I think the following discussion really elides a couple of different notions of what faith could amount to.
[quote author=“ram”] If I am to have an operation, I would speak with a doctor to understand (gain knowledge) about what the problem is and what the operation should achieve. I may get a second opinion in order to add some more confidence to my understanding. I may speak with other people to learn about their experience with the doctor or with the same operation. I thereby gain a basis for agreement that the operation is necessary and that it should achieve the expected results; however, I cannot know that with 100% certainty.
Faith ‘completes’ itself in that I live in terms of it. That means that I go to the hospital/outpatient surgery clinic or whatever to have the operation performed. When I walk in and see the people in white coats and the knives, etc., I might begin to ‘lose faith.’ What happens next is that I need to think more instead of less. In other words, I have to rethink, revisit the discussions with the doctors and the reasons for my decision. I would not be acting on faith to act upon the uneasy feelings that arise upon entering the hospital.
Here “faith” seems sort of like “confidence” or a positive state of mind. In that sense, even atheists have faith. But this is irrelevant to any belief in God, and so it’s really not a useful example of the term.
One may say “I have faith in the doctor”, but that is usually just poetic talk for “I have confidence in the doctor”. But would we be likely to say this if we knew the doctor was a fake and had no training in medicine? No. We have confidence in the doctor to the extent to which we can see his credentials. This is rational confidence.
[quote author=“ram”]I read an interview this morning with the MIT professor Noam Chomsky, who said something indirectly regarding faith. He said, “If I walk out the door, I have an irrational belief that the floor is there. Can I prove it? You know if I am paying attention to it I see it’s there, but I can’t prove it. In fact, if you’re a scientist, you don’t prove anything. The sciences don’t have proofs, what they have are surmises. There is a lot of nonsense these days about evolution just being a theory. Everything’s just a theory, including classical physics! If you want proofs you go to arithmetics; in arithmetic you can prove things. But you stipulate the axioms.”
The notion that anything not provable mathematically is “irrational” is one of the worst sorts of bugaboos of epistemology. Talking like this makes a hash of how we use words like “know” in everyday life. Can we logically prove that there is a floor outside? No. Neither can I logically prove that anything exists, except arguably the logical entities themselves. But so what? Knowledge is given by more than just the laws of logic and mathematics. One does not need “faith” to believe that if one fell out of a twelve-story building one would die.
[quote author=“ram”]The scientific laws are only going to hold if the regularity we have experienced heretofore continues to be the case. The empirical will follow if these conditions hold. I expect (believe, have faith) that regularity will continue, and I have a reason for that.
Ummm ... but what work is the “faith” doing you if you also, as you say, “have a reason for that”? Indeed you do have a reason for that: it’s called induction. Induction, like deduction, is one of the basic rules of rationality. It is “basic” in that no further justification of induction is possible (it is self-justifying) and it is “of rationality” because without assuming some form of induction, it is impossible to learn anything about the way the world is.
So this discussion, it appears to me, elides ideas of faith as “confidence”, and as “reason”. But to me that appears to blow smoke in the face of the real use of faith in religion, which is as an escape from rationality.
Faith is unnecessary when there exists a rational argument for some premise. If I can show with reason that X is true, then any “faith” in X is just otiose. Hence “faith” that 120 + 5 = 125 would be silly. “Faith” that the Great Wall is in China would be silly. There are plenty of good, rational arguments for believing these things.
Faith only comes into it when the rational arguments don’t work, or in fact demonstrate the opposite. So, for example, one may say (as I do) that reason militates against the existence of an omnicompetent (perfectly good, knowing, powerful) God. Why? Because the world around us is too full of pain and evil for such a God to be in control.
The standard response is to say even though the belief in God appears irrational, we must suspend disbelief and have faith that he has some larger unseen plan.
That is the characteristic Christian idea of faith, and it is at base an exercise in irrationality.