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“Propositional Faith: What it is and What it is Not” Article Review

Daniel Howard-Snyder dedicates his article to the topic of faith. His main claim is that the common understanding of propositional faith is false and thus damages human thought processes regarding their attitude towards future events. Snyder argues that there is a substantial difference between conventional religious faith and propositional faith (357). Essentially, he proposes to separate the terms “faith” and “belief” because their use leads to confusion and misunderstanding of the basic concept of faith.

By propositional faith, Howard-Snyder refers to the attitude of basing one’s thought process on emotions accompanied by the lack of any real evidence. Examples include such suppositions as confidence in the victory of a certain candidate for the presidency (namely, Barack Obama) and the hope that a particular team will win in a competition (367). Although historically Obama has really won the election, at the time the supposition had been made, there was little basis for his assured victory. However, the emotional basis has strengthened the confidence in his success, which is essential for propositional faith.

In contrast, conventional faith presupposes a certain idea as absolute truth. Most commonly, it refers to the dogmas of religion, which require the believers to take certain concepts for granted (358). For example, the existence of God cannot be doubted by Christians. In essence, it is an axiom, meaning that no proof is necessary. Therefore, conventional faith presupposes the absence of doubt due to the absolute truth or belief in the absolute truth.

The reason why Howard-Snyder raised the problem in the first place lies in the societal implications of merging the ideas of belief and faith. Once people start to use these words interchangeably, they stop attaching sufficient importance to conventional faith. If a person does not understand the difference, they will adopt the mindset that religion does not require absolute truth. Instead, they might uphold the religious dogmas on an emotional basis. As a result, emotions become the primary drivers of religion and not belief.

The supposition that emotions are essential for propositional faith can be challenged. It can be stated that it is entirely possible to base confidence in something without emotions while still lacking evidence or a corresponding factual basis. The crux of the matter is that hope can also provide the basis despite the actual chances. In reality, it is possible to express hope in small amounts, which is indicative of the faith, which stems from an unsupported source.

Following this line of reasoning, it becomes evident that the emotional basis is optional and can be skipped. Any time, a person finds themselves on the losing side, there is hope that they will succeed in their undertaking despite the surmounting odds. If a sports team faces the prospect of losing a game, there is a slight chance of them winning. If a person understands that they are late for an important meeting, there is a small possibility of them reaching their destination on time. This statistical possibility may also create the basis for propositional belief.

However, if Howard-Snyder were to encounter this counter-argument, he would likely delve into the semantics of terms. It is reasonable to expect that he would make an effort to distinguish between the terms “hope” and “faith” (370). For instance, “hope” can be interpreted as a state of mind driven by a specific emotion, which would invalidate the argument that propositional belief does not necessitate emotions. However, hope itself is primarily a feeling and not necessarily an emotion. A substantial part of emotional awareness is the ability not to fuse oneself with their own feelings.

As much as it is important not to fuse faith and belief, it is important to differentiate between feelings and emotions. Feelings are first and foremost conscious experiences of external sensations. Emotions are bodily reactions, which actively influence the flow of hormones in the organism. A person may experience a feeling of anxiety, however, the decision to be anxious is conscious as the body adapts to the external stimuli. Similarly, a person may feel hope, however, it is their choice whether they will fuse with it. As long as they do not accept hope as an uncontrolled factor, which influences their mindset and decisions, hope does not become an emotion.

Another debatable point of Howard-Snyder’s paper is the role of doubt. Basically, he believes that the difference between propositional faith and conventional faith lies in the absence of doubt. Although in theory, it is an effective way of distinguishing genuine believers, it might not work in reality because harboring doubts is in human nature (359). It is extremely unlikely that even the most devout Christians never questioned the Church’s dogmas. Actually, it is far more reasonable to claim that all people who identify themselves as followers of a particular faith have at some point harbored doubts regarding their religion.

Yet, the emphasis on doubts’ absence compromises numerous followers and the strength of their convictions. Moreover, it implies that the only way to be a righteous believer in God is uncompromising acceptance of the belief despite the factual reality. Subsequently, a contradiction is formed because such logic renders the faith of all devout Christians propositional (359). As a result, the role of doubt should be reconsidered and reintegrated into the paradigm of conventional faith.

A possible objection to this counter-argument may touch on the problem of the importance of unwavering faith. The Bible presents numerous stories of God demanding uncompromising loyalty from Christians. In this regard, doubt can be seen as a temptation, which ought to be fought and overcome. As much as it can be challenging to resist common physical urges, it can be mentally taxing to manage the desire to surrender to doubt. However, it is precisely what the religion would require of its followers.

The problem with admonishing doubt lies in the belief in its inherent harm. Many viewpoints, mindsets, and opinions are strengthened because people have surrendered at some point to doubt and compromised their beliefs. Yet, these weaknesses are essential in building a more stable attitude toward religion. After all, being exposed to doubts is exactly what will make the base conviction stronger and less prone to change. Therefore, it is essential to view doubt as an inherent part of conventional faith. Howard-Snyder is correct about the significance of concise use of words, yet ascertaining their real meaning is even more important.


Howard-Snyder, D. (2013). Propositional faith: What it is and what it is not. American Philosophical Quarterly, 50(4), 357-372.


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