not immediately entail atheism, but it does seem to lead to a sort of agnosticism that borders very closely on atheism, as regards the conception of god as a living being that preceded and created the natural universe. As Richard Dawkins, a committed naturalist, succinctly puts it, “I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.”  A good naturalist therefore will not believe in the existence of such fairies, nor that of a creator god, but will remain open to the possibility of their demonstration should evidence for it appear. In the meantime, since those things are not necessary parts of our working explanatory apparatus, they should be dismissed.
With this as our working model of the epistemology of naturalism, it would seem that faith is immediately precluded from it completely. After all, our commitment to agnosticism whenever evidence is lacking seems to be designed specifically to rule out faith, which we take to be nothing more than a belief in something for which there is too little evidence. This, however, is a failure to recognize the deep polysemy of faith. In taking faith to be merely the unquestioning acceptance of a proposition without evidence, we have thoughtlessly assumed that we know what this term means. But even in colloquial speech, faith can have several meanings that not only fail to correspond to this blind acceptance of incoherent premises, but might not even be epistemic at all, in the sense of having anything whatsoever to do with truth, falsity, or knowledge. Upon even the most cursory reflection, many theists will immediately point out that they take their faith in religious truths to be of a fundamentally different sort than, say, faith that the weather report will prove correct; if nothing else, it has a qualitatively different feel to it that needs to be teased out. So we already have several questions that can help us divide faith into its various types. Is faith necessarily wedded to knowledge claims? If not, is faith even related to belief at all? Or is it in some way parallel to belief? Even before delving into these questions, we can see that it is not immediately obvious that naturalism must completely preclude the possibility of faith, depending upon the answers we come up with. In fact I propose that naturalism, particularly religious naturalism, should include faith as a fundamental aspect of human life that poses no challenge whatsoever to the empirical, scientific picture of the cosmos. This is because faith includes notions that differ so drastically from the quotidian sort of faith-as-unquestioned-belief that they do not threaten the integrity of our faculties of belief formation at all.
To separate different sorts of faith, it will be helpful to consider what I call a two-dimensional model of faith. It is possible that a third dimension could be considered, but I feel less confident about this; I shall say a bit more about the third dimension later on. The two dimensions that concern us are doxasticism—whether faith is doxastic or not—and intentionality—whether faith is intentional or blind.  This gives us four distinct types of faith, which we will have to consider in turn: doxastic blind faith, nondoxastic blind faith, doxastic intentional faith, and nondoxastic intentional faith (which I also call Kierkegaardian faith). This schema can be visualized as a square divided into four equal quadrants, with doxasticism along the X-axis, and intentionality along the Y-axis.
|Intentional||Doxastic International Faith||Nondoxastic International Faith (Kierkegaardian Faith)|
|Blind||Doxastic Blind Fath||Nondoxastic Blind Faith|
As we define and explain these two axes, it will be helpful to approach them through examples, so that the meanings of these obscure terms will become clear.
Let us first take the sort of faith that was mentioned earlier, as a belief in something for which there is no justification. This is certainly the easiest conception of faith to wrap our heads around. When approached this way, faith is a type of belief, namely that type which is not accompanied by justification, but is held regardless. This is what is meant by the term “doxastic,” that belief in the truth of a proposition is involved. If we now combine this with the classical model of knowledge as justified true belief, we can see that faith falls well short of knowledge, which explains naturalists' aversion to it.  The most obvious concrete example of this sort of faith, as most naturalists will readily point out, is the theist's belief that god exists—assuming that god's attributes have been laid out in advance, which specifics are not important at the moment—while having no actual evidence whatsoever that the proposition, “god exists,” is true. This is an attractive definition of faith, from the point of view of epistemologists and naturalists, because it is so easy to categorize in relation to the rest of our understanding about the nature of knowledge and belief, and thereby to dismiss as worthless. But this model of faith is not terribly useful in trying to meaningfully explore the nature of faith as it is held by the faithful at large. There are certainly many people who hold faith of this variety, but the sort of offhand dismissal that this definition facilitates prevents any examination from looking further into the manifold meanings of the word, and the various aspects of human existence for which it has implications, to which the dismissive analyst is completely insensitive. Our epistemologist doesn't even really need the word “faith,” if this doxastic (and blind) variety exhausts the concept; he could simply use the expression “unjustified belief” instead. Doxastic blind faith refers to unjustified beliefs that are held, despite the holder's awareness that they are unjustified. Or, perhaps the holder does believe them to be justified. In that case, we might have one of two things: if the holder believes that he has knowledge, but his belief is actually unjustified, he simply holds a false belief; if the holder believes that he has faith (but not knowledge), but still thinks his belief is justified, he has simply made a miscalculation regarding what counts as justification, and thus has doxastic blind faith accompanied by an incorrect understanding of how faith, belief, and justification work.
