Can Dual-Process Theory Explain the Ambiguity of the Notion of Faith in the New Testament?

Pavel Butakov
Tuesday 2 August 2022
  1. Introduction and Hypothesis
  2. Fields of Study
  3. Study
  4. Discussion
  5. Conclusion

1. Introduction and Hypothesis

Faith is a central notion in the New Testament (NT) and Christian soteriology. There is, however, a variety of interpretations of this notion in the Christian theological literature. One of the reasons for this diversity is the fact that the NT itself does not provide a consistent description of the nature of faith. For example, faith can be simultaneously present and absent in the same person; some people are reported to come to faith while already having faith. Contemporary debates in analytic theology address a number of ambiguities of the notion of religious faith that originate from its inconsistent description in the NT. Scholars argue whether faith should be described in qualitative or in quantitative terms, whether it is voluntary or involuntary, whether faith is an attitude towards a person or to a proposition, or is it rather a general disposition.

Cognitive psychology offers the dual-process theory (DPT) as a promising framework for describing inconsistencies in human cognition, judgment, and decision making. According to DPT, the processing of the human mind involves two distinct ways of operation—intuitive and analytic. In many cases, these two types of processes deliver conflicting results. The list of differences between the two types of processes bears striking resemblance to the list of differences in descriptions of faith in the NT. This resemblance is likely more than just a coincidence.

In this project, I analyze those mentions of faith in the NT that can be mapped on the two standard dual-processing types from cognitive psychology and categorize these cases of faith as Type 1 and Type 2. Then I demonstrate how the dual-process categorization of faith offers a plausible interpretation of those NT passages that juxtapose different kinds of faith. After that, I apply the dual-process account of faith to some contemporary analytic theological debates and discuss the results of this application. In conclusion, I affirm the project’s hypothesis: that the dual-process theory can offer a plausible explanation for the ambiguity of the NT notion of faith.

2. Fields of Study

2.1 Dual-Process Theory

In general, a dual-process theory (DPT) claims that there are two distinct ways of how the human mind works. The first way involves intuitive automatic processes and the second involves deliberate controlled processes. Prototypical DPTs originate from cognitive psychology and describe human cognition, judgment, and decision making (Sloman 1996; Kahneman 2011; Evans and Stanovich 2013). Due to the success of the DPT framework in cognitive psychology, the dual-process model of mind eventually made its way and became firmly established in many other disciplines. Apart from cognitive psychology, the fields of research that use DPT to explain human faith include social psychology and sociology (Haidt 2001; Greene 2013; Stoltz and Lizardo 2018), studies of religion (Oviedo 2015; Morgan 2016), and cognitive science of religion (Barrett 2007; Edman and Penner 2022).

Some proponents of DPT refer to the dual-processing as System 1 and System 2 and use the term “dual-system theory.” Others try to avoid the terminology of two systems since it might introduce a misleading picture of two distinct minds in the same brain (Evans and Stanovich 2013). Instead, they prefer to talk about two types of processes in one mind and refer to them as Type 1 and Type 2.

Various DPTs in various fields of study do not agree on every detail, yet they all share the basic idea of the two types of processes. Type 1 processes are described as fast, non-reflective, instinctual, emotional, automatic, and non-conscious (i.e. the agent is not aware of them). They also include processes of implicit learning and conditioning, many rules and decision-making principles that have been practiced to the point of automaticity, and intuitive judgments that are supported only by some feeling of rightness. Type 2 processes are the opposite. They are slow, analytic, reflective, effortful, controlled (e.g. the agent can decide whether to carry them out), and conscious (i.e. the agent is aware of being engaged in them). They involve hypothetical thinking and consequential decision making, explicit reasoning or justification, and they correlate with the agent’s general intelligence (Evans and Stanovich 2013, Evans 2017, Pennycook 2018). Type 1 processes do not constitute a single type-1 system but rather represent the autonomous set of systems, whereas Type 2 processes operate under a whole spectrum of different modes (Evans and Stanovich 2013). The basic picture of their interaction is circular: the autonomous (Type 1) processes serve as a foundation for controlled (Type 2) processes, which, in turn, can influence the autonomous systems, and so on.

Very often, this standard dual-process model is called “the dual-process theory” as shorthand. However, despite several attempts that have been made to combine various dual-process accounts into a generic theory, no such theory has ever been widely accepted. It is unlikely that a coherent generic theory is even possible (Evans 2006). Many critics, who attack the hypothetical generic dual-process or dual-system theory, correctly point out that the proposed clusters of attributes are not reliably aligned (Kruglanski and Gigerenzer 2011).

