There are various concepts of faith which have different connotations. In the dictionary, the first two definitions are:
- Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
- Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
Both are legitimate definitions in a discussion, but the confusion between the two definitions often leads to the use of the equivocation fallacy among those who wish to assert that atheism is based on faith.
Mark Twain also created a classic definition in his book, Pudd'nhead Wilson: "Faith is believing what you know ain't so."
Faith in the Bible
In one classic Bible story, Doubting Thomas does not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus appears to Thomas and gives him the opportunity to touch his wounds, after which Thomas becomes a believer. However, Jesus admonishes Thomas' skepticism, saying: "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29 ).
Arguments for Faith
A number of arguments exist in defense of faith.
- Faith is a virtue: Faith is something to be desired in and of itself.
- The idea that premises should be accepted without evidence and moreover the idea is better without evidence. However, one could just as easily believe that God wants you to love your neighbors as you could that God wants you to kill them for working on the Sabbath. For example, faith is often used as a justification for suicide bombers.
- "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire
- "Faith is a cop-out. If the only way you can accept an assertion is by faith, then you are conceding that it can’t be taken on its own merits." - Dan Barker
- "A casual stroll through an insane asylum shows that faith does not prove anything." - Friedrich Nietzsche
- People have faith in other things, wind, love, quantum mechanics without people questioning them.
- Wind demonstrably exists. Beyond secondary effects and weather such as tornadoes and hurricanes, we also have wind turbines which harness wind power into electrical power.
- Love demonstrably exists. We actually feel love. We can easily witness the change in behavior people display while in love. We can measure the neurotransmitters in the brain. We can observe the brain changes via MRI machines.
- Quantum mechanics demonstrably work. We use quantum mechanics in everything from cell phones to laptop computers, and have measured quantum phenomenon to "a degree equal to measuring the width of the United States to the width of a human hair."
- "I'm getting rather tired of Christian arm chair physicists waving their hands around in the air, muttering about the "mysteries of QM" and invoking a similar mystery for their god. If God were understood as well as quantum mechanics, we would have already miniaturized him and put him in a device to carry around on our wrists." -Ozy666 (About Atheism/Agnosticism forum)
- Faith is trust
- Faith is not trust. Trust is generally justified, appeals to faith would be unneeded if the faith were justified initially.
- This is equivocation. Comparing my belief that "my family will not murder me during the night" with believing in "unjustified unevidenced religious claims" is simply equating the two words when they do not properly equate. Attempting to justify religious faith by appealing to a more justifiable claim, which is itself justified by evidence and reason, and ignoring the justification in order to assume no justification is needed, is not a cogent argument.
Belief in Belief
Rather than directly justify faith, often arguments will defend the belief in belief. That though, faith may not be itself justified, faith is itself useful. These arguments are largely irrelevant to the question at hand. Sam Harris addresses these argument by comparing the argument that "faith brings comfort" and "faith gives purpose to people's lives" to the claim that "I have a diamond the size of a refrigerator buried in my back yard". Such a belief could provide a person with purpose, and could be a comforting thought, just as it could give their life meaning. However, none of this has anything to do with the truth of the statement.