As I said, for epistemologists, it might seem that the easiest thing to do would be to assert this as our definition of faith, and then assign the wide variety of other faith-like concepts to different terms to distinguish them. But the two major reasons for not doing this have already been touched upon. First, this totally privative conception of faith is not epistemically useful, since it is not conducive to knowledge acquisition; it is essentially a faulty belief-formation mechanism. Thus even epistemologists are not likely to have much use for it, other than to point out mistakes. But this brings us to the second reason to expand faith as a concept: the phenomenology of the myriad ideas that we subsume under the term “faith” divulges many different sorts of experience under that single label, all of which have come to be called “faith” in our everyday language. In other words, doxastic blind faith does not match up with the phenomena of faith as held by many of the faithful. Not by a long shot, in fact. If I were to form a belief that it is raining out, with no justification—perhaps I simply woke up this morning with an unshakable hunch that it will rain today—I could correctly call this faith, on this model. This would be a very trivial sort of faith, but that is precisely the point: I would have no investment, no real stake in this proposition, other than perhaps not wanting to get wet when I go out. Theists, on the other hand, have a deep investment in their faith(s), so deep that they often structure their lives around it. And while this might not be relevant to the epistemic value of those different types of faith (to investigate this very question will be one of our goals in the remainder of this paper), it is certainly notable enough to warrant a thorough investigation. It is thus radically unfair to assume that doxastic blind faith, as a classification, is coextensive with faith in toto, and sweeping claims about faith as a mere epistemic failure often amount to straw man argumentation. Responsible epistemology should employ the principle of charity in order to consider faith in as many of its aspects as possible, in order to determine whether any of them carry merit, epistemological, psychological, or otherwise. And in fact, we will find merit of both types, as we continue to unfold the many sides of faith.
Nonetheless, faith of this rather simplistic sort is indeed likely to arise in conversation from time to time, possibly quite frequently. But everyday discussions over matters of faith will immediately reveal a second conception that arises just as often, although it is perhaps less salient for strictly epistemological investigation. This is faith of the nondoxastic blind variety. The key difference here is that, where doxastic faith includes belief, nondoxastic faith substitutes some emotional investment in the truth of a proposition that does not necessarily imply belief at all.  Perhaps the most common emotion that we encounter in this role is hope. We can take a simple example: I have faith that my friend will make good on his promise to help me move out of my apartment over the summer. This is clearly not doxastic faith, if we strictly adhere to our terminology. I would not say that I believe that my friend will help me move my furniture in June, because I cannot know what will happen in the future and am well aware of this limitation; I do not believe one way or the other about what will actually happen, preferring to remain agnostic about the matter (strictly speaking). I will certainly need help, however, so I strongly hope that he will come through for me. This faith is very close to what we might call “trust” or “confidence.” I have called this a sort of emotional investment, although hope of this sort can be highly rational. I can evaluate the amount of stuff I will have to move, figure that it will be too monumental a task for me to complete on my own, and thus form reasonable hopes about how many people I will need to help me, knowing that I will be in a pickle without them. On the other hand, nondoxastic faith can also be radically irrational, as we will see.
This faith seems to be the result of strong psychological desires for a proposition to be true, maybe owing to the potential consequences of that proposition's falsehood that the subject wants to ignore or is emotionally unfit to face. From the standpoint of external observation—that is, if I am observing the behavior of someone acting on the basis of his or her nondoxastic faith—it might be difficult to distinguish this from the doxastic faith discussed previously. Someone who strongly hopes for something to be true may feel that they cannot go on if it proves to be false, so they structure their behavior wholeheartedly around the necessity of it being true, for the sake of their well being. Something along these lines is what Nietzsche had in mind when referring to a Christianity that is based upon a mere “matter of considering something true.”  Or, in lieu of this feeling of psychological necessity bordering on desperation, there might be other practical considerations in play that warrant behaving as if the proposition in question were true. Then we have what Richard Swinburne has called pragmatic faith: one acts as if some proposition were verifiably true, and thus just as someone would who had either doxastic faith in that proposition, or genuine knowledge of its truth.  But the internal mechanism of this faith is quite different, as it seems to involve a certain failure or abdication of volition, as opposed to a failure of cognition. But there is not always a genuine failure involved, nor is this faith necessarily involuntary, as it might just as well be the case that I choose to have faith in something or someone for the time being, because it keeps me from being distracted by worries in the short term. Then, should the faith end up being invalidated, facing the consequences might be no big deal for me, psychologically, aside from the inconvenience of having to find a new solution to the problem at hand. So nondoxastic blind faith potentially runs the gamut from feelings of desperation and fear, to feelings of well-grounded trust and confidence.
Deciding whether any particular instance of faith is doxastic or nondoxastic, as mentioned above, can be a bit of a puzzle, since we cannot always have access to the subject's psychological state in order to determine the basis of his or her faith. For this reason, the two types are often conflated or collapsed into a single type. This is precisely what J.S. Clegg has done in his 1979 paper, “Faith,” where he assumes that all faith is of the nondoxastic blind type. He begins by accurately claiming that, “Avowals of faith have an air of paradox about them. They are not knowledge claims. An admission of faith amounts, indeed, to a disclaimer of knowledge, for we all recognize that we can have faith only in what we do not know.”  But he follows this immediately with a mistaken statement about the nature of faith and belief: “Accordingly we typically speak of our faiths as beliefs. Yet they are not ordinary, ‘mere’ beliefs. What we merely believe we may also doubt, but an expression of doubt is incompatible with an avowal of faith.”  As we have already seen, it is not terribly difficult to conceptually separate faith that does involve belief from faith that does not. But in addition to mistakenly claiming these two types of faith to be identical, Clegg has also incorrectly assumed them to be exhaustive of the concept entirely. This leads us to consider the Y-axis in our diagram of faith, which we have so far left untouched.
