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Faith exists in opposition to rationalistic thought. It can refer to any of a number of ideas, including:[1]:

  • Confidence in a person or thing (e.g. "I have faith that he will keep his promise");
  • Adherence to an obligation of loyalty to a person, organization, or idea (e.g. "I will be faithful to my spouse.");
  • Holding to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods;
  • Belief in a proposition or belief system without proof (e.g. "I have faith that God exists.").

Epistemological validity of faith

There exists a wide spectrum of opinion with respect to the epistemological validity of faith. On one extreme is logical positivism, which denies the validity of any beliefs held by faith; on the other extreme is fideism, which holds that true belief can only arise from faith, because reason and evidence cannot lead to truth. Some foundationalists, such as St. Augustine of Hippo and Alvin Plantinga, hold that all of our beliefs rest ultimately on beliefs accepted by faith. Others, such as C.S. Lewis, hold that Faith is merely the virtue by which we hold to our reasoned ideas, despite moods to the contrary.

Logical positivism and faith


Faith as the basis for human knowledge

Many noted philosophers and theologians have espoused the idea that faith is the basis of all knowledge. One example is St. Augustine of Hippo. Known as one of his key contributions to philosophy, the idea of "faith seeking understanding" was set forth by St. Augustine in his statement "Crede, ut intelligas" ("Believe in order that you may understand"). This statement extends beyond the sphere of religion to encompass the totality of knowledge. In essence, faith must be present in order to know anything. In other words, one must assume, believe, or have faith in the credibility of a person, place, thing, or idea in order to have a basis for knowledge.

One illustration of this concept is in the development of knowledge in children. A child typically holds parental teaching as credible, in spite of the child's lack of sufficient research to establish such credibility empirically. That parental teaching, however fallible, becomes a foundation upon which future knowledge is built.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The child’s faith in his/her parents teaching is based on a belief in their credibility. Unless/until the child’s belief in their parents’ credibility is superseded by a stronger belief, the parental teaching will serve as a filter through which other teaching must be processed and/or evaluated. Following this line of reasoning, and assuming that children have finite or limited empirical knowledge at birth, it follows that faith is the fundamental basis of all knowledge one has. Even adults attribute the basis for some of their knowledge to so called "authorities" in a given field of study. This is true because one simply does not have the time or resources to evaluate all of his/her knowledge empirically and exhaustively. "Faith" is used instead.

However, a child's parents are not infallible. Some of what the child learns from them will be wrong, and some will be rejected. It is rational (albeit at a perhaps instinctive level) for the child to trust the parents in the absence of other sources of information, but it is also irrational to cling rigidly to everything one was originally taught in the face of countervailing evidence. Parental instruction may be the historical foundation of future knowledge, but that does not necessarily make it a structural foundation.

It is sometimes argued that even scientific knowledge is dependent on 'faith' - for example, faith that the researcher responsible for an empirical conclusion is competent, and honest. Indeed, distinguished chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi argued that scientific discovery begins with a scientist's faith that an unknown discovery is possible. Scientific discovery thus requires a passionate commitment to a result that is unknowable at the outset. Polanyi argued that the scientific method is not an objective method removed from man's passion. On the contrary, scientific progress depends primarily on the unique capability of free man to notice and investigate patterns and connections, and on the individual scientist's willingness to commit time and resources to such investigation, which usually must begin before the truth is known or the benefits of the discovery are imagined, let alone understood fully. It could then be argued that until one possesses all knowledge in totality, one will need faith in order to believe an understanding to be correct or incorrect in total affirmation.

Again, scientific "faith" is not dogmatic. Whilst the scientist must make presuppositions in order to get the enterprise under way, almost everything (according to some thinkers, such as Quine, literally everything) is revisable and discardable.

Robert Todd Carroll, author of, argues that the word "faith" is usually used to refer to belief in a proposition that is not supported by a perceived majority of evidence. Since many beliefs are in propositions that are supported by a perceived majority of evidence, the claim that all beliefs/knowledge are based on faith is a misconception "or perhaps it is an intentional attempt at disinformation and obscurantism" made by religious apologists:[2]

"There seems to be something profoundly deceptive and misleading about lumping together as acts of faith such things as belief in the Virgin birth and belief in the existence of an external world or in the principle of contradiction. Such a view trivializes religious faith by putting all non-empirical claims in the same category as religious faith. In fact, religious faith should be put in the same category as belief in superstitions, fairy tales, and delusions of all varieties."

Faith as commitment

Sometimes, faith means a belief in a relationship with a deity. In this case, "faith" is used in the sense of "fidelity." For many Jews, the Hebrew Bible and Talmud depict a committed but contentious relationship between their God and the Children of Israel. For a lot of people, faith or the lack thereof, is an important part of their identity, for example a person who identifies himself or herself as a Muslim or a skeptic.