The proponents of DPT respond that the above lists of Type 1 and Type 2 properties are not clusters of the two systems’ attributes, and they should not be treated as strong statements about necessarily co-occurring features (Evans and Stanovich 2013). While some attributes are definitive for Type 1 and 2, the others are only correlative and may or may not be occurrent. Jonathan Evans and Keith Stanovich (2013) maintain that the definitive attribute of Type 1 is autonomy, and of Type 2 is the use of the working memory (controlled attention). Thompson (2013) insists that there should be only one, not two definitive attributes, and suggests defining Type 1 processes as autonomous and Type 2 as non-autonomous.

Another popular criticism of DPT is that the standard two-type distinction does not correspond with the actual picture of mental processing. There is a question of whether Type 1 and Type 2 processes are qualitatively different, and wouldn’t it be more cogent to think of them as lying on a continuum of properties of a single process (Shea and Frith 2016; Thompson and Newman 2018). Nicholas Shea and Chris Frith (2016) insist that just the two processes are insufficient and suggest a multi-level model of cognition with Types 0, 1, and 2. Also, there is a valid concern about whether it is even possible, in principle, to dissociate the tightly disentangled Type 1 and Type 2 processes, and shouldn’t we rather accept that every response is produced by a combination of autonomous and controlled processes (Thompson and Newman 2018).

In scientific experiments, it may be very hard to distinguish between the Type 1 and Type 2 processes and to disentangle complex combinations and interactions of simultaneous processes in research subjects. This study, however, has a much easier task. Unlike the scientists who examine the faith of living human beings, I study the notion of faith as it is expressed in the NT. When the NT authors occasionally disclose some details about the nature of faith-related processes, in most cases these details are barely sufficient to attribute the process to only one of the two types, let alone to detect any complex interaction of various processes. Despite the criticisms, the standard dual-process model of cognition, judgment, and decision making remains unmatched by any other account and excels in many research areas. Thus I consider DPT to be a promising theory for explaining the ambiguity of the notion of faith in the NT.

2.2 Analytic Theology of Faith

One of the booming areas in Analytic theology and analytic philosophy of religion is pistology or the study of faith. Having its roots in epistemology, analytic pistology, on the one hand, inherits the traditional epistemological agenda but, on the other hand, tries to establish its own methodology and research program (McAllister 2018; Wettstein 2019; Lebens 2022).

2.2.1 Pistology as Epistemology

Quite often faith is understood as belief without sufficient evidence. But is faith a belief, or is it some other kind of propositional attitude (Alston 1996; Audi 2008; Howard-Snyder 2013)? If it is a propositional attitude, is it, then, doxastic, i.e. does it necessarily entail belief in the relevant proposition (Pojman 1986; Bishop 2007; Howard-Snyder 2018; Scott 2020; Palmqvist 2022)? Or is it true that faith is not a propositional attitude and does not have any cognitive content (Buchak 2012; Saran 2014; Kvanvig 2016)? These are the central epistemological concerns of analytic pistology.

If faith is cognitive, then there is more than one way how it could relate to a proposition. Philosophers suggest various taxonomies with various nomenclatures (Audi 2008; Eklund 2016; Buchak 2017; Jackson 2022). For the purposes of this study, I shall only consider three kinds of cognitive faith. First, the object of faith could be the person (or any other source) that delivers the proposition (Anscombe 2008; Zagzebski 2012, 189-191; Dougherty 2014; Boespflug 2016). In this case, people simply believe someone on their word. This is how the English word faith has been understood in the past (Anscombe 2008, 1). I shall call this credulous faith. Second, the object of faith could be the proposition itself. This would be the paradigmatic case of propositional faith. Third, the object of faith could be a person (or a thing) in a certain capacity; e.g. “Craig has faith in Nancy as a business partner (but not as a friend).” Faith in someone or something is often called relational (Morgan 2015; McKaughan 2017; McAllister 2018). Analytic pistology pays special attention to relational faith and its unique properties that distinguish it from other kinds. Apparently, relational faith is always domain-specific, i.e. “to have faith in x” always means “to have faith in x, as a thus-and-so” (McKaughan and Howard-Snyder 2022). Relational faith ought not to be conflated with credulous faith: believing the person’s testimony is not the same as having faith in the person as a truth-teller—we can regard the person as a pathological liar but still believe their testimony this time. Also, relational faith is different from propositional faith about the person’s capacity, i.e. “faith in Nancy as a business partner” cannot be substituted with “faith that Nancy is a good business partner”, since such substitution misses both the object of faith—Nancy—and the unique relational nature of relational faith (Howard-Snyder and McKaughan 2022, 298).

