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November 28, 2011


Whichever word you use for the behavior, how do you justify it?

Take the apologetic claim that getting on a plane is an exercise of trust/faith.

A clearer way of talking about this is Risk vs. Benefit: Sure there is a very small risk my plane will crash but the benefit of seeing my friends or family seems worth that risk.

I'm done: If the benefit didn't outweigh the risk, then the risk would be unjustified. Do not add faith. Do not add trust. Do not collect $200.

The OP mentions that trust is earned. I would say 'justified' instead of 'earned'. But that's an aside.

The point is the R/B analysis is the whole story. If you insist on saying the R/B 'justifies trust', then stop there; exercise no more faith/trust than is justified.



Do you claim a R/B in the way it is typically framed (the four quadrants) with regards to Christianity, is a rational way of looking at Christian ‘trust’ or ‘faith’?

Ditto to all you said.

I also add the word 'relationship' to my phraseology to re-inforce that it is a relationship issue not a currency to get thing from God. (i.e if I have enough Faith then….) I like your use of the term "active trust" which clearly indicates the 'present indicative tense' of the relationship


Sure. Why not?


Risk vs. Benefits is not the whole story when it comes to air travel. It's not really even an important part of the story. The reason for this is simple: almost no one actually does a risk/benefits analysis before they fly.

Instead, we put our trust in 'experts'' declarations of safety. But these experts have not really done a thorough enough analysis in our case to really be able to declare air travel safe enough for our purposes. Instead, the experts themselves trust in a certain uniformity of human concerns so that they can project their concerns onto our cases and make their declaration of safety.

That is, the experts have some vague and unsatisfactory idea of how much satisfaction they get from visiting their parents, they project that benefit onto the declaration that air travel is worth the risk (A risk, once again, that they have very inadequately calculated).

So the important thing is not the RB analysis, but your trust in expert claims of safety.

And you also trust your family and friends to be roughly as pleasant to be around as they have in the past. Naturally, you have very little reason to think that they will be, since you don't have anything like a clear picture of what's happened in their lives since last you met. But you love them, so you trust them.

almost no one actually does a risk/benefits analysis before they fly...we put our trust in 'experts'' declarations of safety...And you also trust your family and friends


Not sure what's funny Ron. Almost everything we do is about trusting people about risks and benefits. Almost none of it is trust based on risks and benefits (per your claim).

In other words, it's all about trust first.

"Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods."

- CS Lewis

Curiously, this is also the definition of healthy skepticism.


You're wrong. Trust me.

There are various problems with the RonH "risk/benefit" alone theory. That is not to say that this is totally absent from human decision making or even Christian thought as in a Pascal's Wager type of rational.

The plane analogy is simply used to show that decisions are made without an exhaustive knowledge of the means. Like any analogy it breaks down when pushed to far.

Conclusion: 1) There is more to human reasoning than risk vs benefit. 2) Faith is exercised every time you reason.

...pushed "too" far I mean...


Trust me

Yeah, see Ron, why should I trust you?

You need to first prove yourself trustworthy.

To determine whether you've done that, I'd look at your track record of making true claims. Or I'd consider what other trustworthy people have to say about your reliability. And their claims would themselves be based either on their experience of your track record or on their own trusted experts on you. So in the end, it will all come down to your track record in making true claims.

I suppose that if psychology were advanced enough as a science, and if you submitted to the right kind of psychoanalysis, I could also come to trust you based on the first principles of psychology along with the findings of the psychoanalysis, rather than my or other people's experience of your track record of making true claims.

But guess what? No Risk/Benefit analysis is involved in either of these efforts.

Unless you think that in determining your trustworthiness, we're analyzing the risk that you might say something false.

Is that it?

If that's all you mean, then you are just using the word "risk" as an antonym for "trustworthiness" or "reliability". There's nothing particularly more or less enlightening in saying "I'm analyzing the risk that Ron will say something false" vs. "I'm trying to decide whether I can trust what Ron says." On this latest understanding of "risk", the two phrases mean more or less the same and neither explains the other.

And if that's the case, then what are we to make of your initial claim dismissing talk of trust in favor of talk of risks and benefits?

Pretty clearly, it comes to nothing more than the claim that you like the sound of "risk" language more than the sound of "trust" language.

I'm certainly not competent to judge the sonorous qualities of the noises we make to communicate with each other, but philosophically, I don't think there's anything important about those differences.



