On my son’s first day in Primary, I was sitting in the back listening when the introductory subject about “faith” was quickly raised to welcome the new group.
In trying to explain to these young children, the teacher (understandably) opted for a very simplistic explanation of the word, in which she stated “Faith is believing in something you can’t see.”
That description might suffice for a 4-year-old, but rational adults ought to look at the real meaning of what the word “faith” means and its implications in our decision making.
Believers quite often state that scientists and skeptics use faith in coming to certain conclusions or better, that it takes just as much faith to believe certain scientific statements as it does religious ones.
Mitchel Kahle of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church wrote a nice, short answer to this question.
The essence of faith is belief in a proposition without substantive evidence or logical justification. The simple statement “I believe…” encapsulates the basic meaning of faith.
If a proposition is supported by facts and logic, then it qualifies as a statement of knowledge, as opposed to a belief. Unlike faith, knowledge is considered universal. It would be silly to state, “I have faith that the ocean is salty,” when it is common knowledge that the ocean is salty. If one has proof for a proposition, faith is irrelevant.
To say “I believe in vampires” is a statement of pure faith, since there is absolutely no evidence or justification for such belief. In this case, one could hardly argue that faith qualifies as virtue. An argument from faith is an admission that the claimant lacks any form of tangible proof.
“I believe there is life on other planets,” is a statement of faith, but one of high probability. There is currently no direct evidence that life exists apart from the Earth. But among other things, the sheer size of the universe and vast number of galaxies known to contain similar suns and planets justifies belief in extraterrestrial life.
In the absence of evidence, beliefs may be justified, if not proven, by the use of well-reasoned logic. A belief that is not logically defensible, however, should be considered false until proven otherwise.
Faith is a vice, if one fails to recognize that his or her beliefs could be wrong. Faith can be a virtue, however, if the believer remains open to all possibilities. In the former case, as history proves, faith is an impediment to human progress. In the latter, it may well be a catalyst to discovery or a precursor of knowledge.