There are other areas of pistological inquiry that overlap with epistemology. For the purposes of this study, we shall consider the questions of whether faith is voluntary or involuntary (Adams 1984; Rettler 2018; Audi 2019) and whether it is qualitative or quantitative (Vahid 2009; Buchak 2014; Pace 2017).

2.2.2 Pistology as Theology

Epistemologists build their theories based on intuitions (often connected with thought experiments) and ordinary language (predominantly English). A study of non-religious faith relies on the same two main sources. However, faith is also a religious phenomenon; therefore pistology could also be a branch of theology. In this case, pistology ought to use a broad spectrum of theological resources.

As a theological discipline, analytic pistology can study the nature of religious faith by addressing the sacred scriptures (Morgan 2015; Howard-Snyder 2017; Pace and McKaughan 2022) and their historical interpretations (Saran 2014; Morgan 2015; Lebens 2017), through the works of influential theologians (Stump 2003, 361-88; Boespflug 2016; Pace and McKaughan 2022) and the lives of acknowledged people of faith (Coakley 2016; Cuneo 2017; McKaughan 2018). In conformity with the theological aspect of pistology, I shall examine the Christian concept of religious faith based on the text of the New Testament.

3. Study

In this section, I locate and identify two types of faith in the Greek text of the New Testament. I consider NT as a canonically unified normative source for Christian theology and disregard the differences between various NT authors. By applying the dual-process account to the NT, I do not intend to force contemporary psychology into the ancient text. I use DPT as an exegetical tool, which could help expose the original ideas of the NT authors.

3.1 Method

The most prominent representation of the notion of faith in the NT is the word πίστις and its cognates. They include forms of πιστεύω, πιστικός, πίστις, πιστός, πιστόω, ἀπιστέω, ἀπιστία, ἄπιστος, and ὀλιγόπιστος, which comprise 605 occurrences total. This is not the exhaustive list of NT sources for understanding faith—the NT authors express the idea of faith by many more means than just words with πιστ-stem (Morgan 2015, 31-34; Schliesser 2017, 3 n. 3). Nevertheless, the pistis-vocabulary is a safe place to start research on NT faith.

In order to map the dual-process types on the NT notion of faith, I examined each case of pistis looking for typical attributes of Type 1 and Type 2 processes that refer to the nature of that pistis—whether it’s automatic or controlled, intuitive or deliberate, fast or slow, emotional, reflective, etc. I did not take into account those cases that I judged to be not obviously relevant to the notion of human faith toward God, e.g. inter-human or God’s pistis. In the end, of all the 605 occurrences of pistis in the NT, I’ve selected less than 25% of them. What sorts of pistis-occurrences ended up in the 75% that have been left out?

  • most cases where it simply denotes a member of the Christian community;
  • most of Pauline theology of faith, which pays much greater attention to the consequences of faith rather than its formation;
  • God’s pistis;
  • an account of Christian doctrine;
  • entrusting someone with a task;
  • a reference to authenticity;
  • social reliability;
  • believing someone in everyday matters;
  • believing false religious teachings;
  • pistis-talk that comes from the enemies and mockers of Jesus;
  • narratives that do not provide sufficient context for plausible attribution of a dual-process type to pistis.

The remaining cases of pistis have been distributed into two categories: Type 1 Pistis and Type 2 Pistis. In the following sections, I prefer to use the term “pistis” and its compounds (to have pistis, to acquire pistis, the lack of pistis, etc.) instead of their common English translations (faith, to believe, unfaithfulness, etc.), to avoid potential unwanted connotations.

3.2 Results

3.2.1 Type 1 Pistis

Type 1 includes such cases of pistis as:

  • believing someone on bare word without any proof (Jn. 4:21, 39, 41, 50, 8:30, 14:11, 16:30, 17:8, 20, 19:35, 20:29; Acts 27:25);
  • a product of pure, loving, virtuous heart (1 Cor. 13:7; Gal. 5:22; 1 Tim. 1:5, 3:9);
  • a byproduct of fellowship with people who have pistis (Rom. 1:12; 1 Tim. 4:12; 2 Tim. 1:5);
  • an emotional response (Lk. 8:13; Acts 8:12, 13, 13:12, 19:18; Heb. 11:23).

