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Analyse the Strengths and Weaknesses of Using Faith as a Basis for Knowledge in Religion and in one Area of Knowledge from the Tok Diagram.

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Analyse the Strengths and Weaknesses of Using Faith as a Basis for Knowledge in Religion and in one Area of Knowledge from the Tok Diagram.

TOK Essay

Question 8: Analyse the strengths and weaknesses of using faith as a basis for knowledge in religion and in one area of knowledge from the TOK diagram.


The word ‘faith’ is a term that has no simpler definition. There can be two sides to the definitions of the term faith, both positive and negative. [1]Looking at the positive side, St Paul defined it as ‘the conviction of things hoped for and the assurance of things not seen’. On the other hand when we look at the negative side, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) dismissed it as ‘the believing of propositions upon insufficient evidence’. On a neutral aspect, faith is a kind of belief which is based upon strong emotional commitment and it concerns things which have a great deal of significance to the believer. Faith therefore fluctuates between two sets of opinions stating that it is either based on assumptions or proof. My knowledge issue would be, “how does the degree of faith used affect our knowledge derived?” Knowledge in this case is understood to be justified, true belief.[2] Human understanding is limited and cannot comprehend the infinite. For example, many believers would say that it is absurd to prove the very existence of God almighty. This lack of proof gives us the freedom to make decisions and it also leaves room to faith when there is a lack of knowledge.  

[3]Thomas Aquinas once said, “The light of faith makes us see what we believe”. According to him once a person has acquired faith, that person’s perception of the world will be different and begins to see god’s influence on everything. In this essay, I am going to discuss the influence of faith in two areas of knowledge, specifically Religion and Natural Sciences.

Faith has a greater influence in the area of knowledge of religion as compared to natural scinces. According to Sigmund Freud’s definition of faith[4], most atheists believe that scientific belief is rational, religious faith is irrational and amounts to little more than wish fulfilment. As humans are keen to believe that something is true, they convince themselves that it is really true with little or no evidence. Many atheists have pointed out that as our scientific knowledge expands, the role played by God gradually contracts. For example, thunder and lightning are described as the anger of gods by primitive people. Now we can explain that the scientific theory behind this concept is the building up of electricity in the atmosphere.

Let us take a look at the concept of science. We have to have faith in the laws governing science in order to develop theories and enhance our knowledge. This is based upon the assumption that a particular individual only works on gaining further knowledge after he has mastered the laws. One of the strengths of using such faith is that we can derive new scientific explanation which will in turn lead to more discoveries. For example, the theory of conservation of energy was derived from newton’s third law.[5] This shows us that because we have faith in the theories proposed by experienced people in life, we are able to use them as a foundation to further improve on them and make more discoveries. However, blind faith can mislead our understanding. New discoveries will not turn out to be based upon the existing laws. Not many people are capable of confirming the results of modern scientific experiments, so they accept what established scientists say based on their experience and authority. Unlike in religion, anyone in principle can confirm any experiment on their own. For example, in daily school life, when we conduct an experiment in a physics lab for example, we blame any errors in the readings we take as human or experimental errors rather than questioning the law of physics.

Scientific faith is a set of beliefs about the world that are theoretically open to correction and it operates on ultimately unfounded assumptions. [6]In other words, both religion and science begin with beliefs. The ‘faith-based’ beliefs of science play a vital role in the search for better theories. However, there are certain cases where faith is not entirely entrusted on existing laws and theories, which have led to greater discoveries that have proven to be true about the world around us. This is a weakness of entrusting complete faith in a particular theory of science. A good example would be the theory of whether the earth is flat or round. Pre-Socratic philosopher Thales of Miletus believed that the earth was flat and floated in water like a log. However, Aristotle did not completely entrust his faith in the theory of flat earth but opposed it. He then proved that due to different position of stars on different parts on earth, the earth has to be curved. [7]This theory of the round earth was then followed by all academic circles for generations to come. So this proves that we do not necessarily have to have faith on all existing theories, assuming we have the capability to prove them wrong.  

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