While faith moves along the dimension of doxasticism, it may also move along a dimension of intentionality. Before delving into the specifics of this dimension, it is necessary to clarify my use of the word “intentional” in this context, as I am knowingly using it somewhat idiosyncratically. In choosing this term, I am trying to partially capture Husserl's sense of intentionality, in reference to the directedness of all thought toward some particular, intentional object(s). But my term is not coterminous with his, as Husserlian intentionality refers to any object of thought whatsoever, which would include the propositional or emotional contents of blind faith that I have opposed to intentional faith in my schema. In my case, I want to point specifically to intentional objects of thought that are fully in view of the subject holding the faith. What I mean is that, in the cases of blind (non-intentional) faith, the object of the faith is hidden from our view in terms of its absolute truth value; we do not, perhaps even cannot, be certain whether the proposition in question is true or false. Thus that sort of faith is essentially privative, defined by a lack of justification and knowledge. It is a sort of epistemic overreaching. When faith is intentional, on the other hand, it refers to faith toward an object that is in sight of the subject, even if its details are as yet unknown. This does not mean that intentional faith simply involves some proposition whose truth is in sight, as that would simply be justified, true belief—knowledge. Rather, the objects of intentional faith are not the sorts of things that are susceptible of proof, certainty, or confirmation in the standard (perhaps we could say evidentialist) sense, but are held nonetheless. Thus they are either true without being susceptible of proof, or inherently unknowable, but never merely unknown for the moment—never unknown by privation. This allows for my use of the term “intentional” to take on something of a double meaning: intentional in the sense of having an object that is in view, and intentional in the sense of being held intentionally—voluntarily—despite being outside the bounds of discursive demonstration. While this does create an interesting sort of paradox, insofar as the objects of blind faith are actually more in view in one sense—they are propositions that can be stated in a simple and straightforward manner—that kind of faith can still be considered an epistemic mistake, meaning that the veracity of the belief or feeling (the faith) is concealed, whereas the objects of intentional faith do not demand the same sort of inferential jump. This faith can now further be divided along doxastic lines, leaving us with several types of intentional objects of faith that are held in different ways, which we shall have to clarify further.
We might first consider doxastic intentional faith. Because this faith is doxastic, it does refer to belief in the truth value of a proposition, but the sorts of propositions addressed by intentional faith are not discursively questionable, as they are in the case of blind doxastic faith. Consider a comparison: I might have faith that human beings have actually landed on the Moon (as opposed to the landing having been faked on a sound stage), even though I have no immediate means of confirming this fact. In such a case, I have doxastic blind faith that the Moon landing was not faked. Even though I have no practical means of confirming this, it is certainly confirmable in theory: were I to build my own spaceship and fly to the Moon, I could find the original landing site and have my proof, thus converting my faith into knowledge. Not all propositions are thus discursively confirmable, however, even if they might necessarily be either true or false in actuality. Consider Descartes' famous axiom: I think, therefore I am. Descartes' entire epistemological project was to find a self-evident axiom upon which to ground the entirety of human knowledge, one that would not need any further foundation in turn.  Thus the axiom, if true and actually axiomatic, is not discursively controversial because its very denial is supposed to create a contradiction. Now it is not entirely clear whether our belief in the truth of such propositions counts as proper knowledge, being justified by some faculty for recognizing axiomatic truths, or as faith, since we have no inferential method of proving them true. If this is indeed faith, it is of the intentional doxastic type.
Intentional doxastic faith may also conceivably refer to propositions that are inherently unknowable (as opposed to axioms, which are supposedly inherently known). Such cases are slightly different from blind doxastic faith, where the objects are unknown but knowable. These cases delicately straddle the line between intentionality and blindness, since the truth value of their objects is not something that the subject can even conceivably access. I set them in the category of intentionality, however, because of the doxastic voluntarism involved in holding them, while simultaneously involving full awareness that such beliefs are fully fideistic—an actively willed faith in the face of a proposition that can never be proved. Doxastic blind faith can be voluntaristic as well, but is nonetheless blind because its object is kept out of sight by a privation of evidence, as opposed to an utter incommensurability with evidence per se; the former involves a failure of cognition because of one's responsibility to remain agnostic until sufficient basis for a judgment is maintained, while the latter involves making a judgment in light of the fact that no sufficient basis is possible. Examples of this might include faith based on what Kant called practical reason, such as might result from his moral argument for the existence of god, or perhaps from Pascal's wager of faith.  These examples both hinge upon the failure of pure reason to ever potentially divulge the existence of god, and thus fall back upon practical considerations (morality and self-interest, respectively). Of course, when referring specifically to a question as complicated as the existence of god, the type of faith involved will depend upon the details of the conception of god in question. Some conceptions of god may involve a being that exerts its influence upon the physical world, which should be at least theoretically demonstrable, and thus would be the object of doxastic blind faith. Other conceptions might involve a deus absconditus that is essentially beyond human cognitive capabilities, making it susceptible only of intentional doxastic faith. This is not faith in opposition to discursive reason, as blind faith is, but rather faith that picks up where reason leaves off.