Type 1 resistance to or lack of pistis occurs because of:

  • dull, vain, corrupt heart (Mk. 16:14; Lk. 24:25; Jn. 3:18, 5:44, 6:64, 12:39; Acts 28:24; 2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Th. 2:11, 3:2; 1 Tim. 1:19, 5:8, 12, 6:10; 2 Tim. 3:8; Heb. 3:12, 4:2);
  • powerful emotions: fear (Mt. 8:26, 14:31; Mk. 4:40, 5:36; Lk. 8:25, 50), grief (Mk. 16:11), anxiety (Jn. 14:1) or even joy (Lk. 24:41);
  • mundane worries (Mt. 6:30, 16:8; Lk. 12:28; Jn. 6:36);
  • when the message contradicts one’s implicit beliefs (Jn. 3:12, 8:45, 10:25-39, 20:25).

3.2.2 Type 2 Pistis

Type 2 includes such cases of pistis as:

  • something that requires conscious and willful effort to maintain it over time, especially during hardship and persecution (1 Cor. 16:13, 1 Th. 1:3; 1 Tim. 6:11, 12; 2 Tim. 2:22, 4:7; Heb. 6:12; 1 Pet. 5:1; Rev. 13:10, 14:12);
  • a series of premeditated effortful actions aimed at obtaining divine favor (Mt. 9:2; Mk. 2:5; Lk. 5:20; Acts 5:14; Heb. 11:7, 8, 9, 24, 28, 35, 12:2). In some cases, the actions are accompanied by explicit articulation of the desired goal or a reason for the action (Mt. 9:22, 28; Mk. 5:34, 9:24, 10:52; Lk. 8:48, 18:42), and sometimes, on top of that, it is supported by additional reasons to withstand counter-arguments (Mt. 8:10, 15:28; Lk. 7:9);
  • comprehensive understanding of the doctrine, which can be enhanced by instruction (Rom. 12:3, 6; 14:1; Tit. 1:13, 2:2; 1 Jn. 4:16);
  • purposefully chosen way of acquiring salvation (1 Cor. 15:17; Gal. 2:16; Heb. 11:6);
  • the result of contemplation on the Sacred Scriptures (Jn. 5:46, 20:31; Acts 17:12; 2 Tim. 3:15; Heb. 11:3);
  • the result of remembering an earlier prediction of the occurring events (Lk. 22:32; Jn. 2:22, 10:42, 13:19, 14:29);
  • the result of rational conclusion from facts, reports, events, miracles, Scriptures, and promises (Lk. 17:19; Jn. 1:50, 2:11, 23, 4:53, 6:69, 7:31, 9:38, 12:11, 42, 14:11, 20:8, 27, 29; Acts 9:42, Rom. 6:8; 1 Th. 4:14, Heb. 11:17, 1 Pet. 1:21).

Lack or loss of pistis, too, can be the result of rational conclusion from facts, doctrines, and reports (Mt. 13:58, Mk. 6:6; Lk. 24:11, 1 Tim. 1:13, 4:1, 6:21; 2 Tim. 2:18).

We see that there is a variety of Type 1 and Type 2 processes that are responsible for the presence or absence of pistis. They can be tentatively categorized as “Pistis 1” and “Pistis 2” as long as we keep in mind that neither Pistis 1 nor Pistis 2 represents a unified process.

3.2.3 Unresolved: Pistis vs. Diakrisis

Several NT passages describe pistis as something incompatible with diakrisis (Mt. 21:21; Mk. 11:23; Rom. 4:20, 14:23; Jas. 1:6). The basic idea of these passages is this: if someone has pistis and does not have any diakrisis, then their prayers will be fulfilled, and they will be considered righteous and will not be judged. The most common translation of the verb diakrinesthai in these passages is “to doubt”, which corresponds with the popular theological idea that faith cannot coexist with doubt. There are, however, philological reasons to question the interpretation of diakrisis as “doubt” (Schliesser 2012). In other NT passages, as well as in the non-biblical literature of that time, this verb usually means to distinguish, discern, or dispute. Apparently, translating this verb as “doubt” is a product of a post-biblical theological idea, which adds a novel psychological twist to pistis. A more cautious translation of diakrisis in these passages should be in line with its general meaning, e.g. “contemplating an alternative.”

