Is faith a good thing? Is it something we should respect and honor among those around us who have it? If you asked the average American you would get a positive yes. If you asked the average person coming out of church they might give you such a look that you were foolish to even ask such a question.
"Of course faith is good!" They might say. But is it really? What does faith do? It tells us to believe in things that as Mark Twain once said, "know ain’t so." If religion was true and supported intellectually by sufficient evidence, religious faith wouldn’t be necessary. One could point to the evidence of a religion and say, "based on the evidence this religion/God is obviously true." One wouldn’t have to appeal to faith. One wouldn’t have to say, "I know there is no real or strong evidence for this religion, so I am going to take a leap of faith." Ah, but are there secular versions of faith? One analogy I hear when religious faith is defended is the chair analogy. It goes like this. "You never know when you sit on a chair if it might collapse under your weight but you sit anyway. So you take a leap of faith."
The problem with that analogy, among many, is that there is only a probability that the chair might collapse. It is unlikely it will, unless I have eaten too much fast food. Chairs are built to be sturdy or at least sturdy enough not to collapse when the first behind comes around. There’s people whose profession is to design it to support a sitting person.
Could it break? Yes, but that's unlikely and even if it does -- at most -- I will get some embarrassment if it happens in a meeting and not when I am alone. Religious faith isn’t the same. It isn’t playing the odds, it is belief without sufficient proof. It is like putting your life savings on 3 at the roulette table and believing with 100% belief that you will win in contrast to the highly likely result that you made a dumb bet.
So faith, in a sense, developed naturally in society to counter those who said a certain religious belief or belief in a deity was illogical or even foolish. The religious believer or cleric who wanted to keep his power might counter, "well, that might seem true but you have to have faith." This would make the first non-believer who heard this argument used be aghast in the audacity at its usage. What does faith teach us?
Well, like the concepts of tradition and authority (which are related and intertwined by the way their power makes the skeptic not question society) tells us not to think or think to hard at least. It is anti-intellectual to its core. It tells impressionable small children that while you might think on certain secular areas, please don’t question your parents religious belief because that is very, very important to us.
So, religious beliefs (which impact broader society when there are enough adherents to that religion) spread throughout society until they dominate a society such as Christianity did to the West (especially the U.S.) and Islam to the Middle East. The ability to spread was not only the sword or the gospel, but faith. Faith is a powerful idea because it allows other ideas to spread and grow that might not do so on their own. While faith does not make intellectual sense it does make sense as a vehicle that supports the emotion and wish fulfillment that organized religion provides. Science does not require faith for example.
Though scientists are human beings and can be wrong and arrogant and a host of bad human emotions, they have no time for faith. They might not like to be proven wrong but if you asked a scientist why they believed X about the subject of gravity or continental drift, they would give you a reasonable worked out model for their beliefs even if they might be wrong or completely wrong. Science can progress at a much faster rate then religion because it isn’t burdened by faith and dogma, but since religion is about faith/dogma that isn’t to be unexpected. The fact is, though, that religions are constantly evolving and some eventually accept scientific evidence when it is sufficient such as the Catholic Church accepting evolution a tool used by a deity.
Faith must be abandoned when it comes to understanding our universe and reality. It isn't a bad tool for this type of analysis, it isn't a tool period. It might make people feel good but any knowledge of biology, physics or any other science does not have faith at its roots. Most of all, our public policy should be completely free from faith.