You said

Unless you think that in determining your trustworthiness, we're analyzing the risk that you might say something false.

You can put it that way, if you must.

You continued

And if that's the case, then what are we to make of your initial claim dismissing talk of trust in favor of talk of risks and benefits?

As I said in the first place

If you insist on saying the R/B 'justifies trust', then stop there; exercise no more faith/trust than is justified.

Suppose I recommend a car to you.

You are justified in using my recommendation to the extent that you have evidence that I know something about cars - and only to that extent.

If you want to say you are 'trusting' me here, fine.

But what if you weigh my recommendation more heavily than is justified?

Is that 'trust' as well?

Do you make a distinction or no?



When one says "risk" I think that one has normally the idea of a chance of bad consequences, not merely a chance of falsehood. And the benefits in a risk/benefit analysis are expected benefits. That is, again, the chance of good consequences not merely the chance of truth.

We may well base the chances we assign to the good or bad consequences on the trust we place in some expert reports. But we don't base the trust on the analysis.

You could put it this way: A risk/benefits analysis are justified by a prior trust in the claims of reliable authorities, but a risk/benefits analysis does not justify a subsequent trust in the claims of reliable authorities.

On your final few questions, I think you are asking whether trust admits of degree. Of course it does.

What does not admit of degree in most cases is action. If I'm 98% sure that someone is right when they say that a flight to Australia is safe enough, I still have to fly all the way to Australia or stay home. The least rational course of action would be to try to stop somewhere in the Tasman Sea because that's as far as my trust will carry me.


Thanks for an enjoyable exchange.

I've heard people say something like

Reason will only take you so far. From there, you have to have faith.
That sentiment is what my final few questions, as you called them, were about.


I value believing what's true for its own sake.

I value the process of honing the skills required to distinguish truth from falsehood.

I value practical consequences of being right.

I recognize that if I can be wrong about something I can be wrong about the magnitude and nature of the consequences.

I think we probably agree that there are some falsehoods that, when believed, lead to a host of actions that the believer would certainly not undertake were the belief not in place. Can we put any of these actions in the category of risk? Can we do so even if the believer is not the one at risk?

Now, what were you saying about merely a chance of falsehood?



Obeying God entails a measure of "risk" to the degree that we might be in error about what God's will is, just as believing Him entails the risk that we might be mistaken in our belief. It also entails, from our own perspective, a perceived risk because the outcome in the main depends on God's faithfulness to follow through on His promises. The first two are matters of our own judgment and understanding of the Bible, as well as the most appropriate application of its principles to our circumstances. The third is of course a matter of faith, active trust as Greg says, in the reliability of God. Gauging God's reliability in terms of risk/benefits would go roughly thusly:

If God is who the Bible says He is, then He is trustworthy, in which case believing and obeying Him must by definition be the only best option, leading to the best set of outcomes.

If God is not real (ergo not trustworthy), then believing him and acting according to Biblical commands may or may not produce noticeably better results than acting otherwise.

Any R/B analysis in regards to trusting God can only be preliminary, as the decisive question is not, "What would happen if I'm wrong?" but rather, "Is God trustworthy?" The two are not interchangeable. Also, if God is who the Bible says, then He helps us figure out His will and nature, reducing the likelihood of our being mistaken. Finally, our understanding and obedience are never perfect or complete, so part of the risk of us messing things up is again minimized by God taking our imperfect efforts and making more out of them than we were able to accomplish ourselves - again, "if" in fact God is trustworthy.

So the real question from beginning to end is the nature of God. Evaluating the potential outcomes should we be mistaken is secondary. Hope this helps.


I think it's just fine, as as you wrote, to make a decision based on risk/benefit analysis. But in that case, what do you make of Pascal's Wager (as Todd mentioned)?

I have to agree that I don't like the word faith either. Trust more readily describes biblical faith. I would probably add in loyalty too since biblical faith was not merely intellectually affirmation but expressed through life.

That's an interesting way of looking at it RonH. Based on your original post you seem to be saying that you need to justify your actions. I agree. However, trust is shorthand for "I can readily depend on this person because of their pattern of behaviour". It is not irrational but based on an assessment of character using your personal interactions, documented history, other people who you trust who vouch for them, etc. I think you are comparing apples and oranges--R/B is about consequences, trust is about reliability. And you can’t do an R/B analysis until you know the reliability because the reliability will determine the risks and benefits.

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