Faith in world religions


Although Judaism does recognize the positive value of Emunah (faith/belief) and the negative status of the Apikorus (heretic) the specific tenets that compose required belief and their application to the times have been heatedly disputed throughout Jewish history. Many, but not all, Orthodox Jews have accepted Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Belief.

A traditional example of faith as seen in the Jewish annals is found in the person of Abraham. A number of occasions, Abraham both accepts statements from God that seem impossible and offers obedient actions in response to direction from God to do things that seem implausible (see Genesis 12-15).

For a wide history of this dispute, see: Shapira, Marc: The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization (Series).)


Main article: Faith in Christianity

Faith is one of the most powerful concepts and teachings of Jesus Christ, as documented in the New Testament of the Bible. As one indication of the dramatic change in consciousness that came with the arrival of Jesus in human history, the word faith appears less frequently in the Old Testament, than in the New Testament. The modern interpretations of faith in Christianity differ somewhat among various Christian traditions. According to Bishop David Oyedepo of the Living Faith World Outreach Center (Canaanland Nigeria,) Faith is a living force drawn from the living word to provide living proofs.


Main article: Iman (concept)

Faith in Islam is called iman. It is a whole-person submission to The One God (Allah) which includes belief in the heart, profession by the tongue, and the body's performance of deeds consistent with our commission as vicegerent on Earth according to Allah's will. The spiritual heart is the seat or foundation of iman.

Belief in the heart has two aspects. First, it means recognizing and affirming that there is but one Creator of the universe and only to this Creator is our worship due. According to Islamic thought, this comes naturally because faith is an instinct of the human soul. This instinct is then trained via parents or guardians into specific religious or spiritual paths. Likewise, the instinct may not be guided at all.

Second, belief in the heart includes the willingness and commitment to submitting to the truth that Allah exists and to His prescriptions for living in accordance with vicegerency. The Quran (Koran) is the dictation of Allah's prescriptions through Prophet Muhammad and is understood to have updated and completed previous revelations Allah sent through earlier prophets.


Faith (saddha/sraddha) is an important constituent element of the teachings of the Buddha - both in the Theravada tradition as in the Mahayana. Faith in Buddhism derives from the pali word saddhā, which often refers to a sense of conviction. The saddhā is often described as:

  • A conviction that something is
  • A determination to accomplish one's goals
  • A sense of joy deriving from the other two

While faith in Buddhism does not imply "blind faith", Buddhist faith (as advocated by the Buddha in various scriptures, or sutras) nevertheless requires a degree of trusting confidence and belief primarily in the spiritual attainment and salvational knowledge of the Buddha. Faith in Buddhism centers on belief in the Buddha as a supremely Awakened being, on his unexcelled role as teacher of both humans and gods, in the truth of his Dharma (spiritual Doctrine), and in his Sangha (community of spiritually developed followers). Faith in Buddhism functions as a form of motor, which propels the Buddhist practitioner towards the goal of Awakening (bodhi) and Nirvana.

As a counter to any form of "blind faith", the Buddha taught the Kalama Sutra, exhorting his disciples to investigate any teaching and weigh its merits rather than believing something outright.

For more, see Faith in Buddhism

Bahá'í Faith

In the Bahá'í Faith a personal faith is viewed as a progressive understanding an individual goes through to learn the truth for oneself, towards the end that one may learn of God, of oneself, and also develop a praiseworthy character (not simply by knowing the truth, but by living honorably in relation to it.) Different ways of learning the truth for oneself are all respected and culminate in a spirit of faith or indwelling spirit by which the Holy Spirit informs one's belief without recourse to senses, intellect, intuition, scripture, or experience and research. However such a state is not considered to be independent of the Revelation of God by which the great Prophets founded the religions, nor is it meant to act as a sure guide for others.

See the Role of faith in the Baha'i Faith


Faith to the Rastafarians implies knowledge of the divinity of Haile Selassie rather than belief in this proposition, as Rastas claim not to hold belief systems. The word faith does not hold such negative connotations. Their faith in Selassie as God, and as the being who is going to end their sufferings at the day of judgement when they will return to live in Africa under his rule is at the center of their lives. The dreadlocks are worn as an open declaration of faith in and loyalty towards Haile Selassie, while marijuana is seen to help cultivate a strong faith by bringing the faithful closer to God. Rastas have faith when 2 or more of them come together to reason about their religion that Haile Selassie is with them. Selassie is seen as both God the Father, who created Heaven and earth, and as God the Son, the Reincarnation of Jesus Christ. To complete the Holy Trinity the Holy Spirit is seen as being in the believers themselves, and within all human beings. The announcement of the death of Selassie in 1975 did not disturb the faith of the Rastas, who assumed that God cannot die, and that therefore the news was false. Rastas also have a faith in physical immortality, both for Haile Selassie and for themselves.