This leaves us to explore the final sort of faith in our model: intentional nondoxastic faith. We have left this type for last because it the most difficult to understand, although probably also the most interesting; but also because it is vastly different from the three varieties we have considered hitherto. Let us dispense with the easy bits first. Because this faith is nondoxastic, it is primarily affective, as opposed to discursive; it shares this affective quality with nondoxastic blind faith. But because it is also intentional, its objects cannot be articulated propositionally, as the objects of blind faith are. We are left with a confusing sort of faith in a mysterious something, something that we cannot prove or even argue for or against. Is this just an ineffable and meaningless, vacuous emotional state? Not quite. It is rather the faith in something that is not known, as an unknown that can never be expressed because it is unknown essentially. We might say it is faith in The Unknown, itself; in the unknownness of all that is unknown. This is different than the deus absconditus mentioned above, in that the hidden god is nonetheless a something whose existence can be posited or denied, despite any perception of it being ever off-limits. The Unknown, on the other hand, is even more abstract still: it is no particular thing that one can argue over, since, falling short of omniscience, there always remains an unknown quantity of unknowns. The faith in this Unknown cares little about whether any particular thing exists or not, or even whether it makes sense within the confines of logic or not.
Perhaps an example will serve to better indicate what is going on here. The prime exemplar of intentional nondoxastic faith in the history of philosophy is Kierkegaard.  In Philosophical Fragments, Kierkegaard invokes the unknown per se, as we have done above, not as any particular unknown, but as The Unknown.
But what is this unknown against which the understanding in its paradoxical passion collides and which even disturbs man and his self-knowledge? It is the unknown. But it is not a human being, insofar as he knows man, or anything else that he knows. Therefore, let us call this unknown the god. It is only a name we give to it.
Elsewhere we see him referring to this same god as a paradox, not merely unknown but utterly unknowable because it is inherently incommensurable with propositional reckoning. The nondoxastic character of this faith, belief having been completely replaced by a certain affectation, is evident.
The paradoxical passion of the understanding is, then, continually colliding with this unknown, which certainly does exist but is also unknown and to that extent does not exist. The understanding does not go beyond this; yet in its paradoxicality the understanding cannot stop reaching it and being engaged with it.
It is clear, then, that Kierkegaardian faith is nondoxastic, and we should not be put off by his occasional application of the word “belief” to describe it, for he has made clear that this faith does not represent any sort of belief that we would recognize as such; such diction should be understood as a careless mistake when it is applied to nondoxastic faith.So this faith is nondoxastic, but why is it not blind? After all, Clegg includes Kierkegaard in his own careful explication of nondoxastic blind faith:
A clearer case is afforded by Kierkegaard who held that a knight of faith, believing without doubt in a dubitable, objective uncertainty, will find an important reward. Unable to wait for proof he will believe ahead of his evidence, and then discover that not only did he need no proof but that he is better off having had none.
Were Clegg's assessment of Kierkegaard correct, he would be right to consider his faith nondoxastic and blind. But is it really the case that Kierkegaard believes “ahead of his evidence?” I find this difficult to maintain, since Kierkegaard's own words paint a portrait of something that cannot be proved or disproved; not something that is believed to exist, but something to be believed in with passion. In fact, for Kierkegaard, “It hardly occurs to the understanding to want to demonstrate that this unknown (the god) exists.”  Unlike blind faith, Kierkegaard's faith cares little whether any proposition turns out to be true or false. But it falls far short of mere apathy. To the contrary, it is defined by a sort of emotional investment in the extreme. It is not belief without doubt, but rather a qualitatively different sort of thing that is not susceptible of doubt at all; to claim that one should doubt Kierkegaardian faith would be to commit an old-fashioned category mistake.
Clegg may be right about the lack of proof that accompanies Kierkegaard's faith, but he was wrong in his understanding of why that should be the case: the holder of this faith does not concern herself with propositional truth at all. Instead of an interest in the truth value of the unknown in question, this faith is concerned with the unknown qua unknown, in its unknownness. This is where its affective quality comes into play: it is the fact of the object's being unknown that lends this faith its affective force. For Kierkegaard, one does not have faith in god because one wants god to exist, hoping in a nondoxastic blind sense. Rather, one has faith in god because the very idea of the unknown god arouses a passion that cannot be ignored. This faith interacts with the understanding, but is not a part of the understanding, itself. It is “the paradoxical passion of the understanding.” It is our relationship toward the unknown, it is the “how” of our feelings about those things that we either do not or cannot yet know, and therefore has a direct effect on how we proceed regarding the limits of our own knowledge and existence.
Now, with four types of faith before us, we can return to the question we posed at the outset: what can faith possibly have to do with naturalism? There are a few simple decisions that we can make right away. Recall that our definition of naturalism is an epistemic one—we view naturalism as a certain methodological outlook, a conviction about how knowledge should be acquired. Specifically, our method is empirical and fallibilist: nothing should be affirmed that is not empirically observable, and we are to remain agnostic about those things that are neither empirically demonstrable nor falsifiable. Given these criteria, we can ask our question a little more sharply: can it be possible for us naturalists to have faith without violating our epistemic principles? And is there any reason that we should want to? We can take these questions in turn.
It is obvious, having performed this conceptual analysis, that the epistemic principles of our naturalism do not leave any room for blind faith, whether doxastic or not. Both types of blind faith represent violations of our commitment to remain agnostic when justification is lacking, by definition. And while a naturalist might be convinced from time to time to allow for nondoxastic blind faith, particularly in situations of great distress where the psychological benefits might be desirable in the short term, we cannot escape the fact that, epistemically speaking, we would have overstepped the bounds of reasonable commitment. It would seem that our empirical outlook implies a certain sobriety about our surroundings and states of affairs, such that we should not compromise the lucidity of our own outlook on things by giving over hope toward objects standing outside of our individual epistemic horizons. Needless to say, for the same reason, doxastic blind faith remains out of the question for naturalists. Our principle of agnosticism is aimed specifically at preventing precisely those sorts of faith commitments.