Now, the question is whether the pistis that opposes diakrisis is a Type 1 or a Type 2 process. If it is a Type 1, then the basic idea of these passages would be the following, “Don’t overthink it. Your questioning mind would only lead your astray.” If it is a Type 2, then the idea would be quite different, “You will succeed only after you’ve considered and conclusively rejected the alternatives.” Unfortunately, the passages themselves do not seem to provide the answer. Nevertheless, later I will argue in favor of Type 2 attribution based on a more developed picture of Pistis 1 and Pistis 2 attributes.

3.2.4 Interaction of Pistis 1 and 2

Although Pistis 1 and 2 have been identified as different processes, they are not independent of one another. Believing Jesus on his word (Pistis 1) is supported by Type 2 pistis in the Scripture (Jn. 5:46). Instruction in pistis (Type 2) brings about sincere Pistis 1 (1 Tim. 1:4-5). A rebuke of vices “heals” Pistis 1, which, in turn, helps Pistis 2 to withstand false teachings (Tit. 1:13-14).

Lack of Pistis 1, being an autonomous Type 1 process, cannot be remedied by a mere act of will. It can, however, be mitigated by Pistis 2—by exposition of Scripture (Lk. 24:25-27), remembering Jesus’ miracles (Mt. 16:8), reasoning from evidence (Mt. 6:30, Lk. 12:28), and additional inquiry (Lk. 24:11-12; Jn. 20:25-27). For some people, however, the lack of Pistis 1 cannot be remedied by Type 2 processes (Jn. 8:45; 2 Tim. 3:8).

3.2.5 Counteraction of Pistis 1 and 2

In the Gospel of John, one of the prominent themes is the comparison of the two types of pistis—believing the word is more praiseworthy than believing the works. Pistis 2 from seeing a miracle is inferior to Pistis 1 from believing Jesus on his word (Jn. 4:48-53, 10:38, 14:11). Also, Pistis 2 from seeing a miracle is inferior to Pistis 1 from believing an eyewitness report of that same miracle (Jn. 20:25-29). At the same time, Pistis 1 from believing Jesus on his word is superior to Pistis 1 from believing an eyewitness of a miracle on her word (Jn. 4:39-42), possibly because the latter might involve some additional Type 2 processing, e.g., evaluation of the credibility of the witness and a possibility of the reported miracle.

It would be wrong, however, to assume that St. John always prefers Pistis 1 to Pistis 2. Indeed, he has a lesser appreciation of Pistis 2 that comes from seeing the miracles. On the other hand, he treats Pistis 1 from believing Jesus’ words as inferior to Pistis 2 that perseveres through persecution (Jn. 16:30-32), and to Pistis 2 that comes from a comprehensive understanding of Jesus’ teaching (Jn. 8:31-46). In the latter case, people are even said to have pistis (Jn. 8:31), while they are still condemned for not having pistis (Jn. 8:45-46).

One might argue that a theory of two types of pistis is contrived and that all the NT cases of pistis can be explained by a single process that is sensitive to various factors. Based on the results of this study, especially the counteraction of the two types of pistis in the Gospel of John, we can safely affirm that there is more than one type of pistis in the NT and it would be disadvantageous to treat all cases of pistis as a uniform phenomenon. The project’s hypothesis seems plausible.

4. Discussion

In this section, I apply the distinction between Pistis 1 and 2 to some debates in the analytic theology of faith. In the previous section, we’ve confirmed our main hypothesis. Now we need to demonstrate the heuristic value of this hypothesis, i.e., that the dual-process account of faith can help solve pistological problems.

4.1 Voluntary vs. Involuntary

A dual-process theory of faith can offer a simple obvious answer to the question of whether faith is voluntary or involuntary. The definitive property of Type 1 processes is their autonomy, i.e. involuntariness; consequently, Type 2 processes, by definition, are voluntary. Therefore, faith can be voluntary (Pistis 2) or involuntary (Pistis 1).

4.2 Propositionality of Faith

Analytic discussion of the propositional nature of faith includes debates concerning (1) whether faith is always cognitive, (2) whether cognitive faith is always propositional, and (3) whether propositional faith is always doxastic (see 2.2.1).

