There is a qualitative difference between belief and faith, although, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Belief can amount to little more than a matter of opinion. Faith is substantially acting on a belief. One can believe in something without having faith in it. Belief is relatively undemanding, while faith requires commitment. Some dictionaries include terms such as trust, loyalty, and fidelity in the definition of faith.
Whether we admit it or not, each of us lives out our days committing acts of faith. We go to work because we have faith that the benefits of doing so will outweigh the consequences of not doing so. Although we may be operating on pretty good evidence that this is true, we cannot know its verity for certain until after the fact.
Some will argue that this is not faith. Let me give another example. A person that has never flown on an airplane may have every reason to believe that it is a safe form of travel. There is plenty of evidence to bolster such a belief. However, it requires an act of faith to actually get on an airplane to fly to a distant destination.
Fear of flying is a fairly widespread phenomenon. Mature adults can admit that statistics show how safe it is to fly on commercial aircraft. They may personally know hundreds of individuals that have safely flown many times. And yet they may have difficulty mustering sufficient faith to travel by that method. For such a person, submitting to air travel is a strong act of faith.
As much as our society revels in facts and data, scientists also know that the average human is no Mr. Spock. Even those that pride themselves on their rationality are, like the rest of us, sometimes profoundly illogical beings. In terms of the human experience, logic itself is often an irrationally applied concept.
As a computer application developer, I work with logic continually. Computers have become dramatically 'smarter' throughout my career. And yet logic usually works well because computer systems are still very narrowly scoped environments. When broken down into their basic building blocks, computers operate on the basis of millions and billions of minute yes/no decisions.
The same is not true for humans. For starters, our environments are much broader and far less controlled than computer systems. We operate in multiple choice environments with naturally imposed processing limitations and constraints enforced by context and past 'programming.' Myriads of decisions we make daily cannot feasibly be reduced to a series of tiny yes/no determinations.
On the other hand, some scientists have speculated that what we call intuition is really made up of countless hardware- and software-based determinations that are rapidly but subconsciously processed. In this view, what many think of as illogic may actually be much more logical than trying to make all determinations based only on purposeful conscious thought. Those that pride themselves on their rationality may actually be denying themselves of access to their brain's most powerful logic functions.
Even if this is true, however, humans tend to appear so illogical because we operate with heavy restrictions in a broad, varied, and evolving environment. It is not be possible for even the smartest and most enlightened among us to have sufficient knowledge and processing capacity to effectively deal logically with everything that we are called upon to deal with.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a world where from birth to the end of life we are saddled with having to place a great amount of trust on imperfect systems, people, and assumptions. We simply have no alternative. Although we all have our reasons for choosing various belief systems, we tend to do so because we admire others that hew to those systems and we have some level of comfort with those systems.
We are not static individuals. Humans often alter their belief systems when they encounter something with which they feel more comfortable.
When we have enough trust in a belief to turn it into committed action, we embark upon an experiment. How we proceed thereafter depends largely upon how we interpret the results of our experiment. Due to dramatic diversity of individual human hardware and software implementations, what looks like success to one may appear to be failure to others.
When we feel that we have sufficient evidence to back up our belief system, what seems like counter evidence to others will do little to dissuade us from our convictions. In fact, counter evidence presented by those adhering to different belief systems may come across as supporting evidence instead.
When you think about it, this isn't necessarily illogical, given that we are all operating on very limited amounts of truth. Even 'facts' obtained via the scientific method are inadequate because anything that can be reduced to such an experiment is necessarily limited in scope so that it loses its strength or is merely lost in the noise when dropped into the rushing stream of complexity that each of us continuously face.
It has been human tendency since time immemorial to engage in hubris. We either convince ourselves or pretend that we know much more than we really do, can place our vast store of knowledge in proper context, and can dictate what is best for others. Surely this is so in this age of exploding information?
We are merely fooling ourselves if we think so. Humility is prized as a virtue because it is so rare.
Despite it being broadly and officially discounted by elite society, faith is an integral part of our daily lives. It is and will continue to be an essential ingredient of the human experience. Given our limitations, we would do well to approach such matters with a dose of humility.