The possibility of intentional doxastic faith within the boundaries of naturalism can also be pretty readily dispensed with. While it is fairly common to hear accusations of a certain sort of faith leveled at naturalism: faith in the trustworthiness of evidence at all, faith in the reliability of our chosen empirical method, faith in certain foundational epistemic axioms, etc., Richard Dawkins is right to call these sorts of arguments “a tiresome red herring.”  On the one hand, as Dawkins points out, if these sorts of axiomatic beliefs can be properly called (intentional doxastic) faith, they represent a sort of faith held by everyone, and probably one that is utterly indispensable for human life. “Maybe scientists are fundamentalist when it comes to defining in some abstract way what is meant by ‘truth'. But so is everybody else.”  So naturalists might be said to have faith in this sense, but that is a completely trivial matter. What's more, naturalists who are also sophisticated epistemologists might have plenty of wiggle-room to actually tackle such accusations head-on and defeat them: alternative epistemologies that stand in opposition to traditional foundationalism (coherentism, virtue epistemology, etc.) might not have the same reliance on axiomatic propositions that are not subject to inferential demonstration.  And this is not even to mention the pragmatic fallibilism that we have taken as fundamental to our naturalist epistemology, from the beginning, meaning that we have posited a willingness to call any of our axioms, which we take to be practically efficacious but not infallible, into question at any time. Should our empirical data challenge our working assumptions, such assumptions, even if axiomatic, are subject to revision. Thus we needn't have doxastic faith in some absolute set of principles, but merely a limited trust in some practical principles that are, for the moment, adequate to our experience. Intentional doxastic faith seems relevant to the naturalist worldview only in either a trivial way, or as a matter of fluid practicality.
Finally we turn to intentional nondoxastic faith—Kierkegaardian faith. Here we find something interesting: the epistemic commitments of our methodological naturalism do not seem to be under threat. Because this faith is nondoxastic, no commitments of belief need to be made beyond the reach of our empirical methodology. And because this faith is intentional, its object need not be something that we commit our passions to without having it in view—again, we intentionally target something that has at least some kind of empirical standing, even if it is not fully unconcealed.  So it would at least seem that the possibility of holding this sort of faith, while standing within a naturalistic worldview, is noncontradictory and open. But is there any reason that such faith, however possible, should be desirable? Do we naturalists not get along perfectly well without any need for faith whatsoever? Well, perhaps we do. It is here that we step outside the bounds of mere naturalism as a worldview, and move into the realm of religious naturalism, as an affix onto naturalism that seeks to supplement it with an ethics, an affective aspect that brings not just the understanding and proper skepticism that come with naturalism, but also a desire for an increased degree of fulfillment to the lives of those who adhere to it. In other words, for those naturalists who do not feel they have any use for these things, faith is likely to be worthless. But for those who long for a naturalism with some human depth, while still adhering to the responsibilities inherent in naturalism as an epistemology, perhaps Kierkegaardian faith has something to offer.
One major question does need to be worked out, before declaring that faith and naturalism can be a good fit: what is naturalistic faith's object? Although we are drawing almost completely from Kierkegaard, we must draw a strong distinction between the object of his faith and ours. In his own work, Kierkegaard seems to vacillate between faith in the unknown per se, which is affective and nondoxastic, and also a sort of faith in a deus absconditus as a mysterious but personal god that exists (clearly a doxastic faith).  Furthermore, the paradox of Kierkegaard's nondoxastic faith is specifically the Christian paradox of the trinity and the incarnation. So, on the one hand, we need to be clear that we are referring exclusively to those instances of faith in Kierkegaard's work that are intentional and nondoxastic, and thus the faith under consideration for inclusion in religious naturalism does not refer to any specific ontological entity, whether a proper hidden god or otherwise. Where Kierkegaard does talk about the unknown per se, however, there is an interesting analogy to some of the central ideals of both scientific thought and fallibilism in epistemology. Since The Unknown cannot refer to god as deus absconditus for us naturalists, what is our Unknown that can be the object of faith? There are several possibilities, which might be held separately or simultaneously.
First, there are the literal unknowns of science. Science, as a generalized endeavor, is intentionally directed toward all things unknown, with the purpose of bringing them into the domain of human knowledge. While not all things are capable of even becoming known, that is not the point; the fascinating thing about the entire scientific project, viewed from its historical origins onward into the unforeseeable future, is that not only does it thrive on The Unknown, but it actually depends on it. In fact, all human knowledge within a fallibilist epistemology relies on The Unknown for its expansion and movement. Karl Peters, who strives to make room for religious sensibilities without compromising his naturalistic worldview in his book, Dancing with the Sacred, puts it succinctly and elegantly: “To err is divine.”  He expands upon this briefly in the same vein that I have expressed in this essay.
“Error” or “mistake” can mean a deviation from the way things have usually been said or done. These words signify mis-takes, so that the past is not reproduced in exactly the same way. Yet, from another perspective, mis-takes are new variations on the past; therefore, they may possibly be a creative advance into the future.