To answer the first question, we ought to address the distinction between Pistis 1 and Pistis 2. Pistis 2 always involves a cognitive element—thinking, reasoning, remembering, holding ideas in working memory, etc. Pistis 1, on the other hand, is not always cognitive. Sometimes it involves cognitive content, e.g. in cases of implicitly believing testimonies, promises, and other propositions. But sometimes it is a non-cognitive reaction determined by emotions, habits, or character traits. Thus it would be safe to assume that in the NT, Pistis 2 is cognitive, and Pistis 1 can be cognitive or non-cognitive.

It is beyond the scope of this paper to answer the third question. To make an educated contribution to the philosophical debate on whether “faith that p” entails “belief that p”, one would need to analyze both the faith-lexicon and belief-lexicon of the Greek NT (pisteuein vs. dokein, nomizein; Morgan 2015, 30). One thing is certain, however—the pistis-passages in the NT do not overlap with the belief-vocabulary in any meaningful context. Thus it would be plausible to assume that the whole doxasticism vs. non-doxasticism debate has no grounding in the Greek NT.

In the rest of this section, I discuss the second question, whether cognitive faith is always propositional, i.e. whether every case of proposition-related faith can be reduced to the paradigmatic form “faith that p.” The discussion is limited to those cases of cognitive pistis that have been identified as Type 1 or Type 2 processes (in 3.2.1 and 3.2.2).

Let us recall three kinds of proposition-related faith (from 2.2.1):

credulous             faith in S for the truth of p;

relational             faith in S to do/to be x;

propositional       faith that p.

The three kinds of proposition-related faith can be easily mapped onto cases of cognitive pistis in the NT. Credulous pistis is manifest when Jesus, his disciples, or witnesses talk about a certain state of affairs and people respond with pistis simply on their word (Mk. 16:11, 14; Jn. 3:12, 4:50, 8:45, 20:25, 29; Heb. 4:2). It is worth noting that some cases even contain the paradigmatic formula “believe S that p” (Jn. 4:21; Acts 27:25). Relational pistis always refers to the character or capacity of the object of pistis (Jn. 4:41-42, 6:69, 8:30, 13:19, 14:11, 16:30, 17:8, 21, 20:31). A distinctive mark of propositional pistis is the usage of the phrase “to have pistis that” (pisteuein hoti) followed by a proposition. To avoid conflation with relational pistis, let us also specify that this proposition should not describe the character or capacity of the object of pistis. There are some paradigmatic cases of propositional pistis in the NT (Rom. 6:8; 1 Th. 4:14). In some other cases, the phrase “pistis that” is not used, but the context clearly points to the propositional nature of the pistis (Rom. 14:23; 1 Cor. 15:17; Heb. 11:3).

How do the three kinds of proposition-related faith correspond with the dual-process types of pistis? First, all cases of credulous pistis belong to Pistis 1 category. This correlation is self-explanatory: credulous faith by its very definition is a Type 1 process since it is an immediate automatic product of implicit trust, which does not require high cognitive abilities, abstract thinking, working memory, reflection, or analysis of evidence. Second, all cases of propositional pistis belong to Pistis 2 category. In these cases, the propositions are inferences, e.g. from biblical and theological premises, and they express normative doctrines that should safeguard one’s beliefs against false teachings throughout the whole life. Third, cases of relational pistis (that can be firmly identified as Pistis 1 or 2) are found exclusively in the Gospel of John. Some of those cases belong to Pistis 1 and some to Pistis 2. Relational Pistis 1 occurs when people acknowledge who Jesus is based on his own words about himself and the testimony of the apostles. Relational Pistis 2 comes from reflection about his miracles. Basically, relational pistis is acquired by the same two processes—either as credulous pistis or propositional pistis.

From the DPT perspective of the NT pistis, distinguishing relational faith as the third kind of pistis seems redundant. The unique properties of relational faith might be relevant for other areas of inquiry, but within the dual-processing framework, disregarding these unique properties does not change the overall picture of cognition in any meaningful way. In the NT, any cognitive pistis is acquired either by immediate believing the words of Jesus, his disciples, and eyewitnesses (credulous Pistis 1), or by reflecting on miracles, Scripture, and authoritative theological statements (propositional Pistis 2).

While still on the subject, I should mention that there are two more cases of propositional pistis—Mk. 11:23-24 and Rom. 4:17-20—which were not mentioned in this section. They have been omitted because they belong to the aforementioned “pistis vs. diakrisis” category (see 3.2.3), and I postpone their attribution to the dual-process types until the end of the paper.