Mormon (LDS)

Faith is to hope for things which are not seen, but which are true (Heb. 11: 1), and must be centered in Jesus Christ in order to produce salvation. To have faith is to have confidence in something or someone. The Lord has revealed himself and his perfect character, possessing in their fullness all the attributes of love, knowledge, justice, mercy, unchangeableness, power, and every other needful thing, so as to enable the mind of man to place confidence in him without reservation. Faith is kindled by hearing the testimony of those who have faith (Rom. 10: 14-17). Miracles do not produce faith, but strong faith is developed by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ; in other words, faith comes by righteousness, although miracles often confirm one’s faith. Faith is a principle of action and of power, and by it one can command the elements and/or heal the sick, or influence any number of circumstances when occasion warrants. Even more important, by faith one obtains remission of sins and eventually can stand in the presence of God. All true faith must be based upon correct knowledge or it cannot produce the desired results. Faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel and is more than belief, since true faith always moves its possessor to some kind of physical and mental action; it carries an assurance of the fulfillment of the things hoped for. A lack of faith leads one to despair, which comes because of iniquity. Although faith is a gift, it must be cultured and sought after until it grows from a tiny seed to a great tree. The effects of true faith in Jesus Christ include (1) an actual knowledge that the course of life one is pursuing is acceptable to the Lord (see Heb. 11: 4); (2) a reception of the blessings of the Lord that are available to man in this life; and (3) an assurance of personal salvation in the world to come. These things involve individual and personal testimony, guidance, revelation, and spiritual knowledge. Where there is true faith there are miracles, visions, dreams, healings, and all the gifts of God that he gives to his saints. Jesus pointed out some obstacles to faith in John 5: 44 and 12: 39-42 (cf. James 1: 6-8)

Criticisms of faith

A certain number of religious rationalists, as well as non-religious people, criticize implicit faith as being irrational, and see faith as ignorance of reality: a strong belief in something with no evidence. In this view, belief should be restricted to what is directly supportable by logic or scientific evidence. Some say that belief in scientific evidence is based on faith in positivism. Others claim that faith is perfectly compatible with and does not necessarily contradict reason, "faith" meaning a belief in the existence of a deity. Many Jews, Christians and Muslims claim that there is adequate historical evidence of their God's existence and interaction with human beings. As such, they may believe that there is no need for "faith" in God in the sense of belief against or despite evidence; rather, they hold that evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that their God probably exists or certainly exists.

No historical evidence has managed to convince the entirety of the community of historians on earth that any one religion is true. For people in this category, "faith" in a God simply means "belief that one has knowledge of [any particular] God[s]". It is logically impossible that all these different religions with their mutually contradictory beliefs can simultaneously be objectively true. Therefore, most historians with religious beliefs hold others to be "false", or essentially wrong. This is a standard tenet of most religions as well, though there are exceptions. An example of this is some forms of Hinduism, which hold the view that the several different faiths are just aspects of the ultimate truth that the several religions have difficulty describing or understanding. They see the different religions as just different paths to the same goal. This does not explain away all logical contradictions between faiths but these traditions say that all seeming contradictions will be understood once a person has an experience of the Hindu concept of moksha.

William Sloane Coffin claims that faith is not acceptance without proof, but trust without reservation. However, some religious believers – and many of their critics – often use the term "faith" as the affirmation of belief without an ongoing test of evidence. In this sense faith refers to belief beyond evidence or logical arguments, sometimes called "implicit faith." Another form of this kind of faith is fideism: one ought to believe that God exists, but one should not base that belief on any other beliefs; one should, instead, accept it without any reasons at all. "Faith" in this sense, belief for the sake of believing, is often associated with Søren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling and some other existentialist religious thinkers.


  1. faith. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. (accessed: February 14, 2007).
  2. Carroll, Robert T. faith (religious). 2006. (accessed February 20, 2007).

See also

Further reading

  • Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, W. W. Norton (2004), hardcover, 336 pages, ISBN 0-393-03515-8
  • Hein, David. "Faith and Doubt in Rose Macaulay's The Towers of Trebizond." Anglican Theological Review Winter2006, Vol. 88 Issue 1, p47-68.
  • Zarlengo, Michael. Pray Like This: God's Secret to Answered Prayer. Dallas, Texas: Michael Zarlengo Publishing, 2005.
  • D. Mark Parks, "Faith/Faithfulness" Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Eds. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England. Nashville: Holman Publishers, 2003.

Classic reflections on the nature of faith

  • Martin Buber, I and Thou
  • Paul Tillich, The Dynamics of Faith

The Reformation view of faith

  • John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion
  • R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone

External links

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