All I would add to Peters' exposition is that, not only is it possible for mistakes to represent a creative advance, but in fact it is only by way of making mistakes, becoming aware of our mistakes, and finally working to correct our mistakes, that human beings are ever able to learn anything whatsoever. The Unknown, when viewed in this light, is the fundamental ground of the entirety of human intellectual life, which certainly seems to be an idea worthy of affective faith.
There are many other unknowns in which we might invest faith. Students of particular intellectual disciplines (whether in the sciences or otherwise) can take hold of the particular unknowns that confront them regularly, the pursuit of which literally gives their lives meaning. The traditional religions have often capitalized on the myriad of unknown aspects of our own selfhood that can be discovered with careful introspection, providing for a virtually limitless project of self-exploration that remains wide open for naturalists. There are of course the usual suspects from the literature on religious naturalism, including the mysteries of life and the emergence of consciousness, our at-homeness in nature, our brotherhood with other species, our responsibilities as stewards of the earth, etc.; all of these represent unknowns of varying degree that stimulate human intellectual life. Perhaps even more interesting, the very course of the future itself, in our individual lives and for our species and planet as a whole, in the light of our agnostic commitment, must remain an unknown for us. Thus the entirety of our various life projects can become an object of faith for us, if we are willing to acknowledge and embrace it as an essential unknown that is nonetheless eminently meaningful.
But there is a further element that can be invoked in regard to intentional nondoxastic faith within naturalism that actually sets it apart from Kierkegaardian faith as perhaps an even stronger affective force, still. Although this could represent a full third dimension in our model of faith, we shall only have reason to consider it here in relation to intentional nondoxastic faith, creating a fifth variety by way of its annexation. I have in mind a quality of knowledge acquisition that can arise as a result of the pragmatic, fallibilist epistemology we have set up for ourselves, which Sandra Rosenthal has called “noetic creativity.”  It is appropriate that we should once again have recourse to a Husserlian term, “noesis,” in order to emphasize the process-character of this particular brand of faith. The process, although we have now given it a name so complicated that it borders on absurdity (noetic-creative, intentional, nondoxastic faith; let us just call it naturalistic faith, henceforth), is fairly straightforward: in engaging The Unknown by way of our empirical methods, we bring certain aspects of it into the region of what is (fallibly) known, but in doing so we perpetuate the existence of The Unknown by discovering entirely new sets of questions stemming from our discoveries. This is the noetic-creative element that is inextricably linked to scientific (and any empirical) endeavor. In terms of faith, this means that we understand—we have faith in—the indefinite (and basically eternal, as far as human existence is concerned) ongoing process of extending the lifespan of The Unknown, even in the very act of working to unveil it. We very literally create The Unknown by revealing new questions every time we explore any aspect of the world. The difference we have established with Kierkegaard's faith is that, where it had been static, now our faith is in-process. Interestingly, in this sense we actively work toward sustaining something that has several properties traditionally predicated of god: it is eternal, ineffable, omniscient after a fashion (insofar as it pertains to all possible knowledge), and capable of making ethical demands on us. This opens up new and interesting possibilities for appropriating “god language” within naturalism.
In Rosenthal's paper, this noetic creativity is a feature, not of some kind of naturalistic faith, but of “the beginning phase of scientific method.”  She offers a lucid explanation of the creative aspect of this process, worth quoting at length:
This creativity implies a radical rejection of the passive spectator view of knowledge and an introduction of the active, creative agent, who through meanings helps structure the objects of knowledge and who thus cannot be separated from the known world. The creation of scientific meanings requires free creative play that goes beyond what is directly observed. Without such creativity there is no scientific world and there are no scientific objects. As James acutely notes of scientific method, there is a big difference between verification, as the cause of the preservation of scientific conceptions, and creativity, which is the cause of the production of these conceptions.
Where Rosenthal applies this concept to the scientific method, we can likewise apply it to our naturalistic faith, as their intentional objects are the same, namely The Unknown. And the two are closely related: as the scientific method works creatively to extend the reach of our knowledge, our faith rests assured that The Unknown will endure (indeed that new, particular unknowns will emerge directly from our science).
Having answered in the affirmative the question of whether any kind of faith can reasonably fit within a naturalistic worldview, we are poised to respond to our second key question: is there any reason for naturalists to want to adopt this faith? Ought we to become faithful, in the sense just outlined? Rosenthal's analysis can guide us, again:
Such dynamics lead to a second general characteristic of the model of scientific method. There is directed or purposive activity, which is guided by the possibilities of experience contained within the meaning structures that have been created. Such a creative structuring of experience brings objects into an organizational focus from the backdrop of an indeterminate situation and, as constitutive of modes of response, yields directed, teleological, or goal-oriented activity.
As regards the scientific method, this gives us a framework for setting goals, the feasibility of which can then be tested experimentally or experientially. In terms of faith, we can extrapolate a fascinating consequence from this: a prescriptive aspect of naturalistic faith! If this faith is able to engage our passion for The Unknown, as Kierkegaard's faith did, we discover that we are individually and collectively tasked with the noetic-creative work of unmasking and revealing The Unknown by pushing the limits of our own knowledge and the boundaries of scientific advancement. Insofar as faith moves us, we must provide the driving force for our own faith, because it depends on our efforts for its own fuel. And although it is impossible to thoroughly investigate here, we can imagine that a fairly robust ecological ethics could be developed, as well: obviously the very practices of human knowledge are reliant on a robust natural world in which to flourish.