4.3 Qualitative vs. Quantitative Faith

To answer the question of whether faith comes in degrees, we should determine which cases of Pistis 1 and Pistis 2 describe faith in qualitative or quantitative terms. Almost none of the cases allow unequivocal identification. However, in most cases the context favors the qualitative interpretation—you either have faith or you don’t, some people believed and some didn’t, there are believers and non-believers, etc. There are, however, a few cases that strongly suggest the quantitative interpretation.

St. Paul writes that one should prophesy proportionately to the measure of pistis (Rom. 12:3, 6). Apparently, the idea is that the “measure of pistis” refers to the level of theological maturity, and the ministry of preaching should correspond with one’s capability to present the sound doctrine. In the Gospels, the centurion is commended for “such great pistis” (Mt. 8:10, Lk. 7:9) and the Canaanite woman for her “great pistis” (Mt. 15:28). This commendation comes after they present a compelling argument in favor of their request, so it would be safe to assume that the greatness of their pistis is determined by their level of understanding. These cases of pistis belong to Pistis 2 category.

There are two more cases of quantitative pistis, which belong to the “pistis vs. diakrisis” category (see 3.2.3) and haven’t yet been identified as Pistis 1 or 2. According to St. Paul, Abraham did not weaken in pistis in the divine promise but grew strong in pistis (Rom. 4:19-20). Those who observe religious dietary laws are weak in faith (Rom. 14:1, 23).

Finally, there is a problem of whether the term “person of little faith” (oligopistos) implies the quantitative interpretation of pistis. I judge that it does not. First, in Mt. 17:20, the oligopistia means not even having pistis as small as a mustard seed. Second, the parallel passages in other Synoptic Gospels substitute oligopistos with apistos. In other words, “little faith” means lack of faith.

Thus, in all unequivocal cases, quantitative pistis belongs to Pistis 2 and refers to the level of understanding and theological maturity.

4.4 Pistis vs. Diakrisis: Resolution

Section 3.2.3 lists those NT passages where pistis opposes diakrisis—“contemplating the alternative” (Mt. 21:21; Mk. 11:23; Rom. 4:20, 14:23; Jas. 1:6). The unresolved question is what type of pistis is that? It was impossible to answer that question based solely on the context of the passages. In the course of this study, we have discovered several important features of this pistis that might help identify its type. First, it is propositional (Mk. 11:23, Rom. 4:20). Second, it is quantitative (Rom. 4:20, 14:23). We’ve also discovered that all cases of propositional pistis or quantitative pistis belong to Pistis 2. Therefore, it would be plausible to assume that the pistis that opposes diakrisis is a Type 2 process. If so, these passages suggest not shielding your mind from errant thoughts and feelings but, on the contrary, facing and resolving all relevant issues until you cease to waver.

5. Conclusion

This study confirms the hypothesis that the ambiguity of the NT notion of faith can be plausibly explained by DPT. Those NT cases of pistis that can be reliably attributed to one of the two dual-process types provide sufficient foundation for a dual-process account of faith. This account has the following benefits. First, it offers a plausible interpretation of some obscure NT passages:

  • whenever NT juxtaposes various kinds of faith, it refers to Type 1 faith vs. Type 2 faith;
  • when faith is said to be incompatible with diakrisis (commonly translated as “doubt”), it refers to Type 2 faith.

Second, it helps resolve some contemporary debates in analytic theology and epistemology concerning the nature of religious faith:

  • Type 1 faith is involuntary and Type 2 faith is voluntary;
  • quantitative faith is a Type 2 faith that has to do with the one’s level of theological maturity and understanding;
  • Type 2 faith is cognitive, and Type 1 faith can be cognitive or non-cognitive.

Third, according to the suggested account, there are only two processes of acquiring cognitive faith: Type 1 believing someone on their word and Type 2 inferential formation of propositional faith. Within this framework, an introduction of more than two kinds of cognitive faith seems redundant.

I expect the results of this study to be helpful primarily for Christian theology; hopefully, they might also be relevant for non-Christian theologies, philosophy of religion and epistemology of faith.


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Cite this article

Butakov, Pavel. 2022. Can Dual-Process Theory Explain the Ambiguity of the Notion of Faith in the New Testament? Theological Puzzles (Issue 12).

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Pavel Butakov
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