Faith, in essence, is to have a strong and complete belief in someone or something. It is natural human tendency to have faith in authority, from parents, teachers, friends, God and even books. Faith is very powerful and using faith as a basis for knowledge plunges a person into a belief system – real or unreal. Faith in a religious context is used to acquire knowledge, which has no evidence. However, faith in a scientific context is used to acquire knowledge that other people have made factual.
Knowledge can be acquired through many means, but when we accept knowledge and attain knowledge, we must have faith in its origin so as to believe it. The origin will state that its knowledge is true – but is it reliable? In many cases we accept certain facts, especially at a young age, without validating what we know because we have faith in its origin. A simple example, is how when we are 5 years old, we accept 2+2 to be 4. Why did we accept this as correct? Because we have faith in our teachers, who were the authority, that what we were learning is correct. The way we attain religious knowledge is quite similar. When I go to Gurdwara  on the occasional Sunday afternoon I faithfully abide by Sikhism’s beliefs and take everything that is preached as the truth. And the reason that I accept without question is because I accept Sikhism’s authority. Through prayer I am taught knowledge about my religion, which is only true in a Sikh context. But is the knowledge I gain from Sikhism true? Due to this, we must see how appropriate faith is as a pathway to knowledge. The knowledge issue is how reliable is faith as a method of knowing due to its factual flaws and also it’s almost infinite possibilities.
Being born into a Sikh family I have been going to Gurdwara since I can remember. I have been taught at Gurdwara and by my family members that there is only one God, who has no form or gender. I have also been taught that everyone has direct access to God and that everyone is equal in his presence. These beliefs that I have accepted as facts are only factual in Sikhism, but not in other religions such as in Hinduism, which says that there are multiple Gods. But yet, even though I know that other religions have different beliefs about God, I am faithful to Sikhism, and abide by it because it is my authority. Sikhism also believes that 10 Gurus exist. My father taught me this at a young age and frequently asked me to recite the 10 Gurus names. Reflecting back on this I ask myself why I didn’t ask him, for example, “why aren’t there only 3 gurus?” But I never thought of questioning the knowledge I was taught about Sikhism. Why? Because since I was young I have been following a belief system and accepting Sikhism as an authority over me.
When I was around 2-3 years old I believed in Santa Claus even though I was not Christian. But regardless of my religious background, I still chose to believe and have faith that Santa Claus would bring me presents on Christmas Eve, (even though as I later discovered my parents got the presents for me). My mum recalls that I would feel excited around Christmas time anticipating the gifts that I would receive. This small example showing how faith can lead to a positive feeling is a key element of a major advantage of having faith in religion. Take for example, my 21-year-old cousin. After his parents divorce he became very troubled and aggressive towards other members in my extended family. More recently, he has become very religious and this has stopped his aggressive actions. His faith in Sikhism helped him to gain knowledge about its religious practices and this helped him to control his anger through prayer. My personal opinion is that he now has faith in Sikhism teachings and in God, which has helped him feel that someone of greater being is there for him. This highlights an advantage of having faith in religion; religious knowledge can positively manipulate people to change their life.
On the other hand faith in religion knowledge also has its weaknesses. People can be influenced by religious figures because they accept them as their authority. If the religious figures have a misinterpreted view about religion, then people are attaining false knowledge regarding that particular religion. Take the Taliban for example. The Taliban was brought about by a group of teachers with a misinterpreted view of Islam. They then taught students and thus created the Taliban group. Due to their beliefs they have caused a number of violent attacks throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan. Take for example on the 10th of February 2011; a 12-year-old boy blew himself up in an army compound in the northeastern Pakistan.  A Taliban group claimed responsibility for the attack and it was found that camps in the northwest were training children as young as 10 to become suicide bombers. Why would a child of merely 12 years blow himself up? The young boy would have had faith in his teachers, who were his authority, and taught him to have faith in Islam. But he was actually being taught knowledge that was not factual. This highlights one of the disadvantages of faith in religion; you can become so engrossed into the belief system, such as the 12 year old boy, that you become manipulated into doing wrong things.
Now consider what we are taught in Physics regarding the study of space and the universe. We are taught that there are planets far beyond our sight and that other galaxies exist next to our own. As ‘IB scientists’ we are firstly having faith in our teachers and what they teach. Secondly, we have faith in the absolute, mathematical laws of physics  , which are of unknown origin. It is from these faiths that we attain scientific knowledge.
The Universe, as we simply know it, is massive. A theory or fact that scientists have discovered on earth may not necessarily be true on other planets, or galaxies for that matter. A scientific theory is a result of experimental procedures, and when scientists create theories about planets and galaxies out of their experimental reach they use inductive reasoning; applying the laws of physics that Earth runs on other planets. How can we know that the laws of physics that our planet uses are applicable on others so far away? The theories we are taught regarding space and the universe have only been validated by a handful of people that have access to powerful telescopes. So as students of their theories we have faith in their findings and thus gain knowledge.
Having faith in other people findings both has its advantages and disadvantages. As students we learn about abstract things that we cannot see for ourselves, but never the less our scientific knowledge is enhanced. Take for example, in physics, we are taught that the gravitational force between two objects can be calculated using the formula . In an exam, when I am asked to calculate the force I apply this formula using values of m1, m2, G and r. But, when I use this formula what am I actually doing? The answer is that I am having faith in the validity of this equation. Without this equation, as a student of science, I would be merely accepting a fact regarding the gravitational force between two objects and would not be able to quantify its value. This restricts my knowledge and ability to comprehend the world around me thus highlighting the advantage of having faith in scientific equations.
On the other hand let us examine the early theory proposed by scientists that the world was flat. Explorers claimed that the world was flat due to their limited observations, and people conformed to their theories. Why? The reason was that they had faith in the scientist’s claims and scientific findings. But in truth, these people were having faith in false scientific fact. This highlights one of the disadvantages of having faith in other people’s research. We as acceptors of other people theories may be accepting theories that are incorrect and have not been adequately proven.
From these examples showing both the advantages and disadvantages of using faith to attain knowledge in religion and in physics, it can be seen that faith can help us attain knowledge, but in some cases the knowledge may not be correct. As students of physics, we have faith in other people’s theories and conclusions. But sometimes these theories may not be correct. Those people that are religious have faith in their religious teachings and practices, which can help them in life. But in some rare cases, faith in religion can make some people act against their own mental will due to their conformity to a distorted view of religion. Therefore we need to be able to understand the benefits of using faith and as critical thinkers, make sure that we have faith in a valid source.