Does Faith as a WoK Work?

The introduction of Faith as a Way of Knowing will have ruffled quite a few feathers and marked a significant departure in the IB’s historically staunch secularism. For the Doubting Thomases out there I would like to offer some justifications for Faith’s inclusion in that hallowed set of IB concepts, the Ways of Knowing (WoKs). Namely, Faith has been a much misunderstood and unfairly derided concept for too long, its relationship to reason and knowledge has been too often misrepresented. In fact, when properly understood Faith should be seen as an essential part of the learning process, and finally, seeing Faith as more than a blind acquiescence to religious dogma should help making it a more widely understood and therefore accepted WoK.

If one takes Faith to be a commitment to an idea for which one lacks absolute proof then it is not difficult to see its place in a proper understanding of the way people learn. The mistake is to assume that Faith has no evidential foundation and is therefore always a leap in the dark with no rational or empirical justification.

To begin with one could argue for the use of the term Belief rather than Faith. Belief does not carry the religious baggage associated with Faith and is therefore a more neutral term. For many, the presumed equation of Faith with religion is a real obstacle to treating it as a worthy addition to WoKs. One can debate the relationship of faith to belief ad infinitum but as a working concept belief has the virtue of being less ‘tainted’ with pejorative connotations.

The naysayers abound though, Nietzsche defined Faith as “not wanting to know what is true.” Biologist Lewis Wolpert equates Faith with “believing six impossible things before breakfast” (from Alice in Wonderland). Political comedian Bill Maher says “Faith makes a virtue out of not thinking.” One could go on. These quotes are nothing more than expressions of prejudice and a certain dishonesty. They are designed to misrepresent the nature of Faith and to define it into irrelevance. None of the people quoted above would deny there are things they believe in and that their beliefs matter to them. It is only when the religious dimension of Faith is presumed that Faith is seen as irrational or ridiculous. Blind Faith comes in many forms and is not the monopoly of the religious.

Belief should be an essential concept in any theory of knowledge as without a faith in the means of knowing, whether it be sense-perception, reason, science etc… knowledge is simply not possible. If one takes a strict sceptical approach then all knowledge, or at least most of it, is nothing more than a set of beliefs whose truth is taken for granted.

But then what kind of knowledge does faith lead to? Certainly not something that’s easily quantifiable or observable. If one accepts the existence and value of subjective or personal knowledge then the things we take to be true without knowing them to be true could be regarded as knowledge acquired by Faith. Some would in fact point out that it is precisely those kind of ‘truths’ which matter to people the most in their daily lives.

Faith may indeed be a genuine way of knowing, but it requires an honest acceptance that the leap we make is one of trust and not of certainty.

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