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This is an actual photograph (taken by PZ Myers), the quote is from Martin Luther.[1]
Faith is believing what you know ain't so.
Mark Twain
Faith is the purposeful suspension of critical thinking.
Bill Maher

"Faith" has three separate meanings.

In a nonreligious context, to have faith in something is to believe that some idea is true. A person may have faith because of evidence for said idea or regardless of the evidence about said belief. If faith is taken to mean "without proof", many things are taken on faith - because strong, formal proof is really only applicable to mathematics.

In a religious context, to have faith is to believe that a god or a set of gods exist(s) and/or that the doctrines of a religion are correct. Again, person may have faith because of evidence for said idea or regardless of the evidence about said belief.

Sometimes "have a little faith" is essentially saying "don't be so pessimistic", which may or may not be justified depending on the situation. "Faith in oneself", for example, could be defined as having a rational trust in one's abilities, without unjustifiably assuming they are useless. The key point is justification: when we exhort someone to "have faith in yourself", we do it because we believe there is good evidence they can trust, not in spite of there being none.


[edit] Types of faith

[edit] Blind faith

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
John 20:29
If your retina ended up in the same state regardless of what light entered it, you would be blind. Some belief systems, in a rather obvious trick to reinforce themselves, say that certain beliefs are only really worthwhile if you believe them unconditionally - no matter what you see, no matter what you think. Your brain is supposed to end up in the same state regardless. Hence the phrase, "blind faith". If what you believe doesn't depend on what you see, you've been blinded as effectively as by poking out your eyeballs.
Eliezer Yudkowsky

"Blind faith" is a pejorative term that describes an assertion with insufficient evidence. Often, there is no difference between "faith" and "blind faith". Because faith is based upon a hope or trust that something is true despite a lack of evidence or proof, the use of "blind" doesn't actually change this definition, but instead tries to bring to the fore all the negative connotations of someone believing regardless of what they can see and experience. Because of this, faith becomes absolute, uncritical and unchanging, and therefore the opposite of open minded. In the end, blind faith means that one is, well, blind.

[edit] Examples

  • Blind faith is jumping from a building when someone tells you it's on fire, but you don't check to see if there's anyone down there to rescue you. Or if there's a window where you are jumping. Or if the building's even on fire to begin with.
  • Blind faith is the sort of thing people who think a smile and a firm handshake qualifies as due diligence promote as a virtue.
  • Blind faith is kissing Karl's ass because two weird guys told you that Hank wanted you to.

[edit] Informed faith

Where there is evidence, no one speaks of 'faith'. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence.
Bertrand Russell

Informed faith is accepting the probable truth of statements that are based on information one does not have full access to, in situations where one does have access to a reasonable amount of supporting evidence.

In areas of science, informed faith often means trusting that researchers have built on the same systems of experimentation and exploration that one has explored personally. Additionally, the correct functioning of technological systems that depend on certain explanations can be the lay person's underpinning for informed faith.

[edit] As a virtue

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
—1 Corinthians 13:13[2]
Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes them against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr’s death will send them straight to heaven.
Richard Dawkins
Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22

The word "faith" carries many positive implications of trust and loyalty, but in normal life it's not taken to be an unbeatable virtue. Every (fully mature, mentally healthy) person has a limit to their trust and their loyalty. We warn children against untrustworthy people precisely because they don't know when it's appropriate to trust/have faith and when not to. We don't encourage them to believe that jumping out of trees wearing superman costumes is a good idea. Praising unquestioning faith - or unquestioning loyalty - in anything is objectively dangerous. Even in a traditionalist, hidebound society, normally the only entities who are upheld as deserving unquestioning loyalty are the highest authority figures and prestige institutions, not just ordinary people. And even in those cases it's not in any sense justifiable. The problem is that people who claim that faith is a virtue in itself always want to make exceptions for things that it's not okay to have faith in — a Christian fundy is unlikely to praise devotion to Osama bin Laden, for example.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  2. That's right. The Bible says that love (specifically, charity, in its original meaning) is greater than faith.
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