While the sort of faith that we have been calling naturalistic faith is significantly distinct from other, perhaps more common and well-known types of religious faith, it has the power to bring many of the beneficial and fulfilling sides of the religious life into the realm of naturalism. It is ripe for symbolic expression, romantic portrayal, and perhaps even mystical pursuit. And it lends itself to the construction of an ethical outlook, all while remaining not merely wedded to, but utterly dependent upon, the continued success of empirical, scientific exploration of the natural world. Certain common aspects of the traditional religions are given up within the religious naturalism based on this faith, to be sure: specifically religious ontology and cosmology, eschatology, and any conceptual entities that lead to epistemic absolutism, are ruled out. But one important feature remains intact, something that religious naturalism is sorely in need of if it is to fill the conspicuous emptiness that the rejection of traditional religions leaves behind: soteriology. In a world devoid of supernatural gods, naturalistic faith can save us from nihilism by impressing deeply upon our emotional faculties the breadth and depth of the natural world's mystery, and moving us to participate in its exploration. Not only can The Unknown never be exhausted, but we can actually have a hand in its ongoing genesis; in that sense, we are able to participate in the divine. It seems we can find something here that matches the temperaments of scientists (the drive for discovery), the religiously inclined (the mystery of The Unknown and the passion of faith), existential humanists (the escape from nihilism and the creation of one's own faith and ethics), and maybe even militant atheists (complete rejection of supernaturalism). And while we fall short of offering any complete solution to the problems of the human condition (along the lines of Hindu moksha or Buddhist nirvana), we are nonetheless able to bestow a purpose-giving project that might serve to alleviate concerns about the meaninglessness or inherent misery of this life. Frankly, it seems that the benefits of working this sort of faith into the life of any naturalist would be almost innumerable.
This faith also serves to set us apart in a fundamental way from certain religious naturalists of another stripe, especially those with a strong ecological/conservation focus who would advocate going “back,” in some sense, to a pre-industrial, pre-modern-science understanding of the world that does not seek to dominate nature; a lifestyle (and corresponding epistemological outlook) that harmonizes better with the natural world. Thomas Berry's book, The Great Work, is representative of this strain of naturalism: “While we have more scientific knowledge of the universe than any people ever had, it is not the type of knowledge that leads to an intimate presence within a meaningful universe. The various phenomena of nature are not spirit presences. We no longer read the book of the universe.”  I certainly do not wish to decry Berry's belief that the standard, modern, anthropocentric scientific outlook has had powerful and lasting negative effects on our understanding of our place in the world as human beings; on that point I agree completely. But we have set ourselves up, in this paper, in direct opposition to the view that these consequences are inherent in the scientific undertaking per se. Rather than trying to undermine the driving force of modernity, it is my belief that we can work to adjust its direction in ways that will allow science to continue flourishing, while instilling a religious reverence for the mysteries of the natural world. What's more, I don't think the project of reversing the effects of the modern metaphysics of human dominance is a realistic one, just in terms of practicality and logistics. It seems much more reasonable to build upon the framework that is in place, redirecting its energies in more productive ways, as opposed to trying to tear the framework down to rebuild from scratch.
The difference between Berry's naturalism and ours can be described as a difference in the origin of value. Berry laments that value has been removed from the things of the natural world, themselves: “Even when we recognize the spirit world beyond the human we make everything referent to the human as the ultimate source of meaning and of value, although this way of thinking has led to catastrophe for ourselves as well as a multitude of other beings.”  Berry's concern is that modern thought has made us forget the values inherent in the things of the natural world; indeed, the very fact that we use the language of “things” is telling: “We think of the Earth more as the background for economic purposes or as the object of scientific research rather than as a world of wonder, magnificence, and mystery for the unending delight of the human mind and imagination.”  It is this aspect of Berry's naturalism that our noetic creative faith stands opposed to. Rather than looking for value to be delivered up to us from the natural world, we seek to create that value by our ongoing interactions with that world, as a joint endeavor. It is interesting to point out, however, that even if Berry's view about modernity is correct, naturalistic faith is not ruled out; noetic creativity might then be relegated to the sideline, but non-noetic Kierkegaardian faith could just as easily step in. So intentional nondoxastic faith, whether noetic-creative or not, can serve as a powerful motivating force for almost any type of naturalism that allows for fallibilism.
In this essay, my hope has been to challenge traditional epistemological responses to the question of faith's relation to reason, not by pointing out particular errors in the analyses of that relation, but by showing it to be a wrongheaded pursuit. Faith refers to a wide variety of different mechanisms for interacting with ideas that do not always cohere with our belief systems in strictly rigorous, logical ways, but human life and the universe are not strictly logical or discursive, and the depth of meaning in our lives consistently stands as a refutation of any pure, reductive physicalism or positivism. As meaning-makers, we should demand an epistemological framework that is sufficiently holistic, able to accommodate our various non-contradictory ways of meaningfully encountering our world. Philosophers often forget (but the faithful remember) that in ordinary life, discursive reason is not even the predominant force behind our many actions; we are driven by love, anger, sorrow, curiosity, and a welter of other forces that defy logic. And what's more, we feel it is right that such things drive us; we would have it no other way. Any worldview that leaves no room for this, regardless of how well it seems to conform to the facts of experimental data, will fail the key test for a successful worldview: suitability for human life. If religious naturalism is to stand any chance of becoming a genuine, live option for religious seekers, it must include a doctrine of faith. The option that I have tried to illustrate here is able to establish precisely that, while leaving the epistemological and methodological commitments of naturalism intact.
 Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 51.6
 My opposition of the terms “intentional” and “blind” is not perfect, but they are the closest antonyms I could conceive of that roughly express my intended meaning. These will be explained further.
 Having listed these two dimensions of faith and the four types that arise from this schematization, a few words are in order about what is excluded. I have purposefully considered faith here only as an epistemic concept, by which I mean as a concept that interacts in some way with human knowledge, belief, and understanding. I have accordingly not considered faith as, for example, a synonym for a particular religious belief set, i.e. “the Christian faith.” This use of the word is common and perfectly legitimate, but not epistemologically interesting. We are interested in what people are doing and thinking when they claim to “have” faith in someone or something, so we have omitted any consideration of the term in contexts other than what I have called the epistemic one.
 Justified true belief is not the final word on knowledge, by any means. In fact, Edmund Gettier's famous problems have convincingly shown that the combination of truth, belief, and justification is necessary, but not sufficient for knowledge. But even after the recognition that there must be at least a fourth “something” for a belief to count as proper knowledge (whether that be something like Alvin Plantinga's warrant, or something else entirely), I am not aware of any model of knowledge that excludes belief or justification as necessary conditions. Even externalist epistemologies require that belief be justified by the reliability of its sources, although those sources may not be fully known to us. Thus our doxastic faith will prove insufficient for knowledge on any model, by definition. See Edmund Gettier, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” in Analysis (1963), pp. 121-3; and Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993).
 Of course, when someone has this sort of emotional investment (hope, trust, etc.), it may also go hand-in-hand with doxastic faith in the truth of the proposition hoped for. But neither type logically entails the other. I imagine it is fairly common that the hope (or fear, or desperation, or whatever else) that engenders nondoxastic faith becomes so powerful as to psychologically nudge the subject toward forming a full-fledged belief in the matter, even though it might be radically unjustified.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Penguin, 1982), 613.
 Richard Swinburne, Faith and Reason (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), 147-148.
 J.S. Clegg, “Faith,” American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 3 (1979), 225.
 Ibid., 225.
 See René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. John Veitch (London: Everyman, 2002).
 In this essay, I will sometimes use the capitalized expression “The Unknown,” and at other times, “the unknown per se.” I intend these expressions to be interchangeable.
 There may be many other excellent figures to draw from, within various mystical traditions. For our purposes here, it will be most appropriate to confine ourselves to a strictly philosophical consideration.
 Søren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments, trans. Howard Hong and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1985), 39.
 Ibid., 44.
 Clegg, “Faith,” 226.
 Kierkegaard, Fragments, 39.
 Kierkegaard, Fragments, 44.
 Ibid., 283.
 I would maintain that, as a simple fact of human perspectivalism, nothing is ever fully unconcealed anyway. As a result, it does not seem objectionable to maintain faith (or beliefs, for that matter) regarding objects that are partially obscured, so long as they have some kind of phenomenal character for us; this is what I mean by “some kind of empirical standing.”
 The former sort of faith is the kind that we have dubbed Kierkegaardian faith, or intentional nondoxastic faith, and in Kierkegaard's writings it comes to the fore especially in Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript. The latter sort, an intentional doxastic faith, is more evident in Fear and Trembling.
 Karl E. Peters, Dancing with the Sacred: Evolution, Ecology, and God(Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 2002), 42.
 Ibid., 38.
 Sandra B. Rosenthal, “Pragmatic Natures,” in The Future of Naturalism, eds. John R. Shook and Paul Kurtz (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2009), 79.
 Ibid., 79.
 William James, The Principles of Psychology, in The Works of William James, ed. Frederick Burkhardt (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1981), 2:1232-34.
 Sandra B. Rosenthal, “Pragmatic Natures,” 80.
 Ibid., 80-81.
 Ibid., 18.
 Ibid., 22.
Berry, Thomas. The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999.
Clegg, J.S. “Faith.” American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 3 (1979): 225-32.
Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
Descartes, René. Meditations on First Philosophy. Translated by John Veitch. London: Everyman, 2002.
Gettier, Edmund. “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” In Analysis, 1963, pp. 121-3.
James, William. The Principles of Psychology. In The Works of William James, edited by Frederick Burkhardt. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1981.
Kant, Immanuel. Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone. Translated by Theodore M. Greene and Hoyt H. Hudson. New York: Harper, 2008.
Kierkegaard, Søren. Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments. Translated by Howard Hong and Edna Hong. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992.
Kierkegaard, Søren. Fear and Trembling. Translated by Howard Hong and Edna Hong. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1983.
Kierkegaard, Søren. Philosophical Fragments. Translated by Howard Hong and Edna Hong. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1985.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Antichrist. In The Portable Nietzsche, edited and translated by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Penguin, 1982.
Pascal, Blaise. Pensées. Translated by A.J. Krailsheimer. London: Penguin, 1995.
Peters, Karl E. Dancing with the Sacred: Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 2002.
Plantinga, Alvin. Warrant and Proper Function. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993.
Rosenthal, Sandra B. “Pragmatic Natures.” In The Future of Naturalism, edited by John R. Shook and Paul Kurtz. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2009, pp. 77-96.
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